10 Best Under-The-Radar 2021 Movies

Jamie Dornan, Kirsten Wiig and Annie Mumulo in Barb and Star
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

2021 was the year many of us finally stepped into a theater for the first time in a while. After the shutdowns in response to the global pandemic that left movie theaters out of business for months upon months, this past year, cinephiles went back to big movies, especially for the five Marvel offerings, F9: The Fast Saga, No Time To Die and Dune

There've been a lot of exciting blockbuster milestones this past year, but here we’re not talking about the big hits. We’re shedding light on the best under-the-radar movies not to sleep on. 

Justin Chon and Alicia Vikander in Blue Bayou

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Blue Bayou 

At the beginning of the year, many of us we’re talking about the immigrant drama Minari, but another Korean-American story that slipped below the surface is Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou. This emotional movie from actor-turned-filmmaker Justin Chon (who also stars in it) tells the story of a hard-working family man who must confront being potentially deported from his life in Louisiana as his past catches up to him. 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy in The Electrical life of Louis Wain

(Image credit: Amazon Prime)

The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain

There’s been a number of movies about real people this year, such as Spencer, The Eyes of Tammy Faye or Respect, but one biopic that was greatly swept under the rug is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. This whimsical and inspirational movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy tells the story of an under-appreciated artist. Cumberbatch is brilliant in the role, and it’s the kind of movie that will have you never looking at cats the same again. 

Milana Vayntrub and Sam Richardson in werewolves Within

(Image credit: IFC Films)

Werewolves Within

The whodunnit has proven to be a tried and true genre over the past few years with Knives Out and Murder on the Orient Express finding huge audiences. There’s a hidden gem for fans of the subgenre in this year’s Werewolves Within. It's a detective story involving, yes, a werewolf. This is a fun ensemble comedy packed with talent, a B-movie flair, smart writing and notes of horror. Oh, and it’s also a video game adaptation. It’s a smorgasbord not enough people are digging into. 

Kirsten Wiig and Annie Mumolo in Barb and Star

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Everything about Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar should scream big hits, and yet it seems we’re still introducing this hilarious comedy to new people who’ve yet to hear about it everyday. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo laugh-till-you-cry vacation flick that also features an all-time great Jamie Dornan performance is the best comedy of the year, yet due to its early 2021 VOD release after COVID delays, it flew under the radar. 

Melanie Laurent in Oxygen

(Image credit: Netflix)


For the science fiction thriller fans out there, you may have missed the Netflix release Oxygen. From Alexandre Aja, the director of Crawl and Horns, Oxygen follows a woman (Mélanie Laurent) who wakes up from a cryogenic slumber and must figure out how to escape her chamber before she runs out of air. It goes without saying this is a claustrophobic and contained story, but this is a tight thriller sure to keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat. 

Emma Seligman in Shiva Baby

(Image credit: Utopia)

Shiva Baby

Have you ever felt like you were in a horror movie while at a family gathering? Emma Seligman made an unsettling thriller that does just that. Shiva Baby turns to answer ‘Where are you going with your life?’ questions from your relatives to a tense 78-minute nail-biter. The independent film gives Seligman a memorable directorial debut and first leading performance, as it follows her college student character as she attends a family shiva, which is also being attended by her sugar daddy.

Taylour Paige and Riley Keough

(Image credit: A24)


One of the most wild and wildly original 2021 movies was an A24 movie by no surprise, but unfortunately, it did not break out of the inner circle into mainstream as we’d expect. Zola tells the story of a pair of exotic dancers who go on a road trip that spins out of control. Janicza Bravo’s movie is one of the most stylistic films of the year, is rooted in a true story adapted by a viral Twitter thread and includes some especially incredible performances from Taylour Paige, Riley Keough and Colman Domingo. 

Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton in Mass

(Image credit: Bleecker Street)


One of the best movies of the year, and certainly one of the most topical in 2021, is a movie called Mass. The drama starring Jason Issacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd is a simple concept of two pairs of parents who meet face-to-face years after a tragic shooting. One of them are parents to a victim and the other are parents to the perpetrator. The performance driven movie brings up important discussions on gun violence, mental health and the complicated emotions of grief, guilt and forgiveness associated with a topic that is unfortunately a common occurrence in the U.S. 

Nicolas Cage in Pig

(Image credit: Neon)


It’s been some time since audiences raved about a specific Nicolas Cage performance, and in 2021, it’s his role in Pig which flew under the radar over the summer amidst more high-profile releases. The thrilling drama centers on Cage as a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness and goes in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped. You wouldn’t think it from first glance, but Pig is a deeply moving movie that's collected a lot of fans. 

Drive My Car still

(Image credit: Bitters End)

Drive My Car

While we could certainly craft an entire list of foreign films we need to catch up on from 2021, one particular movie from overseas is being hailed a “masterpiece” from the film community, and yet it has yet to hit the mainstream status of other movies of its caliber. Drive My Car, which was recently named Best Picture by the L.A. Film Critics Association, is a Japanese drama based on a Haruki Murakami short story follows a stage actor and the young woman appointed to drive his car. 

The beauty about movies is you never really know which treasure you’ll find that may speak to you, perhaps even more than a big-budget film like Spider-Man: No Way Home. Check out these under-the-radar films and we also urge you to find your own hidden gems and share them as well! 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.