2021 would be the year when people would return to the cinema to watch movies. But thanks to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, movie studios continued to delay major movie releases. They also sold a lot of movies to streaming services, fearing they wouldn’t become big blockbusters in the current environment. For example, our list of the best streaming movies of 2021 includes a few movies intended for a theatrical release, which instead ended up on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus.
read more: The best streaming services
However, there were still a lot of great movies made especially for streaming services in 2021. Our list this year runs from animated family movies to sci-fi action movies to westerns (two of them). There’s even a four-hour superhero epic to stream.
We did record a few movies from Netflix in very short and limited theatrical runs. However, we didn’t include movies that also had major day-and-date releases in theaters. That includes all Warner Bros. theatrical films. which debuted on HBO Max, along with the Disney Plus Premier Access movies and a few more daily movies that also appeared on Paramount Plus and Peacock. With that out of the way, here are the ten best streaming movies of 2021, in no particular order.
The best streaming movies of 2021
Army of the Dead (Netflix)
In Army of the Dead, co-writer-director Zack Snyder combined two popular film genres that you might not think would go well together. A zombie plague has hit Las Vegas and the US has barricaded the city from all sides. However, there is still a lot of money in a vault in a Vegas casino. The casino owner wants it, so a team of mercenaries, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, are hired to go in and get the money out, and hopefully avoid being bitten by the undead.
This mix of zombie movie and heist movie is a lot of fun, and you have some time to get to know many of the characters who take to the undead streets of Vegas. Also be sure to watch Army of Thieves, a prequel film starring Matthias Schweighöfer as Ludwig, the film’s memorable locksmith (Schweighöfer also directed the film).
I care a lot (Netflix)
Before playing a sorceress in Amazon Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time, Rosamund Pike starred in this Netflix original movie. She plays a woman who spends a lot of money targeting older people and forces herself into their lives as their court-appointed guardian. The movie title suggests that she may care about her charges, but in reality she only wants to take their possessions for herself.
This black satire highlights the very real problem of seniors finding themselves out of control over their lives because of people like Pike’s character. She may have met her match in this movie, as her latest target is the mother of a major crime boss. It is definitely one of the best streaming movies of 2021.
Tomorrow’s War (Amazon Prime Video)
Initially set to be released in theaters by Paramount, the studio decided to sell the film to Amazon Prime Video, who released it in the US during the week of July 4. This was the perfect popcorn action movie for the summer. Chris Pratt plays a former soldier turned teacher. He, and the rest of the human race, find their lives turned upside down when a group of humans from the future appear, eager to recruit new soldiers to fend off an alien invasion.
This movie mirrors previous movies like Independence Day, Starship Troopers and others. However, it also has a surprising humanity (which we won’t give away here). There are a lot of great action scenes and the aliens themselves are pretty scary too. Sit back and enjoy this entertaining movie.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines (Netflix)
Netflix picked up this amazing animated film from Sony. It comes from co-writer and director Michael Rianda, who was previously one of the great creators behind the excellent Disney Channel series Gravity falls. Like that series, this film revolves around ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. In this case, the Mitchell family is humanity’s only hope, as a rogue AI takes over all machines in an attempt to capture all humans and send them into space.
There are a lot of funny bits in this movie, but there are also some great family bonding themes, especially with daughter Katie Mitchell, who comes into conflict with her father, Rick. However, they try to push that aside if the Rebel AI’s plans come true.
Tap, tap… Boom! (Netflix)
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, makes his directorial debut with this Netflix original film. Jonathan Larson originally wrote this music drama, but for the movie version; Miranda also made an autobiography of Larson, who died very early at the age of 35, just before his most famous musical, Rent, had its first off-Broadway appearance in 1996.
The musical itself is excellent and is aided by a great performance by Andrew Garfield as Larson. The character is depicted as a person trying to become a success as an artist, but at the cost of his relationships with his friends. There are some surprising musical set pieces in this movie, which is only part of why we chose it as one of the best streaming movies of 2021.
The Harder They Fall (Netflix)
This is the first western on our list, and while it’s a fiction movie, the main characters are all based on real people who lived in the Wild West. Nat Love, played by Jonathan Majors, wants to take out border crime boss Rufus Buck, played by Idris Elba, who killed Love’s parents right before his eyes when he was a little boy. He gathers a band of snipers to take Buck down.
There are some great western shootouts in this movie along with excellent performances from Major, Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King and others. It also has a great soundtrack.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (HBO Max)
Yes, Snyder gets two movies on this list. The fact that this film even exists is a testament to the dedication of Snyder and his loyal fans who demanded that the film be released. The DC Comics superhero team movie Justice League was first released in 2017, but Snyder, although credited as director, did not make the final cut of the film due to a family tragedy. Again, the film had extensive reshoots written and directed by someone else. The final result was a huge disappointment and fans campaigned to get Warner Bros to release “the Snyder Cut”.
Warner Bros. gave in and allowed Snyder to recreate Justice League and even film a new sequence in this massive four-hour epic. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg fight to save Earth from Steppenwolf and his armies, and ultimately from his master Darkseid. Despite its length, this film feels like the version it should have always been. You can also watch a black and white version of this movie at HBO Max.
The Guilty (Netflix)
After directing endless, an over-the-top action movie that ended up being dumped on Paramount Plus, director Antoine Fuqua turned around and crafted a more realistic and intimate crime thriller for Netflix. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a Los Angeles police officer with a troubled past. As a result, he is assigned to a 911 call center. Things quickly get tense when he takes a call from a woman who claims she’s been kidnapped.
Gyllenhaal’s character desperately tries to help this woman while she is still at the 911 call center. There is a lot of suspense and suspense as we not only learn more about this crime but also about Gyllenhaal’s character.
Luca (Disney Plus)
Disney decided to release the latest animated film of its Pixar division as streaming exclusive on Disney Plus. The end result is a beautiful film, both narratively and visually. Located on the coast of Italy, the town of Portorosso looks like a magical place thanks to Pixar’s artists and animators.
The story revolves around two sea creatures who live in this small town, but under human disguises. The film is all about acceptance and friendship, no matter where someone is or what they look like. It’s a great lesson to learn in a very entertaining and beautiful movie.
The Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Jane Campion, the acclaimed director of films like The Piano, returns to feature films after 12 years with this western film (ironically shot mainly in New Zealand). Benedict Cumberbatch might give his best performance yet (and that’s saying something) as Phil Burbank, a 1925 Montana rancher who tries to make himself look like a real man.
Burbank’s life changes when his brother George (Jesse Plemons) marries a woman (Kirsten Dunst), who also has a nearly grown son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil first makes fun of George’s new wife and stepson, but then things about Phil’s past come to light. It’s a powerful drama with great performances, including some spectacular cinematography.
Best Streaming Movies of 2021 — Honorable Mentions
Here are a few more great streaming movies that just missed our top 10 list:
- No sudden movement (HBO Maximum) — Steven Soderbergh directs another excellent heist movie, this time set in the 1950s, with an all-star cast.
- off the wire (Netflix) — Anthony Mackie stars in this film as he plays a near-future android who teams up with a human officer to prevent a nuclear attack.
- Blood red sky (Netflix) — This German language film turns what looks like an airplane hijacking movie into a horror movie.
- Finch (Apple TV Plus) — Tom Hanks stars in this science fiction epic about a man who tries to avoid dying on a post-apocalypse Earth, with the help of his dog and robot.
- boss level (Hoera) — Time loop movies seem to be a growing trend, but this one is also a solid B-movie style action movie.
Those are our picks for the best streaming movies of 2021. Do you agree with our list? If not, what movies would you shoot? Let us know in the comments!