2021 remained challenging for Filipino cinema, with Philippine theaters still closed for much of the year. However, international festivals and the limited reopening of cinemas during fall ensured that a decent number of Filipino movies could still reach audiences.
So, of those that managed to release, what were the Best Pinoy Movies of 2021?
Cinema Escapist’s staff has curated this list of 10 top Filipino films (feature-length, not shorts) to answer that question. We’ve selected both blockbuster and indie movies across genres like romance, comedy, fantasy, action, and more. Furthermore, we tried choosing Pinoy films that are not only entertaining or artistically distinctive, but also have societal significance. Those who follow stars like Daniel Padilla, Janine Gutierrez, Dingdong Dantes, and so forth will also see them represented in this list.
Read on to learn more about 2021’s best Filipino movies! When available, we’ve included links to stream these films on platforms like Netflix.
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Director: Erik Matti | Starring: Ameera Johara, Ayeesha Cervantes, Brace Arquiza | Genre: Horror, Comedy
Noted director Erik Matti’s anthology Rabid features four distinct but related stories that explore how humans face paranoia, uncertainty, and fear. The segments capture a variety of subgenres and styles—home invasion, black-and-white art piece, hospital horror, and more.
Rabid is reminiscent of Netflix’s Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, and captures the zeitgeist of COVID-infected times quite well. That’s not surprising, given Matti himself has stated that the film was inspired by the feelings of “helplessness that bordered on insanity” that arose for him during lockdowns.
9. Last Rain in Summer (Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw)
Director: Louie Ignacio | Starring: Ken Chan, Rita Daniela | Genre: Romance, Drama
Last Rain in Summer (Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw) has a rather provocative premise: what if a seminary student and an exotic dancer strike up a romance?
In this debut of Ken Chan and Rita Daniela as a loveteam, Chan stars as the seminarian and Daniela the dancer. The two have good chemistry, which helps make the film watchable as it proceeds through melodramatic bumps and tragedies. Perhaps that’s also why Last Rain in Summer was selected as one of the entries for 2021’s Metro Manila Film Festival.
8. GameBoys: The Movie
Director: Ivan Andrew Payawal | Starring: Elijah Canlas, Kokoy de Santos | Genre: Romance, Drama, LGBTQ, Boys Love
If you’re interested in Boys Love (BL) movies, GameBoys: The Movie may suit your fancy. This film is derived from the popular 2020 BL series of the same name, and picks up where its last episode left off.
Unlike the series, which primarily showed the two leads’ relationships through online chats, Gameboys: The Movie unites Cairo (Eliah Canlas) and Gavreel (Kokoy de Santos) in the same location. This gives the movie a more sensual dimension, and should please those who want to see more chemistry between the original series’ two actors.
7. Hello Stranger: The Movie
Director: Dwein Baltazar | Starring: Tony Labrusca, JC Alcantara | Genre: Romance, LGBTQ, Boys Love, Comedy
Two BL movies made it onto our list this year, with Hello Stranger: The Movie as the next instance. Like with GameBoys: The Movie, Hello Stranger also begins after the end of an eponymous popular YouTube series.
LGBTQ critics have praised the movie for its acting and writing, while others have also analyzed how the movie explores how the notions of courage and connection come into conflict during relationships.
6. Here and There (Dito At Doon)
Director: Jaime P. Habac Jr. | Starring: Janine Gutierrez, JC Santos, Victor Anastacio | Genre: Romance, Drama
If you’re looking for a COVID-themed romance movie, check out Here and There (Dito at Doon). Starring Janine Gutierrez (of Babae at Baril) and JC Santos, the movie focuses on the relationship between two young people which develops online during quarantine.
What makes Here and There stand out from other Pinoy romance movies is its filmmaking technique. Given its premise of an online romance, it features numerous video calls. However, some of these video calls are re-imagined with the two leads in the same room, while others don’t. The switch between these two modes helps the film communicate the characters’ sense of alienation and connection amidst COVID, and will help it resonate with broader audiences.
5. A Hard Day
Director: Lawrence Fajardo | Starring: Dingdong Dantes, John Arcilla, Al Tantay | Genre: Action
We switch from romance to action with A Hard Day is the Filipino remake of an eponymous hit Korean movie. Like the original Korean film, A Hard Day focuses on a corrupt homicide detective who tries to cover up a car crash, only to realize there might be a mysterious witness to still contend with.
Dingdong Dantes and John Arcilla offer some laudable acting in A Hard Day, especially with Arcilla’s performance as the villain. The movie is quite easy to follow, has good pacing, and contains ample action scenes.
4. History of Ha
Director: Lav Diaz | Starring: Lav Diaz | Genre: Drama
Lav Diaz is one of the Philippines’ most renowned art house filmmakers, and he returned in 2021 with the film History of Ha. If you’re into more artistic cinema, the film should provide a welcome respite from the romcoms and blockbusters elsewhere on this list. For those newer to FIlipino art house, this is probably one of Diaz’s more accessible movies.
History of Ha centers on a ventriloquist who returns to the Philippines from an international tour, only to discover that his fiancee has married another man. He decides to only speak through a puppet named Ha, and ends up joining a sex worker, a teen boy, and a nun on a journey to explore the purpose of art and meaning of life. The film is set during the 1950s, and contains ample sociopolitical context — its events occur in the wake of Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay‘s untimely death, and elements of Cold War socialist revolution are rife.
3. Whether the Weather is Fine (Kun Maupay Man it Panahon)
Director: Carlo Francisco Manatad | Starring: Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Francinne Rifol | Genre: Drama
Whether the Weather is Fine (Kun Maupay Man it Panahon) is one of the more ambitious and distinctive Filipino movies to come out recently. The film is set in the city of Tacloban on Leyte, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. Using magical realism and hints of dark humor, it follows a young man named Miguel, his friend Andrea, and his mother Norma as they try to rebuild their lives in the storm’s wake.
With seven award wins at the 2021 Metro Manila Film Festival and screenings at top international film festivals like Toronto, Whether the Weather is Fine garnered praise from critics and audiences in both the Philippines and abroad. It’s easy to see why, given its distinctive cinematography, high production quality, and overall ability to generate a beautiful mise-en-scene atop a canvas of destruction.
2. On the Job: The Missing 8
Director: Erik Matti | Starring: John Arcilla, Dennis Trillo, Dante Rivero | Genre: Crime, Thriller
Erik Matti appears yet again on our list of 2021’s top Pinoy movies, this time for On the Job: The Missing 8. The film won plaudits at the prestigious 2021 Venice International Film Festival, and John Arcilla won the festival’s Volpi Cup for Best Actor. It’s also a sequel to the hit 2013 movie On the Job, which similarly won international praise at the Cannes Festival when it debuted.
In On the Job: The Missing 8, John Arcilla plays a reporter named Sisoy Salas, who lives in the city of La Paz. Salas defends La Paz’s corrupt mayor, which puts him at odds with his best friend and former journalistic colleague Arnel. However, when the mayor targets Arnel in an act of bloody political suppression, Salas begins to reassess his corrupt ways.
Given the ongoing struggle over media freedoms and strongman politics in the Philippines, On the Job: The Missing 8 is exceptionally timely and relevant. Through Salas’ struggles, it helps audiences more viscerally feel the corrosive effects that corrupt authoritarians have upon not only society, but also the lives of individuals.
1. Big Night!
Director: Jun Lana | Starring: Christian Bables, Nico Antonio, Eugene Domingo | Genre: Drama, Thriller, Comedy
Big Night! was the big winner at 2021’s Metro Manila Film Festival, with 8 awards to its name. The film provides a star-studded satire of the ongoing Philippine War on Drugs, offering great social commentary alongside entertainment.
In the film, Christian Bables stars as Dharna, a homosexual hairdresser who gets incorrectly put on a drug watchlist and spends a “big night” trying to clear their name. Bables offers an exceptional performance in the film. He brings his characteristic underdog presence and good humor to draw a resonant contrast against a decidedly dark topic.
Through comedy, Big Night! offers a take on the drug war that’s very distinct from the brutal action flicks that usually depict the conflict. Arguably, this approach makes Big Night! more socially impactful—it reels audiences in with big stars and levity, but then forces them to confront the extent to which they’re complicit in the Philippines’ current sociopolitical environment. Ultimately, this unique blend of entertainment and social significance is why we’ve selected Big Night! as the best Filipino movie of 2021.
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