Mandatory Top 10 of the 2010s: The 10 Best Original Movies of the Decade
Hollywood has always been afraid of original or challenging ideas. With Tinseltown putting an increasing emphasis on recycling old concepts, original movies seem like they’re harder and harder to come by. Especially within the realm of genre movies, it seems like just about every movie is based on something we’ve seen before. Whether that source material comes from books, video games, plays, comics, or even other movies, Hollywood has displayed a penchant for making films that are perceived to be safe bets with a built-in audience. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great original movies, it means that they’re simply few and far between. With that in mind, here are our picks for 10 of the best original movies of the 2010s.
Cover Photo: Warner Brothers
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Christopher Nolan’s influence has remained a mainstay in the Hollywood blockbuster landscape in the past decade, and none of his films are more influential than 2010’s Inception. Not only did Nolan’s science fiction epic prove that you could create a smart action film that could innovate on a large scale, but also one that could challenge viewers intellectually. While Inception is probably a little too intricate for its own good, there’s no doubt that its ingenuity and execution make it one of the best original movies of the 2010s.
As perhaps the most ambitious production of all time, Boyhood is a true filmmaking accomplishment. Shot consecutively over the course of 12 years, the film depicts the transition from childhood to adulthood of an American teenager in the early 21st century. Although that’s pretty much the extent of the plot, director Richard Linklater was able to successfully craft the ultimate coming-of-age film. Whatever you may think about Boyhood, there’s no doubt that it is an extraordinary piece of original filmmaking that might never be duplicated again.
Writer-director Rian Johnson made a big splash in the Star Wars community with The Last Jedi, but his previous effort is far less divisive. In fact, it’s safe to say that Looper is not only Johnson’s science fiction masterpiece, but that it also happens to be one of the best time-travel movies ever made. While some plot points in the second half of the film end up convoluting the message of the story, it’s anchored by great performances from Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ultimately, Looper represents one of the most original hard science fiction films of the 2010s.
It’s no secret that from the very moment that it was released, Get Out was considered an instant horror classic. Although Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is absolutely deserving of that title, it’s what the film represents that makes it so powerful and enduring. It’s the type of film that forces the audience to confront a myriad of themes, most notably the systemic racism that has plagued our country for centuries. More importantly, however, Get Out is simply a well-crafted horror movie that is not only surprisingly funny but also chillingly effective at the same time.
Upgrade is a 2018 science fiction film that largely flew under the radar. The film follows a man who is implanted with a technologically-advanced AI chip that gives him superhuman abilities after a mugging leaves him paralyzed – and boy is it a doozy. This low-budget film offers a mix of old-school genre tropes that are filtered through a modern lens. The result is a refreshingly solid story that infuses some inventive action elements, body horror, and some great comedic moments to create a stone-cold cult classic in the making. While Upgrade isn’t necessarily a thematically dense film, it makes up for this with a great high concept that packs plenty of genre bliss.
Booksmart isn’t even a year old, but it’s already being hailed as one of the best teen comedy of the 2010s – and for good reasons. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut has drawn comparisons to Superbad, but it turns out that Booksmart is far more interesting and subversive than this comparison will allow. While the former certainly has more laugh-out-loud moments due to its pure raunchiness, the latter features a more well-defined story and intricate characterization. Ultimately, Booksmart is the rare teen comedy that is as refreshing on a dramatic level as it is on a comedic one.
The 2010s ended up being a fairly productive decade for filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, but it’s his 2012 film The Master that proves to be one of his most meaningful works to date. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give career-defining performances, and that’s saying something considering how legendary both actors are. Aside from this, it also happens to feature breathtaking 65-millimeter cinematography, a smart script, engrossing characters, and enough ambiguity to keep people talking. More than any other of Anderson’s films, The Master simply is the gift that keeps on giving.
'The Place Beyond the Pines'
Although there have been a few great crime dramas throughout the decade, none is more original than The Place Beyond the Pines. It’s fair to say that Derek Cianfrance’s generational story about a motorcycle-stuntman-turned-bank-robber probably won’t be for everyone. It’s long, and except for a few bursts of frenzied action, the film is deliberately paced. Despite this, Cianfrance is able to craft a compelling story that quite literally explores the sins of the fathers. Ultimately, The Place Beyond the Pines is a film about fate, and how one chance encounter can send a massive ripple effect throughout generations.
As acclaimed filmmaker Spike Jonze’s only directorial effort of the decade, 2013’s Her is an extremely special movie. Also written by Jonze, the film is about a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence operating system designed to serve as a virtual assistant. Her is a fairly straightforward romantic comedy set in a quasi-futuristic science fiction world that isn’t too far off from ours. However, it’s what the film says about the state of human interaction and relationships that feels timelier than ever in the age of the internet and social media dominance. Along with offering an incredible vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson, Jonze perfectly casts Joaquin Phoenix as a lovable loaner in a pair of heartbreaking performances. Her is pretty much a perfect film, one that remains one of the best original stories of the 2010s.
'The Shape of Water'
Even two years after its release, it’s still incredible that a 1960s period fantasy movie where the protagonist fucks a fish-man was actually able to win Best Picture at the Oscars. While the germ of the idea for this dark fantasy was initially intended to be a remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon, it eventually morphed into one of the best original stories of the decade. Guillermo Del Toro has always been a visually distinct filmmaker, but The Shape of Water represents everything that makes him a great storyteller. Despite being a straightforward romance story set in a heightened version of the past, Del Toro describes The Shape of Water as “a fairy tale for troubled times.” Ultimately, it’s this sentiment that helps the film rise above typical genre fare into a real artistic statement about the way we demonize people who are different than ourselves.