- Turns out making lists like this is hard!!! Is The Night Comes For Us really 21 movies better than The Lego Movie?? I don’t know. Making this list was more of a gut feeling type of thing. And it’s not like I had time to rewatch all 50 of these movies before writing the list. I’m only human after all! I have a newfound appreciation for writers who can generate these types of lists. I found myself subconsciously grouping movies together based on genre or theme because it was easier to do it that way.
- One reason I’m really excited for this list is because when I do lists for individual years I limit myself to movies I saw in that calendar year. For instance, I didn’t see The Art of Self Defense in 2019 when it was released. I saw it a few days into 2020. Therefore, I didn’t put it on my best of 2019 list even though it deserved to be on there. So this list does not take when I saw a movie into account. Just that it was released in the decade.
- I used the term “top movies” instead of “favorite” or “best” because I get tired of the argument between “favorite” and “best.” So these are my “top” movies.
- Yes the header image is for Mad Max Fury Road and that’s my number one movie of the decade. One year into writing Medium posts and I’m getting pretty lazy about header images. 🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️
- I bet no one has read this preamble. (lol)
I really believe the story of this decade is that we’ve entered a new golden age of action movies. The mid 80s to mid 90s was the heyday/first golden era. The late 90s were fine. The 2000s action movies weren’t that great. Action was mostly replaced by superhero cinema. The 2010s is when action movies got their groove back. Simultaneously, superhero cinema splintered off into its own dedicated genre.
I’m calling the 2010s the Age of Refinement. Here’s the theory: Film is a visual medium. This is beaten into heads of everyone who studies the genre. Action is visual. Therefore, if you have command of how to show action on film, then you have mastery of the medium. We all know what bad action looks like. Bad action is incomprehensible on screen. You have no idea what’s happening. But good action is like a ballet. As a filmmaker, you must be able to have such good command of staging that the viewers can understand what is happening during the scene. On the other side of the coin, a viewer can appreciate the outrageous sense of choreography between the actors and camera crew that goes into a scene. And not to mention the skill of editors, VFX crew, and others in the process. Most of all, the best action scenes tell a story within the action beats. When a filmmaker can tell a story like that, through visuals alone, it’s the highest form of mastery they can achieve.
This decade was a new golden era and each individual year had at least one action movie push the genre forward. (That’s a list of another time though…)
So anyway that’s why this list is so heavy on action movies.
50) Your Highness (2011). Believe it or not, this movie was released days before Game of Thrones’ premiere episode. If this movie came out two or three years after GoT I bet it would’ve found a bigger audience. I cry-laughed at several jokes in the movie. Crude? Yes. Juvenile? Yes. But there’s a huge difference between smart-dumb and dumb-dumb. I feel like most people thought this was a dumb-dumb movie. It’s a smart-dumb movie. That takes skill.
49) 21 Jump Street (2012). A taste of things to come for Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s command over the decade. Yes, they had success prior with Clone High and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This was their first live action movie and they translated their humor perfectly. At the time it was a huge surprise and I think took a lot of people off guard with how damn funny it was.
48) The Adventures of Tintin (2011). I don’t like how people are saying Spielberg has lost his touch. He hasn’t. But that said, I think this is the last movie he made in which he threw his weight around to show why he more or less invented blockbuster filmmaking. Also, this was totally his redemption movie for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I’ve always considered it an unofficial Indiana Jones movie.
47) Fast Five (2011). Truth be told I only like 5, 6, & 7 in the F&F series. This is clearly the best of the bunch. A daring reinvention of a stagnant series, the success of this movie is why F&F is still a global powerhouse franchise.
46) Shudder Island (2010). Scorsese’s second best movie of the decade. A movie absolutely oozing with style. I love the photography in this one. It’s what separates it from being a more generic psychological thriller. What starts as a creepy detective story continually dives deeper and deeper into the psyche of the main character until everything cracks around the film. The ending is still one of the more bleak endings in modern cinema.
Hey remember how I said I inadvertently grouped movies together? That explains the rash of early decade movies at the bottom of the list.
45) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). I don’t have any ill will against the Marvel movies. All but three of them have been fun and entertaining. This is the only one that’s really stuck with me after all the years. The characters, the style, and the humor are what made this a standout of the Marvel oeuvre.
44) Hanna (2011). A fairy tale for the modern age with an absolute banger of a soundtrack. I’m still obsessed with the style of this movie. Joe Wright knocked it out of the park.
43) Swiss Army Man (2016). I’m still in awe of this movie. The marriage of deep emotions about the understanding of pain of life mixed with the outrageous scatological humor is something to behold. Daniel Radcliffe puts in one of his best performances as a talking, farting, advice-giving corpse.
42) Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). One of the few non-genre movies on this list. Sometimes a movie comes along and the acting and writing is so good you cannot dismiss it.
41) Arrival (2016). My favorite author is Michael Crichton. This feels like a Crichton novel but injected with a sense of humanity he never had. One of the best parts of the movie is Amy Adams’ soulful performance. She completely carries the movie.
40) Ex Machina (2015). Speaking of Crichton, it’s Alex Garland’s stunning cerebral movie about artificial intelligence. What’s great about this movie is that the viewer feels tested just as much as Domhnall Gleeson’s character while watching it.
Hmmm, two sci-fi movies back to back….
39) One Cut of the Dead (2017). One of the most joyous movies about making movies you’ll ever see. The biggest problem is the hard sell of the movie. Don’t read anything about it. Stick with the movie past the first 35 minutes. Wipe this paragraph from your memory.
38) The Lego Movie (2014). This is Lord and Miller’s masterpiece. A wildly inventive movie filled with wonderful visuals and gut-busting jokes. It’s one of those kids movies everyone yearns for. It has something deeply profound to say and does not patronize its audience.
37) Django Unchained (2012). I still need time with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. For now I’ll say Django Unchained is Tarantino’s best movie of the decade. An incredible trio of performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio anchor the movie. It’s a movie with a lot of ugliness, but at least all the bad people get their comeuppance.
36) Dredd (2012). The companion to The Raid: Redemption. Dredd is a hell of a good time watching Karl Urban match scene chewing against Lena Headey. It’s one of those action films with zero fat on it. Pure entertainment start to finish.
35) A Field in England (2013). I love Ben Wheatley’s work. So far this is his best movie. It’s a movie about soldiers tripping on magic mushrooms that makes you feel like you are on magic mushrooms. A singular work of art that could only come from Wheately.
34) The World’s End (2013). Edgar Wright caps off his Cornetto trilogy with his most mature work to date in a meditation on alcoholism, nostalgia, and living in denial. Simon Pegg gets the ne’er-do-well role in this one and it pushed him to a new acting heights. The rest of the movie is just as inventive, fun, and tight as other Wright movies.
33) Upstream Color (2013). Shane Carruth follows up his legendary intellectual movie Primer with a movie that is pure emotion. It’s a movie full of color and floating imagery that adds up to a gut punch about living with trauma.
32) Parasite (2019). Consider this and my other 2019 movies in flux on this list. It’s still too soon after viewing to really get a concrete opinion. Bong Joon-ho has a strong claim to director of the decade. While this movie lacks some of the outrageous bombast of previous movies, it is one of the most tight scripts I’ve ever seen. Everything means something. Metaphorical!
31) 13 Assassins (2010). Takashi Miike is a madman. It’s impossible to keep up with his output. That said, this movie is impressive for its ability in set up and follow through. In the first half you get all the exposition. The second half is one lengthy battle sequence. Simply divine.
30) John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017). Honestly, I was seriously thinking of placing all the John Wick movies together in one entry. But then I decided to be absolutely brutal and rank each of them. While the second movie absolutely has the best style, it lacks the emotional punch of the first and innovative action of the third.
29) I Saw the Devil (2010). This is one of those movies I only saw once but it fucked me up enough that I think it’s enough. This movie is kind of the perfect cap to the 2000s decade that was ruled by South Korean extreme cinema.
28) Knives Out (2019). Pure entertainment, start to finish. Amazing cast, tight writing, and it injects much needed life/substance into the Agatha Christie style mystery story. IMHO Rian Johnson has a 4/4 success rate on his movies.
27) Train to Busan (2016). The only zombie movie to ever make me tear up. But that was the climax. What came before was a movie that innovated and iterated on the zombie genre better than any zombie movie in the decade.
Oh look… Four foreign movies grouped up fairly close with each other…
26) Edge of Tomorrow (2014). This is the first movie in the decade that truly rehabilitated Tom Cruise’s image. Not only that but it was Christopher McQuarie’s firm entry back into the graces of Hollywood. It’s one of the best video game movies of all time and it’s not based on a video game. A damn near perfect sci-fi action movie.
25) The Lighthouse (2019). No movie in recent memory has affected me as much as this one. I was completely sucked into the movie to the point where I felt as drunk and disoriented as Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The pitter-patter of their sea-faring accents was a joy to listen to.
24) John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (2019). The first 30 minutes are the most pure John Wick action in the franchise yet. The rest of the movie is amazing. I love the lore but at the same time I would love the 4th movie to give John an emotional anchor again.
23) The Nice Guys (2016). This was Shane Black doubling (tripling?) down on his style to create the uber-Shane Black story. No characters in Black’s filmography come close to the chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Some of the best jokes in all of Shane Black’s scripts live in this movie. Would murder someone for a sequel or television series.
22) Paddington (2014). The most joyous expression of happiness and charm ever put on film. Just go watch it. Your day will be brightened.
21) The Night Comes for Us (2018). Tangentially related to The Raid movies, this one takes the gore from horror and applies it action movies. I’m not sure I’ve seen so much blood in a movie before. Every character in this deserves a spin off movie, especially Julie Estelle’s Operator character. Joe Taslim proves he’s a leading action star. Iko Uwais, normally a babyface, turns in a great hard edged villain performance.
20) Sorry to Bother You (2018). Arguably the single best movie to explain or dystopian economy in the late 2010s. A true masterpiece of satire. Even though the plot is b-a-n-a-n-a-s, it is still laser-focused to point out our current work culture.
19) The Raid 2 (2014). This one suffers a bit from its extended run time. However, the action in this movie is leaps and bounds above the first Raid movie. The final knife fight is an all-timer that should be studied by action filmmakers until the end of time.
The Raid 2 is practically on top of The Night Comes for Us… More inadvertent groupings…
18) Detention (2011). The most criminally under seen movie on this list. Joseph Kahn takes the ADHD energy of current teens and made a comedic remix of Scream for GenZ. It’s like watching Crank but for high school teen comedies. It could but compared to Scott Pilgrim, but really it stands shoulder-to-shoulder alongside that movie.
17) What We Do in the Shadows (2014). I think big budget mainstream comedies lost their way during the 2010s. Thank goodness for What We Do in the Shadows. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s mockumentary gave us a new way to look at vampires for the rest of time. The movie injected much needed freshness into comedy and a new cadence of comedy. The franchise continues to this day with two tv shows (yes two; one only aired in New Zealand) and the ever-looming prospect of a werewolf spinoff movie.
16) Drive (2011). This was my true introduction to Nicolas Winding Refn. He helped usher in yet another wave of 80s nostalgia with his neon action thriller. What the imitators don’t realize is how much of this movie still feels in the present. It’s not a slavish devotion to the 80s. Drive revels in the 80s skeeziness to tell of a heist job gone wrong. It’s also one of those movies that forever changes an actor’s public perception. No longer is Ryan Gosling just a teen heartthrob. He’s a silent, possibly on the spectrum, coiled spring of a getaway driver. From here Gosling went on to take several daring choices in the 2010s.
15) The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Martin Scorsese’s true masterpiece of the decade. A movie that both celebrates and condemns its subject. The true genius of the movie is that it condemns the audience for finding entertainment in a character who is such a scumbag. Special shoutout to Leonardo DiCaprio for showing us just how damn good he is as a comedic actor.
14) Drug War (2012). Johnnie To is one of the last people making heroic bloodshed movies in the vein of John Woo’s masterpieces. Drug War is a kinetic, over the top cat-and-mouse game between a cop who has a flamboyant extroverted streak and a criminal who’d do anything to stay out of jail. There are several sequences (some action, some just talking) that left my jaw on the floor in their audacity.
13) MacGruber (2010). Absolutely filthy and I loved every second of it. I didn’t see this one until much later into the decade and I continually kick myself for waiting that long. If you miss raunchy 80s comedies this one is for you. Will Forte and crew made something really special (and dirty) that feels out of a bygone era. The definition of a cult classic.
12) You’re Next (2013). Not only is this my favorite horror movie of the decade, it also acts as a neat bridge between two styles of horror filmmaking in the 2010s. The first half of the decade was categorized by super low budget mumblegore movies. The second half was filled with prestige horror that critics were desperate to claim wasn’t horror. You’re Next is an exceedingly clever movie that turns the home invasion genre upside down and simultaneously kills the genre.
11) Looper (2012). An incredibly tight script anchors this perfect sci-fi movie about fighting one’s past. Rian Johnson is another filmmaker with a very valid claim to director of the decade. Looper represents my favorite genre of sci-fi: a stone’s throw into the future with one disruptive societal change. Of course, there has to be some substance under the hood for it to really work. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt turn in tandem performances of the same character that really paints the movie with some humanity.
THE TOP TEN:
You know how I said above in that part you didn’t read that making this list felt more like a gut feeling that a scientific ranking? Well for the top ten I really did put in serious thought into these rankings. The movies in 50–11 could be shifted around slightly. Some of the lower ranked ones might disappear and be replaced. But these top ten are what I really thought were my top ten of the decade (in a very specific order).
10) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). The best superhero of the decade. It also has a strong claim to the best superhero movie of all time. The innovative visuals alone make it S-tier. Thematically is where this movie really shines. I find a lot of other superhero movies feel hollow. Spider-Verse really had something to say about being a superhero, whether you have powers or not.
And of course, there’s the humor in the movie. No superhero flick made me laugh or beam while watching more than this one. The cast is superb and they all put in iconic performances.
9) Pacific Rim (2013). The best big budget blockbuster of the decade. I joke that there’s Before Pacific Rim and After Pacific Rim in my life. I had a vague passing knowledge of Voltron growing up. I guess the same could be said for Godzilla. Pacific Rim made me an instant fan of both the kaiju and mech genres. I mean… I was basically bouncing off the walls as a 27 year old man when I first saw it in IMAX.
I loved the lived-in feel of the world Guillermo del Toro made for the movie. I loved that this movie is the single greatest Saturday morning cartoon of all time. I loved how big, loud, dumb, goofy, and most of all earnest the movie was.
8) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). The best comedy of the decade. When I sat down to watch Scott Pilgrim for the first time I figured it would be good. I had already seen Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. What I wasn’t expecting was the single best love letters to video games in cinema history. Not only that but it felt like Edgar Wright bumped up to a new level of craftsmanship with this one.
Every time I watch this movie I fall into it like a comfy bed. I love the energy of it. I love the jokes. I love all the characters. I love the soundtrack. I love how damn fun it all is, even when it’s dealing with heavier themes like heartache.
7) Raw (2017). The best horror movie of the decade. Some of my favorite movies of all time are ones in which every aspect of the movie — acting, directing, writing, score, editing, etc. — seem to synthesize together in service of the theme. In this case it’s a coming of age story about two sisters and what you inherit from family. It’s about finding your place in the world and who you really are.
Oh and this movie is disgusting. I feel like every few years some French filmmaker has to come along and flex their muscles to show why the New French Extremity is still the king of gross out cinema.
6) Annihilation (2018). The best sci-fi movie of the decade. I love how you can have 20 different people watch it and get 20 different interpretations of the movie’s theme. That’s the true strength of this movie. Alex Garland made a movie that speaks to the core of our being.
I love how aggressively strange this movie is. It has some of the best aesthetics I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi movie. The soundtrack feels other worldly. The alien designs are vomit-inducing. I love the daring ending with nearly zero dialogue. It floored me the first time I saw it.
5) Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018). The best franchise movie of the decade. A lot of this decade was spent talking about how the MCU was dominating the box office and pop culture. True…. but the best franchise of the decade was the Mission: Impossible series. With the “bad” one already long in the past, the decade started with Ghost Protocol. Then came along Christopher McQuarie with the sublime Rogue Nation. The M:I series broke tradition by letting McQuarie come back to direct the follow up to Rogue Nation.
Boy howdy were we lucky for that decision. Fallout is the single best M:I movie and was an instant all-timer classic in the pantheon of action movies. It is the platonic ideal of what a M:I movie should be. Outrageous stunts, high energy action scenes, cool tech, and an utterly anxiety-inducing finale. While I wish the franchise went on forever, in all likelihood this series will end with the 8th installment. It’s a hell of a ride for a series that will span three decades.
4) Snowpiercer (2014). The best sci-fi action movie of the decade. Earlier in the Parasite entry I said that movie lacked the bombastic nature of other Bong Joon-ho movies. This is what I meant. Snowpiercer is an outrageous movie that wears its theme on its sleeve — it is literally about class warfare. It is filled with over-the-top characters and situations. There’s a fight against fish mongers! A preschool teacher pulls out an Uzi! Tilda Swinton gives a monologue about a shoe!
This movie blew my mind the first time I saw it. Up until that point I didn’t realize you could just lay everything out in the open. I thought you had to hide a movie’s theme and let the viewer suss it out.
3) John Wick (2014). The best American action movie of the decade. I’ve always been a fan of Keanu Reeves. I love that this movie helped a lot of other people see what makes him a great actor. We’re in the golden era of Keanu worship but if you look up reviews, blog posts, or comment threads about Keanu prior to John Wick, a lot of people were very mean towards him.
So this movie shows he’s a complete badass. The action was slick and propulsive in a way American audiences hadn’t seen before. There was an undercurrent of lore that people lost their minds over. It was the definition of a sleeper hit at first. Now it’s arguably the best trilogy of movies ever made.
2) The Raid: Redemption (2012). The best foreign action movie of the decade. I sincerely do not think we would have had a decade of amazing action movies without The Raid: Redemption. If the action genre was stuck in the mud during the 2000s, then this movie put a rocket booster onto the genre and launched it into the stratosphere. I’d like to think everyone who saw this movie took it as a challenge to step up their game and it led to a decade of amazing action movies.
It features mind-melting action and a different flavor of martial arts that no one had really seen on film before. It’s not kung fu, it’s not karate, it’s not ju jitsu, it’s Pencak silat. And putting that discipline on film is what made a huge difference. Gareth Evans found a way to showcase that martial arts style and infuse it with the chaotic nature of the movie. It’s a perfect martial arts movie.
1) Mad Max Fury Road (2015). The best movie of the decade. No movie matches the insanity of Mad Max Fury Road. It perfectly encapsulates everything I talked about in my thoughts about action movies at the top of this list. I think Steven Soderbergh summed it up when he said, “I don’t understand two things: I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”
It’s a movie that delivers mind-blowing action visuals that no one had seen before. The Doof Warrior playing the guitar alone makes it one of the best movies of the decade. It was a love letter to practical effects. (Yes I know there was a lot of invisible CGI.) And on top of all that, it actually had something to say about the world we live in. It wasn’t just an action movie. It wasn’t just a two hour chase movie. There was substance to it. It’s a movie that shows that when an action movie is really, really, really good then it is the best type of cinema bar none.
Wow! That was a lot. Thank you everyone if you read all the entries on this list. I think the 2010s was an amazing decade for movies. Of course I left off a ton of awesome movies. I wish I could’ve done an honorable mentions list. Maybe I will write up an honorable mention list??? Would you all like to see that? Let me know! What do you think of my theory about action movies for the decade? Agree? Disagree? Catch you next time!