NZ Herald picks the best movies of 2021, and five we can’t wait for

In 2021, blockbuster releases and glitzy premieres made a return. Lydia Burgham looks at the movies that shaped 2021, and what audiences can look forward to in 2022.


Denis Villeneuve’s high-concept sci-fi was afforded a lengthy hype thanks to pandemic delays. For New Zealanders, it was the film a lot of Aucklanders were holding out to see at iMax. Dune more than lives up to high expectations.

Timothee Chalamet carries the depth of the epic to its emotional heights, and the immersive world-building blends medieval with modern dystopia. It is easily one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of 2021.

Dune set out what it intended to do: draw in audiences hungry for more of the complicated, dust-covered desert world. Deep in the depths of lockdown this year, I was craving an immersive movie-watching experience that pulled me into the screen, and Dune gave me that.

No Time To Die

Daniel Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond was tasked with pleasing die-hard 007 fans, and by most accounts, the actor was served an emotional exit from a role of a lifetime.

“Like a well-crafted martini, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final mission as super-spy James Bond shakes up the franchise’s traditional formula while retaining all the identifiable ingredients that have made it a classic for almost 60 years,” the Herald’s culture editor, Karl Puschmann, wrote in his review.

No Time To Die is a fitting farewell for Craig, and a precursor to where the franchise could go next.


A karakia burst through the walls of a Newmarket cinema when I saw this film. I was moved to tears before the film had even begun as I listened to the filmmakers recount their odyssey to getting the movie made. Based on Patricia Grace’s novel, Cousins transcends time, cultural and familiar bonds, with three wāhine at the centre.

Seeing a story as authentically Māori as Cousins play out on the big screen felt like an overdue privilege and it made me hungry for more. The film poses a central question: How does a person belong when they cannot find their home?

The Justice of Bunny King

Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie lead this tale of grit, poverty and determination. Bunny (Davis) and Tonyah (McKenzie) are forced on a Thelma and Louise-esque journey when their circumstances force them to escape their horrific reality.

Bunny’s struggles in the social welfare system lit up in the eyes of Davis, who manages to play one of the best roles of her career. There are critiques of the housing crisis and the poverty cycle that make for an all-too-realistic viewing experience.

In saying that, this film is best enjoyed with a grip on the fiction at play. Sophie Henderson (Baby Done) penned an adventurous story with a Hollywood conclusion that is tearjerking as it is uncomfortably hilarious. Lean into Bunny’s world, and walk out with the fuel to go after what you want from life. Gaysorn Thavat’s feature-film directorial debut demonstrates a passion for the craft and an intelligent vision.

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s feature filmed in Central Otago is as haunting as it is mesmerising. Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kodi Smit-McPhee each bring their characters to life on screen.

Campion’s precise directing elevates the tension between the two Burbank brothers and creates an atmosphere that grips viewers for a slow burn of a tale.

Cumberbatch gives arguably the best performance of his career so far, and critical acclaim indicates Campion and the film could sweep many accolades this award season.


Avatar 2

The next instalment in the franchise that could well be infinitely delayed at this point, should, hopefully, come out at the end of 2022.

When the first Avatar was released in 2009, the techniques Cameron and the creative team employed redefined what it meant to experience a motion picture. It remains to be seen what the next chapter will bring in terms of technical mastery, however behind-the-scenes looks have given us a glimpse.

Here’s the film’s synopsis, in case anyone needs a refresher before the sequel:

“Jake Sully and Ney’tiri have formed a family and are doing everything to stay together. However, they must leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans.”

Thor: Love and Thunder

A post shared by Taika Waititi (@taikawaititi)

Thor: Ragnarok was such a raging, hilarious take on directing a Marvel movie it was no wonder they gave Taika Waititi another crack. Now he has more than proven himself capable of drawing in the crowds, I have hope that the next Thor will be stacked to the brim with classic Waititi humour.

The Māori director is reprising his role as Korg and the photos of him living it up in Byron with Chris Hemsworth have more than sold me on his next Marvel take. As the name would suggest, Waititi has hinted it will be very much a love story. What will the thunder part add? Well, we will all have to wait to find that out.

Legally Blonde 3

There is an impressive slate of sequels coming out in 2022, and this list of most-anticipated films is heavily populated with them. But there is one franchise instalment to rule them all, and that is a third Legally Blonde.

That’s right, Elle Woods returns and we don’t yet have any idea of what she is up to. What we do know is that the script is penned by Mindy Kaling, Dan Goor, and Karen McCullah. And most importantly, Jennifer Coolidge is reprising her role as Paulette. I’m already practising my bend and snap.

Release date: TBA

The Batman

We can never have enough superhero movies, and I personally can never have enough Robert Pattinson. That is a slight exaggeration but, nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing how he tackles this role, and whether Matt Reeves will take enough risks to warrant another reboot of the franchise.

2022 will be a Marvel v DC showdown like no other and if Reeves pulls it off, it may actually be the latter who emerges victorious. However, my money is still in camp Marvel for one reason and one reason only, and that is Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse 2.

Release date: TBA


The rest of the world has been lucky enough to see the fresh royal feature already, but here Downunder we have to wait a while longer.

The good news is Spencer is out in NZ just in time for award season. Kristen Stewart plays the people’s princess in this movie directed by Pablo Larrain (Jackie). From the teases we have seen in the trailer, viewers can expect a haunting, illustrious portrait of Diana as intimately as we wish we knew her.

Release date: January 20, 2022

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