In the final weeks of 2019, a passing comment provoked the quintessential movie debate of the decade. Asked about his opinion on Marvel movies during a press tour for his Netflix Original Movie The Irishman, legendary director Martin Scorsese said, “That’s not cinema. […] Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks.”
Rebuttals, defenses, screeds, and decrees erupted from every corner of the internet. Scorsese had to weigh in again. What did “cinema” mean in the modern era? The general upheaval of Hollywood left the argument without an answer.
Over the past 10 years, studio tentpoles became more visually complex, yet undeniably more corporate. Streaming services disrupted the theatrical viewing experiences, reinvented the types of movies that “worked” for mass audiences, and made catching up on the classics more difficult than ever. Indie labels either struggled to find footing or came into their own as boutique operations, depending on who you ask. Moonlight, Green Book, and a movie about a sexy fishman won Best Picture Oscars. YouTube stars made straight-to-VOD comedies. Twin Peaks: The Return was actually maybe a really long movie? Hollywood delivered something for everyone in the 2010s, but How We Watch, What We Watch, and Why We Watch became blurrier than ever.
Everyone is right about “cinema,” and everyone is wrong. There’s room to fear the conglomerates that construct cultural monoliths while also enjoying Marvel movies. There’s reason to trust critical voices who champion art and for moviegoers to form their own opinions after engaging with the finished product. It’s fair to trek an hour to see Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood in 70mm, or watch it on a plane when you have time. We’re all watching different shit in different ways. Building beliefs off our favorites — the best movies, by personal definition — shouldn’t be synonymous with drawing lines in the sand.
Our games of the decade list compiled the passions of our entire staff into one mega list worthy of Polygon’s origins. As we prepare to expand and deepen our coverage of movies in the next decade, it made sense to highlight our staff members’ personal picks in a deluge of recommendations. There are commonalities (we, uh, really liked Mad Max: Fury Road) and surprises (yes, Mamma Mia 2 is wonderful, and yes, we want a third one). We are an eclectic bunch, and we think Scorsese and Marvel fans will approve.
Without further ado, these are the best movies of the decade, according to us. And in the spirit of the list, leave your own top 10 in the comments. —Matt Patches, senior entertainment editor
Clayton Ashley, video producer
10. Shin Godzilla9. Mad Max: Fury Road8. Ex Machina7. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)6. Arrival5. Pacific Rim4. The Act of Killing3. The Tree of Life2. Blade Runner 2049
1. The Social Network
The Social Network, by chance or by design, has become one of the most immensely relevant movies of this decade. Full of snappy Sorkin conversations, gorgeous Fincher direction, and the decade’s first immensely catchy Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross soundtrack, it’s still as engaging as ever. But after nearly a decade of watching Facebook “move fast and break things,” including news websites, social video, politics, etc., the movie’s tangible sense of tension can easily be reinterpreted as foreboding for what comes after you make a billion friends.
James Bareham, creative director
10. Prometheus9. Inside Out8. Phantom Thread7. Logan6. Edge of Tomorrow5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story3. Interstellar2. John Wick (all of them — I count them as one film)
Arrival is not only my top film of the past decade, it’s one of my top five films of all time. The gorgeous design and cinematography never overpower the emotional twists of the story or the understated acting of Amy Adams. Director Denis Villeneuve created a sublimely crafted film about the nature of love, regret, and humanity, and the most “alien” aliens ever conceived in the history of cinema.
Colin Campbell, senior reporter
10. The Revenant9. They Shall Not Grow Old 8. Lincoln7. I, Tonya6. Dunkirk5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 4. Carol3. Jackie2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
1. The Death of Stalin
I’m a historical-fiction fanatic, so my list leans heavily into the past. I’ve picked The Death of Stalin as my favorite because nothing made me laugh so much these past 10 years. Armando Iannucci’s satirical portrayal of thoroughly evil men gets to the heart of human awfulness, with its gruesome collection of power-hungry sycophants and psychopaths.
Nicole Carpenter, news editor
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story9. Lady Bird8. Moonlight7. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse5. Inside Out4. Mad Max: Fury Road3. The Farewell2. Get Out
1. The Big Sick
I don’t expect many to understand why I chose The Big Sick as my top movie. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s autobiographical romantic comedy may not have been the most groundbreaking film of the past 10 years, but it was a film that defined my own decade. A few years ago, I had my own big sick — one that put me in the hospital for a week and extended into a monthslong recovery period.
I saw the film in theaters during my recovery, and I think it was necessary in processing my own experience. The Big Sick let me see the scenario from different angles: my mom’s, as she slept on a cot in my hospital room, and my fiancé’s (now my husband), after he had proposed to me just a few days prior. It’s been years, and I’m still processing what happened, but I think it was important for me to see The Big Sick when I did, to help ease these feelings along.
Russ Frushtick, senior editor
10. The Wolf of Wall Street9. Inception8. Gravity7. The Lighthouse6. Arrival5. Thor: Ragnarok4. Moonrise Kingdom3. Mad Max: Fury Road2. Baby Driver
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I guess I really like Edgar Wright.
Perhaps the most authentically adapted comic book movie ever made, Scott Pilgrim captures the bright, original spirit of the source material and pairs it with true casting perfection. It’s almost 10 years old now, and it still maintains a look and style all its own.
Austen Goslin, news writer
10. Parasite9. Minding the Gap8. Under the Skin7. Inherent Vice6. Lady Bird5. Inside Llewyn Davis4. Shoplifters3. Carol2. The Social Network
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
I saw Mad Max: Fury Road in a massive movie theater in Berlin. The dialogue was dubbed, there weren’t subtitles, and I couldn’t understand a single word. It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater.
Watching Fury Road in a language I didn’t understand was like being transported to some future version of Mars. Everything in the movie was alien. Movies don’t look like that; they don’t sound like that; they don’t have doof warriors with flaming guitars like that. It wasn’t a movie from Earth. There’s no way a movie that’s essentially just two separate, hourlong action sequences should work. In fact, there’s no reason anyone should have even tried it. Watching it felt like getting the privilege of seeing a masterpiece from one of the Martians’ greatest directors.
Seeing it in theaters again earlier this year felt exactly the same way. Four years later, there’s still nothing on Earth that looks, or sounds, or feels like Mad Max: Fury Road. If you told me George Miller went to Mars to make it, it would make more sense than the real story.
Patrick Gill, video producer
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story9. Shin Godzilla8. The Raid 27. John Wick: Chapter 26. The Night Comes for Us5. John Wick4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse3. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum2. Get Out
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Fury Road … I can listen to the soundtrack and picture every scene / accompanying action because I’ve seen it a whole bunch, but also just because they made an tremendously cohesive audiovisual experience. Everything’s always moving and it’s all moving together. It’s like the dang ballet.
Owen Good, weekend editor
10. The Power of Glove 9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens8. Creed7. O.J.: Made in America6. Solo: A Star Wars Story5. True Grit4. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood3. Lincoln2. Argo
When word went around that Hollywood had optioned Michael Lewis’ 2003 book about baseball analytics, nonplussed sports fans wondered what in the hell Capote director Bennett Miller (along with screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) saw in a story about spreadsheets and percentages. But like the Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, Miller did a masterful job with an undervalued property and found all of the feel-good moments that a sports flick demands. The emotional crescendo — the redeemed Scott Hatteberg hitting the home run to cap the Athletics’ record 20-game winning streak — is as lump-in-the-throat as anything in The Natural, Hoosiers, or Rudy. And as our readers are well aware, Activision boss Bobby Kotick played an uncredited but very important role, and did an outstanding job with it, too.
Charlie Hall, senior reporter
10. Tangled9. Exit Through the Gift Shop8. Tron: Legacy7. Dunkirk6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens4. Blade Runner 20493. Moana2. Mad Max: Fury Road
This last decade, I became a father of two amazing little girls, and my theatergoing hours have been somewhat limited. Apologies for the bevy of Disney films in my top 10, but I hope you can understand that my antenna’s a little bent at the moment.
That being said, I also really enjoy a good war movie. In my opinion, it’s not really been a great decade for those. American Sniper utterly broke my heart, and not in a good way. Lone Survivor was somehow worse than the book it was based on. Fury had great combat sequences, and managed to make Shia LaBeouf look good, but the narrative was as heavy-handed as they come. Dunkirk was very good, but borderline impenetrable. I had to watch it three times to convince myself it was worth watching once.
But Restrepo … I’m not sure there’s a more accurate depiction of modern warfare out there. It’s a tremendous documentary from a technical standpoint, but emotionally, it’s a lot to deal with. Sitting through that film will change the way you view American politics forever, or at least it should.
Karen Han, entertainment reporter
10. Paddington 2 / A Cure for Wellness (tie, deal with it)9. Toni Erdmann8. Shoplifters7. The Hateful Eight6. The Lost City of Z5. Moonlight4. True Grit3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy2. Take Shelter
Parasite feels like a natural culmination of the themes that have always been present in director Bong Joon-ho’s work and in the last decade of cinema on the whole. The idea that we are reckoning with more than just everyday human evil — that we are trapped in the cage of late-stage capitalism (and that we may be hurtling inexorably toward our own destruction, hello First Reformed) — manifests here in a story in which everyone is culpable in some way. In order for one person to get to the top of the wheel, someone else must be cast to the bottom.
The way in which the cycle plays out in Parasite is both horrific and hilarious, as Bong masterfully ramps up tension, then sends it all unspooling in a roller-coaster ride that defies all expectations. The film is a triumph that immediately establishes itself as one of the best of the decade, as well as cementing Bong’s place as one of the best filmmakers of all time.
Emily Heller, commerce writer
10. Bridesmaids / Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (tie — no, really, deal with it)9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi 8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 7. Get Out 6. Sorry to Bother You 5. Obvious Child 4. It Follows3. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again2. The Way Way Back
1. Eighth Grade
Through the last several years of nostalgia trips — Stranger Things! SNES Classic! Lisa Frank hotel! — nothing transported me back to adolescence quite like Eighth Grade. Though it stars a Gen Z-er, the immensely lovable Elsie Fisher, the movie manages to feel universal. Everyone watching has been a 13-year-old; most of us hated that experience.
Written and directed by Bo Burnham (incidentally, one of my middle-school crushes), Eighth Grade captures that specific feeling of being 13, when everything is embarrassing and The Biggest Deal. We’re pulled into protagonist Kayla’s world through a combination of Burnham’s directing choices, like focusing the camera on a classmate’s stony face while her mom extends a party invitation, and Fisher’s devastating, earnest performance. We know that most of Kayla’s problems are trivial, and still we want to tell her to be nicer to her dad, protect her from mean girls and boys who’ll take advantage of her, and buy her some acne stickers. Not because we know better, but because we know exactly how it feels.
Eighth Grade is a masterpiece of empathy that will hopefully join the canon of essential coming-of-age stories.
Ben Kuchera, opinions editor
10. Inside Out9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse8. Blade Runner 20497. Raw6. The Endless5.The Killing of a Sacred Deer4. Whiplash3. Good Time2. Frances Ha
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel would have been my top pick just for the sheer joy that comes through in the movie’s design, but its story within a story within a story pushes it over the line from “great” to “sublime.” Everyone has a story, but movies rarely dig into what happens after that adventure. The Grand Budapest Hotel shows that sometimes our relations are tragically cut short, the world moves on without us, and what once seemed destined to last forever quickly becomes temporary. The only constant is change, and Wes Anderson is more willing than most to find the weary dignity in refusing to catch up.
Julia Lee, news writer and site lead for Rift Herald
10. The Lorax9. Thor: Ragnarok8. Wolf Children7. Monsters University6. Midsommar5. Black Panther4. Promare3. Train to Busan2. A Silent Voice
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I have never felt so excited watching a Spider-Man movie before. Sony put unique visuals, fun characters, and a stellar soundtrack into a blender, and out came a delicious Spider-Verse smoothie.
Matt Leone, features editor
10. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie9. Mad Max: Fury Road8. Pacific Rim7. Inception6. Hot Tub Time Machine5. Argo4. Us3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty2. Indie Game: The Movie
1. Fast Five
Little makes me feel older than looking through lists of movies released this decade and realizing that most of my favorites aren’t on them. This wasn’t my decade for movies, but let that be no reflection on Fast Five, the finest vacation in a box you could ever ask for.
Tara Long, executive producer, video
10. Samsara9. Bridesmaids8. Room7. Arrival6. O.J.: Made in America5. Black Swan4. Parasite3. Drive2. Blade Runner 2049
Interstellar is one of those rare science-fiction films whose arresting visual effects and artistic direction are, above all else, an instrument used to tell a much deeper, more personal human story. Christopher Nolan’s movie capitalizes on — and ultimately, satisfies — our curiosity for the great unknown, but never once deviates from its thoughtful ruminations on humanity, survival, and our willingness to sacrifice everything for those we love.
Michael McWhertor, senior news editor
10. Annihilation9. Moonlight8. Mad Max: Fury Road7. Shin Godzilla6. Dredd5. Green Room4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse3. Whiplash2. Get Out
1. Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s existential sci-fi horror film, about an alien who harvests men for purposes that are opaque, is painful and intense. We get little visibility into the motivations of Scarlett Johansson’s extraterrestrial predator of flesh, other than that she coldly exploits men’s sexuality and (cruelly) human love to seemingly serve unfeeling masters of her own. From the alien creature’s birth to its awakening to its savage demise, Under the Skin is a grim short story with chilling implications. (Oh, and shout-out to Micah Levi’s piercing, icy score.)
Ross Miller, director of programming
10. The Social Network9. Moonlight8. Mad Max: Fury Road7. Logan6. John Wick5. Fast & Furious 64. The Muppets3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse2. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
1. Thor: Ragnarok
I’m a sucker for movies that bring spectacle and compel me to see them on the biggest screens. I will be very upfront with y’all: Mine is not a list of the “best” movies of the decade. But it is a list of movies that brought me pure joy, and ones that I’ll watch again and again (yes, even Moonlight). And the one that made me downright giddy, the one I’ll be watching a decade from now, is the one where Taika Waititi made clear who the Best Chris is right now.
Matt Patches, senior entertainment editor
10. Spring Breakers9. The Arbor8. 45 Years7. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya6. The Grand Budapest Hotel5. The Master4. The Tree of Life3. Kill List2. Minding the Gap
1. The Comedy
In 2012, I saw The Comedy torpedo a particular breed of hipster behavior running amok in cities across America. In 2019, writer-director Rick Alverson’s character study is even uglier, predicting how a strain of ironic internet humor would insulate privilege and ravage the authentic life.
After years of experimenting with strange cadences and comedic quirks on shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Tim Heidecker goes “full Joker” as Swanson, a slovenly, boat-shoe-wearing buffoon who can’t resist a goof. That makes him the life of a house party, and a radicalized IRL shitposter; a cab driver, his co-workers, a group of for-hire gardeners, the black patrons of a Harlem bar, and his own dying father become victims of his relentless gags. He can’t stop. He’s white, he’s rich, and no one can touch him. He feels nothing. And since 2012, there are only more Swansons in the world.
The Comedy is not a feel-good time at the movies, but it’s a decade-defining portrait that never flinches. Heidecker delivers a De Niro-level performance as he skewers the type of person who’s probably a fan of his Adult Swim work. Alverson’s brutalist direction ensures the audience always catches themselves laughing at Swanson’s man-child antics. When a track from William Basinski’s 9/11-themed Disintegration Loops plays over a montage of Swanson bike riding with friends, the point is clear: a lack of awareness is the quickest route to cultural decay.
Chris Plante, editor-in-chief
10. Parasite9. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping8. The Handmaiden7. Holy Motors6. O.J.: Made in America5. A Ghost Story4. Moonlight3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse2. The Wind Rises
1. World of Tomorrow
While I’m confident World of Tomorrow is my favorite film of the decade, I’m also confident that The Wind Rises will take its place in a few minutes, and Spider-Verse will usurp the throne a few minutes after that. I’ve been shuffling the position of my top three for an hour, because it’s been that astonishing of a decade for animation. Anywho, rather than waste more of my time (and yours) reorganizing a list, let me focus on Don Hertzfeldt’s two-part masterpiece about the danger of wasting our limited time on meaningless trivialities.
Even though the first episode is only 17 minutes long, there’s no concise way to summarize what happens. A young girl named Emily learns about the future from a third-generation clone of herself. But really, this is a film about life and death — the weird, desperate, and often misguided ways we try to make the most of the former, and the tragic and inevitably doomed methods we devise to escape the latter. The crushing existential clarity of the film is mercifully balanced by Hertzfeldt’s modest stick-figure drawings and a sense of humor he honed with pre-YouTube web hits. Yes, the movie that most affected me this decade was made by the creator of “My Spoon Is Too Big” and “My Anus Is Bleeding.” In a decade in which reality felt absurd, it’s fitting that Hertzfeldt would be the best person to make sense of it.
Susana Polo, comics editor
10. Moana9. Inception8. Attack the Block7. Logan6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse3. Pacific Rim2. The Shape of Water
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
When I think about the time I saw Fury Road in theaters, I think about the professor who taught my Film 101 course. The subject of her dissertation was films that sought to cause “visceral” reactions in their audiences — which mean that a lot of her curriculum was in the horror genre. As a notorious wimp, I did not enjoy this very much.
Walking out of Fury Road, I felt like I finally understood horror fans. It was the longest I have ever felt tension at a movie without becoming uncomfortable: two straight hours of being emotionally edged by some of the most expert filmmaking, sleek writing, and cohesive world-building ever seen in a one-and-done cinematic story.
Blinking in the springtime light of a bustling Manhattan sidewalk, I wanted to punch a car in the face. In a good way.
Petrana Radulovic, junior entertainment reporter
10. Bridesmaids9. Far From the Madding Crowd8. Crimson Peak7. Mad Max: Fury Road6. 22 Jump Street5. Your Name4. Interstellar3. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again2. The Farewell
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse three times in theaters, and each time was an absolute delight. I’m partial to animated movies — honestly, this list would’ve been mostly animation had I not filtered it some — but I didn’t realize just how much I’d been starving for animated movies that actually love being animated movies till I saw Spider-Verse. Every frame is gorgeous, the story playfully invigorates the typical superhero origin (which we’ve seen a lot this decade), and the message of the movie is full of heart. I still get an adrenaline rush when I rewatch the “Leap of Faith” scene.
Jeff Ramos, engagement editor
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World8. Avengers: Infinity War7. It Follows6. Black Panther5. Moonlight4. Crazy Rich Asians3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. Your Name
1. Get Out
Horror films have tackled dread in so many different ways, but nothing has ever hit home as hard as Get Out. While the fear of being chased by a killer or haunted by a ghost has worked for decades, the social fear of being the only person of color in a world that is the exact opposite of yours was harrowing to see on screen. It’s difficult to explain to anyone who has never been in those shoes, and while Get Out explores the topic with a somewhat fantastical approach, the fear that bubbles below the surface of even the most casual encounters is almost as disturbing as the film’s roller-coaster tail end.
Samit Sarkar, front page editor
10. O.J.: Made in America9. Toy Story 38. The Farewell7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse6. Moneyball5. Dunkirk4. Mad Max: Fury Road3. Parasite2. Get Out
1. The Social Network
Am I gaming this process somewhat by picking The Social Network as my top film of the 2010s? Yes. I’m not sure it’s my favorite movie from this decade per se, but I slotted it there partly because I figured others might choose another one of the entries in my top 10, and partly because of the overall recency bias in my personal list.
But I don’t have any reservations about putting it in the No. 1 spot, either. It’s not a stretch to say that the 2010s was the decade of Facebook, and that would make The Social Network the most prescient film of the past 10 years. The performances are terrific, particularly Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg not as the robotic goober we would come to know from interviews and congressional hearings — a programming savant, not a policy wonk — but as a ruthless businessman with an ego that grows as quickly as his company’s user base. The screenplay is the smartest and best thing Aaron Sorkin has written since the first two seasons of The West Wing, and in the hands of director David Fincher, this tech/business story becomes a riveting tale of personal animus run amok. If the past 10 years have taught us anything — from Facebook to GamerGate to our current president — it’s that hell hath no fury like a white man scorned, and The Social Network captured that all the way back in 2010.
Chelsea Stark, managing editor
10. Black Panther9. Fast Five8. Ex Machina7. Boyhood6. 10 Cloverfield Lane5. Blade Runner 20494. The Shape of Water3. John Wick2. Get Out
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
DOOF. WARRIOR. DOOF WARRIOR!
Jenna Stoeber, video producer
10. Atomic Blonde9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse8. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil7. Sorry to Bother You6. Gravity5. Arrival4. Get Out3. Force Majeure2. Train to Busan
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
The Mad Max series has always banged, but Fury Road is the pinnacle of that bang, part heart-pounding action and part meditation on patriarchal oppression. And it’s not just talk; George Miller brought in Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, as a consultant to make sure the messaging was on point. The result is the most perfect action movie that has ever existed, and the best movie of the decade.
Dave Tach, guides editor
10. The Other Side of the Wind / They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead9. Edge of Tomorrow8. Mission: Impossible — Fallout7. Shutter Island6. John Wick5. Mad Max: Fury Road4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
1. Avengers: Infinity War
If Infinity War were a video game, its difficulty would have been New Game+++++++++++++++++++++++, and yet directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely delivered an impossibly astounding, emotionally draining, deeply satisfying, modern-day tragedy.