Best Movies of 2012 - Featured

2012 has one of the most eclectic lists in StudioBinder’s series on the past decade. From raucous comedies to quiet introspections on political figures to superhero movies, 2012 had it all. No matter what kind of cinephile you consider yourself, there was plenty to choose from at cinemas. Chances are good you’re number one pick of 2012 is vastly different from anyone else’s.

Welcome to the next blog of an ongoing series to rank and review movies from the 2010s. The best movies of 2012 have been gathered here for your convenience. If you ever want to take a trip down memory lane, then start with the films on this list.

Top Movies 2012

20. The Grey

“Live and die on this day.”

Liam Neeson had one of the most interesting career revivals in recent memory, starring in action movies into his old age. While on the surface, the premise of “Liam Neeson fights wolves” would seem to belong in the same category as something like Taken, the film transcends typical action labels. The Grey features a philosophy ruminating on the heartless nature of, well, nature. 

After a plane crash, a group of oil workers must survive in the barren Alaskan wilderness while a pack of wolves hunts them down. It’s man versus nature at its very finest, featuring superb cinematography work from Masanobu Takayanagi. Writer and director Joe Carnahan knows precisely what impact he wants to leave on the audience, and he delivers it in spades.



  • Awards: Liam Neeson won for Best Actor at the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 79%
  • Watch Now →

Best Movies of 2012

19. Bernie

“He only shot her four times, not five.”

Bernie is based on an insane true story of the nicest man in a rural Texas town who’s charged with the murder of an affluent widow. The only problem is that everyone in the town loves Bernie so much, attorneys have to move the trial. This is just a sampling of the craziness you can expect out of Bernie. First and foremost, the film is a character study; Jack Black delivers a surprisingly intimate portrayal of Bernie, where even after he commits a heinous act, you can’t help but feel for him. 

Make no mistake, it’s still a comedy, but the humor comes from the seemingly low-key reactions out of the townspeople when talking of the titular character. The film isn’t afraid to tackle some real questions about law enforcement and consequences for one’s actions. There’s just a smidge of irony here, and it’s enough to make this small film feel big.



  • Awards: Most under-appreciated film according to a reader poll in the Los Angeles Times.
  • Tomatometer: 88%
  • Watch Now →

The Best Movies of 2012, Ranked

18. Life of Pi

“Faith is a house with many rooms.”

Life of Pi was certainly one of the most ambitious films to come out of 2012. It follows the story of a young man stranded at sea with a tiger as he reflects on his life. The technology at play here is nothing short of extraordinary with few shots having no CGI at play. 

And yet, the film has the philosophical substance necessary to make the CGI feel at home. It’s a film both about finding our place in the world and how cinema has the power to transform lives. Life of Pi is a mediation on life, and no matter what you go to the movies to experience, there is something here for everyone.



  • Awards: Won Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 87%
  • Watch Now →

Popular Movies 2012

17. 21 Jump Street

“Hey, Korean Jesus.”

Taking old properties from the 80s and 90s was nothing new in the 2010s. However, while others just feel like studios wanting to use I.P., 21 Jump Street feels like something the directors genuinely wanted to make. It deviates far, far from the source material to deliver a timely, fourth-wall-breaking comedy that manages to poke fun at remakes, reboots, and action movies all in one. 

Two police officers infiltrate a high school to get to the root of a drug problem, and along the way, they subvert one trope after the next. It’s held up surprisingly well in the years since, and while 22 Jump Street didn’t make any of StudioBinder’s best-of lists (2014 was a very good year for movies), it’s worth acknowledging how the sequel was able to build upon the ideas set in the first one and just go to town.



  • Awards: Mark Mothersbaugh won the Film Music Award at the BMI Film & TV Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 85%
  • Watch Now →

Best Films of 2012

16. Argo

“Argo f*ck yourself.”

It’s a tense thriller. It’s a satire on Hollywood. It’s a cinematic retelling of an important American story (just so long as you take the time to read what actually happened). Argo handles several tasks exquisitely well, and although Ben Affleck has directed better movies, it still feels pertinent to today’s world. 

Argo is the rare thriller that doesn’t rely on guns or bombs to build suspense. Instead, you have the outline of a plan, and once it’s in motion, it all comes down to perfect timing. Affleck directs the hell of the climactic sequence.



  • Awards: Won Best Picture, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 96%
  • Watch Now →

Good Movies to Watch 2012

15. Django Unchained

“Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?”

Django Unchained makes for an interesting companion piece to Inglourious Basterds. Whereas the latter Quentin Tarantino takes on nazism, in the former, he takes on American slavery. Both films feature A+ dialogue from Tarantino, but the performances, particularly from Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and Leonardo DiCaprio elevate the writing to provide some of the finest performances of the year. 

Nearly 20 years into his career, one would think Tarantino would gradually lose his touch or that his flourishes would become predictable and tiresome. Django Unchained still has all the violence and revenge set pieces you would expect, but it still manages to feel fresh. Or maybe I just don’t get tired of watching awful people get their comeuppance.



  • Awards: Won Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 86%
  • Watch Now →

Best Movies to Come Out in 2012

14. Looper

“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…”

Looper is a thought-provoking yet action-packed sci-fi flick, much in the same vein as Blade Runner or Total Recall. The premise is a lot to summarize in a sentence, but needless to say, it’s probably for the best if you go into it a clean slate. The film takes great care to provide all of the exposition you need, and while it’s a bit slow-going at first to get a feel for the universe, the payoff is extraordinary. 

Writer and director Rian Johnson is the real star of the show is. He shows off his brilliantly unique concepts and eye for detail. One aspect I love is how the film acknowledges the time travel aspect is wonky, so rather than waste time coming up with a convoluted way to explain it, it wisely, and humorously glosses over it. The film instead chooses to focus its time and energy on dissecting the concept of choice and whether it’s possible for people to escape their fates.



  • Awards: Won the National Board of Review Award for Best Original Screenplay.
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

Best Films of 2012 List

13. Dredd

“Inhabitants of Peach Trees, this is Judge Dredd.”

What can I say? I have a soft spot for brilliantly executed action films. 2012 was a turning point for the superhero genre with The Dark Knight Rises bringing an end to Batman’s reign and The Avengers ushering in a new type of lighthearted flair. A Spider-Man movie also came out that year, but we don’t talk about that. Between all this, you have Dredd, one of the most rewatchable action films to come out of the last decade.

Drawing more from The Raid than comic books, Dredd is a visual splendor. The slow-motion sequences stand out beautifully. The film makes good use of 3D technology. Things don’t whizz past you or jump in your face. Instead, the bleak landscape creeps steadily toward you, instilling an appropriate sense of dread. For a shot of adrenaline, watching Dredd is a necessity for any genre enthusiast.



  • Awards: The film won for Best 3D at the Empire Awards, UK.
  • Tomatometer: 79%
  • Watch Now →

Most Popular Movies 2012

12. Zero Dark Thirty

“I'm going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I'm going to kill bin Laden.”

Zero Dark Thirty, which came out a year and a half after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, was the most controversial film of the year. Both sides of the political aisle seemed to have issues with it, and in hindsight, the film’s legacy remains murky. However, you can’t deny director Kathryn Bigelow crafted one of the tautest thrillers of the year that fills you with tension from the beginning and never lets go. 

Zero Dark Thirty could have easily been a “Hoo-rah” moment for the American military, but there’s a surprising amount of depth. While we all know how it ends, we don’t get any kind of release until the very end. Up until that point, we merely see the destruction that occurred as a result of the quest to find and kill bin Laden. The film shows bin Laden’s death as a necessity to gain some sense of closure, but it paints an uncertain portrait of the military landscape moving forward and how the scars that are already present will never heal.



  • Awards: Won Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 91%
  • Watch Now →

List of the Best Movies of 2012

11. Killing Them Softly

“America is not a country; it's just a business.”

Three crooks rob a mob gambling operation and then find themselves the target of a hitman. Killing Them Softly is a brutal film. It’s set against the backdrop of the 2007/2008 financial crisis and the swearing-in of Barack Obama. The film brilliantly captures the emptiness felt by many who felt left behind. It portrays typical criminal fare besides those who got the country into a financial catastrophe and forces you to ask yourself who’s worse. 

Killing Them Softly is ultimately a rumination on money and the lengths people will go to get some. Three crooks were hunted down for stealing from the mob, but Wall Street gets left off the hook for stealing from millions of Americans. Another financial downfall is imminent, and I believe the film will only become more prescient as the years go on.



  • Awards: Nominated for Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Tomatometer: 73%
  • Watch Now →

Top 10 Movies 2012

10. Marvel’s The Avengers

“Puny god.”

In the aftermath of Infinity War and Endgame, the original Marvel’s The Avengers feels almost quaint. Six superheroes join forces to stop Loki from bringing an alien invasion to Earth. As we’ve learned from Justice League and Netflix’s The Defenders, team-ups are not slam dunks, and they’re pretty difficult to pull off. Each character needs adequate development without getting lost in the grand spectacle. Fortunately, Joss Whedon gives every character their due (minus Hawkeye, but he’d get his due later). The Avengers is popcorn entertainment at its finest

The Avengers ushered in the era of the cinematic universe, and the reason no other studio really managed to get one off the ground is because it’s truly like capturing lightning in a bottle. The actors were perfectly cast, and the writing for each of them was so well-done you knew precisely where each one was coming from. Their agendas and belief systems are clear, so when the final battle happens, we can simply enjoy the spectacle.



  • Awards: Won Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor at the Saturn Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 91%
  • Watch Now →

Popular Movies 2012

9. The Cabin in the Woods

“These f*cking zombies. Remember when you could just throw a girl in a volcano?”

Meta-humor in the horror genre is nothing new. It’s been around since before Scream. However, no other movie has done it quite as well as The Cabin in the Woods. The “cabin” part of the film plays out fairly straight. The real innovation comes in how we get most of our character development from the engineers watching the characters’ every move, making sure they meet their grisly fates to appease ancient gods. 

The film has a lot to say about the current state of the horror genre. The engineers are disappointed when the college students are taken out by zombies… yet again. They want diversity, just like the audience wants to see something different, too. But in the end, the film makes it clear that all anyone really wants is to see an utter bloodbath and to give in to our cynical nature. 

In the years since The Cabin in the Woods, the horror genre has seen a resurgence of sorts with genuinely innovative films like The Babadook and Get Out. In a way, The Cabin in the Woods could almost be seen as the end of an era that made horror filmmakers try a little harder.



  • Awards: Won Best Horror or Thriller Film at the Saturn Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 91%
  • Watch Now →

List of the Best Movies of 2012

8. The Loneliest Planet

“So, we are sheep?”

On the surface, The Loneliest Planet has a simple story. A couple engaged to be married go on a backpacking trek in Georgia. A monumental event comes between the couple, and they struggle throughout the rest of the journey to reconcile. What’s remarkable is that the characters don’t spend a lot of time talking about that singular moment. Their silences speak volumes, and the audience is forced to discern how they feel about one another up until the very end. 

Themes like masculinity, betrayal, and forgiveness come to the forefront, but what’s striking most of all is the way the landscape throughout the journey is filmed. While the characters are dwarfed by mountains and vast stretches of trails, their emotions still come out, and the tension between the couple remains palpable along the way.



Ranking the Best Movies That Came Out in 2012

7. Skyfall

“Orphans always make the best recruits.”

For a franchise that has spanned decades, James Bond continues to deliver essential sequels. Skyfall could’ve just been another checkbox on a studio’s to-do list, but the film adds to the James Bond mythos more so than any other film in years. 

The James Bond series typically reflects cinematic trends at the time. For the Daniel Craig series, much of the action is taken from superhero films, more particularly The Dark Knight trilogy. But Skyfall is more than just a riff on proven formulas. It provides thrilling set pieces and a menacing performance from Javier Bardem to make it not just a great action movie, but one of the most exciting movies to come out of 2012.



  • Awards: Won Best Original Song and Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 92%
  • Watch Now →

Best Movies of 2012 for Filmmakers

6. Lincoln

“Don’t encourage this nonsense.”“It's time for me to go. But I would rather stay.”

Many biopics have a tendency to turn their subjects into saints. They become martyrs, stripped away of any nuances that would allow the audience to relate to such figures. There’s arguably no person from history who could have received this sainthood more thoroughly than Abraham Lincoln, but Steven Spielberg gives him the weight he deserves and portrays him as a regular man doing what he believes is necessary.

Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln is pretty much Oscar gold, but he earned all of the accolades that came his way in this performance that truly sees him disappear into the role. Much like what he would do later with The Post, Spielberg seems interested in these historical pieces that still bear weight in our modern world. On either side of the political aisle, there is much to be learned here.



  • Awards: Won Best Actor and Best Production Design at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 89%
  • Watch Now →

Ranking the Top Movies 2012

5. Silver Linings Playbook

“Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

Romantic comedies are a dying breed, and Silver Linings Playbook excels precisely because it’s a rom-com in the clothing of a serious drama. Two people with mental illness partake in a dance competition, with Bradley Cooper’s Pat working to make things work with his ex-wife. It could have descended into condescending or outright offensive territory, but it expertly handles its mental illness themes with care, never allowing the characters to become cliches of their conditions. 

Jennifer Lawrence is the true star of the picture here. Tiffany could have been another manic pixie dream girl, but Jennifer makes her come alive and feel real. Her flaws are real as is her acceptance that a part of her will always be a little sloppy.



  • Awards: Jennifer Lawrence won for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. It also won for Best Ensemble Acting at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 92%
  • Watch Now →

List of Best Films of 2012

4. Beasts of the Southern Wild

“I wanna be cohesive.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild feels like a transcendent hallucination at times. Set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina, the film follows a young girl, but rather than focus on disaster, our attention is on the coming-of-age story of a young girl trying to keep her family intact. 

Benh Zeitlin draws heavy influence from Terrence Malick in the way he frames and structures his movie. However, the shots never feel boisterous. It’s all in the service of getting an audience to empathize with different types of characters they have seen before. It’s a breath of fresh air, introducing the world to exciting new talents.



  • Awards: Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest person ever nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
  • Tomatometer: 87%
  • Watch Now →

Good Movies 2012 for Kids

3. ParaNorman

“Can you see ghosts like, all the time?”

Stop motion animation is an arduous task, so all the love to Laika for continuously pushing the boundaries of the medium. The studio has had numerous hits over the years, but none have hit emotionally quite like ParaNorman. Norman can talk to the dead, and it’s up to him to save his town from an evil curse. 

While there are visual delights and funny gags for kids, the film has a thematic resonance squarely targeted at adults. In the movie, the townspeople unfairly hated and killed a young girl they believed in witchcraft. This is mirrored in the presence as the current townspeople want to destroy the zombies. The film shows how adults can be the biggest bullies of all and terrify others. It will leave you with plenty to chew on after, but in the meantime, you can enjoy gorgeous animation that’s coming in harder supply.



  • Awards: Won for Best Animated Film at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
  • Tomatometer: 88%
  • Watch Now →

Best Films of 2012, Ranked

2. Moonrise Kingdom

“We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that?”

Moonrise Kingdom is a joy to watch. Two 12-year olds fall in love and run away, on the lam from parents and authorities trying to bring them back home. It has all of the stylistic flourishes you want out of a Wes Anderson film, and yet, it stands apart from other movies in his filmography. Namely, there’s a sweetness there as he tells a story of lost innocence.

There are many ways to read the theme. It could be a film about sexual awakening. It could be a film about the existential desire to flee society. The film functions as a different allegory for everybody, but the one thing that remains consistent across the board is how it is a visual treat you’ll want to watch again and again.



  • Awards: Won Best Use of Music in a Film by the Boston Society of Film Critics. 
  • Tomatometer: 93%
  • Watch Now →

The Best Film of 2012

1. The Master

“What a day. We fought against the day and we won. We won.”

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on Scientology, is a cinematic tour de force. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix prove why they are some of the finest actors of their generation. The two contrast with each other wonderfully with Hoffman having an icy cold deliberateness to his performance while Phoenix is almost manic. 

The film presents varying ideologies people commit themselves to religion, business, the military. Ultimately, mastery of any of them is the quest to have control over others. It’s a challenging film to be sure, but there are riches to be gained. It’s about as perfect for a film as you can get and nothing like it having ever been made since.



Up Next

The Best Films of 2013

The Master being seen as the best film of 2012 may not come as a surprise to some. But in 2013, you’re sure to find more than a few upsets. What do you think was the best film that year? Continue reading through our series to find out. 

Up Next: The Best Films of 2013 →
Solution - Shot List and Storyboard

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows. 

Learn More ➜

Copy link