Why do we go to the cinema? Every time you walk through those tall, shiny swing doors it’s for a different reason. After a hard day at work, it’s to relax. After a breakup, it’s to laugh again. After a boring Sunday morning, it’s to feel excited. Maybe it’s because you needed to cry – although you might not have known it when you bought your ticket. Perhaps you just needed somewhere quiet to think. Whatever your particular reason for heading to the multiplex, we all go to the cinema because we want to feel something. And in the 2010s, there were a lot of great films that made us do just that.
This decade, Hollywood has been particularly busy, making more movies (and money) than ever before. Whether that’s at the traditional box office or through streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, it doesn’t matter. It’s all proof that we still can’t get enough stories on our screens.
From tattooed demons and spandex-smothered superheroes to murderous villains and manic hotel concierges, we’ve sat and watched, as our favourite film characters have succeeded or failed – and maybe taught us a lesson or two along the way.
So, as we come to the end of yet another decade of moviemaking, it’s time to reflect on the viewing experiences which moved us most. Here are the 20 greatest films of the 2010s – as chosen by NME.
– Alex Flood, Film and TV Editor
Words: Jordan Bassett, Kambole Campbell, Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, El Hunt, Ella Kemp, Nick Reilly, Dan Stubbs, Amon Warmann
Director: Matthew Vaughn
A lovable loser (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) attempted to become a superhero, failed, met some actual superheroes (Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz) and learned how to fight (and swear – loads). Kick-Ass was ahead of its time. Yes, it came after the adaptation of Watchmen, comic guru Alan Moore’s skewed take on masked vigilantes, but it was subversive and playful in a way that movie wasn’t (and in that respect is closer to the recent HBO TV version of Watchmen). We’re now accustomed to the likes of Joker fucking with our expectations of a comic book movie, but Kick-Ass battered the senses like an upper-cut.
Best moment: When Big Daddy (Cage), who is home-schooling his daughter Hit Girl (Moretz) in superherodom, shoots her at point-blank range. She’s wearing a bullet-proof vest – but talk about school of hard knocks… JB
19‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards
How do you make a film exciting when the audience already knows what happens at the end? We’re stumped, but if you ask Gareth Edwards, he might know. His Star Wars prequel, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, took the events described in Episode IV: A New Hope – “stolen Death Star plans” – and filled in the corners. Destined to die aboard a spaceship at the hands of evil buckethead Darth Vader (remember him?), Rogue One’s crew of determined Rebels (played by Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed and Diego Luna) took fans on a dark, gritty and tense journey to the outer reaches of the galaxy.
Best moment: Proving once again, beyond all doubt, that he is the scariest villain ever to darken the multiplex, Darth Vader whips out his crimson lightsaber and whips off a few Rebel heads, arms and other assorted limbs. The scene only lasts about 30 seconds, but it gives more satisfaction than the entire prequel trilogy combined. AF
Director: James Wan
Where ‘80s and ‘90s horror movies typically focused on star villains like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, the best mainstream horror films of the 2010s placed the focus on character, plot and the families at the core of the story. The greatest exponent of this was directorial wunderkind James Wan, the man behind The Conjuring and its extended universe and its predecessor, Insidious. A masterful horror-fantasy about demonic possession, Insidious was a film of two halves, beginning as a slow-burning something-in-the-house movie and ending as an almost Spielberg-like romp into another dimension, pre-empting Stranger Things’ Upside Down by a good six years.
Best moment: The family, sat around the table. The demon, revealing itself to be standing right behind patriarch Patrick Wilson. You have, almost definitely, received the GIF on WhatsApp once or twice. DS
17‘The Babadook’ (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
“It isn’t real. It isn’t real. It’s just a book,” says single mother Amelia to her son, Sam, in this surprise hit indie horror. Except, of course, Mister Babadook is far more than a pop-up book, unleashing a truly terrifying supernatural presence into their suburban Australian home. As quirky and innovative as the concept was, it was first time director Jennifer Kent’s understanding of the nature of fear that made this film shine: we hear the Babadook more than we see him, and the rare, shadowy glimpses of him (it?) lurking malevolently around the house surely caused a few sleepless nights among viewers.
Best moment: Amelia chasing son Sam around the house, bent on killing him. The shift in role from protector to killer taps into our worst, most primal childhood fears. DS
16‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)
Director: James Gunn
If comic book movies often take themselves too seriously, it’s only because critics don’t take them seriously enough. Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel Studios’ second ensemble flick – was a film that didn’t care what you thought about it. Funny, thrilling and packed with CG eye-candy, this B-movie mash-up proved a welcome break from Captain America and his stiff, ‘I will defend my country’ upper lip. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was a new kind of hero – one with a relatable backstory – and his ragtag band of intergalactic mercenaries covered the whole spectrum: there was funny (Drax), angry (Rocket), chill (Groot) and kick-ass (Gamora). Throw in a funk-fuelled soundtrack, stuffed with ‘70s pop hits like ‘Hooked On A Feeling’, and you’ve got the first party-starting superhero film with just one goal: to have a good time, all of the time.
Best moment: Starlord pulls off his helmet, plugs in his Walkman and throws some shapes to bonafide soul banger ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Native American rockers Redbone. Pure cinematic vibes. AF
Director: Ari Aster
However many blurbs offered warnings, however many petrified social media reactions tried to soften the impact, there’s no minimising the unique gut-punch of Ari Aster’s domestic nightmare Hereditary. Every character harbours a potential threat from the off, and Aster painstakingly builds a world within which every sharp sound and sudden camera pan could hide the biggest terror. Toni Collette is terrific as a grieving mother clutching the very last straws of her ‘normal’ life, while Alex Wolff – her helpless son – completely steals the show. The story goes far, far further than some might enjoy, but it’s this commitment to the absolute extreme that confirms Aster as a modern king of horror. Long may he reign.
Best moment: As a certain ominous presence haunts the second half of the film, there’s both the sound and vision of a scuttling shape across the ceiling. It’s a real ‘when you see it’ moment – and when you do, it can never be forgotten. EK
Director: Todd Phillips
Certainly the most controversial film of 2019, Joker must be one of the most unfairly maligned films of the decade. It probably didn’t help that there was a macho air about director Todd Phillips’ suggestion that he’d tricked Warner Bros. into spending $55m on a comic book movie when in fact he’d made art. In this dour, Scorsese-imitating depiction of the Batman villain’s origin tale – there’s very little action – Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad-sack driven to extremes by an uncaring society. It was accused of glorifying incel culture, but here was a deeply moral movie about the power of kindness.
Best moment: When Joker, having finally fully given himself over to the dark side, dances in full costume to – no shit – Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’. It’s compelling and nauseating in equal measure, an indication, in the world of the movie, that the concept of right and wrong has been eroded. JB
13‘Baby Driver’ (2017)
Director: Edgar Wright
A look at film history will reveal plenty of musicals. We may have seen even more movies involving car chases. But Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver might be the first film of its kind: a car-chase musical. From the first impeccably choreographed, soundtracked, and edited sequence, which sees Ansel Elgort’s getaway driver pull off one impressive vehicular manoeuvre after another, to its balletic foot race climax, it’s a toe-tapping thrill ride that extracts every bit of mileage possible from its quirky premise.
Best Moment: It’s a testament to the brilliance of Baby Driver’s final act that in a movie about cars, the best race is actually ran on foot. Set to Focus’ ‘70s rocker ‘Hocus Pocus’, the editing in this sequence – perfectly timed gunshots set to rapid jump cuts – makes it an all-timer. Whenever you now hear this track, this is the scene that will immediately come to mind. That’s no easy feat. AW
12‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)
Director: John Krasinski
The use of silence in a horror movie often builds tension so it was no surprise that A Quiet Place – a film centred on its characters’ need to stay quiet to survive – was one big anxiety-ridden nail-biter. It stood out as something fresh and inventive in a genre that so often relies on cheap thrills and placed importance on acting and expression rather than gory effects or schlocky storylines. As the Abbotts – two parents trying to keep their family out of the grips of aliens with absurdly good hearing – John Krasinski and Emily Blunt perfectly conveyed the dire urgency of their situation with barely any dialogue and spearheaded a ‘concept horror’ revival in the process.
Best moment: When Evelyn withstands the excruciating pain of both going into labour and stepping on a protruding nail without bringing the noise-loving aliens to her door. RD
Director: Damien Chazelle
In Damien Chazelle’s debut feature Whiplash – a sharp, taut film about one boy who just wants to be a good drummer – Miles Teller finds the role of a lifetime. As Andrew Neiman, the first-year jazz student is terrorised by his teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). The filmmaking is frenetic and precise, with Chazelle crafting immensely-detailed drama through vicious jump cuts, sudden loud noises and narrative twists. The anxiety feels pressurised to the point of no-return, almost cruel in its commitment to pushing the audience’s nerves to breaking point.
Best moment: In one of Andrew’s very first classes with Terence, he tries to raise the tempo. Or slow it down. Or match it. He just wants to impress his teacher. It’s the first of many face-offs between the two, and the stressful back and forth is enough to give you the sweats and a migraine all at once. Is he rushing or is he dragging? Who the hell knows? EK
10‘Lady Bird’ (2017)
Director: Greta Gerwig
There have been countless films about teenage girls before Lady Bird, and there will be many more after – but few harness the very specific magic of Greta Gerwig’s debut solo feature. Set in Sacramento, the film depicts a young woman simultaneously confident and unsure of herself, searching for a sense of achievement on every level. Gerwig finds her muse in Saoirse Ronan, but also our generation’s best ‘Best Friend’ actor in Beanie Feldstein, the perfect ‘Sad Boy’ in Lucas Hedges and, as ever, Timothée Chalamet plays the one true heartbreaker. Lady Bird is the perfect portrait of a daughter and her mother (Laurie Metcalf has never been better) full of friction, the story of one pivotal senior year of high school, and the journey of one girl ready to take on the world.
Best moment: After her first kiss with her first boyfriend, Lady Bird runs home. Before creeping in, she pauses in the street to let out a piercing scream of delight. It’s the kind of detail usually bottled for the sake of narrative slickness, but here, it feels like magic. EK
Director: Tim Miller
Deadpool is barely 30 seconds old when invulnerable antihero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) smashes through the roof of a fast-moving SUV to dispatch his first group of goons with violent glee. It sets the scene perfectly for what follows – a tongue-in-cheek blockbuster about Marvel’s first sweary, ultra-violent superhero who dared to break the fourth wall. Fast, funny and frequently profane, Deadpool provided a welcome contrast to the family-friendly action of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), with a pitch perfect performance from Ryan Reynolds – back in spandex after the diabolical Green Lantern. Unrelentingly sarcastic and only too keen for a scrap, the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ set the scene for a whole wave of R-rated comic book movies to come.
Best moment: For all the violence of Deadpool, it’s his relationship with beloved cabbie Dopinder (Karan Soni) which proves to be the film’s highlight. “Kill him”, ‘Pool responds when Dopinder asks how he should deal with a love rival. We wouldn’t expect anything less. NR
8‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Set between world wars in a quaintly-realised 1930s, The Grand Budapest Hotel focuses on a long-serving concierge (Ralph Fiennes) at the titular boarding house in the fictional town of Zubrowka. Stuffed with wit and sophistication, this wry political satire plays out as a revolving door of global customers add their own flavours to the establishment. Wes Anderson’s trademark laser-sharp design feeds into every aspect of this tightly wound murder-mystery, which helped to expand his audience beyond indie circles. When Wes Anderson first offered up The Grand Budapest Hotel, he was already well-loved for his zany, oddly-symmetrical brand of cinema. By the time it won four Oscars, he was a Hollywood superstar.
Best moment: The quite literally rose-tinted meet cute between Zero (Tony Revolori) and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is totally delightful. You can almost feel the warmth in their encounter, as if there was nowhere more natural to fall in love than a baker’s delivery van, swimming in cake boxes. EK
Director: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan didn’t necessarily invent the Mind Fuck™ sci-fi movie – but every new film claiming to intelligently mess with its audience aims to match the complexity of Inception. How was such a wild concept born? A man, Leonardo DiCaprio, whose job it is to steal, and plant, information by infiltrating people’s subconscious, gets stuck on a new mission. The floodgates then open across layers and layers of consciousness, as criminals and heroes alike do all the things people in heist films usually do – except here it’s never clear what’s a dream, and what is reality. Nolan delivers one of his most ambitious, spine-tingling works this side of the century. Start to finish, it’s spellbinding stuff.
Best moment: As Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) explains his talents to Ariadne (Ellen Page), the world around them slowly shifts. It’s a mind-bending scene, both verbally and physically. In Page’s face and DiCaprio’s delivery, alongside Zimmer’s score, it delivers one of the most satisfying moments of realisation for years. EK
6‘Django Unchained’ (2012)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Such is the shift in cultural sensibilities this decade, that it’s hard to imagine a movie about the emancipation of a slave made by a white, male director being given the green light these days – and not least one financed by a certain H. Weinstein. But Tarantino’s revisionist revenge fantasy was a triumph, shot in homage to Dust Bowl epics and packing a killer spaghetti western soundtrack and – in Jamie Foxx’s Django – a noble, hard-as-nails hero who kicks all the right asses.
Best moment: The epic – and bloody – final shootout at the Candyland plantation, which boasts an impressive body count of 23, also features a who’s who of Tarantino favourites, among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. DS
Director: Barry Jenkins
An emotional three-part drama detailing the coming(out)-of-age of Chiron, played with equal aplomb by Alex Hibbert, Aston Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, director Barry Jenkins’ breakout film is much more than its last-minute Oscar upset. Both dreamlike and palpably real in its portrayal of the social pressures that befall a young, gay black man, Jenkins’ Best Picture-winner reduces each scene to furtive glances and quiet, subtle body movements. Deeply thoughtful and shot beautifully, Moonlight is a sensitive, moving look at the lives of people too rarely seen on screen.
Best moment: The climactic scene in the diner between Chiron (Rhodes) and Kevin (André Holland, who threatens to run away with the film in just five minutes of screen time) is as heartbreaking as it is gripping. Their long-delayed reunion is wisely played with nuance and an uneasy charm rather than melodramatic or overwrought emotion. KC
4‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019)
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
How do you solve a problem like Thanos? From the numerous dangling plot threads left by Avengers: Infinity War, to the bigger questions such as how to bring a sense of closure to iconic characters like Captain America and Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame’s degree of difficulty was high. It’s a testament to the Russo Brothers’ direction – and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s tightly written screenplay – that the film manages to be surprising, thrilling, and emotionally satisfying in equal measure. It’s the highest grossing movie of all time and the ridiculous amount of fist pump-worthy moments will ensure repeat viewings for years to come. Speaking of which…
Best moment: “Avengers, assemble!” Captain America’s bold call-to-action – and also the title of 2012’s original team-up movie – ties the entire MCU together as he leads Earth’s mightiest heroes into battle for the last time. AW
3‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)
Director: George Miller
Basically a two hour-long car chase interspersed with explosions, sandstorms and sudden child-birth, Mad Max: Fury Road is high-octane action at its best. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the film follows one-armed rebel Furiosa as she searches for her home amid the scorched rubble. Accompanied by a band of female prisoners, she encounters a psychotic priest and a mysterious – but mostly silent – drifter named Max. Together, they fight to overthrow a tyrannical ruler who controls access to the world’s rapidly dwindling water supply. And after two hours spent with your mouth hanging open, mind-blown by the frankly ridiculous set-pieces, you’ll probably need a drink too.
Best moment: Suspended in mid-air from a speeding truck as he wields a flame-throwing guitar, the Doof Warrior’s solo rock concert perfectly encapsulates everything that is brilliant about Mad Max: Fury Road. Excess, excess, excess. AF
2‘Call Me By Your Name’ (2017)
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Set “somewhere in northern Italy” and based on André Aciman’s novel of the same name, Call Me By Your Name begins with Elio (Timothée Chalamet): a precocious 17-year-old who spends his summer with his head stuck in books or bashing out classical renditions on the piano. When Oliver (Armie Hammer) rocks up to assist Elio’s father with his archeological research, the pair are drawn together. Their brief, intense relationship unfolds in vivid hues: a collage of bright red swimming trunks, ice-cold orange juice and a crisp blue sky. “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine,” Oliver tells Elio, and after a perfect week spent together creating mayhem in the Lombardian city of Bergamo, Oliver finally says “goodbye” instead. Taking a softer approach to the life-altering love affair, Call Me By Your Name is as warm as it is heartbreaking.
Best moment: Thanks to Timothée Chalamet, we can never look at a fruit bowl in the same way again. Elio – overcome with lust and sexual frustration – tenderly fingers a juicy peach, and things quickly… escalate. Jizzing into hollowed out fruit is now high art. EH
1‘Get Out’ (2018)
Director: Jordan Peele
‘Masterpiece’ is a word that’s thrown around too often in film discourse these days, but in the case of Jordan Peele’s Get Out it feels totally justified. Rare for a horror movie in that it’s told entirely from a Black perspective, the film stars Daniel Kaluuya (on incredible, Oscar-nominated form) as Chris, a Black photographer who meets his White girlfriend’s parents for the first time only to discover some terrible family secrets in the process. Though the plot is ultimately as fantastical as it is disturbing, the real-life racial overtones that are cleverly woven into the narrative prove more terrifying than most of the jump-scares littered throughout the movie.
Best Moment: When we see the flashing lights of a cop car in Get Out’s climax – the audience implicitly knows what that means for our African American hero. But when Chris’ best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) steps out of the car, what could have been the film’s bleakest moment turns into its funniest. Cathartic humour at its finest. AW