A Look Back at the 2010 Decade’s Pop Culture Phenomenons

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Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

Dragons, superheroes, and wizards, oh my! The last decade has brought us some of the greatest productions ever seen on the big (and small) screens, and nerds worldwide united to experience them. The 2010s were truly a decade for the nerds as movie and television studios gave us center stage with huge franchises like Harry Potter and Marvel’s entire cinematic universe. As we usher in a new decade, let’s take a look back at the highlights of 2010s nerdy culture.

Game of Thrones

Image Courtesy IMDb.

If there was one show on TV that defined the decade, it was definitely Game of Thrones. Based on the fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, it told the story of The Seven Kingdoms in a fight for dominance, an heir to the Iron Throne, families, alliances, and wars. With an impressive collection of 52 awards throughout its eight seasons, Game of Thrones changed the TV landscape forever. It has started, shaped, and re-started the careers of an incredible ensemble of actors. And while the final season was received with a lot of controversy, it didn’t erase the impact Game of Thrones had on popular culture. It turned people into “nerds” because everyone talked about it, and (almost) everyone watched it. Winter may have come and gone, but Game of Thrones and its legacy will outlive this decade and likely many more with its unique quality and storytelling.

Mad Men

Image courtesy of ‘Mad Men’

Mad Men showcased the high-pressure world of Madison Avenue advertising firms in the 1960s and set the bar for television dramas. Starring Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men takes place in New York following one of the most prestigious ad agencies, the life of Donald Draper, one of the top ad men in the business, and the agencies most mysterious executives. The 1960s is considered the golden age of television, and Mad Men gave a modern audience a taste of how television and advertisement worked during that period. Not only does Mad Men give us a nostalgia for the 1960s, a landmark time for historical events, but it also didn’t shy away from controversial topics of the time. It aired from 2007 through 2015, won 16 Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes.  Mad Men was a smart show, full of drama, and surprising humor. It’s a must see show that will stand the test of time.

The CW’s Arrowverse

Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Melissa Benoist, Brandon Routh, Nick Zano, Stephen Amell, Franz Drameh, David Ramsey, and Grant Gustin. Image courtesy of The CW.

In 2012, The CW debuted a new superhero show that would soon build an entire universe. Based on the DC Comics of the same name, Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Batwoman, and Black Lightning are part of the same interconnected universe (and multiverse) known as the Arrowverse, an homage to the show that started a new wave of superhero series. Every year since 2014, beginning with Arrow and The Flash, there’s been an annual crossover, bringing together the powerful characters and fan favorite comic storylines and upping the crossovers every year. You don’t have to be a fan of the comics or even know the comics to enjoy these shows as they’re full of heart, emotions, comedy, drama, romance, and can get a bit dark at some points. Although Stephen Amell aka the Green Arrow himself, Oliver Queen and the cast of Arrow will be saying goodbye in early 2020, the past decade will forever be known as the one that brought us the Arrowverse.


Image Courtesy IMDb.

The CW is also home to Supernatural, one of the longest running fantasy television series ever. Beginning in 2005, the series followed the Winchester brothers as they simultaneously search for their missing father and hunt monsters. Over the last decade, the series has expanded the Supernatural universe exponentially with the introduction of new hunters, monsters, angels, and even God himself (and his sister). The show also gained a dedicated fanbase that has continued to grow along with the series. As 2019-2020 brings us the 15th and final season, there is no denying that the last decade of Supernatural took us along for the ride (in the Impala, of course) with Sam, Dean, and Castiel, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Image courtesy of Marvel Studios

Very few things in the decade could compete with the pop culture phenomenon that was the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ushering in 2010 with Iron Man 2 on May 7, 2010, and ending with the conclusion of Phase 3 and the Infinity Saga with Spider-Man: Far From Home on July 2, 2019, we saw 21 MCU films from 2010-2019 — including he first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Black Panther and the highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame. The MCU took the world by storm, reigniting the Marvel Comics fandom and introducing thousands of new fans to these timeless heroes. It bridged generations, with fans of the comics able to connect with their children when these beloved characters were brought to life onscreen, and no doubt opening the doors for the younger generations to pick up those comics and delve into the worlds a little deeper than what the films could accommodate. Along with the films, we saw the birth (and death) of the Marvel Television Universe on Netflix, and learned of its reinvention with Disney+ for the coming years with fan-favorite characters from the films, such as Loki and Bucky Barnes. As if all of this wasn’t enough, Avengers Campus’ will soon be arriving to multiple Disney Theme Parks around the globe, immersing us further into this intricately built and balanced world.

With the conclusion of the Infinity Saga now complete, and two of our original six heroes effectively retired (Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark) the new decade will be ushering in a new legion of heroes, and from what we already know, it’s sure to be just as epic of a journey. The possibilities are endless, and we’ll begin in 2020 with the film Black Widow on May 1.

The Hunger Games Franchise

Image courtesy of ‘Lionsgate’

Coming on the heels of the end of massive YA franchises The Twilight Saga and Harry Potter, The Hunger Games had huge expectations when it hit theaters. It delivered, launching its stars to a new level of fame while giving fans a largely faithful and effective adaptation. The films grossed $2.97 billion worldwide from 2012 to 2015, making it the 20th highest grossing series of all time. It turned Jennifer Lawrence into a megastar from a critical darling, making her one of the most well known actresses of the decade. But The Hunger Games also had a huge cultural impact, with references to its characters permeating popular culture and the widespread use of Katniss Everdeen as a feminist symbol. With new novels set in the world of Panem due for release in May 2020, the franchise’s influence may well extend into the new decade. It’s clear that The Hunger Games massively influenced pop culture in the 2010s.

The Harry Potter Series

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

The iconic Harry Potter series we knew and loved drew to a close in this decade. There’s no doubt that Harry and his friends defined pop culture in a previously unprecedented way, from amusement parks to exhibits erected in its honor in London and Scotland, to a full spin-off series based on a Hogwarts schoolbook! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduced us to Newt Scamander, a Hufflepuff whose love of mythical creatures takes him around the wizarding world and further expands the setting we know, even venturing into different countries. If the widespread familiarity isn’t enough to consider this a staple of the decade, the Harry Potter brand, all said and done, is worth $25 billion, with the movies alone making a net of $6.5 billion worldwide. With a name that influential, there’s no doubt that Harry Potter helped define the 2010’s pop culture scene, and Fantastic Beasts will continue to expand it into the new decade.

Star Wars

Courtesy of Lucasfilm/IMDb.

After Revenge of the Sith premiered in 2005, it was widely believed that prequel tale of Anakin Skywalker would be the last story told in the Skywalker saga (in a live-action format, anyway). However, after The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, it was announced that a new film was in the works – The Force Awakens. Though it was bittersweet that this new era of Star Wars would not involve franchise creator George Lucas in the same capacity as the previous six films, fans everywhere rejoiced at the opportunity for more live-action content from a galaxy far, far away. This decade has been a defining time in the world of Star Wars – it has ushered in an entirely new generation of fans, expanded upon a story that spanned decades, and opened up countless new doors for the future of the franchise. Not only have we officially closed out the Skywalker saga with three more films, but we have also been given a wonderful film that details the events leading up to A New Hope (Rogue One), a back story for the one and only Han Solo (Solo), an epic live-action television series (The Mandalorian), and multiple animated television series as well! This decade breathed new life into the Star Wars universe, and it doesn’t look like Lucasfilm plans on stopping anytime soon.

Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

Image courtesy of IMDb

On September 3, 2008, the sound of motorcycles could be heard in a plethora of houses. Kurt Sutter (The Bastard Executioner) introduced us to the world of Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), Tig Trager (Kim Coates), Chibs Telford (Tommy Flanagan), Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Junior), Juice Ortiz (Theo Rossi), Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst), and the rest of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club. Through incredible storytelling, Sutter brought fans seven seasons and 92 episodes filled with character development, heartache, tragedy, and laughs in the town of Charming, California. It’s all set to a beautiful soundtrack from Bob Thiele Jr. (Mayans M.C.). Jax tries to find a balance if there is one, between family and outlaw. One thing is for sure in this crime, drama, and thriller series. Every action has a consequence. Up to the final episode that aired in 2014, fans are guaranteed to become invested in the characters. It is one hell of a ride, that has never been done before!

Hamilton: An American Musical & Other Noteworthy Musicals

Image Courtesy ‘Hamilton’ Instagram.

Since its 2015 Broadway debut, Hamilton: An American Musical, became a sensation within months of its debut and has achieved huge global success. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece took the world by storm with every performance seemingly sold out from day one. The soundtrack featured nearly every song from the production so Broadway fans around the world could listen and enjoy the vivid world Miranda created with his ingenious lyrics and modern, hip hop beats that challenged the traditional Broadway sound. In 2016, the musical was nominated for 16 Tony Awards and won 11 of them. Miranda and the incredible cast of Hamilton opened the eyes of the world to not only Broadway, but a new way to view history as well. The Hamilton craze also made its way into other media with references to the musical thrown into TV shows and movies with a well placed “I am not throwing away my shot” or “I will never be satisfied.” With 1,134 shows scheduled on its 2019-2020 schedule, there is no doubt that Hamilton has defined the previous decade and will continue into the new one.

And while Hamilton is without a doubt a cultural phenomenon of the last decade on many levels, musical theater saw an array of other amazing, inventive and defining shows in the 2010s. With Once there was a beautiful show which mostly consisted of singer-songwriters performing instead of big orchestras, with Book of Mormon, the makers of Southpark created an era-defining comedy about a Mormon missionary. Drag culture was on the rise in the past decade, and Kinky Boots was the musical to celebrate that on stage. The true story of a town in Newfoundland housing over 7000 people in the aftermath of 9/11 that was beautifully realized into a stage show with Come From Away just celebrated its sixth anniversary on Broadway and has had a successful tour and West End transfer. Another show that just made its way across the pond is Dear Evan Hansen, which tells the story of desperately wanting to fit in and the struggles that come with it, dealing with important topics with beautifully arranged songs. Current Broadway hit Hadestown premiered the year after and has been an unmatched show when it comes to instrumental and vocal performance. Just this year, Broadway saw the debut of a musical version of Moulin Rouge, which is a Tony favorite for next year.

Doctor Who

Courtesy of BBC

Doctor Who has been around for a long time, but it certainly made a splash in this past decade. The series first premiered in 1963 before ending in 1989. A made-for-TV movie came out in 1996, before the series was revived in 2005. Since then, the series has thrived in the modern world. This decade alone began with us saying goodbye to the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in “End of Time: Part 2”, as well as showrunner Russell T. Davies. Many tears were shed, but we also got to say hello to the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and new showrunner Steven Moffat. His clumsiness and awkwardness instantly made him relatable and continued to bring us joy for three more seasons. During Smith’s time as the Doctor, fans got an extra treat in the multi-Doctor event “The Day of the Doctor” in which Tennant returned, the War Doctor was introduced, and we even got a sneak peak at the next Doctor (the Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi)!

It is routine in this series to say goodbye to a beloved Doctor, before regenerating into another one we will surely fall in love with. Peter Capaldi gave us another wonderful three years, dropping hints along the way of what could be expected for the future of Doctor Who. And what a change it was! In the Summer of 2017, it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would become the Thirteenth Doctor, marking a groundbreaking moment in the history of Doctor Who. Whittaker and new showrunner Chris Chibnall have breathed new life into the series since making their proper debut in 2018. Her first season was full of adventure and new friends, many changes, and historically moving moments in the episode “Rosa.” With her second season set to debut on January 1, 2020, there is no doubt Doctor Who will bring us so much joy and many changes in the next decade!

The “Emo” Big Three

If you were a teen in the 2000s, there was no way around the cultural phenomenon of the “emo” trend. Whether it was a scene haircut, that myspace angle for selfies or sharing glittery gifs on your other social media, everyone had an encounter with the “scene”. The big bands of that movement were such names as Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, and My Chemical Romance. And all of these bands have carried on to be successful musicians even after the decline of emo music (it’s still not a phase, by the way). Just this month, My Chemical Romance celebrated their comeback, seven years after their disbandment with an L.A. show that sold out in seconds. Panic! At The Disco (today mostly just Brendon Urie), while undergoing multiple line-up changes, sold-out tours for the past decade, released multiple award-winning albums and collaborated with big names like Taylor Swift. Fall Out Boy also celebrated several milestones, with their 2015 album American Beauty/American Psycho not only receiving several gold and platinum statuses, but also sporting a collaboration with superstar Elton John. Next year they’re going on a massive international tour with big names such as Green Day and Wheezer. All these bands show that musical growth is possible and guarantees relevancy, even after one or two decades.

One Direction

Courtesy of One Direction

The boyband was formed in 2010, when Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Zayn Malik were put together in a group on XFactor in the UK. While they didn’t win (they finished third), they went on to be one of the biggest selling musical acts of all time. From 2010 to 2016, the band released five albums and won nearly 200 awards including American Music Awards, Brit Awards, Billboard Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and more. After Zayn Malik left in 2015, the band took an indefinite hiatus in 2016. Since then, all five musicians have gone on to release successful solo music, with Payne and Styles releasing albums in 2019, and Tomlinson and Horan set to release new albums in 2020.

The DC Cinematic Universe

Image courtesy of IMDb.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe was taking off, DC brought some of their best loved comic superheroes to the big screen —  some returning and some new. Superman, Batman was brought back with new actors in the lead roles whereas Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, as well as the Justice League, the Suicide Squad, and the Teen Titans all made cinematic debuts in this decade. 2010 and 2011 saw the release of Jonah Hex and Green Lantern and tidying up the end of the decade with the much anticipated Joker in October 2019. DC had some box office disappointments with Jonah Hex and Green Lantern in the early part of the decade, but with Christian Bale taking the lead as Batman (with the late Heath Ledger) in The Dark Night Rises (2012) and the return of Superman with Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel (2013), the DC multiverse began to take shape.

2017 saw the release of Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot, and was praised for its direction by Patti Jenkins and breaking box office records. In 2019, it ranked as one of the best superhero movies of all time. Justice League (2017) brought many of our heroes together and introduced us to The Flash and Aquaman, with the release of Aquaman in the following year. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker closed the decade with success with nominations and awards for the DC character. Following in the footsteps of Marvel’s superheroes, DC had a decade of reinventing beloved characters and giving its fans new ones – with spinoffs in animation, short films, and more Lego™ movies. What’s next for DC? Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984 are released in 2020 with a reboot of Suicide Squad in 2021.


Image courtesy of IMDb.

In August 2014, a new sci-fi drama series was released based on the historical time travel books by Diana Gabaldon, The Outlander Series. Fans of Gabaldon’s books were eager to see the story of Claire Randall, a married World War II nurse, who finds herself transported back in time to 1743 during the Jacobite risings. She falls through Scottish standing stones meeting Jamie Fraser, a Highland gentleman/warrior, falls in love and becomes one of the most epic love stories of all time. The first series is based on Gabaldon’s first book, Outlander/Cross Stich (UK), and stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser.  The second series was released in June 2016, third series in September 2017, and the fourth series in November 2018 — all based on the books in the series Dragon Fly in Amber, Voyager and Drums of Autumn respectively. Season five is due out in February 2020 with a sixth season already agreed. Outlander shows no signs of stopping just yet, so fans can be excited to see the stories of Claire and Jamie unfold for a few years yet.

To date, it has received a collection of 28 awards and 57 nominations and created its own film studio, WardPark Studios, in Cumbernauld, Scotland for Outlander. It has also seen the creation of a film training school called The Outlander Training Programme. What set this series apart from others at was its use of Scottish Gaelic, and its combination of fantasy, action, romance, and a feminist focus. It also stood out as one of the few series to film on location, with awards going to its film crew and author, Gabaldon, for their contribution to Scottish tourism. Scotland now has Outlander trails and tourism maps, and sites used for locations have seen Scottish tourism rise by over 100% and continues to rise. This has been called “The Outlander Effect” with many fans coming to the highlands in search of time traveling standing stones and admiring the Scottish landscape, inspired by the books and TV series.

There is no doubt that the past decade debuted and closed a huge variety of “nerdy” shows, books, movies, and more. From the Broadway stage to the small screen, no area of media was left untouched. It was truly a momentous decade for nerds everywhere. With several 2020 productions already in the works from several of the above franchises and beyond, it’s clear that the next decade will bring us even more amazing content. Check out our most anticipated 2020 releases and the shows we will say goodbye to in 2020.

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By Brianna
Brianna works full time in the publishing industry, passionately building books to bring to the masses. Her first fandom was Harry Potter, which she joined at age 11. Her love for books took her abroad to earn her Masters Degree at University College London, after which she lived in New York City, and now resides in Austin. She loves all things fandom including Supernatural, Doctor Who, and more. Ever the introvert, she can usually be found reading, playing with her dog, listening to music and practicing yoga. Brianna joined the Nerds and Beyond staff in 2018 where she unites her love for all things "nerd" with her passion for writing. Find her on Twitter here: @bookbag09
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