6 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2021 On Amazon Prime

Staff & contributors
Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2021. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Martin Sheen, Nick Fink, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

, 2021

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it's life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran's official submission to the Oscars. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Mohsen Tanabande, Sarina Farhadi

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Herself tells the story of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a single mother who runs away from her abusive husband to start a new life with her children. When welfare and charity prove to be insufficient with their help, she takes things into her hands by building a house of her own.

This Irish movie, co-written by star Clare Dunne, may be small in scale and budget, but it is affecting in big and powerful ways. Despite what girlbosses might tell you, chasing full independence isn't always as easy or even empowering as it looks, especially when you're stuck in the lower rungs of society like Sandra; Herself takes the honest approach by showing us the unglamorous side of making it on your own. It also has meaningful things to say about marriage and divorce, so if you were moved by Marriage Story or Kramer vs Kramer, you may feel the same about Herself, which references the latter two's iconic courtroom scenes.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cathy Belton, Clare Dunne, Conleth Hill, Ericka Roe, Harriet Walter, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Jane Brennan, Lorcan Cranitch, Molly McCann, Peter Gaynor, Ruby Rose O’Hara, Sean Duggan, Tina Kellegher

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Rating: R

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck star in this comedy-drama as a small-town couple, one of whom gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their best friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold and moves in with them, picking up the husband when he faints at the hospital, shaving his head in solidarity with the wife, and even taking care of the dog who also gets sick.

It might seem like just another terminal illness drama, but Our Friend is based on a true story, and it’s as much about the illness as it is about how to be there for people, and reversely, the power of people being there for you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Casey Affleck, Cherry Jones, Dakota Johnson, Denée Benton, Gwendoline Christie, Hali Everette, Isabella Kai, Jason Segel, Marielle Scott, Michael Papajohn, Violet McGraw

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

, 2021

CODA has all the trappings of a predictable, feel-good family drama. You’ll recognize immediately the talented teen, the family pulling her back, the cute love interest, the do-gooder mentor, and the swirl of coincidences that blend them all together in one sweet story. But CODA is so irresistibly heartfelt, well-acted, and vital (all the deaf characters are actually played by deaf actors), that you can’t help but be won by its charms. 

Aside from its big heart, the film’s decision to express itself mostly through ASL and music is an impressive technical feat as well. Altogether, these elements make for a refreshing, enjoyable, and simply heartwarming watch. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Amy Forsyth, Armen Garo, Ayana Brown, Courtland Jones, Daniel Durant, David Newsom, Dominic Andersen, Emilia Faucher, Emilia Jones, Erica McDermott, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Gary Galone, John Fiore, Jose Guns Alves, Kayla Caulfield, Kevin Chapman, Kiara Pichardo, Lance Norris, Lonnie Farmer, Mark Pettograsso, Marlee Matlin, Melissa McMeekin, Molly Beth Thomas, Owen Burke, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Rebecca Gibel, Rena Maliszewski, Sarah Clarke, Tony Viveiros, Troy Kotsur

Director: Sian Heder

Rating: R-16

First shown in 2021 Madrid International Film Festival, Support Group Olympus made its US debut early 2023 through Prime Video. Given the wacky premise, it was easy to assume that the film would be humorous, and there are moments when its dry humor shines. However, the film takes a more contemplative approach, as the unchanging gods refuse to change, though they crave the status and power they used to have. This slow-paced approach feels appropriate, and had the film’s internal logic worked, the film could have contemplated the changes that happened not just to the gods, but to human livelihood as well. It’s definitely a unique story that needed more work on its execution.

Genre: Comedy, Drama