Best Movies of 2016 - Featured

By 2016, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing. However, superheroes were far from the only films coming out in the mid-2010s as a resurgence of independent filmmaking came to the forefront. Filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese, would make films radically different than anything that would come before and after. It was an exciting year for film, provided you knew where to look.

Continue reading to see what StudioBinder’s best movies of 2016 were. It’s part of our ongoing series to review the best films of the last decade, so if there’s anything you missed, this is the list to check out.

TOP MOVIES 2016

20. 10 Cloverfield Lane

“Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come.”

10 Cloverfield Lane perhaps works best because it’s only a sequel to the 2008 monster film in name only. Instead of focusing on extraterrestrial threats, this film instead makes the monster a man who has confined two survivors in an underground bunker. He insists a chemical attack has taken place outside, and our protagonist isn’t sure what to believe. 

The movie makes the most out of its confined setting, making for a tense thriller. The only way it would’ve been better is if the audience had no idea they were watching a Cloverfield film from the start. Still, John Goodman gives one of the most impressive and nuanced performances of his career, making for a thrilling piece of filmmaking.


2016 IN REVIEW

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

  • Awards: John Goodman won Best Actor at the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards. 
  • Tomatometer90%
  • GOOD MOVIES 2016

    19. Elle

    “I killed you by coming here.”

    With Paul Verhoeven directing, you know you are not just getting your average, run-of-the-mill thriller with Elle. It begins with the titular character being raped and tracking down her assaulter while re-examining the relationships she has had with all of the men in her life. It’s a gripping psychological thriller with a standout performance from Isabelle Huppert. 

    Where Elle excels is that it’s not just a story about one woman suffering an assault. It looks at how misogyny intertwines with virtually every aspect of the protagonist’s life. The film itself defies traditional labels as it’s part character study, thriller, horror, and melodrama. One thing it never is is boring.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    ELLE

    • Awards: Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress from the Austin Film Critics Association. 
    • Tomatometer91%

    BEST MOVIES OF 2016

    18. Manchester by the Sea

    “I can't beat it. I can't beat it. I'm sorry.”

    If we were making a list of the most depressing films of the 2010s, Manchester by the Sea would likely take the top spot. It tells the story of a depressed uncle who’s forced to look after his nephew after the boy’s father passes away. 

    Casey Affleck earned a lot of attention for his role in the film, but his performance is further buoyed by an outstanding supporting cast. Lucas Hedges proves himself to be a talent to watch, and Michelle Williams is the real star of the show. Director Kenneth Lonergan knows how to give the location a sense of inescapable dread, adding a layer of grim undertones to an already depressing story.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

    • Awards: Won Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer96%


    BEST FILMS OF 2016

    17. The Witch

    “Black Phillip, Black Phillip, a crown grows out his head.”

    The Witch feels like an entirely new genre of horror. The film follows a New England family in 1630 living on the outskirts of a foreboding woods. As strange occurrences happen around them, the parents accuse their teenage daughter of being a witch. Paranoia and religious fanaticism are prevalent throughout the film, which feels just as timely today as it did centuries ago. 

    The film is a slow burn, but director Robert Eggers knows how to build an atmosphere. He expertly uses what we don’t see to build onto the audience’s sense of dread. We know something is out there, and it all leads to a satisfying yet genuinely disturbing finale.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    THE WITCH

    • Awards: Robert Eggers won Best New Filmmaker from the Boston Society of Film Critics. 
    • Tomatometer90%


    POPULAR MOVIES 2016

    16. Don’t Breathe

    “It's kind of messed up to rob a blind guy, isn't it?”

    Three thieves break into a blind man’s house expecting an easy score only to end up fighting for their lives as he traps them inside with him. Don’t Breathe is a far more Hollywood-esque horror film, but it excels at what it does. The suspense never lets up, and when the house goes dark, making the characters blind like the old man, you feel every panicked moment intensely.

    Don’t Breathe is a masterclass in building tension, but the movie sets itself apart by having plenty of social commentary as well. It’s no mistake the film was set in a decaying Detroit, a city that has abandoned both the thieves and the old man. They’re left to fight amongst themselves, and even after escaping, they aren’t out of the woods yet.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    DON’T BREATHE

    • Awards: Won Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards. 
    • Tomatometer88%

    GOOD MOVIES TO WATCH 2016

    15. Jackie

    “I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.”

    Natalie Portman proves why she’s one of the best actresses of her generation by embodying all of the complexities present in Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s death in Jackie. The film takes a page out of Steve Jobs than other standard biopics by choosing to focus on a single event in Jackie’s life and using it as a lens to explore everything that made Jackie Kennedy the woman she is. 

    What we get is an enrapturing character piece about a woman struggling to cope with her husband’s death while trying to decide what his ultimate legacy should be. Simultaneously, she’s learning of infidelities while fighting off members of the press bombarding her with questions. Concepts of history and how people are remembered resonate more thoroughly today than ever before, making Jackie an essential history lesson.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    JACKIE

    • Awards: Won Best Original Score from the Boston Society of Film Critics. 
    • Tomatometer87%

    GREAT MOVIES 2016

    14. Fences

    “You got more stories than the devil got sinners.”

    Adapting August Wilson’s seminal stage play was no easy task. When it came to adapting the play to the screen, less seemed to definitely be more. The movie runs much like a play with minimal music and the focus being more on the characters than settings and scores. Instead, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis provide some of the best performances of their careers, and with those two on screen, you never want to look away. 

    Denzel plays a former baseball player, bitter that Major League Baseball integrated after he retired. He now works as a garbage collector, bitter at the world and takes it out on his family. The film isn’t cinematic in most senses as Denzel, who also directs, remains astoundingly faithful to the source material. But with material this resonant with modern racial issues, it doesn’t need to do anything flashy. The anger and sadness felt by the characters are enough.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    FENCES

    • Awards: Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer92%

    BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIES 2016

    13. Deadpool

    “Time to make the chimi-f*ckin'-changas.”

    Superhero movies are inescapable these days. For the genre to continue and thrive, it needed to undergo innovation, so with Deadpoolthese films entered their postmodern phase. The film takes nothing seriously, lampooning everything held sacred by traditional superhero origin stories. 

    Deadpool could’ve just gotten by on being absolutely hilarious. However, it really takes its premise to 11 and never looks back. Other superhero parodies have occurred, but they’ve always fallen back on the tropes they set out to mock. Deadpool sticks with its insanity all the way through, leading to hopefully many other postmodern superhero movies to come.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    DEADPOOL

    • Awards: Won Best Comedy and Best Actor in a Comedy at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. 
    • Tomatometer85%

    BEST MOVIES FROM 2016

    12. 13th

    “There are exceptions, including criminals.”

    There’s perhaps no film as infuriating to watch as 13thThe documentary details the history of the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery except for punishment of a crime. With that loophole, generation upon generation of black men have been sent to prison and forced to work for little or nothing. The documentary makes it clear that slavery never went away; it merely took on another name. 

    Ava DuVernay expertly films an engrossing film using interviews and archival footage to show the injustices that have occurred over the years and continue to happen to this day. What makes the documentary stand out is the sense of urgency present within every frame. It’s clear this is an issue that needs to be corrected yesterday, and yet, those in power continue to sit on their hands doing nothing. Even if you think you know what’s been going on behind the scenes in the prison industrial complex, the film shows how we got here and how it’s impacted millions of lives.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    13TH

    • Awards: Won Best Documentary at the African-American Film Critics Association Awards.
    • Tomatometer97%

    TOP RATED MOVIES 2016

    11. La La Land

    “People love what other people are passionate about.”

    An homage to musicals of days of old, La La Land is a personification of Hollywood and what it takes to make it in the land of dreams. The cinematography is outstanding in the film, at times making Hollywood look almost magical and in other instances, bringing it down into the dirt. Hollywood is a city of contradictions, and the movie manages to capture that aesthetic perfectly. 

    La La Land makes for an intriguing companion piece to WhiplashThe former ends optimistically (to an extent) and shows what can happen when you follow your dreams. Meanwhile, the latter shows exactly the toll pursuing your dreams can take on you and how you have to sacrifice everything to pursue your passion. They also both heavily deal with jazz, but that’s besides the point.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    LA LA LAND

    • Awards: Won Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Song, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer91%

    “Ever since I was born, I was dope.”

    Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is one of the funniest experiences you could’ve had in a movie theater in the 2010s. From The Lonely Island, the film updates the mockumentary in hilarious fashion, building upon what was built by Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox StoryIt’s satire at the highest level, and all the celebrity cameos are a delight. 

    You don’t need to have watched a Justin Bieber or Jonas Brothers documentary to understand the humor at play. The jokes and gags fly at you so fast, you’ll constantly laugh throughout. And behind all the humor is a loving story of friendship, which is mostly what I want out of a film.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING

    • Awards: Won Best Picture at the All Def Movie Awards. 
    • Tomatometer78%

    MUST SEE MOVIES 2016

    9. Silence

    “I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

    Silence is among Martin Scorsese’s most underrated films, but it’s by far one of his most impassioned. The film follows two missionaries who set out to spread the word of the Gospel while tracking down their missing mentor. It’s a reflection on theology and spirituality without ever glorifying martyrdom. 

    Silence feels more like a Terrence Malick film than a Scorsese one, but that ultimately works to its advantage. It feels like a grand experiment with a message about having faith while undergoing immense suffering. It’s not an easy watch, and you may not ever want to watch it again, but it’s worth watching once to see a master who understands his craft in-depth show what is possible in the medium of filmmaking.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    SILENCE

    • Awards: Nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer83%

    LIST OF THE BEST MOVIES OF 2016

    8. Kubo and the Two Strings

    “If you must blink, do it now.”

    Kubo and the Two Strings proves what’s possible with animation. It tells an epic tale, drawing upon Japanese influences, about a boy who must save his family from evil spirits. This is truly uncharted territory for an animated film, which feels uniquely made for both children and adults, never feeling condescending or trying to be more than it needs to be. 

    By far, it’s one of the most beautiful animated films ever made. Each frame is a painting. And that beauty is complemented wonderfully by a complex story about death and dealing with the loss of a loved one. For kids, it’s a denser watch than what they may be used to, but for kids turning into cinephiles, it may just be their new favorite film.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

    • Awards: Won Best Animated Film from the Florida Film Critics Circle.
    • Tomatometer97%

    THE BEST MOVIES OF 2016, RANKED

    7. Hell or High Water

    “Suck my D. Eat my A.”

    Hell or High Water is a heist movie of the highest caliber. It concerns two brothers out to steal money to save their family’s property and the Texas Ranger on their tail. It’s the best kind of neo-Western, taking all of the staples of the Western genre and perfectly transporting them into 21st-century aesthetics. 

    It blurs the lines between right and wrong. Despite being bank robbers, you understand the brothers’ plight. After all, their economic downturn is painfully relatable in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 recession. They’ve been abandoned by a system meant to help them, and now, they’ll turn to the only resource they have left.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    HELL OR HIGH WATER

    • Awards: Jeff Bridges won Best Supporting Actor from the Detroit Film Critics Society and the Florida Film Critics Circle. 
    • Tomatometer97%

    RANKING THE TOP MOVIES 2016

    6. The Lobster

    “I think we are a match.”

    Yorgos Lanthimos’ films are an acquired taste, but if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole, there are rewards to be found. The Lobster is a biting satire. It takes place in a world where people must find a mate. Our protagonist, David, has 45 days to find a partner, or he will be transformed into a lobster, as per society’s rules. It has a lot to say about rejecting monogamy in most of its forms as well as the pleasure that can be found by choosing to remain in a single life. 

    The deadpan humor works brilliantly here. For fans of absurdist works, this film is a must-watch with all of the madness serving as a fine allegorical text for how people conduct romantic relationships in the real world. The Lobster leaves you with a lot to chew on, and for those tired of traditional tales of love, it’s an exquisite film to watch.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    THE LOBSTER

    • Awards: Olivia Colman won Best Supporting Actress at the British Independent Film Awards. 
    • Tomatometer88%

    TOP 5 BEST MOVIES OF 2016

    5. The Handmaiden

    “Love. A conman like you knows what love is?”

    Twists and turns are abundant in Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden. The film follows a young handmaiden working for a con man who begins working for a colonial estate’s heiress in an attempt to defraud her of her fortune. The film’s automatically impressive for how it adapts a novel set in Victorian England and transports it to 1930s Korea during the Japanese occupation. 

    The Handmaiden is a twisted web bursting with sexy set pieces and grim humor. The portrayal of femininity found within is complex and empowered. While Chan-wook Park is perhaps best known for OldboyThe Handmaiden is a worthy addition to his catalog that ranks just as high.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    THE HANDMAIDEN

    • Awards: Won Best Film Not in the English Language at the British Academy Film Awards. 
    • Tomatometer95%

    RANKING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2016

    4. The Nice Guys

    “F*cking Chet.”

    Ryan Gosling earned a lot of praise in 2016 for La La Land, but for my money, his best work was in the criminally underseen The Nice Guys. Gosling and Russell Crowe star as mismatched cops who dive into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles to get to the bottom of a girl’s disappearance. With a script and surefire direction from Shane Black, there’s ample wit and gags on display, harkening back to the era of awesome 80s buddy cop movies. 

    The Nice Guys is a downright riot. It wonderfully encapsulates a bygone era while throwing in enough modern flourishes to make it feel something modern audiences can connect with. By the end of the film, you’ll wish it the movie was a TV pilot so that you could continue watching all of these wacky hijinks.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    THE NICE GUYS

    • Awards: Ryan Gosling won Best Comedic Performance from the San Diego Film Critics Society.
    • Tomatometer93%

    REVIEWING THE BEST MOVIES FROM 2016

    3. Green Room

    “It's funny. You were so scary at night.”

    Green Room is a brutal film. It follows a punk band that plays a gig at a neo-Nazi music club and then witnesses the aftermath of a grisly murder. They become captives and have to fight Nazis to escape. Director Jeremy Saulnier frames the film beautifully with moments of tension released through unabashed violence. It’s a film that’s managed to beautifully capture its punk rock aesthetic in virtually every way. 

    It feels like an homage to 70s grindhouse exploitation films, but upon rewatch, it’s so much more intelligent than that. It makes you feel trapped inside this club like the band, creating a claustrophobic experience where you feel every punch, every bash. It’s a film that sticks with you because, unlike other horror films where you know the monster isn’t real, you know these monsters are still very much present in our society.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    GREEN ROOM

    • Awards: Won Best Makeup & SFX at the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards. 
    • Tomatometer91%

    LIST OF THE TOP MOVIES 2016

    2. Moonlight

    “You're my only. I'm your only.”

    Moonlight is divided into three parts showcasing the life of a gay, African-American boy as he enjoys fleeting moments of joy among routine abuse and neglect. Moonlight is a beautiful film, both in its subject matter and in the way director Barry Jenkins chooses to focus on particular characters in particular places. It’s a film about a very specific person, but it feels universal. We’re all yearning for something greater, searching for that one person to make us whole. And more times than not, that person isn’t available. 

    It’s an understated type of film. It’s tender rather than in-your-face. Moonlight is a rare kind of film that focuses on people who don’t often get to see themselves on the big screen, let alone win Oscars. It’s the kind of film you want to pass onto the next generation to show what is possible with this medium.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    MOONLIGHT

    • Awards: Won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer98%

    THE BEST MOVIE OF 2016

    1. Arrival

    “Memory is a strange thing.”

    Arrival is one of the most ambitious films in recent memory. It focuses on an alien invasion, but there are no big blue beams shooting up into the sky. Instead, it focuses on mankind’s quest to communicate with the aliens and to determine why they are here and what they want. In a larger scope, the film is about how we communicate with one another and how our perspectives can influence how we perceive each other. 

    Arrival is an extraordinary achievement. It deals with many lofty themes and could have numerous interpretations. But it never buckles under the magnitude of its ambition. On the contrary, it exceeds them. Arrival is the kind of big-budget sci-fi movies we need. And above all else, it shows why Amy Adams needs a damn Oscar already.


    2016 IN REVIEW

    ARRIVAL

    • Awards: Won Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards. 
    • Tomatometer94%

    Up Next

    The Best Movies of 2017

    Are you surprised by any of my choices for 2016’s best films? Wait until you see what we have in store for 2017. From Phantom Thread to Wonder Woman, StudioBinder’s look back at the last decade in film continues with our ranking of the best films of 2017. 

    Up Next: The Best Movies of 2017 →
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