The 25 Best-Performing Stocks of 2021

The stock market's top performers of 2021 are a timeline of sorts, made up of meme stocks, oil plays and other major themes from across the year.

An electronic set of podiums that say 1 2 and 3.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best stocks of 2021 reflected pretty much all of the market's major themes from throughout the year.

From the emergence of meme stocks to a huge rebound in oil prices to the continuing saga of COVID-19 and the recovery trade, 2021's top stocks all rode a wave bigger than themselves. (Just scroll down to the table below, which lists the Russell 1000 index's top performing stocks on a price basis for the year-to-date through Dec. 30.)

The biggest winner? GameStop (GME, $155.33), which soared to ridiculous heights thanks to sometimes unhinged chatter on social media platforms, most notably Reddit's r/wallstreetbets (WSB) subreddit.

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As you might have heard, volatility in GameStop was insane. At one point in January, GME stock was sitting on a year-to-date gain of 1,740%. Shares have since cooled off and then some, tanking about 23% in the past month alone. Yet GameStop still leads the best stocks from the Russell 1000 with a price performance of +725% for 2021.

As noted above, the energy sector was a big winner this year, and we have the stocks to prove it. Devon Energy (DVN, $43.67), Continental Resources (CLR, $44.61), and Marathon Oil (MRO, $16.35) all cracked the top 10.

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Meanwhile, an accelerating global economic recovery was good for cyclical stocks. For example, in the highly economically sensitive materials sector, shares in Alcoa (AA, $59.21), Olin (OLN, $57.41) and Nucor (NUE, $113.85) all more than doubled this year.

And then, of course, there's the pandemic. True, COVID-19 introduced extreme bouts of volatility at times, but it also helped Moderna (MRNA, $251.60) stock rise more than 140%.

Although chances are slim that this year's winners will repeat as the best stocks to buy for 2022, investors shouldn't automatically count them out as potential market beaters. They would do well, however, to take a closer look at analysts' top stock picks for the new year.

But for 2021, at least, the stocks listed below reigned supreme:

A table of the best Russell 1000 stocks of 2021

(Image credit: S&P Global Market Intelligence)
Dan Burrows
Senior Investing Writer,

Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.

A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.

Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.

In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.

Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.

Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.