2021 has proven to be something of a comeback year for comic book cinema following a quieter than usual 2020 release slate. Marvel in particular have flexed their considerably sized muscles with four releases in just six months, while DC have offered one theatrically released superhero offering and one straight-to-streaming HBO Max effort. Even Sony have looked to hit returning cinema audiences with their own brand of super-cinema.
It is thanks in no small part to the seven releases of these three studios that cinema-going numbers reached a ten year high this Autumn, 2021’s late blockbuster season proving to be too strong of a pull for audiences desperate for a little bit of escapist fun.
This has been one of the most fascinating years in the genre’s history, with one of the year’s releases coming per the demands of fans and another leaning heavily into nostalgia for the early days of CG-driven superhero cinema, and yet there hasn’t been a necessarily terrible comic book movie release. In 2021, every comic book film from DC, Marvel and Sony has offered its own draw, creating a rich palette of post-Endgame superhero fun.
In this edition of Ranked, we at The Film Magazine are judging each of 2021’s comic book movies by artistic merit, critical reception, audience perception and overall importance to the comic book sub-genre, to rank each from worst to best in this: 2021 Comic Book Movies Ranked.
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Eternals, Marvel Studios’ first comic book movie to be directed by an already Oscar-winning filmmaker (Chloé Zhao), sits in the lowest slot in this list not because it was bad but because it was simply too disjointed.
Perhaps the most fascinating mainstream misfire of the year, Eternals had hints of Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland peaking through the Marvel curtain but ultimately felt like the product of two contrasting visions that featured not nearly enough of the slow-burn existentialism of the director’s work or the colour-blasting visual extravaganzas of its studio.
It seems like each of the characters were probably far more interesting in earlier drafts of the script before Marvel had the chance to remind those working on the film that they had to include fight scenes, and the reputation of cast members like Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek speaks to that. Ultimately, however, Eternals was pulled in too many directions, mixing naturalistic lighting with CG effects to create a bland palette, and needing to include way too many titbits and character introductions to move beyond expository dialogue and trope-ridden narrative beats.
6. Black Widow
Despite suffering from the trademarked villain problem of earlier Marvel movies, Black Widow at least offered something fun and relatable for fans of the MCU’s longest-standing female Avenger to sink their teeth into.
Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz were welcomed additions to the cast, and director Cate Shortland certainly made the most of each of their talents, creating a believable albeit disjointed family dynamic and solidifying each as memorable Marvel side-characters with the potential to one day lead their own franchises.
The frustrating lack of creativity that lumbered the final act with yet another Marvel “falling from the sky” ending, and the film’s out-of-place positioning on the Marvel calendar (coming after Avengers: Endgame), dragged down an otherwise solid MCU entry that will by no means be remembered as one of the studio’s best movies but will work as a strong final hurrah for an underpowered but vital Avenger.
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