The 15 best films of the 2010s

What will we remember about the cinema of the 2010s, when we look back at it years from now?

Some of the answers seem obvious: Marvel and the rise of the cinematic universe, the Hollywood horror renaissance, the push for more diversity onscreen. Perhaps there will be certain moods or themes that strike us as especially of this moment (female rage? Class warfare?). Probably we’ll notice precursors to trends that haven’t taken off yet. It’s impossible to say.

What we can be sure of is that there will be films that endure because they reflected these times or pushed them forward, and others we keep close simply because we love them. Maybe they’ll be the ones listed below, or maybe they won’t. But as we close out the 2010s and head into the 2020s, here are our 15 best (unranked) films of the decade. 

1. The Babadook (2014)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: IFC Films

At first, The Babadook appeared like an unassuming house guest. We were certain this story of a mother, her son, and a haunted pop-up book would stay for a pleasant, but brief time — inevitably packing up its gimmicks and heading to the archives of silly, forgotten scares best told once.

But as it turned out, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s feature debut was, like many great things in horror, far more than it seemed. Heralding the 2010s scary movie renaissance, The Babadook is an arresting exploration of grief as unshakable as its namesake. From nightmare to reality and back again, this psychological terror cracked the code on what happens after the unthinkable. — Ali Foreman, Entertainment Reporter 

Where to watch: Showtime

2. Before Midnight (2013)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Faliro House Prods / Kobal / Shutterstock

Eighteen years after Jesse and Céline left that train together in Vienna, we find them settled into a commitment, complete with kids. The endless possibility of Before Sunrise and the bittersweet longing of Before Sunset has been replaced by the everyday joys and irritations of long-term love. Before Midnight may be far less starry-eyed than its predecessors, but it’s no less honest, and no less beautiful.

Writer-director Richard Linklater’s secret weapon, in Before Midnight as well as in his other 2010s marvel Boyhood, is the passage of time — real time. If Jesse and Céline aren’t quite who they used to be, well, we aren’t quite who we used to be when we first met them, either. To twist a quote from another Linklater flick, that’s what we love about these characters: We keep getting older, and so do they. — Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor 

Where to watch: iTunes

3. Black Panther (2018)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Marvel Studios

Throughout the decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe raised the bar for what superhero movies could be. But Black Panther ventured into uncharted territory in 2018 — and we don’t just mean Wakanda. 

Boasting a cast of formidable black actors from around the world, direction from wunderkind Ryan Coogler, and a script by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther was simultaneously a superhero movie, an Afrofuturist epic, and a deeply political meditation on the consequences of colonialism (“bury me in the ocean” elicits chills every time). It stands alone as an excellent film, winning multiple Oscars, yet fits neatly into the sprawling MCU, and set an intimidating new bar for blockbuster fare executed with excellence all around. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter 

Where to watch: Netflix

4. Bridesmaids (2011)

Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids

Image: Suzanne Hanover / Universal / Kobal / Shutterstock

Looking back on the decade as a whole, it’s wild how much one R-rated raunchfest about friendship changed things. The whole cast of ferociously funny ladies (co-writer Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, and more) were subjected to a whole summer of industry chatter. “Are women funny?” “Surely they can’t be as funny as men?” Luckily, there’s a foolproof way to end (at least some of) that dumb conversation: Make a damn good movie. 

Bridesmaids is about getting older, working your shit out, and the complications that arise when your best friend is moving into a different life phase. People connected to it, yes, because of the pee-your-pants-funny shit like Wiig getting day drunk on an airplane or McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated… every moment… but its lasting legacy will be the doors it opened this decade for women in mainstream ensemble comedy. There’s a long way still to go getting all kinds of women’s stories on the big screen, but Bridesmaids moved the needle, and gave us Maya Rudolph pooping in the street at the same time. — Erin Strecker, Entertainment Editor 

Where to watch: iTunes

5. Get Out (2017)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Universal Pictures

Horror gets the short shrift when it comes to best-of lists because the genre’s mainstays of jump scares, violence, and thrills aren’t typically associated with high art. Get Out manages to have all the hallmarks of great horror while also being a truth-telling and thought-provoking piece of cinema. 

Anchored by an arresting, Oscar-nominated performance by Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out slices to the heart of American racism as easily as its merciless antagonists slice through their victims, and its thousand-layer cake of symbolism is bound to be the subject of countless film school papers in the future. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut (!) launched the former comedy writer and actor’s career as a brilliant satirist and master of horror; it will be remarkable to see what he accomplishes in the next decade. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter 

Where to watch: iTunes

6. Gone Girl (2014)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Merrick Morton / 20th Century Fox / Regency / Kobal / Shutterstock

In a decade that saw our country gradually coming to the realization that, hey, maybe we’ve still got a ways to go with the whole gender equality thing, Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher and adapted by Gillian Flynn based on her own bestselling book, stands out as one of the sharpest dissections of modern gender roles put to the big screen. 

Nominally, it’s a thriller about a twisted cat-and-mouse game played out between a heterosexual married couple, and it’s a spectacularly entertaining one at that. But in the process of puzzling out exactly what happened to Amazing Amy, Gone Girl becomes so much more. It delves into the impossible standards placed on women, the expectations we have of men, the unknowability of a marriage’s secrets, our national obsession with dead white girls, and the vast chasm between public perception and private truth, in ways only fiction can. — A.H. 

Where to watch: iTunes

7. Inception (2010)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

Quite like its famously ambiguous ending, the long-term understanding of Christopher Nolan’s Inception waffles between those who say it’s one of the best films of the decade and those who would argue it’s one of the most overrated. Regardless of how one feels about the profundity of this trippy dream heist, however, there’s no denying it had an outsized effect on popular culture and 2010s cinema as a whole. 

Its visual effects, from the trademark visual of Paris folding in half to a zero-gravity hallway rigged with explosives, were groundbreaking at the time and echoed through a decade defined by flashy CGI and dreamlike setpieces. It’s hard to remember now, but Inception was also the center of a meme explosion, which littered scenes and scraps of its dialogue (“We have to go deeper!”) all over the public consciousness. Inception also gave the world a new suffix, -ception, which refers to anything that… goes inside of another thing. How many movies can boast an entire suffix? — A.N. 

Where to watch: Cinemax

8. Lady Bird (2017)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: A24

Coming-of-age stories are nothing new at the movies, but Greta Gerwig’s sharp, funny, and empathetic portrait of a mid-aughts Sacramento teen’s senior year of high school still stands out as something special. The sense of time and place leaps off the screen (those perfect music cues!), and the details of Lady Bird’s (Saoirse Ronan) complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and with herself made us flash back to a time when life was all crushes and friendships and waiting, and possibilities felt both just out of reach and approaching more quickly than ever. 

Bonus? 15 years from now, we’ll look back and see just how many all-star careers (Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein) were jump-started here. That’s hella tight. — E.S. 

Where to watch: Amazon

9. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Village Roadshow / Kobal / Shutterstock

In many action movies, the chase scenes are the most exciting. Mad Max: Fury Road takes the concept of a chase scene, expands it into an entire feature-length movie, fills it with Frankenstein cars, explosions, and some of the wildest post-apocalyptic Australian characters you can imagine.

The dusty wastelands of Mad Max, while achingly barren, are rife with enough teases of communities and characters that it never stops being interesting. But even without that, the stunts, the car-hopping, and the chases are so thrilling, it’s hard not to be drawn in. Two-thirds of the way through the movie, after the heroes Max and Furiosa reach their destination, they realize they need to go right back the way they came. It’s the perfect way to handle the third act. Mad Max: Fury Road is the apex of action entertainment. — Kellen Beck, Entertainment Reporter 

Where to watch: iTunes

10. Moonlight (2016)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: David Bornfriend / Kobal / Shutterstock

From Chiron and Kevin’s first kiss to that stunning Oscars finish, Moonlight was possibly the greatest love story of the past ten years. Barry Jenkin’s Best Picture winner evoked a visceral response in audiences, who responded to the film’s aching heart and impeccable execution. Still, it was an underdog project, the kind that gets told rarely and succeeds even less. That it was appreciated as the masterpiece it is remains a dream-like victory for both representation and storytelling. 

With more feeling in one frame than many films have from start to finish, Moonlight endures as a timeless and painful fairytale, a portrait of an archetype too many had never before encountered. — A.F. 

Where to watch: Netflix

11. Parasite (2019)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Neon Films / CJ Entertainment

Bong Joon-ho’s satire / thriller / whatever-you-want-to-call-it may take place in present day South Korea, but it’ll resonate anywhere there are haves and have nots. Which is to say, everywhere.

The fun of Parasite is that it keeps you guessing, and Bong maneuvers its many twists and turns so gracefully that it’s a pleasure just to be along for the ride. Eventually, though, what emerges is a story of class — the way money (or the lack thereof) shapes people, taking root in the very foundations of one’s self-identity and flowering in their interactions with the rest of the world. Its wit and cleverness are clear from the get-go. What may catch you off guard is its uncommon sense of empathy for everyone caught up in this rat race. — A.H. 

Where to watch: In theaters now

12. The Social Network (2010)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Moviestore / Shutterstock

The world had a very different image of The Facebook when the dramatized true story of Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard brainchild hit big screens in 2010. Facebook, now a morally questionable behemoth that holds basically all our information, was a trendy underdog your mom had only just heard of and signed up for. 

The scrappy story was catnip enough, and then it was packaged in a stylish cast, the hypnotic direction of David Fincher, snappy Aaron Sorkin dialogue, and a sinfully cool soundtrack from Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It was everything young people could be and everything older generations feared in us before a decade of blaming problems we didn’t create and can’t solve. Anyway, congrats to The King’s Speech on that Best Picture win. — P.K. 

Where to watch: Starz

13. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only the best Marvel movie to come out in the last decade, it’s also the best animated movie. The thing about Spider-Verse that makes it so great is that it really digs into the fact that it’s animated. Drawing on elements from Spidey’s comic book origins and pulling in a variety of styles to represent the different universes that are merging together, it expresses itself in such delightfully fun and colorful ways. I have never seen so much color in a movie.

All the different Spideys in Spider-Verse are fantastic characters and the humor is so great and human. Miles Morales, as voiced by Shameik Moore, is undoubtedly the best version of Spider-Man in cinema, embodying relatable feelings and emotions that many superhero movies gloss over in favor of making their superpowered stars feel elevated above the masses. This Spider-Man feels like it could be any of us, and the movie connects on such personal levels, it’s hard not to fall in love. — K.B. 

Where to watch: Netflix

14. Spotlight (2015)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Even in the post-factual hell that is 2019, Spotlight remains a testament to truth seekers. 

Winning Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards, director Tom McCarthy’s biographical drama chronicles The Boston Globe‘s investigation into the Catholic Church’s history with sexual abuse. The resultant depictions of guilt, victimization, and unchecked power are as teeming with feeling as they are with fact. 

Quietly devastating and unceasingly truthful, Spotlight reignited the world’s outrage over the original scandal, while reserving enough thematic fuel to warn of future wrongdoing. It was a valuable message this decade that stands to be even more valuable in the years to come. — A.F. 

Where to watch: iTunes

15. What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

The 15 best films of the 2010s

Image: Moviestore / Shutterstock

While the vampire movie moment has been going on for longer than this decade, it took until 2014’s What We Do In The Shadows to finally shove a much-needed stake through the genre’s heart. The hilariously awkward satire poked fun at vampire tropes while also exploring some of the more interesting elements of a bloodsucking afterlife. For example: Why do vampires prefer virgin blood? What We Do In The Shadows answers with the simple comparison, “if you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote and starred in What We Do In The Shadows, which raised awareness of Waititi outside of his native New Zealand (Clement had already enjoyed international success with Flight of the Conchords) and reintroduced him to new audiences as the lovable, puckish agent of comedy chaos he’s become today — and no one can be mad at the silly-but-smart vampire movie that led to Thor: Ragnarok. — A.N. 

Where to watch: iTunes

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