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The 21 Best Movies of 2021, So Far

Critical darlings, streaming successes, three animated films, and more make up the year’s best from January through June.
Best Movies of 2021 So Far
By  · Published on July 7th, 2021


Nobody movie
Universal Pictures

The end of the year lists will include one dedicated to action movies, and it’s a guarantee that this terrific little surprise will land towards the top. Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry, 2015) directs, Derek Kolstad (John Wick, 2014) writes, and… Bob Odenkirk stars? The funny guy successfully moved into drama, so it shouldn’t surprise that he was just as adept at moving into action. Except he is fifty-eight years old. Odenkirk was so intent on doing the film that he trained for two years to get his body into shape so that he could do the fight sequences and most of the stunts himself, and that dedication shows in the film as we see him both give and take multiple beatings. It’s also a funny, energetic film, and while the story is fairly basic it stands out for its action chops and wit. Here’s my full review.

Psycho Goreman

Psycho Goreman
RLJE Films

Astron-6 may be no more — it’s unclear, but hopefully, the madmen behind Father’s Day (2011) and The Editor (2014) will return with another feature soon — but thankfully their individual members are still up to genre shenanigans. Writer/director Steven Kostanski steps up here to deliver the tale of an alien god and the outspoken little girl he finds himself beholden to. It’s a very funny watch filled with memorable dialogue, fun performances, and a ton of cool old-school practical creature costumes. You’ll be quoting this one for weeks after watching it. Here’s my full review.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya And The Last Dragon
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The third and final animated feature to make the list, this terrifically entertaining and affecting adventure is a great reminder that Walt Disney’s animation studio can still hold their own. The film’s story, characters, and visuals all stem from East Asian cultures, and it immediately stands apart from the usual western fare. That extends to the action beats as well as fight scenes are done recreating traditional martial arts and movements. Kelly Marie Tran voices the hero, and Awkwafina brings to life the dragon who helps her on her quest, and the pair make for an absolutely delightful team. Here’s my full review.

Riders of Justice

Riders Of Justice

Revenge movies come in all shapes, sizes, and tones, but very few come as finely targeted as this Danish entry. mads Mikkelsen stars as a soldier called home from duty after his wife is killed in a train accident, but all bets are off when he discovers things might not be as they initially seem. Black comedy and quick, brutal violence follow, but while both entertain it’s the film’s themes and philosophical bent that will keep you up at night. Coincidence and consequence are deadly bedfellows, but only if you think you know what you’re looking for.

Run Hide Fight

Isabel May in Run Hide Fight
Voltage Pictures

If you’re familiar with this movie then odds are you may have checked out after seeing its inclusion here, but in my defense — it’s a solid action/thriller. I don’t expect it to still make the cut by the end of the year, but at this point in 2021 it earns a spot here less for its controversy and more for its bonafides as a thrilling siege film. Yes, it’s set in a high school under attack by a trio of teen shooters, but exploitation fare shouldn’t automatically be excluded from the conversation. Isabel May does good work as a grieving teen, well-trained in hunting and survival, who’s forced to go head to head with the shooters, and labeling it “Die Hard in a school” isn’t that far off (even if it can’t touch the John McTiernan classic). Here’s my full review.

Saint Maud

Saint Maud Horror

Writer/director Rose Glass burst onto the genre scene this year (or late 2019 if you follow the festival circuit) with this short, intense drama about a young woman who comes to believe she has a hotline to god. She takes her own holiness to mean she can — and must — help others reach the lord as well, but she’s challenged by an older woman who just might see her as nothing more than a diversion. It’s part tragedy, part character piece, and part exploration of the lies we tell ourselves to get through the day. Morfydd Clark is unforgettable in the lead role, and while she’s good throughout it all comes together in the powerful final moments.

Shadow in the Cloud

Shadow In The Cloud Chloe Grace Moretz

Writer/director Roseanne Liang’s terrifically fun B-movie didn’t get a fair shake upon release, but its presence on streaming services and home video should hopefully help it find its audience — which should be anyone who loves pulpy creature features on a modest budget. Chloe Grace Moretz stars as a young woman on a military plane during World War II, and while it’s bad enough dealing with the sexist crew things only get worse when she sees a gremlin messing around on the plane’s exterior. It’s a thrilling ride with a killer score and is best described as little sister to Overlord (2018) with its blend of wartime action and monsters. It deserves your attention.

Space Sweepers

Space Sweepers

You’d be forgiven for having missed this Netflix Film when it hit the streamer earlier this year as they have so much new that things are pushed off the menu screen fairly quickly. It’s easy enough to search for, though, and if you enjoy space-set adventures I really can’t recommend it enough. The South Korean film follows a motley crew of salvage workers who find themselves in possession of a little girl — who’s actually something altogether different — and the adventure that follows tests their loyalty, honor, and ingenuity. It’s fun, entertaining, and just might leave you with some misty eyes.



This Polish film originally premiered back in 2017, but after a healthy festival run it disappeared from North American shores. Four years later, though, and the film finally found a quiet release that nobody noticed. That’s a shame as it’s a powerful and affecting tale about a woman investigating a series of crimes against nature — literal nature in the form of animals — and its themes are endlessly resonant. Part mystery, part eco-warrior recruitment tool, the film asks viewers to do a better job protecting not just the animals around us but all life. We can do better, and while the lead character may not believe it the film itself wants to.

Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within Movie

The most recent movie to make this list is a horror/comedy that’s heavy on the latter while still having some fun with the former. Sam Richardson stars as a forest ranger whose new placement lands him in a small town in distress. A storm cuts them off, bodies start turning up, and one of the locals or visitors just might be a werewolf. It’s a funny, twisty ride, like Clue (1985) meets The Beast Must Die (1974), or Agatha Christie Meets the Wolfman (not a real movie but how cool would that be), and one of the finest video game adaptations yet. Here’s my full review.

The White Tiger

The White Tiger

The fifth and final Netflix title to make the cut is based on a bestselling book, and it deserves to have made a bigger splash for the streamer. Like the bastard stepchild of The Secret of My Success (1987) and Goodfellas (1990), the film sees a young Indian man telling his story of crime, secrets, and questionable ambition. It’s grimly funny and more than a little twisted, but it’s also easy to see how the drive to succeed might lead someone astray in their attempt to make a better life. The story feels American in some ways, familiar to many rise-and-fall tales here, but it’s a uniquely Indian one at the same time. Here’s my full review.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.