Another decade of cinema has come and gone. The 2010s will go down as the decade of the shared universe, as Marvel Studios mainly wrote and perfected the blueprint of how to build a series of mega-successful, interconnected movies with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If your film wasn’t under the Disney umbrella, you likely had a hard time at the box office this decade. Disney controlled more than 31% of the U.S. market in 2019 and saw its box office gross more than double during a decade when multiplexes saw their profits eaten away by streaming services and other entertainment competition.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that there were a lot of movies that flew under the radar over the last ten years. We’ve collected some of our favorites released between 2010-2019 that, for whatever reason, didn’t get the acclaim or recognition they deserved. Here are ten underrated movies of the decade.
10. It Comes At Night (2017)
From the malevolent racism of Get Out to the familial trauma of Hereditary, 2017 was a banner year for horror movies. Yet one film that got left out of the conversation of the year’s great thrillers was It Comes At Night.
Following two families trying to survive after a mysterious pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, It Comes At Night writer-director Trey Edward Shults weaves together a post-apocalyptic tale where distrust is more insidious than horrors from the outside world. Bleak and unforgiving, It Comes At Night is the kind of horror that gets under your skin and, in some ways, is The Last of Us adaptation we never got.
9. Annihilation (2018)
Alex Garland’s directorial debut, Ex Machina, is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films of the decade. His follow-up, Annihilation, is arguably an even stronger film, a cancer allegory wrapped in a mesmerizing package of body horror and psychological trauma (with some alien mystery thrown in for good measure). While Annihilation is certainly not underrated from a critical perspective (it currently holds an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film failed to garner the awards buzz enjoyed by its predecessor.
Ex Machina won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was nominated for a slew of other awards, whereas Annihilation was entirely ignored during awards season. Factor in the film’s failure at the box office and Annihilation is now better remembered as a film that helped fuel the narrative that intellectual science fiction simply doesn’t play with audiences.
8. Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Our consumer tech obsession and always-online lives were represented well in film throughout the 2010s, with Spike Jonze’s forward-looking Academy Award-winner Her serving as perhaps the most critically-acclaimed of the bunch. But now that the dust has settled, it’s hard to think of a film that better captured the dark side of our virtual lives than Ingrid Goes West. Best described as Fatal Attraction for the Instagram crowd, Ingrid Goes West stars Aubrey Plaza as an obsessed fan who stalks and befriends a popular influencer (Elizabeth Olsen).
Ingrid Goes West easily could have been as shallow as the characters it profiles. Still, it’s a film that recognizes the deep loneliness felt by millions of young people whose meaningful social interactions are increasingly online-only. It’s just a shame more people didn’t watch it.
7. The Guest (2014)
Everyone knows the only action movies that mattered in the 2010s were Mad Max: Fury Road, The Raid 2, and the John Wick trilogy. In all seriousness, the last decade was something of an action renaissance, with many directors opting for stunt work and choreography to deliver more visceral filmmaking. The Guest is one such film, even if it’s more of a thriller with short bursts of action.
As an ex-soldier hiding a deadly secret, Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Legion) proves he has leading man charisma, carrying the film as it weaves from tension-building dread to all-out action. The Guest failed to make much of an impact at the box office but has rightfully emerged as one of the decade’s great hidden gems.
6. About Time (2013)
At this point, you probably have a good idea of where you stand on Richard Curtis movies. Notting Hill and Love Actually are romantic-comedy staples, but their wide-eyed earnestness can be quite grating if you’re not the sentimental type. About Time displays many of the hallmarks of a Richard Curtis film (right down to the troubling lack of casting diversity). Still, it’s arguably the one film in the writer-directors catalog that could be recommended even to his detractors.
The central boy-meets-girl plot is enhanced by a clever time travel device and the fact that Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams are impossible to dislike. But it’s arguably the touching father-son relationship between Gleeson and the always-great Bill Nighy that pushes About Time into a class above your typical rom-com drek. It’s the rare feel-good movie that even cynics would have a hard time resisting.
5. John Carter (2012)
Remember earlier when we mentioned Disney was the undisputed box office king of the decade? Well, the House of Mouse had its share of duds too, including the now-infamous John Carter. The first in a planned trilogy of sci-fi action films based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, John Carter was a bomb of epic proportions. Disney lost over $200 million on the film, making it one of the biggest box office busts in history. Yet underneath that failure is a surprisingly watchable film.
While by no means some sort of hidden masterpiece, John Carter is an immersive blockbuster in the tradition of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, with a mythology that pulls you in. Taylor Kitsch is decent enough in the lead role or at least doesn’t deserve the scorn he received from many at the time of the film’s release. Now that the dust has cleared and John Carter doesn’t have the weight of expectations on its shoulders, it’s easier to appreciate the film for what it is: an underrated gem.
4. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
Richard Linklater is a filmmaker keenly in tune with the powerful allure (and pitfalls) of nostalgia. His 1993 directorial breakthrough Dazed and Confused is awash in it (even if Linklater insists it wasn’t his intention) because of its singular focus on a particular time and place. Linklater revisited this loose, meandering period piece structure with 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!!, which plays like a Dazed and Confused spiritual successor.
Following members of a college baseball team over the final weekend before classes started in 1980, Everybody Wants Some!! is pretty much two hours of bros hanging out. Admittedly, that’s a pretty tough sell and is probably part of the reason why this film has been overlooked. But underneath all that testosterone is a film fascinated by (and critical of) male power dynamics, never endorsing its characters’ more toxic tendencies but rather showing how fleeting life at the top of the social hierarchy is.
We all have times we wish we could return to and Everybody Wants Some!! shows that, while it’s fun to look back now and then, staying stuck in the past is fraught with peril.
3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
What is it with music comedies getting overlooked by moviegoers? Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is arguably the most underrated comedy of the 2000s and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping may just be its heir apparent in the 2010s. A feature-length film written by and starring musical comedy trio The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone), Popstar is a surreal, hilarious parody of pop music and white guy privilege.
With Samberg taking center stage as the narcissistic Conor4Real, Popstar takes shots at pretty much every trend in modern pop. Buoyed by a soundtrack of Lonely Island material (the Macklemore-satirizing “Equal Rights” may be the hilarious takedown of broey homophobia ever recorded), Popstar deserved to be a hit but ended up a box office dud. Music mockumentaries don’t get much better than this, and hopefully, one day, Popstar will achieve cult status on par with This is Spinal Tap.
2. Super (2010)
A few years before bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen, James Gunn delivered the indie superhero flick Super … and nobody noticed. Sure, the film now has a sizeable cult following, but at the time of release, no one gave Super a passing notice. Made on a small budget of just $2.5 million, Super earned less than $600,000, making it Gunn’s lowest-grossing film. Super deserved a better fate than a pitiful box office return.
Starring The Office’s Rainn Wilson as a depressed middle-aged man who becomes a masked vigilante after his wife leaves him, Super is darker and more violent than your typical mainstream comic book film. In many ways, Super is an example of what Guardians of the Galaxy might have been had Gunn had full creative control and no studio oversight. Whether that would have made for a better film is a matter of debate, but anyone curious about what such a film might have looked like should track down a copy of Super and give it a watch.
1. The Nice Guys (2016)
The Nice Guys is the type of movie people complain Hollywood doesn’t make anymore: an original property with a snappy script, made by a talented genre filmmaker (Shane Black), starring charismatic leads (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe). Okay, to be fair, that description could be applied to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a film that was not only a commercial hit but was released three years after The Nice Guys. But the box office failure of The Nice Guys explains why, as described by Black himself in a 2018 interview, “No one takes risks in Hollywood.”
Here was a film adult filmgoers ostensibly wanted, and its reward was a box office return that barely covered its production budget. What a shame too, as The Nice Guys is a seedy, absurd period piece murder mystery that may just be one of the most enjoyable films of not only 2016, but the decade as a whole.