Just before the apocalypse, I tossed out a blog post about how 2019 was a good year for movies, cleanly beating out 2015, 2016, and 2017, and getting a less overwhelming but I would say still decisive win over 2018. 2020 was an absolute trainwreck of a year for movies, of course, with the frontrunner being…what, Birds of Prey? New Mutants? Wonder Woman 1984? Sonic the fucking Hedgehog? These are movies that would usually struggle to make it into the top five, and they’re fighting for first place. I have no idea what the final top five movie would even be. Monster Hunter? Mortal Kombat Legends? Onward? We’re basically just grabbing something out of the garbage and shoving it onstage to make sure the live action Mulan doesn’t get it. Maybe we should give fifth place to Xiran Jay Zhao’s YouTube video about why Mulan 2020 is bad. Maybe we should give first place to Xiran Jay Zhao’s YouTube video about why Mulan 2020 is bad.
What about 2021, though? Can it compete with 2018 and 2019? Does it at least hold up to 2015, 2016, and 2017, indicating a recovery from the damage the pandemic did to the film industry? Our standout films of the year are definitely Dune and Encanto, and I think that combo holds up well against the one-two punch of Joker and 1917 that pushed 2019 so high in my estimation. Spider-Man: No Way Home even provides solid competition to Endgame in its fan-service-done-well niche. 2021 also provides a pretty standard share of solid popcorn movies to round out the top five: Shang Chi, Black Widow, The Suicide Squad, No Time To Die. I’ll even call out Free Guy and Jungle Cruise as being fun even though they’re not top five material in this or any other year, but I think it’s worth noting when even the bad films are good enough to pass ninety minutes if (for example) you want to hang out with your little sister for an hour or two while she’s visiting for Christmas.
Still, the top five contenders for 2021 are a bit weak compared to what we’ve had in years past. 2017’s also-rans included Wonder Woman and Lego Batman, 2016 had Rogue One and Zootopia, 2015 had the Martian.
Most years have one stand-out film, and 2021 had both Encanto and Dune. On the other hand, the trailing films compare pretty poorly to most other years and get absolutely pulverized by 2019’s top five contenders, like Knives Out, Endgame, Toy Story 4, Detective Pikachu, the Lego Movie 2, and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Overall, I think 2021 in film holds up well against most other years, and might even be joining 2018 and 2019 in The Best Three Years Of Film Which I Have Bothered To Investigate Even A Little Bit, just on the strength of Dune and Encanto, but it’s doing so as a clear third place behind the other two.