The 2010’s have seen their ups and downs in the realm of cinema. We’ve witnessed the superhero franchises rise to become the dominant face of entertainment in Hollywood revenue and distribution. We’ve seen a new generation of horror films geared towards the struggles of our era. We’ve seen social media dominate the way we consume news and even hear about films, for better and for worse. On the other hand we’ve seen the industry go all in on endless sequels, reboots, remakes, live-action remakes and everything but new, original films. And the inner workings of this business has seen a reckoning against toxic sexist behavior with the #Metoo movement and ousting of Harvey Weinstein, amongst other figures.
The list below offers mxdwn Movie’s top 20 films across the entire decade. Some were created by longtime veterans of the industry. Others came were newcomers who made a splash on the industry with their breakout hits. But these are the best of the best, the films drew the most attention, provoked the most discussion and will stay with us long after the ball drops this month. There’s no telling what the 2020’s will bring, but here’s what stood out amongst the 2010’s:
20. Hell or High Water (2016)
The best way to describe Hell or High Water is a postmodern western movie, one that offers both an honest deconstruction and a glorious last hurrah for the western genre. All the tropes and elements that once made up Western films are present and accounted for, except this time they are being played out in the harsh reality of the 2010’s. The beautiful plains of West Texas are covered in billboards for debt relief, the small town shops bare foreclosure signs, the robbers ride around in crappy cars instead of on broncos, the Rangers are all worn-out, and it turns out that the bank robbed the robbers first. Also, the Native American characters make it no secret how much they have and are still suffering at the hands at the government. But this film never insults or parodies westerns.
Not a single shot or scene in Hell or High Water feels wasted. The characters aren’t just western clichés dropped into 2016, but feel deep and interesting. The acting is superb and of course you don’t need to be told that Jeff Bridges is good at playing an old cowboy. However, the entire movie is stolen by an angry old waitress in a single scene. Hell or High Water affects me personally because it is such an accurate depiction of West Texas culture this generation.
– Arden Terry
19. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Though the 2010’s media culture has seen an increasing number of positive queer representations and relationships, yet these stories are still outnumbered by heteronormative characters. Call Me By Your Name tells the story of a queer young man that doesn’t grapple with the self-hatred that permeated a lot of past LGBTQ stories, and it does so with breath-taking acting by Timothée Chalamet and Arnie Hammer, stunning cinematography, and delicately poignant dialogue delivered masterfully by Michael Stuhlbarg. The film just captures something about coming-of-age love stories that many films struggle to achieve: a truly romantic, yet energetic vibe. Director Luca Guadagnino tells his in such a nuanced way, utilizing every aspect of the Italian countryside and his actors to create a romance between his viewers and the film.
– Marisa Thomas
18. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Originally considered a financial disappointment upon its initial release, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World proved to just be a late bloomer. Pulled from the graphic novel series straight to the silver screen, director Edgar Wright tells the story of 22 year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), who must battle through a gauntlet of his current love interest Ramona Flowers’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) evil exes to keep their relationship intact. Heavily influenced by video game themes and iconography, Wright’s direction helps illustrate the vibrant and outlandish visual effects that keep this film’s pace moving forward. A haven for future DC and Marvel superhero stars like Winstead, Chris Evans and Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim laid out its unique storytelling blueprint for a new generation of moviegoers just around the corner. Now that the decade has reached its end, we’re reminded of the brilliance of Scott Pilgrim’s world and how it prepared us for an even more explosive era of filmmaking.
– Rudy Ortega
17. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s films have really increased in mainstream recognition this decade, but if there’s one film of the 2010’s that captured the best of his work, it’s easily The Grand Budapest Hotel. One reason this film stands out is how it manages to feel rather unique even compared to the rest of his filmography. Often Anderson’s films have been criticized for using the same tropes and stylistic choices and, while that distinctive style is still here, the fact that it’s utilized for a crime thriller distinguishes Grand Budapest from similar genre films.
Even taking it out of Anderson’s filmography, Grand Budapest still stands as an incredibly well-crafted piece of work. The story is gripping with the right amount of twists and is elevated even further by a great ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, William Dafoe and many more. It also serves as an excellent period piece, with everything from the elaborate costumes and set designs, the quirky yet pleasant score and the way every single shot is set up works to create a classic aesthetic. Anderson manages to utilize what was seen in older films and his past work to create something very new and creative, with both memorable characters and great pacing throughout the experience.
– Ryan Pineda
16. Hereditary (2018)
Hereditary takes horror cinema to a whole new level. The film is brilliant because it brings so many emotions to the table: gore, terror, distress, and heartbreak. At times it’s almost painful to watch due to the masterful combination of tragedy and horror. Every one of the cast’s performances are brilliant but Toni Collette completely stands out, perfectly capturing pain and dread in her face so strongly that you will feel her emotions in your soul. This plot is not for the faint of heart, as it traumatizes the audience not even an hour in—and then continues to escalate things until the harrowing conclusion. Hereditary isn’t simply just a horror film, though, dealing with deep themes like family relations, family history, inheritance, and past trauma. It’s one of the most unnerving films of the 2010s and will trap you until the 127 minutes are done.
– Rachel Walkup
15. Black Swan (2010)
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in an incredibly dark, twisted, and original tale of how the intense pressure placed on a young ballet dancer soon drives her to madness. Portman’s performance as the film’s lead won her the Oscar that year, with Black Swan also receiving nominations in the categories of Best Feature, Directing, Cinematography, and Editing. It incorporates themes of perfection, beauty, self-discipline, mental illness, and more, crossing the boundaries of horror, drama, and psychological thriller with its character sacrifices everything, sanity included, to achieve the perfect performance. With equal parts brutal and beautiful imagery, this is a film that tends to linger in the mind long after it is watched for the first time.
– Leilani Reyes
14. John Wick Trilogy (2014-2019)
Our only real “cheat” on this list, but for good reason. On the surface, John Wick sounded like your standard action movie that wouldn’t get that much attention, and even our site didn’t think much of it at first. Yet it surprised everyone by becoming the surprise sleeper hit of 2014 and inspiring a number of copycats. The story of a hitman brought back into the life he left is not a new idea, but John Wick succeeded for a couple of reasons, and not just because someone killing his dog justifies all the murder. The mysterious assassins underground and Continental Hotel, Wick’s status as “Baba Yaga,” and of course, incredible action sequences so cleanly choreographed and edited that the movie dares you to look away for even a second.
The first John Wick was our introduction to Wick’s world, Chapter 2 an appetizer and the third entry, Parabellum, proving to be the main course and icing on the cake. Much like the Jason Bourne trilogy, John Wick just gets better with every entry. Keanu Reeves does great work as the legendary assassin who everyone fears and is seemingly impossible to kill, but a special mention must go to director Chad Stahelski, whose excellent direction reshaped action cinema and produced one of the best action trilogies this century. He deserves high praise for giving us an action film that isn’t bogged down by over-editing and explosions as seen in most other action films.
John Wick was an unexpected surprise that thrilled audiences and critics alike. Just watching the movie in theaters is an experience because audiences are either on the edge of their seats or cheering when the action gets better and better. This is an action trilogy that Keanu Reeves can be proud and we’ve loved visiting our favorite protector of animals across all three films!
– Rick Rice
Reviews for Chapters 2 and 3 here and here
13. Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird is one of those fantastic movies that manages to be much more than the sum of its parts. With expert direction and screenwriting from Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut, Lady Bird features career-defining performances of longtime actors Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan while also highlighting the talents of industry newcomers Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet. It’s relatability is universal — Lady Bird takes us all back to the moments that defined our transition to adulthood, including the love and loss along the way. Hilarious, heartbreaking, clever, and at times even surprising, I’d argue this 2017 film was the best debut of the decade.
– Anabel Prince
12. Inside Out (2015)
Pixar’s Inside Out was a powerful release in 2015 for reasons beyond the multitude, but what really stood out were the dynamic between the five personality traits within Riley’s mind and their striking ability to help her adapt to various life challenges. Apart from the vibrant and colorful animation crafted by director Pete Docter, Inside Out triumphs with a shining story that tackles difficult subjects like depression and homesickness with a spark of Disney magic. It examines human psychology from the literal mind of a child with the backing of an exuberant comedic voice cast including Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, and Mindy Kaling. Outside the many Pixar sequels of the 2010’s, Inside Out distinguishes itself as not just an original release, but an exciting character study entrenched in the human mind.
– Drew Mattiola
11. Boyhood (2014)
There are certain high-concept movies that have been pitched over the years. Avatar, The Avengers, Gravity and Inception are just a few that come to mind. But probably the biggest and most challenging high concept movie this decade was Richard Linklater’s 2014 indie epic Boyhood. I had never seen a movie quite like it before in my entire life and to watch a boy literally grow up right before our eyes across twelve years was something magical. I thought that I had seen the same thing before with Harry Potter, but this was different.
I couldn’t even call Boyhood a movie because it wasn’t really a movie. There was no plot, just people living their lives. It’s not the acting, directing, or even writing that makes this movie a masterpiece, but rather the execution of its high concept. Boyhood could have easily felt like a compilation of twelve short films, but it never did. Instead, it really felt like we were given a glimpse into this boy’s life and, for those of us who grew up in his era, the experience was both relatable and unique. It was literally just life on screen and the life I saw was beautiful.
– Noah Pfister
10. Parasite (2019)
To make an impression on 2019 America, most films would need a superhero, lots of blood, or animated characters. Parasite does not feature any of these but doesn’t need them to get under your skin and remain there for days to come. Bong Joon-Ho has crafted a socially conscious, culturally aware feature about family and the lust of wealth. The details of Parasite are best kept under wraps, preserving its surprise of where the pursuit of success can take us when we crave it. What sets Parasite apart from the thousands of films in the past decade is the refreshing restraint Joon-Ho demonstrates in holding a mirror to his audience, showcasing what our greed reveals about who we truly are. Unapologetic and wholly original, Parasite is a masterclass in character study, human behavior, and examining social classes.
– Ryan Sterritt
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might be yet another Spider-Man film, but this computer-animated superhero film managed to separate itself from other Marvel installments with its striking visuals, laugh-out-loud moments, and genuine heart. Rather than solely focus on the typical protagonist Peter Parker, he’s instead featured as the reluctant mentor to our true main character: Miles Morales. The two share a sharp, back-and-forth relationship between them as they try to save the world and its various dimensions from the Kingpin’s Super-Collider machine. Both are accompanied by various delightful alternative versions of Spider-Man, ranging from Spider-Ham (a Looney Toons-like spider who was bitten by a radioactive pig) to Spider-Man Noir (a brooding, black-and-white Spidey from the 1930’s voiced by Nicolas Cage).
With a fantastic ensemble cast that includes John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Hailee Steinfield, and Jake Johnson (as well as uncredited cameos from Chris Pine and Oscar Isaac), Spider-Verse’s comedy is handled extremely well — making it a genuinely hilarious watch that’ll be good to see with either friends or family. Though the plot is a bit fast, it’s made up for by the film’s most striking feature — it’s stunning visuals. This film is almost overwhelming in its detailed-ladden and kinetic animation, which required obvious effort to produce that more than deserved its Oscar. In a world of high budget CGI movies, seeing one as stunning as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an appreciable treasure. It’s highly unlikely that you’ve seen a cartoon movie like this one due to the sheer ingenuity and creativity put into it.
– Avalon Allen
8. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street combined the public’s love for true crime retellings and convoluted vision of the American Dream created by rampant consumerism to deliver the adrenaline pumping story of Jordan Belfort. The film follows Belfort on his journey to committing white collar crime by manipulating penny stocks and scamming his way into millions. Filled with drugs, sex, and mountains of cash, director Martin Scorsese depicts the modern American fantasy of living in absurd excess and doing anything in your power to get there.
Based on a true story about ripping off middle class Americans, this narrative hit home for many who had experienced loss during the Great Recession. However, Scorsese also depicts the thrill of experiencing what it could have been like to outsmart the system and take advantage of it, as Belfort did. Witty scenes and engaging plot kept the audience rooting for whatever crazy scheme the con-artist could come up with to avoid arrest. Played with devious charisma by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort reinvents what it meant to “make it” and had audiences cheering someone who almost had it all, regardless of the pockets he drained to get there.
– Natalie Holderbaum
7. Toy Story 3 (2010)
When Toy Story 3 came out in June 2010, it was an emotional ending to a wonderful family movie trilogy. At least until Toy Story 4 came out this year. An older Andy going to college marks the end of his childhood, a moment that mirrors how Toy Story’s formerly younger audience will have grown up and matured with the franchise since its first installment. The themes are darker this time, as Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the remaining toys believe themselves to be unwanted after they are accidentally thrown out and moved to a daycare center. Throughout their adventures at Sunnyside, the film explores change, friendship, identity, community, jealousy, and even death. What made Toy Story 3 so special is that the toys not only learn to move on and rediscover the joy of being toys with a little girl named Bonnie, they find greater friendship in each other.
– Anastasia Hanna
Toy Story Q+A Retrospective here:
6. Moonlight (2016)
In 2016, Moonlight filled a space in the coming-of-age genre that was immensely lacking, and further surprised everyone with the infamous 2017 Oscar mix-up. Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner centers on Chiron, a shy black boy from Miami, and follows him through adolescence and adulthood as he wrestles with his homosexuality. The triptych of Chiron’s life unfolds with painterly care, carried by an unforgettable score, fluid camerawork, and powerful performances from the entire cast. A melancholy look at black male identity, sexuality, parental figures, and abuse, Moonlight illuminates perspectives that are too rarely seen on screen.
– Alicia Devereaux
5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
It’s rare beyond words for a film franchise with twenty-two movies under its belt to bring an epic story to a universally approved ending. Marvel Studios and head impresario Kevin Feige took their three-hour magnum opus Avengers: Endgame as an opportunity to knock the ball far out of the park. Everyone, from the writers, producers, directors and cast all seized the chance to perfect this movie as a true “finale” of a saga. Truly, it was the event film to end all event films, but where it succeeded most was feeling and emanating a proper, satisfying conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity Saga.
In Endgame, the broken, sullen remnants of the Avengers must figure out how to accept something truly impossible. Thanos’ plan to eradicate half the universe with the six Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War was successful. The entire universe is lost in grief and tumult when Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang/Ant-Man is luckily brought back to Earth through random circumstance, albeit five years later. Lang does what he does best: solve all of reality’s problems with a heist. From there, the outstanding cast is all mirthful glee as they try to pull an incredibly elaborate plan off with just barely the materials to do so.
Before the genre-defining 3rd act final battle, the joy of Endgame is seeing the interplay and surprisingly pleasant timbre of its cast as they render this story. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evan, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johannson, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson and Jeremy Renner all deliver command performances, taking their small corners of this massive film and make them sing. Mark Ruffalo in particular shines as a new version of the Hulk, demonstrating the heart, intellect and mirth this story revels in. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo deserver extra credit for taking something that could have easily been a jumbled mess and made it look like the Godfather of superhero films.
Avengers: Endgame is that seldom-experienced moment where genius cinema and pop culture perfectly coincide. All the money earned is deserved. All the acclaim, justified. This may just be the new paragon of popcorn prestige pictures. “Avengers Assemble!”
– Raymond Flotat
4. The Social Network (2010)
The 2010s were defined predominantly by the growth and corruption of social media, but The Social Network warned us of its risks as far back as the decade’s first year. Granted, not even Aaron Sorkin could have envisioned a movie scene where Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg would testify before Congress on why he won’t regulate those weaponizing Facebook for lies and propaganda. But film Zuckerberg, played with aloof perfection by Jessie Eisenberg, was already a dick from the start. After all, the film implies he started the first Facebook prototype due to being dumped by his ex, played by Rooney Mara, and mostly as a sexist forum for men to rate women by their hotness.
Like the best of films, so much of The Social Network continues to feel relevant. Sorkin’s’ script and David Fincher’s direction are second to none, and Eisenberg is joined by solid breakout performances from Andrew Garfield and Arnie Hammer, as well Justin Timberlake’s super dark take on Sean Parker. All these actors engage in a plot defined by coarse legal arguments, business backstabbing’s and scathing social commentary on the toxicity of holding power. Just makes you realize that such toxic and misogynistic social media behavior started from the top down.
Both inside the film and out, Zuckerberg turned our desire for connectivity into a commodity, forever defining how Millennial and Gen Z culture interact with the world and how everyone gets news. But The Social Network’s snappy line delivery focuses on a different part of that legacy: how some Ivy League assholes built an enterprise due to a need for acceptance. When Zuckerberg’s ex reprimands what his site has become, she notes how those who like what he’s selling “write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays.” Admittedly, I’d say Twitter and 4chan do that a bit more frequently.
– Ben Wasserman
3. Inception (2010)
With a star studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, and more, Inception started off the decade with a bang and set up the trajectory for sci-fi and fantasy films for years to come. Directed and written by Christopher Nolan, the film establishes a visually beautiful world where people have the technology to enter other people’s dreams, accessing their innermost thoughts in the process. Inception won numerous Oscars for sound mixing, sound editing, visual effects, and cinematography, and remains a cult classic almost ten years later.
Blending dreams with reality, the film stretches the limits of what film can accomplish as a storytelling medium. It attempts to visualize something that otherwise only occurs in the individual mind and make it instead into a group viewing experience with a compelling story. The special effects Nolan uses to accomplish this otherworldly, off kilter landscape were unlike anything that had been seen before, making it a primary staple of the 2010’s films.
Inception’s constant weaving of its plot and ambiguous ending also helped to keep viewers coming back for more. Combined with sharp, complex visuals, it makes for quite the thought-provoking experience. Following this film, more sci fi films have been released that aim for the same level of intrigue, such as Looper, Gravity, Annihilation, Ex Machina, and even Nolan’s own Interstellar.
– Leilani Reyes
2. Get Out (2017)
Everyone knew Jordan Peele for his clever comedy sketches in Key and Peele, yet no one could’ve foreseen what his debut film would bring to the table. Get Out features an incredible cast and intricate story that both keeps us on our toes and leaves us with an experience unlike anything seen before. Telling the story of an interracial couple meeting the white girlfriend’s parents for the first time is scary enough, but Peele made us question the family’s motives in ways that a horror film works best- by making the audience think.
Get Out smartly blends nail-biting suspense with some surprising moments of comedy thrown in, particularly involving Lil Rel Howery. This isn’t one of those standard horror films that showcases a lot of on-screen violence, instead opting for a character study of an entire family and one man’s quest to understand it all. It leaves the audience holding their breath and wanting to experience it again and again.
It was no surprise when this film won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and we saw Peele thank everyone who witnessed his directorial debut exceed expectations. Get Out is thought-provoking, intelligent, terrifying and funny, all wrapped into a horror/comedy package that’ll be talked about for years to come. Jordan Peele is a man who I’d be happy to follow throughout his career. I’m sure he’ll make some more great movies, but Get Out is nothing short of a masterpiece!
– Rick Rice
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
On a purely technical level, Mad Max: Fury Road is the best action film of the decade, bar none. It’s a roaring symphony of carnage, vehicular destruction and post-apocalyptic wonder that takes a simple truck chase and makes each second of it a non-stop thrill. With director George Miller revisiting his franchise decades after Beyond Thunderdome and Tom Hardy taking on the role of Max Rockatansky after Mel Gibson went a bit too mad, Fury Road creates practical action scenes and stunts so daring you’ll wonder how they pulled them off without CGI. These are the type of kinetic car fights and explosions Michael Bay wished he could be praised for pulling off.
But, looking back on Fury Road four years later, its narrative might be more relevant than ever. Like most Mad Max entries, Max is not the star but an observer to the wasteland’s worse off inhabitants: the brides of tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who commands massive resources to oppress citizens, an army of War Boys who revere him like a god, and dehumanizes women as “property.” And coincidentally one month after the film’s release, America saw its own Immortan Joe copycat rise to power with similar cult followings and sexist personality traits. Then came the #MeToo movement and many women decided to take the path of Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa: fight back.
Haters may hate, but this is an action film where female empowerment is key to kicking ass taking down the evil misogynist tyrant. And they do so with guns, cars, thundersticks, robot arms, and whatever scrap is left on the table. Max might be the film’s title character, but Furiosa no doubt became its star. And working together they preserved a chaotic battle for survival unlike anything I’d witnessed this decade, or have yet to witness since. Each re-watch only confirms that nitrius-fueled adrenaline rush is still kicking, and nothing has come close to topping it. What a lovely film indeed!
– Ben Wasserman