The 21 Best Variety Cover Stories From 2021

From Issa Rae of “Insecure” to Discovery Inc.’s indefatigable CEO David Zaslav, this year Variety chronicled — as we have since 1905 — the stories of the biggest power brokers, dealmakers and creative trailblazers in Hollywood. Stephen Colbert, Anthony Mackie, Chloé Zhao, Phoebe Bridgers, Michaela Coel, Lil Nas X, Jean Smart and Jack Harlow are just some of our 21 favorite Variety cover stories of 2021. Taken collectively, these stories offer a portrait into another pandemic year in Hollywood, when it wasn’t always easy to conduct business as usual. But these entertainers and executives still powered through, reminding us of the resilience and improvisational spirit that’s always been crucial to the DNA of show business.

Actors on Actors Movie Issue: A ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Reunion

Jan. 20

Like many things in entertainment, our Emmy-winning Actors on Actors franchise had to go virtual in 2021. But that didn’t stop us from putting together conversations (over computer screens) with 22 of the best movie performers of the previous calendar year. Our favorite of the bunch: Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) reunited with Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”), 30 years after making “Silence of the Lamb.” They even wrapped up their conversation in character. “Bye, Clarice,” Hopkins purred to Foster, sounding exactly like Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

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Viola Davis and Stacey Abrams Launch Awards Season

Feb. 17

As two of the most influential figures in their respective fields, Viola Davis and Stacey Abrams came together to discuss the Oscars, 2021’s political climate and wielding their power as Black women. Speaking with Variety’s Angelique Jackson and Jazz Tangcay, the two connected on the core principle of using their prominence to create opportunity for others, and discussed the ever-growing intersectionality of Hollywood and politics. When asked what it meant to her to share the cover with Abrams, Davis said: “It’s a reflection and a confirmation that I’m living my life on a higher level than what I do [as an actor].”

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Anthony Mackie Brings Falcon to Disney Plus

March 4

Just two weeks before the premiere of Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Variety’s Matt Donnelly caught up with star Anthony Mackie about solidifying himself as a leading man and the importance of bringing representation to the MCU. Of stepping into Captain America’s shoes, Mackie said: “I was really surprised and affected by the idea of possibly getting the shield and becoming Captain America. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I did it the way they said you’re supposed to do it. I didn’t go to L.A. and say, ‘Make me famous.’ I went to theater school, did Off Broadway, did indie movies and worked my way through the ranks. It took a long time for this shit to manifest itself the way it has, and I’m extremely happy about that.”

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Phoebe Bridgers Rules Grammy Nominations

March 10

After receiving four Grammy nominations, indie-rock breakout Phoebe Bridgers looked back on rising to stardom during a pandemic, bashing a guitar on “Saturday Night Live” and her relatable social media presence. “It feels very unreal, because my life has actually changed very little,” the 27-year-old singer-songwriter told Variety’s Jem Aswad. “Even though I’m at home, it’s been a very suffocating time. There is something really weird about going through all this stuff alone.”

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Issa Rae Bids Farewell to ‘Insecure’

March 24

Just before Issa Rae started production on the fifth and final season on “Insecure,” she reflected on her decade-long evolution from “Awkward Black Girl” to multimedia maven with her newly relaunched Hoorae banner. With the cover story, Variety announced that Rae inked a mega-overall deal with WarnerMedia, taking the creator and her company’s influence to the next level.

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The Tough Road Back for Movie Theaters

March 31

Alamo Drafthouse was a model for a new kind of moviegoing experience at a time when most multiplexes were soulless. The beer was eclectic, the food was locally sourced, the staff was friendly, and the chain’s strict “no talking” rules drew passionate fans. But COVID hit and disaster struck, forcing Alamo into bankruptcy. Now, the chains and other theaters like it, must figure out how to successfully reemerge at a time when the pandemic brought the exhibition industry to the brink of extinction.

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Whoopi Goldberg Remembers Her Trailblazing Oscar Win

April 21

On the 30th anniversary of her best supporting actress Oscar win for “Ghost,” Whoopi Goldberg sat down with Variety via Zoom to watch footage from that shining moment on her road to EGOT glory. Goldberg also shared highlights from her four stints hosting the Academy Awards, getting candid about moments like watching Halle Berry become the first (and still only) Black woman to win best actress. With plans to reprise her classic character Deloris Van Cartier in “Sister Act 3” and a continuing presence on “The View,” Goldberg’s groundbreaking career shows no signs of slowing down.

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Chloé Zhao Makes History

April 28

At the socially distanced 93rd annual Academy Awards, Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) became the second woman — and the first woman of color — to win an Oscar for directing. On the morning after her historic win, with her two trophies in hand (she won a second statue for producing “Nomadland,” which won best picture), she sat down with Variety’s Kate Aurthur about her career-changing year. And she even talked about her white sneakers, which went viral after she wore them to the ceremony with a Hermes dress. “It’s a long night, a lot of walking — and I don’t have the courage to be in heels,” Zhao said.

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Michaela Coel: Our Power of Women in Comedy Issue

May 5

By pouring herself into “I May Destroy You,” Michaela Coel turned her personal trauma into catharsis for a public reeling under the weight of the pandemic. Before Coel made Emmy history as the first Black woman to win for limited series writing, she analyzed why the show seemed to strike such a chord with audiences and critics. Coel also revealed the art that brought her catharsis during lockdown, including Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams’ “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

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Regé-Jean Page Is ‘Bridgerton’s’ Big Heartthrob

May 26

After its Christmas Day debut, Regé-Jean Page quickly became the talk of the town with his portrayal of Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, on the super steamy Netflix series “Bridgerton.” But when news broke that the star on the rise wouldn’t return for Season 2, fans were left with one burning question — “Why not?!” In his Variety cover story, Page explained why his time as the Duke had come to its natural end, and dished on his high-profile roles in “Dungeons and Dragons” and acting opposite fellow heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.

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Cannes Returns With Tilda Swinton

June 30

In addition to nearly 100 acting credits, including five projects that debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Tilda Swinton is well known for her mysteriousness, emanating from the eccentricities of her characters and the androgyny of her personal style. The 61-year-old Scot has always been hard to pin down, and Variety’s Manori Ravindran got to the heart of that aura: Swinton doesn’t consider herself an actor. She prefers the German term “mitarbeiter,” more akin to a colleague or collaborator. “I love cooking things up with people, and the way one dares oneself with people you really trust,” she said. “What I love most about it, and the most important element, is the ongoing conversation. The films themselves are leaves that fall off the tree — but the tree is the conversation.”

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How Stephen Colbert Became the New King of Late Night

July 21

As live audiences returned to “The Late Show” after more than a year, Stephen Colbert talked about the pandemic, Trump and the show’s next chapter. Colbert said “Late Show” was not a voice of the resistance to Trump, but simply a voice of reason. He was disturbed by what he saw as the former president’s gaslighting of the public in order to pursue a stealth agenda. “The firehose of misinformation or disinformation and the attempts to make all of us feel crazy by thinking that this was crazy gave us a very interesting place to stand,” Colbert said.

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Scott Stuber’s Movie Mission at Netflix

July 28

Meet the man responsible for the movies you stream. When Netflix needed to dramatically improve its original content game, it turned to Scott Stuber, a veteran producer and former Universal executive, to serve as its ambassador to Hollywood. With billions at his disposal, Stuber and his team have created an entertainment juggernaut, one that finances passion projects for the likes of David Fincher and Jane Campion and rolls out a new movie every week, an unprecedented level of production. His next challenge? Make films you won’t just watch, but you’ll also love and remember.

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Lil Nas X Changes Music Forever

Aug. 11

For our Power of Young Hollywood issue, Lil Nas X spoke to Variety’s Jem Aswad and Ramin Setoodeh about his breakthrough year as the most successful gay hip-hop artist in music history. “I’m always trying to give people a show, you know, while also pointing out the flaws in society,” he said. “I have a goal in my head for where I want to be, but my entire life and career has been just going in and winging it.”

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Jean Smart Is Simply Fabulous in ‘Hacks’

Sept. 16

Before earning the fourth Emmy of her career, risk-taker Jean Smart talked to Variety about her latest career peak (just don’t call it a Jeanaissance). As Helen, the eccentric and stubborn mother of Kate Winslet’s troubled police detective in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” she stole every scene she was in. In “Hacks,” the HBO Max comedy that’s a rare leading role for Smart, she was razor-sharp as an iconic but past-her-prime comedian.

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Amanda Gorman: A Poetess at Power of Women L.A.

Sept. 29

When Amanda Gorman performed her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, she made countless headlines for the charisma and poise she demonstrated at just 22 years old. In conversation with Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller as a 2021 Power of Women honoree, Gorman got vulnerable about how memories of her childhood guide her writing career and her work with nonprofit WriteGirl. She credits her success to her mother, who took great lengths to teach Gorman her worth. “Can you imagine that as a girl with a speech impediment how that felt like an oxymoron?” she said. “And as I’ve grown up I understand that, as always, my mother was 100% right. My superpower is my voice.”

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Shonda Rhimes in Charge

Nov. 3

Our Show Woman of the Year Shonda Rhimes proved her worth to Netflix by creating “Bridgerton,” which shattered the streaming service’s viewership records when it debuted in winter of 2020. In an interview with Kate Aurthur, Rhimes laid out her future plans for creating content at Netflix, including the upcoming drama “Inventing Anna” about real-life grifter Anna Delvey. “Had she been a man, I’m not sure it would have caused such a ruckus,” Rhimes said.

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s Masterful ‘Licorice Pizza’

Nov. 10

The director of “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights” returns to screens with “Licorice Pizza,” a warm-hearted look at being young, in love and living in the Valley. Paul Thomas Anderson opens up about the moviemakers he admires, the stories that inspired his newest film, and the insecurities that still drive him. “Anyone who’s done this knows that confidence is an illusion,” he says.

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Jack Harlow Is Our Hitmaker of the Year

Dec. 2

In a short amount of time, Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow has become inescapable in pop culture. His music, especially 2020 single “Whats Poppin,” is hard not to love, and you’ll find him all over social media, regularly going viral with his own comedic posts, or fan discussions of his media appearances and good looks. He made his biggest career waves in 2021 with a featured verse on Lil Nas X’s No. 1 track “Industry Baby,” which spawned as many memes as critical accolades. “The fame is fun, but I have such a love for the craft,” Harlow told Variety’s Jem Aswad. I want to get back to it, and I’m hungry to kill shit.”

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David Zaslav: Hollywood’s New Tycoon

Dec. 8

As Discovery is poised to conclude a transformational merger with WarnerMedia by the middle of next year, CEO David Zaslav, Variety‘s Dealmaker of the Year, spoke about the business challenges ahead for the combined company, assuming the $43 billion merger secures regulatory approval. In a lengthy interview, Zaslav discussed his vision for Warner Bros. Discovery: a streaming powerhouse, with theatrical as the “top of the funnel.” “Our job is to grow the right side of the company — the streaming business, the motion picture business and the TV production business — faster than the traditional business declines,” Zaslav says.

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Bob Iger Exits Disney’s Magical Kingdom

Dec. 21

As Bob Iger retires as CEO of Disney after a triumphant 15-year run, the transformative leader talked to Variety editor-in-chief Claudia Eller about his rise to the top and the company’s future under Bob Chapek. As he reflected on his tenure, Iger, who said he has “no interest in running another company,” revealed what drove him to finally make his grand exit.

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