In just a few short weeks, 2021 will be done and dusted. We will have reached the end of the year, and will have ticked off another 365 (and a quarter) days around the sun.
As with 2020, I’m pretty sure most of us will be happy to see the back of 2021, which has been another bumpy ride. It is a year which seems to have done two very contradictory things: It’s moved fast and yet also quite slowly.
One minute it was January, the next it was suddenly December. And yet, thinking back to the beginning of 2021, doesn’t it all seem like such a long time ago?
For the movie industry, 2021 has been a bit of a head scratcher too. It has been a year in which various studios have had to shift their release schedules back and forth, in an attempt to get some of their movies out into the world, to try and make a profit.
At the beginning of 2021, most cinemas around the world were either closed because of the pandemic, or were facing a number of restrictions. As a result of this, the majority of releases at the start of the year were dropped directly onto streaming services, rather than debuting in cinemas.
As we moved into the spring and summer, things began to return to some kind of normalcy, with the vast majority of cinemas re-opening. All of a sudden, the studios could see light at the end of the tunnel, and they began to switch tactics by sending their films back to the big screen.
Autumn continued this trend, with more big releases getting crammed into cinemas in quick succession. But as we find ourselves now in the winter period, with the pandemic causing further problems and restrictions for cinemas, the studios may have to change tactics once again, and rejig their release schedules as we rocket towards 2022.
But regardless of when and where movies pop up in the coming days/months, one thing is clear about 2021: Movies have never been in short supply. It might seem as if few movies have been released this past year, but this really isn’t the case.
One of the recurring phrases I’ve heard throughout 2021 is the one that goes: “there are hardly any new movies this year”. And while I have heard this phrase a lot, I have to respond by saying it simply isn’t true.
By the end of 2021, I will have reviewed 150 new movies on It’s A Stampede!, covering most of the major releases of the year. From big blockbusters to indie films, and from world cinema to low-budget shlock, I have covered a wealth of new pictures, proving there are plenty of titles to see, if you so wish.
So, if I’ve been able to review so many movies, why do so many people believe that new releases are in short supply? Well, I expect this has a lot to do with the way we traditionally consume movies.
Audiences are used to seeing a run of tentpole releases hitting the big screen throughout the year. Those films are generally surrounded by lots of advertising and publicity, and this tends to permeate its way into day-to-day life.
The vast majority of these movies pop up during the summer, become big box office earners, and are often regarded as ‘must-see’ affairs. They then fade away from cinema screens after one or two months, before shifting onto home video platforms and/or television screens towards the end of the year.
As Christmas time arrives, traditionally many of the major TV networks collect together some of these films so they have new movies to show over the holiday period. Likewise, entertainment retailers will start promoting the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the big blockbusters so they can get consumers to buy these films during the gift-giving season.
But this year, movies have been released in drips and drabs, and via multiple platforms throughout 2021. So, while there are still lots of new movies, they are now a bit more spread out than usual, and finding them takes a bit more work.
Let me use Sky as an example. If you live in the UK and you subscribe to Sky television, you know that traditionally you will see all of the new movies that come out each year, popping up on the Sky movie channels before they appear on other streaming services.
For years, Sky dominated the home viewing landscape in the UK, and took the lion’s share of the new movies as they moved from the cinema to the small screen. So, if you wanted to watch many of the new films of the year, you simply took out a Sky subscription and the movies came to you.
But for the past couple of years there has been a shift in the entertainment industry, and these days Sky doesn’t dominate in the way it once did. Netflix, Amazon, AppleTV, and Disney+, are all big rivals to Sky and throughout 2021 they have been grabbing hold of the big movies as they have been made available.
So, if you are sat in front of your TV right now, looking at the movies on Sky and thinking the selection doesn’t seem quite as exhaustive as usual, it’s probably because a number of the titles are on another streaming service instead. It’s not that there are no new movies, it’s simply that you need to go elsewhere to find them.
Something else that has changed this year is the timeframe in which movies move from the cinema to home video. In the past, it used to take months for a film to leave the big screen and arrive on the small screen, but these days it can take as little as 30 days.
The ‘exclusivity window’ from cinema exhibition to home video release has been drastically reduced, and while this is a great thing for audiences – especially those who don’t care for the cinema experience – it does mean that some films have become a little lost. A number of titles have been shunted onto video-on-demand or streaming platforms with barely any promotion, meaning they have come and gone without a great deal of fuss.
In the past, movie studios would chuck endless promotion at their pictures, to ensure audiences understood the ‘value’ of these multi-million-dollar movies. These days, with shorter theatrical windows, films seem to come and go, and once they move to home video platforms the promotion fades away, and titles simply become ‘content’ and nothing more.
It’s now easier to lose track of new releases if you’re not keeping an eye on them. It’s also easy to forget the sheer number of movies that are being chucked into the arena, when they are treated like endless content.
With all this in mind, today I want to highlight a large number of the movies that have been released in 2021, as a reminder of some of the titles that have been made available. I want to point you in the direction of some of the best titles of the year, and I want to steer you away from the dross that isn’t worth your time.
Most important of all, I want to remind you there are a lot of new movies out there. So, if you are taking some downtime over the forthcoming holiday season, and you are looking for something to watch, know that there are plenty of films to choose from.
Rewinding back to the beginning of 2021, and for those of us in the UK, the first big movie of the year was Wonder Woman 1984. The film was due to open in cinemas worldwide in December 2020, but due to enforced cinema closures because of the pandemic, the movie got bumped to video-on-demand services instead, appearing over here in January 2021.
When the film made its debut, the response was fairly divisive. Some liked it, while others did not.
Personally, I found much to enjoy in Wonder Woman 1984 and believe it was the right movie at the right time. The film debuted during a very bleak period of the year, when things were looking pretty grim (a new COVID wave, Trump’s last days in office, the general awfulness of winter, etc), and its colourful and somewhat campy tone, helped to lift my spirits.
Because of its truncated release, it’s easy to forget that Wonder Woman 1984 came out this year. But it did, and for me, it was a fun way to kick off 2021.
Other notable films that came out during the first couple of months of the year included the Gerard Butler-starring Greenland, which proved to be a great deal of fun; as well as time-loop romance, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. Both of these films popped up on Amazon, and proved to be highly enjoyable features.
Amazon also provided a home for the Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming 2 America – the belated sequel to 1988’s Coming to America. The film was originally conceived as a theatrical feature, set to hit screens in 2020, but the pandemic put a stop to that and Amazon subscribers were treated to it instead.
And Coming 2 America was a treat. It was a fun comedy, which brought a great deal of laughs to the screen.
Moving away from Amazon and back to video-on-demand now, and towards the beginning of the year Warner Bros. brought a couple of big titles to rental platforms. The first was Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
For those who don’t know the finer details, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was a director’s cut of the 2017 super hero movie, Justice League. This version was almost twice as long as the original film, and presented a different take, and different tone, on the earlier material.
Although some of the new scenes felt too long and often superfluous, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was a vastly improved version of the terrible 2017 film. Not an entirely new beast, but certainly a much better one, it caught me off guard and I found enjoyment in this redux.
As for the second big video-on-demand title, this was the part-animated/part-live-action family film, Tom & Jerry. The movie was yet another film originally set for a theatrical release, before shifting platforms while all the cinemas were closed.
Tom & Jerry wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t awful. It offered just enough entertainment for younger audiences, although it should be said that all the best bits involved the cartoon cat and mouse, rather than any of the live-action sequences.
As 2021 headed into the Easter period, Warner Bros. unleashed yet another big title onto video-on-demand – the epic monster movie, Godzilla vs. Kong. Big, dumb, and very loud, Godzilla vs. Kong did exactly what it said on the tin, by having the two titanic title characters partake in a brawl.
Who was the winner? Well, actually it turned out to be the audience. I almost can’t believe I am writing these words, but I liked Godzilla vs. Kong a lot, and found it to be an enjoyable romp.
What is perhaps more of a surprise is that Godzilla vs. Kong is on my list of favourite movies of the year. Sure, it doesn’t win any awards for creativity or compelling writing, but if there was an award for ridiculous fun, then Godzilla vs. Kong would be a shoe-in.
Switching over to streaming now, and a lot of good films began popping up on the subscription services around April time, including Run and Love and Monsters on Netflix; Sound of Metal and Without Remorse on Amazon; Promising Young Woman on Sky; and the superb Nomadland on Disney+.
Shortly before Nomadland arrived on Disney+, the movie picked up the Best Picture accolade at this year’s Academy Awards, and it was a deserved win too. The film, a drama about a woman in her ‘60s who heads out into the open roads of America in a small campervan, was an absolute treat of a movie and visually stunning to boot!
Nomadland is one of my favourite movies of 2021, and so too is The Mitchells vs. the Machines – an animated feature, that popped up on Netflix. There have been a number of great animated films in 2021, some of which I will highlight shortly, but for my money this one is the best.
If you didn’t catch The Mitchells vs. the Machines when it made its debut earlier this year, then be sure to give it a watch over Christmas. It is perfect for the whole family, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it gets some recognition at next year’s Academy Awards.
Other films that began to pop up during the second quarter of 2021 included Shudder’s bizarre horror picture, Fried Barry; Netflix’s over-the-top zombie action movie, Army of the Dead; and the brilliant LGBTQ+ film, Cowboys. Cowboys was made available through video-on-demand platforms, and was largely overlooked, but it is another film worth checking out.
The movie tells the story of a father and his relationship with his transgender son, and is both touching and heart-warming. Cowboys features great performances from Steve Zahn and Jillian Bell, and if you get the chance to watch it, make sure you do.
As 2021 began to move towards warmer weather, cinemas started to reopen. And as soon as they did, a lot of big blockbusters were unleashed including The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Cruella, A Quiet Place Part II, and Nobody amongst others. However, the streaming services still offered plenty of home entertainment, with Raya and the Last Dragon arriving on Disney+, and The Amusement Park being a notable release for Shudder.
The Amusement Park was a bit of an oddity, but a curious one at that. In essence, it was a ‘lost’ movie from 1973, that was directed by George A. Romero, and told the story of an elderly gentleman and his nightmarish day at a fun fair.
While certainly not for everyone, The Amusement Park was an important acquisition for Shudder, and one which demonstrated the subscription service was more than just a dumping ground for low-budget horror movies.
During the course of the summer, yet more films began to emerge through various platforms, including the impressive dementia drama, The Father; the delightful animated film, Luca; and the enjoyable two-part Batman tale, The Long Halloween Parts One and Two.
Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson took to the big screen for Marvel’s Black Widow; M. Night Shyamalan delivered his latest thriller, Old; and Netflix served up the rather enjoyable Fear Street Trilogy. There was fun and laughter with The Suicide Squad; time-loop action with Boss Level; and some body-swapping with the brilliant slasher movie, Freaky.
Freaky is yet another movie that was largely overlooked this year, and this was mostly because of its botched release. The movie was released in the US in 2020, but it was held back until 2021 in other parts of the world and effectively dumped out with little fanfare.
I expect this movie to be a cult favourite in the years to come, with horror fans gravitating towards it every Halloween, but don’t wait to check it out. If you like horror/slasher movies, be sure to stick this one on your watch list.
As the summer continued, three really enjoyable movies appeared in quick succession, which I want to highlight: Jungle Cruise, Summer of Soul, and Free Guy. All of these movies received theatrical releases in mid-2021, but all are now available to watch on Disney+.
Jungle Cruise is a silly action movie, based on a Disney ride, and is very reminiscent of old school adventure blockbusters. It stars Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, and Jack Whitehall, and is a great deal of fun for audiences of all ages.
Meanwhile, Free Guy is a film that I expected to dislike, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise when I saw it in cinemas earlier this year. The action comedy, starring Ryan Reynolds, told the story of a non-playable character in a video game, who suddenly becomes self-aware with hilarious consequences.
I’ve watched Free Guy twice since its release and as much as I enjoyed it the first time around, I liked it even more the second time. It’s one of those films that just works.
As for Summer of Soul, this is an excellent docu-film about a forgotten music festival which took place 50 years ago. The movie features archival footage from said festival, and is a must-see for music fans. Although it didn’t receive the same amount of publicity as the other two movies discussed above, Summer of Soul is something special. If you have access to Disney+, do not let this one pass you by.
As the summer began to draw to a close, yet more films popped up, including the creepy British horror film, Censor; the over-looked drama, Worth; and the panned (but not awful) Hugh Jackman sci-fi film, Reminiscence. This one was a bit of a misfire at the box office, and many didn’t like it at all, but I felt that it had some charm.
My feeling on Reminiscence is that it isn’t as bad as some made out and I honestly believe it will find its audience in the fulness of time. It’s the sort of film that no one really cares about right now, but in the future it will get reappraised and will probably do much better on streaming than it did at the cinema.
In addition to the above, Candyman returned to the big screen in a sort-of sequel/sort-of reimagining; Netflix went down the reboot route with the romantic comedy He’s All That; while Rebecca Hall was scared witless in the superb chiller, The Night House. And speaking of The Night House, while this film doesn’t quite make it onto my Top Ten list of best movies for 2021, it only just misses out – I thought it was fab, so be sure to check it out.
As the summer began to fade, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings took to the cinema; while Amazon served up the joyous coming-of-age musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. This was another stand-out film for me, and a superb acquisition for the streaming service.
Something I was less enthused about was The Green Knight. This was another acquisition for Amazon, and one which many will put on their ‘Best of the Year’ lists, but it didn’t quite hit the high mark for me, focusing too much on style over substance.
However, a film that did impress me was Another Round, which received a limited theatrical release, followed by a video-on-demand release. The movie, which starred Mads Mikkelsen, focused on a group of friends who undertake an alcohol-based experiment, to see if becoming drunk makes them more successful.
Another Round is a brilliant film and one of my favourites of the year. Something I can also say about the much-delayed James Bond movie, No Time to Die.
Easily one of the most talked about movies of the year, No Time to Die hit cinema screens in the late summer/early autumn period, and proved to be a gem of a movie. The final entry in Daniel Craig’s run of 007 pictures delivered everything it needed to and more, and gave Craig a memorable send off.
Other movies making their debut around this time of the year included a trio of great Netflix movies: The Guilty, Till Death, and The Trip. However, something which wasn’t so good was the big screen horror movie, Halloween Kills.
As with many of 2021’s ‘big’ releases, Halloween Kills was a film that should have hit screens in 2020. However, arriving over a year later than planned, there was a great deal of hype surrounding the picture, and it all fizzled out rather quickly when this latest instalment in the Halloween series proved to be a huge disappointment.
Something that was less of a disappointment was Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which proved to be enjoyable enough. But then sadly it was off to snooze-ville for the much-anticipated sci-fi epic, Dune (aka Dune: Part One), which opened shortly after the Venom sequel and bored the life out of me.
Much praise has been heaped on Dune, and I am aware that many will award it the prestigious title of ‘Film of the Year’, but that’s certainly not a title that I would give it. Visually interesting, but also incredibly slow, I found Dune to be a long-winded waste of time.
Onto something far more positive, and from a movie that nearly put me into a coma, to one that had me transfixed: Last Night in Soho. Director Edgar Wright’s brilliant British horror-thriller not only delighted me when it made its theatrical debut just before Halloween, it also gave me my film of the year!
Yes, Last Night in Soho is my favourite movie of 2021, even though it sadly did not do so well at the box office. But I loved every single minute of it.
And as I’m talking about a movie that I loved, here seems like the perfect opportunity take a quick pause to list my Top Ten movies of 2021. So, for those wondering what films made the list, here they are in reverse order:
- 10) Summer of Soul
- 09) The Mitchells vs. the Machines
- 08) Godzilla vs. Kong
- 07) Nomadland
- 06) Free Guy
- 05) Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
- 04) Another Round
- 03) No Time to Die
- 02) Ghostbusters: Afterlife
- 01) Last Night in Soho
As I’m publishing this review of 2021 in mid-December, there is a very strong chance this list could change a touch by the end of the year, most notably because of a couple of big releases due out within the next two weeks. However, this is how my list stands at present, with Last Night in Soho at the top, closely followed by Ghostbusters: Afterlife and No Time to Die.
Back to the releases of 2021, and as we hit November, yet more big films began to appear, including the Western The Harder They Fall; Marvel’s The Eternals; and the hugely enjoyable Ghostbusters: Afterlife. As noted above, it appears high on my list of Best Movies of 2021, so you can tell the kind of impression it made on me.
Something which didn’t make the same impression on me was Red Notice, the action-comedy which landed on Netflix. The film had a great cast, but no real story, and was ultimately a messy affair.
Should you watch it? Well, according to Netflix you probably already have, as it was a big streaming success, even though it was a bit of a dud!
Other recent releases have included Disney’s Encanto; the Lady Gaga-starring House of Gucci; and the Benedict Cumberbatch Western, The Power of the Dog. I expect all of these movies will make it onto some awards list or another next year, with Gaga in particular picking up some recognition as one of the saving graces of the Gucci movie.
If you’ve yet to see House of Gucci, then brace yourselves for a bizarre performance from Jared Leto. And yes, it is as bad as you’ve heard.
Now, all of the above brings 2021 more-or-less up-to-date. There are only a couple of weeks left in the year, and for me, I only plan to review three new movies.
Two of these movies are pretty huge. The first is Spider-Man: No Way Home, which hits cinema screens in a matter of days, while the second is The Matrix Resurrections, which opens a week later.
It’s important for me to add that while I have every intention of watching both of these movies and reviewing them on It’s A Stampede!, there is a strong possibility the pandemic may get in the way again. With cases of the Omicron variant on the rise, and new restrictions looming in the background, my plans could get cancelled rather abruptly.
I really hope this isn’t the case, but as is continually being said at present, we live in unprecedented times, so while 2021 should include new Spidey and Matrix movie reviews, these films may slip away from me.
Now before I wrap up this rundown of 2021, I must do something very, very important, and that is to provide you with a list of films you should actively avoid. But before I get to that list, let me start by saying the following movies are a bit rubbish and are not really worth your time: Mortal Kombat, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Willy’s Wonderland, In the Heights, Slaxx, Monster Hunter, and The Tomorrow War.
All of the above are flawed movies, that you are best off avoiding – so don’t say I didn’t warn you. However, they are not as bad as the following ten films, which I highly recommend you run away from at every opportunity.
The worst movies of 2021 are:
- 10) Malignant
- 09) Chaos Walking
- 08) Don’t Breathe 2
- 07) Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins
- 06) Space Jam: A New Legacy
- 05) Teen Titans GO! See Space Jam
- 04) Outside the Wire
- 03) Ape vs. Monster
- 02) Home Sweet Home Alone
- 01) Night of the Animated Dead
Malignant is on the list because it is a mess of a movie, not really knowing what it wants to be, while Chaos Walking follows close behind because it is dull and uninspiring. Don’t Breathe 2 sits in eighth position because it is a poor follow-up to the superb original, while Snake Eyes: G. I. Joe Origins is up next because it is a generic load of old twaddle.
Space Jam: A New Legacy being on this list may come as a surprise to some, but for me it was a huge disappointment. The film should have been a fun romp, but instead it became a two-hour advert for Warner Bros. content.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is bad, but not as bad as Teen Titans GO! See Space Jam, which was a tie-in movie and yet another excuse for Warner Bros. to repackage old material. This was a direct-to-home-video title and easily one of the laziest releases of the entire year.
In at four is Outside the Wire, a lame Netflix sci-fi film; while at three is the dreadful Ape vs. Monster – a no-budget monster movie from Asylum. This film could have easily sat in first place, because it’s really that bad, but it sits at number three because I never expected it to be anything other than awful.
Home Sweet Home Alone just edges out Ape vs. Monster because a.) it actually had a budget, and b.) it was made by Disney so it really should have been better. But alas it is not, and watching it is on par with getting a colonoscopy in the middle of an Earthquake.
As for the worst movie of 2021, that particular title has to go to Night of the Animated Dead, a piss-poor cartoon remake of the classic zombie horror film, Night of the Living Dead. There are simply no redeeming features about Night of the Animated Dead, making it the obvious choice for the number one spot.
Please do your best to avoid these films at all costs. As I’ve already pointed out, there are many other films you could be watching instead.
Throughout this post I have highlighted many (but not all) of the films that I reviewed over the course of 2021. As you can see, there really were a lot of notable movies released during this year, some of which are ripe for revisiting.
Hopefully I will be able to complete my 2021 journey without the pandemic causing me any last-minute bumps in the road, but regardless of what happens with Spider-Man, The Matrix etc, I already have my eye on what’s to come in 2022.
I expect next year to be filled with lots of great movies, as well as plenty of terrible ones too. Either way, I’m sure it will be an incredible journey and I hope you will join me.
Thank you for stopping by It’s A Stampede! to take a look back at the movies of 2021. I hope it has reminded you of some of the good movies you still need to catch up on.
For more posts, and more reviews, be sure to check out the recommended reads below. Oh, and in case I don’t get the chance to say it again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance!