The 36 Best Movies of the Decade

I wasn’t going to do a Best of the Decade piece… but then I changed my mind. Unlike many of my fellow movie critics, however, I didn’t spend all year preparing for this moment, watching the hundreds of great movies that have been released over the last 10 years. That… sounded like a lot of work.

Instead, I kept things simple: what are the movies I continue to re-watch, revisit, or simply think about years later? I shortlisted nearly 200 movies–all great to some degree or another–but of those 200, how many have I watched more than once? How many do I watch every couple of years, if not more frequently? How many continue to linger with me?

Such criteria helped me devise the following list, the best movies, and my favorites, of the last decade.

36. The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker’s Tangerine could have easily landed on this list, but his follow-up, The Florida Project, about a young girl (the sensational Brooklynn Prince) and her loving but misguided mother (Bria Vinaite) who live in a low-rent motel just miles from Disneyworld, is just so absorbing and powerful it’d be a shame not to include it here.

35. Manchester by the Sea

A drama about grief and loss with no easy answers provided, Manchester by the Sea is depressing as fuck but boasts two career-best performances by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges.

34. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

In this decade alone you could choose from not two but three great entries in the Mission: Impossible franchise, but Fallout, with a number of top-grade action sequences, the return of a great villain, and Henry Cavill double pumping his arms in a fist fight, gets my vote. 

33. The Cabin in the Woods

From Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon comes this funny, creative, and unpredictable horror movie that plays on tropes from other monster movies. About a group of college students who travel to a cabin in the woods only to find things are not what they seem, the movie refuses to play by the rules. Well, sort of.

32. Blindspotting

This funny but searing takedown of race, gentrification and most importantly hipsters in Oakland rarely hold punches. Blindspotting pulses with energy you rarely see in film these days; the passion is displayed not only on screen but felt in every second of the production. 

31. Prisoners

In this decade alone, director Denis Villeneuve gave us Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049. Any of those could rightfully end up on a “best of the decade” list and I wouldn’t argue, but if I were to choose just one, it’d be Prisoners, a brutal drama about a missing kid and the lengths otherwise normal people would go to to find answers.

30. Creed

Kudos to Sylvestor Stallone for finally realizing that Rocky Balboa was too old to fight and instead handing the keys over to Ryan Coogler, who gave us Creed, a fantastic boxing movie starring Michael B. Jordan.

29. Bridesmaids

One of the rare straight-up comedies on this list, few films have been watched as many in my household as Bridesmaids, a hilarious, female-led R-rated comedy that jettisoned Melissa McCarthy into the stratosphere and makes the most of its comedic talent.

28. Wind River

The first time I watched Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, I shrugged. But then I watched it again, and again, and consider it to be one of the best movies few have seen. About two federal agents investigating the murder of a young woman on a Native American reservation, Wind River is a sad, riveting, and expertly constructed thriller.

27. Moonlight

The Best Picture winner that almost wasn’t, Moonlight deserves every accolade it received. An uncompromising and heartfelt story about a black boy who discovers his sexuality while growing up in the inner city, Moonlight is a sensational drama that boasts some of the best writing and acting of the decade.

26. Dogtooth

Before he made the leap to English language films, Giorgos Lanthimos created this compelling, alluring, troubling and memorable drama about three children, now teenagers/young adults, raised in complete confinement from the outside world.

25. The Social Network

David Fincher, working from a ruthless screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, delivers a tantalizing character study of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. A movie about a socially awkward software developer shouldn’t be this good, but it is.

24. Gravity

While it may not have quite the same effect on the small screen, it would be impossible to not include the anxiety-inducing experience that was Gravity on this list. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts stranded in space after a terrible accident–rarely has a movie pushed me to the edge of my seat the way this one did.

23. Get Out

And to think, just two years ago, Jordan Peele was some funny dude known for starring in TV skits. Peele’s Get Out, about a young black man lured to the countryside by a bunch of suspicious white people, is that perfectly written, racially charged thriller that is best watched with a crowd.

22. The Intouchables

Hollywood attempted to remake this French drama-comedy this year in the form of The Upside, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it: I see the original, about an inner city young man who befriends a rich quadripilegic who has given up on life, as perfect and in no need of alterations.

21. Man of Steel

Yes, Man of Steel takes itself a little too seriously and Zack Snyder could have made a few alterations to the violent climax to make his Superman a little more like, well, Superman, but I will defend this movie until the day I die: great visuals, exciting action (the Smallville scene is aces), and a killer score make up for any shortcomings.

20. Edge of Tomorrow

Some people dismiss Tom Cruise because he’s Tom Cruise, but by doing so they miss out on original movies like Edge of Tomorrow (also known as Live. Die. Repeat.), an awesome, clever, and thrilling sci-fi action thriller about a military officer who dies repeatedly in a war against invading aliens.

19. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest of the three Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and it isn’t without its faults… but I love it anyway. Brimming with an intense Hans Zimmer score and a balls-to-the-wall story that successfully concludes the trilogy, Rises easily deserves a spot here.

18. Captain Phillips

In the final minutes of this excellent Paul Greengrass real-life thriller, after being held hostage by desperate Somali pirates for several days, Tom Hanks’ character finally breaks down in tears, a moment that will leave you blubbering on the floor after spending much of your time on the edge of the seat. 

17. Inception

There’s a special place in my heart for Christopher Nolan movies: the guy makes smart blockbusters. Inception is no exception, a complex and literally layered sci-fi action-thriller that has Leonardo DiCaprio diving deep into the mind of another, ultimately posing the question: does the top keep spinning?

16. It Follows

One of the more ingenious horror movies of the decade, It Follows is about the ultimate STD: a demon whose deadly curse is passed on through the ultimate horror sin… sex. Frightening in its simplicity and brilliantly executed, the movie also largely introduced us to the underused Maika Monroe.

15. Lion

There’s nothing groundbreaking about Lion, but that’s OK. I notoriously don’t get emotional during movies, but damn if I don’t get misty eyed every time I get to the ending of this drama, a true story about a boy who is separated from his mother as a child and, many years later, seeks her out despite not knowing the town he’s from or even her name. 

14. Hell or High Water

A movie that gets better with every viewing, Hell or High Water has Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two brothers robbing banks across the South, with Jeff Bridges hot on their tail. Superbly acted and wonderfully written, it’s a film that blurs the line between right and wrong, and in entertaining fashion.

13. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained may not be his most nuanced of films, but it is a marvelously crafty western action-comedy that takes full advantage of the director’s strengths: clever dialogue, a passion for genre filmmaking, and tapping into the best of his actors’ abilities (in this case, from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio).

12. What We Do in the Shadows

The funniest movie of the decade is What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi’s documentary about a group of eccentric housemates who happen to be century-old vampires. Told with such earnest and wit, Shadows can be watched over and over again without losing its charm.

11. Mad Max: Fury Road

A gritty, grimy, non-stop action sequence about a man who grunts a lot and a fierce Charlize Theron who, together, attempt to rescue a group of sex slaves, Fury Road is one of the defining action movies of our time.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The center film of the impressive Planet of the Apes trilogy is a gorgeously conceived look at the decline of humanity and the rise of the next evolution of creatures. Both highly entertaining and morally complex, Dawn is one of the intelligent mainstream releases of the decade.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

A lot of franchises and series have concluded over the last decade, but few have nailed the landing the way Harry Potter did. As a certified fan of the books and movies, it only seemed inevitable that Lightning Bolt Boy would end up high on this list.

8. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller is the kind of movie you don’t realize is a horror movie until it’s too late, and then you appreciate it even more. Featuring jaw-dropping performances by Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, Black Swan, about an obsessive and paranoid ballet star’s descent into madness (or transformation into a bird), is one for the ages.

7. Drive

Humming to an absolutely killer soundtrack, Drive is a gorgeous, cool-as-fuck experience that is pitch-perfect at every moment. Ryan Gosling plays a pensive getaway driver whose driving ability puts Baby Driver to shame.

6. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of the decade–yet wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar–as a sociopathic “crime reporter” who makes a career of filming horrific accidents and selling the footage to the highest bidder, because apparently that’s a thing.

5. The Witch

Robert Eggers’ taut horror-thriller about a puritan family that rips itself apart is so impressive on so many levels, one of which is that my now-wife, who doesn’t like horror movies, let me take her to a screening of it on Valentine’s Day and has insisted on watching it every year since.

4. Moneyball

A drama about a baseball manager who helps the Oakland A’s (division rival to my hometown team) massively overachieve their budget shouldn’t be “best of decade stuff,” but Moneyball is exactly that, an entertaining, sharply written film that has you cheering for the team to win it all, and for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, who make for one of the most adorable couples of the century.

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

No one else seems to care about this financial flop, but David Fincher’s English-language remake of The Dragon Tattooed Girl just blows me away every time. Rooney Mara absolutely sizzles as Lisbeth Salandar, Daniel Craig is great, and the movie drips with atmosphere and style.

2. Ex Machina

Alex Garland’s smart, sexy, and devious psychological thriller about the dangers, or opportunity, of artificial intelligence is brilliant. Alicia Vikander is stunning as a mysterious machine, while Oscar Isaac gives one of the best performances of his career as her potentially psychotic creator.

1. Zero Dark Thirty

Sure, it may sort of endorse torture, but Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of the decade-long Osama bin Laden manhunt (and his ultimate demise, timed perfectly for the film’s release) is enthralling shit. Beautifully filmed, superbly acted by Jessica Chastain, and methodically intense, Zero Dark Thirty is spycraft, and filmmaking, at its finest.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies

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