16 of the most popular movies of the year, ranked from worst to best

·9 min read
Tom Holland in Spider Man No way home, Emma Stone in Cruella, and Zendaya in Dune
Several blockbusters — like "Spider-Man: No Way Home," "Cruella," and "Dune" — came out in 2021.Sony Pictures/Disney/Warner Bros
  • Several highly anticipated films came out this year, though some impressed critics more than others.

  • Superhero installments like "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Shang-Chi" wowed reviewers.

  • "Space Jam: A New Legacy" and "Halloween Kills" failed to impress most critics this year.

The much-anticipated "Spider-Man: No Way Home" lived up to expectations.

Tom Holland wearing the Spider-Man suit with iron legs in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."
Tom Holland in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%

Summary: When Peter Parker (Tom Holland) enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to restore his secret, the superhero must grapple with what it really means to be Spider-Man.

The third Spider-Man installment of Holland's turn as the beloved hero, "No Way Home" was lauded by critics and audience members alike.

"'No Way Home' delivers everything you want from a Marvel epic and then some," wrote critic Victor Stiff. "It's cheekily self-aware, unapologetically heartfelt, and thrilling from start to finish."

Critics loved "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

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Simu Liu in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."Marvel Studios

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Summary: After leaving his past behind, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must fight the Ten Rings army and confront his father (Tony Leung) before an evil force is unleashed on the planet.

Critics said "Shang-Chi" added a much-needed boost to the long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe with its exhilarating fight scenes and charismatic leads.

"It's a strong debut for a new hero, injecting diverse blood into the MCU in a way that does not feel forced or hollow," Sara Michelle Fetters wrote for Movie Freak.

"A Quiet Place Part II" left critics on the edge of their seats.

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Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, and Emily Blunt in "A Quiet Place Part II."Paramount Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Summary: After the death of their father (John Krasinski), Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) seek shelter with their mother (Emily Blunt) as they evade monsters that hunt by sound.

Critics said "A Quiet Place Part II" built upon the thrills of its predecessor while adding anticipation for a potential third installment.

In a review for Film Frenzy, Matt Brunson wrote that "there's still plenty to admire about this intelligent and engrossing follow-up."

Critics said "No Time to Die" was a rewarding finale for Daniel Craig.

no time to die
Daniel Craig in "No Time to Die"MGM

Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%

Summary: After a brief retirement, James Bond (Craig) is pulled back into the secret service after a CIA confidant (Jeffrey Wright) asks him to help save a kidnapped scientist.

Although critics admitted that "No Time to Die" was hardly the strongest Bond film in its long franchise, it was a fitting end for Craig's era.

"It was sure time, but Daniel Craig earned his finale through this 15-year and five-film arc," Don Shanahan said on the "Cinephile Hissy Fit" podcast.

The space epic "Dune" was a critical success.

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Timothée Chalamet in "Dune."Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 83%

Summary: Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) comes of age in the distant future as he travels to another planet and seeks stability for his family's regime.

Adapting the novel by Frank Herbert was a huge feat, but critics said director Denis Villeneuve rose to the occasion.

"I really loved 'Dune,'" critic Chris Stuckmann reviewed. "The action set pieces were phenomenal, but the focus was almost always on the characters."

Critics loved Ryan Reynolds in "Free Guy."

Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy.
Ryan Reynolds in "Free Guy."20th Century Studios

Rotten Tomatoes score: 80%

Summary: A bank teller (Reynolds) is blindsided when he realizes that he is actually an NPC in an open-world video game.

According to critics, "Free Guy" was a winning action-comedy with a lot of heart thanks to Reynolds' charm.

"What is important is that Reynolds is playing his typical character, who kicks ass and makes you laugh," Carey-Ann Pawsey wrote for OrcaSound.

Reviewers said "Black Widow" was held together by the strength of its leads.

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Scarlett Johansson in "Black Widow."Marvel Studios

Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%

Summary: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) reunites with her pseudo-sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) to take care of the unfinished business that haunts her past.

Although its plotting and dialogue could have afforded a few more edits, "Black Widow" was called a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"A fabulous director and two awesome stars battle their way through a wonky script," Julia Swift reviewed for My Champlain Valley.

Critics said "Godzilla vs. Kong" was fun if you didn't think about it too much.

godzilla vs kong warner bros
"Godzilla vs. Kong" is a crossover action flick.Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 75%

Summary: A cataclysmic fight takes place between two titans as Kong and Godzilla cross paths in this action-adventure film.

Critics said the bombastic monster movie was best enjoyed if you turned off your brain a little.

"Does any of the hollow earth plot make sense on any real scientific level?" Therese Lacson wrote in a review for Nerdophiles. "No, but who cares? We're having fun."

The Disney prequel "Cruella" got a thumbs up from critics.

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Emma Stone in "Cruella."Disney

Rotten Tomatoes score: 74%

Summary: Estella (Emma Stone), an up-and-comer in the world of fashion, rebrands herself as Cruella when she falls in line with a pair of thieves in the London underground.

Although a few critics felt it was unnecessarily long, "Cruella" ultimately earned praise for its lavish wardrobe, set design, and fun cast.

"[Director Craig] Gillespie and his team have delivered audiences a suitably wicked and well-acted backstory for one of Disney's greatest villains," Emma Badame wrote for That Shelf.

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" earned a mix of positive and lukewarm reviews.

Mckenna Grace using a proton pack
Mckenna Grace in "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."Sony

Rotten Tomatoes score: 63%

Summary: Years after the events of "Ghostbusters" (1984), Egon Spengler's daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) relocates her kids to Oklahoma, where they meet a Ghostbusters superfan (Paul Rudd) and unearth secrets about their grandfather's lore.

Stuffed with callbacks and nostalgic references, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" owed a lot to the original franchise while still earning good marks from critics.

"This new film achieves the right balance of new and familiar in a way I wish more cinematic revisits would try more often," Steve Prokopy wrote for Third Coast Review.

Critics said "Jungle Cruise" mostly coasted on Blunt's charm.

Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson Jungle Cruise
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in "Jungle Cruise."Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 62%

Summary: Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) and skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) search for an ancient healing tree on a dangerous adventure through the Amazon.

"Jungle Cruise" had a fair share of faults, but critics agreed that the film was best when Blunt was front and center.

"She's so much better than anything else in the movie that she makes it not only tolerable but sometimes surprisingly enjoyable," Mark Feeney wrote for the Boston Globe.

"F9: The Fast Saga" was reviewed as a silly, action-packed installment.

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Vin Diesel in "F9: The Fast Saga."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 59%

Summary: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) enjoys a brief stint of peace with his family before he's forced to step up and stop the world's top assassin: his own brother (John Cena).

"F9" earned a mixed reception from critics who said the over-the-top thrills were either a turn-off or an acquired taste.

"The film flexes the kind of self awareness to push the series into full blown parody, while still showing some mileage left," wrote film critic Damian Levy.

"Venom: Let There Be Carnage" had its share of fans among critics.

Tom Hardy looking at Venom
Tom Hardy in "Venom: Let There Be Carnage."Sony

Rotten Tomatoes score: 58%

Summary: Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) struggles to coexist with his alien alter ego, but takes notice when serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) becomes similarly afflicted by an extraterrestrial parasite.

Critics said that once you embraced the film for what it was, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" was an imperfect but fun superhero sequel.

In a review for Film Authority, Eddie Harrison called it "a goofy film" that "hits most of the notes that you'd expect from a dark-toned superhero flick."

"Eternals" was panned by many critics, but some thought it deserved a second chance.

Richard Madden and Salma Hayek in "Eternals."
Richard Madden and Salma Hayek in "Eternals."Marvel Studios

Rotten Tomatoes score: 47%

Summary: Sersi (Gemma Chan) reunites with her fellow Eternals, an immortal race of superhuman beings, after an ancient threat reemerges on planet Earth.

"Eternals" wasn't a hit with most critics, but some said that the Marvel ensemble epic deserved a second look.

"'Eternals' makes for an alienating first watch," Caroline Siede reviewed for Fox 10 Phoenix. "... Dig a little deeper, however, and this behemoth of a superhero flick has its rewards too."

"Halloween Kills" deflated some enthusiasm for future franchise installments among critics.

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"Halloween Kills" is the latest addition to the famous horror franchise.Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 41%

Summary: Picking up right where "Halloween" (2018) left off, this sequel follows three generations of women (Andi Matichak, Judy Greer, and Jamie Lee Curtis) as they hunt down Michael once and for all.

"Halloween Kills" earned mixed reviews from critics, with some saying it was a serviceable slasher and others believing it was a step back for the film franchise.

"The most frightening thing about horror sequels might be the death of originality," Dorothy Woodend wrote in a review for The Tyee.

Critics agreed that "Space Jam: A New Legacy" didn't live up to the hype.

LeBron James in Space Jam
LeBron James in "Space Jam: A New Legacy."Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 25%

Summary: After his son is kidnapped by artificial intelligence software Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), LeBron James teams up with the Looney Tunes crew to play a life-changing game of basketball.

James gave it his all, but critics largely felt like "Space Jam: A New Legacy" failed to recreate the magic of the original.

"'Space Jam: A New Legacy' is not meant to be a real movie," Carla Hay wrote for Culture Mix. "It's just a long and witless commercial for Warner Bros. entertainment entities, with LeBron James as a celebrity spokesperson."

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