Looking at highlights from the past decade using math and data.
It can be difficult to put together a best-of list, especially when the goal of that list is to be as objective as possible. Personal bias is something that sneaks into everyday life so often that it can be easy to forget about it until after it gets pointed out. In reflecting on the now defunct decade of the 2010s, it became apparent that simply ranking the films I enjoyed from the last ten years would not cut it and would do a disservice to well-received films I personally may not have loved. As a result, I knew that I would have to find a way to somehow produce a list that included the best films of the 2010s without letting personal bias about general quality get in the way. And so I turned to the only subject that could truly produce such a list: math.
Over the last few months I compiled a spreadsheet to collect and calculate data on all kinds of films released over the course of the 2010s. I utilized the film social media site Letterboxd to take their 50 most popular films from each year of the decade—this allowed for a great variety in what is represented, including animated, documentary, and international films. After this I turned to the numbers, taking the average rating for each film from multiple aggregate websites—specifically Letterboxd, IMDb, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes—and converting it to a number out of ten. Once these numbers were all compiled I averaged them together to come up with a total score for each film, and finally averaged those scores together for each film within a single year to come up with a final score for each year of the 2010s. After organizing and studying the data, I am now ready to present my findings: 210 highlights from the past decade presented as objectively as possible (if you would like to see the full list you can follow this link: https://boxd.it/4vprg).
First, looking at how the individual years stack up against each other, the highest ranked year of the 2010s ended up being 2017. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but perhaps the largest is the high amount of big studio films that were both massive successes and critically acclaimed. Films like Logan (rank 52), Blade Runner 2049 (rank 88), and Thor: Ragnarok (rank 124) proved that big budgets can result in quality, or at least critical praise. Big awards contenders like Get Out (rank 65), Call Me by Your Name (24), and Lady Bird (rank 63) also garnered great praise from both critics and audiences, highlighting a change in the industry towards an embrace of diverse subjects that would continue into the next few years.
The year in second place, 2014, echoes a similar trend, but with slightly higher rated critical darlings and slightly lower rated blockbusters. While films like Guardians of the Galaxy (rank 61), The Lego Movie (rank 58), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (rank 100) certainly garnered praise, they were largely overshadowed score-wise by award contenders like Whiplash (rank 6), Boyhood (rank 30), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (rank 36). This is also true for the lowest rated year of the decade, 2010. Not to say that the year was lacking in well-received films, far from it; the year held many favorites including Inception (rank 32), The Social Network (rank 26), and True Grit (rank 95). But many of the larger budget films were not given such praise, as films like The Last Airbender, Alice in Wonderland, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief tanked, both critically and commercially. To put it simply: certainly high highs, but also much lower lows.
And now, the moment some people may have been waiting for, the individual film rankings. First, the top ten films from one to ten:
- Parasite (2019)
- A Separation (2011)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
- It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
- Whiplash (2014)
- Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Shoplifters (2018)
- Inside Out (2015)
- Your Name. (2016)
The top ten says a lot about the results of this list as a whole. Despite not including any documentaries, there is a great mix of genres and formats here; films both domestic and international, animated and live-action, comedy, drama, crowd pleasers, and awards favorites. Only two years are not represented, those being 2013 and 2017, and they both have films in the top 15, with 12 Years a Slave (rank 12) from 2013 and Coco (rank 14) from 2017.
Most importantly, though, the films in the top ten reflect two major trends that shaped the decade, the first being the growing acknowledgement and recognition of films produced outside of the United States. Half of the films in the top ten—Parasite, A Separation, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Shoplifters, and Your Name.—come from countries outside of America, demonstrating the beginning of a renewed interest and embrace of films not done in English. This is clear looking at the timeline of the decade alongside the list itself; two of the non-English films in the top ten were released just this past year, and the last two years of the 2010s featured foreign language films that would go onto be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, those being Roma (rank 60) in the 2019 ceremony and Parasite at the 2020 one, the latter of which would become the first international film to win. In addition, there are 25 total non-English films across the whole list, making up about 12% of the film spread. These recent achievements suggest a continuing rise in the visibility towards foreign language films within the United States, delivering more diverse stories and perspectives to an audience that seems primed to receive them.
The second, and probably more easily recognizable trend, is the rise and reign of superhero films. While this shift arguably began in the late 2000s with the successes of films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, it didn’t truly take hold of the cultural zeitgeist until the 2010s, where comic book characters began regularly dominating the highest grossing films of each year. And many have also managed to accumulate high praise from critical circles; not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the top ten for the decade, but Black Panther (rank 147) was even nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards. There are 18 superhero films throughout the list, maybe 19 or 20 if you want to count Big Hero 6 (rank 126) and Joker (rank 170), and they touch every genre and style. From somber and gritty with The Dark Knight Rises (rank 74) to more straight comedies like Deadpool (rank 177), with diverse leads like in Black Panther and Wonder Woman (rank 137), and even pure drama, again if you put Joker into this category. Despite many think-pieces being written about audience fatigue and growing ambivalence towards this kind of film, the fact that just last year Avengers: Endgame (rank 40) captured the title of highest grossing film of all time may single these films as here to stay for a while longer, at least as studios continue to find them financially viable.
Regardless of why or how each film ended up on the list, looking through the whole thing reveals the ultimate point of it existing in the first place: the 2010s were a great decade for film. From exciting new voices in indie filmmaking to impressive technological achievements on bigger budgets, there were an immense number of phenomenal experiences to be had over the past ten years. Some of the trends that shaped the decade may be seemingly on their way out, but that just opens the door for whole new ones to ring in the 2020s. The past ten years have been a whirlwind of emotions on all fronts, including film, but if history has taught anything, it’s that living through interesting times is bound to produce interesting art. So no matter what the next decade may bring, film will surely continue to be just as fascinating as the world around it.