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The movies are still stuck deep in the knock-on effects from the first COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in early 2020. Uncertainty about the safety of public gatherings cost us "Top Gun: Maverick" for the second year in a row and also knocked the latest "Mission: Impossible" movie to fall 2022.
Many more productions were either shut down or delayed, and while many filmmakers have devised workarounds, the kind of sprawling military action movies we love to write about are thin this year.
The Chinese war movie "The Battle at Lake Changjin" proved to be the biggest box-office success in the world this year but has barely screened in the United States, aside from limited runs in New York, Los Angeles and a few other major cities. No one here at Military.com has seen it yet, and we're looking forward to covering it as soon as we can next year.
Related: 'Frozen Chosin' Korean War Movie Set to Be Biggest Box-Office Hit of 2021
Even though we didn't get "Top Gun" in 2021, there were plenty of great movies this year even if some of their production plans may have been somewhat limited by the ongoing pandemic.
The Card Counter
Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader (writer of "Taxi Driver" and "Rolling Thunder") recruited Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron in the most recent "Star Wars" trilogy) to play William Tell, a former military interrogator who taught himself to count cards during a 10-year prison sentence.
Tell carries a heavy burden of guilt for his military crimes and holds his commanding officer, Maj. John Gordo (Willem Dafoe, "Clear and Present Danger") partially responsible for the awful things Tell was ordered to do. He meets up with a fellow interrogator's son (Tye Sheridan, "Ready Player One"), and the kid has a plan for revenge.
Related: A Military Interrogator Confronts His Past in 'The Card Counter'
Escape from Mogadishu
This movie follows North and South Korean diplomats as they try to escape from Somalia during Mohamed Farrah Aidid's 1991 assault on Mogadishu, two years before the attack chronicled in "Black Hawk Down."
The movie isn't on the scale of the Ridley Scott classic, but there's some creative filmmaking on display and plenty of suspense. The car-armoring technique devised for the movie's big chase scene makes the movie worth watching all by itself.
Related: 'Escape From Mogadishu' Offers a Korean Take on the Somali Civil War
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Filmmaker Joel Coen, working for the first time ever without his brother Ethan, recruited his wife, Frances McDormand ("Nomadland"), and Denzel Washington ("Training Day") for an exciting take on William Shakespeare's tale of Scottish military warfare and throne-gaming.
The movie cuts about an hour's worth of dialogue from the play and focuses on the action. Shot in black-and-white and entirely on soundstages, Coen sacrifices a bit on the epic scale but makes up for it with some great hand-to-hand combat.
"The Tragedy of Macbeth" will open in theaters on Dec. 25, 2021, before streaming on Apple TV+ starting Jan. 14, 2022.
Hell Hath No Fury
Director Jesse V. Johnson ("Avengement," "Triple Threat") found the screenplay for "Hell Hath No Fury" when he was looking for a script he could shoot while following strict safety protocols. He came up with a story about the waning days of World War II, when American G.I.s, Nazi troops and Resistance fighters are trying to locate a cache of hidden gold.
A young Frenchwoman named Marie (Nina Bergman) may have all the answers, since she had an affair with the German officer who stashed the gold. Is she a traitor to her country, or was she acting as a spy against the Nazi invaders?
There's an excellent surprise at the end when you learn who gets the gold.
Related: 'Hell Hath No Fury' Explores a Darker Side of World War II
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott's epic medieval military movie was delayed a year by the pandemic. Like a lot of movies aimed at an adult audience in 2021, it struggled to sell tickets this past fall when it was in theaters. Even star Ben Affleck understands why you didn't want to go to the theater to see it.
Matt Damon and Marine Corps veteran Adam Driver play best friends and battle buddies who fall out after one of them assaults the other's wife. Jodie Comer ("Killing Eve") plays the woman and follows her quest for justice in a time that was notoriously inhospitable to women's rights.
There's excellent swordplay throughout, and Affleck is very funny as a decadent count who oversees the combat between Damon and Driver.
Related: Marine Vet Adam Driver Picks Up a Sword to Slash His Way Through 'The Last Duel'
Comedian and "Better Call Saul" star Bob Odenkirk is hardly the actor you'd have expected to redefine himself as Hutch Mansell, a special-ops veteran who kicks ass while coming to terms with a shadowy past.
"Nobody" was a surprise theatrical hit early in the year and there are already plans announced for a sequel. Let's hope that Hutch's dad (Christopher Lloyd) and brother (RZA) return for the sequel and that his wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen), gets to show off the operator skills that the movie hints she might just have herself.
Related: A Spec Ops Veteran's Past Catches Up with Him in 'Nobody'
Action movie legend Scott Adkins shines as a Navy SEAL in yet another movie designed to deliver the thrills while still observing pandemic safety protocols on set. Director James Nunn designed the movie to look like it's one continuous take as a CIA analyst attempts to remove a terrorist suspect from a Gitmo-style island prison.
There are terrorists who want to make sure the supsect doesn't spill what he knows, so they invade the island and aim to stop the transfer. They don't understand the kind of SEAL they're messing with.
Related: Navy SEALS Battle Terrorists at a Black Site Prison in 'One Shot'
Tom Clancy's Without Remorse
Michael B. Jordan ("Creed," "Black Panther") stars in an updated take on Tom Clancy's spec-ops badass, John Clark. This movie goes back to his origins as Navy SEAL John Kelly and explains the tragedy and mission that led him to become a fearsome ghost warrior.
Working from a screenplay co-written by Taylor Sheridan ("Yellowstone") and Will Staples (videogame "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"), director Stefano Sollima ("Sicario: Day of the Soldado") gets the basic story across in what seems like the warmup for a series of John Clark movies.
Unfortunately, "Tom Clancy's Without Remorse" was scheduled for a big theatrical release in 2020. When it got bumped to 2021, Paramount sold the movie to Amazon, and it made its debut as a streaming title on Prime Video. Will these players revisit the character in a streaming-only title? Would they consider debuting the sequel in theaters? There's no word yet either way about future plans.
Related: Tom Clancy's Universe Gets a Modern-Day Makeover in 'Without Remorse'
Outside the Wire
Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel universe) and Damson Idris star in this sci-fi movie that wonders how a drone operator would respond when he finds himself dodging real bullets on the battlefield.
After Thomas Harp, the young drone flyer played by Idris, disobeys an order and fires a rocket that kills two U.S. Marines, his superior officers send him to the front to experience life on the tip of the spear.
He meets up with an android commanding officer (Mackie) and must sort out what's real and what's not when they're sent on a mission outside the wire. The movie premiered on Netflix in January 2021 and is still available there.
Related: 'Outside the Wire' Asks What Happens to a Drone Operator When the Bullets Start Flying
A Journal for Jordan
Denzel Washington directs the real-life story of Army 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King and journalist Dana Canedy. The two met in the late 20th century, fell in love and had a son together before King was killed by an IED in Iraq.
Michael B. Jordan plays King and newcomer Chanté Adams plays Canedy. When King was deployed just before their son Jordan's birth, Canedy encouraged him to keep a journal that offered his son life advice.
Canedy later adapted King's words into her best-selling memoir, and now Washington brings the story to the screen in a movie that opens in theaters on Dec. 25, 2021.
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