Geek Moments of the Last 15 Years That Shook Pop Culture

Iron Man spawned two direct sequels, and star Robert Downey Jr. went on to play Tony Stark in a total of 10 films, with each entry not only upping the stakes on screen, but also at the box office, with other studios now measuring their own blockbuster success against that of Marvel Studios. The story of the MCU that began with Iron Man has now become so sprawling that it can only be understood in “phases,” with each set of movies all building up to payoffs in ever-larger scale. It’s a completely new way of looking at serialized storytelling on the big screen, and a “shared universe” code that Disney and Marvel’s competitors have yet to crack. Iron Man may be gone, but his legacy is still going strong. 

The Dark Knight DOESN’T get a best picture nomination (2009) 

Rarely is a thing that did not happen worth recording in the annals of history, geeky or otherwise. And yet, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences omitted Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight from its short list of Best Picture nominees in 2009, the awards season world changed forever. Viewed in retrospect by the industry as the culmination of a decade-long shift away from populist entertainment (read: big earners at the box office), The Dark Knight snub was all the more remarkable since the brooding superhero epic had managed to be recognized by most of the industry guilds, whose members also spill over into the Academy.

But come nomination time, The Dark Knight’s presumed spot was taken by The Reader, a relatively poorly reviewed Holocaust drama produced by Harvey Weinstein. The fallout from the snubbing was immense. In the following year, the Academy returned to nominating 10 pictures for the top award for the first time since 1944. The Dark Knight’s cold reception arguably paved the way for movies such as District 9, Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road, Get Out, Black Panther, and Joker finding room on the Oscar stage.

Minecraft arrives (2009)

Minecraft started as a technical exercise/passion project that likely would have been lost to history if it wasn’t for its determined developer and a dedicated group of fans. In 2014, it became the best-selling PC game of all time. In 2019, it became the best-selling game ever. Sales aside, Minecraft changed how games are promoted, talked about, and played. Many people heard about it via YouTube, and many learned how to play it from one of the legion of digital influencers who can trace their careers back to Minecraft. Simply put, it’s the most socially impactful game of the last 15 years, and its current popularity suggests it isn’t going anywhere.

Prestige TV gives way to franchise TV (2010) 

October 31, 2010 is a date that holds special importance: it’s when AMC first premiered The Walking Dead. At first glance, the Frank Darabont-run series seemed like an attempt to bring the sensibility of “prestige TV” such as Mad Men and The Sopranos to the zombie drama format. Eleven seasons and several spin-offs later, however, it’s clear that what AMC wanted with the Robert Kirkman comic adaptation was its own Marvel-esque franchise. Though prestige-quality TV shows still live on, the prestige era has slowly given way to the franchise era. Whether it’s the Arrowverse, Star Trek, or even Marvel itself on Disney+, franchises are the way forward for TV.

Game of Thrones rocks the world (2011) 

“Winter is coming.” Just over a decade ago, these innocuous words became charged with dark foreboding—and unadulterated excitement. That’s because Game of Thrones came to HBO and changed television forever. The first long-form series with spectacle that could compete with cinemas, and arguably the last of the “watercooler shows” where everyone seemed to treat it as appointment viewing, Thrones defined the TV landscape for nearly a decade. Despite the toxicity of the “discourse” after its final season, for most of its run, this was an elegantly crafted ensemble that drew on George R.R. Martin’s even richer novels. The performances, the twists, the deaths, the one-liners, and even those damn dragons remain with us still, long after our watch has ended.

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