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The Biggest and Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade

The Biggest and Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade


2020 is shaping up to be the first year in modern memory without a traditional summer movie season. Usually, this is the time that we avoid the heat by ducking into the nearest multiplex and getting the biggest soft drink we can physically hoist. But with theaters currently out of commission, we thought it would be a good time to look back at our favorite summer movies of the past decade – and what made them so special. Sunscreen is optional but a giant icy soda is encouraged.

Inception (2010)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Inception

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

Christopher Nolan’s meticulous mind-bender, which takes us inside the world of dreams, is a dazzling tour-de-force that we’re still getting over. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, who leads a team of dream thieves, with other characters played by Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Their latest job is more tricky than usual; they must plant, or "incept" an idea inside the mind of a wealthy industrialist. This is Nolan working at the top of his game, commanding an intricate, large-scale storyline for maximum summer movie fun. In the years since, Nolan delivered THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, INTERSTELLAR (a rare, non-summer Nolan movie) and DUNKIRK, but nothing has popped quite like INCEPTION a decade ago. It’s still so dreamy.

The Avengers (2012)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: The Avengers

[Image Credit: TK STUDIO NAME TK]

The Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment was at a tipping point in 2012. For years, Marvel had promised that each of the individual building blocks in its ever-growing synergistic landscape would lead to a centralized storyline in which all of the characters like Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America (and their individual story arcs) would be combined and developed in a new way. The idea was a huge swing with a great chance of failure. Under the stewardship of writer-director Joss Whedon, however, and with the capable talents of Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo, THE AVENGERS was a jumbo-sized smash. The movie hit all the right marks, for both the characters and the entire narrative of the MCU as a whole. Years later, we’re still as endlessly entertained by the Spandex-clad superheroes as we were back in 2012, and Marvel's efforts look less like an experiment than a sure thing. Excelsior!

Pacific Rim (2013)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Pacific Rim

[Image Credit: TK STUDIO NAME TK]

While PACIFIC RIM wasn’t an out-and-out smash, it is one of the most entertaining big budget sci-fi spectacles of the past decade and has become a beloved favorite in the years since its initial theatrical run. Looking back, its singular achievement looms even larger: This was an expensive extravaganza based on an original idea, with references to old GODZILLA movies and a half-dozen Japanese anime series, all woven together into something that felt bold and fresh. Robots fighting monsters doesn’t feel terribly original. But when Guillermo del Toro does a robots vs monsters movie, it's a genuine blast. Perhaps the addition of known actors would have made it more appealing to audiences, but it’s hard to fault anything in the actual film itself. This is a peerless, feel-good, rock ‘em sock ‘em monster-palooza. Pick your jaeger and join the fight.

Inside Out (2015)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Inside Out

[Image Credit: TK STUDIO NAME TK]

Pixar movies are now mainstays of summer, and INSIDE OUT is arguably the most imaginative and emotional of them all. Set almost completely inside the mind of a young girl, where her emotions are running rampant following a traumatic life event, this whiz-bang bauble from co-writer and director Pete Docter (UP, MONSTERS INC) is one of Pixar’s very best movies, period, not to mention a huge hit and a merchandising juggernaut. Part of what makes INSIDE OUT such a favorite is the density of ideas. The labyrinthine structure of the mind is fully fleshed-out and painstakingly embroidered. The fact that the adventure never gets tripped up by the terminology or new concepts like the Train of Thought or Personality Island is particularly impressive. And who doesn’t love Bing Bong, the imaginary friend who sacrifices himself for the emotional equilibrium of his little girl?

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Mad Max Fury Road

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD had been talked about for so long that we were fully prepared for it to never actually come out. When it did arrive, FURY ROAD blew us away with its raw, diesel-powered intensity. The story is essentially one long chase sequence driven by the titular Max (Tom Hardy, taking over for Mel Gibson) and the warrior woman Furiosa (a deeply committed Charlize Theron), with stunts and action setpieces which are unlike anything that we had seen before. As a pure exercise in visceral excitement, the movie is utterly incomparable, As if we need more, what makes MAD MAX: FURY ROAD so special beyond that is the way it successfully tackles many thematic issues, from empowerment to environmentalism, within the framework of a truly bone-shattering action-adventure movie. It was also one of the rare summer blockbusters to rack up critical acclaim and tons of Oscar nominations. It united us all. Hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer for the next installment (please).

The Nice Guys (2016)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: The Nice Guys

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

This would-be franchise starter stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as a pair of mismatched private investigators looking into a mystery in seedy 1970s Los Angeles. And while THE NICE GUYS failed to catch fire, it has since become a cult favorite. It's written and directed by Shane Black, the king of the buddy cop movie (his first produced screenplay was LETHAL WEAPON), who weaves a byzantine plot stuffed with multiple characters, plot threads, and red herrings. The story is dizzying, but the most satisfying moments come when Gosling and Crowe bumble through the case, the better to show off their charismatic interplay. Filled with splashes of unexpected violence, this is one of the funniest, most entertaining mainstream summer movies of the last 10 years. The lack of motion on a sequel is, frankly, criminal.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Popstar

[Image Credit: TK STUDIO NAME TK]

This is another case of not knowing what we've got until it’s gone. POPSTAR is from the Lonely Island, aka Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg — the same comedy team behind the digital shorts that made SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE relevant again. While POPSTAR struggled in its original release, it has become widely regarded as one of the best and funniest comedies in recent memory. With good reason: It is! POPSTAR is structured like a mockumentary which follows the rise and spectacular fall of a self-obsessed pop singer played by Andy Samberg. It’s full of truly amazing gags, has a supporting cast of top-notch performers (including Maya Rudolph, Sarah Silverman, and Tim Meadows), and features some of the most insidiously catchy fake pop songs in existence. POPSTAR is this generation’s THIS IS SPINAL TAP. For real.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Mission Impossible - Fallout

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Incredibly, this franchise keeps getting better and better. The sixth movie, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, might be the best one yet. It continues the previous film, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION, but is open-ended enough to welcome anyone who hasn't been following along with the surprisingly long-running series. This installment follows super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team as they search for stolen nuclear weapons. Along the way, they encounter an old foe (Sean Harris) and an even older flame (Michelle Monaghan). Cruise performed major stunts himself, including an impressive skydiving feat, racing a motorcycle through Paris without a helmet, and in the unforgettable climax, piloting a helicopter through unfamiliar terrain in New Zealand. Even with the oversized set pieces, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie keeps the story streamlined and muscular. It's an edge-of-your-seat action thriller that feels both old-school and remarkably new. And with two more installments coming, the mission is far from over.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)

The Best Summer Movies of the Last Decade: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

[Image Credit: Sony Pictures]

In 2019, Quentin Tarantino delivered his biggest, most summery movie yet, and it became a huge sensation. ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD is set in 1969 when tectonic cultural shifts were about to sweep through Los Angeles. This change is personified in the friendship of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stalwart stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). They stumble around Hollywood, where they feel increasingly out of place, and run afoul of Charlie Manson’s gang as that ragged crew races towards a violent date with destiny. Tarantino’s movie is a hang-out epic full of long car rides and spilled margaritas; it shares a lot of DNA with Richard Linklater's DAZED AND CONFUSED. Even in a supporting role, Margot Robbie (as the late Sharon Tate) is magnetic, while DiCaprio and Pitt (in an Oscar-winning role) are as good as they've ever been. The movie has only been out for a year, but it already feels like a classic.

Some of our favorite summer movies are playing in our Comeback Classics series!

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