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The 24 Absolute Best Movies of the 2010s

By December 26, 2019 No Comments
The 24 Absolute Best Movies of the 2010s

WIRED Staff

Over the past 10 years, thousands of movies have hit the world’s multiplexes. It’s nearly impossible to watch, let alone review, all of them. Yet, looking back over the past decade, it’s easy to recall the ones that left indelible marks. The ones that caused audiences to leave the theater gobsmacked (or heartbroken, or mind-blown). For us at WIRED, this list (in chronological order) represents those movies. Not everything here is a genre film—our specialty—but there are probably more sci-fi, fantasy, and comic-book movies here than on any other best-of roundup. Good. We love this stuff. Hope you do too.

Decade in Review: WIRED looks back at the promises and failures of the past 10 years

The Social Network (2010)

“The movie,” as Facebook executives still indignantly call it, set the tone for the decade in both film and the tech metanarrative. Aaron Sorkin’s best script, a dolphin-skin-smooth nightmare, and Jesse Eisenberg’s best performance, megalomaniacal paranoia at its most delicious, nailed (spiritually, if not entirely factually) Facebook’s slippery origins and presaged its assaults on privacy, democracy, and consciousness. All of that was topped off with an Academy Award-winning techno-industrial-horror score that launched Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as the decade’s composers of America’s anxieties (Gone Girl, Bird Box, Watchmen). “Hand Covers Bruise,” the opening track, which underscores Mark Zuckerberg’s scampering between Harvard’s redbrick dorms with baleful foreshadowing, might as well be the soundtrack to the decade. We the people are the lone piano, plinking nervously in the foreground, straining for a melody. A jittery drone and disquieting bass blasts (scandals, notifications, atrocities) slowly drown us out, until all that’s left are discordance, disunity, devolution. —Zak Jason

Attack the Block (2011)

Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block is a funny, nerve-rattling adventure flick about a bunch of teens in South London who defend their home from an alien invasion. Aside from its antics, it’s the film that launched future Star Wars star John Boyega to prominence. (It also features future Doctor Who Time Lord Jodie Whittaker.) Pulsing, scary, often hilarious—Attack the Block is what teen action-adventure movies should all strive to be. —Angela Watercutter

Looper (2012)

Years before he entered the Star Wars universe with The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson upended time travel tropes with Looper. Set in a near future where hitmen have to one day eighty-six their future selves, Johnson’s story is ultimately a noir, but more than that it is a wickedly intelligent look at what anyone would do if they could try to fix the past—or the future. More specifically, it was the best time-travel movie of the decade, even if it wasn’t really about time travel at all. —Angela Watercutter

Snowpiercer (2013)

Science fiction works metaphorically, of course. The aliens are really us, etc. Here, in Bong Joon Ho’s future, the metaphor works more, erm, literally. The Snowpiercer is a train plowing through the icy remains of Earth. It’s all that’s left. It’s society, it’s social stratification—verticalized and energized. The people at the back, led by Chris Evans, fight their way to the front. They subsist on gelatinous bars of ground-up bugs. Tilda Swinton and her fake teeth commit atrocities. As the poor overtake the privileged, secrets are exposed and compromises are made. It’s a breathless ride, a narrow premise opening up so capaciously the metaphor threatens to overtake the meaning. Grandly, it never does. —Jason Kehe

Her (2013)

When striving to be prescient, science fiction often becomes a twisted, myopic portrait of the present. (Lookin’ at you, Ready Player One.) Spike Jonze’s strange romance, Her, starring Scarlett Johannson as an operating system and Joaquin Phoenix as a sensitive, heartbroken man in high-waisted pants, leaps over that pitfall with ease. Rather than imbuing the story of a man literally falling in love with a computer with an aura of freakshow, Her is oddly sweet, sympathetic to Phoenix’s Theodore and Johannson’s “Samantha.” It’s that sympathy—or, really, empathy—that made it last this decade, and will likely make it last the next. Jonze’s vision has, in the age of social media and artificial intelligence, come true. Whether they worship Instagram influencers or consider themselves true digisexuals, many people are now truly in love with their computers, and that ardor shows no sign of fading. —Emma Grey Ellis

Upstream Color (2013)

Shhh. You’re confused. That’s OK. There are pigs. Weird flowers. Some kind of evil foley artist. A man and a woman. Focus on them, those two. Clearly, they’re falling in love. This is a love story. Not an easy one—but when was love easy? It’s hurt and repair, sensitivity and devotion. The pigs and the parasites mean something, surely. Something about cycles and resonances and the value of life. That’s enough. Find meaning in the moments, not in the whole. This outing—Shane Carruth’s second—is uncrackable. It asks you to give up the burden to know or understand. It’s make-believe of the boldest, truest kind, a precious achievement not only in the genre but in the history of film: a story that denies you entry, even as it welcomes you inside. —Jason Kehe

Birdman (2014)

Here at WIRED we write a lot about superheroes and antiheroes. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman is both—and neither. Its protagonist, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), is an actor who lost his credibility as a serious thespian because he donned a super-suit in his earlier years (much the way Keaton himself did as Batman). His path is an open-eyes look at the value put on fame and what it means to truly find redemption. It’s also beautifully shot and full of brilliant performances from Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton. —Angela Watercutter

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

It’s well established that the title of this movie stinks. Edge of Tomorrow—is this a song by Lady Gaga? Maybe that’s why they tried remarketing it as Live Die Repeat, which is somehow, for being a second try, even worse. No matter. The movie itself is a keeper for the ages, Groundhog Day for those who found that Hallmarker a bit of a grating bore. Tom Cruise (whose effectiveness as a movie star has been one career-long live-die-repeat) and Emily Blunt do normally linear-time things like fall in love and kill aliens over a looping single day. Even as the narrative repeats and repeats, it never once feels repetitive. Instead, it drives relentlessly forward, toward the inevitable boss battle and chronological bust-out—the best movie based on a videogame that never existed. —Jason Kehe

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

If the early 2000s have been marred by anything, it’s an overabundance of reboots. If there was one movie that helped remove that tarnish, it was Mad Max: Fury Road. Thirty years after the last Max installment, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, writer-director George Miller brought all of the beauty and grit of his earlier movies to Fury Road and then cranked it up to 11 with the kind of stunts, practical effects, and feminist messaging that never made it into those previous chapters. It was an adrenaline-fueled death race that also managed to take on environmental issues and sex slavery. It might have been a revival of a massive franchise, but it was also unlike anything anyone had ever seen before—or since. —Angela Watercutter

Tangerine (2015)

Shot on an iPhone 5, using lead actors whose real-life stories informed the plot, with a soundtrack influenced by Vine, Tangerine is the kind of movie that could only have been made in 2015. Even though Vine is gone and the Donut Time restaurant that served as the movie’s setting is closed, the film stands as a testament to doing amazing things with little means. Director Sean Baker made his movie with $100,000 from Mark Duplass and actresses—Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez—he met at Los Angeles’ LGBTQ center. Its story must be seen to be believed, but its beauty is obvious in the first shot. —Angela Watercutter

The Lobster (2015)

Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ bleak dystopian film is the epitome of strange. Set in a near-future where single people are sent to “The Hotel” to find a mate (if they don’t pair up in 45 days, they’re turned into animals and sent into the wild), it’s ultimately a story about connection. Or a story about the manufactured values that are placed on coupledom. Its premise may be futuristic and bizarre, but its long look into the soul of relationships—or lack thereof—is heart-wrenchingly profound. Plus, it has a Pi-like ending no one can ever forget. —Angela Watercutter

Moonlight (2016)

This decade, images defined us. It was unavoidable, mostly, given that the chief cultural engines of the 2010s were image-centric innovations: updates to the iPhone camera, Instagram, the permanence of surveillance culture, TikTok. Comparatively, films could feel a little less exciting. The structures of Hollywood simply don’t allow for the same kind of cultural disruption, no matter how hard Netflix has tried to shatter that model. In 2016, that shifted with the release of Moonlight, a queer black love story that went mainstream. Originally adapted from playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film is flush with scenes of tenderness that keenly measure the depths of belonging, vulnerability, and black male intimacy. The anguished triptych is an extraordinary study in distance: Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaching a terrified Little (Alex Hibbert) how to swim; Chiron (Trevonte Rhodes) reuniting with Kevin (Andre Holland) in a Miami diner, transforming the eatery into an Eden of unspoken desire. The beauty of the Barry Jenkins-directed feature, which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, is how it forsook any kind of neat remedy on identity, sexual orientation, or gender performance. The resulting image gave us a new way to see ourselves. —Jason Parham

The Handmaiden (2016)

Is it unacceptable overstatement to call a work of art Shakespearean? So be it: The Handmaiden, Chan-wook Park’s outrageous lesbian psychodrama about thievery and art and loyalty in Japanese-occupied Korea, is positively Shakespearean in scope and splendor. The relationships, the characters, the turns and reversals: In two hours and 48 minutes, not a single one wasted, the film gives you everything you didn’t know you wanted. Didn’t know you needed. Nothing condescends to your intelligence; everything feels earned. (The octopus Choi Min-sik eats alive in Oldboy gets a kind of revenge here, in the movie’s creepiest reveal.) Much of the time, not even Shakespeare plays feel Shakespearean. That quality has more to do with the enlargement of our spirit. The Handmaiden might just makes yours burst. —Jason Kehe

Arrival (2016)

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) cuts a strange figure in the gallery of science-fiction movie heroes. She isn’t a military man or Chosen One or a spacefarer of any kind. She’s a linguistics professor tasked with mastering a stunningly strange alien alphabet, and she is wondrous. Without ever being preachy or dull, Arrival dares to put academic research at the center of a blockbuster, and it unfolds as the most thoughtful sci-fi story of the decade. It doesn’t imagine a future where humanity dominates the galaxy. It doesn’t battle or conquer. Instead, the movie revolves entirely around a quest to communicate with the huge, seven-legged aliens who have landed in 12 locations on Earth in enormous, enigmatic spacecrafts. With Banks, Arrival reveals that understanding a people so alien requires a great deal of humanity. —Emma Grey Ellis

Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele wasn’t always a rising horror master—a nimble, stylish experimentalist able to fuse the frictions of the modern world (racial strife, class immobility) with genre touchstones (notice how he slickly remixed the final girl trope in Us). With Get Out, Peele’s 2017 breakout vehicle, he all but revolutionized the conventions of horror, journeying deep into the twisted interior of our minds and projecting what many black people had long suspected but feared saying aloud: Some white people are fucking crazy. On its face, the story of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) is a simple one. Guy meets girl. Girl invites guy to meet her family for the weekend. Only, the Armitages aren’t just any white liberal American family (or are they?!?)—they’re body-harvesting psychos who kidnap black people and sell them to the highest bidder. The film, like the best of the genre, bent toward reality. It was a social thriller high on racial paranoia but anchored in everyday dread. Get Out was more than a box-office success; with the film, Peele became his own Dr. Frankenstein, injecting the genre with fresh nuance and ultimately showing that horror could be more than what we had come to expect. —Jason Parham

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Shut up, internet. Just shut it. Your poseury is showing. If you hated this movie, if you rage all over the forums in despair over this “betrayal,” you’re a faker. You’re not a real fan. Simple. Oh, you might think you are. You grew up with these movies. You know the name of every Jedi on the Council, even that fish-faced one. But you missed it. The whole point. The spirit of the enterprise. Like Empire before it, Last Jedi did what every worthy midpoint in a trilogy is supposed to do: blow shit up. Lop off some body parts. Take chances on a side quest that’s maybe more narrative convenience than coherent thematic enrichment—but who cares! Otherworldly casinos and stampeding space horses! Also, that silent scene where Laura Dern does the suicidal slice took guts none of you haters have. So don’t take out your personal unhappiness and shrinking self-worth on Rian Johnson’s awesome, expansive contribution to the franchise—the best, indeed, since Empire. Get offline. Take a walk. Maybe go as far as an unlocatable island in the middle of the ocean, where you can meditate on your failures, Luke-like, for the rest of time. —Jason Kehe

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

In this decade of superhero blockbusters, we’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over what superhero movies should be. One answer is empowering, and for that we have movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse on this list. The other answer is fun. Hence, Thor: Ragnarok, which is absolutely the funnest (and queerest) superhero movie of the decade. Stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson are indispensable, but much of the credit must go to the comedic chops of director Taika Waititi, who took a Norse myth about the end of the world and made it a psychedelic space romp set to Led Zeppelin. —Emma Grey Ellis

The Shape of Water (2017)

Decades from now, The Shape of Water will likely be remembered for two things: (1) earning Guillermo del Toro a much-deserved Oscar for directing, and (2) fish sex. What it should be remembered for, though, is being an utterly transfixing love story between a woman and a fish that ended up being the most effective film of 2017. At the end of that year, I wrote that Shape of Water was “a sensitive examination of how society treats ‘the other’ and a wonderful testament to the fact that love can, truly, take any form.” It was just as true then as it is now. —Angela Watercutter

Wonder Woman (2017)

I’m not going to use this space to re-litigate the bleakness of the DC movie universe (it’s bleak, go ahead and @ me), but if there has been one shining light in the whole morass, it was Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, it was everything Justice League et al. were not: cunning, fun (and funny), light on its feet, full of purpose and rhythm, enjoyable. Plenty a thinkpiece has been written about the importance of the first female-led superhero movie, and those are valid, but more than anything, Wonder Woman just succeeded at being an excellent romp that just happened to feature a Themysciran demigoddess. —Angela Watercutter

Black Panther (2018)

To truly encapsulate the greatness of director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, I’m going to have to borrow a sentiment from my colleague Jason Parham: “What should a superhero movie be? What can it be? With Black Panther, we finally have an answer worthy of our time.” As he pointed out then, prior to T’Challa, black superheroes were never given the same cinematic deification as their white counterparts, whether they were billionaire science bros like Tony Stark or Norse gods like Thor. On the stage of Black Panther, T’Challa was given the opportunity not only to lead one of the best superhero movies of the decade but also to lead a movie that almost effortlessly weaved in Marvel heroics, black cultural touchstones, and commentary on colonialism. It was a marvel to behold. —Angela Watercutter

Annihilation (2018)

We could’ve picked Alex Garland’s other sci-fi stunner from this decade, Ex Machina, and slept soundly. It’s a fantastic film—smart, subversive, with eminently welcome hip swivels by Oscar Isaac. But it’s still about (the terrors of) AI, a not unfamiliar obsession of the genre. Comparatively, Annihilation has no touchpoints, nothing for us to hold onto as it thrusts us into a surrealist eco-nightmare, with five women (led by Natalie Portman) as our troubled guides. Based on the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the film is a true act of adaptation. Garland, one of our most committed auteurs, said he didn’t even reread the book to prepare; he made the movie based on his sense memories, his impressions, of VanderMeer’s foreboding themes. Let it wash over you, the startling imagery and grotesqueries—shrines to an alien wilderness. You most certainly will not sleep soundly. —Jason Kehe

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

Alright, I’ll say it: Spider-Man has always been my least favorite superhero. He’s dull as a muddy puddle, a teenage boy with a bug bite who is puppyish at best and insufferably emo at worst. Then I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In the words of my colleague Angela Watercutter, “after umpteen versions of Peter Parker, the new animated feature gives fans the multidimensional hero they deserve.” Spider-Verse centers around a lesser known (but much beloved) Spider-Man, Myles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager who, like all the other Spideys who suddenly crash-land in his universe, has become a web-slinging vigilante after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The box office went mad for this one for a reason: It’s funny, it’s stunningly animated, and it’s unquestionably the future of Spider-Man. —Emma Grey Ellis

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Boots Riley’s late-capitalist debut feature, Sorry to Bother You, is as disturbed as they come. But gloriously so. The veteran activist and former rapper expertly flips an age-old American custom—the exploitation of labor—into a surreal joy ride starring some of the decade’s most alluring talent (LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer). What begins as a painless chronicle of a young man trying to scrounge up rent money blossoms into a complex racial allegory about class and the ills of society. A credit to its razor-smart script, the film unpacked the perversions of human capital—the gig economy, mass incarceration—and hinted at a reality that doesn’t feel too far off from the one we inhabit now. Best of all, Sorry to Bother You was unblinking in its approach, brazenly investigating the question of black futurity. It proposed one fundamental question: Who gets control in the future? The answer was as hair-raising as it was hilarious. —Jason Parham

Parasite (2019)

We won’t reiterate our entire Best Movies of 2019 list here, but we will say that writer-director Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite was awesome. You should watch it. —Angela Watercutter

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