Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Decade in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of the 2010s as we look toward the future. Today, we look to the most-hyped movies of the decade.
Call us crazy, but there are few feelings better than sitting down in a theater to finally watch a movie you've been not-at-all-patiently waiting to see. The previews finally finish up, the production company logos fade in and out, and you're off to the races.
The past decade has been unprecedently good to genre fans, with superhero movies, horror flicks, and science fiction films becoming the dominant force in the cultural zeitgeist. Over time, they earned increasing hype, whether because they were adaptations of beloved works or because they were long-awaited sequels. Now movies garner endless media coverage in the lead-up to their premiere, the hype always growing. This is why we're here today.
For the most part, this list is all about that franchise hype. As connecting narratives and sequels have proven to do gangbusters at the box office, studios have leaned hard into fictional universes and reboots. Not all of these 10 movies are a part of a franchise, but most are.
Now, a reminder before we start: Sometimes, too much hype can do damage. Some of these films, as anticipated as they were, fell flat for longtime and long-awaiting fans. With that in mind, here are the 10 most highly anticipated movies of the decade.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
When Planet of the Apes first premiered in 1968, the big twist — that this strange world lorded over by highly intelligent apes was actually a future Earth — was a shock for those who’d never read Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel on which it was based. Fast forward to 2011, and, suddenly, audiences were getting a backstory for how this world came to be.
Adding modern paranoias to the narrative (genetic engineering most of all) resulted in a prescient story that would go on to spawn two sequels (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes) and break ground in visual effects. No one anticipated these movies, which is perhaps what made the first of the trilogy so hyped; no one knew they wanted it until it was a possibility.
The Hunger Games (2012)
There was something all too real about Suzanne Collins' series of novels about a competition in which poor children were chosen to fight to the death for the amusement of rich people. The series' politics, best-seller status, and the success of YA book-to-film franchises, like the Twilight series and even Harry Potter, made this one of the hottest properties of the first half of the decade.
Each casting announcement was awaited with bated breath. Some girl named Jennifer Lawrence, lauded by critics for her work in an indie movie, Winter’s Bone, was chosen for the lead role of Katniss Everdeen; and wasn’t that actor they chose to play her best friend Gale the same dude from that Miley Cyrus/Nicholas Sparks movie (plus, wait, he’s related to Marvel’s new Thor)? Throw in some big names (Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and… Lenny Kravitz?) and The Hunger Games was bound for the stars.
And honestly? It delivered.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
This might be a bit of an unexpected entry, but it feels necessary. Anticipation for Cloud Atlas was two-fold. First there was the knowledge that this was the Wachowskis’ first big project since the Matrix series(!), and secondly, fans of the 2004 David Mitchell novel were nervous and excited in equal measure.
While the film boasted an A-list cast (including Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, and more) and the fantastical elements were often beautifully executed, its overall execution fell slightly short of many people’s expectations; the narrative, often seemingly boundless, and the runtime, clocking in at almost three hours, left many viewers reeling.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth — this time to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel novel The Hobbit — was a mixed bag. Despite critical shrugs, it would go on to receive two sequels to round out the Hobbit trilogy, which, again: mixed bag.
Adding some big names to the mix definitely helped. Ian McKellen returned as Gandalf and Andy Serkis took on Gollum once more; then there was Martin Freeman (beloved by legions of fans for his role as Watson in BBC’s Sherlock series) as a young Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage as the doomed dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield. It’s these performances that kept fans hooked.
The novel, while beloved, was one book rather than three, making it thinner than Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which made adapting it to film a challenge even for the franchise's Oscar-winning filmmakers. They defied the source material's limitations by stretching it into three movies, and the result was an enormous, fantastical fantasy of epic proportions that some loved and which fell flat for… many others. Still, hardcore fans and devotees found bright spots and will defend An Unexpected Journey, and its sequels, 'til the end.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, it was only a matter of time before the story continued. That, indeed, did happen three years later when the sequel trilogy began with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Introducing a new generation of heroes while weaving in beloved familiar faces, The Force Awakens continues the story, narratively, from where it left off in 1983’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
While anticipation for the return of one of the world’s most beloved franchises was, of course, huge, that anticipation would replenish old wounds. The Star Wars fandom is both one of the largest and most contentious out there. But the series continues, still beloved to this day, rounding out the decade with the end of the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Continuing the Harry Potter franchise beyond the initial novels and their subsequent films was a risk, but one many fans of J.K. Rowling's series were willing to bet on. That risk resulted in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which follows the misadventures of one Newt Scamander, who fans knew of tangentially as an author enamored with magical creatures. Little did they know, truly, how invested Newt really was.
Fantastic Beasts was soon followed up with an announcement: There would be five films total in this spin-off series. While many fans have voiced disappointment or disinterest, the magic will continue into the next decade (and, maybe, beyond).
Wonder Woman (2017)
As the superhero craze grew to a true feeding frenzy over the course of the 2010s, there was a clear problem. Several problems, actually, but one of those problems was this: No superhero movies focused on women. And, truly, there was no better female superhero than Wonder Woman, first introduced in DC Comics in 1941, to lead the charge.
The film, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot as the titular hero, was a smash-hit. Revered as having saved the current DC film franchise from its brooding depths, Wonder Woman was a marvel on many levels, with the character inspiring millions and, of course, making a few bucks along the way. The sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, is set to premiere in 2020 and is arguably even more highly anticipated than the original.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was unexpected, just think about how few people thought a Blade Runner sequel would happen. But upon its announcement, the hype was immediate.
Harrison Ford returning? Ryan Gosling starring? And featuring Ana de Armas and Robin Wright and weird replicant deaths? Also… Jared Leto? This movie truly had it all as critics rushed to compliment every aspect from the stunning cinematography (which was nominated for an Oscar) to the continued worldbuilding. The world Ridley Scott first introduced in 1982's Blade Runner was back onscreen and richer than ever, this time ushered into brilliance by genre filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.
Unfortunately, the critical hype and the original film’s cult classic status wasn’t enough to get general audiences into theaters; after grossing $260 million, Blade Runner 2049 was considered a box office flop.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Yes, we could have included The Avengers (2012) on this list, but the hype for Avengers, as big as it was at the time, pales in comparison to the vibrate-out-of-your-seat excitement that accompanied Avengers: Infinity War's premiere. For the first time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s characters all collided in a battle for the fate of the universe against the big bad 10 years in the making: Thanos.
That they lost wasn’t all that surprising — after all, Infinity War had a sequel on the way — but the cultural heartache at seeing beloved characters melt to ash after losing so spectacularly left the internet in a sort of strange, hysterical state of mourning. It was all anyone could talk about before and after the premiere… That is, until Endgame came along.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Including Infinity War and Endgame as separate entries on this list almost feels like cheating, as the films make for a singular narrative. But seeing as they came out a year apart and that Endgame clocks in at three hours, it seems fair to keep them separate.
After a debilitating loss, the remaining Avengers do everything in their power to bring Thanos to his knees and use the Infinity Stones to return half of all life to the universe. Speculation as to how they’d manage such a thing — the running theory, which turned out to be correct, was time travel, though no one could have predicted the extent of the plan — kept the world on its toes until the very end, which saw the MCU's first and one of its most beloved heroes, Iron Man, sacrifice himself for the greater good.
Endgame is an appropriate note to end a decade of "highly anticipated movies" on. Honestly, has there ever been a more hyped movie? Or one that delivered so well on so many levels? We think not.