The Best and Worst Movies of 2011

  • Publish Date: January 5, 2012
  • Comments: ↓ 8 user comments

A Separation is the best-reviewed movie of 2011 (for now)

2011 A Separation 94
High Scoring Movies by Year
(Minimum 7 Reviews)
2010 The Social Network 95
2009 The Hurt Locker 94
2008 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 97
2007 Ratatouille 96

When it opened in a handful of American theaters on December 30, A Separation 94 didn't just become the final film of 2011; it also became the best. Released in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, the Iranian drama about a dissolving marriage earned uniformly stellar reviews from critics and narrowly edged out the AIDS documentary We Were Here 94 (by less than 0.2 points) to take the title of Metacritic's highest-scoring film of the past year.

There is a catch, however. Since A Separation will roll out to additional cities over the next two months, additional reviews for the late-arriving film will continue to be published. As a result, it is possible that the film will not hold on to its tiny lead in our overall rankings for 2011.

Whatever film ultimately claims the top spot, it'll mark the third time in the last four years that a limited release film finished the year with the highest Metascore (last year's The Social Network 95 being the mainstream exception). In fact, no wide release film met or exceeded the 90 mark last year; that's fairly typical, though two wide release films managed to top that mark in 2010, and several other recent years had at least one.

Overall in 2011, however, a total of 35 releases met or exceeded the 81 Metascore threshold that indicates "universal acclaim" from critics. That's an improvement over 2010, when 30 such films were released, though still below 2009's mark of 37. But last year saw a slight uptick in terrible movies as well, with five films dropping below a Metascore of 20; the year before, there were just three such films.

The average Metascore for all movies released last year was 57.0, a figure on par with the previous year's 57.2. Wide release films actually fared a little better with critics last year, while limited release films performed slightly worse (likely because of an increase in the number of releases). A total of 239 of last year's 524 theatrical releases (with 7 or more reviews in our database) in 2011 wound up with a green Metascore indicating positive reviews from critics -- that's a 45.6% success rate, which falls right in between the percentages for 2009 and 2010 but is once again beneath the decade's best mark: 49%, in 2007.

We have already shown you some of the best films of the past year in our collection of film critic top-10 lists and in our ongoing Film Awards Scorecard. In this report, however, we take a look at the year's top films as originally reviewed by critics. Over the next few pages, we'll explore the best and worst wide releases and limited releases of 2011. First, we reveal the highest-scoring movies of the year in various genres.

2011's Best-Reviewed Comedies (English-Language, Live Action)
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
82 81 78 76 75
The Trip
IFC Films
Midnight in Paris
Sony Pictures Classics
The Guard
Sony Pictures Classics
The Weinstein Company
Universal Pictures
2011's Best-Reviewed Dramas (English-Language*)
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
89 87 85 85 85
The Artist
The Weinstein Company
Columbia Pictures
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Focus Features
Take Shelter
Sony Pictures Classics
The Tree of Life
Fox Searchlight

* Silent films, too!

2011's Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
87 75 74 72 68
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros.
Attack the Block
Screen Gems
Source Code
Summit Entertainment
Super 8
Paramount Pictures
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox
2011's Best-Reviewed Documentaries
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
94 90 88 87 86
We Were Here
Red Flag Releasing
My Perestroika
Red Square Prod.
The Arbor
Strand Releasing
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
The Film Desk
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
IFC Films
2011's Best-Reviewed Foreign-Language Films (Dramatic Films Only)
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
94 89 87 87 86
A Separation
Sony Pictures Classics
Kino International
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Strand Releasing
13 Assassins
Magnet Releasing
Of Gods and Men
Sony Pictures Classics
2011's Best-Reviewed Animated Films
#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
75 74 69 68 67
Paramount Pictures
Winnie the Pooh
Walt Disney
Arthur Christmas
Columbia Pictures
The Adventures of Tintin
Paramount Pictures
Kung Fu Panda 2
Paramount Pictures
2011's Best-Reviewed Films in Other Genres (English-Language)
Action Comic Book Family Horror Musical
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
73 68 87 71 75
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Paramount Pictures
The Adventures of Tintin
Paramount Pictures
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros.
Black Death
Magnet Releasing
The Muppets
Walt Disney
Remake Rom-Com Sequel Thriller Western
Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar Image bar
64 81 87 85 85
Fright Night
Walt Disney
Midnight in Paris
Sony Pictures Classics
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Focus Features
Meek's Cutoff
Oscilloscope Pictures

For this and all tables in this article, only movies with seven or more reviews released between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011 were considered. Re-releases are excluded. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, movies are ranked prior to rounding. All scores in this article are from January 4, 2012.

On the next page ...

Continue reading for a look at the best and worst wide releases of 2011.

Comments (8)

  • MovieMachine  

    Oh, and Midnight in Paris, of course. And Take Shelter.

  • MovieMachine  

    I'm really disappointed Melancholia didn't make it up there. That was definitely my favorite film of the year. A separation was just as incredible, though. Other favorites, for me, include Drive, HP7 Part 2, The Tree of Life, Mysteries of Lisbon, Super 8, Bridesmaids, The Artist, Rango, Source Code, and The Help.
    Some of my favorites are really artsy, others are just really good. I hope you all agree!

  • ShuteTheRunner  

    Hello and I am aspiring critic. I am 16 years of age and have created a blog for a few reviews that I have written. I was hoping that you may be interested in checking it out
    One day I hope to have a an impact on metascores, but first I need some feedback

  • movi60cent  

    A seperation! best movie of year.tnx

  • Christopher_G2  

    A rather good year, though I don't think quite as good as 2010. I still have to see a number of the critically praised darlings. Moneyball was probably my favorite of what I saw. Harry Potter and Bridesmaids wouldn't be too far behind. I'm still mixed on Tree of Life. I know I saw something worthy of being called art, and it was an experience. How many more time would I really want to watch it though, I don't know.

  • GlenM  

    My top 2011 movies were Source Code and Bridesmaids, although I haven't seen many of the top ones yet, some aren't released in New Zealand yet and some won't come to Christchurch where I live because our art cinemas have been lost in the earthquakes. I won't offer a worst picture, because I avoid poorly reviewed films but Drive was definitley the most overrated.

  • Sycsa  

    The Moneyball was really "out there".

  • MarcDoyle  

    Congrats to the makers of A Separation. It's a really good film.

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