Ten years of movie reviews. How do you pick the best? Our theory from the very first day of publishing borg has been reviewing only those things we like, things we think are fun, imaginative, or just plain cool—because if we think they’re cool, maybe you will, too. What makes a great movie? #1 for us is great writing—great storytelling. #2 is re-watchability. Lots of movies are good, but if every time you watch it you enjoy it all over again and maybe find something you didn’t see before, then you likely got far more value from the movie than the price of a movie ticket. #3 is innovation—there’s nothing to top off a good story like new technology surprising us. Finally, the experience must be fun—why else would you devote two hours or more of your valuable time?
So in Casey Kasem style, here are the Top 40 movies we recommend, spanning 2011 to 2021. These are our favorites. How should you use lists like this? If you like what we talk about at borg, you’re probably going to like these movies. If you’ve missed any, odds are you have some new movies to take a look at. Let’s start at #40 and move our way to #1. As with everything borg, we’re stressing genre movies, so don’t expect to see strict dramas or a lot of Best Picture Oscar winners here. Title links are to our original borg review.
Let’s get started!
40. ATOMIC BLONDE (2017). For anyone who ever dreamed of seeing a woman playing James Bond or starring in Mission: Impossible, you’ll not find anything closer to Charlize Theron as a quick-thinking, physically powerful special agent on a Bullitt-like mission here. A great cast, lots of action, and a stylish production.
39. McFARLAND USA (2015). Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner makes great choices. In the sports movie realm, you’ll not find a more inspiring and low-key story of triumph over adversity and underdogs making their mark than in this true story of a high school track team.
38. FARMAGEDDON (2020). Aardman Animation is truly unique. Its classic style of animation, and brand of humor, make it one of the few sources you can always rely on for family entertainment. Moving on from their Wallace & Gromit successes, they proved they could do sci-fi comedy, too, with a new stable of quirky characters.
37. LOVE AND MONSTERS (2020). We couldn’t have been more surprised by this great blend of fantasy and the coming of age trope. Moving emotional beats from an old robot? Special effects giving us the vibe of the best of Peter Jackson? It’s another boy and his dog… with top-notch CGI monsters.
36. THE GREAT WALL (2017). The biggest production of the decade, or maybe ever, with an international cast in front of and behind the camera. Audiences were introduced to pre-Mandalorian Pedro Pascal, but the top-line Chinese cast, spectacular stunts, and largest assemblage of fantasy costumes and props were the real stars. Monsters and action in an epic movie.
35. MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL (2020). Proving the comics-adapted alien watchdog organization could move beyond Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, it did just fine with Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth’s chemistry, updated effects, and a fun twist on the agency.
34. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012). Although ultimately it fell in the shadow of Peter Jackson’s first trilogy, we loved how the race of dwarves came to life, how he gave us more of what we loved with the return of Gandalf, and introduced the quirky wizard Radagast played by an icon of Doctor Who.
33. BRAVE (2012). Probably the last of the old-school style Disney animations. Taking advantage of the latest CGI technology, Disney-Pixar gave audiences a new heroine for the ages in a beautifully realized world, with the one-of-a-kind voice of Kelly Macdonald.
32. THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR (2016). One of several movies on our list where a sequel surpassed the original. Offering a superb high-fantasy tale with multiple women leads and a support cast full of funny situations and dialogue, this was the fairy tale movie of the decade.
31. MULAN (2020). The live-action Disney film was less a remake than a celebration of the original Chinese folk tale, complete with some of the best AAPI actors, and a story incorporating a thousand years of historical story tropes, highlighted with great martial arts action and two strong heroines.
30. MONEYBALL (2011). The best sports movie of the decade was also the most re-watchable, whether your favorite part is Jonah Hill’s accountant, Chris Pratt hiding from the ball on first base, or Brad Pitt showing old-timers how it’s done. It was about re-defining what winning means, and valuing logic over tradition.
29. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2017). Marvel’s first foray into the Multiverse expanded the scope of the comics-inspired movies to some of modern comics readers’ favorite characters, bringing in not only Miles Morales, but Spider-Gwen, Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir, and a rare classic for the retro crowd: Spider-Ham. Great fun–and a cutting-edge technological achievement for animation.
28. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017). It might be the best Batman movie of all. Even as a parody of Batman stuffed full with laugh-out-loud humor, the film provided fans of the 80-year-old superhero the best performance to hit the screen yet with all the spirit of the caped crusader of the comics. And it skipped the dark lean of modern comics movies in favor of goofy fun for all.
27. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017). One of only a handful of Marvel Studios movies to make our list, this one featured some of the most exciting villains, and pitted two of the potentially most difficult superheroes to translate to the screen against each other to truly match the stories from the comics. Plus loads of humor and great music.
26. HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U (2020). Another sequel better than the original, Jessica Rothe showed some tremendous acting prowess, run through the wringer over and over in repeated scenes, while also creating a genuine, endearing heroine we all could cheer for. It took the original horror premise and gave it a great sci-fi twist.
25. CRIMSON PEAK (2015). Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece of the decade allowed the director to celebrate his favorite genres, blending monster horror with the creepiest ghosts ever. A Gothic romance with a stellar cast and lots and lots of special effects blood.
24. THE FOREIGNER (2017). A high-octane thriller for anyone missing Pierce Brosnan’s lead actor days. Jackie Chan got to showcase not only his physical skills, he also gave audiences a serious, dramatic performance as a father who will stop at nothing to avenge his daughter. As good as your favorite Tom Clancy movie.
23. STAR TREK BEYOND (2016). At last a director delivered something bridging the desires of both Star Trek fans and action movie audiences. Justin Lin looked back to the franchise’s past to create something worthy of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision 50 years later, introducing one of the best women of Trek in Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah, and possibly the best Trek movie of them all.
22. THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020). The first direct-to-streaming movie on our list, this Amazon production is a science fiction movie for fans of classic sci-fi. Writer-director Andrew Patterson’s storytelling is pure perfection, his dialogue (and the actors’ delivery), exquisite. Creepy, X-Files-esque, it’s a perfect vintage mix of all we love about Spielberg and Stranger Things.
21. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018). The music movie or biopic genre is rarely so spotless. Like Val Kilmer in The Doors, Rami Malek seemed to conjure the spirit of Freddie Mercury, with his look and vibe, even singing the songs, too, creating an incredible, bittersweet underdog story.
20. ATTACK THE BLOCK (2012). Foretelling a future with small productions giving us surprise films like The Night Comes for Us, this British indie film took the world by storm with its local-accented tough gang of teens, a sci-fi monster mash with really great, unique aliens, and introducing audiences to future, major sci-fi franchise leads John Boyega and Jodie Whittaker.
19. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014). All the fun in one movie, from Chris Pratt’s daft hero to a perfectly realized Rocket the Raccoon and Groot, the walking tree of few words. In what became the decade of Marvel, this was the first effort to move beyond the A-list comics superheroes, and ultimately one of the best.
18. CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019). One of Marvel’s most re-watchable movies, thanks to the performances of its four lead actors: Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers, the is-he-or-isn’t-he a villain Ben Mendelsohn’s alien Talos, and the return of Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. The most inspiring superheroine movie, with unexpected story twists.
17. SHAZAM! (2019). DC Entertainment’s best movie adaptation of a DC Comics story yet. Zachary Levi makes the perfect original Captain Marvel, but incorporating the long-running Marvel Family monthly comics title was the real surprise of the movie. Hopefully this will usher in the next decade of DC movies.
16. ISLE OF DOGS (2018). Wes Anderson entered the realm of Aardman Animation quality with this love letter to dogs, an incredibly gut-wrenching story of heroism, bridging cultures, styles, music, and pushing the bounds of the director’s oeuvre. Exciting, gripping storytelling.
15. RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021). Disney re-visited the popular style of the Aladdin era of animated movies with this celebration of Southeast Asian culture. A fantasy on par with The Last Unicorn with blockbuster special effects, the story broke the mold with its inspiring solution to a nation divided.
14. MEN IN BLACK III (2012). The MIB franchise was already big, but its greatest entry took Will Smith’s Agent J back in time to meet a young Agent K, a perfect impression of craggy Tommy Lee Jones by Josh Brolin. With the help of the ultimate guide in a crocheted hat, it blended the best aliens with the best sci-fi gadgets, rides, and movie that brought J’s journey full circle.
13. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017). Sony and Marvel never seemed to understand what made Peter Parker tick until they cast the voice-cracking Tom Holland as Marvel’s bestselling character. Showcasing a smart group of high schoolers, director Jon Watts made the best Spidey coming-of-age story yet, and brought back one of our favorite superhero actors, Michael Keaton, as villain.
12. JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2018). Usually video game movies are based on actual video games. Not this time. Getting comedy just right is rare. This movie teamed a stand-up comedian with a comedic actor, a sci-fi TV/film icon, and a major box office star in a warm, family accessible story full of laugh-out-loud moments—the funniest movie of the decade.
11. ANT-MAN (2015). The best superhero movies can also be about Tier 2 characters. That’s best demonstrated in this blend of the sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man and the fun persona of Paul Rudd wisely applied to a thief, and the great Michael Douglas as scientist Hank Pym. The best tech of the decade was the introduction of de-aging CGI, and Douglas as young Pym is pure cinema magic.
10. VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS (2017). The decade’s best visual sci-fi came from the mind of Luc Besson. It’s the best showcase of futurism, best visual effects, best imagined views of outer space, and like Besson’s earlier masterpiece The Fifth Element, infused with that uniquely French centerpiece, a celebration of love.
9. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011). A surprise story and execution that surpassed the successful Iron Man to usher in a new age of adapting comics to the big screen. Forget Tony Stark. Casting Chris Evans was the smartest thing the MCU ever did, but homing in on the classic comics is why the story works, and why the franchise worked to the very end. As effects go, it’s hard to beat making Evans puny before his transformation into super-soldier.
8. SPECTRE (2015). Behind Casino Royale, the next best outing of Daniel Craig as Bond. Beginning with arguably the best opening sequence of any Bond movie (ever), the story drew together all the subplots and villains of the franchise in one explanatory tale, with Christoph Waltz smartly cast as an unexpected villain.
7. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (2016). Offering the whole package, a new twist on a classic Jane Austen story, mixing action, horror, and romance, with great costumes, martial arts, and a strong young cast. The idea was simple, but the execution made for one of the most re-watchable romps of the decade, and the decade’s best twist on zombies on the big screen.
6. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015). A special agent movie more exciting and stylish than James Bond? International locations, style, and gorgeous cinematography back a retro fix of the best Bond-type characters, with the best action sequences and plot. Forget about it being a redo of a 1960s TV series, this is how Bond should be done.
5. EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014). The only sci-fi film of the past decade that belongs alongside genre classics Aliens, Predator, and The Terminator, it adjusts Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, while remaining faithful to the source material; memorable for Tom Cruise and Bill Paxton, but also creating in Emily Blunt’s Sgt. Vrataski a badass hero in the pantheon of badass women with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.
4. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016). One of two films in the franchise as good as Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Director Gareth Edwards took great risks with his tale of doomed heroes, but his execution of the franchise’s backstory couldn’t have been done better. Bringing back a CGI-created Peter Cushing as Tarkin was cinema gold, and the look and feel of this epic space fantasy really took filmgoers right back to the beginning.
3. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018). Despite the production setbacks, Jonathan Kasdan, Ron Howard, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller also created a space Western worthy of the first two films in the franchise, re-creating a world audiences never thought could be done again. The high point was an entire film starring the giant, beloved Chewbacca, with surprises like the return of Darth Maul, but every other piece was worthy of continuing our view of a galaxy far, far away.
2. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (THE ROGUE CUT) (2014). The best giant superhero team-up movie ever made, merging two casts from a decade of the franchise’s movies in an adaptation of a classic comics story. A monumental achievement that showcases an array of acting talent, brilliantly plotted time travel, stunning special effects, and the best superhero scene ever, thanks to Quicksilver and a well-timed Jim Croce song. Runner-up for the top spot with 16 great movies adapting comics on our list.
1. LOGAN NOIR (2017). Writer-director James Mangold’s Oscar-nominated story with scope and stakes was an achievement that proved the high point of the decade for genre films. John Mathieson expertly created the finest black and white film since the 1970s, and Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen delivered unparalleled performances. Not only one of the greatest genre films ever made, it’s one of Hollywood’s greatest movies of all time, up there with film classics like High Noon and Fort Apache.
We hope you find something you haven’t watched from the above list. Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow as we look at our Top 40 recommended TV series of the past decade.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg