By EW Staff
August 27, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT
Zade Rosenthal/Disney; Suzanne Hanover/Universal; Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

Summer movies: It’s a vibe. Whether blockbuster or indie in scope, original screenplay or inevitable sequel, there’s a certain pattern to the theatrical slate from May to August each year. But while the offerings are generally cyclical, what sticks in the zeitgeist is wholly unique to each summer.

At the end of the season, there remains a definitive film (or two) that truly captures the mood of that summer — a movie that, when you hear its name, conjures memories in a way almost nothing else can. Take Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Summer 2019 is barely wrapped (and we’re barely a month out from its release), but Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and the rest of Quentin Tarantino‘s band of onscreen Family members has taken up nearly all of the air in the room.

As we look back on this movie season (and the 2010s in general), we at EW put our heads together to pick the film that best encapsulates each year of the decade.

2010: Inception

Warner Bros. (5)

The world at the beginning of the decade feels so far away, it might as well have been a dream (or a dream within a dream, or a dream within a dream within a dream…). But it was, in fact, a reality that 2010’s sixth-highest domestic earner (after two sequels, an adaptation, and two sequel adaptations) was Christopher Nolan’s wildly original puzzle of a movie. The surreal Inception was so new and strange and unexpected, it seized hold of the collective imagination for a summer spent climbing the walls of upside-down hotel rooms, racing against an avalanche, and nervously listening for the hazy opening strains of “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” Nine years later, the memory of Inception on the big screen — and the question of whether the top ever stops spinning — lingers as strongly as if someone snuck into our subconscious and planted it there. —Mary Sollosi

Honorable mention: Toy Story 3

2011: Bridesmaids

Universal Pictures (3)

Bridesmaids has been celebrated for being a rollicking, raunchy comedy that proved women could be funny and a massive success at the box office (for like the billionth time). But what truly made it the movie of the summer was the bittersweet, often heartbreaking portrait of female friendship it offered in all its complexities. That’s something Hollywood still struggles to get right. Oh, and it gave us that epic wedding dress shopping scene, Kristen Wiig wigging out on an airplane, and was a true breakthrough to the genius comedy of Melissa McCarthy, who received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. —Maureen Lee Lenker

Honorable mention: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

2012: The Avengers

Marvel Studios

With the knowledge we have in 2019 it can be easy to forget how groundbreaking it was to see all of these superheroes onscreen together — and all of these actors, for that matter. This was the Avengers that started it all. It was seven years in the making (it began back when Marvel Studios still needed a business loan from Merrill Lynch) and wound up grossing over $1.5 billion worldwide. It also pitted the two Chris’ (soon to be the three Chris’) against each for the first time, which is not to be taken for granted. Avengers assemble. —Seija Rankin

Honorable mention: Magic Mike

2013: This Is the End

Sony Pictures (4)

Summer movie audiences love a meta moment. The thrill of watching Seth Rogen‘s gang play themselves (at James Franco‘s house no less) was almost as big as the thrill of watching Rihanna die in the apocalypse (among many other famous people). This Is the End was Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut, cementing them as comedy powerhouses who could open a movie in a big way. —SR

Honorable mention: The Spectacular Now

2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios (5)

If you’re starting to sense a theme here, you would be correct: Marvel knows how to dominate the summer movie conversation. In this case, Guardians of the Galaxy completed the Hollywood Chris trifecta, and, lest we forget, this was the film that established Chris Pratt‘s abs as, well, something the galaxy knew existed. The viewing public is used to it now, but in 2014 it was all anybody could talk about. Did you know Boyhood also came out that summer? Thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy marketing budget, you did not. —SR

Honorable mention: Boyhood

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

Warner Bros. (4)

To watch Mad Max: Fury Road in a theater was to be initiated into a very large, but very self-important club. This movie, brutal and unforgiving as it was, came with its own bragging rights. Those who could sit through 120 minutes of Tom Hardy screaming in the desert felt pride; those who could sit through 120 minutes of Tom Hardy and come out the other side with several hot takes ripe for debate felt empowered to talk about nothing else. —SR

Honorable mention: Straight Outta Compton

2016: Bad Moms

STXfilms

Choosing the definitive movie of the summer proved most difficult for 2016 — because, quite frankly, sometimes a bad movie takes up all the space. But we didn’t want to give Suicide Squad any more real estate on this website or in our brains, so we’ve arrived at Bad Moms. A movie that some wrote off as silly suburban comedy became a bit of a sensation, and the press tour was a true gift thanks to the irresistible charms of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn. —SR

Honorable mention: Suicide Squad

2017: Wonder Woman

Warner Bros. (3)

Three words: No Man’s Land. With an astounding scene that saw Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) striding in the wasteland between the trenches of World War I, a superhero for a new millennium was born. The scene made countless audience members cry, allowing them a glimpse of a hero who was soft and strong, inspiring and fierce all at once. Women finally got to see themselves as heroes on the big screen, both in Diana’s origin story but more broadly in the bad-assery of her fellow Amazons. It was a viewing experience that was truly wondrous in every sense of the word. While the representation was monumental, Patty Jenkins also delivered a blockbuster summer movie that was so many things they often aren’t — a delightful period piece, an earnest love story (has Chris Pine ever been dreamier?), and a testament to a different kind of heroism, one grounded in the power of love. Get us some gold cuff bracelets stat. —MLL

Honorable mention: Girls Trip

2018: Crazy Rich Asians

Warner Bros. (5)

Last year marked Hollywood’s return to the rom-com and a new wave in Asian-American representation onscreen, and both trends intersected magnificently with the buzzy summer release of Crazy Rich Asians. Jon M. Chu’s irresistible adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel, about a Chinese-American woman who visits Singapore with her boyfriend only to discover that his family is among the wealthiest in Asia, made bank at the box office — it’s now the sixth-highest-grossing rom-com of all time — and, just six months after the majestic success of Black Panther, pushed the conversation and reinforced the power of telling diverse stories onscreen. With warmth, humor, and a swoony romance (and even swoonier wardrobe), there was nothing crazy about this summer love affair. —MS

Honorable mention: Avengers: Infinity War

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