Over the years, Netflix has proven to be a hub for original movies and television of all genres, and honestly – varying quality. This year, the streaming service promised subscribers a new movie every single week from its studio. Now that 2021 has come to a close, let’s break down the best Netflix movies of the year.
There’s truly something here for everyone. It goes to show that Netflix is most definitely a groundbreaking company that has the ability to simultaneously release a refreshing western, animated project, musical adaptation or anything in between.
The Power Of The Dog
Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog assembles powerful performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The movie takes place in Montana in 1925 about the unsettling tension between cattle rancher Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch) and the family his brother (Plemons) brings home with him. It’s a challenging film from legendary writer/director Jane Campion we'll be sure to talk about throughout awards season.
It’s been a massive year for Lin-Manuel Miranda between the film adaptation of his first Broadway musical In The Heights hitting theaters, his directorial debut on Tick, Tick… Boom! and his latest Disney collaboration Encanto, but another great project he was part of flew under the radar. Vivo is a sweet and touching animated movie about a dancing and singing Honey Bear who races to deliver a special message with the help of a young girl. Vivo will strike an emotional chord for audiences of all ages, along with being really effective entertainment for kids.
Another worthwhile period piece fronted by a magnificent cast is The Dig. The Netflix film is based on a book of the same name (and a true story), and tells the story of a priceless buried treasure discovered in England on the eve of World War II. Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Lily James star in a beautifully filmed English countryside that takes a gentle and moving approach to telling its archeological truths.
The White Tiger
At the top of the year, Netflix subtly put out The White Tiger, a compelling crime drama about an Indian driver who uses his wits to escape his life of poverty and become a successful entrepreneur in modern-day India. The film features a memorable breakout performance from Adarsh Gourav, along with featuring Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas in key roles. The White Tiger also doubles as a clever satire about classism in India, providing a unique perspective from your typical Netflix original.
Alongside starring in The Night House and Godzilla vs. Kong this year, actress Rebecca Hall made her directorial debut in Passing, starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. The black and white film based on the 1929 novel is about Clare, a Black woman (Negga) who lives her life “passing” as a white woman in ‘20s NYC. When she runs into a childhood friend Irene (Thompson) around the city, Clare becomes drawn to her roots and complicates both their lives. Passing is stylishly adapted and has a classic feel to it we’ll return to for years to come.
The Fear Street Trilogy
Over the summer, Netflix tried something new in releasing an interconnected trilogy over the course of three weeks based on R.L. Stine’s beloved series of horror novels. The Fear Street movies took place and were called 1994, 1978 and 1666, and they brought a fun and exciting slasher trio to the streaming service. The trilogy was executed seamlessly and each installment had its own merits, with the relationship between Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch’s Deena and Samantha being the emotional throughline. These films were an absolute blast and it goes to show Netflix can and should pull off more event trilogies like this.
The Harder They Fall
One of the most memorable and distinct films of 2021 is Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall. The Western with a modern flair is based on real Black cowboys of the American West, such as Nat Love and Rufus Buck. The movie centers on Jonathan Majors’ as Nat Love and his tragic rise to become a hero of the Old West, foiled by Idris Elba’s infamous outlaw Rufus Buck. The Harder They Fall sets things up by telling the audience the story itself is entirely fictional, even though the characters are named after real people. This gives the movie the ability to loosen up and tell an exciting Western story also starring Zazie Beetz, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield and Delroy Lindo.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Sony Animation’s partnership with Netflix paid off two-fold when The Mitchells vs. the Machines premiered exclusively on the streaming service early this year. It’s an ode to the love of cinema disguised as a family action film. The movie follows a dysfunctional modern nuclear family as the older child Katie (Abbi Jacobson) gets ready to move to college to pursue a career in moviemaking. As tensions run high between Katie and her father with an unexpected road trip, the family find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse. It's truly one of the most joyous watches of the year.
Bo Burnham: Inside
If you could only stick a few movies in a time capsule to communicate the state of our culture in 2021, you’d most certainly have to include Bo Burnham: Inside. While some might distinguish this as a comedy special, I’d argue this is a movie. It has three acts, a main character and a cinematic quality to it, even though at its core, it’s comedian Bo Burnham in a room with a projector, a few props and some songs to sing. Inside has Burnham stuck inside his house due to the pandemic and pondering the big questions, between internet culture, a white woman’s Instagram, being “problematic” and depression. The Netflix original is an introspective, harrowing and entertaining meditation on being alive in the pandemic era.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, Tick, Tick… Boom!, brings Rent playwright Jonathan Larson’s show of the same name to life, and it’s an unforgettable film. Andrew Garfield owns the role and is accompanied by a host of talents, including Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens and Robin de Jesús. Through Larson’s ambition to become a successful playwright prior to Rent exploding, Tick, Tick… Boom! discusses the power and pitfalls of being a working creative along with some beautiful life lessons and incredibly catchy songs. It’s an instant classic and beautiful comfort film.
It's been another great year in movies for Netflix. We'll keep you updated here on CinemaBlend in 2022 with the streamer's next year packed with more movies.
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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.