The stock market performed extremely well in 2017, capping yet another year in the long bull market. Even when you include the terrible year of 2008, which included the most recent recession, as well as the financial crisis, returns for stocks over the past decade have been extraordinary.

A look at the 10 best stocks over that 10-year period reveals some interesting insights into the market's success. Among the top stocks in the all-cap Russell 3000 Index, seven posted gains of 2,000% or more, and more than 40 earned tenfold gains.

The top 10 stocks of the past decade

Stock

Market Cap

Total Return 2007-2017

Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX)

$90.6 billion

4,948%

EnviroStar

$406 million

4,395%

GTT Communications

$1.84 billion

4,371%

Trex (NYSE:TREX)

$3.35 billion

2,447%

Tucows

$581 million

2,438%

ZAGG

$526 million

2,360%

Mitek Systems

$315 million

2,195%

National Beverage (NASDAQ:FIZZ)

$4.82 billion

1,834%

XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO)

$11.1 billion

1,762%

MarketAxess Holdings

$7.68 billion

1,707%

Source: S&P Capital IQ. Includes only Russell 3000 index components.

Coming out of nowhere

The first thing about this list is that it shows that history repeats. When The Motley Fool did a lookback like this 10 years ago, examining the stocks with the top returns from the end of 1997 to the end of 2007, it had some eerily similar characteristics:

  • One company showed up that had been a solid midcap stock a decade earlier -- a name that investors and consumers alike knew and respected.
  • A couple of stocks had already established themselves 10 years before as up-and-coming small companies -- including an innovative beverage company -- but they weren't household names among investors until producing these strong returns.
  • Most of the rest of the top 10 were microcap companies that most investors didn't know much about not only 10 years earlier, but also even after producing such amazing performance.

The 2017 list tells a similar story. Netflix is ubiquitous, having already produced solid gains before 2007, but hitting its heyday as its streaming video business took off. XPO was a company that a few people in the logistics business would have known, and anyone who drank Shasta cola might have recognized the National Beverage name.

Screenshot of Netflix with list of television shows and movies available.

Image source: Netflix.

Yet most of these companies flew under the radar back then, and still go largely unnoticed today. Electronic trading platforms for bond investors aren't exactly the sexiest products in the world, but MarketAxess aims to make fixed income as accessible for trading as stocks have been.

Trex's decking products have vied for market share in the hot home-improvement category, while EnviroStar distributes laundry equipment and boilers largely for commercial use. GTT's cloud networking, Tucows' internet services, ZAGG's mobile technology accessories, and Mitek's identity-verification systems, all feed into the cutting-edge technological revolution that has transformed the marketplace both for individual consumers and for enterprise customers over the past 10 years.

Which stocks will be on 2027's list?

The other thing that's important to note is that none of the 10 stocks on this list were on the same list 10 years ago. Although yesterday's winners can be solid growth stocks in the years to come, they won't duplicate the market-crushing performance that they produced in their heyday.

Yet one thing that you can take heart in is that there are opportunities in all sorts of industries for impressive gains. A decade ago, you could find companies in the technology, biotech, consumer goods, and industrial sectors among the best stocks in the market. The list above is a bit more tech heavy, but you can still find some decidedly non-technological players in the mix, as well. Whatever your area of investing expertise, you can search out and discover some of the tiny upstarts that are seeking to disrupt their industries and steal business from well-established rivals.

Get the growth you deserve

Growth investors often have to dig through hundreds of stocks to find even a single candidate for a list like this. Even among those that make the cut, inevitable misses can create huge losses. Yet all it takes is a single blockbuster pick like the 10 above to make up for a host of mistakes. If you like the idea of having stocks like this in your portfolio before they make their big moves higher, then you'll want to give growth investing a closer look.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix, Trex, and Tucows. The Motley Fool recommends MarketAxess Holdings and XPO Logistics. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.