The 9 Best Movies of 2021 (So Far)

Make some space on your “to watch” list.

Sony Pictures Classics

Even though Hollywood is notorious for saving the “best” movies for the latter half of the year, there are plenty of gems to enjoy before next year’s awards season rollout. From film festival dramedies (My Salinger Year and Limbo) to blockbuster animated features (Raya and the Last Dragon) to critically-acclaimed shorts (The Human Voice), these are the greatest films of 2021 so far.

Thanks to the pandemic, which forced Hollywood to halt production and postpone premieres, this year’s movie release schedule has been unusual, to say the least — and many films on this list were completed (and even seen and reviewed by critics) well before their U.S. debuts. Some features on this list are eligible for awards contention in the 2020 cycle, like Judas and the Black Messiah, even though both weren’t released in the U.S. until early 2021. Most of these movies were supposed to hit theaters last year, like Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar and My Salinger Year, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed their release. Other films, like The Human Voice, were shot (safely) in the midst of the pandemic after the production hiatus.

After last year’s disastrous series of events, these movies are well worth the wait. Below, see the best movies of 2021 — and be sure to bookmark this list, as we’ll be updating it throughout the year.


‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah is included in this season’s awards circuit. Based on true events, Daniel Kaluuya transforms himself into Fred Hampton, the chairman of Illinois’s Black Panther chapter, alongside Lakeith Stanfield as William O’Neill, the FBI informant who helped aid Hampton’s assassination. Kaluuya has swept the Supporting Actor category at nearly all the major ceremonies, and is a favorite to pick up the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


‘Bad Trip’ (Netflix)

Starring Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish, and a bunch of random people who just happened to be around, Bad Trip is probably the first great comedy of 2021. With humor akin to the Borat films, this cringe comedy is an elaborate hidden-camera prank gone so wrong, it’s right (except for that scene at the zoo...that was just wrong).


‘Moxie’ (Netflix)

If Booksmart and Promising Young Woman had a baby, that baby would be Moxie. Directed and produced by Amy Poehler, this teen comedy follows a timid 16-year-old student (Hadley Robinson) who incites a slow rebellion by publishing an anonymous zine that calls out her high school’s sexist and racist policies. It adds nothing new to the discourse, but the attention to social rhetoric is a big step up from the many microaggression-laden teen movies of years past.


‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (Disney)

Disney Animation Studios consistently produces some of the best animated movies that appeal to both children and adults. Raya and the Last Dragon is no exception. Actors Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, and Sandra Oh feature in in this fantastical tale of power, loss, and resilience.


‘My Salinger Year’ (IFC Films)

Fans of literature will enjoy My Salinger Year, a charming film of a young woman’s experience working as a literary agency assistant in the mid-’90s. The plot centers around Joanna Rakoff (Margaret Qualley) and her intimidating interactions with her boss Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) and the agency’s — and society’s — most elusive writer, J.D. Salinger. Based on Rakoff’s memoir of the same name, this Berlin Film Festival darling was distributed by IFC Films last month.


‘Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar’ (Lionsgate)

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is like Bridesmaids on an acid trip. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo star as two Nebraskan women who vacation to Florida’s (fictional) Vista Del Mar, hoping to get their groove back — and find themselves fending off villain Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig), who seeks personal revenge on the resort town. With a singular comedic vision and a visual palette reminiscent of Lisa Frank stationery, Barb and Star is irresistible.


‘Days of Bagnold Summer’ (Greenwich Entertainment)

Another acclaimed book gets the silver screen treatment. Adapted from Joff Winerhart’s graphic novel of the same name, Days of Bagnold Summer is a witty family dramedy, centering on a Goth teen who’s forced to spend the summer with his mom in the English suburbs. The Inbetweeners actor Simon Bird makes his directorial debut in this quirky coming-of-age film, with a score from the iconic musical group Belle and Sebastian.


‘Limbo’ (Focus Features)

Another film festival dramedy that makes an impact is Limbo, the second project from budding director Ben Sharrock. A comedic (but no less powerful) take on the experience of refugees on the cusp of asylum, the film was snagged by Focus Features for U.S. distribution in April.


‘The Human Voice’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Spanish visionary Pedro Almodóvar’s first English-language film is a loose adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s play of the same name. In a short runtime of just 30-ish minutes, Tilda Swinton delivers one of the most vulnerable and poignant roles of her career. Like the play, the whole thing is essentially one big monologue, which Swinton delivers expertly — particularly in the scenes where she’s on the phone with her (off-screen) ex-lover. The Human Voice is a half-hour well spent.

This list will be updated throughout the year.