Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim

15 Best Movies from 2013, Ranked

Yes, I’m sorry, all these iconic flicks came out 10 years ago and you are old. I am, too. But consider an alternate take: These movies stood the test of time and you had the privilege of being around to see them in theaters. Personally I think 2013 was a super strong year for movies, to the extent that getting a list of just 15 was tricky. But here they are, ranked from “very good” to “very, very, very good.”

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15. The Purge

Ethan Hawke in The Purge (Universal)
(Universal)

Sure, The Purge franchise has its detractors, but you can’t deny the impact it made. The dystopian premise is simple and stark: for one night every year, all crime is legal, including murder. What will the characters do? What would you do? In this first ever Purge film we follow Ethan Hawke’s James and Lena Headey’s Mary as they attempt to get their family to morning alive. That story and this movie spawned a impressive four more Purge movies (to date) plus a TV show!

14. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.)
(Warner Bros.)

I know, I know, I’ve heard it. The Hobbit movies weren’t as good as their predecessors. But on the other hand, what in the world could have been? The original Lord of the Rings movies were masterpieces that can never be repeated. And despite having so much to live up to, The Desolation of Smaug knocked it as far out of the park as it could have possibly gone. It has its flaws but Peter Jackson’s love for the source material shines through.

13. Gravity

Sandra Bullock in Gravity (Warner Bros)
(Warner Bros.)

“Life in space is impossible” warns the opening of Gravity. No kidding. This masterpiece from Alfonso Cuarón follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sanda Bullock) as she fights to survive in space after debris strikes her shuttle. The only other survivor is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and he’s determined to get her home. An absolute nail-biter of a movie, but it’s incredibly beautiful too.

12. The World’s End

Simon Pegg (holding up an Out of Order sign) in The World's End (Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

The third film in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright “Cornetto Trilogy.” This one is a little darker than the other two, as it’s really mostly about Pegg’s character’s alcoholism. Oh, and people are being replaced by robots, that’s also a thing that’s going on. Pegg puts in a truly great performance as the addicted, unhappy Gary King here.

11. The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount)
(Paramount)

Martin Scorsese’s three-hour epic about very bad people doing very bad things. Sex, drugs, crime and live fish-eating are all covered in this movie, which won Leonardo DiCaprio a very well deserved fourth Academy Award nomination. Although he carries the movie, all the cast — which includes Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, and Margot Robbie in her breakout role — are excellent.

10. Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal in Fruitvale Station (The Weinstein Company)
(The Weinstein Company)

Fruitvale Station tells the incredibly important real-life story of Oscar Grant (here played by Michael B. Jordan), who was killed by police in 2009, sparking protests that are now considered a precursor to the Black Lives Matter movement. This was Ryan Coogler’s feature film debut and it deservedly won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for a drama film at Sundance. “Every single choice that I made was based off research, and off things people told me about Oscar,” Coogler told The Independent, “because I didn’t want to go out and invent this character out of thin air.”

9. Iron Man 3

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios)
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Iron Man 3 isn’t remembered as a particularly strong MCU entry, curiously, but I think it holds up very well indeed. The twist involving the Mandarin had me first gasping and then giggling, it was a genuine rug pull that I appreciated very much. It’s nice to look back and remember a time when the MCU was much smaller. There’s not a multiverse in sight here and it’s all the better for it. A movie as compact as one of Tony Stark’s gadgets.

8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
(Lionsgate)

Another excellent mid-quel that dropped in 2013. Katniss Everdeen goes back into the Games arena and the stakes are even higher this time. The Hunger Games movies may not have had quite the raw power of the books, but they were nonetheless incredible and a whole generation remembers them fondly. Catching Fire gave us introductions to some of the best characters in the series, including Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, as well as the iconic visual of Katniss’s mockingjay dress.

7. Frozen

Elsa and Anna hugging in Frozen (Disney)
(Disney)

All this time and I still can’t let it go. Yes, over-exposure has made many people (even Disney fans) sick to death of Frozen, but it was so good when it first came out. The music was catchy, the storyline was strong, the animation was gorgeous, and the characters were so, so fanfiction-able.  It was also probably the last Disney movie to pull off the “you think this character is an ally but they’re really an enemy!” twist with any level of success.

6. 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave (New Regency Productions)
(New Regency Productions)

Steve McQueen’s passion project, 12 Years a Slave was named the Best Picture winner of 2013 and I think most people agree it was a very well-deserved accolade. This extremely disturbing film stuck very closely to the Solomon Northup memoir it was based on and pulled absolutely no punches when it came to depicting the horrors of slavery. It also introduced the wider world to British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, and made the previously-unknown Lupita Nyong’o an Oscar-winning superstar. The movie industry owes a LOT to this film!

5. Philomena

Judi Dench as Philomena Lee in Philomena (The Weinstein Company)
(The Weinstein Company)

Not one of the “big” films of 2013, just a small and quiet goddamn heartbreaker. Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, a woman seeking the son she was forced to give up after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. It’s based on a true story, and the real Philomena—now an adoption rights campaigner—had input into it. It’s absolutely an uplifting film, Dench’s performance makes sure of that, but it also sparked an intense rage in me.

4. The Great Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.)
(Warner Bros.)

My thoughts when news of this movie hit: BAZ LUHRMANN is directing an adaptation of THE GREAT GATSBY? Oh my gosh. With Leonardo DiCaprio and SPIDER-MAN? WHERE DO I SIGN? Yes, I admit that there are some members of the moviegoing public who find Luhrmann’s style grating but I am absolutely not one of them. I love his rollercoaster-like approach to things. This film has a mere 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes which baffles me to this day, though it did rightly take home the Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.

3. Belle

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in Belle (Fox Searchlight)
(Searchlight Pictures)

A beautifully understated period drama from Amma Asante, Belle tells the tale of a little-known figure in British history. Dido Elizabeth Belle was the daughter of an enslaved woman and a British officer who ended up being raised by white relatives in an upper-class household, and her story is absolutely one everyone should know. Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings Dido to life beautifully, and I was so happy that she became a huge star after this!

2. Snowpiercer

Chris Evans as Curtis in Snowpiercer (Opus Pictures)
(The Weinstein Company)

Snowpiercer lived in my head rent-free long after the credits rolled. How to even sum it up? “A terrifying dystopia, on a train, starring Chris Evans as a reluctant cannibal” gets the basics but still doesn’t really sell this masterpiece by constant masterpiece-maker Bong Joon-ho. It’s equal parts brutal and beautiful and I promise you will never forget it.

1. Pacific Rim

Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Pacific Rim (Legendary Pictures)
(Legendary Pictures)

It is very, very easy to get wrong a film about humans creating giant robots to destroy giant monsters. The ill-advised sequel proved that pretty conclusively. But the original Pacific Rim from Guillermo del Toro is everything cinema should be: colorful, bold, sincere, and just plain loving towards the art of film and indeed humanity in general.

(featured image: Legendary Pictures)


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Author
Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.