Which Films of the Last 10 Years Actually Mattered?

Introducing the Cultural Significance Matrix.

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, I’ve been settling in to my usual mix of casual interest and mild disgust, soapbox speeching to myself in my head: “This Hollywood ego-fest is so pointless – who even cares what these self-important bozos, who hand-select which fancy-pantses even get a vote in their special club, think about which films are ‘the best’?” Seriously, though! The Oscars are a weird Hollywood homecoming court. I do think the whole thing is pretty ridiculous.

This year, though, after completely saturating myself with “best of the decade” lists at the end of 2019, a question took hold: What actually makes a film MATTER?

I think films matter. Stories matter. They help us understand ourselves, one another, and our world. They connect us to one another, ignite our empathy, teach us, scare us, make us cheer, laugh, cry. But critics’ opinions, popularity, prestige – none of these are enough, on their own, to make a film important or lasting. To really understand this, we have to consider all those dimensions together. (I’m picturing a Venn diagram here. The next time I see you, I’ll draw it for you.)

So me being me, I compiled a massive list of films from the last 10 years and gathered all sorts of data about them. What emerged was a pattern in roughly 4 categories:

  • QualityMetascore, a 1-100 rating determined by evaluating dozens of critics’ reviews and scoring them along a continuum of quality (rather than Rotten Tomatoes, which is a binary way of evaluating reviews – i.e. the review is either “good” or “bad” with nothing in between), is the highest quality measure of the film community’s response that I could find.
  • Popularity – Did people see this movie? That matters!
  • Industry Influence – Which films are influencing the types of films that studios and distributors buy, that get made, that get supported, that get seen, in the future? Films that make a lot of money, of course. This is relative, though: $100M at the box office is a catastrophic failure for a film that cost $250M to make, but a game-changing victory for a film that cost only $5M to make. So for this measure, I looked at how much profit a film made relative to its estimated budget. This isn’t an exact science, of course, but this ratio emerged as an effective proxy.
  • Representation – Whose stories are being told, and who is telling them? Of the films I studied, 92% were directed by men and 70% had male protagonists. 80% were directed by white directors and 72% of the protagonists were white. Films made by women or people of color and/or telling stories about women or people of color are more significant than films made by or about white men. They are helping us all break out of this cultural stranglehold of white maleness, and are giving us an opportunity to understand stories outside of our dominant cultural narrative. Plus, in order to even earn this level of our cultural awareness, these films have to be much better, as a general rule. (This accusatory look is directed at you, Todd Phillips. And you, Peter Farrelly. Oh hey, Colin Trevorrow, you too. Actually, lots of you guys.)

I scored films on these 4 dimensions, grading on a curve, adding extra boosts for truly spectacular results, prestigious awards, or earning a lasting spot in our cultural memory. When push came to shove, I prioritized quality slightly more than popularity. I studied 325 potentially significant films – a film got on my list if it was a box office jammer, critically acclaimed, or was just a movie we were all seeing and talking about from the last 10 years. I consulted many sources – trust me, this was a thorough process and these are the contenders. (I left out movies made for kids because, well, this is my website and I make the rules.)

I scored and ranked up to the #150, the top 50 of which I’m sharing with you here. I’d love to hear if there’s a film you were hoping to see on the list that didn’t make it, or if there is a film that is important to you that you want to shout out. Chime in in the comments. Ok – enjoy!


50. The Witch (2015, A24)

Critical DarlingB (83)
PopularityC ($40.4M)
Industry BangA (9:1)
Female protagonist









Too often, genre films (comedy, sci-fi, horror) are left out when it comes to these lists of great and important films, so it’s kind of fun to kick off this list of cultural significance with an arthouse horror movie. Robert Eggers’ indie darling effectively creeped out all the hipsters and enough critics to make a splash. The $40M it earned at the box office was a huge windfall for the indie budget film: it made more than 9 times its budget back in profit. This vote of confidence from the public certainly opened up opportunities for Eggers to continue to do his thing. With the success of his sophomore effort, 2019’s The Lighthouse, whether you love him or hate him – you can expect more from Eggers, and probably – Eggers imitators – in the future.


49. BlackKklansman (2018, Focus Features)

Critical DarlingB (83)
PopularityC ($93.4M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color







Spike Lee is definitely overdue for recognition from the Academy, and it’s kind of poetically disastrous that Green Book – an All Lives Matter / thank goodness racism is over / we’re all just human beings / make sure the white people don’t get uncomfortable kind of movie – won Best Picture the same year that BlackKklansman was nominated. Lee wasn’t the only one to recall the 1990 Oscars, when Driving Ms. Daisy won Best Picture and Lee’s masterwork Do the Right Thing – though very much in the conversation – wasn’t nominated. And I love Topher Grace as David Duke – but you know, BlackKklansman isn’t GREAT. Boots Riley, writer/director of the revolutionary Sorry to Bother You, posted a great critique of the ways BlackKklansman smoothes out some of Ron Stallworth’s more troubling history (read more here) and overly-glorifies cops, and I couldn’t get it out my head when I was watching the movie. Like, everyone is just a little TOO ready to turn on their buddy the racist cop and get him fired in the name of justice…. rather than just promoting him. Which is what probably actually happened.


48. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingB+ (87)
PopularityC ($103.2M)
Industry BangC (4:1)






I haven’t seen Birdman. I’m open to it, but at the time it was hot, I just couldn’t get into it, and I love Michael Keaton as much as the next guy. Actually, my theory about Birdman – with all due respect to Iñárritu – is that 85% of its success is just because folks were dying for a Michael Keaton comeback moment and this was IT, with bonus Batman nostalgia. Critics really liked it though, it made decent money, and it won Best Picture. Although Selma or Boyhood really should’ve won instead.


47. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingB+ (88)
PopularityC ($159.2M)
Industry BangA (9:1)
Female protagonist










It’s the battle of the grumps! Who will it be: angry street cop with mommy issues, reasonable police chief who is slowly dying of cancer, or grouchy outsider mom who wears a bandana karate-kid style? Although I wasn’t super impressed, folks really came out for Martin McDonagh’s mid-America battle royale, and the accolades earned by its wonderful cast certainly helped. The little film made more than 9 times its budget back in profit for Fox Searchlight. That’s called Frances McDormand power.


46. The Favourite (2018, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingA (90)
PopularityC ($95.9M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Female protagonist









Yorgos Lanthimos 18th-century British Mean Girls is fantastic: watching Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz plot and scramble as they manipulate the frail-but-fussy Queen Anne is thick with political intrigue, secret passages, adorable pets, ridiculous desserts, bedroom secrets, target practice, and so many amazing wigs. Both a vibrant drama true to its time and a fresh, character-driven comedy, The Favourite was critically beloved, earned plenty of awards and accolades, and earned a respectable 5 times its budget in profit.


45. Little Women (2019, Columbia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA (91)
PopularityC ($149.1M)
Industry BangC (2:1)
Female Filmmaker, Female protagonist







Greta Gerwig’s puzzle-box retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s novel pulses with light and heart, maintaining awareness of its female-forwardness without ever being ham-fisted with its thesis or slipping into preciousness. Its cast, led with fire by Saoirse Ronan, brings the March sisters to life as alive, complex, different human beings with full lives, who also happen to be women living in the 19th century. At one point in the movie, Jo claims that only “important” stories are worth writing down, and Amy counters that it’s actually the opposite: writing a story down – telling a story – makes it important. Go see this movie and boost that Gerwig box office, friends! We need more of her films – she is the REAL deal.


44. Aquaman (2018, Warner Brothers)

Critical DarlingF (55)
PopularityA ($1,148.2M)
Industry BangB (6:1)
Filmmaker of color, protagonist of color







It’s blockbuster time! Critics didn’t get it, but Director James Wan’s appeal can’t be stopped! Everything that guy touches turns into a billion dollars – even this goofy shit, which made six times its healthy budget back in profit. Jason Momoa certainly had something to do with it too. I don’t even know what else to say about this one. Actually, I wish there had been more real fish, like this poster promises. And fewer underwater conversations. Those were so weird.


43. Captain Marvel (2019, Disney)

Critical DarlingD (64)
PopularityA ($1,128.3M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color








Marvel’s first big girl power franchise-starter didn’t impress critics much – and although I enjoyed it significantly more than Aquaman, I have to agree that it was uneven. But it was important. Raising up a female hero as one of the tentpoles for Marvel’s future – who is also one of the most powerful beings in the universe – was not only a big and necessary step in female representation, it is also a herald of the increasing diversity in Marvel’s future.


42. Furious 7 (2015, Universal Pictures)

Critical DarlingC (67)
PopularityA+ ($1,515M)
Industry BangB (7:1)
Filmmaker of color









James Wan strikes again! I totally love that the Fast and the Furious movies are still going strong, and that they have somehow transitioned from the early-franchise adventures of SoCal underground street racing heroes to agents of international espionage and now: full-on superheroes. Really. The villain in spinoff Hobbs & Shaw is a biomechanical mutant, like someone I’m sure the X-Men have fought. Anyway, the people love it – and good for Wan. More F&F craziness is certain to come (check out those box office #s! <impressed whistle>): F8 came out in 2017, #9 is in post-production, and #10 has been announced for 2021. I can’t wait for the title puns!


41. Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Disney)

Critical DarlingC (68)
PopularityA+ ($2,048.4M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Female protagonist









You knew they were coming! The last decade has definitely been the decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Infinity War was the penultimate entry in the MCU’s 22-film saga… the setup for the big finish. Metascore only gives it a 68 (which means “generally favorable reviews”), but we Midnights totally loved it – it our deep Marvel analysis project last spring, Infinity War was the third highest-rated of all MCU films to date. Also, it made more than $2 BILLION dollars. If you could somehow save $10,000 every single day, it would take you 548 years to save $2 billion dollars. Two billion dollars is a staggering amount of money.


40. The Avengers (2012, Disney)

Critical DarlingC (69)
PopularityA+ ($1,518.8M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Female protagonist










Although it isn’t the first MCU film, you could argue that 2012’s The Avengers was the moment that Marvel’s entertainment juggernaut was truly born. The Joss Whedon-helmed team-up was the first of its kind, bringing heroes from multiple independent stories into one epic, make-friends-and-save-the-world blockbuster. Critics were positive, audiences came out in droves, blockbuster entertainment was reborn, Warner Bros started scrambling to figure out how to replicate the phenomena with their DC IP, and Kevin Feige and his team had the space to dream even more bombastic dreams. But even beyond its importance as an industry-changer, The Avengers is just a great movie – 8 years later, it remains one of the finest entries in the Infinity stone saga.


39. Avengers: Endgame (2019, Disney)

Critical DarlingC+ (78)
PopularityA+ ($2,797.8M)
Industry BangB (6:1)








And… it’s the prom queen! The most popular movie of the last decade (and, of all time) – the final story in the Avengers’ Infinity Stone saga ended the journey for many of our beloved heroes and opened the door for new leaders emerging in the MCU’s next phase. Seeing Endgame on opening night was definitely the most fun I have had going to the movies in a long time, so I’m totally ok with this movie holding the “Most Popular” award. Well deserved, I say. Also, holy crap, the billions. Nearly $3 BILLION. Think about this: if you had $2.8 billion, you could buy a brand new Toyota Prius for 93,260 people… or 14,000 houses. Or, you could donate $20 million dollars to every school in Minneapolis. It’s just ridiculous.


38. The Florida Project (2017, A24)

Critical DarlingA (92)
PopularityD ($11M)
Industry BangC (4:1)







Although The Florida Project‘s entire box office take is only 0.3% of Avengers: Endgame, it made more than 4x its small budget back in profit and more importantly, made a strong impression with critics. A 92 Metascore means it was universally acclaimed at the time of its release AND it has staying power. The Florida Project was one of the films most frequently mentioned across hundreds of critics’ end-of-decade-best lists. Director Sean Baker, who broke into the popular film conversation with 2015’s Tangerine (which was shot entirely on iPhones), is becoming the go-to guy for great-looking small budget urban dramas with heart.


37. Green Book (2018, Universal Pictures)

Critical DarlingC (69)
PopularityB ($321.8M)
Industry BangA (12:1)
Best Picture Winner







Ah, Green Book. To paraphrase CineVue’s Zoe Margolis, it’s a calculatedly heartwarming white savior drama masquerading as a buddies-on-the-road story. I mean, this is a movie about a black man’s experience of racism in the south, written by white men, directed by a white man, told through the eyes of a white protagonist. NEXT. Despite my love for Mahershala Ali, I am not at all interested in this movie, but apparently both Hollywood and the general public just can’t get enough feel-good, overly simplified, whitewashed bullshit. Ah well. Onward.


36. Black Swan (2010, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingC+ (79)
PopularityB ($329.4M)
Industry BangA+ (24:1)
Female protagonist









Darren Aronofsky is a little too much of a provocateur for his films to be universally beloved by critics. But like 2017’s bombastic mother!, Black Swan was a movie we were all talking about when it came out in 2010. Tense and disorienting from start to finish, the ballet thriller pirouettes from grotesque to sublime again and again, and the menacing monster that emerges in the shadows is squirm-inducing. Natalie Portman has never been better. She won Best Actress at the Oscars that year, and was probably a big part of the box office draw: the film grossed more than 24x its budget in profit – a truly spectacular firework in the industry.


35. A Quiet Place (2018, Paramount Pictures)

Critical DarlingB (82)
PopularityB ($340.9M)
Industry BangA+ (19:1)

John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s family project made a big splash for a strange little sci-fi horror film. With a concept reminiscent of early M. Night Shyamalan (before he fully jumped the shark), A Quiet Place was produced, written, and directed by Krasinski, and was popular with critics and audiences alike, bringing in $340 million on its small $17M budget, a nearly 20:1 return in profit. Krasinski and Blunt will be back in A Quiet Place II later this year. Obviously.



34. Searching (2018, Screen Gems)

Critical DarlingC (71)
PopularityC ($75.5M)
Industry BangA+ (82:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color








There are industry bangs, and then there’s THIS. Filmed on a microbudget of <$1M, Searching made a stunning 82x its budget back in profit for Screen Gems. Director Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature won the Audience Award in the NEXT section at Sundance in 2018, using the language of contemporary tech to prey on the fear common to so many parents: that not only is their child missing, they are also a stranger. Chaganty lets the thriller unfold through the various screens on which we live our lives – and manages not to veer into familiar anti-tech preaching or cautionary tale territory, relying instead on genuine emotion and artfully grown suspense. Chaganty’s next film, Run, comes out this year.


33. The Big Sick (2017, Lionsgate)

Critical DarlingB (86)
PopularityC ($56.4M)
Industry BangA (10:1)
Protagonist of color








A true-life romantic comedy (!), written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, The Big Sick is uncomfortable and awkward in a way that only a true love story can be. Lingering in that moment in early adulthood when your unfolding life collides with your parents’ expectations, Gordon and Nanjiani’s Oscar-nominated screenplay won the Independent Spirit award for Best First Screenplay, and the small-budget movie made a big bang, earning 10x its budget in profit.


32. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, CBS Films)

Critical DarlingA+ (93)
PopularityC ($33M)
Industry BangC (2:1)
Staying Power








Although not popular beyond the arthouse crowd, Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of the 1960s folk hero story inspired film lovers – earning an impressive 93 Metascore that indicates universal acclaim at the time of its release. Llewyn also stuck with folks, and was one of the top 10 movies mentioned most frequently and ranked most highly across hundreds of critics’ “best of the decade” lists. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth checking out – if only for the early career Adam Driver cameo. And, the songs are great.


31. Shoplifters (2018, Magnolia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA+ (93)
PopularityC ($68M)
Industry BangUnknown






Filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda has won awards for his work all over the world, including Best Director at the Awards of the Japanese Academy 3 times in the last 4 years. He’s a big deal, and Shoplifters is his best yet, earning the prized Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Known for his humanist, melancholy, slice-of-life style, in Shoplifters, Kore-eda focuses on the story of a poor family of petty criminals who quite unexpectedly welcome a vulnerable young girl into their home. Justin Chang from the L.A. Times described it as “a work of such emotional delicacy and formal modesty that you’re barely prepared when the full force of what it’s doing suddenly knocks you sideways.


30. Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Columbia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA+ (95)
PopularityC ($132.8M)
Industry BangC (2:1)
Female filmmaker, Female protagonist








I’m always a little suspicious of feature film dramatizations of the very recent real-life news. My bias that creeps in is that this is a studio cash-grab arising from the zeitgeiest of the moment and film execs’ belief that the American public is too dumb to understand the gravity of the real story from the real news. They need night vision and explosions, dammit! Bring on the big-budget movie magic whiz-bang! Despite its intimidating Metascore, Kathryn Bigelow’s undeniable skill as a filmmaker, and Jessica Chastain’s great performance, Zero Dark Thirty came out just 18 months after Osama Bin Laden was killed, and so will always fall into that category of movies for me.


29. The Social Network (2010, Columbia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA+ (95)
PopularityC ($224.9M)
Industry BangC (4:1)
Staying Power









The team-up of talent and ideas here is intimidating: Aaron’s Sorkin’s wickedly sharp screenplay, David Fincher’s confident eye, Jesse Eisenberg’s jumpy but charismatically neurotic presence, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s shady rise to power. The box office numbers are fine – and a 4:1 return in profit is nothing to sneeze at – but the story here is the critics, who all surrendered at once. And nearly 10 years later, they’re still thinking about it… The Social Network is one of the 5 films mentioned most often/ranked highest across hundreds of critics end-of-decade-best lists.


28. Roma (2018, Netflix)

Critical DarlingA+ (96)
PopularityUnknown
Industry BangUnknown






Whew, try a little harder with that poster, Netflix! Sheesh – there’s making a point and then there’s making a POINT. Alfonso Cuarón’s beautiful film, Roma, was the streaming content juggernaut’s first big pass at prestige filmmaking and MAN they really wanted to win Best Picture with it. Although they lost out on top honors, Cuarón won the Oscar for Best Director and the film certainly made a splash with critics, earning a near-perfect 96 Metascore and inclusion as one of the 20 films most often mentioned/ranked highest on hundreds of critics’ best-of-the-decade lists.


27. I Am Not Your Negro (2016, Magnolia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA+ (95)
PopularityD ($8.3M)
Industry BangB (7:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color





In a letter to his literary agent in 1979, James Baldwin described his final project: the story of race in America, told through the lives and deaths of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When he died 8 years later, Baldwin left behind just 30 pages of Remember This House, a starting point for Director Raoul Peck, who draws on Baldwin’s words and archival footage to envision what this final masterwork may have been. The story of America is vicious and bloody, but as Baldwin himself told us: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”


26. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Warner Brothers)

Critical DarlingA (90)
PopularityB ($375.2M)
Industry BangD (1:1)








This surprisingly subversive sci-fi action movie – grown from George Miller’s 80s Australian cult film trilogy – is an unlikely contender for Best Film of the Decade, and yet. Fury Road was ranked the best film of the last 10 years more than twice as many times as any other film, and easily took the top spot in Metacritic’s aggregate of hundreds of critics’ rankings, which I’m excited about – because I love this film. Equal parts operatic drama, punk thriller, and dystopian gearhead adventure film, even Tom Hardy’s titular hero has to take a back seat in this story that belongs completely to Charlize Theron’s determined Furiosa. Winner of 6 Oscars for technical achievement, Fury Road resurrected George Miller passion projects, and while we wait for his next Mad Max adventure, he’s is starting production on a fantasy drama called Three Thousand Years of Longing, starring Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. Sign me up!


25. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingB+ (88)
PopularityC ($172.9M)
Industry BangB (5:1)







Wes Anderson films generally do well with the artsy crowd, but of the three films he made in the last 10 years, Grand Budapest has stuck with critics the most (it is also MY favorite). Winner of a number of technical Oscars, Budapest also earned Anderson high-prestige points with nominations for both Best Picture and Best Director. A sprightly adventure story set in an imaginary, mountainous, vaguely eastern-European place, Budapest emphasizes the impending deterioration of the hotel’s old-world grandeur as war redefines the world. If you don’t fall in love with Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H or shed a tear at some point in Zero’s story, you may want to consider making a drastic life change, going on vacation, or at least, talking to a therapist.


24. Call Me By Your Name (2017, Sony Pictures Classics)

Critical DarlingA+ (93)
PopularityC ($41.9M)
Industry BangA (10:1)

The tenderness and intimacy of Luca Guadagnino’s romance is warmed further by the sunshine of southern Italy and the effortless chemistry of its two leads. Call Me By Your Name is a really special film, opening a window to that glimpse of the sublime that love stories always tease, but only rarely deliver. Critics noticed, and though the box office is middling, its $40 million was a huge 10x return on the film’s small budget.



23. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015, Disney)

Critical DarlingB (81)
PopularityA+ ($2,068.2M)
Industry BangB (7:1)
Female protagonist









Star Wars is back! And it’s just like it was when we were kids, except Han and Leia are seniors, storm troopers have backstories, and the hero is a girl. J.J. Abrams and Co. went hard on nostalgia with the latest continuation of the Skywalker saga, basically repackaging A New Hope for 21st century audiences, and it paid off big. Even critics liked it. All the original Star Wars lovers brought their kids, and then brought them again, and Disney set records with $2 billion+ at the box office (records they would break just a few years later). Remember how much two billion is? If you decided to take the next 2 billion seconds to do nothing but watch Star Wars movies day and night, it would take you 63 years. But you’d get to watch each movie 24,500 times. I realize these billion dollar metaphors are getting strange. But 2 billion dollars is strange!


22. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011, Warner Brothers)

Critical DarlingB+ (87)
PopularityA+ ($1,341.9M)
Industry BangA (9:1)

The cinematic finale to J.K. Rowling’s generation-defining books and 10-year long film series was spectacular. Harry grew into his epic promise, the Hogwarts crew went to war, and the final showdown with Voldemort was tense and emotional. The series’ phenomenally cast leads ably carried the weight of the huge story, and not an eye was dry when the dust settled. Critics loved it, everyone saw it, and the film returned more than 9 times its budget in profit, securing space in the future of blockbuster franchise filmmaking for Rowling’s Wizarding World.


21. The Conjuring (2013, New Line Cinema)

Critical DarlingC (68)
PopularityB ($319.5M)
Industry BangA (14:1)







People don’t talk about James Wan enough – that guy is box office gold. He’s back a third time, this time with the genuinely haunting horror movie, The Conjuring. This is the movie we have to thank for a bunch of terrible sequels – like The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, Annabelle Comes Home, and Annabelle: Creation. Let’s be honest, more terrible movies in this universe are probably yet in our future, but that’s not the point – the point is: The Conjuring is super creepy in a way that will leave you with paranoid thoughts the next time you’re home alone. It raked in more than $300 million when it came out in 2013, more than 14x its budget in profit, which paved the way for… well, you know. Thanks?


20. It (2017, New Line Cinema)

Critical DarlingC (69)
PopularityB ($701.8M)
Industry BangA+ (19:1)







This tale of Pennywise, the creepiest of clowns, and the kids he gets mixed up with, confidently walks the line between goonies adventure and sequences so menacing that even experienced horror movie aficionados are likely to get the shivers. Argentinian Director Andy Muschietti gets the pacing just right, and even though this film wasn’t up for any Academy Awards, its $700M box office was a staggering 19:1 return on its $35M budget.


19. Your Name (2016, FUNimation Entertainment)

Critical DarlingC+ (79)
PopularityB ($358M)
Industry BangA+ (104:1)






At first glance, Your Name’s $360M box office looks respectable, maybe bordering on impressive – but that $360M is an astounding 104x return in profit on this film, which cost just $3M to make. Japanese artist Makoto Shinkai has often been compared to Studio Ghibli’s celebrated storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, and his story of meteor-crossed love made a huge bang, becoming the 4th highest-grossing film of all time in Japan. And although this is the first I’ve heard of it, it sounds fantastic – I can’t wait to see it. Robbie Colin (The Telegraph) wrote: “Like a landscape shining after heavy rain, it feels like real life with the sharpness, brightness and sensation turned right up. It’s a raucous teenage body swap comedy-with-pop-songs that’s also a gleaming daydream on the fluidity of identity – and somehow also a galvanising embrace of our essential helplessness in the biggest of all big pictures.” Ok!


18. The King’s Speech (2010, The Weinstein Company)

Critical DarlingB+ (88)
PopularityB ($414.2M)
Industry BangA+ (26:1)
Best Picture Winner







Never underestimate the power of Colin Firth. Look at that profile! The man’s got charisma, even if you only see his lips. You gotta wonder what has happened to Director Tom Hooper in the last 10 years though. He started the decade with The King’s Speech – a universally loved, intelligent, warm historical drama about personal growth and overcoming fear to fight fascism – and ended it with Cats, a film so bizarre and troubling that The Guardian believes “it will haunt audiences for generations.” I’m kind of worried about him, actually.


17. A Star is Born (2018, Warner Brothers)

Critical DarlingB+ (88)
PopularityB ($434.9M)
Industry BangA (11:1)
Female protagonist










Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was a massive hit, making back more than 11x its budget back in profit and racking up prestigious awards and honors. With great songs, the confidence and charisma of a pop star goddess, Bradley Cooper’s perfectly mussed cowboy hair, and Sam Elliott in a supporting role, even though this movie is super sad, I always kind of want to watch it.


16. Us (2019, Universal Pictures)

Critical DarlingB (81)
PopularityC ($255.1M)
Industry BangA (11:1)







Another horror movie! Fun. Though comparisons are flying between Peele and titans such as Carpenter, Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Cronenberg, he is making films that are fundamentally new. Always authentically rooted in the experience of being black in America, Peele’s first two films are stories about families and intimate relationships that have been poisoned, twisted into something monstrous. Critically beloved, they’re also making such a bang with audiences (Us brought in more than 11 times its budget in profit), that we’re sure to get more from Peele in the coming years. I can’t wait to see what’s next.


15. Carol (2015, The Weinstein Company)

Critical DarlingA+ (95)
PopularityC ($40.3M)
Industry BangC (2:1)







It didn’t make a ton of money, it didn’t shake the industry, it didn’t win the big awards, but it is undeniable that critics and film lovers just can’t get enough of Carol. Director Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine) masterfully disappears behind the warmth of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s mutual attraction amidst the elegance of 1950s New York affluence. More than just a pretty face, though, Carol has staying power, remaining one of many critics’ favorites even after the years have passed.


14. Minding the Gap (2018, Magnolia Pictures)

Critical DarlingA (90)
PopularityF ($0.1M)
Industry BangA+ (17:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color







31-year-old Bing Liu was nominated for an Academy Award for this incredibly moving feature-length documentary, his first/only film to date. Liu began shooting footage of his friends and family as a teenager in Rockford, Illinois, and what emerged is an intimate examination of friendship, identity, poverty, family, masculinity, and – well, skateboarding. Minding the Gap is so open, authentic, and vulnerable that I got the feeling it was shaking me awake. Although its box office wasn’t overwhelming (likely a limited release for awards season only), the film’s budget was even smaller – and the overall impact was an earthquake 17:1 return in profit. Plus, Hulu bought it.


13. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018, Columbia Pictures)

Critical DarlingB (87)
PopularityB ($375.5M)
Industry BangC (3:1)






Into the Spider-verse was such a surprise. It is intelligent, funny, self-aware, grounded in real life, and heroic – with fantastic music and visuals to boot. In a moment in which you can’t toss a stick without hitting a superhero origin story, this film was truly fresh and new – I mean, this is a MULTIVERSE story, anchored by Miles Morales! Though it didn’t make a box office splash compared to most superhero blockbusters, it did very well for an animated feature for adults, was highly acclaimed at the time of its release, and hundreds of critics listed it as one of the best of the decade.


12. The Shape of Water (2017, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingB (87)
PopularityC ($195.2M)
Industry BangA (9:1)








Guillermo del Toro’s cold war creature-feature romance charmed its way into four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 2017. Featuring Sally Hawkins at her sweetest and most fiery, Michael Shannon bursting with bureaucratic rage, and del Toro’s favorite fish-man, Doug Jones, behind the makeup, The Shape of Water is a beautifully crafted dark fairy tale.


11. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017, Disney)

Critical DarlingB (85)
PopularityA+ ($1,332.5M)
Industry BangC (3:1)







If you cut out all the cutesy, weird, George Lucas Jar Jar stuff, this would be an A+ 100% dark side banger. (That weird casino scene is just so unfortunate. And the little warble birds. WTF.) With moments of spectacular visual genius, good-vs.-evil internal struggle, a losing escape-or-die space chase, and Kylo Ren’s unraveling psyche, of all the blockbuster franchise movies of the last 10 years, The Last Jedi rose up as critics’ favorite, across hundreds of critics end-of-decade best lists. And also, it made a billion dollars.


10. Black Panther (2018, Disney)

Critical DarlingB+ (88)
PopularityA+ ($1,346.9M)
Industry BangB (5:1)
Filmmaker of color, Protagonist of color







But of course, the highest-ranked, most culturally significant franchise blockbuster of the last decade comes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther not only gave millions of kids an entire civilization of superheroes who look like them, it was also written and directed by a black man, grown from the context of the experience of being black in America. And, it set up a fantastic backstory for T’Challa, who will certainly be one of the MCU’s foundational heroes in the decade to come. Grossing over $1 billion – a 5:1 return in profit on its budget – it was also loved by critics; its 88 Metascore is the highest critics gave any superhero/space opera/wizard film in the last 10 years. It’s an important movie, a fitting kickoff for our top 10. Our review is here.


9. A Separation (2011, Sony Pictures Classics)

Critical DarlingA+ (95)
PopularityC ($19.9M)
Industry BangA+ (38:1)






This movie entirely passed me by 8 years ago, and now I’m dying to see it. Critics were over-the-moon about this story of an epic marital fight turned criminal justice mess in contemporary Iran from celebrated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, describing it as a timeless, perfect, effortless masterwork of extraordinary power and all the other big fancy words. A Separation won Best Foreign Language Feature for the film in 2011 (Farhadi won the same award a second time for 2016’s The Salesman), and its $20M international box office take is a shocking 38x its budget in profit. Just watch the trailer already – it really does look amazing.


8. Gravity (2013, Warner Brothers)

Critical DarlingA+ (96)
PopularityB ($723.2M)
Industry BangB (6:1)






With a nearly-perfect Metascore of 96, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is an impressive technical achievement, and it won a ton of awards for its cinematography, visual effects, sound work, etc., including 7 Oscars. Cuarón took home Best Director that year – an award he would win again 5 years later, for Roma. The people loved it too, and it made $700M at the box office, a 6x return in profit for Warner Brothers.


7. 12 Years A Slave (2013, Fox Searchlight)

Critical DarlingA+ (96)
PopularityC ($187.7M)
Industry BangB (7:1)






Based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-civil war south, 12 Years A Slave is a grueling examination of the worst that humanity can do to itself. Director Steve McQueen’s masterpiece quite deservedly won Best Picture that year, critics were wowed, and it made a hefty 7x its budget back in profit – especially impressive for such an unblinking, painful story. Ty Burr from The Boston Globe wrote that “If there’s no Oskar Schindler here, that’s partly the point.


6. Boyhood (2014, IFC Films)

Critical DarlingA+ (100)
PopularityC ($44.5M)
Industry BangA (10:1)





Richard Linklater’s one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story 12 years in the making follows Mason and his family from childhood until he leaves for college. The effect of watching a family deal with normal relationship and growing up drama as they age and change and go through big moments and small shifts in a non-cinematically simulated way is profoundly moving. Linklater’s comfort with meandering and stillness, as well as his dedicated cast – who feel like co-conspirators in a cinematic experiment – sharpen and intensify the impact, drawing this small story outward into a truth that feels cosmic and universal. It earned a perfect 100 Metascore and it is absolutely that good.

Linklater’s 10x return in profit on the small budget movie endorsed his indie auteur permission slip – in the last few years he released Everybody Wants Some! (a Midnight family fave) and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, but his most ambitious experiment yet is underway: an adaptation of the Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, starring Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) and Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart), which will be filmed over the next 20 years. To add another layer, the story plays out in reverse chronological order – following 3 characters from midlife to their youth, but Linklater is filming it in, well, chronological order of course. I have no doubt it’s going to be incredible, but temper your anticipation – you don’t get to see it until like 2042. Wrap your noodle around THAT.


5. Get Out (2017, Universal Pictures)

Critical DarlingB (84)
PopularityC ($255.4M)
Industry BangA+ (55:1)





Justin Chang from the L.A. Times described Get Out so well that I’m just going to quote him: “This is surely the nerviest, most confrontational treatment of race in America to emerge from a major studio in years, and it brilliantly fulfills the duty of both its chosen genres – the horror-thriller and the social satire – to meaningfully reflect a culture’s latent fears and anxieties.” Jordan Peele’s thriller is so prescient and vivid and sensitive and smart and it just gets better and better and better with repeat viewings. We were hungry for this movie, and Peele’s debut earned not only critical praise, it returned more than 55x its budget in profit and has stuck in our collective consciousness, redefining the limits of the conversation we can have in film.


4. Lady Bird (2017, A24)

Critical DarlingA+ (94)
PopularityC ($79M)
Industry BangB (6:1)




Lady Bird is fresh and artful and effortless and real. It earned universal acclaim from critics at the time of its release, 6x its budget back in profit, and is one of the top 15 movies ranked highest/most often in best-of-the-decade lists across hundreds of critics. It certainly earned its top spot on this list, but there’s a bigger point here that I feel like needs saying.

I know this isn’t news to anyone, but it is staggering how few of the films on this list were made by women. Of the FOUR in the top 50, two were made by Greta Gerwig, one by Old Faithful Kathryn Bigelow, and third by Anna Boden (in a team-up with a male collaborator). Of the entire list of films I studied for this project, only 10% were directed by women, and a quarter of those were team-ups with men. As we strive to better understand ourselves as humans, we are in desperate need of more space for women to tell their own stories, and we as audiences must re-examine the way we receive and perceive stories by and about women. Take a minute to read this great article (especially the 2nd section) about that – which makes many more articulate points than I do – here or this piece called “The Male Glance” by Lili Loofbourow in which she reminds us that “We don’t see complexity in female stories because we have so little experience imagining it might be there.Lady Bird isn’t the only important story told by a woman out there – we must retrain ourselves as consumers of art to pay attention to stories told by and about women, to expect greatness, and then circle it with a bright red pen when we find it so others can see it too.


3. La La Land (2016, Lionsgate)

Critical DarlingA+ (93)
PopularityB ($446.1M)
Industry BangA (13:1)





Damien Chazelle’s contemporary musical romance examines true love, regret, self-actualization, risk, failure, authenticity, commitment, and beauty with sparkle, confidence, and joy. It won a whole slew of Oscars (though not “the big one” in perhaps the most awkward Hollywood moment of all time), and gets high marks across all our Cultural Significance categories: universally acclaimed by critics, a bang at the box office, and it has stuck with us as time has passed. I love this movie. I am completely helpless for it.


2. Parasite (2019, CJ Entertainment)

Critical DarlingA+ (96)
PopularityC ($165.4M)
Industry BangA (13:1)





Bong Joon Ho has had an amazing 10 years: the poetic allegory Snowpiercer in 2013, the riotous pet-friendship-takes-on-corporate-greed activist drama Okja in 2017, and now Parasite, a masterwork family drama following the have-nots, trying to survive in the world of the haves. There are no good guys or bad guys in this story – instead the villain is poverty, the systems that perpetuate such extreme imbalances in wealth, and the monsters that grow out of the despair and desperation caused by that imbalance, wraiths haunting all the humans caught up in the tangle. Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, is nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Feature at Sunday’s Academy Awards, has a nearly perfect Metascore, has already been canonized as one of the best films of the decade, and has made more than 13x its budget back in profit. Make the most of those Oscar extended screenings, y’all, and go see Parasite – it is undoubtedly one of the best and most important movies of our time.


1. Moonlight (2016, A24)

Critical DarlingA+ (99)
PopularityC ($65M)
Industry BangA+ (15:1)





It almost never happens, but in 2016, the Oscars seem to have got it right. Moonlight is a transformative film, beloved by critics and hugely successful for its small budget. But the true grace of Moonlight’s greatness is the gift it gives us – the opportunity to rewrite, and reimagine, ourselves and our relationships to one another as humans. From Ty Burr’s wonderful review in the Boston Globe:

“…It would be a mistake to dismiss the film as a work of chiding urban miserabilism. The tragedies here are personal; the larger social disaster of being poor and black in the United States is mostly a distant backdrop, like the weather. (Although you can’t change the weather.) […]

As good films tend to do — as a lot of good art does — Moonlight assumes a common humanity between its characters and its audience. But the film’s strength is rooted far more deeply in the specific. Jenkins understands he’s telling a story many of us have never seen about people our culture tells us we already know.

So while there’s the measure of truth to this film, Moonlight is also, in its understated and often paralyzingly lovely way, charged with the power of disassembling a lie. Comparisons to other movies, or other types of movies, about other types of people, diminish it. Some people are calling this the “best film of the year,” but that’s almost beside the point. For the two hours you’re watching it, Moonlight feels like the only movie ever made.


If you want even MORE, the complete ranked list of 150 films is here. Cheers!

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