10 Movies That Defined The 2010s


Ten years may not seem like a long time, but so much has changed in the movie world over the course of the 2010s. Thousands of films have come and gone, but only a few embody the spirit of the decade as a whole.

So, with that in mind, these are the 10 films that defined the 2010s.

10. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame might not be the best movie of the decade, but as far as box office numbers and mainstream success goes, no other film even comes close.

The finale to the Avengers series, part of the decade’s pop culture juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film was highly anticipated years in advance of its release, and upon its launch into cinemas across the globe, it was met with strong critical response, adoration from fans and most impressively, a record-breaking box office run that led it to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

One might not think of Endgame as a piece of cinematic artistry, but it’s a film that could have never existed 10 years ago, only coming about as the long-awaited conclusion to over a decade’s worth of universe-building and anticipation that captured the imagination of the globe.

Read a full review here.

9. Anomalisa (2015)

Almost as far as you can get from the all-conquering Endgame, Anomalisa defines another major part of the last decade: the development and evolution of animation into one of cinema’s most diverse and arguably striking genres.

While adult animation has been present for decades already, Anomalisa broke new ground by bringing the real-world trials of middle-age into a genre that had never been so down-to-earth. Its story may feature a bit of magical realism and dreamlike, mind-bending fantasy, but it’s arguably the most down-to-earth and soberingly dramatic animated movie ever made, showing that a genre previously thought of as ‘just for kids’ has so much more to give.

Countless adult animations have come and gone through the decade, and with the development of techniques, the genre has blossomed into one of modern cinema’s most dynamic and exciting. But of all those films, it’s hard to look past Anomalisa, a gorgeously moving, intelligent and original drama that uses its unorthodox visual style to perfection.

Read a full review here.

8. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

While it’s maligned by some as an undeserving Best Picture winner, the impact of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman on filmmaking through the rest of the decade is undeniable.

Principally from a technical perspective, Birdman’s groundbreaking use of new techniques and technology to tell nearly a whole film in just one shot sent shockwaves through the movie world. Not only was it a visually spectacular feat, but also brought powerful drama and atmosphere to the film, in a way that countless films afterwards have tried to repeat.

The one-shot fad has been booming in Hollywood movies through the second half of the 2010s, with standout examples including Ryan Coogler’s Creed, László Nemes’ Son Of Saul and most recently Sam Mendes’ 1917.

Birdman’s critical acclaim was no mean feat, and in tandem with a striking brand of darkly comic meta-humour that saw former Batman lead Michael Keaton star as an aging actor famed for playing a superhero, the film was groundbreaking and brilliantly ingenious through and through, undeniably proving to be one of the decade’s defining films.

Read a full review here.

7. Your Name. (2016)

Given their global reach, decade-defining films tend to come out of Hollywood more than anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any of the same calibre from outside the USA.

Of all, Your Name is arguably the film from overseas with the greatest impact, bringing a modern, exhilarating anime drama to the big screen in a manner entirely different to the world had been previously accustomed.

Those in the know might not see Your Name as quite the groundbreaking masterpiece, but the film’s astonishing box office success both in Japan and around the whole world was eye-catching to say the least. Mainstream affection for anime had been previously very constricted to the films of Studio Ghibli and their storybook-like wonder, but director Makoto Shinkai proved with Your Name that the genre has so much more to offer, and that it can become a global phenomenon.

The film is an enthralling, deeply moving and breathless rollercoaster, a far cry from the often more relaxed films of Studio Ghibli, but even more importantly, it’s a visual masterpiece, with a strikingly modern brand of gorgeous photo-realistic animation that’s now par for the course in Japan, and is even making major inroads in Western animation.

Read a full review here.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Avengers: Endgame may have ended up as the decade’s highest-grossing film, but no movie sent the world into fever pitch quite like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The long-awaited return to a galaxy far, far away after ten years, the film promised so much with its efforts to rekindle the glory years of the franchise’s original trilogy, make up for the general disappointment of the prequels, and bring Star Wars roaring into the lives of the youngest viewers.

In that, the film proved a triumphant success, and its astonishing $2bn box office run, notwithstanding, its immense fun factor, gorgeous visuals and brilliant blend of old and new made it one of the best Star Wars movies, and easily one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the entire decade.

Hype for the film had been burning for years ahead of release, and it smashes every record in the book on its opening weekend, winning plaudits and adoration from all corners of the globe as the world was sent into Star Wars mania on a level never seen before, and still not since.

Read a full review here.

5. Joker (2019)

The comic book genre has utterly dominated cinemas around the world for the last ten years, to the extent that we’ve been getting six or seven comic book movies a year as of late.

But as so-called ‘superhero fatigue’ began to rear its head in the mid/later years of the 2010s, studios and filmmakers committed to taking a new, bolder approach to classic comic book stories. Of this, no film defines the shift to innovative, bold superhero cinema quite like Joker.

An intense, hard, R-rated drama with next to no action, Joker is far more comparable to the likes of Taxi Driver and King Of Comedy from Martin Scorsese than typical superhero fare.

And yet, with such strikingly bold, emotionally arresting ideas throughout, Joker is an astonishing piece of work that demonstrates just how far the comic book genre has come from your average ‘save the world’ blockbuster since the beginning of the decade. While a number of other hits including Deadpool and Logan have shown there’s far more to superhero cinema than just action and popcorn fun, Joker took things to a whole new level, and might even be considered as one of the decade’s very best films.

Read a full review here.

4. Frozen (2013)

The soundtrack of the decade, there’s been no getting away from Disney’s Frozen since its release in 2013, and with the equally impressive success of its sequel, it’s difficult to look past it as one of the decade’s defining movies.

Most of all memorable for its show-stopping music, and its multi-award-winning, radio-dominating, endlessly-playing anthem Let It Go, Frozen has one of the best movie musical soundtracks of all time, and brought Disney back to their former glory in spectacular fashion.

Disney Animation’s resurgence through the 2010s has been brilliantly dynamic, featuring stunning storytelling, emotional depth and astonishing visual beauty, but it’s the world-conquering power and delight of Frozen that makes this film the pick of the lot.

With a modern conscience and striking visuals, the film feels like a far cry from the more mellow, simple Disney animations of yesteryear, and yet with an unashamed passion for the traditional fairytale, the movie represents a welcome return to a classic genre, and with the releases of the likes of Cinderella, Moana and Beauty And The Beast and more, that joyful glee for all things fairytale has seem to prove a widening trend through the latter part of the decade too.

Read a full review here.

3. The Avengers (2012)

Once again, while not quite on the all-conquering level of Endgame, The Avengers absolutely defined the 2010s by kicking off the trend that took the movie world by storm.

Pulling together characters from a number of Marvel films before it, the movie was our first glimpse at what a real, blockbuster shared universe looked like, and given it critical acclaim and immense box office success, there’s no denying the impact of The Avengers even from day one.

A brilliant combination of popcorn entertainment value, great humour and intelligent storytelling, the film is still a great watch – albeit a little simpler than what we’ve become used to since.

But it’s the fact that The Avengers is effectively genesis for the idea of a shared universe that makes it such a decade-defining film, as countless studios and franchises (DC, X-Men, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dark Universe, MonsterVerse and more) jumped on the bandwagon trying to achieve the same greatness.

Read a full review here.

2. Inception (2010)

Being such recent releases, it’s always hard to discern which movies from the 2010s will take on ‘all-time classic’, but if there’s one film from the decade that has absolutely joined those ranks, it’s Inception.

An astonishing piece of work that combines blockbuster action, fiercely intelligent storytelling and never-before-seen visual effects, director Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus was a cinematic earthquake, breaking the box office and the awards circuit all in one go.

Its influence on the rest of the decade is considerable, from the ever-growing shift towards character and story-driven blockbusters in all spheres, to the countless movie trailers that copied Inception’s legendary ‘bwaaah’ sound.

However, there’s no denying that the original film is a masterpiece, and as much as its brilliantly vague ending still perplexes us, it’s a movie that people will undoubtedly go back to and adore for generations, and point at as one of the quintessential movies of the 2010s.

Read a full review here.

1. Drive (2011)

There have been countless box office hits, highly-anticipated blockbusters, and critical darlings through the decade, but you could still feasibly see all most of those films as having been made at any time.

Only a handful of movies in the 2010s, though, feel truly modern, breaking new ground and driving cinema forward like never before, and of all those, Drive is surely the one that defines the decade better than any other.

Already a cult classic, Nicolas Winding Refn’s dazzling and mind-bending drama-thriller is a masterpiece of modern cinema, bringing the then-already tiring neo-noir formula up to date with electrifying energy and innovation.

Drive’s impact on films through the rest of the decade is undeniable, with the development of strikingly modern and provocative pulp thrillers growing steadily through the years, but while the film’s popularity and acclaim in that regard will certainly leave it as an all-time classic, it can also be seen as decade-defining for another reason.

Independent cinema has been on the up for years, but it really feels like the 2010s was the decade in which it really took hold. The spread of technology and new techniques has made filmmaking more accessible than ever, and with that has opened the door to brand new ideas that would never make it past a studio boardroom.

Helped by the growth of a number of independent distributors through the decade such as A24 and NEON, offbeat, indie films like Drive have become par for the course in modern cinema, allowing the industry to keep moving and developing with truly fresh, innovative artistry. Whether or not the film is your cup of tea (and it certainly isn’t for some), Drive feels like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the decade’s defining aspect: great independent cinema.

Read a full review here.


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: www.madmovieman.com