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"Movie Theater" by roeyahram is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite being stuck inside for the last year, life has still passed in a blur, and movies were likely the last thing on many people’s minds.

With that being said, even with theaters around the world being shut down, great movies continued to trickle out. While many of the traditional blockbuster-action movies elected to delay their releases until theaters reopened, that choice allowed low-budget movies with great stories to truly shine.

Without further adieu, here are five must-watch films that you might have missed during COVID-19.

“Tenet”

Who can forget “Tenet,” the first movie to really test the waters of COVID-19 in-theater releases. This Christopher Nolan film is truly mind-bending, bringing back visions of “Inception” — but instead of dreams, it’s time. Despite its limited box-office success, the film's bravery to release exclusively in theaters combined with Nolan’s unwavering grasp on the neo-sci-fi thriller genre makes this movie a must-watch.

“One Night In Miami”

“One Night in Miami” isn’t the most action-packed or adventurous movie, and takes place almost exclusively inside of one hotel room in Miami. Yet, there’s something so engaging and so captivating about it that you can’t look away. The film, based on a (mostly) true story, follows Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Cassius Clay after Clay’s heavyweight championship fight. Instead of a night filled with parties and fun, despite Brown and Cooke’s best efforts, the four end up in a hotel room talking about religion, race and life. While any other movie consisting of only a conversation may have fallen flat, the history and personalities of the characters that the actors bring back to life make this a conversation for the ages.

“Minari”

With a low budget, little advertising and a generally indie-film feel, “Minari” wasn’t on many people’s radar when it first came out, but something about its special simpleness made the movie an instant success. The film follows the Yi family, who are immigrants from Korea, on their move from California to rural Arkansas to become farmers. Faced with obstacle after obstacle, the family must persevere in order to survive. The film truly runs the gamut of emotions, from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, and is a testament to the indie genre’s ability to succeed with the right directing.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

While it’s an unusual pick for a must-watch list, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” earned its spot among the best movies of COVID-19. The animated family-film follows the Mitchells, a ragtag family of misfits doing their best to save the world from the impending AI apocalypse. While this “Terminator” meets Pixar film does a great job of following the tried and true plot formula for family movies, it's the unique direction it goes in with the relationship between the family that makes it really shine. The problems the family has with each other are so relatable and real that it’s almost uncomfortable to watch with your own family, but it turns the movie into a real therapy session (and a good time) for the whole family.

“Nomadland”

No list would be complete without this Oscar-winning film. “Nomadland” tells the story of Fern, a woman in her fifties traveling the country in her van and looking for work. While there’s certainly nothing exciting or glamorous to be had in this film, that’s exactly the point — it’s just a beautifully shot story of a human doing her best to survive. What gives the movie a dash of something special is the documentary-hybrid style it employs by using real people instead of actors, creating something truly unique.

While many major films were delayed due to COVID-19, it also provided a chance for smaller films to thrive, proving that movies don’t have to be blockbuster-sized to make a splash in the movie industry.