Your hunt for the perfect movie can be daunting when the industry is churning out enough to entertain the masses for millennia. The beginning of 2021 saw the film industry boomerang back to life as vaccines began rolling out and the pandemic eased up. Many major players have jumped into the streaming battlefield, using everything they’ve got to draw your eyes to their platform. Your time is valuable, though, and choosing how to spend your next 120 minutes is not a question to take lightly. Luckily, we’re here to help you decide.

Everyone’s tastes vary, but Rotten Tomatoes has proven to be a valuable resource in gauging general public opinion. The almighty Tomatometer helps you pick choice films, letting all the rotten debris fall to the wayside. The result is a delectable array of award-winning films to choose from.

As of the writing of this article, these are the highest rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes in 2021.

Nomadland

Currently sitting at the top of many 2021 lists is the beautifully assembled Nomadland. The film is helmed by one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Frances McDormand, and directed by Chloé Zhao (who is also directing the upcoming Marvel project Eternals). For those of us who felt adrift for much of 2020, Nomadland will resonate with its spirit of perseverance.

It tells the story of Fern (McDormand), a Nebraska woman who loses her job in 2011 when her town’s factory shuts down. Still mourning her deceased and much-beloved husband, Fern decides to sell most of her possessions and live out of a van, engaging in a nomadic lifestyle while hunting for work.

Frances McDormand has been receiving incredible reviews for her performance and Rotten Tomatoes has Nomadland sitting at a nice, ripe critic score of 94% — with audience reviews following closely behind. Brian Tallerico over at RogerEbert.com mirrored our opinion on this movie best when he stated, "It is a gorgeous film that’s alternately dreamlike in the way it captures the beauty of this country and grounded in its story about the kind of person we don’t usually see in movies. I love everything about it."

Judas and the Black Messiah

One of the most talked-about films of 2021 has been Judas and the Black Messiah. The Tomatometer has the movie sporting a healthy 96% among critics and 95% among audiences. It was also nominated for six Oscars, including a best picture nod and acting nominations for Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield (both of Get Out fame) — who both prove why they are still hot commodities in Hollywood. It’s unlikely any other film this year will be as crucial viewing as the true story told here with skillful filmmaking.

Set in the late 1960s, Judas and the Black Messiah dives into the story of the leader of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), and his subsequent murder at the hands of police. Stanfield plays William O’Neal, a small-time criminal picked up by the FBI and given a plea deal in exchange for infiltrating the Black Panthers. LaKeith Stanfield helps you connect with the antagonist in this story of betrayal. The subject matter is crucial viewing. Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune notes, "It’s a real movie, for one thing — brash, narratively risky, full of life and sneaky wit (even if the dominant tone is one of foreboding) and brimming with terrific actors."

The Father

The Father, which premiered at Sundance in 2020 but had its release delayed until early 2021, is a deep dive into the unraveling mind of a dementia patient. Anthony Hopkins plays a man named, well, Anthony. He is living with his daughter (the ever-excellent Olivia Colman) and keeps berating the caretakers she hires. All the characters in his life begin to blur together and large memory gaps leave him scared and confused. The Father is almost a horror thriller with the way it presents the nightmare that is Alzheimer’s disease. We couldn’t handle more emotion if we tried.

"Deeply sympathetic but never patronizing, The Father is a gentle-handed yet powerful film that forces us through Hopkins’s extraordinary performance to have an albeit fleeting window into what living with dementia could be like," Alexandra Heller-Nicholas of ABC Radio states. Other critics and audience members agree. Rotten Tomatoes has The Father at a 98% score, and audiences agree. It may be a challenging movie, but it’s worth the journey. Hopkin’s acting prowess, which hasn’t waned much over the decades, is a marvel.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Want cheerier fare for the whole family? For a movie you can watch with any age group, look no further than Raya and the Last Dragon.

Leave it to Disney to once again deliver the goods in a competitive movie landscape. While Raya and the Last Dragon may not have any major, earth-shattering plot twists, it makes up for it with mesmerizing imagery and wholesome storytelling. The film is certified fresh for a score of 94% — no easy feat in the animated storytelling battlefield. "The story, the dialogue, the voicework, and animation are all of the highest caliber. "Not only are the visuals imaginative and gorgeous, but there are life lessons to be learned about trust and selflessness and taking chances," according to Diane Pershing of The Malibu Times.

Raya and The Last Dragon tells the story of (you guessed it) Raya, the daughter of the chief of the Heart Tribe. Their land is split into five villages, which quarrel with each other over a magical orb that defeated a powerful enemy called the Druun 500 years earlier. The orb is powered by dragons, but unfortunately, all but one were slain while fighting against the Druun in their previous conflict. Eventually, each village takes pieces of the orbs for themselves. This reawakens the evil spirits, who turn people to stone. Raya must journey to find the last living dragon.

MLK/FBI

If you want to learn more about the troubling racial inequality of the past and how it echoes through current times, watch MLK/FBI. It’s an incredible documentary to dive into. Reviews across Rotten Tomatoes have given Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI a 99% rating and a Certified Fresh label. "What are we going to do with the material itself? It’s a question whose answers remain to be seen. The accomplishment of Pollard’s documentary is that it so capably and persuasively prepares us to ask it," K. Austin Collins of Rolling Stone declares of the film.

This documentary mostly consists of archival footage of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s time as a civil rights activist, presented chronologically and leading up to his assassination. MLK/FBI, as the title nods towards, centers largely on the FBI’s attempts to discredit MLK — for example, surveilling his infidelity and weaponizing recordings from his tapped phone conversations. It becomes apparent that J. Edgar Hoover was relentless in his desire to paint Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as a villain. MLK/FBI doesn’t feature any bombshell revelatory information, but it assembles what we do know in an extremely informative way. The documentary fans any flames simmering underneath the questions we should still be asking today, all these years later.

Summer of Soul

In the summer of 1969, there was a festival that rivaled any before it. No, not Woodstock: 100 miles away, the Harlem Cultural Festival took place, with over 300,000 people in attendance. The festival lasted for six weeks and there was a hearty amount of footage shot covering the events. Unfortunately, that footage was placed in a basement and forgotten for almost 50 years. Director Ahmir Khalib Thompson (known professionally as Questlove) assembled the footage expertly in the documentary Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). A fantastic feat, considering the circumstances. Selome Hailu of The Austin Chronicle paints a clearer picture of the achievement by stating, "The footage was shot by producer Hal Tulchin and amassed to about 40 hours in total, but sat dormant for decades… So by resurrecting the event, Questlove has made space for neglected memories."

This lively documentary has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and nary a backhanded compliment amongst a long list of positive reviews. For an event featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, with an insane amount of people in attendance, the Harlem Cultural Festival remained a rather obscure moment in history. Summer of Soul takes care to examine the reasoning behind that fact. The documentary is laced with revealing interviews that push the soul of the film into the forefront. Summer of Soul is a wonderful watch for both history and music fans alike.

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

If you are reading this wondering who Billie Eilish is, then we have to inquire as to what dark hole you’ve been hiding in. The young breakout star has been dominating the music industry since she released her song "Ocean Eyes" on SoundCloud, which is where this documentary begins. Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry covers the young singer on the road and reveals intimate details about her life and songwriting process. Most of the footage is from 2018, when Eilish was only 17 years old and already a music mega-star.

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry was released on Apple TV+ on Feb. 21, 2021, and the documentary’s reception has been nothing short of amazing. According to Alexis Nedd at Mashable, it "offers a glimmer of hope in the alluring darkness of Eilish’s musical universe — the hope that she, and those who come after her, will have the opportunity to share their gifts with the world without surrendering their command of themselves." Billie Eilish’s fan’s love for her is undeniable and her symbiotic relationship with them shines through in The World’s a Little Blurry. Critics echo the sentiment in a resounding Tomatometer of 98%. This documentary is a wonderful experience both if you are curious about the hype or already a fan.

Identifying Features

It is a special moment when a film is emotionally engaging while also informing us of national crises. Identifying Features touches on the thousands of immigrants lost while searching for a better life. For an issue that is widely known, the entire experience feels remarkably personal and eye-opening. Carlos Aguilar of AV Club speaks highly of Identifying Features: "Making her feature debut, Mexican writer-director Fernanda Valadez finds a personal tragedy within a national one… She’s made a humanitarian lament by way of a slow-burn thriller."

Identifying Features centers around Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández) as she searches for answers regarding her son. He’d attempted to migrate to the U.S. with his friend but went missing. She finds his face in a photo of those who died journeying north, but discovers no hints about where his friend may be. Authorities are of little use, declaring the situation hopeless since he has no unique identifying features. Identifying Features has a 100% Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes from both critics and audiences. We can honestly say we haven’t seen that type of unanimous praise before. Identifying Features takes a major crisis and makes you feel every raw emotion it entails, all without relying on shock tactics or tired tropes.

Quo Vadis, Aida?

It’s extremely difficult to depict the failures of policy on camera, given that most of them are wrapped up in boring, action-absent bureaucracy. Considering this, Quo Vadis, Aida? — which debuted at the 2020 Venice International Film Festival before its 2021 release — does an incredible job presenting the plight of refugees during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 amidst the war between the Serbians and the Bosnians. The primary protagonist in this tale is Aida (Jasna Đuričić), a translator for the UN. As refugees stream toward the UN camp to escape advancing troops, the gates are closed after only a few hundred are let in, stranding people between a fence and the threat they were fleeing.

"Refreshingly, this is a war drama that doesn’t hinge on indulgent or shameless violence. Instead, it focuses on the heart-wrenching devastation of more offhand cruelties," states Anna Swanson of The Globe and Mail. We couldn’t agree more. While watching Quo Vadis, Aida? you feel as though imminent danger is closing in and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You feel as helpless as the people on screen, watching Aida scramble to get her husband and son across the gate to safety — even though the camp itself still doesn’t feel entirely safe. For a different perspective on the horrors of war, there are few as unique as this true story. Rotten Tomatoes has Quo Vadis, Aida? Certified Fresh, with a score of 100%. We couldn’t agree more.

The Sparks Brothers

People are eager to get back into movie theaters as soon as possible, so the prospect of having to wait to watch one of the films on this list probably falls somewhere between "obnoxious" and "agonizing" on the frustration scale. That said, if there’s one worth waiting for, it’s The Sparks Brothers, currently slated for release on June 18, 2021. The Sparks Brothers is a documentary helmed by Edgar Wright, the do-no-wrong director of Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It details the careers of Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers behind the cult musical duo Sparks, and the work they’ve put out over a career that runs all the way back to 1967. Interviewees run the gamut, ranging from people who are cooler than everyone else to people who are even cooler than cool. Neil Gaiman, Beck, Bjork, Flea, and Weird Al all make appearances. Frequent Wright collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost even show up, voicing John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

The Sparks Brothers premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and reviewers couldn’t have given it more glowing reviews. It currently holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus points to a film that makes its audience completely lose track of its 135-minute runtime thanks to masterful storytelling, enthusiastic direction, and the quirky lovability of its subject matter.

Two of Us

There’s something especially impressive about a first-time director knocking it out of the park. That’s exactly what Filippo Meneghetti appears to have done with his romantic feature debut, Two of Us. Originally released in France under the title Deux back in 2019, Two of Us tells the story of two older women, Nina and Madeleine, played by Barbara Sukowa and Martine Chevallier. Supposedly just neighbors, they’ve actually been in love for years, hiding their lives from their respective families. Unfortunately, their lives are transformed when a tragedy occurs.

Critics loved Two of Us after it hit the U.S. as part of its 2021 Oscar campaign, handing the film a 97% approval rating. Skim the reviews and you’ll get the sense that nobody quite knew what to expect from the picture, especially in its third act — in her review for TIME Magazine, Stephanie Zacharek wrote that "Meneghetti leads us through this story with deliberate flourishes of misdirection, sometimes veering off — possibly — into full-on woman-gone-mad psychothriller territory," and went on to posit that "in some ways, Two of Us is a horror movie."