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The Highest Grossing Movies Of 2021

It's no secret that 2021 has been a tumultuous year. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to run wild with new variants popping up, things that we once did with ease have become stressful. Thankfully, some things have remained a constant joy this year, and one of those things is, without a doubt, the glory of the movies. Despite countless delays and even cinema closures, films have continued to be released on a weekly basis, and the box office has rebounded big time from 2020.

However, besides one big exception, U.S. box office numbers are still far below pre-pandemic years. Box Office Mojo reports that In 2019 the domestic box office totaled $11.3 billion, while 2021 is currently sitting at $4.2 billion. Still, things are definitely on the way up, and a number of big performers did well enough to earn sequels or launch new franchises. But which films reigned supreme at the box office this year? Let's take a look at the highest-grossing movies of 2021.

12. Dune

Helmed by brilliant filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, who previously directed well-received projects such as "Blade Runner 2049," "Prisoners," and "Arrival," "Dune" is a positively epic science fiction adventure. The film offers some of the most in-demand performers, featuring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, and more. With a world-class director and an incredible bevy of talent, it's no surprise "Dune" was a big hit, receiving $106 million at the U.S. box office.

Based on Frank Herbert's 1965 novel, "Dune" received a film adaptation back in 1984, directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan, which was a box-office bomb. Thankfully, fans waiting for a great adaptation have had their prayers answered, as Villeneuve's "Dune" more than delivers. It's filled with great performances, breathtaking cinematography, and a powerhouse score from Hans Zimmer. 

Critics have heaped praise onto "Dune," with Vox's Alissa Wilkinson observing that "Villeneuve's new big-screen adaptation underlines why generations have been fascinated by the story." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says, "Villeneuve has made a serious, stately opus ... he knows how to put on a show as he fans a timely argument about who gets to play the hero now." With a sequel on the way (which is necessary, as the film is designed specifically as the first of two parts), we hope part two will answer all of our burning questions.

11. Jungle Cruise

In Disney's "Jungle Cruise," Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) longs to be a proper adventurer but is constantly held back because of her gender. Lily steals an arrowhead from the Royal Society, and she believes that this artifact, along with her old map of the Amazon river, will lead her to a tree whose flowers have immense power. Lily travels to Brazil with her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), and recruits skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who owns a jungle cruiser, to provide a voyage into the Amazon so they can find the mythical tree once and for all.

Harnessing the superstar power of both Blunt and Johnson, Disney's "Jungle Cruise" sailed to an impressive $116 million at the U.S. box office in the face of a pandemic and a Disney+ premium access release. Thanks to the film's success, a sequel is in the works, per The Hollywood Reporter, with both Blunt and Johnson set to return for the next grand adventure. "Jungle Cruise" is charming, if forgettable, fun for the whole family, with some nods that are just for the adults.

10. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is a film all about legacy and nostalgia. The film is another reboot of the original "Ghostbusters" series, and for some reason, it feels the need to completely ignore the existence of the very funny Paul Feig "Ghostbusters" from 2016. Regardless, "Afterlife," directed by four-time Oscar nominee Jason Reitman, is a fun romp, especially for fans of some good old-fashioned ghostbusting. 

The film is about a single mother (Carrie Coon) and her two young children (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace), who move to small-town Oklahoma. There, they discover the mysterious legacy of their grandfather and their connection to the Ghostbusters. The film features terrific performances from Wolfhard and Grace, and the rest of the cast is filled with legends like Paul Rudd, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver.

Filled with glorious callbacks to the original films, "Afterlife" was a big hit with fans, taking in $120 million at the U.S. box office, making it the tenth highest-grossing film of the year. The film received mixed reviews, but viewers absolutely loved it, being hugely appreciative of the warm glow of nostalgia and sense of fun the film offered, leaving the movie with an overwhelmingly positive audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Though the pandemic prevented the film (and really, every movie on this list) from fully taking off, we wouldn't be surprised if "Afterlife" is the start of a new ghostbusting franchise.

9. Free Guy

Amazingly, only one film amongst the highest-grossing movies of 2021 isn't based on any previously existing IP and brings forth a totally original idea. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a bank teller who takes great pleasure in doing the same thing day in and day out. He wears the same outfit, orders the same coffee, and hangs out with his best friend, Buddy. 

One day, Guy discovers that he is actually a non-player character in a massively multiplayer online videogame. Guy takes the action into his own hands and decides to become the game's hero, garnering worldwide attention as he tries to save his universe from being deleted by the game's creator. Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Taika Waititi, and Joe Keery all star in the film alongside Reynolds in Shawn Levy's "Free Guy."

The film, written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, is full of fun references and cameos, and for an original movie, it's undeniably reliant on other franchises for a number of its jokes and gags. The film earned an impressive $121 million at the U.S. box office, which is an excellent performance for a movie that got delayed so many times it became a running joke. With all the film's success, "Free Guy" could easily be the birth of a new franchise, and we have plenty of questions we hope future installments will answer.

8. A Quiet Place: Part 2

Continuing shortly after the end of "A Quiet Place," "A Quiet Place: Part 2" finds the Abbott family continuing to fight for survival against some truly terrifying creatures that are attracted to sound. Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and Marcus (Noah Jupe) make a major discovery that could potentially save the human race from alien terror — audio at a high frequency makes the creatures vulnerable, opening them up for defeat.

Regan sets out on a mission to look for other survivors while trying to find a station where she can broadcast the high-frequency sound to render the aliens useless once and for all. The film uses flashbacks throughout to add to the tension as we see what life was like before the creatures attacked, which creates chilling contrasts to the desolate America that the Abbott family now inhabits.

The film made a big impact at the box office, bringing in $160 million at the U.S. box office, making it the eighth-highest-grossing film of another year in which the pandemic impacted theater attendance. The film was also very popular amongst critics, earning high marks on Rotten Tomatoes. While "A Quiet Place: Part II" doesn't quite reach the fantastic heights of the first film, John Krasinski's sequel is a worthy effort and an exciting expansion into the film's universe, and we can't wait to see what "A Quiet Place: Part 3" might bring to the table.

7. No Time to Die

"No Time to Die," Daniel Craig's final outing as agent James Bond, finds 007 out of active service, if only for a moment, when he receives a visit from Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend and CIA agent. Leiter needs help from Bond to help rescue a kidnapped scientist. Bond accepts (otherwise, the movie would be awfully short), and the rescue mission ends up being far more than he bargained for. It sets Bond on a collision course with the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek), who possesses some deadly technology. As we've come to expect from 007's adventures, the cast is full of enormous talent, with Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Ralph Fiennes appearing alongside Craig.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who previously helmed "Beasts of No Nation" and featuring an epic score from master composer Hans Zimmer, "No Time to Die" was a smash hit, raking in $160 million at the U.S. box office. The film received plenty of praise, especially from U.K.-based critics. Kevin Maher of The Times called the film "better than good. It's magnificent." Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph praised the "sensationally thrilling and sinister prologue" and noted the film's "moving conclusion." Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian says "No Time To Die" is a "gigantic piece of ridiculously watchable entertainment which feels like half its actual running time."

6. Eternals

Chloe Zhao had a pretty incredible 2021, which kicked off with her film "Nomadland" winning best picture, as well as best director, making Zhao the first Asian woman to win the award. Zhao followed that win up with a significant shift, moving from low-budget independent films to a massive superhero epic, directing and co-writing "Eternals," which clocks in at a huge 157 minutes. The Eternals are a group of cosmic heroes who debuted in Jack Kirby's comics, and "Eternals" is their grand film debut.

The movie features an extremely high-caliber cast, including Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Salma Hayek, and Brian Tyree Henry. While "Eternals" was generally panned by critics, earning the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score for a Marvel film yet, it still managed to pull in a respectable $164 million at the domestic box office

That said, not everything reviewers had to say about "Eternals" was negative. While Kylie Cheung from Salon called the film "clunky and overstuffed," Michael Blackmon of BuzzFeed noted the film "pushes the MCU into promising new territory." Blackmon continued, "it feels like an amalgam of what Marvel does best –- splendidly chaotic fight scenes, dazzling special effects, and stories that speak to who we are as human beings."

5. F9: The Fast Saga

The "Fast and Furious" series has been totally unstoppable at the box office. The latest in the epic franchise, "F9: The Fast Saga," directed by Justin Lin and written by Lin and Daniel Casey, is the fifth-highest-grossing film at the U.S. box office in 2021 raking in $173 million despite the pandemic. 

In the latest, gloriously bonkers installment, Dom (Vin Diesel) and the gang take on an international terrorist Jakob (John Cena), who has prepared a scheme that threatens the entire world. The cast is full of franchise favorites, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, and Charlize Theron.

Despite being the first film in the series since "Tokyo Drift" to not be written by Chris Morgan, "F9" retains all of what makes the series so much fun. The newest film in the franchise seriously pushes the boundaries of believability with some utterly outrageous (and wonderful) stunts and even features some exploration in space! There are also some entertaining fights, which have become a staple of the series. Critics even loved the wackiness of it all, with Oliver Jones from Observer called the film "positively life-affirming."

4. Black Widow

Despite difficulties with the pandemic, Marvel proved dominant once again, and every one of their films in 2021 has made the top 10 box office performers of the year. With just about every member of the Avengers getting their own film or Disney+ series, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow was a glaring omission. This year rectified that problem, and fans were finally treated to Natasha Romanoff's cinema adventure in Cate Shortland's "Black Widow." The film takes place after "Captain America: Civil War" and sees Romanoff confronting her troubled past. Johansson stars alongside Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, and Ray Winstone in a truly epic cast.

The film earned $183 million at the U.S. box office. While a little low for a Marvel movie featuring a core member of the Avengers, it is impressive considering the film was released at a peak of the pandemic and went onto Disney+ premium access at the same time. Critics were also positive about the film, with the Toronto Sun's Mark Daniell calling it "a refreshing change of pace." Beyond that, Tom Beasley of Flickering Myth remarked that "not only is it a thrilling couple of hours at the cinema, it well and truly anoints Pugh as Marvel's next bona fide megastar."

3. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

"Venom" was something of a surprise hit in 2018, earning a massive $856 million at the worldwide box office, and an impressive $213 million in the U.S. So it was no surprise when just a few years later, a sequel, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," arrived. It was, however, a delightful surprise for Sony that the film did every bit as well as the original, earning $212 million at the domestic box office alone, making it the third highest-grossing film of the year. 

The film features Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom, who is trying to restart his career after the events of the first film. He decides to interview Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), a serial killer set to be executed. Chaos ensues after the symbiote Carnage inhabits Kasady and he escapes prison after a failed execution.

The critical reception was far more mixed for "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" than many of the other films on the list, as can be seen in its middling rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Esther Zuckerman of Thrillist notes that the film "doesn't feel long, but it is exhausting," while on the other end, Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Evening Standard called the film "intoxicating."

2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The second of the brand new Marvel superhero adventures, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," is the second-highest-grossing film at the U.S. box office in 2021. The film earned an impressive $224 million, just edging out "Let There Be Carnage" for second place, a number that is all the more impressive considering the impact of the pandemic. Simu Liu is the titular Shang-Chi, a martial-arts master who is forced to return to the past life he left behind when the vicious Ten Rings organization rears its ugly head.

The film is full of thrilling scenes, including one of 2021's best movie moments, with director Destin Daniel Cretton demonstrating a real knack for shooting action sequences in limited space. The cast is world-class, and Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Benedict Wong star in the film alongside Liu. Fans of the film will be thrilled to know a sequel is on the way, with Cretton attached once again to develop the second adventure of Shang-Chi.

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man is back! Tom Holland stars as the titular web-slinger, whose real identity as Peter Parker is revealed to the world. Parker calls in Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help, but when a spell goes awry, menacing villains from across the multiverse start to appear and are looking to cause some serious chaos. The film has everything a Marvel fan could dream of, from some great cameos, truly epic character moments, and a whole lot of laughs.

Despite only being released on December 17, no film has come even remotely close to the box office success of Jon Watts' "Spider-Man: No Way Home." The film has earned a staggering $470 million at the U.S. box office in 2021, and there's every chance that number could double before the film leaves cinemas. After all, "No Way Home" made a shocking $260 million on its opening weekend alone, second only to "Avengers: Endgame," but it is fair to imagine that if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't still raging, it may have surpassed "Endgame."

While box office results and critical reception don't always mix, it's fair to say that critics are as excited about "No Way Home" as fans are. David Nusair of ReelFilm called the film "the most satisfying Spidey adventure since the Sam Raimi era." Despite the film having a seemingly endless amount of elements to balance, Mike Ryan of Uproxx observes that "'Spider-Man: No Way Home' somehow finds a way to keep it all together."