The best British films of the 2010s

Although Hollywood continues to lead the way when it comes to blockbuster cinema, the UK film industry has held its own over the last ten years and is responsible for some of the best movies released in the 2010s.

The competition was fierce and the selection process was brutal, but we've just about narrowed down the field. These 10 movies are, in their own way, the best that the British film industry had to offer over the last ten years between 2010-2019.

Dunkirk (2017)

Harry Styles in 'Dunkirk' (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Harry Styles in 'Dunkirk' (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

If Christopher Nolan is positioning himself as the natural heir to Steven Spielberg, then he's going about it the right way. Both men got started with tense and thrilling mystery debuts, both have marshalled more than a few big-budget sci-fi spectaculars, and in 2017, Nolan served up his own version of Saving Private Ryan in Dunkirk - a stirring, sobering war story par excellence.

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It's as unconventional as war movies get, with scant dialogue, few notable cast members and an evacuation and not an advance as its centrepiece. Nolan marshals events across land, sea and air, but the film's genius is in its use of time, spanning, respectively, one week, one day and one hour of action, expertly inter-cutting between the three story strands to build to a powerful climax. Spielberg eat your heart out.

Under The Skin (2013)

Scarlett Johansson in Jonathan Glazer's deeply unsettling <i>Under The Skin</i>. (Studiocanal)
Scarlett Johansson in Jonathan Glazer's deeply unsettling Under The Skin. (Studiocanal)

There’s something quite alien about Under The Skin: it’s a deeply disturbing and dizzying movie which it’s impossible to get a read from - it literally feels like it’s from another world. Jonathan Glazer takes an in-name-only approach to adaptation, stripping Michel Faber's story back until only ciphers are left. All we know is that Scarlett Johansson is stalking the streets of Glasgow dressed like Bette Lynch, and she wants man-flesh; it sounds like the makings of a fantastic Friday night, but the truth is abjectly more terrifying.

With no real 'boo' scares and only a haunting score from composer Mica Levi for company, Under The Skin is genuinely unsettling in ways that very few horror movies are - just thinking of the scene with the baby on the beach makes us shudder. It feels like there's a big black hole where the movie's soul should be, which is about as ringing as endorsements get for this genre.

Paddington 2 (2017)

Paddington 2 becomes the best-reviewed movie of all time
Paddington 2 becomes the best-reviewed movie of all time

It's hard to imagine a more heart-warming and life-affirming representation of modern Britain than Paddington 2, ostensibly a knockabout children's comedy on the face of it but one that hides a pure and beating heart beneath its fur. A Who's Who of British comedy man the movie's many stations; even Hugh Grant proffers his best performance in a decade, cut loose as a camp and outrageously cartoonish pastiche of a past-it actor turned criminal mastermind.

It's not just the note-perfect Ben Whishaw voiceover, the exquisite comedic set-pieces or the vein of none-more-British absurdity that runs through Paddington 2 that make it special - it's that it's a movie that everyone can enjoy. 'Feel-good' hardly does it justice: Paddington 2 is a concentrated ray of sunshine that can burst through even the darkest clouds.

A Field In England (2013)

Ben Wheatley's <i>A Field In England</i> was released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-ray, digital and on television in 2013. (Film4)
Ben Wheatley's A Field In England was released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-ray, digital and on television in 2013. (Film4)

Pretty much any of Ben Wheatley’s first few movies could make the grade here (with the possible exception of the very-American gun-toting shoot-em-up Free Fire) given how unique and vital the director’s voice is for the British film industry. In Down Terrace he gave fresh urgency to the council estate drama; in Kill List he resurrected and reappropriated some serious Wicker Man juju; in Sightseers he played mass murder for laughs and put a rural spin on Natural Born Killers.

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However, it’s his grand experiment, A Field In England, that makes the cut, due to its quite frightening ambition. A black and white period piece cut from Witchfinder General cloth, it’s a remarkably brave psychedelic misadventure that matches arthouse sensibilities with modern horror. Such is the nature of the drug trip genre it’s impossible to categorise, but once seen it’s never forgotten.

Four Lions (2010)

Nigel Lyndsay, Kayvan Novak, Arsher Ali and Riz Ahmed in Four Lions. (Optimum Releasing)
Nigel Lyndsay, Kayvan Novak, Arsher Ali and Riz Ahmed in Four Lions. (Optimum Releasing)

Allegedly, the reason James Cameron never made a sequel to True Lies was because, after 9/11, “terrorism wasn’t funny any more”. Chris Morris begs to differ. The twisted brainwrong behind BrassEye finds humour in even the scariest places in Four Lions, a comedy that follows four hapless British extremists who plot to destroy Western civilisation but execute their jihad with all the expertise of Mr Bean.

It’s no mere shock tactic, either: Kayvan Novak and Riz Ahmed tap into a rich vein of pathos among the laughs (Novak’s character Waj equates the afterlife with a water park; his rally cry is “Rubber Dinghy Rapids, bro!”) and Morris never makes fun of serious threats, only the absurdities of extremism. Bold, brave and bowel-troublingly funny, Four Lions practically invented its own genre: the bomb-com.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

John Hurt (L), pictured with Gary Oldman who was Oscar-nominated as George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson's <i>Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy</i>. (Studiocanal)
John Hurt (L), pictured with Gary Oldman who was Oscar-nominated as George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (Studiocanal)

Quite possibly the most British movie ever made, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is what happens when you combine critically-acclaimed literature, classically trained actors, a cool Swedish director, stiff upper lips, subterfuge, incessant smoking and period drama. Based on the spy tome by former MI5 agent John le Carré, T2S2 brings to life the character of Cold War operative George Smiley courtesy of a career-best performance from Gary Oldman.

With plotting as tight as a drum and tension baked right into the story's foundations, it's a fascinating - if slow-burning - mystery thriller that makes the most of a criminally good British cast, with roles to spare for Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Stephen Graham and John Hurt. If this is how the rest of the world sees British film, then that’s fine with us.

Tyrannosaur (2011)

Paddy Considine made his directorial feature debut with the blistering <i>Tyrannosaur</i>. (Studiocanal)
Paddy Considine made his directorial feature debut with the blistering Tyrannosaur. (Studiocanal)

Olivia Colman ended the decade as the reigning monarch of the small screen and Best Actress of the big, but at the start of the decade she was still relatively unproven when it came to drama. Tyrannosaur director Paddy Considine cast her as an abused wife finding solace in the company of Peter Mullan’s rage-fuelled loner, where she cast off her comedic shackles completely and delivered a devastatingly fragile and emotional performance as a woman pushed to the edge of decency.

The film was outrageously overlooked at the BAFTAs, but it remains a fascinating character study and a heart-breaking kitchen sink drama in the Ken Loach mold that deserves a much wider audience than the one it got.

Shame (2012)

Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen's <i>Shame</i>. (Fox Searchlight)
Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen's Shame. (Fox Searchlight)

Steve McQueen's sex addiction drama Shame wasn't quite as big a success story as the director's Oscar-winning follow-up, 12 Years A Slave, possibly due to its dreaded NC-17 rating in the US and, thanks to star Michael Fassbender's constant nakedness, its habit of gaining the wrong kind of column, er, inches.

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It remains, however, a shocking and saddening tale of self-abuse and self-destruction, and in the relationship between Fassbender and screen sister Carey Mulligan, Shame paints a damning portrait of dependency. Fassbender has never been better, or bendier: if you can find a male performance from this decade that has more anger and resentment simmering beneath the surface, then it's probably on this list as well.

Attack The Block (2011)

John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker and Luke Treadaway in Joe Cornish's <i>Attack The Block</i>. (Optimum Releasing)
John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker and Luke Treadaway in Joe Cornish's Attack The Block. (Optimum Releasing)

Tapping into the same energy that powers Edgar Wright’s hyperactive blockbusters, former small screen personality Joe Cornish made his big screen debut with this ferociously funny alien encounter that takes the best US sci-fi tropes and brilliantly relocates them to a block of flats in South London.

With a barnstorming original soundtrack from Basement Jaxx providing the movie’s racing pulse, Cornish gives Attack The Block real teeth: its Britishness is authentic (it was released with a glossary to give context to some of the more interesting colloquialisms), the creatures are like something out of a John Carpenter joint and, in leading man John Boyega, he unearthed a future star of the British film scene. Crucially, there’s no other British sci-fi else quite like it, released before or since. Peng, bruv.

Skyfall (2012)

Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in <i>Skyfall</i>. (Sony Pictures)
Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in Skyfall. (Sony Pictures)

Well, you couldn’t have a decade of a British film without Bond, could you? Forget 2015’s flat follow-up Spectre: Skyfall saw Bond at the height of his powers in 2012, the film as much a celebration of Britishness than both the London Olympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee.

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A sort of 007 Greatest Hits compilation, Skyfall has screen-searing action, a properly intimidating villain in Javier Bardem and even that most rare quality in a Bond outing, a strong female character. Judi Dench’s swansong as M saw her go out on a high and her passing gave Bond a chance to show his human side. Not just the best Bond movie of the decade, it’s the best Bond of the 21st century to date and one of the greatest British action films of all time.

James Bond returns in 2020’s No Time To Die.