This story is part of , a series on the memes, people, products, movies and so much more that have influenced the 2010s.
If you’ve run out of the latest movies to watch during an evening in, there’s an easy solution. Now’s the time to do yourself a favor and pluck out the older gems you may have missed from the last decade.
The 2010s provided big, bright and colorful spectacles, multiple viewing treats that immerse us in a familiar, happy place. But we also had plenty of love for the smaller-scale indies, the gems that open windows into the lives of others and change us for the better.
So what movies are we talking about exactly? We’re talking about the best ones. An assembly of CNET staffers voted on the best movies of the 2010s. You probably won’t agree entirely with the results, but at the very least, on this one occasion, Boyhood beats Birdman.
Here are our top 30 movies of the decade, ranked.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
We start at the top with a movie that did not win the Best Picture Oscar like many thought it would in 2016. But listen, George Miller’s fourth in the Mad Max series careens on as one of the best action movies of all time. Tom Hardy replaces Mel Gibson as the enigmatic Max, alongside the clear standout and heart of the film: Charlize Theron as the one-armed Imperator Furiosa. In Miller’s visionary post-apocalyptic Oz, they attempt to save “the wives,” women selected for breeding, from the tyrannical Immortan Joe. The entire movie takes place over one absolutely bonkers chase sequence. Its cinematic stats are jaw-dropping: Miller used 3,500 storyboards and took 480 hours of raw footage. He overcame a decade of roadblocks — recasting, location changes and creative resets (he explored the possibility of a 3D live-action version) — before achieving high-octane imaginative insanity.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
There was no question what movie would win the Best Animated Feature category at the 2018 Oscars. Into the Spider-Verse stole our hearts by boldly ignoring the fact we’ve had three cinematic Peter Parkers and introducing five more. They stem from Marvel’s multiverse, wisely made less complicated by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who focus on the Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) graffiti artist, hip hop-appreciating version of Spidey. Morales teams up with the versions from other universes — including a bizarre and completely hilarious cartoon pig known as Peter Porker — to fight supervillain Kingpin. Over 140 animators combined computer animation with a hand-drawn style to mimic a comic book look. Inventive visuals, fresh storytelling and embracing the comic books’ wackiness helped make the first non-white Spider-Man one of the best.
3. Boyhood (2014)
Boyhood is, logistically speaking, a bit of a miracle. In order to tell a story about growing up, Richard Linklater sporadically filmed a young Ellar Coltrane every year for 12 years, from ages 6 to 18. His character, Mason, lived between his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) in Texas. The project flirted with potential film-ending pitfalls: For one, what if a teenage Coltrane strayed from acting? But Linklater delivered his best ever film. It won BAFTAs, Golden Globes and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Arquette in 2014. Yet some still feel a little salty about Boyhood’s award season. Boyhood lost the Best Picture Oscar to Birdman, a less warm, familiarly wholesome tale, more a technical and existential tour de force. On this occasion, the people have spoken.
4. Get Out (2017)
Get Out is the modern horror movie. It’s the perfect coming together of horror, comedy and satire on racism. The setup to the punch line — or in horror’s case, the jump scare — takes exact timing. As one half of comedy duo Key & Peele, Jordan Peele is extremely well-equipped to achieve both. His directorial debut has a scarily loaded setup: a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his white girlfriend’s (Alison Williams) middle-class liberal parents. Their comments about how fine they are with their daughter’s boyfriend are comedy gold… with a delayed squirm. Peele’s exciting new voice brought horror, laughs and deeply unsettling self-reflection.
5. Lady Bird (2017)
On paper, Lady Bird reads like a conventional coming-of-age story. It covers the usual milestones: losing virginity, going to prom, graduation. But in between those lines is a raw, specific relationship between 17-year-old Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who insists everyone calls her Lady Bird, and her hard working and barely appreciated mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). First-time solo director Greta Gerwig writes a love letter to her hometown, Sacramento, infusing it with brilliantly layered comedy. “I wish I could live through something,” Lady Bird says with the narcissism of a 17-year-old. She’s self-titled, as in, she says Lady Bird is the name “given to me by me.” The warmth, hilarity and at times confronting revelations of teenagehood flood through Gerwig’s singular lens.
6. The Favourite (2018)
Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone bring the kind of acting calibre you expect to this Yorgos Lanthimos misadventure. The Greek director well and truly established his distinctive weird, experimental style with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He loves to cross a line and does so multiple times in The Favourite, a period piece turned cat-and-mouse psychological thriller featuring characters named Wanking Man and Nude Pomegranate Tory. Underneath the politics and the corsets, you’ll even find a melancholy love story.
7. Roma (2018)
Watching Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is almost like flipping through a beautifully-shot album of 1970s Mexico. Cuaron tells a semi-autobiographical story about a middle class family through the lens of a young housekeeper. It’s a story about people living, brought to life by Cuaron’s deft magic.
8. Black Panther (2018)
Marvel movies proved they could keep on evolving with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. The 2018 film bucked the superhero formula with its Afro-futurist setting, family saga and James Bond gadgetry. The bold claws of an auteur are all over this comic book blockbuster.
9. Ex Machina (2015)
The walls meticulously close in on the programmer, his boss and the iRobot they interact with in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. The tense, thoughtful sci-fi set in a remote cutting-edge cabin raises big questions and upgraded Alicia Vikander to even greater star status.
10. The Master (2012)
The Master was not the deep-dive into Scientology’s origins many might have expected. Paul Thomas Anderson sews together the fictional life of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a religious movement known as “The Cause,” and his tension with the yin to his yang, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). The 2012 character drama, dealing with a world recovering from World War II, is a poetic epic.
11. Her (2013)
Spike Jonze’s 2013 romance between a lonely man and his Siri-like AI is even more frighteningly relevant today. Samantha (Scarlet Johansson) is the soothing, intimate voice in Theodore Twombly’s (Joaquin Phoenix) ear, but the bounds of her programming soon go beyond sprucely organizing his life. Jonze’s future is both vividly-realized and always rooted in the complexities of the human heart.
12. Moonlight (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ three-part story about a physically and emotionally abused black man has been described as genre-defying. From childhood to adulthood, three actors (Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert) play Chiron with soulful naturalness. In covering difficult subject matter, from the drug underworld to sexual identity, Moonlight runs deep. The 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner is gorgeous to look at and accompanied by an exquisite soundtrack.
13. The Social Network (2010)
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin friended each other to make a powerfully nerdy, talky movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the inception of Facebook. Equally absorbing are its themes of friendship and loyalty in a playground of petty politics. A superb Jesse Eisenberg as the insensitive, conflicted genius was a revelatory match for Fincher’s technical talent.
14. Drive (2011)
Ryan Gosling’s strong, silent Hollywood stunt driver moonlights as a getaway driver. So Drive is basically the coolest movie ever. Its dreamlike, electronic soundtrack — perfect for travel at night — layers meaningful messages into a violent fairy tale about an unconventional hero.
15. The Shape of Water (2017)
Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner is a more than unconventional horror-romance between a mute woman and a dead-eyed fish-man. It balances a harsh 1960s setting with fairy tale magic painted into its big, beautifully-detailed sets. Only del Toro could pull this madness off.
16. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The sheer size of this blockbuster, with its sky-high budget, A-listers and ravenous fandom, make Anthony and Joe Russo’s film all the more impressive. To culminate 20 Marvel films in a two-part showstopper is experimental madness on its own. But to end (spoiler) the first of those parts with almost all your heroes losing… who says all superhero films are predictable?
17. Inception (2010)
This is Christopher Nolan’s insane, original concept: a professional thief, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, steals information by infiltrating the subconscious. Sorry, Mr. Nolan, how are you going to do this? The answer is incredibly engrossingly. Somehow Nolan made a film about dreams both substantial and visceral, with a thrilling dose of physics-defying action.
18. Birdman (2014)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) uses one mind-boggling continuous shot to literally follow a deluded movie star in the lead up to his latest role on a Broadway show. As you can imagine, sanity, narcissism and basically everything to do with the human condition bleeds through this showbiz satire. The 2014 Best Picture Oscar winner was a creative tour de force for Alejandro González Iñárritu and some comeback for Michael Keaton.
19. Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight shines a light on the real-life investigative team of journalists called “Spotlight” from the Boston Globe. In the early 2000s, they helped expose the child abuse committed by Catholic priests in the Boston area. The 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner wound gripping tension into the unglamorous legwork of journalists, played by a perfectly-balanced ensemble including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams.
20. Toy Story 3 (2010)
The third in Pixar’s Toy Story series seemingly wrapped up the stories of Woody, Buzz and their owner, Andy, in the most poignant, heartbreaking way possible — until a fourth film followed 10 years later. Still, Toy Story 3 stands as the example of how to blend family wholesomeness with plaything torture horror. One of the best kids movies for grownups out there.
21. Hereditary (2018)
When your grandma dies, cult-related ordeal after ordeal doesn’t tend to ensue. But in Hereditary, it does! That’s not to mention the slowly sickening insecurity Annie Graham (a better than ever Toni Collette) feels in her relationship with her children. Ari Aster’s directorial debut constructs its shock-horror moments with the delicate hand of someone building a miniature house. He treats his characters with the same attention to detail, and when it all comes crashing, the impact is traumatic. One of the horror genre’s greats.
22. What We Do In The Shadows (2015)
A mockumentary about idiotic vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand, is the kind of content we came to expect from director-writer-actor Taika Waititi. After delivering the best ever vampire comedy as well as the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he was ingeniously snapped up by Marvel to direct Thor: Ragnarok.
23. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Steve McQueen doesn’t let up in telling the incredible, brutal true story of Solomon Northup, a gifted violinist who had the rug pulled out from under him when he was sold into slavery. His 12 years of hardship is detailed here in a story that delves into the darkest recesses of Louisiana in the 1840s. More than just a prestige, period film, it’s a difficult but necessary viewing experience.
24. Whiplash (2014)
What is essentially a thriller about jazz introduced the world to the rare talents of Damien Chazelle, who would go on to make La La Land and First Man. Whiplash pit Andrew (Miles Teller), an ambitious drumming student, against the abusive Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). This tense, exhaustive journey into the perils of percussion deserves a standing ovation.
25. Annihilation (2018)
Alex Garland’s followup to Ex Machina takes us into a mysterious, body horror-inducing quarantined zone of mutating plants and animals. With five female leads including Natalie Portman, this intelligent story featuring a bear scene as memorable as The Revenant’s is unique in more ways than one.
26. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Based on André Aciman’s novel, this deeply affecting romance between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) is, unsurprisingly, beautiful to look at. From the 1980s idyllic Italian countryside to the slow-burn romance, Luca Guadagnino directs a mesmerizingly dreamy summer experience.
27. The Witch (2016)
Robert Eggers’ directorial debut is an exercise in restraint. That’s his most terrifying asset and it pays off when the religious family at the heart of The Witch descends into madness. In 1630s New England, a bleak, far-back world where you deserve an award for understanding the accents, supernatural horrors brew to terrifying ends. You’ll never look at the outskirts of a wood in the same way.
28. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
The movie before Taika Waititi took on Thor: Ragnarok follows the oddball mismatch of troublesome Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and the grizzled Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). Through a series of sad, absurd and touching events, they find themselves the subjects of a national manhunt. The balance between humanity and comedy is what Taika Waititi does best.
29. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
J.J. Abrams relaunched one of the biggest franchises of all time by affectionately pairing familiar parts with fresh new faces and even cuter helpful droids. Starring Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, this welcome shot of fun space adventure took us back into the operatic war between dark versus light.
30. Wonder Woman (2017)
A turning point in the DC Extended Universe came when Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman climbed out of the trenches. The World War I-set origin story introduced the world to Gal Gadot in a role she was born to play. Her shining beacon of hope fills this earnest, good old-fashioned tale of heroine versus Greek god of war.