(Photo by Lionsgate. Thumbnail: Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection.)
Rotten Tomatoes is collecting every new Certified Fresh movie into one list, creating our guide to the best movies of 2021. Among them you’ll find blockbusters (Godzilla vs. Kong), documentaries (Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry), awards contenders (Minari, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Father), and the cutting-edge in horror (Come True, The Queen of Black Magic).
Movies achieve Certified Fresh status by maintaining a Tomatometer score of at least 75% after a minimum number of reviews, with that number depending on how the movie was released. For wide releases (of which there were significantly fewer this year, as you can imagine), the minimum number of reviews is 80. For streaming or limited release movies, that number is 40. And finally, it’s 20 reviews for movies premiering on television. Across all release types, each movie needs at least five of its reviews to be. Once a movie goes Certified Fresh, the only way to lose it is by dropping below 70%.
After the world-altering year of 2020, critics and audiences and studio heads alike are navigating 2021 with its evolving distribution models and industry standards. So far, streaming continues to deliver the goods straight to the people (Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar), as theaters carefully thread the needle during the re-opening process with their releases (Nobody). Meanwhile, major studios experiment with dual streaming and theatrical releases, for the likes of Raya and the Last Dragon and Godzilla vs. Kong.
Read on for the best movies of 2021, ranked by Tomatometer, and check back often as we update the list!
Adjusted Score: 77.796%
Critics Consensus: Although it traffics in familiar territory, Palmer is elevated by worthy themes and a strong ensemble led by an impressive Justin Timberlake.
Adjusted Score: 88.528%
Critics Consensus: Delivering squarely on its title, Godzilla vs. Kong swats away character development and human drama to deliver all the spectacle you’d expect from giant monsters slugging it out.
Adjusted Score: 76.875%
Critics Consensus: Spoor stylishly taps into a deep well of anger to deliver an unusual yet largely effective revenge thriller with environmental and feminist overtones.
Adjusted Score: 77.796%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Adjusted Score: 79.26%
Critics Consensus: Pixie borrows shamelessly from multiple like-minded heist thrillers; fortunately, Olivia Cooke’s outstanding lead performance makes for a great getaway vehicle.
Adjusted Score: 80.136%
Critics Consensus: Diminishing returns have set in for this trilogy, but To All the Boys: Always and Forever has just enough of the original’s effervescent charm to serve as a worthy conclusion.
Adjusted Score: 80.182%
Critics Consensus: Its characters’ time-loop journey is a little bumpy and fairly familiar, but heartfelt charm and likeable leads make A Map of Tiny Perfect Things worth following.
Adjusted Score: 85.102%
Critics Consensus: Bright, colorful, and unabashedly silly, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar reaffirms that Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig are still as fun — and funny — as ever.
Adjusted Score: 80.943%
Critics Consensus: Fans of uplifting sports dramas will find Safety in this skillfully told fact-based story about an athlete overcoming adversity.
Adjusted Score: 88.362%
Critics Consensus: A searing swipe at late-stage capitalism, I Care A Lot is an exhilarating pitch black comedy with a wicked performance from Rosamund Pike.
Adjusted Score: 82.721%
Critics Consensus: The dramatic heft and dread of The Night delivers haunting psychological frights — and an impressive feature directorial debut for Kourosh Ahari.
Adjusted Score: 88.809%
Critics Consensus: Nobody doesn’t break any new ground for the genre, but this viscerally violent thriller smashes, shatters, and destroys plenty of other things — all while proving Bob Odenkirk has what it takes to be an action star.
Adjusted Score: 83.843%
Critics Consensus: Savagely funny and viscerally unsettling, The Columnist takes the unbridled vitriol of social media to its bloodily over-the-top conclusion.
Adjusted Score: 88.643%
Critics Consensus: Well-acted and visually striking, Come True offers an eerily effective reminder of how the sleeping subconscious can be fertile ground for horror.
Adjusted Score: 91.871%
Critics Consensus: The Courier delivers a rousingly effective old-school spy adventure elevated by a thrilling fact-based story and Benedict Cumberbatch’s nervy central performance.
Adjusted Score: 90.197%
Critics Consensus: Violation presents a powerful depiction of one woman’s trauma — and its uncomfortably gripping aftermath.
Adjusted Score: 89.26%
Critics Consensus: Its title may be unwieldy, but Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time looks at the nature of love with commendable clarity.
Adjusted Score: 90.121%
Critics Consensus: Operation Varsity Blues uses a unique stylistic blend of documentary and re-enactments to compellingly piece together the details of a torn-from-the-tabloids scandal.
Adjusted Score: 90.891%
Critics Consensus: For viewers tuned into Quentin Dupieux’s frequently absurd wavelength, Keep an Eye Out offers another delightfully off-kilter triumph.
Adjusted Score: 90.946%
Critics Consensus: The Queen of Black Magic mixes buried trauma with supernatural horror to produce a dark blend that genre fans will savor.
Adjusted Score: 93.843%
Critics Consensus: Consistently clever and creepy, The Vigil mines richly atmospheric supernatural horror from a deep well of religious traditions.
Adjusted Score: 105.443%
Critics Consensus: A boldly provocative, timely thriller, Promising Young Woman is an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Emerald Fennell — and a career highlight for Carey Mulligan.
Adjusted Score: 92.085%
Critics Consensus: A striking debut from director/co-writer Dea Kulumbegashvili, Beginning grapples convincingly with complex ideas while offering a brilliant showcase for star Ia Sukhitashvili.
Adjusted Score: 92.629%
Critics Consensus: Some Kind of Heaven could have gone deeper into its subject, but it remains a breezily entertaining look at some interesting people.
Adjusted Score: 93.136%
Critics Consensus: Tough but stirring, Little Fish uses one couple’s pandemic love story to illustrate the strength of human connection in trying times.
Adjusted Score: 93.214%
Critics Consensus: Days of the Bagnold Summer draws on well-rounded performances from its leads to fill in the familiar outlines of its coming-of-age story with gentle humor and tender insight.
Adjusted Score: 93.891%
Critics Consensus: Lapsis binds economic anxiety to an unsettling sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future, with smartly inventive results.
Adjusted Score: 94.038%
Critics Consensus: Raw and riveting, Blue Story overcomes its somewhat prosaic story with powerful performances and an impressive clarity of purpose.
Adjusted Score: 94.085%
Critics Consensus: About Endlessness sees writer-director Roy Andersson surveying the human condition with equal parts striking clarity, tenderness, and deadpan existential wit.
Adjusted Score: 94.891%
Critics Consensus: A rich blend of thrilling horror and sharp social commentary, Lucky acts as a bloody good calling card for director Natasha Kermani and writer-star Brea Grant.
Adjusted Score: 105.452%
Critics Consensus: Another gorgeously animated, skillfully voiced entry in the Disney canon, Raya and the Last Dragon continues the studio’s increased representation while reaffirming that its classic formula is just as reliable as ever.
Adjusted Score: 95.983%
Critics Consensus: Test Pattern surveys the aftermath of a woman’s assault — and uncovers the many ways in which personal trauma can be compounded by systemic injustice.
Adjusted Score: 97.132%
Critics Consensus: The Human Voice unites Pedro Almodóvar and Tilda Swinton for a short film whose rich rewards are belied by its abbreviated length.
Adjusted Score: 97.537%
Critics Consensus: Stray takes a patient, meditative look at the lives of Istanbul’s stray dog population — and uncovers truths of the human condition in the process.
Adjusted Score: 109.62%
Critics Consensus: An electrifying dramatization of historical events, Judas and the Black Messiah is a forceful condemnation of racial injustice — and a major triumph for its director and stars.
Adjusted Score: 98.843%
Critics Consensus: A slim-cut slice of bizarre horror, Slaxx effectively balances quirk with gore — and has the good sense to get out before its oddball premise starts showing its seams.
Adjusted Score: 99.413%
Critics Consensus: A remarkable feature debut for director/co-writer Filippo Meneghetti, Two of Us tells a deceptively complex love story while presenting a rich acting showcase for its three leads.
Adjusted Score: 99.744%
Critics Consensus: The Truffle Hunters explores a world most viewers will know nothing about — with delightfully savory results.
Adjusted Score: 98.99%
Critics Consensus: A deft and illuminating journalistic investigation, Assassins depicts the mechanics of North Korean politics to a chilling effect.
Adjusted Score: 99.075%
Critics Consensus: The Reason I Jump’s moving personal perspective succeeds in providing an authentic understanding of its subjects’ journeys.
Adjusted Score: 100.69%
Critics Consensus: A ruefully funny calling card for debuting director Emma Seligman, Shiva Baby transcends its sitcom setup with strong performances and satisfying insights.
Adjusted Score: 101.381%
Critics Consensus: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry offers an enlightening — and sometimes uncomfortable — look behind the scenes of a young star’s ascension.
Adjusted Score: 106.039%
Critics Consensus: Led by stellar performances and artfully helmed by writer-director Florian Zeller, The Father presents a devastatingly empathetic portrayal of dementia.
Adjusted Score: 109.842%
Critics Consensus: Led by arresting performances from Steven Yeun and Yeri Han, Minari offers an intimate and heart-wrenching portrait of family and assimilation in 1980s America.
Adjusted Score: 103.396%
Critics Consensus: MLK/FBI presents a sobering overview of the American intelligence community’s efforts to discredit and destroy a leader of the civil rights movement.
Adjusted Score: 100.99%
Critics Consensus: A clear-eyed look at an extraordinary subject, Mayor makes essential viewing out of one politician’s quest to preserve dignity in the midst of bureaucracy.
Adjusted Score: 101.121%
Critics Consensus: Quo Vadis, Aida? uses one woman’s heartbreaking conflict to offer a searing account of war’s devastating human toll.
Adjusted Score: 101.214%
Critics Consensus: A slow-burning descent into desperation, Identifying Features uses one shattered family’s ordeal to offer a harrowing look at the immigrant experience.
Adjusted Score: 103.644%
Critics Consensus: A raw, fly-on-the-wall recounting of hospital life in Wuhan in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, 76 Days is an engrossing and potent documentary – and a surprisingly comforting portrait of humanity.