Had this list been written 10 years ago, it would have looked very, very different. The films mentioned would have been more off-beat and niche, many recognizable as comic book adaptations only to the deepest of geeks. (I still remember walking out of 2003’s Daredevil and having a friend say, “I didn’t know that was based on a Marvel comic.”) Now is a post-Avengers world, however, and the superhero movie is Hollywood’s dominate force.
Which is why, in putting together this list, it was a bit of a struggle to diversify outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under the powerful mouse ears of Disney, Marvel simply exploded the industry. The benchmark for a successful blockbusters is now 10-digits long, the concept of a straight sequel has been replaced with the interconnected universe ideal, and audience expectations of quality are higher than ever. While the upside to this has been the truly remarkable MCU, the downside is a decrease in diverse stories and risk taking.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some great non-Marvel, non-DC productions made since 2010. From Swedish coming-of-age films to financially frustrated cult classics, there were plenty of smaller standouts birthed from the neighborhood comic shop. Only too often did studios attempt to ride Marvel’s wave, and too often they crashed numbingly short. So while marquee superheroes may dominate this list, pay attention to some of the less familiar names, reminders that being different can yield the same results as following tried-and-true formulas.
There are hundreds of worthy properties still out there sitting on shelves — even in the Marvel and DC section — all waiting to be given the respectful, careful adaptations they warrant. These 25 films from the last decade set the standard they’ll have to meet. —Ben Kaye, News Editor
25. Joker (2019)
Warner Bros. didn’t seem to have any clue how to make good of their DC Comics properties for most of the decade. The unanticipated result of their go-for-broke interconnected universe failing to pan out was a willingness to take a risk on Todd Phillips’ character study of comicdom’s most iconic antagonist, Joker. Controversies aside, the movie delivers a brutal look at how one man’s mental illness leads him to anarchistic darkness. Taken with the Oscar buzz for star Joaquin Phoenix and the record-shattering $1 billion box office take, and you have one of the decade’s most successful adaptations on numerous levels. –Ben Kaye
24. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
There’s something incredibly pleasing when something so completely left-field takes over culture for a moment. No one really knew what was coming with Kingsman: The Secret Service, but writer-director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman deliver a slam-bang spy blockbuster that takes dozens of clichés and has a jolly good time blowing them to hell. With playful spins on every James Bond quirk or Men in Black-style recruitment montage, the film is at once an ode to and a send-up of classic tropes. Truly insane action sequences (there’s a woman with swords for legs, for Christ’s sake) and stellar chemistry from Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Taron Egerton add up to one bloody fun romp. –Ben Kaye
23. Shazam! (2019)
DC and WB lost themselves in trying to be the gritty, “realistic” counterpoint to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s colorful costumes and quippy heroes. There’s a reason none of those films are on this list, and Shazam! is. Shazam! allows itself to play within the world of superheroes rather literally, as the titular hero is just a kid who learns everything about capes from his comic-obsessed foster brother. Zachary Levi plays the adult-sized version of young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) with charming innocence, keeping what is otherwise a standard three-act origin story feeling fresh and — most importantly — fun. –Ben Kaye
22. Dredd (2012)
Even seven years after its release, Dredd is a sleeper on this list. While its dismal box office haul may have proven no one was asking for another Judge Dredd movie, its cult status demonstrates it’s a better film than the receipts make it appear. Alex Garland‘s script does a beautiful job of establishing the rules of a dystopian society and then locking them in 200-story high-rise. It’s an expansive and yet claustrophobic setting in which Karl Urban’s titular anti-hero gets to run absolutely rampant with bombastic action scenes. It’s one of Urban’s best roles, and there’s still hope he’ll be able to return to it despite the poor profits. –Ben Kaye
21. Kick-Ass (2010)
The timing of Kick-Ass was absolutely stunning in retrospect. Right as superhero blockbusters were beginning their siege on Hollywood, here came this scrappy, twisted, independent production playing off the entire concept of masked crimefighters. Another Vaughn-Goldman collaboration, Kick-Ass revels in its outrageous violence with such expletive-laden glee that you forget those are really kid actors playing these roles. Which is what makes it such a breakout performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, selling a completely twisted character like Hit-Girl with sincere craft. We also get one of Nicolas Cage’s smartest performances ever by way of a clever nod to Adam West. –Ben Kaye