We’re counting the 100 biggest, most important moments... wait, you read the headline, right? And probably saw the three other articles counting down the 100-41 major pop culture events and decisions—which happened between io9's birth on January 2, 2008, to the present—we’ve run throughout the week, right? You get it. Just remember to come back tomorrow, when we reveal the top 20!
In 2009, when both the excellent Dark Knight and the extremely excellent Wall-E were left out of the running for Best Picture, the moviegoing public grumbled the films it actually liked never got nominated. Hoping to get viewers more interested in its awards broadcast, the Oscars upped the possible Best Picture nominees from five to 10. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really changed the status quo in the Best Picture race—with the exception of 2015, when Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian made the cut. However, it has led to many of the major studios attempting to add prestige to superhero films or scifi blockbusters—making them “dark n’ gritty,” to use the comics parlance—in hopes of making the cut. The films still might not be getting nominated, but the expansion has still definitely had an impact on the movies we watch.
It was a long time coming—far too long—but superhero Carol Danvers finally got promoted from “Ms. Marvel” to “Captain Marvel” in 2012. Originally a female (and human) posthumous follow-up to the alien superhero who went by the moniker, “Ms. Marvel” dipped in and out of her comics universe until Marvel realized it might finally have its own equivalent to Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, Marvel hasn’t done much with that revelation, which is why this ranks so low on the list. Yes, Carol was renamed Captain Marvel and dubbed “Earth’s Mightiest Avenger” by the publisher—no small feat when the Hulk is your coworker—but after Kelly Sue DeConnick’s character-defining series, she was basically made a villain in Civil War II with no justification. And yes, Marvel is making a Captain Marvel movie starring Brie Larsen in 2019, but that’s more than 10 years after the MCU began, so you know how much of a priority that’s obviously been.
It’s hard to imagine now, but surely some people who watched the first episode of Adventure Time in 2010 thought it was a merely a silly cartoon about a boy with bunny ears and his shape-shifting dog pal battling a goofy ice wizard in a Dungeons & Dragons-y (if slightly post-apocalyptic) world. Eight years later, we know it’s so much more. Adventure Time has been complex, thrilling, mind-expanding, heartbreaking, real, and silly, and has become one of the best shows on TV, period. The adventures never stopped, but Adventure Time has also managed to humanize villains to the point where they are tragic (as in the wonderful“Simon & Marcy”), explain to kids that not all parents are good, and create as rich a mythos as any best-selling fantasy series, keeping us hooked all these years. Oh, and it uses “math” as a substitute for “rad.” That’s math as hell.
An important part of Marvel’s approach to breathing new life into characters it hopes to turn into mainstream stars with its live action movies involves building the character up in the comics as well. As the first black superhero to lead a big-budget Marvel property, Black Panther was always going to become the focal point of a larger conversation about representation in genre culture. With that it mind, it makes sense that Marvel would tap critically acclaimed, award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, a lifelong Marvel fan, to craft the publisher’s most recent Black Panther series, just before the character was introduced to mass audiences in Captain America: Civil War. There’s never been a more accomplished or respected author who has chosen to write a mainstream superhero comic—and Coates’ approach to deconstructing the Wakandan king and his mythos has revitalized the character.
Negan, the brutal leader of the Saviors and the archvillain of the comic to that point, had been teased on the show for more than a year. The entire sixth season of the show was spent mainly running out the clock so that Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, could appear in the last few minutes of the season finale. It was galling, but fans kept watching because they knew what was coming—the horrible, gory murder of at least one of the show’s main cast. When Negan finally raised his barbed wire-covered bat, the show’s millions of viewers were on the edge of their seats—and then didn’t find out who died until the show returned five months later. It was cocky as hell, not to mention a completely transparent attempt to goose the ratings for the season seven premiere. It worked in that regard—the big reveal was watched by a record 17 million people in the US—but the show’s once-tremendous ratings have been dropping ever since. It wasn’t worth it.
As a revered series that long remained untouched outside of reprints thanks to the fiercely protective nature of writer Alan Moore, it seemed like Watchmen was destined to remain unto itself, a complete and undisputed comic masterpiece. Then came DC Comics’ Before Watchmen, a controversial range of prequels launched in 2012. It explored the early days of the heroes before the seminal series, drawing ire from diehard fans and Moore himself, but when it was over that seemed to be the end of it. But it turned out to be a mere testing of the waters ahead of last year’s announcement that Watchmen was going to be properly, officially integrated into DC’s superhero continuity. Kicking off with the wild revelation that Dr. Manhattan himself had been responsible for the changes brought about by DC’s “New 52" reboot in 2011, and continuing with still-ongoing series Doomsday Clock, Watchmen’s journey into the current world of DC superheroes still has a ways to go. In related news, Moore has said he no longer keeps a copy of the original Watchmen in his house.
Carrie Fisher’s life and career encompassed so much more than Star Wars, but it seemed especially unfair that she’d pass away right when her character, General Leia Organa, was shining so brightly in the new sequel trilogy. Her sudden loss in late 2016 was a blow to everyone who loved her, and it also made fans wonder what would happen with Leia in the films to come. The Last Jedi made for the powerful send-off she deserved, though her absence in the ninth film in the Skywalker saga will be sadly felt—and leave all Star Wars fans wondering what might have been.
In the 25 years since she first stole the Joker’s spotlight on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has gradually evolved from being the Joker’s infinitely more fascinating right-hand woman to striking it out on her own as one of the DC universe’s most widely-known, important characters. A significant part of Harley’s character development revolved around her coming to the realization that her relationship with the Joker was toxic and that she was better off without him after many, many years of suffering his abuse. And in Harley Quinn #25, she finally did it, confronting the Joker about all the years of psychological torture and violence he inflicted upon her and letting him know that she was done with him and that part of her life. He laughed in her face and she kicked his ass; it was all rather messy, but oh so satisfying. It wasn’t just a welcome change, it was a needed change.
Need we say more? The film didn’t claim the top spot on io9's list of the greatest movies of the last 10 years for nothing. The fourth film in George Miller’s hugely influential post-apocalyptic saga may have had the name “Mad Max” in the title, but in truth it was all about its kick-ass female characters, especially Charlize Theron’s fierce Furiosa. Backed by killer special effects and an empowering message, Fury Road transcended the cult-movie realm and earned mainstream kudos, including six Oscars. The only problem with Mad Max: Fury Road is too few people in Hollywood have figured out why it’s so good, making it an isolated, wholly unique movie miracle.
Lego had been making toys for the better part of a century when ithey started finally licensing movie properties like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the like. Then they turned those toys into hit video games. The next step was obvious: Make movies themselves. Initially, though, the announcement of the movie was met with a massive eye roll—how could a 90-minute toy commercial possibly be good? But then we saw The Lego Movie in 2014, and it was great. It was funny, smart, exciting, and exactly what Lego had been since its conception: A perfect outlet to let people expand their childhood imaginations. The movies begat more Lego toys, which then turned into more movies, and the cycle continues to this day, helping Lego to become the biggest toy company in the world.
Archie Comics have been around for decades, but they achieved a quiet success, sitting as a cozy reminder of a classic period of comics while the world grew more and more fascinated with superhero books and daring, racy new publishers. So the decision in 2015 to thoroughly reboot the entire Riverdale family for a modern audience was an astonishingly bold one—one that paid off and made Archie and friends the cream of the pop culture crop once again. New designs and bolder storytelling gave the new Archie a hip, cool appeal for new audiences only loosely familiar with the old books, one that’s inspired everything from a genius range of truly petrifying pulp-horror re-imaginings to the wonderfully bonkers, sexed-up CW TV adaptation Riverdale (with a Satanic Sabrina show coming to Netflix, too). Archie has long been a comics institution, but its reboot proved that the Andrews clan and their friends still have a place in the modern world.
In 2016, Star Trek, one of the most iconic scifi series of all time, turned half a century old. But you wouldn’t have known it if it weren’t for fans, because CBS and Paramount (who own the TV and film rights to the franchise, respectively) barely sent it a birthday card. Yes, Star Trek Beyond came out in 2016 and was a fine movie, but it did virtually nothing to capitalize on the anniversary. Star Trek: Discovery had been announced in 2015, but was radio silent for almost the entirety of the year. And then, most insultingly of all, the day itself was marked by a lackluster, two-minute video of clips that ignored half the shows and movies that made up the franchise. Hell, we did more to celebrate Star Trek’s birthday than its owners did. A lot more.
For over 50 years of phone-box-based time travel, Doctor Who’s titular hero has been portrayed by a man. But after a few years of teasing the possibility that a Time Lord’s gender is just as mutable as their physiology during their “regeneration” process, the show made history last year when it announced that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor would be succeeded by Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to officially portray the character (beyond a 1999 charity skit, that is). The decision was a landmark one, providing a new female role model for generations of fans while showing that the Doctor could be just as diverse and varied as the eons of adventures Doctor Who has given us for over half a century. It’s one small step for a Time Lord, but one giant leap for Doctor Who’s future.
DC Comics is no stranger to starting over. In the mid-‘80s, with its continuity an almost incomprehensible mess, the publisher released Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series that brought everything and everyone together by cleaning up the mess that had accumulated over the last 50 years. There were other “crises” that followed, but they were merely events of varying impact. Then in 2011, DC made the ballsy move of jettisoning all of its old histories and renovating its entire fictional landscape. The New 52 initiative was a complete reset: Stalwarts like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl got new costumes, origin stories, and creative talent that tackled fresh angles for the decades-old characters. In many cases, DC’s most popular heroes were meeting each other again for the very first time. The New 52 was much more than just another reboot. It was—and still is—controversial among fans, but it was an incredibly bold decision that brought in new readers and sales.
Here’s what he does with it: He makes five movies, ranging from bad to the worst thing ever, that somehow keep making tons of money. The Transformers cartoons—the original series and the later ones—had some solid characters and an interesting, fleshed out mythos that could have worked out wonderfully onscreen. But instead, Bay ditched everything—all the characterizations, making the Transformers themselves indistinguishable especially when they were fighting—except for a few character names, just so fans knew how badly he was misrepresenting them. This film franchise, based on Hasbro’s toys for children, have included: A robot pissing on John Turturro, a robot with testicles, and a robot that tried to fuck Shia La Boeuf. And they made jillions of dollars, so now there’s a Transformers spinoff movie starring Bumblebee coming, and Hasbro’s looking to make its own cinematic universe starring its other toy lines.
We’ve talked about many of the steps taken to get to superhero dominance of pop culture. This was the big one. When Disney bought Marvel in 2010, it ensured that Marvel could make its movies, could build its cinematic universe, and could blaze the path for superhero entertainment that all the other studios are still trying desperately to follow. And Disney got a range of characters to merchandise the hell out of, to make into cartoons, and to tape into as a tremendous source of income. If Disney hadn’t bought Marvel, it would certainly still have made its movies, but but who knows how many... or how good they world be without Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault backing it up to procure top talent? Without this deal, the superhero movie landscape would be very different—as would a lot of other things.
DC Comics’ epic Trinity—Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman—have shared space countless times in comics and animation since their debuts in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but never in live-action. Amazingly, it took until 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice before it would finally happen. Zack Snyder’s film was contentious, but no fan could deny it was thrilling seeing Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman together for the first time, as well as their alter egos Diana Prince, Bruce Wayne, and Clark Kent. We couldn’t quite call them a Justice League yet, but they did team up to tackle Lex Luthor’s monstrous Doomsday creature, and Wonder Woman’s joy in battle was palpable compared to her broody super-pals, and got us amped for her solo movie. Justice League gave us even more of the Trinity, but they’re still waiting for the great movie that does them actual justice.
The decade between The X-Files and Game of Thrones was a bleak affair. Genre shows post-Mulder and Scully had a hard time getting recognized as prestige works, especially when it came to awards season. Apart from Lost and the first season of NBC’s Heroes, there weren’t any scifi or fantasy shows that were considered high-brow entertainment for the masses—that is, until Game of Thrones. After debuting in 2011, the HBO series quickly grew in both commercial and critical acclaim; it eventually won the Best Drama Series Emmy in 2015. Overall, in the seven seasons since the show debuted, it’s raked in more Emmy nominations than any other series in television history, and its critical success paved the way for other scifi and fantasy shows to be taken seriously. For proof, all you have to do is look at the most recent list of Emmy Best Drama nominees—three of them, including the winner (The Handmaid’s Tale), were genre entertainment.
For years, Fox was working on a film about the foul-mouthed superhero, but studio execs were skittish about putting money behind an R-rated comic book film. The Deadpool process seemed to grind to a halt around 2012, after director Tim Miller and actor Ryan Reynolds (who played the bastardized version of Deadpool for X-Men Origins: Wolverine) presented a test reel showing their vision of the film. The scene was violent, cheeky, irreverent—and a perfect onscreen portrayal of the character. But Fox got scared and backed away from the project. Normally, that’s when a movie like this would die. But in 2014, the test footage Reynolds and Miller shot appeared on YouTube, and people went nuts. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and fans started collectively begging Fox to “do the right thing.” Eventually it did, resulting in a critical and commercial box office smash. A sequel is currently in development, and other studios are working on their own R-rated superhero films to match Deadpool’s success. To this day, we still don’t know who leaked the footage (some believe it was Miller or Reynolds, hoping to get fans to back their dream project; others think it was Fox production chief Emma Watts, testing the waters for the film) but it doesn’t matter. The ends justified the means.
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and even Oscar Isaac were relatively unknown before Disney rocketed them to super-stardom by casting them as our new trio of leads for The Force Awakens. And Rey, Finn, and Poe were exactly what a new Star Wars trilogy needed. Their diversity served to better represent the audience that had been obsessing over the franchise since 1977, while also reinvigorating the series with immediately interesting and lovable characters. To say the trio meant a lot to some fans is an understatement. And seeing those three lead a rebellion against evil was what the world needed.