Timeline of Greatest Film
Milestones and Turning Points
in Film History


The Year 2021

Timeline of Greatest Film History Milestones and Turning Points
(by decade and year)
Introduction | Pre-1900s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s
1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s
2020, 2021, 2022

The Year 2021
Year
Event and Significance
2021
Acclaimed actor Hal Halbrook died at the age of 95 on January 23, 2021. His most honored character role was playing Mark Twain in a one-man stage show - a signature performance. Films he starred in included All the President's Men (1976) as Deep Throat, and Into the Wild (2007).
2021
Cloris Leachman died at the age of 94 on January 27, 2021. She had a memorable Best Supporting Actress role as Ruth Popper in The Last Picture Show (1971), and also starred in Young Frankenstein (1974) as Frau Blücher. She also had a bit role in the opening of the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
2021
Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died at the age of 91 on February 5, 2021. His most well-remembered and notable performance was opposite Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965). Plummer also had roles in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Insider (1999), and The Last Station (2009), among others. He had two notable Academy Award-related honors. At the age of 82, he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Beginners (2010), becoming the oldest person to win an acting award. At the age of 88, he also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the crime-thriller All the Money in the World (2017), making him the oldest person to be nominated in an acting category.
2021
The 93rd Academy Awards were scheduled about two months later than usual, broadcast on April 25, 2021, to allow for a longer eligibility period for films (from January 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021), due to the COVID-pandemic. Nominations were scheduled for March 15, 2021. The TV broadcast of the show itself, held in socially-distanced Union Station in Los Angeles, CA, tallied less than 10 million viewers (the LOWEST ever) - down 58% from last year's show (a 13.75 million viewer drop-off from the previous low). One of the major shocks of the ceremony was in the Best Actor category, when Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar over the late Chadwick Boseman.
2021
Due to the unpredictable pandemic, release dates for films were still being revised and adjusted. Some release dates for films to be traditionally shown in theatres changed, while many movies were being released (some simultaneously) to streaming services (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and Disney +, for example). With almost 65% of US movie cinema houses closed in the early part of the year (while markets in LA and NYC remained locked down), it was difficult to justify a theatre-release for many films. Most of the major blockbuster releases were scheduled for the summer of 2021. Some films were released as hybrids - simultaneously on a subscription streaming service and in movie-houses.
2021
MGM's next Bond film, No Time to Die (2021), the 25th, has been rescheduled multiple times - first it was pushed from April 2020 to November 2020, and then rescheduled for the spring of 2021 (on April 2, 2021), although its ultimate play date was to be October 8, 2021.
2021
The latest example of renewed scrutiny of classic films from the past occurred when Disney+ removed several movies from its streaming service, including animated features Dumbo (1941), Peter Pan (1953), and The Aristocats (1970), and the live-action Swiss Family Robinson (1960). The fore mentioned films were restricted from children's (kids) profiles (under age 7) because of negative depictions and outdated stereotypes. Young children could no longer access the films without parental consent. Earlier, Disney had placed 10-12 second content warnings for the unedited films, citing: "This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people and cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together." In Dumbo (1941), Disney explained that the crows (led by Jim Crow) and their musical number referenced racist minstrel shows. In Peter Pan (1953), the complaint was about the portrayal of Native peoples (referred to as 'redskins'). In Disney's 20th feature film animation, The Aristocats (1970), the last animated feature to be approved by Walt Disney himself, the main argument was against a Siamese cat that was portrayed with an East Asian caricature. And Swiss Family Robinson (1960) was criticized for its depiction of menacing, dark-faced and foreign pirates - deemed barbaric and stereotypical.
2021
The so-called 'cancel culture' movement to reassess problematic cultural images was evidenced by the WarnerMedia-owned cable channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It was announced that the channel's primetime programming on Thursdays (in the month of March 2021) would start a new series titled: "Reframed: Classic Films In The Rearview Mirror." Before airing 18 selected (and much-loved) culturally-significant classic films (from the 1920s to the 1960s), host-commentators would introduce each film and explain its cultural and historical context. The main issues were with alleged racism, sexism, portrayals of LGBTQ issues and more. It was cited that "We often see problems now that we might not have seen when they were made, whether it's about race, gender or LGBT issues." The films to be aired included The Jazz Singer (1927), Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the Astaire-Rogers dance musical Swing Time (1936) (with a blackface number), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Four Feathers (1939), Gunga Din (1939), Stagecoach (1939), the Tracy-Hepburn comedy Woman of the Year (1942), Dragon Seed (1944), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Hitchcock's Rope (1948), Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954), John Ford's classic John Wayne western The Searchers (1956), Psycho (1960), the romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), The Children's Hour (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).
2021
NBCUniversal made the surprise announcement that it was canceling the 2022 Golden Globes Awards telecast. The decision followed years of reports about the organization's financial improprieties, and its lack of diverse representation (including no Black members in its enrollment of 87 members).
2021
There were rumors that Amazon was involved in talks about a potential deal to purchase some of the assets of the 97 year-old film and TV studio of MGM. Amazon was interested in bolstering its Amazon Prime Video streaming offerings. By the end of the year, Amazon had inked the premium-priced deal for $8.45 billion, in its acquisition of some of the storied studio's media content (including 50% of the spy franchise James Bond and part of the Rocky franchise). [Note: The vast production lot and pre-1986 film library were not part of the deal - they had been sold off decades earlier. The lot is currently occupied by Sony Pictures, while Warner Bros. acquired the ownership of classic MGM films, including: Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone With the Wind (1939).) Two other bidders for the property included Apple and Comcast, although Amazon outbid them by 40%.
2021
Universal Pictures (and its NBC Universal streaming service Peacock) announced that it would spend $400 million (on franchise rights) to bring back a new trilogy of horror films based upon the mega-blockbuster horror classic The Exorcist (1973). The first film in the new series, starring original star Ellen Burstyn and directed by David Gordon Green, was planned to appear in theaters in mid-October 2023, and the second and third films would exclusively debut on Peacock. [Note: The original 1973 film already had two sequels, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and The Exorcist III (1990), and a prequel - Exorcist: The Beginning (2004).] The 1973 film directed by William Friedkin grossed over $441 million (worldwide) to date. Adjusted for inflation, it was the 9th highest-grossing film of all-time, the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, and the highest-performing pure horror film.
2021
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) became the first film to make $100 million in the US and Canada since the pandemic began. In the international box office, it surpassed $367 million in ticket sales, bringing its global total to $468 million.
2021
A study (partially funded by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative was conducted and a report was issued titled: "The Prevalence and Portrayal of Asian and Pacific Islanders across 1,300 Popular Films." The study assessed Asian and Pacific Islander (API) leads and speaking characters across 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. The results found that across 51,159 speaking characters in the movies evaluated, 5.9% were API. The number fell short of the 7.1% of the US population that identified as API. The report also revealed that 39% of all movies failed to show even one API character. Broken down separately, the findings were even more obvious: 40.2% of films didn't have a single Asian character and 94.2% didn't feature a Pacific Islander. In terms of starring roles, only 44 (or 3.4%) of all 1,300 movies had an API lead or co-star across 13 years, with only six of those featuring an API woman in a leading role.
2021
After many decades, and mostly due to the pandemic, it became the norm that the roughly 3-month long "theatrical window" (the length of time that a movie would exclusively play in theatres) was to be shortened to a window of only 45 days. The pandemic aided movie studios in experimenting with new release models - including the simultaneous debut of many movies in theatres and on demand (or streaming services). This spelled the death knell for theatres having any leverage or bargaining power for a longer 'theatrical window.' The concept of a theatrical window developed in the 1980s during the videocassette boom. Studios have long argued for the shorter window time, since most movies make the bulk of ticket sales in the first few weekends.
2021
In early May of 2021, NBC-TV announced that it would no longer broadcast the Golden Globes award show (beginning in 2022), although the Golden Globes have existed for 77 years (first held in January of 1944 to honor 1943's films), although the door was left open for the year 2023. According to entertainment sources, the award show of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) that had received widespread criticism, was suffering from a major lack of diversity among its correspondents (no Black journalists among its 87 members), low TV ratings, and alleged ethical issues and practices.
2021
There were strong trends that female performers were increasing in numbers in lead cinematic roles, and the trend appeared to be holding steady. For instance: 2018 (33%), 2019 (34%), 2020 (39%), and 2021 (37%). In contrast, from the late 1950s through 2017, only 13-21% of American films had a female in the lead role.
2021
In an industry blockbusting lawsuit, actress Scarlett Johansson brought a lawsuit against Disney accusing the studio of sabotaging the traditional theatrical release of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Black Widow (2021) by having it simultaneously released via Premier Access on the streaming service Disney Plus. Johansson argued that the streaming release cannibalized the theatrical gross, and violated her contract. She sought a $50 million payout from the studio, alleging that she had suffered the loss of tens of millions of dollars in box office bonuses. In response, the studio argued that the pandemic was mostly to blame for its actions, and that Johansson had been paid $20 million for her work on the project. By September of 2021, a settlement was reached, although terms of the settlement were not disclosed. It was an acknowledgement that the contractual relationships between stars and studios would be changing in the future.
2021
Another victim of the "woke" culture and political correctness was the film character of super-spy 007 James Bond (Daniel Craig in his fifth and final appearance), who in the latest release No Time to Die (2021) experienced not even one sexually charged sequence with a female co-star. According to reviewers, Bond was continually out-shone by his female co-stars, including gun-packing Paloma (Ana de Armas). He also apologized to supposed MI6 rival Nomi (Lashana Lynch), and barely cuddled with love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux).
2021
It was generally acknowledged that most of the superhero films in 2021 were of inferior quality, with the possible exception of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) at the end of the year. In particular, Venom 2 (2021), Eternals (2021), and Black Widow (2021) were singled out, but due to audience's heightened expectancy to return to movie theatres, the films did better than they normally might have.
2021
Well-funded Hollywood movie musicals appeared to be making a modest comeback in 2021 (although some were box-office flops), with the releases of a number of updated examples, including Steven Spielberg's remake of the 1957 play with West Side Story (2021), director Lin-Manuel Miranda's (and Netflix's) biographical drama about a 30 year-old, NYC theatrical composer (Andrew Garfield) titled tick, tick...BOOM! (2021), director Liesl Tommy's biopic Respect (2021) about musical icon Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson), director Jon M. Chu's adapted version of the 2008 Broadway musical In the Heights (2021) set in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, and director Stephen Chbosky's dramatic musical adaptation Dear Evan Hansen (2021) of the 2016 Broadway play - a coming-of-age tale about a HS senior (Ben Platt) with social anxiety disorder.
2021
In China in mid-2020 during the height of the pandemic, the country's film industry conducted a mid-summer box office revival (bolstered by some of its own local film titles) and for the first time, the country's box office revenues rose above those in North America. Into the year 2021, its prominence would continue.
2021
The issue of occupational safety and the use of firearms on the set of movie shoots was again brought to the forefront with the death of a crew member on the set of a western being filmed titled Rust. In Bonanza City, NM, a real Colt .45 revolver was being used as a prop, and during a rehearsal, the revolver was fired by actor/producer Alec Baldwin, on the twelfth day of the shoot, on October 21, 2021. The live round struck and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza. Production was immediately halted (and probably suspended forever) following the incident and pending investigations and the filing of multiple lawsuits and charges. [Note: A similar accidental shooting from a prop firearm occurred on the film set of The Crow in 1993, killing actor Brandon Lee.]
2021
The highest-grossing (domestic) film of the year was Sony's Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). It came out late in the year, and immediately soared to the top of the box-office (soon after, it became the 4th highest-grossing domestic film and 6th highest-grossing worldwide film of all time). Its financial totals were $738.6 million (domestic), and $1.74 million (worldwide). It was the 27th film in Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU).
2021
Worldwide-global box-office income totaled $21.4 billion, according to Variety. This was a remarkable comeback from the year before - a 78% gain on 2020. As predicted, China's film industry income was # 1 in the world, with $7.4 billion, compared to North America (US and Canada) at $4.55 billion. China's top position in 2021 marked its second consecutive year as the global box-office leader. The combined total for Europe, the Middle East and Africa was $4.4 billion, while Latin America was $1.1 billion.
2021
China's 176 minute-long, epic war film The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021, China), with a record budget of $200 million, became the highest-grossing film of all time in Chinese history, and the highest-grossing non-English film of all time. It was a propagandistic CCP tale - an account of the defeat of American forces by the courageous People's Volunteer Army (PVA) during the Korean War at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950. There were three massive Chinese hits that accounted for 34% of China's total box-office in 2021: The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021), Hi, Mom (2021), and the action-adventure-comedy sequel Detective Chinatown 3 (2021).
2021
The end of the pandemic was reflected in the number of theatres that had opened by the end of the year. Globally, 90% of cinemas by market share were open, while North America lagged behind with an 85% open rate.
2021
An annual report of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University provided statistics about the number of female directors in the film industry. Although a record number of films were directed by females in 2020, women comprised only 17% of directors (for the top 250 grossing movies) in 2021 - it was a decline of 18% from 2020. The percentage was even less when narrowing down the films to the top 100 most popular movies in 2021. Females comprised only 12% of the directors of those films - a decline of 16% from 2020.
2021
75 year-old director Steven Spielberg's Academy Award nomination as producer of the remake West Side Story (2021) was record-setting. Spielberg has now produced 11 films nominated for Best Picture. With nominations for Best Picture and Best Director this year, Spielberg now has a total of 19 Oscar nominations. Spielberg's nominated Best Picture film was his 12th Best Picture nominee, an Academy record. Spielberg also became the first person to be nominated as Best Director in six different decades.
2021
67 year-old New Zealander Jane Campion received her second Oscar nomination as Best Director for The Power of the Dog (2021), and she became the third woman to win Best Director. She was the oldest woman ever nominated in this category at age 67. Campion's nomination made her the first woman to be nominated more than once for Best Director. She was previously nominated in the Best Director category for The Piano (1993). Only seven women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only two had won in the past, including last year's victor Chloé Zhao for Nomadland (2020).
2021
Britisher Kenneth Branagh received his second Oscar nomination as Best Director for Belfast (2021), and two other nominations: Best Picture Producer, and Best Original Screenplay. With these nominations, Branagh became the first person to earn 7 Oscar nominations in seven different categories (Picture, Directing, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Live-Action Short, Lead Actor, and Supporting Actor), with no wins to date, until this year, when Branagh won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
2021
Encanto (2021) - the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar winner, became the 4th non-Pixar Disney film to win in this category, following Frozen (2013), Big Hero 6 (2014), and Zootopia (2016).
2021
67 year-old Denzel Washington received his 10th Oscar nomination overall, and 9th acting nomination for his role as the titular character - aspiring Scottish king Macbeth in the Shakespeare adaptation, The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021).
Washington became the most-nominated black actor in Oscar history with his nomination.
2021

There were a number of firsts as a result of the Oscars Awards ceremony in late March 2022, for films made in the year 2021: (1) Ariana DeBose became the first openly LGBT+ female performer to win an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actress) in addition to being the first female of color, for her role as Anita in Spielberg's remake of West Side Story (2021), (2) deaf actor Kotsur became the first male deaf actor to receive an Oscar acting nomination and to win the Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for his role as Frank Rossi in director Sian Heder's family drama CODA (2021), and (3) CODA (2021) became the first movie from a streaming service (Apple Original Films and Apple TV+) to win Best Picture, and it was also the first movie to debut at Sundance that won Best Picture. CODA was a clean sweep, winning 3 for 3 - it was only the seventh Best Picture winner that won every award for which it was nominated. It was one of the very few Best Picture winning films without a nominated Best Director, although the director won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.



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