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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.