When one makes a Best of Decade list, it doesn’t do to just have it be a collection of personal favorites — though that certainly comes into play, especially once you get towards the top. To have a list that feels complete, one must look at longevity. Which films have endured since their initial release? Which films look poised to continue enduring throughout the following years. That makes the list a bit more complicated, but also a bit more fun. Let’s dive in to what I consider the Top 25 of the 2010’s.
Dir: Sam Mendes / 2012
When it comes to longevity, no film franchise has the kind of bragging rights that the James Bond franchise does. It’s ability to weather tumultuous highs and lows across six decades is unprecedented. 2006’s Casino Royale successfully rebooted Bond for the modern era, but the franchise quickly got Jason Bourne envy. Enter director Sam Mendes and Skyfall successfully marries the new modern Bond with his classic tastes thus giving us an entry that feels both fresh and timeless. Some beautiful cinematography from legendary Roger Deakins and an iconic villain turn by Javier Bardem certainly doesn’t hurt either. Skyfall is arguably the best Bond since 1964’s Goldfinger.
24. Black Panther
Dir: Ryan Coogler / 2018
The past decade’s box-office was dominated by Marvel, no question, and there were plenty of entries worthy of inclusion such as 2012’s ground-breaking The Avengers. No entry into the MCU made as big of a cultural impact as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. Not only did it vividly bring to life a new fantasy world worthy of any franchise, it elevated Marvel’s storytelling by successfully turning a mirror to our own world, particularly when it comes to issues of race. Comics are always at their most poignant when examining society through its own unique lens, and no superhero film did that better than Coogler’s massive, trailblazing, Oscar-winning hit.
23. Blade Runner 2049
Dir: Denis Villeneuve / 2017
Hollywood in the 2010’s may end up being best known for its unabashed nostalgia. Every single property from the 1980’s seemed to have a reboot or sequel released this past decade and most are best forgotten, but not Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner sequel. Thanks to the nostalgia craze, Warner Bros invested heavily in what is essentially a massive art-house movie. It didn’t pay off for them, but for fans of the original, Villeneuve’s vision doesn’t only drop us right back into Ridley Scott’s incredible futuristic Los Angeles, it advances both the world and story in profound ways, crafting a sequel that not only lives up to the iconic original, but may even surpass it.
22. The Tree of Life
Dir: Terrence Malick / 2011
The epic art-house movie to end all art-house movies. Terrence Malick famously slaved away at his ambitious vision of growing up, the afterlife, the meaning of life, and all for over a decade. After all, it was a 13 year gap between this and The Thin Red Line. The Tree of Life did not disappoint fans of the esoteric Malick. It’s one of the most stunningly photographed films of all-time and is able to powerfully marry both its intimate and cosmic points of view into a piece of art that it only grows more rewarding over time. It also served as the big breakout for star Jessica Chastain, who is now undoubtedly one of the world’s finest actors. Malick has been a tear ever since, though he hasn’t found the creative heights that he did here.
21. The Wolf of Wall Street
Dir: Martin Scorsese / 2013
The Scorsese-DiCaprio relationship has been one of the most rewarding to watch ever since the two teamed up for 2002’s Gangs of New York and as a result, DiCaprio has become of the best (if not THE best) actors of his generation. You’ll find many cinephiles who like to tell you Scorsese has lost a step from his early work, but Wolf found him back in the saddle, conducting an opus that’s bursting with more energy and entertainment than filmmakers half his age could muster. DiCaprio also gives one of his career-best performances as he’s asked to do it all: be sympathetic and vulnerable, wild and crazy, vile and detestable — and he navigates it all seamlessly. Scorsese ended the decade with a bang in 2019’s The Irishman, but it’s The Wolf of Wall Street we all keep going back to.
Dir: Barry Jenkins / 2016
Barry Jenkins’ story of Chiron, told across three eras of his life, as he grapples with his sexuality, masculinity, and racial identity is one of the defining films of the decade. It announced the arrival of Jenkins as one of the voices of his generation, it introduced the world to the incomparable Mahershala Ali, and it’s responsible for one of the most memorable moments in Academy Awards history — “There’s a mistake… Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture.” On its own merits, Moonlight is profoundly beautiful look at all of the aforementioned issues and should be remembered as one of the quintessential films when it comes to not only the Black experience in America, but also the LGBTQ experience.
Dir: Spike Jonze / 2013
Spike Jonze’s sci-fi/romance about a man who falls in love with a computer program is perhaps the most honest and insightful look at romantic relationships since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jonze creates a world that feels right around the corner from our own, and in many ways already here, but it’s the delicacy of his Oscar-winning screenplay that gives the film its aching heart and brought to life beautifully by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the culmination of a trilogy that spans three decades, is another consideration here but Her is a visionary, heartbreaking, and unforgettable love story that captures the moment it finds itself in with undeniable grace and sensitivity.
Dir: Bong Joon Ho / 2014
Bong Joon Ho established himself as one of the most inventive and audacious filmmakers of his generation this decade and his sci-fi actioner Snowpiercer is a prime example of why Joon Ho is so exciting. Not only is the concept of a train perpetually circling a frozen Earth in the future while housing the last of humanity wholly original, but it’s Joon Ho’s unique eye that makes the experience so memorable. Every section of the train provides something new and shocking while being one of the most visceral action movies of the decade. It also features one of Chris Evans’ best performances (far removed from the All-American Steve Rogers) and a great cameo from Ed Harris. Snowpiercer‘s legacy has not only endured but steadily grown over the years and is an unforgettable and bonafide genre classic.
17. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Dir: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman / 2018
2018’s Into the Spider-Verse is not only a groundbreaking piece of animation, it is also one of the best comic book adaptations (and thus superhero movies) ever made. Miles Morales taking on the identity of Spider-Man is just as much of a landmark for representation as Black Panther, released the same year. But what really helps it stand apart is just what a burst of fresh, kinetic, and creative energy the entire endeavor is. This is a movie that feels more like a rock show the way it gets your blood flowing and your fists pumping. While the glut of superhero films and kids animation has turned both genres a bit stale, the team behind Spider-Verse have crafted a unique and dazzling piece of pop entertainment that likely won’t be topped anytime soon.
16. Get Out
Dir: Jordan Peele / 2017
Jordan Peele capitalized on the success of his Comedy Central show Key & Peele, with his knack for creating provocative and hilarious satires, by writing and director what will arguably be looked at as the horror movie of the decade in Get Out. His Oscar-winning screenplay is ripe and full of deeply profound jolts of political and societal commentary that also make the film one of the most timely, regardless of genre. Yet Peele is also an expert in genre and knows when to play traditional tropes and how to subvert them with tremendous skill. Peele’s concept of “The Sunken Place” has become a universally understood component of our cultural lexicon, cementing its place forever in pop culture history. The performances and sheer amount of entertainment involved only bolster its claim as the best horror had to offer (and in this decade, horror offered A LOT).
Dir: Bong Joon Ho / 2019
Bong Joon Ho is one of two directors to get mentioned twice on this list. While Snowpiercer is a bonafide modern sci-fi classic, Parasite is a flat-out masterpiece. It feels like we’re witnessing early Scorsese or Tarantino or Spielberg at their peak. Parasite is a movie that operates on a multitude of levels with spectacularly ease. The film is both topical and timeless, hilarious and terrifying, over the top but incredibly nuanced. Its class warfare undertones, immensely entertaining plot, and shocking twists and turns offers a truly singularly work of pure cinema that is not to be missed and whose reputation will only grow and grow over the years. You could very much make an argument to put this at #1 and you would not be wrong.
Dir: James Mangold / 2017
The X-Men franchise might be the most storied series out of all the superhero properties on the screen. It kicked off the superhero craze back in 2000 with X-Men and then released one of the all-time best in the genre with X2. It also introduced the world to would-be megastar Hugh Jackman. The series had plenty of ups and downs, including attempts to bringing Jackman’s inconic Wolverine to his own series of standalone films. 2013’s The Wolverine was a step in the right direction and it made the serendipitous pairing of Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold. When it became apparent that it was time to give the character a proper sendoff, Mangold adapted the “Old Man Logan” comic into a neo-western that took a hard look at aging, fragility, humanity, failure, and regret. Logan is a film that takes no prisoners in the violence it depicts or the emotional toll for its characters. It’s a film that transcends its genre as one of the very best and powerfully caps off the story that started it all back at the turn of the century that features career-best work from series starts Jackman and Patrick Stewart.
13. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Dir: Quentin Tarantino / 2019
Movie stars are dead. Original movies are dead. These seemed to be the lessons learned in the Hollywood of the 2010’s, where intellectual property reigned supreme. Not for Quentin Tarantino’s ode to the Hollywood of the 1960’s though, which was one of the big hits of the decade’s final summer. Ironically enough, this throwback to a bygone era is about fading movie stars and the struggle to remain relevant. Tarantino’s entire career has been about shoving as much niche film history down his audience’s throat as he could manage, and here he has two of the biggest movie stars of their generation as his vessel and both turn in performances that remind us exactly why they are the best and the biggest. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is constantly brilliant in its moment to moment storytelling and when all is said and done, it represents the pinnacle of all that it’s auteur director has been building towards his entire career.
Dir: Alfonso Cuaron / 2018
Even before Roma, Alfonso Cuaron had already proved himself as one of the industry’s most gifted and exciting filmmakers with hits like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity. Azkaban is far and away the best film of the Potter franchise, Children of Men is a dystopian sci-fi classic, and Gravity is an action spectacle unlike anything else ever achieved. Cuaron could do anything after a run like this and he chose to do a black-and-white, subtitled, recreation of his childhood growing up in Mexico City during the tumultuous 1970’s. Roma is a slow, light on plot, observation of every day life but Cuaron’s visual eye and masterful storytelling transform it into a delicate memory come vividly to life. For an accomplished visual artist like Cuaron, Roma is one of his most impressive and the emotional punch it leaves you with is the most moving of his entire filmography.
11. Toy Story 3
Dir: Lee Unkrich / 2010
As a series, Toy Story has continually defied expectations. The first film’s very existence was an anomaly that changed the animation industry forever. In an era where Disney sequels were direct-to-video cash grabs, Toy Story 2 bucked the trend and delivered an installment that was arguably better than the first. It certainly took its premise to a deeper and more emotionally affecting place. Certainly a third installment would be unnecessary, right? Nope! The series continued its proud tradition of finding deeper emotional depths to explore — something Pixar had continued to do in all its films without equal. What happens to the toys when their owner grows up and doesn’t need them anymore? What does the end of that relationship look like? Toy Story 3 is not only an incredibly entertaining riff on The Great Escape, but the way it says goodbye to old friends and lives will make even the most jaded moviegoer ugly-cry. Filled with unforgettable moments like the trash compactor or Andy’s final wave — Toy Story 3 is one of the most emotionally powerful films of the decade and a perfect ending to one of the best-running film series. So long, Partner (until Toy Story 4, at least).
Dir: Alfonso Cuaron / 2013
And with Gravity clocking in at #10, Alfonso Cuaron becomes the other director to appear on this list twice along with Bong Joon Ho. When it comes to technical achievements, Gravity is a film without equal. Cuaron brings his unique long-take style to what is essentially a roller-coaster in space. There was no possible way to make this movie, so Cuaron and his team of magicians had to invent just about every technique used to put stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into space. The visual effects are jaw-dropping and seamless. The closest comparison would have to be James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 for the way it pushes the boundaries of what’s possible on film. But Gravity doesn’t stop at just being a technical marvel, its screenplay is its most under-rated strength. It is short, tight, and to-the-point and efficiently hits every mark it needs for not only being a proficient action movie, but also an exploration of Bullock’s character and thus giving Sandra one of her most affecting on-screen roles. Gravity is a perfect marriage of spectacle and emotion that will be difficult for even the most talented filmmaker to top.
Dir: Alex Garland / 2018
Writer/Director Alex Garland broke out with his 2015 sci-fi hit Ex Machina, but he had been writing some of Hollywood’s best genre films for the past 20 years including 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd. For his directorial follow-up, he pulls from such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker for his adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel Annihilation and the results are utterly astonishing. Garland expertly weaves powerful character exploration and the ways we self-destruct into a haunting and nightmarish journey through an environment that completes warps our senses. Natalie Portman gives one of her best performances and is aided by an impeccable cast that also includes Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson. Annihilation is haunting, mystifying, terrifying, mind-blowing and the best piece of pure Science Fiction since Children of Men.
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn / 2011
It’s all about the style in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 crime thriller about Ryan Gosling’s nameless Hollywood stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night. Much like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the script is almost perfunctory in its leanness and efficiency, but hits every turn with precision and skill. Gosling does a lot of the heavy-lifting in a stoic performance that he would later echo in Blade Runner 2049. The Driver is an iconic crime fiction character with images of his Scorpion-sewn jacket and Gosling stalking down a hallway with hammer-in-hand etched into our minds. The rest of the ensemble though should not be overlooked with Carrie Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Pearlman, and Albert Brooks all doing great work. The biggest star of the movie is its director. Refn colors the city of Los Angeles in saturated neon hues and tells the story as if it’s a 1980’s pop music video. Drive also boasts what might be the soundtrack of the decade — its score constantly mimicked and its songs looping endlessly on your speakers. Drive is a crime movie classic.
7. Inside Out
Dir: Pete Docter / 2015
What has made Pixar unlike any other studio of its kind is the way it has been able to balance big entertainment with deep emotional stakes and no movie more so than 2015’s brilliant Inside Out. This time out, Pixar goes literal in its exploration of human emotions by personifying key feelings as unique characters controlling our every whim. The way director Pete Docter and his team build a distinct world to house every part of the human psyche is groundbreaking and profound for a kids’ movie that never forgets to be joyous and hilarious. Its revelations about the pains of growing up and what we leave behind will reduce the most-hardened adult to tears while leaving others gobsmacked by the depth of its wisdom. Pixar has created some absolute classics during the past 25 years — Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E – but Inside Out just might be their masterpiece.
6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dir: Rian Johnson / 2017
What conquered Hollywood in the 2010’s was the birth of the Cinematic Universe. The decade prior it was the Trilogy, but studios realized they couldn’t just let valuable IP sit on a shelf after only three movies. Thanks to Kevin Feige, Marvel paved the way with a homogenized style of storytelling that rewarded fan loyalty. Movies needed to compete with streaming television shows, so movies became big budget, serialized installments. In that light, it’s a miracle that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi was ever allowed to exist. Johnson’s Star Wars installment, the most valuable piece of IP in existence, does exactly what a big franchise movie shouldn’t do — it challenges everything that comes before it and because of that The Last Jedi is perhaps the most divisive, most hotly and frequently debated movie of our time. A large section of fans will never forgive Johnson for depriving them of the kind of Star Wars they wanted, but for those of us who went along for the ride witnessed a gorgeous and thrilling epic of human frailty and hope that gave Hollywood’s biggest franchise a dazzling jolt of fresh energy at the exact moment it needed it. Whether you loved the movie or hated it, you can’t deny that it has dominated our pop culture conversation ever since being released and will likely continue to do so for years and decades to come.
5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Dir: Christopher McQuarrie / 2018
When it comes to what was the best franchise of the 2010’s, no series was as dominant in quality as the Mission: Impossible films, which is incredible for a series that began back in 1996. Ghost Protocol reinvigorated both the franchise and star Tom Cruise’s career with what was one of the most entertaining action films made within the past 20 years, but then writer/director Christopher McQuarrie found a way to top it with Rogue Nation, and then he topped that with Fallout — the franchise’s sixth installment. McQuarrie brings all of the threads from every installment to bear in an action epic that is filled with some of the most thrilling sequences ever put on film. That bathroom fight, the HALO jump, multiple chases through Paris and London, and the Helicopter battle through the mountains are jaw-dropping in their ambition and breathtaking in their execution. Tom Cruise proves he’s the world’s last movie star of his kind, throwing his life into certain death for the sake of our entertainment. Fallout is not only the crowning achievement of its franchise, of its director or star, but the action genre itself.
Dir: Christopher Nolan / 2010
No filmmaker over the past 15 years has inspired as much fan devotion as writer/director Christopher Nolan. Memento is a mend-bending classic, The Dark Knight is the crown jewel of the superhero genre, and Inception is the perfect marriage of everything Nolan does well. Nolan’s dedication to achieving everything he can practically while imagining sequences no one has ever done before is what makes Inception the groundbreaking and timeless action/sci-fi film that it is. The labyrinthine script can make even the most dedicated viewer’s head spin but the ride it takes you on will leave you breathless as the layers of Nolan’s world collapse into each other. Inception also boasts an envious ensemble that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Watanabe. Inception is essentially a $200 Million art film designed to look like an action blockbuster. The film’s title and central concept has planted itself inside our collective consciousness and its ending and its meaning is something that is still debated to this day.
Dir: Richard Linklater / 2014
Richard Linklater has made his mark by making quasi-experimental films that reflect the nature of our every day experience. The passage of time is something that he has mined many times before, particular his Before Sunrise-Sunset-Midnight trilogy, while also creating enduring works that are simply about how we live our lives. Boyhood, shot over the course of 12 years, feels like the culmination of everything Linklater has worked to achieve as a filmmaker. Boyhood is a movie that lives in the mundanity of life but viewed over the course of a decade-plus, we see how these small slice-of-life moments coalesce into the journey we take as humans and our relationships to one another. Boyhood is simple yet profound, matter-of-fact but moving, and the quintessential piece of American cinema on what it was like to grow up during the early 21st century. It is a landmark achievement unlike any other.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Dir: George Miller / 2015
Sometimes crazy things happen and Warner Bros. decision to reboot the Mad Max series, which really only had one high point back in 1981 with The Road Warrior, seemed pretty crazy given that director George Miller was spending his days making movies like Happy Feet. Fury Road also had a long and troubled journey to the screen, which never inspires confidence in a final product. Fury Road had the entire deck stacked against it yet it dropped like an atom bomb upon release back in May of 2015. The Mission: Impossible movies carved out their own corner for their dedication to practical action but Fury Road took that concept into overdrive. The chase sequences are some of the most jaw-dropping and thrilling ever put on screen. The film is a masterclass in world-building whose only peer is 1977’s original Star Wars. Tom Hardy shows that he’s a bonafide action star but it’s Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that steals the show and creates a character that stands proudly alongside such action movie icons as Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Conner and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Fury Road is not only the best action film of the decade, but has a strong case to make as the best action film of all-time.
1. The Social Network
Dir: David Fincher / 2010
There was only one choice for the top spot on this list for me and it is the Aaron Sorkin-penned, David Fincher-directed drama The Social Network. Sorkin’s taught and masterful Oscar-winning screenplay is the best thing he’s written since the Season 2 finale of The West Wing with its iconic dialogue of social misanthropes trading barbs across deposition tables and timelines. Fincher’s direction, known for highlighting dark and moody obsessive men, is a perfect compliment to Sorkin’s adaptation and every scene and sequence dazzles. Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Armie Hammer all shine in performances that launched their careers into the stratosphere of Hollywood elite. In an era where society is both more connected than ever but also more divided than ever, no film captured the genesis and legacy of that more than The Social Network — after all, it was Facebook that unofficially launched the era of social media. The years since, as we continue to grapple with the effects that social media has had on our culture, our politics, and our discourse, no film has ever felt more timely, essential, or clairvoyant than this masterpiece.