There’s no single CinemaBlend opinion on anything. Through countless arguments over the years, I’ve learned we’re not even on the same page about how to define the word best. Is a movie the best if it’s the most technically proficient? Is it the best if it has the biggest cultural impact? Is it the best if we personally like it the most for our own biased reasons? I used to think there was a right answer, my personal answer, but looking over this completed list, I think it’s better that we all have our own definitions.
It’s because of those clashing perspectives that this Best Movies Of The 2000s list is messy and weird and way more accurate than any of us could have ever been on our own. It sees value in both Oscar nominations and quotability. It cares about movies that have aired 500 times on TNT and movies your parents have never heard of. It’s a smashed together hodgepodge of what we love, which is why it unapologetically features Mean Girls and There Will Be Blood, The Hangover and Zodiac, City Of God and Legally Blonde.
This Best Movies Of The 2000s list is none of our tastes and also, all of our tastes. It’s CinemaBlend’s collective celebration of The 2000s, and we hope, like everyone who works here, you’ll find plenty to love and plenty to hate about it. Let the arguments begin…
100. Avatar (2009)
While it's the last on this list, there's no denying Avatar's impact on the film industry back in 2009. The movie is a sci-fi masterpiece that features incredible visuals, mainly following the tale of Jake Sully, a human who finds love and acceptance within the world of the Na'vi, the native people of Pandora.
The film takes the audience on a wild ride for two and a half hours. While the story of saving a planet from foreign invaders could be more groundbreaking, the unique visual effects that fans get to see are. And now, with a successful sequel out more than ten years later, it's the perfect chance to revisit the original.
99. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts had established herself as one of the most beloved actors in the world in the 1990s, and as calendars flipped over to the year 2000, she didn’t waste any time starring in yet another critically acclaimed box office hit. Hitting theaters in March 2000, Erin Brockovich tells the story of the titular lawyer who started a landmark case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for groundwater contamination, and it’s a stellar work that further cemented the clear talents of director Steven Soderbergh. It’s thrilling and dramatic, but also funny and fun – in large part due to Roberts’ charm and charisma.
98. The Hangover (2009)
The Hangover is part travelogue and part comedic shitshow. It races its characters through what feels like an entire TV season’s worth of odd locations and ridiculous scenarios, somehow finding time for hospital visits, naked gangsters, weddings, Blackjack heaters, stolen tigers, missing babies and stun gun demonstrations. It sounds like way too much plot for an hour and forty minute movie, but the key to a good comedy isn’t the situations the characters find themselves in, it’s the rapport and natural chemistry between the actors/characters going through those situations. And Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms are fantastic together. Their clashing vibes, energy levels and comedic sensibilities somehow blend into a perfect cocktail, and with Oscar-nominated director Todd Phillips stirring the drink, The Hangover is able to turn its B-movie premise into one of the funniest comedies of the 2000s.
97. Cloverfield (2008)
The first decade of the Aughts saw one word playing into many of its most cherished cinematic successes: reinvention. For director Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, two different types of genre favorites were mashed together to create a wildly new, very mysterious product: monster movies like Godzilla and found footage pictures such as The Blair Witch Project.
Amping up the scale of what a handheld camera could cover, Cloverfield’s ingenious marketing campaign kept audiences guessing about what its true intentions were. In the wake of a mysterious/title-free teaser, it was anyone’s guess what writer Drew Goddard’s movie was about. To live up to the hype after stoking such anticipation for an unknown quantity only cemented Cloverfield as a certified success. In a market where it felt like the trailers gave everything away, a major studio movie broke with the norm, all in the name of a monstrous triumph.
96. National Treasure (2004)
The race to steal the Declaration of Independence was on in 2004 as Nicolas Cage and his team of treasure hunters went on a high stakes mission to find the greatest treasure. This story sweeps across American history, and is held together by Cage’s protagonist and his drive to find this great prize, and protect the Declaration of Independence by stealing it, of course.
This Disney staple is a family classic, and an action adventure bound to entertain just about anyone. It was such a success that a sequel soon followed, and maybe, someday, National Treasure 3 will happen. However, let us not forget the majesty that is the original National Treasure.
95. The Notebook (2004)
There’s a reason that when one thinks of the genre “romance” The Notebook instantly comes to mind. The 2004 Nicholas Sparks adaptation is nothing short of a timeless classic that gracefully dances between being a forbidden and second-chance love story. It’s the movie that made Ryan Gosling a Hollywood hunk matched by a passionate yet grounding performance by Rachel McAdams. Together they are a firecracker of chemistry who left a generation longing to kiss in the rain. Cliché and mushy as The Notebook can be, when the music swells on the final scene, it never ceases to remind us why it’s one of the most endearing and cathartic love affairs we’ve ever seen.
94. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Though it's been nearly two decades since its release, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy still stands as one of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s greatest collaborations. The 70s-set movie marked McKay’s directorial debut and, with it, he masterfully injects humor and social commentary into a satirical workplace comedy set within the world of broadcast news. His screenplay is funny and occasionally, downright hilarious, but the cast truly makes the movie shine. Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell and more are just flawless. And of course, it’s Ferrell’s portrayal of the titular character that really puts it over the top.
93. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Anyone angling for a great sports drama that not only delivers sheer emotion but also captures the spirit of the pastime it’s tackling should check out Million Dollar Baby. Director Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture-winning film tells the story of an aspiring boxer (played by Hilary Swank), who teams up with a veteran trainer (Eastwood) in the hopes of achieving in-ring glory. The result is an emotionally affecting – and sometimes brutal – story about resilience and parental bonds. This boxing flick won Swank, Eastwood and co-star Morgan Freeman all Oscars and, when you see the movie, you’ll understand why.
92. Saw (2004)
2004's Saw revitalized the horror genre years ago, thanks to James Wan and Leigh Whannell, with its shocking twists and equally astonishing violence. But while the movie did include some truly grotesque “games” for Jigsaw’s victims, this was more than the mere “torture porn” that plagued the aughts. There was intention behind Jigsaw’s pain — making people think about the lives they’d led before forcing them to, “Live or die, make your choice.”
The audience was along for the ride, trying to figure out why Adam (Whannell) and Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) were chained up in a bathroom and how they could escape before it was too late. Thanks to some brilliant misdirection, the ensuing plot twist was truly gasp-inducing. These days you might not be able to get away with that ending, but don’t say you saw it coming back in 2004.
91. Super Troopers (2001)
Super Troopers From a plotting and acting perspective, Super Troopers isn’t exactly The Departed. Its basic premise, and even many of its specific scenes, are just nimbly bimbly excuses for the cast to make raunchy jokes about the natural absurdities of being a cop. That works, though, because the movie understands what we want as an audience: non-stop jokes and shenanigans about liters of cola, littering and smokin’ the reefer. From cat game to syrup fights to biker confusion, Super Troopers has its own vibe and unique sense of humor. It’s just out there, doing its own thing, and that’s why, more than two decades later, fans are still pulling over to watch it… even if they’re already pulled over and they can’t pull over any further.
90. War of the Worlds (2005)
Steven Spielberg wouldn’t be the first to adapt H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds novel for the screen, nor would he be the last. But his modern-day take on the 19th Century sci-fi novel certainly made an impression. From the main characters — led by Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier, father to Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) — to the various settings, to the unnerving sight (and sound) of the tripods emerging from below the ground to decimate or capture any humans in their path, War of the Worlds made its mark as an epic sci-fi action movie about survival and the choices a struggling parent has to make to protect his children from a worst-case-scenario. In true Spielberg fashion, the movie is thrilling and occasionally chilling, but also offers that added layer of a family element to keep us invested from beginning to end.
89. Sin City (2005)
Most comic book adaptations aim to reimagine the characters and events of the source material in a way that more closely resembles reality. However, when director Robert Rodriguez teamed up with famed author and illustrator Frank Miller (acting as co-director) to bring his graphic novel series, Sin City, to the big screen, they did more than just adapt it. They brought it to life.
This anthology-style collection of three interconnected stories — all of which take place in the same hopelessly down-trodden, crime-ridden metropolis — is a masterclass in noirish storytelling (the razor sharp dialogue is straight out of a Raymond Chandler classic), astonishingly unique visual design (every beautifully grayscale frame resembles a comic book panel), and flawless acting from the entire Sin City cast, including Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Mickey Rourke, and so many more amazing A-listers. When it comes to non-superhero-related comic book movies, this might be the best of them all.
88. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Anticipation for the feature adaptation of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary — itself a reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — was high, to say the least, for those of us who adored the book, when it finally made its way into theaters in 2001. Renee Zellweger’s mix of charm, determination for romance and occasional awkwardness alone are reason enough to love the adaptation. Then factor in the excellent chemistry she shares with both love interests — Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver and Colin Firth as Mark Darcy — not to mention the fantastic supporting cast, well-timed bits of hilarity and genuinely heartfelt moments of romance and what’s not to love about Bridget Jones’s Diary?
87. Taken (2008)
Taken isn’t the most emotionally complicated or the most realistic movie, but it has a really good sense of its own strengths and leverages that particular set of skills perfectly. Liam Neeson might not be the prototypical action star, but he’s an Oscar-nominated actor uniquely good at portraying single-mindedness and determination. Taken is able to harness the badass fatherly intensity of a desperate man searching for his daughter and pair it with ruthless action sequences that rely more on craftiness than brute strength. The result is one of the best and most rewatchable action movies of the 2000s, a tight 90 minutes that’s so much fun it produced two sequels, a TV series and an unexpected late career resurgence for Neeson.
86. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Before Will Smith earned his third Oscar nomination for King Richard, and after his nomination for Ali, he received his second Academy Award nod for The Pursuit of Happyness. Based on the real story of Chris Gardner, the movie follows Gardner's struggle to find a job to provide for his son during a year when they are homeless.
The movie is inspiring for anyone, featuring an uplifting and memorable story. That, paired with an incredible performance from Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith – who made his acting debut in the film – makes this the perfect movie to watch on any given day.
85. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Before Daniel Craig came along and ushered in a new era for the James Bond movie franchise a few years later, Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity welcomed audiences to the 21st century with this fresh, unique, and action-packed spy thriller. Matt Damon, who had already shown a great deal of depth in movies like Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr. Ripley a few years earlier, became a bonafide action star with his portrayal of Jason Bourne, a trained killer with no recollection of his dark past.
There are few early 2000s action sequences as memorable as the movie’s iconic car chase through the streets of Paris. Audiences, used to seeing spies and assassins whipping around in souped-up sports cars were in for the ride of their lives with Bourne behind the wheel of a weathered Mini Cooper.
84. Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually has become annual holiday viewing for many since its premiere in 2004. Renowned rom-com filmmaker Richard Curtis struck gold with an A-list cast, as ten loosely connected plotlines each portray a different kind of love. Everybody’s sure to have their favorite stories within the movie, but they all strike an emotional chord, albeit in different ways.
As these characters navigate the holidays, Love Actually tackles themes of grief, infidelity, unrequited love, workplace romance and more, while never losing its charm and eliciting tons of laughs. Throw in infinitely quotable dialogue (“Let’s get the shit kicked out of us by love!”), an infuriatingly hilarious cameo by Rowan Atkinson, and one absolutely iconic dance from Hugh Grant, and you’ve got yourself a classic.
83. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
In a decade greatly defined by bubblegum romantic comedies where audiences can take comfort in the same three act structure often ending in wedding bells, (500) Days Of Summer flipped the genre on its head. Romance and love can be a tricky, complicated thing that not only may be finite, but clouded by one’s fantasies, projections of potential and manic pixie dream girls. Marc Webb’s indie rom-com announces up front that it is “not a love story” and cleverly plays with structure as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom falls for Zooey Deschanel’s Summer. Between its stunningly memorable soundtrack, creative use of mixed media against its gorgeous L.A. backdrop, (500) Days Of Summer is a dark horse of a romantic comedy that tackles the expectations vs. reality of love with a sharp wit.
82. Knocked Up (2007)
Most romantic comedies try a lot harder at one of those two things. They’re either romantic movies with a few solid laughs sprinkled in or they’re clearly comedies that shoehorn a romance in there as an afterthought. Knocked Up works so well because it tries really hard at both. It succeeds a little more as a comedy, given it has Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Craig Robinson, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, but it also takes a lot of time and care with its love story and has many thoughtful things to say about relationships and parenting. It never takes the easy way out or betrays itself for a cheap, inauthentic laugh, which lets the natural chemistry between Rogen and co-lead Katherine Heigl grow into a budding relationship you actually root for.
81. Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
As proven decades ago by George A. Romero, slow zombies are quite scary – but in 2004, director Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn teamed up to show us just how freaky fast zombies can be. Dawn Of The Dead is a movie that stays true to its source material, gathering a bunch of strangers in a shopping mall as the dead come back to life, but it has its own energy and no shortage of standout moments. The beginning is a terror, the ending is deeply unsettling (including the material in the end credits), but the baby is where this one hits its peak.
80. Remember the Titans (2000)
Remember the Titans will make you laugh, cry, cheer and feel a whole range of emotions as you go on a journey with newly integrated T.C. Williams football team to win the state championship. This incredible movie about bringing a football team together is led by Denzel Washington, and it’s not only regarded as one of his best movies, but it’s also widely known as one of the greatest sports films.
Washington and Will Patton lead the stacked cast of Remember the Titans, which includes Wood Harris and Ryan Hurst as the team’s leaders. Along with them, the movie also features Donald Faison, Craig Kirkwood and Ethan Suplee as well as a very young Ryan Gosling and 10-year-old Hayden Panettiere, among many others. Overall, it’s an inspiring and moving movie about acceptance and determination. Let’s just say Remember the Titans always has us saying “We want some more!”
79. Juno (2007)
While Elliot Page was an actor at a young age, Juno was the movie that made him into a household name. And for good measure, as Jason Reitman’s quirky 2007 flick delivers in both comedy and heartfelt, human moments. Page earned an Academy Award nomination at the time for his performance, which surely feels justified.
2007's Juno centers around its title character, a teenage girl who accidentally gets pregnant. She decides to carry the baby to term, arranging an adoption with a married couple (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). After being filled with plenty of funny moments (and a killer soundtrack) the ending provides an emotional catharsis that puts Juno above many movies around its time.
78. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
It’s no wonder that Disney has been trying for 20 years to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Inspired by a theme park attraction, but blazing its own trail, Pirates created one of modern cinema’s most iconic characters in Captain Jack Sparrow. But the rest of the cast, including Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and a scene-stealing Geoffrey Rush, is no less compelling. From sword fights to ship battles, Black Pearl’s action is near perfect, with the Johnny Depp vs. Orlando Bloom duel a textbook example of how to tell a story with an action scene. It set a bar so high that even its own sequels were never going to clear it.
77. Ray (2004)
Cinema lovers have been graced with plenty of great biopics over the decades, and Ray certainly stands as one of the best. Directed by Taylor Hackford, the movie chronicles the life and career of the great Ray Charles. James L. White’s screenplay effectively tells Charles’ story, chronicling his professional and personal highs and lows in the process. And of course, the production is (appropriately) infused with incredible music. There are plenty of great performances on display, but it’s Jamie Foxx’s uncanny – and Oscar-winning – turn as the titular musician that really makes this period drama worth a watch or two.
76. Unbreakable (2000)
M. Night Shyamalan had an unenviable task in 2000 – following up his overnight sensation, The Sixth Sense. Was that movie a flash in the pan? Or would Shyamalan live up to the billing he was receiving in the press as, “The next Spielberg?” Remarkably, Shyamalan came up with a deeper, more meaningful film that also started the bandwagon for superhero-movie fascination, only with a meditative origin story for a strong man (Bruce Willis) who doesn’t recognize his invulnerability. Pulp Fiction co-star Samuel L. Jackson tapped into his fiendish side to play Willis’s nemesis, a man plagued with brittle bones who assumed that his opposite had to exist in the world. But it was Night’s ability to generate an intense mood that boosted Unbreakable. We rode a wave of increasingly suspenseful tension until the moment Willis donned his raincoat and embraced his destiny. Unbreakable started a trilogy, but also guaranteed that Shyamalan was here to stay as one of our most original and effective storytellers.
75. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall occasionally gets overlooked as being just another rom-com from the aughts – specifically the rom-com featuring the oddball pairing of Mila Kunis and Jason Segel, but I can’t imagine that anyone who’s lumping this movie into just another group of rom-coms has seen it recently because it is profoundly and consistently weird.
Segel’s TV composer main character dreams of creating a Dracula musical featuring puppets called A Taste For Love. He also wants to get over his titular ex-girlfriend - hilariously played by Kristen Bell, who somehow ends up in the hotel room next to him having loud sex with her new rock star boyfriend. That messy journey of acceptance and moving on, amidst all its weirdness or maybe because of all its weirdness, never feels like a cliche. It’s consistently funny and has so many thoughtful things to say about relationships, break-ups and finding yourself. Don’t write it off.
74. School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black was many things in 2003, though many wouldn’t have considered his comedic stylings family-friendly until School Of Rock. Black’s musical abilities from his band Tenacious D paired with the wholesome story of teaching some kids how to rock, was fun for everyone and really skyrocketed him further into the mainstream and into more roles for younger audiences like Kung Fu Panda and Nacho Libre. Sure, he’d still do raunchier stuff like Tropic Thunder, but this movie was imperative to show the range he had as an actor.
Let’s also not forget this movie boasted other celebrities who are notable talents in 2023, like Miranda Cosgrove and The White Lotus showrunner Mike White. Oh, and the music is still as great as it was then, even decades later. There’s a strong message here about the importance of teaching children about music and helping them follow their passion, and it’s that message that will keep this movie relevant for decades to come.
73. Up (2009)
Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, has always been known for its films that have reached a broad audience, starting with their debut full-feature film, Toy Story. However, in 2009, the studio released Up, the first Pixar film to receive a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Up is mainly about Carl, an older man living a lonely life, and to fulfill his promise to his late wife, he travels across the world in a floating house to South America – with the help of a local wilderness explorer who tags along for the ride.
A lot can be said about Up, from its stunning animation to the beautiful soundtrack, but nothing beats the story. It's a tale of a found family and of finding love and compassion in places you would never expect. And you must always remember – the wilderness must be explored!
72. District 9 (2009)
Coming in at 72 on the list might just be an indicator of how underrated District 9 is, considering it’s one of the best science fiction movies of the 2000s. Neill Blomkamp’s feature walks the line between messaging about the various mistreatment marginalized groups are subjected to, to how humanity would respond if aliens were really discovered to be on Earth. Given recent reports at government hearings, it isn’t all that unbelievable that it wouldn’t take long for humanity to get back to normal after finding a bunch of alien refugees on Earth.
Perhaps the best compliment to pay District 9 is that it’s a phenomenal standalone sci-fi movie with no sequels or prequels. This could be why it’s typically lower on the sci-fi lists as there may be a community of people that simply forgot about it as the years went on. Now is the time to revive the credit it deserves and maybe bump it up a few notches on future top lists.
71. Shrek (2001)
Think of every DreamWorks Animation movie you can think of – I bet Shrek is one of the first that pops into your head.
Shrek was a momentous occasion for DreamWorks Animation when it was released. It was a huge box office success, received rave reviews, and was even the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature winner. The movie mainly follows Shrek, an ogre whose swamp is suddenly overrun with fairytale creatures, and to get them out, he must save Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a dragon on a mountain of lava and bring her to Lord Farquad.
The DreamWorks Animation film created an empire of Shrek success. With numerous sequels and spinoff movies, Shrek is one of the most successful animated franchises ever. The first film featured some great CGI animation for 2001 but also had the hilarity of adult jokes that parents would get while their kids enjoyed the fantasy, animation, and love story. Besides, who wouldn't love listening to Eddie Murphy crack jokes as Donkey for an hour and a half?
70. Mulholland Drive (2001)
There are two sides to David Lynch: the fairly normal filmmaker who wants to tell a linear story in a somewhat straightforward manner (examples include The Elephant Man and The Straight Story), and the absolute bonkers off-the-wall batshit fever dream of an avante-garde video artist (examples include Eraserhead and Inland Empire). What makes Mulholland Drive such a beautiful film, is that it’s the perfect balance of these two sides of the iconic writer/director. In fact, without spoiling anything, the film even has a pivotal moment where it completely changes tonally, effectively showing these two distinct sides of Lynch. Perhaps more importantly, this tonal switch is expertly pulled off by the film’s star Naomi Watts, who, between this and 2001’s 21 Grams, was at a point in her career where she was showing off her chops with an authenticity that was hard not to notice. Mulholland Drive will show you the full range of skill you need to see from both Watts, and the legendary auteur that is David Lynch.
69. Watchmen (2009)
“Unadaptable” is a word that’s been used when approaching the most ambitious literary adaptations. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark graphic novel Watchmen was one such project, earning that brand after decades of potential adaptations failed to tackle the ambitious superhero narrative properly.
Even in light of multiple cuts, and the ending being substantially altered from what was depicted in the 1985 source material, Watchmen is a miracle to behold. Somehow, the complicated narrative told through various mediums in that graphic novel was streamlined into a product that didn’t water down the full story.
Only Zack Snyder’s third directorial effort, Watchmen is a powerful statement of the man’s developing skills in that point of his career. Arriving in the wake of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, it proved comic adaptations could be more than market-driving crowd pleasers. In the case of Watchmen, such movies could also be masterpieces.
68. Sideways (2004)
How the hell did Sideways, a dialogue-driven dramedy about a schoolteacher who loves wine, become such a mainstream pop-culture phenomenon? Try going wine-tasting without hearing a joke about drinking from the spit bucket, or somebody saying, “I am not drinking any fucking merlot!”
Sideways’ writer and director, Alexander Payne, has always told stories that are rather grounded in reality. Aside from Downsizing where he literally shrank Matt Damon, these are movies about common issues that most folks can relate to. The Descendants is about grief, About Schmidt is about aging, and Sideways is about letting go. With the script came Payne’s first Academy Award, a life-changing role for Paul Giamatti, and one of the best films of that decade. The bleak nature of the ending with just a dash of hope is a testament to real-life, and relatable for the average person. That is how a movie about a failed middle-aged writer with a drinking problem managed to cement its place in film history.
67. Lost In Translation (2003)
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American actor past his prime. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a young, married, recent college graduate. Both are in Tokyo — Bob to shoot promos for a Japanese whiskey and Charlotte to follow her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) on his latest assignment — and overcome with feelings of loneliness and disillusionment until a chance meeting at their hotel bar gives the unlikely duo a sense of fulfillment when they both need it most.
Lost in Translation is one of the first films produced by Focus Features and is still considered to be one of the production company’s best releases two decades later for the refreshingly unique — albeit, unlikely — love story that still manages to warm hearts from its unforgettable opening shot to its cryptic, much-debated final moment. The charming, invigoratingly honest dramedy also managed to be a major turning point for Murray (who earned his sole Academy Award nomination), Johansson (a breakthrough performance), and second-time writer and director Sophia Coppola, who earned a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
66. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
In the mid-2000s, big screen comedy underwent a titanic shift. Through the late ‘90s and the turn of the century, the genre was dominated by the so-called Frat Pack (Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson)… but then along came The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the directorial debut from Judd Apatow. The film is hilarious and sweet, with a collection of wonderful characters exploring the high highs and low lows of sexuality and romance in the 21st century – and while not everything about it has aged perfectly, it does a tremendous job at leaning into the talents of its stars. And it’s a game-changer.
While it’s Steve Carell’s movie, a huge part of its legacy is featuring the breakout performance by Seth Rogen. In the wake of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Rogen and Apatow became the biggest names in funny, with not just their own comedic voices becoming popular, but also their improvisation-heavy styles.
65. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Hot Fuzz is the kind of action movie where every second feels crafted by a team of action movie fans, as opposed to a cast and crew just going through the motions. Co-written by the A+ pair Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, starring Pegg opposite frequent co-star Nick Front, Hot Fuzz is mostly set far from metropolitan skylines and endless high-rises, and its quaint Wicker Man-esque village makes for a wildly unique setting for any story filled with this many Point Break references.
As the second film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, Hot Fuzz built on Shaun of the Dead's already stellar cast with a host of UK legends such as Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw, Olivia Colman, Bill Bailey, and the list goes on and on. (When you have Cate Blanchett making uncredited appearances, you're doing something right.) Unlike the other two Cornetto films, though, Hot Fuzz probably deserves another straightforward sequel set in this universe, with a new killer crime for Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman to get crackin’ on.
64. Walk The Line (2005)
Music biopics might feel like they’re a dime a dozen, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t gems to behold in the genre, and one of those is absolutely James Mangold’s Academy Award-winning drama, Walk the Line. In it, Joaquin Phoenix portrays country music legend Johnny Cash through his tumultuous rise to fame, which includes his relationship with eventual wife, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon).
Sure, on one hand, we’ve seen music’s superstars descend into alcoholism and drug addiction on the big screen time and time again, but it’s how all the pieces of Cash and Carter’s story are put together that make the film a must watch. As such, the performances of the leads are everything here, and seeing June attempt to staunch her feelings for her married co-performer, while also trying to knock some sense into him as she watches his addictions grow and Johnny become more erratic, are some of the best parts of the movie. Witherspoon didn’t win a Best Actress Oscar for nothing, and Phoenix is at his peak here, as well.
63. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
With Walt Disney Animation fresh out of its renaissance after the ‘90s, the 2000s were a particularly experimental period for the studio which, looking back, found inspiration from numerous science fiction classics. The best 2D animated movie from the House of Mouse of the decade is a lively spin on E.T., but this mysterious alien is an intergalactic fugitive with a bad temper who falls to the Hawaiian Islands, becomes best friends with a young orphaned girl who teaches him the gospel of Elvis Presley.
Not only is Lilo & Stitch an incredibly quotable, fun, family adventure, it’s one of Disney’s most authentic and original films that speaks to finding one’s ohana in unexpected places amidst great loss. Few Walt Disney Animation movies have felt as simultaneously intimate and commercial as Lilo & Stitch. Experiment 626 remains a gem that made Disney’s growing pains of the 2000s worth the while.
62. Monsters, INC (2001)
Before Up, The Incredibles and even Finding Nemo, there was Monsters, Inc. Pixar’s decision to make its fourth feature a story about a company that generates scream-based power in a world inhabited by ferocious creatures may have seemed odd at the time. However, it ultimately turned out to be an inspired (and very) lucrative decision. Set in the world of Monstropolis, the film centers on two pals – both employees of the titular corporation – who must return a human child to her world in order to keep her out of harm’s way. And the result is a hilarious and heartwarming romp about loyalty and tolerance.
Pete Docter – who’d go on to direct Up, Inside Out and more – really proved himself as a filmmaker with this directorial debut. The flick is beautifully animated and populated with plenty of lovable characters. Speaking of which, John Goodman’s James P. “Sully” Sullivan and Billy Crystal’s Mike Wasowski still stand as two of Pixar’s most popular creations. The interactions between the two sometimes mirror the interplay of some of cinema’s best comedic duos. Monsters, Inc. would spawn a sequel and TV spinoff, but it’s the 2001 movie that’s truly an eclectic piece of storytelling.
61. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Best Picture award, but the voters got it right when it came to the prize handed out at the end of the 21st century’s first decade. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is a heart-stopper that tears down the wall between film and audience: when Jeremy Renner’s Staff Sergeant William James is suited up and defusing bombs, you hold your breath in fear, terrified to feel the heat of the fiery explosion that will result with one false move by the protagonist.
Screenwriter Mark Boal’s work puts us directly in James’ mind – a soldier who is incapable of leaving the battlefield behind – and Jeremy Renner’s turn is a career best. In retrospect, it’s wholly understandable why Renner’s performance changed the trajectory of his career and turned him into the Marvel-bona fide star that he is today.
60. Moulin Rouge (2001)
On paper, Moulin Rouge is a movie that just should not exist. The premise alone, a modern jukebox musical set in 1890s Paris, creates a level of cognitive dissonance on its own that suspension of disbelief should be impossible. It’s the sort of thing that only a director like Baz Luhrmann would even try, but somehow, he not only makes it happen, he makes it work.
Everything about Moulin Rouge goes hard. The performances, the songs, the sets. It creates its unreality so perfectly that it’s near-impossible to avoid being swept up by it and brought along for the ride. And the absinthe-infused magic is so far removed from reality that even 20 years later Moulin Rouge feels just as fresh. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are perfect as the star-crossed lovers. We know how the story will end before it begins, but it doesn’t make any of it less heartbreaking. Luhrmann’s films can sometimes focus on style over substance, but there’s no lack of substance here.
59. Elf (2003)
Elf is probably the most recent Christmas movie that became an instant classic. Jon Favreau crafted a delightful and bonkers story for the 2003 movie, with Will Ferrell offering one of his most iconic performances of all time. And it’s a movie that’s re-watched annually by countless families every Holiday Season… or other times in the year when you need a good laugh.
Elf’s concept is both ridiculous and simple; Buddy is a human raised by elves who eventually goes to New York City to find his birth father (played by Godfather icon James Caan). The juxtaposition between Buddy’s eternal optimism and the hard streets of the Big Apple is fodder for countless funny bits throughout its runtime. There’s also a touching story about family and the holiday spirit that makes Elf a true beloved Christmas movie. Plus, it’s got a pre-Game of Thrones appearance by Peter Dinklage. And of course, Santa (I know him!).
58. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
In the 1950s, few people were as outspoken about the threat of Communism than Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, whose blacklisting of anyone he deemed suspicious was so notoriously frequent that “McCarthyism” — a term associated with fear mongering — was coined after him. One of the few people brave enough to take a stand against him was CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow, whose defiance of the politician and the Red Scare nearly cost him his career, but also made him into one of the most influential icons of his craft.
This monumental moment in journalism history is dramatized with nearly the same level of passion for truth and justice in Good Night, and Good Luck. — named after the famous concluding catchphrase of Murrow, portrayed here in an Academy Award-nominated performance by David Strathairn. George Clooney, who also plays Murrow’s producer, Fred Friendly, earned his first Oscar nominations as a director and co-writer for this riveting history lesson, made even better with Robert Elswit’s gorgeous cinematography and exquisite acting from the star-studded ensemble, which also includes Jeff Daniels, Patricia Arquette, Robert Downey Jr., and Frank Langella.
57. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Wes Anderson’s style is so distinct that it has become something of a joke in pop culture, frequently being parodied on shows like Saturday Night Live. When folks reference Wes Anderson, and the trademarks of a Wes Anderson film, they’re primarily lifting it from The Royal Tenenbaums. The point is, Tenenbaums is by far the most Wes Anderson-y film to ever Wes Anderson; absolutely jam-packed with quirkitude, a variety of eccentric characters and deadpan dialogue delivery. This is the quintessential hipster flick that helped to define a generation of indie millennial film buffs.
Aside from The Royal Tenenbaums’ effect on pop culture, it truly exists as a wonderful, honest, hilarious, and heartbreaking film. Over twenty years ago when the film was released, there wasn’t a lot like it in mainstream American cinema, with the somewhat privileged (yet painfully relatable) themes it explores being limited to conversations had by those gathering to watch Jean-Luc Godard in their NYU dorm rooms. With his first Oscar nomination, The Royal Tenenbaums introduced much of the world to Wes Anderson, and many still consider it to be his finest work to date.
56. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Oftentimes sequels don’t measure up to their predecessor, but Spider-Man 2 is one of the exceptions. Director Sam Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent kept the best elements from the first Spider-Man movie and improved upon them, with the follow-up doing an excellent job exploring how Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker handles the burden of heroism and trying to balance his web-sliding activities with his civilian life. However, Spider-Man 2’s MVP is Alfred Molina, whose more sympathetic take on Doctor Octopus quickly cemented him as one of the best superhero movie villains of all time. It’s no wonder we still have yet to see another actor play the tentacled antagonist in a live-action movie. As a bonus, I love how the movie recreated the panel from 1967’s The Amazing Spider-Man #50 of Peter Parker leaving his costume behind in the garbage. A touch like that is a great Easter egg for Marvel fans, but is also just a gorgeous shot for the casuals watching the tale unfold.
55. Ratatouille (2007)
Pixar Animation’s eighth feature film, Ratatouille, is as surprising as its premise. It came at a time when the studio was high on a winning streak, redefining how we looked at toys, bugs, monsters, cars, superheroes and fish. Sure, making an audience empathetic to rats feels like a stretch, but the 2007 movie had a fresh and quirky way in that kept Pixar at an all-time high. What if one rat was secretly a gourmet cook in Paris, France? The results are so charming.
Fronted by a charismatic voice performance from Patton Oswalt as Remy, packed with decadent and often mouth-watering animation greatly displayed inside a top-tier French kitchen and beautifully underlined by an all-time great score from Michael Giacchino, Pixar told a hilarious underdog story with the creativity and wonder the studio remains beloved for. It’s one of those movies that has one doing a double take at every human and animal you encounter next time you walk outside in playful curiosity about the world thinking “Anyone Can Cook.”
54. Superbad (2007)
Seth Rogen has touted himself as a “permanent teenager,” and never has that title been truer than in the 2007 teen buddy comedy Superbad. The movie — which he penned with Evan Goldberg and stars a number of the regular Judd Apatow players — carries the funky vibe of the 1970s throughout, but its story is timeless. The only thing more relatable than high-school seniors Seth and Evan (played perfectly by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) trying to get to a party to impress some girls was their underlying anxiety over not knowing what would happen to their friendship after graduation.
The laughs come a mile a minute — some may say it’s the funniest movie of all time — with an impressive cast that also includes Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Emma Stone and, of course, Seth Rogen. But in the end it’s the friendship at the heart of the story that makes this one worth watching again and again. Superbad is also responsible for giving us “McLovin,” for which we should be forever grateful.
53. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
One of the most intriguing stories related to the crime of check fraud is that of Frank Abagnale Jr., who impersonated various professions, passed off millions of dollars worth of phony checks, and outran the FBI between the ages of 16 and 21. At least, that is what the fraud prevention consultant claimed in his memoir, Catch Me If You Can. The book inspired an excellent movie of the same name.
This 1960s-set crime drama stars future Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio as the young, elusive con artist, who enters an intense, enduring game of cat-and-mouse with two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks as a veteran FBI agent who will stop at nothing to bring him to justice, even if he becomes friends with him in the process. Following Minority Report, director Steven Spielberg completed his one-two punch of masterfully entertaining films in 2002 with this dazzling, devilishly charming, and even heartwarming tale.
52. Cast Away (2000)
Everybody scream “Wilson!” with me! Now, let’s all break into violent sobs as we remember Tom Hanks losing his best friend… a volleyball with a face painted on it. Cast Away is a miracle. It’s essentially a one-man show that you can’t pull your eyes off of, because you root so hard for Hanks and want to see how he’s going to get off the deserted island on which he is stranded. Director Robert Zemeckis places us in Hanks’ sandals, so we feel frustration as he fails to get a makeshift raft over the incoming tide, and elation when he figures out how to start a fire. Hanks already was viewed as one of our greatest actors before he single handedly carried this survival story, but the gripping performance earned him his fifth Oscar nomination. (He lost to Russell Crowe in Gladiator.) Listen to this remarkable stat: Zemeckis filmed Cast Away’s first half with a chunky Hanks, then had to pause production while his leading man lost enough weight and grew enough hair to play his marooned self in the movie’s second half. During that pause, Zemeckis filmed an entire feature: 2000’s marital thriller What Lies Beneath, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford.
51. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
One thing to know about Ang Lee is that he keeps audiences guessing when it comes to his projects. And given his body of work leading up to the 2000s, not too many people might’ve expected him to helm a wuxia martial arts epic with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yet movie lovers should be so glad he did. His seventh directorial effort is a masterpiece featuring beautifully choreographed fight sequences, impeccable production design, imposing performances and more.
Based on Wang Dulu’s 1942 novel of the same name, the highly ambitious production centers on a seasoned warrior and his equally skilled ally (and love interest), who aim to hunt down the former’s fabled sword so it can be delivered for safekeeping. Their quest ultimately leads them down a path neither could’ve ever imagined. Ang Lee assembled a highly formidable ensemble of actors led by Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, who all give career-best performances. The martial arts genre features a wide array of movies, but few can meet the standard set by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
50. Legally Blonde (2001)
“What? Like it’s hard” to be one of the top 50 movies of the 2000s? It’s not for Legally Blonde, that’s for sure. Casually going to law school at Harvard to win back your ex-boyfriend is a far-fetched idea, but Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods doesn't just pull it off, she succeeds in grand fashion, obviously.
Elle Woods is such an icon, she’s funny, gorgeous, and hyper-intelligent, and seeing her harness all of that to succeed at Harvard was empowering. Reese Witherspoon and the cast of Legally Blonde are also on their A-games in this movie, creating a hilariously smart and unique story. From Jennifer Coolidge’s “bend and snap” moment with our leading lady to the adorable rom-com subplot between Elle and Luke Wilson’s Emmett, the film is packed with memorable stories from fabulous characters.
Since then, Withersoon’s lawyer’s story has expanded into a sequel and a Broadway musical, because a world with more Elle Woods in it is “So Much Better.”
49. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Tropic Thunder is a relentless and vicious commentary on the motion picture industry and all the absurdities associated with it. For two unyielding hours, Ben Stiller’s satirical action comedy mercilessly skewers the executives, the actors, the directors, the writers, the agents and even an explosives coordinator, painting them as deeply flawed and emotionally unstable people who will do anything to stay relevant and protect their own fragile egos. From blackface to stolen valor to exploiting the mentally handicapped, there’s no line they won’t cross in pursuit of their next award, their next paycheck or their next high.
Tropic Thunder shouldn’t work. From one angle, it’s a big budget, big studio action comedy filled with explosions, fart jokes and Tom Cruise dancing to Flo Rida. From another angle, it’s a deeply clever satire that repeatedly and without apology seeks out complicated and problematic subject matter. It’s a movie within a movie disguised as another movie, but instead of a disorganized mess, it somehow all comes together thanks to a fantastic script, an Oscar-nominated Robert Downey Jr. performance and the greatest little kid reaction shot in the history of movies.
48. Gladiator (2000)
Russell Crowe went on an absolute tear in the 2000s with a number of memorable movies, so it’s no surprise that the one he won the Best Actor Oscar for is on this list. Gladiator is an absolute triumph from start to finish, with knockout performances led by the direction of Ridley Scott. Maximus is an immediately likable character brought down to the lowest point of his life. He keeps fighting and survives solely because of the revenge he hopes to deliver to Commodus.
And while Joaquin Phoenix did not win an Oscar for his nominated performance as Commodus, Maximus’ journey isn’t quite as sweet without him being every bit as unlikable as he should be. When the big scene finally comes for Maximus and Commodus to square off, how can you not be on the edge of your seat? Without a doubt one of the best gladiator movies of all time.
47. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
While not strictly a love story, Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire definitely owes a lot to the genre, as Jamal’s (Dev Patel) lifelong love for childhood friend Latika (Freida Pinto) drives much of what he does. The drama follows Jamal as he relays the events of his young life that have led him to correctly answering questions on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, after he’s arrested and tortured for cheating.
As Jamal takes us through the harrowing events of his childhood that led him not only to fall for Latika, but to compete on the show in an effort to find her again, we’re taken through an action-packed tale of survival under extreme circumstances, what a young man will go through to save the love of his life, and how we all probably know a lot more than we think we do. Definitely hard to watch at times, but inspirational nonetheless.
46. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
On one hand, Jonathan Daylon and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine is one of the funniest movies of the 2000s, but on the other hand it’s one of the most tragic stories to come out of the decade. The “road trip from Hell” setup had been done countless times prior to the film’s 2006 release, but rarely had the subgenre been as effective, emotional, or laugh out loud funny.
Michael Arndt’s hilarious, heartbreaking, and nuanced screenplay, which earned him an Oscar, doesn’t play it safe by avoiding life’s tragedies (both major and minor), but instead faces them head-on, creating a cathartic experience for his characters and audience alike. Transformative performances by the late Alan Arkin (he also won an Academy Award), Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette and the rest of the Little Miss Sunshine cast make you feel their characters are family, which is the heart and soul of this outstanding film.
45. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Keira Knightley’s Pride & Prejudice is hardly the first take on the novel of the same name, but the 2005 film arguably set the standard for modern Jane Austen movie adaptations. The love story between Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) is beautifully told, and made all the more memorable for the cinematography, soundtrack, and chemistry between the stars. In fact, the cast was stacked with stars who either already had or would become big names, including Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, and Kelly Reilly in addition to Knightley and Macfadyen.
The world of the Bennet family in this Pride & Prejudice feels lived in and domestic in a way that adds a touch of modern realism to a Regency-era period drama and contrasts the more austere beauty of Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate. The film isn’t as faithful to the book as the beloved 1995 BBC miniseries, but it hits the important beats of the original Jane Austen story in just over two hours while also being completely accessible to viewers who haven’t read the book, with moments like the iconic hand flex of Mr. Darcy that fans far and wide know well.
44. Adaptation (2002)
Adaptation is a book adaptation about the adaptation process. Understood? Wonderful.
Nicolas Cage plays dual roles as the most neurotic possible version of screenwriter Charlie Kauffman, as well as his fictitious twin Donald Kauffman. Originally hired to write the film adaptation for Susan Orlean’s bestseller The Orchid Thief, Charlie Kauffman experiences a debilitating case of writer’s block, stemming from a slew of mental health issues including social anxiety, body dysmorphia and depression. This sends him on something of a tortured artist’s odyssey that leads him to write himself, and the experience, into his script. Thus, we get Adaptation, a hybrid of both the story of The Orchid Thief, and Kauffman’s experience adapting it.
These days, such a meta concept is somewhat commonplace, but over 20 years ago, this was the most bonkers script since Kauffman’s Being John Malkovich. Malkovich was even worked into Adaptation’s storyline, with John Cusack, Catherine Keener and the titular John Malkovich playing themselves. The point is, this film is WEIRD in the best of ways, yet still managed to grab Oscar nominations for Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, as well as a win for Chris Cooper. Adaptation is perhaps the greatest cinematic insight into the creative writing process, and the effect it has on one’s psyche, ever made.
43. Love & Basketball (2000)
The best romantic comedies might get a lot of attention from fans of lovey dovey stories, but romantic dramas deserve our eyeballs as well, and Love & Basketball is one that really should be praised. This romance (which is also a fantastic sports drama) tells the story of Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps), two talented, basketball-obsessed kids who bond over their love of the sport, but have several trials as they attempt to take their relationship from friends to lovers in their high school and college years and, later, in their twenties.
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s feature-length directorial debut does an amazing job of showing how hard it can be for two people who are so dedicated to their craft to make time for one another, especially as the pressure to succeed in their sport pulls them in different directions. But, it goes much further than that, with each of their complicated family dynamics and emotional wounds taking this love story to the next level.
42. Minority Report (2002)
If you had the chance to predict and prevent a tragic crime, the choice sounds obvious, right? That is until you are faced with the possibility that the prediction is wrong and your arrestee was destined to be innocent. That provocative idea was the basis for a 1956 short story by prolific science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, which was later adapted into one of director Steven Spielberg’s most exciting films of the decade, if not his full career.
Tom Cruise stars as John Anderton — the chief for a special police unit that uses a trio of clairvoyant siblings to detect future murders — who begins to question their seemingly “perfect” system when he makes the horrifying discovery that the potential perpetrator of his next case is himself, forcing him to go on the run. The truth behind this prediction revealed in the brilliant twist ending of Minority Report is one of the many fascinating and thought-provoking aspects of this astonishingly inventive sci-fi masterpiece that is not quite dystopian, but far from utopian either.
41. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Over the past few years, there have been great strides for representation and diverse stories in Hollywood. But back in the early 2000s, this wasn’t exactly the case. Which is why Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was such a groundbreaking movie upon its release. Hollywood simply wasn’t telling queer love stories through major blockbusters, let alone honoring them with major Awards Nominations.
While there’s been some backlash about straight actors playing LGBTQ+ roles, Brokeback likely only got produced because of its bankable (and yes straight) lead actors. For their part, both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger offer moving and complicated performances that still stand up today. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway also really deliver, which is par for the course for those talented actresses. This quartet of performers tell their characters’ stories through decades of time, and to devastating results. And the acclaimed film is still so beloved that it’s being adapted for the stage on the West End, starring Mike Faist and Lucas Hedges.
40. American Psycho (2000)
Author Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho is a shocking literary experience. There are scenes in it that will make even the most seasoned horror fan blanche – and reading it, you can understand why it was deemed unadaptable for a time after its publication. When it did finally get brought to the big screen, co-adapted by screenwriter Guinevere Turner and director Mary Harron, the material was understandably pulled back a bit, but the movie still remains a scary and biting satire that takes aim at the hardcore capitalism in the 1980s.
Years before he became a big screen legend playing Batman, Christian Bale became a horror icon with his performance as Patrick Bateman – a white, rich sociopath who enjoys torturing and slaughtering women… but who nonetheless blends in with all the rest of New York’s white, rich sociopaths. It’s a rich cinematic experience that manages to be both satisfyingly scary and surprisingly funny.
39. 28 Days Later (2002)
Certain movies can be credited as causing shifts so powerful, an entire genre felt its influence. Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland’s 28 Days Later is one such film, as this lo-fi British horror-thriller would go on to see interest in movies like Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Shaun of the Dead being boosted.
Revitalizing the zombie genre, while not calling its own creatures by the Z-word, the normal rules didn’t apply in this horror masterpiece. In the world of the previously coma-ridden Jim (Cillian Murphy), the vicious “infected” could come from anywhere, with blazing speed. Survival, in some situations, could be measured in a heartbeat, with a drop of blood or saliva making the difference.
Stocked with a who’s who of actors like Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, and Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later did for zombies what Scream did for slasher films. Challenging the status quo with relentless energy, the film is all at once terrifying, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland resurrected the undead genre with stunning results.
38. Amelie (2001)
One of the most delightful stories committed to film. French ingénue Audrey Tautou was perfectly cast as the title character Amelie, who is believed to have a delicate heart condition and so is overprotected by her doting parents. As a result of her gently-imposed isolation, Amelie develops an overactive imagination, which leads her on a series of whimsical adventures. Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet embraces magical realism as a style, with Tautou basically gliding through this giddy fantasy as she works to make the lives of everyone around her happy, and possibly find love on her own in the process. Amelie seems to transmit joy, and if you aren’t uplifted by Tautou’s effervescent performance, you might want to check to ensure you still have a pulse. Now, go borrow someone else’s lawn gnome, photograph it in front of a celebrated vacation spot, and spread the joy of Amelie with anyone who hasn’t yet seen this delightful gem.
37. Donnie Darko (2001)
There may not be a more aggressively strange and maddeningly perplexing movie on this list than Donnie Darko. Yet, its mysterious and nearly off-putting nature may be the reason why — despite nearly becoming a cable TV movie (if not for Christopher Nolan’s praise) and ultimately bombing at the box office — it remains an enduring cult hit.
At its core, writer and director Richard Kelly’s feature-length debut is the story of an emotionally troubled young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose struggle to navigate adolescence in the late 1980s is worsened by visions of an apocalyptic soothsayer in a horrifying rabbit suit, but it is much more than that. It is a sharp coming-of-age satire on par with some of John Hughes’ films, a classic time travel movie, and a pervasively grim fantasy tale that serves as a perfect Halloween tradition, among other things. Above all, however, Donnie Darko is unique enough to defy categorization, resulting in a one-of-a-kind experience.
36. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
If we’re only including one adaptation of the Harry Potter series on this list, it has to be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The source material has our lead trio entering into their teen years with more studies than ever and higher stakes all around. New characters are introduced, major reveals transpire and there’s also that twisty bit of time travel. Oh, and let’s not forget the bone-chilling Dementors, whose powers include dredging up a person’s darkest memories and fears.
Those things on their own give Prisoner of Azkaban an edge over some of the other books, but Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation does more than just bring one of the best installments of the series to life. New layers of the magical world emerge on the screen thanks to the cinematography, not to mention Cuarón’s vision and patient approach to the pacing, which gives us the chance to really soak in the surroundings in any given scene. Whether it’s showing the change of seasons at Hogwarts or the stunning sight of Harry soaring over the lake on the back of a Hippogriff, it’s more than enough to set the film above its predecessors and raise the bar firmly for the adaptations that would follow.
35. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada is already a classic. While the film quality itself is high, the movie has also become part of the fabric of pop culture, thanks to its quotable lines and the unbelievable performance of one Meryl Streep. Anne Hathaway is regularly transformed into a meme thanks to the scene where Annie shows up to work post-makeover in Chanel Boots.
Aside from the pop culture of it all, The Devil Wears Prada is a delightful movie romp. The fashions are aspirational, and the cast is truly on top of their game. Special points to Emily Blunt, who became a household name following her performance as Emily. And considering how light and frothy even the movie’s drama is, the rewatchability of this book to movie adaptation cannot be understated. If you haven’t watched Devil Wears Prada recently, by all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.
34. The Lord Of The Rings Movies (2001-2003)
There are very few fantasy movie franchises out there that have been great all the way through. They have their dips and slides, but if there’s one major fantasy franchise to rule them all, it has to be The Lord of the Rings movies.
The film franchise mainly follows Frodo Baggins as he travels with the Fellowship on a quest to destroy the One Ring in order to take down the person who made it, Sauron. But don't take that premise at face value – there is so much more to this story than meets the eye.
The Lord of the Rings movies are perfect in every shape and form. From the battle sequences to the visual effects to the acting, there is much to love and adore about these films. The Lord of the Rings delivers in ways fans can't even imagine. There's a reason why the franchise is so popular years later – and how spinoffs, such as The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, have been released in recent years. The love keeps pouring in.
33. Casino Royale (2006)
When James Bond was given his iconic Walther PPK in Dr. No, Sean Connery’s initial incarnation is told the weapon has “a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” The same could be said for 2006’s Casino Royale, as the introduction to Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies wasn’t shy about changing things up, and surprising even the most experienced 007 fans with how it would depict Commander Bond’s exploits.
Director Martin Campbell’s franchise reboot was as lean and mean as they come. Casino Royale showed 007 getting his ass handed to him, and his heart broken. Such vulnerability didn’t weaken the character, but rather it humanized him and added a suspense that the Bond movies had lost for some time.
Daniel Craig stepped into the role of the modern James Bond as if it were a tuxedo perfectly tailored for his presence. Wryly funny, yet cold and calculating when he had to pull the trigger, Craig made the role his own from frame one. To see such an iconic series redefined so perfectly, after 20 movies and over four decades of history before it, is something that still astonishes as much now as it did upon initial viewing.
32. Batman Begins (2005)
One of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history is 1997’s Batman & Robin — a movie that, despite having some fans, is so cartoonishly absurd and dismissive of the source material’s essential themes and tone that it would be the last we would see of one of DC Comics’ most important characters on the big screen for years. The Caped Crusader’s resurgence in cinema — and in modern pop culture — can be traced back to when director Christopher Nolan went back to basics and all the way back to the beginning of his war on crime in Batman Begins.
Christian Bale immediately asserted himself as one of the best actors to play Batman with his grounded and stoic performance as a Bruce Wayne desperate to rescue his beloved Gotham City — one of the most stunningly realistic and effectively grimy depictions of the burdened metropolis — from the cesspool of crime and corruption it has become. While it is not widely considered to be the absolute best of the live-action Batman movies so far (more on that one later), most would agree that Batman Begins is one of the best superhero movies in general for its refreshingly earnest and complex approach to comic book lore, exhilarating action sequences and technical mastery, and reinventing the Dark Knight for a new generation without losing sight of what made him an icon in the first place.
31. Children of Men (2006)
In a dystopian future, environmental malpractice has led to constant war, famine, and total human infertility. So imagine the surprise felt by former political activist Theo Faron (Clive Owen) when he learns that a young female refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) is pregnant, and is poised to deliver the first natural childbirth in eighteen years.
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron was coming off of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (considered by many to be the best film in that saga) when he unleashed his talents on Children of Men. His breathtaking approach to editing and cinematography propels the action forward at a feverish pitch, with Cuaron often choosing to stage his movements in long, eye-popping, unbroken shots that lure the audience to the edge of their seats. Cuaron says this is a movie about hope, but you have to endure a lot of credible despair to finally unearth it. It’s worth the effort.
30. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
As times change, what’s considered popular is as fluid as water itself. Sometimes a movie can be ahead of the curve in that respect, dictating a whole era of cool in its very existence. Director Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven did just that, as both an uber slick heist movie, and as a modernized remake of a pre-existing film.
The 1960’s Rat Pack extravaganza about war veterans looking for one big score was turned into a gathering of thieves, assembled by one man (George Clooney) looking for something more than cash. While the stakes were changed, and the number spelled out in the title, this film nailed the breezy energy that made the original so lovely.
Be it an all-star cast including Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts, the insanely slick soundtrack, or even just the way George Clooney could rock a suit without a tie, Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t telegraph its style. It presents it with great confidence, and allows you to decide if it’s worth your while. It’s a love letter to the past, while playing to the viewer of today; with a result as cool as that drink you just ordered at the bar.
29. Chicago (2002)
If you look at just about any list of the best musicals of the 21st century, it’s basically a guarantee that Chicago will be there. The adaptation of Bob Fosse’s long-running musical is one of few musical films to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Catherine Zeta-Jones took home a trophy as well for her stellar performance as the “All That Jazz” singer who killed her husband and sister, Velma Kelly. This film has intrigue, sex, murder, genius performances and a whole lot of jazz, and it's truly a masterful musical adaptation.
Rob Marshall ultimately made a musical that stays true to its stage roots, but also heightens the entire story through movie magic. Take “Cell Block Tango” for example, the majority of the song is performed on a stage, and the women singing about murdering their husbands are in black costumes similar to the wardrobe from Broadway. However, it’s bigger as a whole, and it flashes between the actual prison, and this staged dream-like sequence. By doing this for every number, the film both elevated and paid homage to its predecessor, which is just one of the many reasons it’s so incredible.
28. Iron Man (2008)
From being the first self-financed Marvel Studios production, executives initially being opposed to casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and most of the dialogue being improvised since the script wasn’t finished when production began, there was a lot that could have gone wrong with Iron Man. And yet, the end result stands as a triumph in large part due to Downey’s performance as the genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist.
But of course, one can’t discuss Iron Man without addressing how it changed the film franchise game. Once Nick Fury emerged from the shadows and mentioned the Avengers Initiative in the post-credits scene, that was the first big tipoff that this movie was the first chapter in a shared universe, just like in the original Marvel comics. More than a decade later, the MCU still stands as a Hollywood powerhouse, and many franchises, both superhero and from other genres, have followed in its footsteps.
27. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
The slacker bastard child of George Romero's Dead films and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead is a rarity in cinema, and not just for having the gall to sacrifice the soundtrack to 1989's Batman. It's a largely perfect amalgam of authenticity and parodical storytelling, anchored to the comedic whims and wiles of director Edgar Wright, his co-writer Simon Pegg, and Pegg’s co-star Nick Frost. As it goes with that trio’s other film on this list (see #65), Shaun’s biggest strength is its characters who feel real enough to legitimize the zombie apocalypse chaos, while also making viewers care about them even when the gory threats aren’t around the corner.
Shaun of the Dead may go down as the funniest horror movie to have ever existed, while also delivering some genuinely disturbing moments throughout that keep the adventure from falling too far into the funnies. Simon Pegg even transcends the dual genre description by spinning palpable emotion out of his struggle to prioritize the safety of his relationship, his BFF, and his mom. And if that wasn’t enough, it allowed moviegoers to spend some time in the Winchester, and that’s a slice of fried gold that makes everyone’s life better.
26. Moon (2009)
Whenever we sit down for a sci-fi film, especially one that takes place on a remote station somewhere away from our planet, we all know that we’re in for a twisty tale, and Moon certainly fulfills that promise. Duncan Jones’ 2009 directorial debut (he also came up with the story) focuses on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the lone human working a mostly automated mining facility on the far side of the moon, who begins to have troubling hallucinations as he nears the end of his work contract.
What follows is surprising, as not only does the story take several intriguingly unexpected turns, but it also examines what it’s like to be isolated from others (including loved ones), holding on to a sense of community, and one’s willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Throw in a creepy AI, which can’t quite be determined as a helper or a hindrance for a time, and you get science fiction gold.
25. The Incredibles (2004)
Released during the early years of the superhero movie’s surging popularity, The Incredibles still holds up tremendously after all this time, despite so many other offerings from Marvel, DC and other studios being delivered nearly two decades after its release. To be sure, Pixar’s sixth full-length feature does a spectacular job at both honoring classic superhero stories and tropes, as well as poking fun at them, including the hilarious ‘no capes’ gag. But The Incredibles’ greatest feat isn’t how it handles these larger-than-life elements, but rather how it makes these characters feel relatable and complex in the midst of the action.
From Bob and Helen Parr being concerned about their children’s welfare, whether they’re living everyday life in suburbia or fighting bad guys in costume, to understanding that Syndrome’s sinister motivations stem from the hurt he endured as an adolescent, The Incredibles never pushes aside its humanity in favor of spectacle; instead, they compliment each other quite nicely. Throw in outstanding vocal performances from actors like Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, and Brad Bird excelling as both the director and screenwriter, this movie stands out not just as a superhero movie, but as one of the greatest entries in Pixar’s library.
24. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Join Us In Creating Excellence. More powerful than any anti-drug ad, Requiem for a Dream hit theaters in 2000 and has stood the test of time as possibly the most affecting portrayal of addiction to date. Based on the Hubert Selby Jr. book of the same name, Darren Aronofsky’s film explores more than just the heroin addictions of Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans’ characters. Ellen Burstyn’s obsession with being on television and fitting into her red dress is haunting, and there’s no questioning why the role earned her an Academy Award nomination.
The work behind the camera was equal to the all-around horrifying performances, as Darren Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique added to the story in how every shot was framed, the choreography of the characters’ movements, and the use of sound effects and split screens. The score was worthy of praise all on its own, with "Lux Aeterna" — the song that played over the climax of the film — leaving such an impression that it has gone on to be re-orchestrated for several other movie and video game trailers.
Combine all of this and add a little of Christopher McDonald’s Tappy Tibbons J.U.I.C.E., and you’ve got a real feel-bad movie that may never fully leave you.
23. Oldboy (2003)
Because many have such good storylines, South Korean films have become some of the biggest international movies.. A few examples could be Parasite and The Wailing. One movie in particular stands above many of them, and that's Oldboy.
Directed by Park Chan-wook, the film is loosely based on the Japanese manga of the same name and focuses on Dae-su, a man imprisoned in a cell that looks like a hotel room, for fifteen years, without knowing who the person was behind his capture. But when he gets his chance at freedom, he makes it his mission to find out who committed the crime all those years ago – only to find out there is much more to his imprisonment than he thought.
Oldboy is incredible. The action scenes are probably some of the best recorded on a movie screen and have been imitated many times – just the corridor fight scene itself is enough to satisfy any action-movie fan. The story is intriguing all the way until the end, which will blow the minds of first-time viewers. Truly, Oldboy is a staple of the South Korean film industry – and a fantastic movie of the 2000s.
22. Collateral (2004)
Michael Mann had already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest directors in the world of crime thrillers, but he further made a case for himself with his 2004 thriller, Collateral. Clocking in at exactly two hours, this cool, violent, and ruthless neo-noir classic not only sees one of the best Jamie Foxx performances with his portrayal of cab driver Max (a role that should have earned him an Oscar), it also introduces one of Tom Cruise’s most unhinged characters: Vincent, a mysterious and deadly assassin.
Cruise, who was coming off movies like Minority Report and The Last Samurai, is incredibly refreshing as the film’s antagonist, and it shows a side of the star that audiences don’t get to see as much. Seeing the actor’s undeniable charm and big-screen energy used to breathe life into someone who is pure evil is quite the experience, and really messes with the viewers’ mindset. In addition to actors like Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, and Jada Pinkett Smith, the movie also treats the city of Los Angeles less like a backdrop and more as another character, one that feels more alive as the story goes on, much like Mann’s 1995 heist film, Heat.
21. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Since the early days of moviemaking, Walt Disney’s viewpoint of the fairytale has had a stake in popular culture. It’s G-rated, soft and sweet, and there’s always a happy ending. Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth brings to life a fairytale that redefined what a fantasy movie can look like with its distinct and unforgettable vision. Set in 1944 Spain as the country picks up the pieces of the Spanish Civil War, the R-rated fantasy film follows a young girl named Ofelia as she faces the violent reality of the Francoist period and stumbles upon a dark wonderland in the shadows (or at least the shadows of her imagination).
As del Toro was coming off two more commercial movies in Blade II and Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth is a breathtaking highlight in an all-time great filmmaker’s career. Across two hours, the Spanish-language movie brings to life an extraordinary vision that beautifully balances being twisted and innocent all at once with memorable horror, gore, mythical creations and a ton of gorgeous practical creature effects. How does he balance a magical quest with political drama? Some especially memorable words in Pan’s Labyrinth answers that question: If “door is locked,” one must “create your own.” In a landscape where fairytales can be predictable, del Toro opened a wonderfully defiant world of his own with Pan’s Labyrinth.
20. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) And Vol. 2 (2004)
After turning the heist movie on its head with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, and changing the way audiences perceive movies in general (and winning a screenwriting Oscar) with 1994’s Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino very quickly made himself into one of the most unique and esteemed icons of the medium. However, after releasing his 1997 Elmore Leonard adaptation, Jackie Brown, we would not see him direct anything for another six years. Little did we know that he was planning to come back with something big — so big, that just one movie was not enough to tell the story. Based on a character Tarantino created with star Uma Thurman on the Pulp Fiction set, Kill Bill follows a deadly assassin initially known only as The Bride — one of the greatest female action heroes — who wakes up from a four-year coma with a furious urge to punish those who tried to put her to sleep permanently, with her former boss (David Carradine) being the primary target.
For years, it was debated whether or not the stylistically disparate halves of the story — with Vol. 1 being an ode to ‘70s kung fu movies and Vol. 2 counting as Tarantino’s first western, essentially — should count as one film. Well, even if the director had never officially clarified that he does see Kill Bill as one movie, we still would have designated one spot for both volumes of this exquisitely crafted, gorgeously choreographed, visually and emotionally breathtaking epic on this list, because that is the only way to experience "the whole bloody affair.”
19. Training Day (2001)
In 100 years, when film historians look back to determine why Denzel Washington was considered one of the best actors of his generation, director Antoine Fuqua's Training Day should be at the top of any screening list. Detective Alonzo Harris is a special kind of monster, and Washington’s work offers incredible escalation and power. At first, he just seems like a hardened detective who has made some scary discoveries about how best to patrol the city of Los Angeles, but he becomes a whole different kind of beast by the end – one that King Kong ain’t got nothin’ on.
But while Training Day features an all-time great performance from one of the all-time great actors, not to be ignored is just how terrific the movie as a whole is. Ethan Hawke is also at the top of his game as up-and-coming officer Jake Hoyt, who faces death and peril as he slowly understands the real game that Alonzo is playing, and David Ayer’s screenplay is special – packing the believable character arcs and growing stakes into a limited 24-hour time frame. Even on the tenth viewing it is successful at raising your pulse and getting you to invest in the protagonist’s peril, and that’s the mark of a truly great thriller.
18. The Wrestler (2008)
Still considered one of the best movies of 2008 more than a decade later, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is a grueling battle royale of emotions that doesn’t pull any punches with its story about a broken-down professional wrestler looking for one last shot at redemption. Channeling both the triumph and tragedy, and the agony and ecstasy of putting one’s life on the line day-in and day-out for decades, Mickey Rourke gave audiences the performance of a lifetime with his portrayal of washed-up wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a one-time larger-than-life titan caught somewhere between his past and uncertain future.
There are a lot of parallels between the character and Rouke’s own journey in this semi-autobiographical drama, which adds a tremendous amount of depth to not only his performance, but also the movie in general. Though wrestling is often considered a fake sport, Rourke’s performance and Aronofsky’s commitment to portraying the industry in an honest and genuine light is incredibly real. The physical, mental, and emotional pain can be felt in each of Randy’s movements, heard in his voice, and seen in his eyes as the former champ wrestles in high school gyms and attempts to make ends meet by taking on shifts at a local grocery store deli. Then there are the religious allegories that are explored through Randy’s character, as well as Marisa Tomei’s Cassidy, which make it all even more potent.
17. Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar has created some of the greatest animated films of all time, and Finding Nemo may be the studio’s true crowning achievement. It is as beautifully animated as it is emotionally powerful. The undersea world of Nemo is gorgeous simply to look at, and that’s just as true today as it was when the film was released.
2003's Finding Nemo’s voice casting is second to none. Nobody does neurotic like Albert Brooks. Nobody can play clueless like Ellen DeGeneres. Nobody plays a tough guy of questionable sanity like Willem Dafoe. These are the actors you would cast if you were telling this story in live-action, and they bring it all to the voice performances in a way that truly brings these characters to life.
And Finding Nemo is able to balance its emotional extremes perfectly. We’re used to Pixar movies making us cry but years before Up, Finding Nemo opened with an incredibly heartbreaking moment. But after that, it’s able to be hilarious, scary, and even exciting. Finally, it concludes with the sort of resolution that stands the test of time, as young children will see the film and relate with Nemo, then grow up, and begin to understand Marlin in a new way. Nemo does it all, not bad for a clownfish with a bad fin.
16. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
“I think this just might be my masterpiece.” That’s the final line in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and coming as it does at the end of 153 minutes of perfection, it’s hard not to read it as a message directly from the filmmaker to the audience. In 2009, Tarantino was coming off of a low point in his career with the disappointing theatrical release of Grindhouse, but his follow-up is a phenomenal World War II epic that only he could make: Nazi-killing action packaged in a love letter to cinema.
Two stories – the revenge of Mélanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus and the mission of the titular troop – play out in parallel with equal captivating energy right up until they collide in the (literally) explosive finale. While there isn’t a star in the expansive ensemble who doesn’t deliver a memorable performance (from Brad Pitt to Michael Fassbender to even Mike Myers), there isn’t a person who can watch the film and not walk away mesmerized by the work done by Christoph Waltz in his star-making turn as Hans Landa. It’s not an easy thing to blend a vibe of dastardly evil with sharp charisma, but Waltz is a force in the role, and it remains the best thing he has done in his career.
15. Spirited Away (2001)
Studio Ghibli is one of the world's most-known anime film studios. Co-founded by legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has created some of the best anime films of all time, one of which is Spirited Away – which Hayao Miyazaki directed.
Spirited Away is about a journey into the spirit world following the young Chihiro. Taking place in Japan, we follow the little girl, who happens to be moving to a new neighborhood with her family. When her parents decide to take a shortcut to their new home and explore what looks to be an abandoned amusement park, Chihiro is forced to go along. However, there's magic everywhere, and her mom and dad turn into pigs against their will for eating a gluttonous feast. For her to get them back, she must work for the spirits in the bathhouse, so they can return to the human world.
The premise itself sounds like a lot at first, but it's become Studio Ghibli’s – and Hayao Miyazaki's – highest-grossing film. It’s also the only anime film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the only hand-drawn film (so far) to accomplish the task. The movie features themes about love and learning to grow up and be brave. It's the perfect gateway movie into the anime film – indeed, one of the best movies of the 2000s.
14. The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige is a battle of wills between two talented and irreparably flawed magicians, who can’t stay out of each other’s lives. Their differing roles in a shared tragedy push them apart and then repeatedly back together, as their initial determination to succeed steadily gives way to an obsession for vengeance. That obsession drives them to sacrifice and abandon everything healthy about their lives until they’re each left with only a singular drive to sabotage the other.
Based on that description, The Prestige sounds like a really dark movie. In many ways, it is, but in director Christopher Nolan’s hands, it’s also often really fun. It has a sense of wonder and mystery about it, as it not only dives into the idiosyncrasies of magic but also the exciting possibilities of science in the 1890s and early 1900s. It was a time and place in which anything felt possible, and you really feel that hopeful uncertainty thanks to a timeline that jumps to and fro and fantastic performances from Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and a perfectly cast David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Like a great magic trick, the first time you watch The Prestige, you’re fascinated by the spectacle and simply along for the ride. Then every time you rewatch it afterwards, you’re blown away by all the subtle skill required to pull it off.
13. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Looking back, 2007 was one of the best movie years in recent memory, considering classics like No Country For Old Men, Zodiac, and Superbad all premiered on the big screen. But one of the biggest, baddest, and most arresting of those releases was Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. An epic period drama about oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) doing everything in his power and stepping on anyone in his way in his quest for wealth in the early 20th-century oil boom, the movie is a deep and vast exploration of a man’s psyche and desire to become the biggest player in the game.
While Day-Lewis’s performance is tremendous and more than deserving of the Oscar he received, it’s made even better thanks to his character’s conflict with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a religious zealot who is just as tenacious and hungry for power as his counterpart. Several of the movie’s most iconic scenes (like the oil-town baptism and shocking ending sequence) are the result of the actor’s tremendous chemistry and ability to play off each other’s words. The pair, who get along like oil and holy water, create a dynamic that’s not quite a battle between good and evil, but instead something much deeper than that, which adds another level to this incredible cinematic achievement.
12. In Bruges (2008)
Prior to 2008, Martin McDonagh was established as a talented and popular playwright, but he had ambitions to make his way into movies. In 2004, he directed the incredible short film Six Shooter (which won an Academy Award), and then he moved to features. He made his debut with In Bruges, and anyone who saw it instantly recognized McDonagh’s potential to become one of the best filmmakers working today (potential he has made good on with the genius of Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and The Banshees of Inisherin).
In Bruges takes a high concept premise – two hitman hide out in Belgium waiting for instructions after a job goes bad – and weaves a remarkable meditation on life and death. It’s a dark comedy (and a hilarious one at that), but it has a beautiful blend of tones that radiate from the genius work of stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. Farrell and Gleeson have a unique chemistry that works on both comedic and dramatic levels (it’s far from a mystery why McDonagh reunited them for The Banshees of Inisherin) and the bizarrely rage and logic-filled energy that Fiennes brings in the third act is icing on the cake.
11. Almost Famous (2000)
If a 15-year-old going on tour with a raucous rock band wasn’t enough of a hook, Almost Famous also happens to have one of the most memorable posters/ DVD box covers of all time. It focuses on the enigmatic Penny Lane, the heroine of Cameron Crowe’s film, whom everyone loves to love and admire and most don’t bother to understand. With distinct shades and tendrils of blonde hair, she draws you into her world of Humble Pie and heartbreak, and in between commentary on what made the ’70s the ’70s and a slick soundtrack including Led Zeppelin, The Who and of course Elton John, she helps turn the film into one of the best of the 2000s.
It’s a career-defining performance for Kate Hudson, and she’s not the only one who delivers. Jason Lee grows a mustache and long hair to fall into his hilarious lead singer role while Billy Crudup is similarly unrecognizable as the talented and moody Russell Hammond. Patrick Fugit plays William Miller, younger than most but wiser than some, and he finds a terrific foil in Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays famed music writer Lester Bangs. Throw in great work from Frances McDormand, Zooey Deschanel and even Jimmy Fallon and it’s a masterclass of terrific performances. If it’s been a while since you’ve revisited the movie, maybe throw on some purple-tinted sunglasses and kick back to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” Settle in, you’re almost home.
10. No Country For Old Men (2007)
No matter what kind of film genre is up for discussion, the power and breadth of the Coen Brothers' filmography is worthy of inclusion, and they don't make 'em much better than 2007's No Country for Old Men. An adaptation of Carmac McCarthy’s 2005 novel that’s every bit as faithful as it is chilling, the film meticulously dips its toes most heavily into the cinematic waters of crime thrillers and westerns. That said, Javier Bardem’s unflinching hitman, Anton Chigurh, would be at home in any horror narrative, with his Two-Face-esque coin flips and an unstoppable drive that rivals Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers. At least if a big ol’ stack of cash was also their end goal.
Despite being one of Joel and Ethan Coen’s driest films regarding their signature screwball humor, the movie is an exercise in tension that thrives on its lack of levity, though it’s hard not to smile whenever Woody Harrelson is on the screen in any capacity. With a stellar cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt and more, No Country for Old Men is, to date, the only Coen brothers masterpiece to win them the Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, with Bardem taking the gold for Best Supporting Actor. It’s not the awards that best signify its impact, however, but the bolt pistol gripped in Chigurh’s ever-steady hand.
9. Memento (2000)
Talk about a movie that you definitely need to watch without your phone in your hand. Christopher Nolan’s Memento is a mind-bending combination of different angles that demands and deserves your entire attention. The story is told backward, broken up by clips of a black and white, forward-moving montage of a mysterious one-sided phone call in a hotel, led by Guy Pearce, whose character Leonard, also happens to have anterograde (or short-term) amnesia, stopping our protagonist from creating new memories as he looks for his wife’s killer, who also gave him this debilitating injury.
As mentioned, Nolan basically begins at the end and works his way back, for the most part. The juxtaposition of the timelines bring the audience into the obvious confusion that Leonard lives with every day. "Even if you get revenge, you're not going to remember it," he's told by his new friend Teddy (played by Joe Pantoliano) but his reply shows just how far his love and determination will go, stating "My wife deserves revenge whether or not I remember it." Toss in Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) to add some confusing sympathy (or treachery) and you will probably want a second viewing just to wrap your mind around what you might have initially dismissed as unimportant plot points from this Nolan classic. You’ll notice that Nolan has popped up numerous times on this list (and rightfully so) and he has also once again recently hit it out of the park with 2023’s Oppenheimer.
8. Wall-E (2008)
Do you know who is a genius? Sound designer Ben Burtt. You might not know his name, but you certainly know the movies he contributed to over the years, including Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and 2009’s Star Trek. Burtt designed the “vocals” for R2-D2, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, and the “voice” of E.T. But, his work truly soared when he lent dialogue to the adorable Waste Allocation Load Lifter assigned to an abandoned Earth. MIraculously, the first half of Pixar’s ingenious WALL-E works as a silent film, following our main character as it goes about its daily routine with a pet cockroach in tow. WALL-E’s life is upended when another robot named EVE arrives, searching for any sign of life.
From there, the fate of humanity starts to be revealed, and it’s rather grim. Director Andrew Stanton’s animation for the film ranks as some of Pixar’s most magnificent, embracing the scorched orange of a deserted Earth and then painting with vivid colors for WALL-E’s eventual outer-space adventure. The environmental messages of the film are important without ever being preachy. And, the eventual romance felt and shared by WALL-E and EVE will lift every single heart, with the lovers sharing hardly any words.
7. The Departed (2006)
There are crime films and then there are Martin Scorsese crime films, and when it comes to The Departed, the director doesn’t let us down. A remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, the 2006 movie gives us a range of characters to root for, root against or simply watch just to see what they’ll do or say next. That includes Leonardo DiCaprio’s undercover cop character Billy Costigan, Matt Damon’s sneaky, spying Colin Sullivan, Jack Nicholson’s mob boss character Frank Costello, and Vera Farmiga’s well-meaning therapist Dr. Madolyn Madden. To say that things get complicated might be understating it, but it’s the complexity of the characters and their roles in this story that makes The Departed such a fantastic and gripping movie from beginning to end.
In a way, it’s all business for everyone involved, but it’s also personal for each character on some level or another. It’s impossible not to feel anxious for DiCaprio’s character as he attempts to navigate the criminal world without being caught for who he really is, just as it’s impossible not to grow increasingly frustrated by Matt Damon’s character for posing as an upstanding law enforcer who’s actually up to no good. It’s thrilling, stressful, riveting and ultimately satisfying, and that’s not even factoring in Mark Wahlberg’s character every time he has something to say (that’s just a bonus).
6. Best In Show (2000)
Nobody does mockumentaries like Christopher Guest, and 2000’s Best in Show is an absolute masterclass. The mundane musings of everyday conversation combine with outlandish characters and awkward situations to deliver one of the best movies of the decade. The dog show is the event that brings these unique and individually brilliant characters under one roof, but it’s no Maguffin. As bonkers as each dog-lover’s trip is to get to the show, everything is turned up to 11, if you will, when they all come together, and the event itself is perfectly colored by Fred Willard’s commentary.
There’s a reason this phenomenal cast has stuck together to appear in other projects. The chemistry between Eugene Levy’s Gerry and Catherine O’Hara’s Cookie (with her “hundreds” of boyfriends) left people begging for more, which they got in A Mighty Wind. Jennifer Coolidge was excellent in her attempts to substantiate her marriage to her ancient sugar daddy husband by saying they bonded over a love of soup and the ability to “not talk or talk forever.” The genius casting of John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean gave audiences the married couple they never knew they needed.
Best in Show exploits the banal in some situations while heightening reality in others, to where Harlan Pepper naming nuts and the couple describing how they met at Starbucks (but two different Starbucks) land laughs just as hard as Gerry’s literal two left feet or Cookie walking with her knee out of socket.
5. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher’s greatest accomplishment, and that’s saying a lot. The director has spent countless hours analyzing the compulsion that drives people to seek the truth – be it lawyers parsing through statements to figure out who invented Facebook (The Social Network), or detectives tracking a serial killer who is inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins (Seven). But Zodiac is Fincher’s magnum opus, an engrossing true-crime thriller based on the books of Robert Graysmith tracking the diligent work of three men consumed by the search for the identity of the Zodiac Killer.
Jake Gyllanhaal serves as the ideal audience surrogate, a puzzle designer for the San Francisco Chronicle who gets swept up in the mystery of the serial killer, who antagonized the police and the media as he committed vicious murders around San Francisco in the 1970s, Fincher painstakingly recreates the time period with breathtaking visuals and top-notch costuming and set design. His emphasis on the bustle of a newsroom is particularly spot on. The film also lingers in the haze of fear, anxiety, and suspense that comes from a killer on the loose. But it’s the supporting roles of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, as well as an inability to truly deliver a concrete ending, that makes Zodiac such a rewatchable movie, and a captivating masterpiece.
4. Mean Girls (2004)
From wearing pink on Wednesdays to shouting “You go Glen Coco” it’s undeniable that Mean Girls has seriously influenced pop culture over the last (almost) two decades. So, “get in loser,” it’s time to appreciate this beloved coming-of-age comedy from Tina Fey.
This movie is a classic teenage tale about a girl who moves from Africa to the United States where she experiences the rude awakening that is high school by way of The Plastics. While it’s your typical coming-of-age story, it’s infused with the signature sense of humor from Fey – who was in the midst of her legendary run at Saturday Night Live – and it shows the high school experience in a totally unique way with a cast of characters played by actors who have since become icons.
Not only did the film solidify Lindsay Lohan as an early 2000s star, it also simultaneously jumpstarted the careers of many in the Mean Girls cast, including little known actresses like Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. On top of that, its legacy has lived on, as it was adapted into a Broadway musical, and is eventually coming back to the screen with an adaptation of said stage production. To say this film is a quintessential 2000s classic almost feels like an understatement because of the lasting impact it has managed to have on people of all ages since its release in 2004.
3. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
You could argue that Jim Carrey makes much better dramatic movies than he does comedic features. And that opinion is coming from someone who adores Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, as well as Dumb & Dumber. But when you factor in the dramatic detours he embarked on for The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and this incredible romance, you begin to wonder how many Oscars Carrey might have if he got the industry to treat him seriously, instead of talking out of his ass (literally).
Carrey and Kate Winslet are magnificent as Joel and Clementine, two soul mates who undergo a radical procedure to have their memories of each other erased after a bitter argument. Only screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) could keep such a twisty premise from flying off the rails. And while the side-mission actions of the memory technicians can get a little silly, we remain wholly invested in Joel and Clementine’s complicated journey because of the heartbroken and beautiful chemistry shared between Carrey and Winslet. It’s a real challenge presented to these stars, as we’re not supposed to know whether Joel and Clementine are better off together or apart. But the satisfying resolution says as much about fate as it does about the existence of true love, so long as we remember how and when to look for it.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
It’s been said before, but it’ll be said again – The Dark Knight is one of the greatest superhero films (and one of the greatest movies) ever made. Christopher Nolan’s ambition as a filmmaker has been well-noted, but even he outdid himself with his 2008 follow-up to 2005’s Batman Begins. The second chapter in the journey of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne sees the iconic DC Comics hero going up against the dangerous and unpredictable Joker. All the while, the Caped Crusader and his allies must also contend with mob bosses and Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s honorable district attorney who becomes the deformed Two-Face.
Where does one even start when it comes to singing this movie’s praises? There’s the impeccable screenplay, massive set pieces, engrossing score and much more. Yet I suppose what stands out the most are the performances, especially that of the late Heath Ledger. The actor, who posthumously won an Oscar for his work, fully committed to his role as the Clown Prince of Crime and is absolutely mesmerizing. His villainous turn is just one of the many reasons why Nolan’s film is a thrilling and compelling piece of work that’s still incredibly entertaining now, over a decade later.
1. City Of God (2002)
Making its Brazil and festival run in 2002 and eventually hitting theaters in the U.S. and elsewhere in the year that followed, Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, based on Paulo Lins’ semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, served as an inflection point in the world of cinema and served as a preview of what the the next few years would look like. Told through the eyes of young photographer Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), the movie explores the life of street kids in the Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela in Rio de Janeiro, an expansive slum filled with endless supplies of drugs, ruthless gangsters, and corrupt cops who allow the madness to continue. One of the most violent movies of the 2000s, City of God is a lesson in brutality, especially whenever depicting the exploits of Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva), a ruthless and sociopathic young criminal who stops at nothing in his quest for complete control. Oddly enough, the older version of the character known as Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino) never comes off as cold blooded as his younger self, which further illustrates the movie’s point about youth and violence.
At the same time, City of God is also one of the most beautiful movies of the 2000s, and not just on an aesthetic level (though César Charlone’s cinematography is out of this world). The endearing spirit of those who wish to escape a life of crime, ranging from Rocket to the ill-fated drug dealer Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), adds a level of heart and soul one may not expect from a two-hour crime drama about young criminals with short fuses and, in many cases, tragically shorter lifespans.
How we put this list together
Using a combination of internal recommendations and other best of lists, we compiled a spreadsheet of all the movies from the 2000s that we considered to be culturally relevant and/or critically well-reviewed. We pushed together some multi-part movies like Kill Bill and Lord Of The Rings and then had our staff of almost 30 go through and assign a score for each movie they’ve seen based on their own personal opinions. We disqualified any movies that didn’t get a minimum number of ratings and dropped the lowest score for each, as if we were judging a figure skating competition. We then ordered the top 100 based on average score and had someone who gave that movie a particularly high score write up a paragraph explaining what’s so great about it. This rigorous scientific process resulted in Idiocracy being slotted at 101, an omission I’m still furious about.
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