We've come to the end of the decade. It's been a decade full of a great many developments in the movie world. Streaming asserted its dominance. Physical media began dying a slow death. Superheroes took over the worldwide box office and Hollywood became more franchise obsessed than ever. Some of that was for the better. Some of it, not so much. But we're here to look at some of the highlights in that arena from 2010 to 2019, as we're counting down the 21 best popcorn movies of the decade.
But what is a popcorn movie, exactly? Popcorn movies exist to entertain above all else. Plain and simple. They can span many genres and vary greatly in scope, from the small indie flicks to the big studio offerings. To be clear, the following list is just the opinion of one man. But as a movie lover, this is what I live for. I value cinema primarily as entertainment and make no apologies about it. Some of your favorites probably didn't make the cut. I did attempt to use objectivity here, but at the end of the day this is my list and I'm just hoping to shine a light on some of the many cinematic endeavors that brought me joy over the last ten years.
From slashers to superheroes, and from aging action stars to revamped franchises, the 2010's had it all. But what made the cut? What rose above the noise to become the cream of the crop? The butteriest popcorn on the top of the bucket. While there is sure to be much debate about these movies (and many others that didn't make the list) for years to come, here is our list of the 21 best popcorn movies of the decade.
21Magic Mike (2012)
Starting off, it's not so much that this is one I feel personally passionate about, in terms of including it on this list, but I think it's a movie that was brilliantly marketed and surprised a lot of people, myself included, by being so much more than a male stripper movie. This marked Steven Soderbergh's very welcome return to the world of directing features, as well as something of a major starring turn for Channing Tatum. But the surface level entertainment value here for many moviegoers is hard to deny. 2012's Magic Mike became a thing. It was a true moment in pop culture. It's quite unique and has earned its place as a memorable blockbuster moment in a decade that was otherwise dominated by large-scale movies, of one sort or another.
20Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, in my eyes, remains the single most underrated movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even when taking that into account, it was hard to imagine that Chris Evans' second solo outing as Steve Rogers, 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, would turn into something so unexpectedly spectacular. I've always described it as a James Bond movie wrapped in a comic book. While the movie certainly deals with the larger MCU, part of the reason The Winter Soldier is so great is that stands on its own two feet so well. But, most importantly, man oh man does this deliver in the action department. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo seemed like an unlikely duo to bring us one of the better action movies of the 2010's comic book adaptation or otherwise, but as they'd prove with Captain America: Civil War, and a couple of other Marvel movies we may be talking about in a bit, they were just getting started. Quite a few people still put this at the very top of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rankings, and it's tough to argue against.
Sometimes, the third time really is the charm. Ryan Reynolds had two cracks at the superhero genre previously with Green Lantern and, more importantly, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is where the actor made his unceremonious debut as Deadpool. In 2016, he got another crack at it in the character's first solo movie and, not to overstate things, but this was a game-changer. Conventional wisdom was that superhero movies needed to be PG-13 to attract large audiences. Deadpool was R-rated through and through. Between Reynolds, director Tim Miller and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, they crafted a bloody, unbelievably entertaining and hilarious, faithful adaptation of Marvel's Merc With a Mouth that resonated with audiences worldwide. This is not only one of the best blockbusters of the decade, it's also one of the most important.
18Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2014 felt like the year that Marvel really turned a corner creatively. That's the year that brought us Guardians of the Galaxy which, at the time, felt like something truly special. Wholly unique within the comic book movie landscape. And, at that point in time, quite risky. Few people outside of very hardcore comic book fans had ever even heard of this property, let alone had the desire to see it turned into a movie. A talking tree paling around with a raccoon? Really? Yet, director James Gunn made it work to a truly admirable degree. What we get is funny, action-packed, visually impressive and downright memorable. Even outside of the realm of Marvel movies, this is just a truly great sci-fi flick all on its own.
17Pacific Rim (2013)
Guillermo del Toro has done a lot to cement himself as one of our finest filmmakers over the course of the last decade. The Shape of Water won Best Picture at the Oscars, for example. But this is the decade that also brought us 2013's Pacific Rim, a gigantic robots vs monsters sci-fi spectacle that felt like a true auteur playing in a gigantic, expensive sandbox and having an absolute blast while doing it. A true ode to Kaiju movies, Pacific Rim is exactly as advertised; two hours of massive (in every sense of the word) action. Admittedly, this isn't for everyone, but for those who enjoy a cup of tea such as this, it was a very fun moment and an excellent theatrical experience. The ridiculously indulgent (and I mean that in the best way possible) fight scene in Hong Kong is worth the price of admission alone.
16Hell or High Water (2016)
This is one of few "prestige" movies that crossed over onto this list. I'd also wager that it's the one the fewest people have seen, which is, for my money, a travesty. For those who haven't seen 2016's Hell or High Water, director David Mackenzie's modern western sees a pair of brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, robbing banks to prevent their family ranch from being foreclosed on. It's part heist flick, part cat-and-mouse chase and all pure, classic cinematic entertainment. With a terrific supporting performance by Jeff Bridges, there is an argument to made that this is one of the most underseen movies of the decade. Be that as it may, it's remarkable, timely and deeply satisfying on every level.
15Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
I found myself in a tough spot here. Tom Cruise starred in three truly awesome Mission: Impossible movies during the last decade. Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation and Fallout all have their merits. Though, in narrowing it down to one to single out for this list, I couldn't stop myself from singling out 2018's Mission: Impossible - Fallout. What director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise accomplished was nothing shy of a minor miracle. How is it more than two decades into this franchise's run they managed to deliver something so stylish, massive and truly thrilling? I'd argue that putting the epic bathroom fight, perhaps one of my favorite single action sequences of the decade, right after the insane halo jump scene is evidence enough that this movie deserves recognition is high-value popcorn entertainment. Also, not for nothing, this is the movie that gave us Henry Cavill's legendary mustache.
14Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Speaking of Tom Cruise, it turns out that his greatest contribution to movie-going during the 2010s was not as Ethan Hunt. Rather, that honor goes to his turn in Doug Liman's delightfully inventive time-bending 2014 sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow. At a time when video game movies simply weren't working (and one could argue they still aren't), Liman and Cruise made a movie that feels more like a video game brought to life than anything we had seen before or since. Emily Blunt shines here as well, and we get a memorable performance from the late, great Bill Paxton to ice the cake. Unfortunately, Edge of Tomorrow was stifled by a botched marketing campaign at the time of its release. But cream rises to the top and the cinematic ride that this movie ended up being couldn't be ignored. It's a blast, plain and simple.
13The Raid: Redemption / The Raid 2 (2011 / 2014)
Here's my first real cheat on this list. Anyone who has seen director Gareth Evans' The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 will surely attest that there are few better options in cinema when it comes to watching people just beat the ever-living crap out of one another with style. The movies feel like two parts of a whole and picking just one over the other feels like a sin to me. So view it as a cop-out if you will, as if I'm saying "pick which cake you like best." That having been said, The Raid: Redemption is a blistering, brilliantly simple, impeccably executed action extravaganza that defies comparison. The Raid 2 is a continuation of that same story, but takes the action outside of a single location and proceeds to deliver some of the most memorable fight scenes ever. The mud fight, for example, is what martial arts movie lovers dream of. Few movies that make the action and combat feel so real. So visceral. Evans has a gift and Iko Uwais deserves to be a global action star on par with the greatest.
12Baby Driver (2017)
Director Edgar Wright, the filmmaker behind comedies such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, made his true crossover into mainstream Hollywood with 2017's Baby Driver. Heist movies have always made for good entertainment, but something about Wright's distinctive style meshed so well with the genre and it delivered something that felt truly original in an industry dominated by not-so-original content. An A-list cast led by Ansel Elgort in a star-making turn as Baby, a great soundtrack and several pulse-pounding chase sequences make for nothing shy of a pure, smile-inducing joyride.
Stephen King's works have been adapted for the screen for nearly as long as he's been a best-selling author. But 2017's IT was on another level. Director Andy Muschietti, in his first part of a two-part adaptation of King's beloved work, exceeded all expectations to deliver something that wasn't just scary, but was filled with heart and, most surprisingly, lots of laughs. The charismatic cast of youngsters brought this book to life in a way that felt truly impossible before this movie's release. But the real MVP here is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise. There is still a great deal of love for Tim Curry's version of the child-eating clown, but Skarsgard, not to overstate it, cemented himself as a modern horror icon here. Horror movies have always made for some of the best communal theatrical experiences and IT was a bright, shining example of that.
10Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
There was a moment when it was revealed that Sony was going to make an animated Spider-Man movie shortly after it was revealed that Peter Parker would be joining the MCU. That seemed like a cute idea. Oh, how wrong I was to underestimate the power of bringing this world to the big screen in animated form. 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse finally brought the beloved Miles Morales version of the character to life, offering an entirely fresh perspective on a familiar tale. As a die-hard Spidey fan, nothing has felt so true to the character as this. It provides that true comic book feeling more than anything else that came along in the last ten years. It's hopeful. It's emotional. It's inspiring. And, most importantly, it's an absurd amount of fun. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is hands down one of the greatest comic book movies of the 2010s.
9John Wick (2014)
Let's rewind the clock to 2014. Keanu Reeves is starring in a minimally advertised action flick called John Wick. Innocuous title and nothing in the marketing made us believe that we were about to be gifted one of the biggest surprises of the decade. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch used every lesson they learned working in the business as stuntmen to bring us the gold-standard in modern action flicks. Reeves hadn't been this good in at least a decade and a half, if not ever. John Wick is an unrelenting, bullet-filled thrillride that breaks so many rules (like killing the dog) and makes the audience root for, and sympathize with, one of the most brutal killers ever brought to life in mainstream cinema. It also spawned perhaps one of the greatest action trilogies in history, with a fourth entry on the way. There's no two ways about it, John Wick is about as good as it gets in the action movie landscape.
8War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)
And we come to yet another one of my cheater moments. But hear me out. What started promisingly with Rise of the Planet of the Apes fleshed itself out in almost impossibly great form with Matt Reeves' subsequent entries, 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2017's War for the Planet of the Apes. Andy Serkis' character arc and performance as Caesar is truly stunning. Serkis, I would argue, deserved a Best Actor Oscar for his work. It's that good. Reeves, meanwhile, fleshed out the world set out before him in truly brilliant fashion. Visually, these movies are downright breathtaking. Not just the mind-melting CGI and motion-capture work that brings these apes to life, but the landscapes and action sequences are top-notch as well. It's an embarrassment of riches. It's what sci-fi can and should be when it's firing on all cylinders. There were so many ways a new Planet of the Apes trilogy could have gone wrong. Reeves, taking risks and, against all odds, turning CGI apes into real characters, elevated it to greatness. I personally feel this is the decade's greatest trilogy and can stand alongside some of the greatest trilogies of all time. Both Dawn and War are equivalently excellent parts of a larger, exceptional whole. Don't make me choose.
7Infinity War / Avengers: Endgame (2018 / 2019)
This is my last cheat, but one I hope people will understand. How can one possibly separate these movies now that we've seen how it all plays out? It is very much a part 1 and part 2 situation, even though both movies are quite different. For that reason, I decided to lump them together. By the time Avengers: Infinity War hit theaters in 2018, the MCU was a global juggernaut. Everyone was wrapped up in this story and we were finally going to see Thanos make his big debut. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled out all the stops, making what is essentially The Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That paved the way for Avengers: Endgame, which had to satisfy one of the biggest cliffhangers in cinema history. These movies are two halves of a massive, unprecedented cinematic achievement. Love it or hate it, Marvel pulled off an epic conclusion to a full decade of cinematic storytelling on a level nobody would have thought possible at the beginning of the 2010s. Infinity War and Endgame were true pop culture phenomena and events not to be missed. If Marvel ever tries to do something like this again, they're going to have one heck of a high benchmark to clear.
People who argue comic book movies are all the same should try to compare something like Avengers: Endgame to Logan. It is damn near impossible. But, at the end of the day, James Mangold's inspired 2017 movie that brought Hugh Jackman's legendary tenure as Wolverine to a close is going to go down as one of the best comic book movies ever made. Deadpool paved the way for R-rated comic book movies, but Logan came in and did something next level with it. Mangold crafted a visually unique, deeply emotional and thrilling X-Men flick the likes of which we had never seen. Jackman and Patrick Stewart give their respective best performances as Wolverine and Charles Xavier, which is truly saying something. And let us not forget about Dafnee Keen's star-making turn as X-23. Logan feels like an auteur western that just so happens to have a guy with claws coming out of his hands, instead of a guy with six-shooters. Logan is not just a great comic book adaptation, it's a damn fine piece of cinema of any kind.
Nearly ten years after the fact, we're still waiting for another movie like 2010's Inception. Christopher Nolan decided to follow-up The Dark Knight by making an original movie. Many auteur directors might choose to make something smaller in scale after such a massive undertaking. Instead, Nolan went big. Really big. And, in the process, crafted one of the most inventive blockbusters in recent memory. The bones of Inception form a heist movie, but the huge concepts of shared dreaming, dreams within dreams and implanting memories as a means for corporate espionage allow for Nolan to play with massive, insane set pieces. The concept elevates it beyond the likes of the standard caper. This is something truly special and, in a career full of fine moments, it truly is one of Nolan's finest moments.
James Bond is one of the most enduring characters and franchises in cinema history. While Casino Royale kicked off Daniel Craig's run as the iconic MI6 spy in promising fashion, it was 2012's Skyfall that truly reinvented 007 for the modern era. Even from that first trailer this felt like something special. Bond getting shot off a train. Adele doing the theme song. The dude from No Country for Old Men playing the villain. Oscar-winner Sam Mendes behind the camera. It all clicked. The result is one of the biggest, crowd-pleasing, entertaining Bond movies ever. It also felt deeply modern and made the character feel relevant in an increasingly crowded blockbuster landscape. There is a reason this was the first, and still only, Bond movie to ever bring in $1 billion at the box office. This is the gold standard for globe-trotting spy movies in the new millennium.
3Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Let's rewind the clock to December of 2015. Let's try and forget the ugly, divisive discussion that has surrounded Star Wars for the last four years. Let's all just try and remember that feeling when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened in theaters. It was the first time the franchise had been back in nearly a decade and the future seemed so bright. This was about as big as pop culture moments get. This was a true, blue, once in a decade (if that) moment in cinema. People lined up around the block on opening night. There were costumes. The excitement was impossibly palpable. The movie itself is almost secondary to the experience that came with it. That experience alone, for those who love big movies as much as I do, earns The Force Awakens a lot of points. As for the movie itself, I'll be the first to admit I wish J.J. Abrams hadn't used a bigger Death Star, aka Starkiller base, as the big thing, but man does this movie provide that Star Wars feeling. The new characters, Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren really worked in a big way, which was the movie's greatest success. Harrison Ford gave maximum effort as Han Solo. Carrie Fisher was back as Leia! Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon again. There's so much to love here. Setting cynicism aside and doing one's best to focus on that moment in 2015, it's hard to deny just how big, and most importantly fun, of a moment this was.
2Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
The MCU officially kicked off with Iron Man in 2008, but it wasn't until 2012's The Avengers that we really knew what Marvel was capable of. This was the true proof of concept. It's easy to take for granted now, but Joss Whedon was tasked with bringing together multiple, independent movie franchises for a massive event blockbuster that had to work as its own thing, while also serving as the culmination of the other solo entries that came before. It was unprecedented. And yet, The Avengers proved to be a tremendous success, not just financially, but as a highly entertaining piece of blockbuster cinema. While it's true that movies like The Dark Knight are probably objectively better, The Avengersfeels so much like a comic book movie. It captures the feeling that fans of these characters had for years before the movie-going public was also able to understand via these movies. The pacing is excellent, Loki remains the best MCU villain and the final battle in New York is why people like me go to the movies. That unforgettable, epic moment when Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye are all gathered in New York and the camera pans around them with that now-iconic theme playing in the background? To this day I get chills every single time I watch it. If there is one single moment that can define blockbuster cinema in the 2010s, that is it. And, if there is one movie that represents the biggest turning point in Hollywood that would define the business in the years that followed, this is it.
1Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
In the movie world, there are few things that everyone agrees on. Especially these days, it feels like people can get bogged down debating just about everything. And yet, 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road is a total anomaly in that respect. Everyone seems to love this movie. And for good reason. Director George Miller decided to revisit his classic dystopian sci-fi franchise and revamp it for modern audiences. On the surface, this is the most expensive and elaborate car chase ever put to film, and that alone gets it so many points. But there is so much more going on here. If there has ever been proof that blockbuster cinema can also transcend and become true art, this is it. Fury Road is pure, pulse-pounding entertainment with some of the most stunning visuals of the decade, if not in the history of cinema. This is a stone-cold classic that seems to have defied the odds and found its way into existence. It has the uncompromising vision of an arthouse indie, while also boasting a ridiculous amount of eye-popping spectacle on a level that is capable of making Michael Bay blush. It truly is the best of both worlds. It has Charlize Theron just shredding the screen as Furiosa, and Tom Hardy being his best self. In a decade defined by franchises and superheroes, George Miller delivered the single greatest revival of a once-believed franchise in history. Despite one's personal feelings, this is the unquestioned champion of the decade. Much smarter folks than I can explain why Miller's masterwork is perhaps the best movie of the decade, period. Me? I'm just here to tell you this thing whips an incredible amount of ass on every level in a way that no other movie has before or since. And if anything ever does, it will be a true gift from the movie gods.