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The 10 best blockbusters of 2021

@Russellisation

To settle the debate that director’s around the world from Martin Scorsese to Denis Villeneuve seem to be engaged in, yes, superhero films are a little monotonous, though they are also, almost single-handedly, keeping the industry afloat in a time of need. Sure, a saturation of the cinema landscape with stories from the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and The Avengers gets boring but such is the reality of modern filmmaking. Can’t independent cinema and blockbuster tentpoles just learn to get along!

Though, of course, just because a film is a big-budget blockbuster doesn’t mean it also has to be dull and tedious, this is an argument that lies at the core of such debates. 2021 demonstrated this with Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, a film of epic proportions that provided a compelling narrative alongside bombastic science fiction action scenes. Look closer and the likes of Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan and (arguably) James Gunn are keen to change the identity of the by-the-numbers modern blockbuster.

Still in the midst of a global pandemic, the blockbuster films of 2021 lacked the impact of previous years though still managed to dish up consistent entertainment throughout the course of the year. From James Bond’s long-awaited return to the silver screen to the epic conclusion to Tom Holland’s story as Spider-Man, let’s take a look into the top ten big-budget films of 2021.

The 10 best blockbusters of 2021:

10. Mortal Kombat (Simon McQuoid)

Let’s get one thing clear, Mortal Kombat is no work of art, far from it in fact, but if the gripping opening suggests anything it’s that it certainly could have been. Nonetheless, Mortal Kombat is stupid, harmless fun.

Operating at a breakneck speed, Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat flies through its laughable story to cut to the chase of several impressive action scenes. The film follows a MMA fighter called Cole Young who sets out to join Earth’s greatest fighters in order to save the world from a cosmic threat. It’s a fantastical and genuinely compelling premise, taken from the original video game, and supplies plenty of thrills throughout. 

9. Old (M. Night Shyamalan)

The king of the cinematic surprise, M. Night Shyamalan is clearly enjoying himself with Old, a playful sandbox of various ideas that just about comes together to create one of the director’s most enjoyable modern works. 

Centring in on a central premise that depicts a mysterious beach whose inhabitants begin to age rapidly, the film turns into quite the jarring murder mystery in which characters must try to work out what on earth is happening and why. A strange and suitably offputting watch, Old is a fun time, helped by the dedicated performances of the cast that includes Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff and Gael García Bernal. 

8. Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings (Destin Daniel Cretton)

Where is the Marvel cinematic universe set to go after the epic conclusion of Avengers: Endgame? Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings certainly offers the most compelling answer to such a question, presenting one of the studio’s most original films in years. 

Starring Simu Liu as the titular Shang-Chi alongside his co-star Awkwafina as Katy, director Destin Daniel Cretton helps to craft a diverse Marvel success that shows off the world of its previously unknown character. With dazzling visuals and a genuinely intriguing story, Shang-Chi is a film inspired by the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with one foot at the very forefront of superhero filmmaking.

7. The Matrix Resurrections (Lana Wachowski)

It’s taken 18 years for audiences to be treated with a sequel to The Matrix Revolutions, though finally, the time has come with The Matrix Resurrections being released in 2021, to mixed reviews and confused faces from film fans across the world.

Juggling multiple ideas and concepts that are never properly established, Lana Wachowski tries to do too much in the latest Matrix instalment, ultimately achieving little at all. In the film’s insatiable thirst to be seen as relevant, it merely accentuates just how far The Matrix has degraded since the original 1999 film. With that being said, Lana Wachowski does present something staggeringly original into an industry that can so often feel stale.

6. No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga)

Speaking of bizarre re-introductions to classic characters, No Time to Die marked the final film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as the iconic British spy, letting the character go with a flourish and bizarre final note. 

For everything that works with No Time to Die there is something else that lets the film down. The action is fantastic yet there is little emotion behind each punch, Rami Malek gives a compelling performance though he has little material to play with. No Time to Die is certainly among the better films of Daniel Craig’s James Bond career though it still leaves a little to be desired. 

5. Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts)

The biggest film for Marvel ever since Avengers: Endgame bookended Phase 3 of their meta-universe, Spider-Man: No Way Home is the first major tentpole of their latest plans, promising big things for the future of the juggernaut franchise. 

Connecting the Spider-Man universes of old, Jon Watt’s latest film celebrates Sam Raimi’s original trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, harking back to the iconic villains who helped to make such films shine. Featuring the likes of Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Electro and the Lizard, Spider-Man: No Way Home pats itself on the back for recalling the past with one eye on the future of the series itself. It all feels like a ‘who’s who’ exhibition, but it’s certainly a thrill for fans.

4. A Quiet Place: Part II (John Krasinski)

Hit with multiple delays thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, the follow up to the sleeper-hit of 2018, A Quiet Place, was supposed to come out in March 2020, only for it to be pushed back by an entire year.

Continuing on from the events of the previous film, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her family venture out into the unknown to find pastures new only to discover other humans in the wild who aren’t as friendly as they first appear to be. Just as gripping as the first film, the second part in the ongoing series continues to crank up the intensity, promising an epic finale in the third film from John Krasinski coming out in 2022. 

3. The Suicide Squad (James Gunn)

After David Ayer succeeded in bringing one of the worst superhero films to the silver screen in 2016 with Suicide Squad starring Will Smith and Jared Leto, James Gunn added ‘The’ and managed to create something far more gripping in the process.

With a range of famous faces including Margot Robbie, Pete Davidson, Idris Elba, Daniela Melchior, Sylvester Stallone and Taika Waititi, James Gunn’s tale of a band of supervillains forced into fighting for the benefit of humanity is a hilarious ride. Often bombastically silly and just a little over the top, The Suicide Squad does exactly what it intends to do from the outset, making fun of its ridiculous premise with joyous self-awareness. 

2. In the Heights (Jon M. Chu)

Whilst everyone has been harking on about Steven Spielberg’s underwhelming remake of West Side Story, audiences have seemed to have forgotten about the far superior musical, In the Heights, released in the summer. 

Adapted from the stage play by Hamilton director Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights is written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and features several standout musical numbers that are brought to life with staggering energy by the lead cast. Starring Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins and Melissa Barrera, In the Heights, takes the prize of the best musical of 2021, even if Steven Spielberg thinks he can take the crown uncontested.

1. Dune (Denis Villeneuve)

Not only the biggest and best blockbuster of 2021 but arguably the best blockbuster of the entire 21st century, Dune from the visionary director Denis Villeneuve is a marvel of kaleidoscopic science fiction filmmaking. 

With an ensemble cast that stands at the very top of pop culture, including the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem and many more. Bringing Frank Herbert’s iconic novel to life, Villeneuve captures the scope of the story from the epic world of Arrakis to the giant sandworms. Alongside Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is helping to transform the world of big-budget cinema.