5 movements in the 2010s that changed where movies come from and who’s in them

Hollywood is transformed by streaming, demands for diversity, the #MeToo movement and more.

SHARE 5 movements in the 2010s that changed where movies come from and who’s in them

Netflix’s 2019 critical darling “The Irishman” illustrates two important trends of the 2010s: the making of top-tier films by streaming services and the de-aging technology that made stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (foreground) look much younger.


The DVD collection was the bookshelf of 2010.

If you were fortunate enough to have the means to buy movies at will, your collection would stretch to the ceiling, in neatly arranged rows. You’d sort titles by alphabetical order, or maybe by genre.

Flash forward a mere 10 years, and you’re liable to spot a DVD in the window of a resale shop, with a sticker pricing it for 50 cents.

It’s a Streaming World.

In 2007, Netflix celebrated its billionth DVD delivery, via the good old-fashioned United States Postal Service.

By 2010, Netflix was well on its way to dropping mail service like a cad drops the spunky lead in a dated rom-com.

By the spring of 2011, some 23 million Americans had signed up for a Netflix subscription service.

By 2018/2019, Netflix was not only offering popular “binge-watch” series, it had become a major player on the Hollywood scene, with “Roma” (2018) receiving 10 Academy Award nominations and winning three; the post-apocalyptic thriller “Bird Box” (2018) attracting a worldwide audience of 45 million viewers in its first week of streaming release, and Martin Scorsese’s Netflix Original film “The Irishman” drawing a huge viewership, garnering nearly unanimous critical acclaim and almost sure to receive a half-dozen or more Oscar nominations.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Pepe (Marco Graf) soak up the sun on the rooftop in “Roma.” | Netflix

Yalitza Aparicio (left) and Marco Graf star in Netflix’s Oscar-winning “Roma.”


“The Irishman” was released in theaters on Nov. 1. The digital streaming premiere was less than a month later, on Nov. 27. “Marriage Story,” another major Oscar contender from Netflix, hit theaters on Nov. 6 — with the digital streaming release coming just one month later.

The best movies of the 2010s

The 10 best movies of the 2010s

1. “The Social Network” (2010) — David Fincher’s brilliant retelling of the birth of Facebook is more relevant now than it was 10 years ago.

2. “Boyhood” (2014) — A classic 12 years in the making, with Richard Linklater and cast reconvening once a year to tell the story of a boy becoming a man.

3. “Widows” (2018) — Steve McQueen’s near-perfect, Chicago-set thriller was one of the most criminally underappreciated films of the decade.

4. “The Irishman” (2019) -- Scorsese. De Niro. Pesci. Pacino. Mobsters and Teamsters and fathers. Movie heaven.

5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) — George Miller, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron team up for one of the greatest action movies of all time.

6. “Room” (2015) — A beautiful, heartbreaking, melancholy, shocking, unforgettable cinematic poem about the unbreakable bond between mother and son.

7. “Moonlight” (2016) — Sometimes Oscar gets it wrong. Sometimes Oscar gets it right. With “Moonlight,” Oscar got it wrong AND then got it right.

8. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017) — Deeply moving, wickedly funny and consistently surprising.

9. “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” (2019) — Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to his movie-saturated youth featured Brad Pitt’s career-best performance.

10. “American Hustle” (2013) — Sometimes playing fast and loose with the facts in a “based on a true story” project can result in pure movie gold.

The National Association of Theater Owners are shaken to the core (and not without good reason) by this departure from the usual 72-day window for movies to play in theaters before digital platform release.

“It’s a disgrace” for “The Irishman” to have such a short and limited theatrical run, said the organization’s president, John Fithian, in an article in Variety. “[It’s] going to play on one-tenth of the screens it should have played on. … [Netflix] is leaving money on the table.”

Maybe. What’s indisputable is that streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime (and the newcomers such as Apple TV+ and Disney+) will continue to grow as providers of original movie content as well as ongoing TV-type series.

The emergence of the streaming content studios was one of the biggest seismic changes in the movie world in the 2010s. Let’s take a look at some of the other game-changing movie stories of the decade.


Speaking of Netflix and “The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese couldn’t have made this 209-minute instant classic without the advancements in digital de-aging technology that allowed Robert De Niro (who is 76), Joe Pesci (76) and Al Pacino (79) to convincingly look like decades-younger versions of themselves.

We first saw de-aged characters in 2000s films such as “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The technology improved and looked less “computer-smooth” and more natural in films such as 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” (with a key scene featuring a young Robert Downey Jr./Tony Stark) and “Captain Marvel” (with Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg de-aged some 25 years to fit the 1990s setting).


De-aging technology took years off the face of Samuel L. Jackson (pictured with Brie Larson) in “Captain Marvel.”

Marvel Studios

Wondrous as it is, the CGI technology is still hit-and-miss. The “young” Will Smith in “Gemini Man” looked like a combination of a motion-capture creation and a wax museum figure come to life.

The de-aging of De Niro et al., in “The Irishman” isn’t seamless, but it’s arguably the best to yet. I’ve seen “The Irishman” twice, and on each occasion, it took about a half-minute to stop marveling over the de-aging technology and become immersed in the story.

Maybe the highest compliment one can pay to movie magic is when you’re too busy enjoying it to worry about how it’s done.

Superhero diversity

Five of the 10 yearly box-office champions of the 2010s were superhero movies — but the dawn of the era of the comic-book movie blockbuster came in the previous decade, which yielded three “Spider-Man” movies, four “X-Men’ films and the debut of “Iron Man” in 2008.

However, it wasn’t until the latter part of this decade that we experienced truly historic gender and racial breakthroughs in the superhero movie universe.

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman.” | Warner Bros.

Gal Gadot in the inspirational hit “Wonder Woman.”

Warner Bros.

“Wonder Woman” (2017) was a global smash hit (more than $820 million in worldwide grosses) AND a cultural sensation, with little girls the world over finding inspiration in this onscreen role model.

Two years later, “Captain Marvel” (with Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel) became the first female-led superhero movie to top $1 billion worldwide.

“Black Panther” (2018) was a generational game-changer, as the 18th film in the Marvel Universe became arguably the most important and impactful film in the Marvel Universe, with Chadwick Boseman as the first African-American lead in the modern superhero movie era.

Chadwick Boseman in the title role in “Black Panther.”

Chadwick Boseman plays the title role in “Black Panther.”

Marvel Studios

And the main character in the Oscar-winning animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) was Miles Morales, the first Afro-Latino lead in a superhero movie.

Oscar progress

In 2015, all 20 actors nominated for Oscars were white — the first time that had occurred since 1998.

Activist April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to raise awareness of the lack of diversity in Hollywood, and the viral buzz only intensified in 2016 when for the second year in a row, all 20 acting nominees were white.

But this was about so much more than the handing out of trophies. It was a reminder minorities and females were underrepresented in every field of movie work: onscreen, behind the camera, at the executive level, you name it. (Spoiler alert: We still have a long way to go.)

Little wonder the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences skewed white, male and older. (In 2016, 91% of Oscar voters were white and 76% were male.)

To its credit, the Academy has been following through on its 2016 pledge to increase the percentage of female and minority members. Half of the 2019 invitees were women, and 29% were people of color.

As for the Oscars …

Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”) was the first indigenous Mexican woman nominated for best actress. Mahershala Ali was named best supporting actor in 2016 for “Moonlight” and in 2018 for “Green Book,” making him the first African-American actor to win twice in the same category. Viola Davis won best supporting actress of 2016 for “Fences,” and Regina King was awarded Oscar in the same category two years later for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Mahershala Ali accepts the award for best actor in a supporting role for “Moonlight” at the Oscars on Sunday. | Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Mahershala Ali accepts the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role for “Moonlight.” He won again two years later for “Green Book.”

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

In other creative categories, the long overdue Spike Lee finally won his first competitive Oscar, for his “BlacKkKlansman” screenplay; Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) became the first African-American to win for best original screenplay, and “Moonlight” — you guys won!

This is not to suggest the playing field has been leveled and the #OscarsSoWhite era is no longer relevant. But positive strides have been made, and April Reign deserves a lifetime achievement award for her role in the movement.

Women heard

On Oct. 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article titled, “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” a devastating and surgically precise expose of the Hollywood mogul’s long history of making sexual advances and allegedly committing criminal acts of sexual abuse and misconduct.

About 10 days later, actress-activist Alyssa Milano picked up on a slogan originated by sexual harassment survivor Tarana Burke in the mid-2000s and tweeted, “If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ … we could give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

This was the launching point for the #MeToo movement that initiated debate and discussion about widespread sexual discrimination in Hollywood.

On Oct. 29, 2018, the New York Times revisited the story and reported on the ripple effect, noting “#MeToo Brought Down 201 Powerful Men. Nearly Half Their Replacements Are Women.”


“The Farewell” director Lulu Wang (left), one of several women denied a Golden Globe nomination despite the success of their films, works with the movie’s star, Awkwafina.


In 2019, you could compose a “Best Movies of the Year” list featuring only movies directed by women, from “The Farewell” (Lulu Wang) to “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Marielle Heller) to “Little Women” (Greta Gerwig) to “Blinded by the Light” (Gurinder Chadha) to “Fast Color” (Julia Hart) to “Hustlers” (Lorene Scarfaria) to “Harriet” (Kasi Lemmons) to “Queen & Slim” (Melina Matsoukas).

And yet when the Golden Globe nominations were announced, not a single female director was recognized in the film OR television categories. (New York Times headline: “Women Made Them. Viewers and Critics Liked Them. No One Nominated Them.”)

• • •

Thanks to cutting-edge technology and Netflix treating a $140 million budget like your uncle handing loose change he found in the car, Martin Scorsese was able to make “The Irishman.”

Thanks in large part to the #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo movements, and the success of films such as “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther,” the door to equal opportunity behind and in front of the camera continues to push in the right direction.

The Movie World still doesn’t accurately reflect the Real World. But the image in the mirror is more promising than it was at the outset of this decade.

Best Movies of the Decade Podcast

The Best Movies of the Decade

As 2019 comes to a close, noted Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper, with help from WGN Radio’s Roe Conn, is counting down the best movies of the decade.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Luminary | Spotify | Stitcher

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