What were the top movies of the 2000s?

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In a decade where the competition for the title of greatest film of all time is fierce, the 2000s produced films that audiences have undoubtedly heard of, if not seen. When discussions about the greatest films of all time begin, cinephiles and film enthusiasts look to illustrious rating as the prevailing authority. For the casual viewer, the rank and rating can determine whether a movie is worth the duration on a Saturday night when the options are literally limitless. 

Here’s a list of the must watch movies of the 2000s.

1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King movie poster

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King provided a three-hour-long epic conclusion to the decade’s finest film. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) fight their way through the final stage of their journey to Mount Doom as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) lead the charge against Sauron (Christopher Lee).

The third installment won all eleven of its Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, in a historic Oscar run. The impact of this fantasy film franchise transcends mere accolades, instead cementing the actors and filmmakers involved as significant figures in the annals of cinema for their successful portrayal of these iconic characters, garnering admiration from enthusiasts across many genres.

2. The Dark Knight

Chicago skyline where The Dark Knight was filmed

The Dark Knight is one of the finest superhero movies (and one of the greatest films) ever produced. Christopher Nolan’s ambition as a filmmaker is well-known, but with his 2008 sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, he even surpassed himself. In the second chapter of Bruce Wayne’s voyage, played by Christian Bale, he faces off against the dangerous and unpredictable Joker. The Caped Crusader and his companions must also contend with mobsters and Harvey Dent, the honorable district attorney of Gotham City who transforms into Two-Face.

Where does one even begin when it comes to praising this film? In addition, there is an impeccable screenplay, enormous set pieces, and an engaging score. However, the performances, notably that of the late Heath Ledger, stand out the most. The actor, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance, is absolutely mesmerizing in his portrayal as the Clown Prince of Crime. His villainous performance is one of the many reasons why Nolan’s film is a thrilling and compelling piece of art that is still extremely entertaining a decade after its release.

3. Moulin Rouge 

Moulin Rouge

Few films are able to provide melody, dance, humor, and emotion simultaneously. Christian, an English writer who ventures to Paris during the Bohemian revolution and falls in love with Satine, a courtesan and star performer in the city’s underbelly, is the protagonist of Moulin Rouge! The film is a feast that never relinquishes its fantastical and theatrical vision, as evidenced by its over-the-top sets, ludicrously bright costuming, and incredible pop soundtrack.

Nicole Kidman shines as the sparkling yet jaded courtesan, and Ewan McGregor delivers an impassioned performance as the impoverished poet in what can only be described as a madcap romantic musical experience directed by Baz Luhrmann.

4. The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness movie poster

Since The Pursuit of Happiness was released in 2006, few films have been able to match its depiction of the unbreakable connection between a father and son. Will Smith gives one of the best performances of his career as a struggling merchant willing to do anything, including sleeping in homeless shelters, to provide for his young son. Dealing with a collapsing marriage and a custody battle has left him with only his son as a constant. Smith’s character represents everything a parent must endure in order to ascend a ladder from its lowest rung. And even though the story soberly details the grinding poverty and the harsh realities of living life on the edge, the profound bond and serene instances exchanged between a father and son are undeniably precious.

5. Iron Man 

Iron Man artwork

Iron Man deserves a place on the list as the film that launched a new version of the superhero genre and launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its path to industry dominance. Robert Downey Jr. returns to the big screen with the most accomplished performance of his entire career. Tony Stark is an affluent inventor who constructs an indestructible suit of armor after being held captive in a perilous location. Iron Man’s origin narrative was filled with action sequences and witty one-liners, creating the perfect balance between action and comedy. The MCU reached its pinnacle with this flawless production.

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter

This is where everything began. The release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ushered in a slew of fantasy films and introduced multiple generations to the magical world of Hogwarts. The first film in the series, based on J.K. Rowling’s best-selling series, introduces us to ‘The Boy Who Lived.’ Harry Potter is an 11-year-old orphan who receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts and embarks on a journey that leaves admirers wishing for their own. We know what will occur next. Characters like Ron, Hagrid, Hermoine, and Dumbledore quickly become fan favorites in this epic tale of fantasy, magic, and adventure. Using both traditional narrative techniques and cutting-edge special effects, the film transports viewers to an entirely new world.

7. The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada cast

The Devil Wears Prada has already achieved canonical status. In addition to the film’s high quality, its quotable lines and Meryl Streep’s astounding performance have made it an integral part of contemporary culture. Anne Hathaway is frequently converted into a meme due to the scene in which Annie arrives at work after undergoing a makeover and wearing Chanel boots.

Aside from its pop culture references, The Devil Wears Prada is an entertaining film. The cast is genuinely at the top of their game, and the fashions are truly aspirational. As a result of her performance as Emily, Emily Blunt has become a household name. Considering how light and fluffy even the film’s drama is, the rewatchability of this novel-to-film adaptation is unquestionable. 

8. Avatar 

Avatar movie poster

If ever there was a case for watching movies in a theater as opposed to accessing them at home, Avatar is it. James Cameron’s science fiction film, created with then-revolutionary motion capture and 3D digital technology, immerses the audience in a fantastical world so lush and detailed that you can almost scent the beautiful alien flowers. The story is a familiar one that hasn’t necessarily stood the test of time (a soldier turns against his own army to protect the way of life of a native people after a beautiful woman opens his senses to their culture), but the film’s immersive environment is still a cinematic marvel. The decade-delayed sequels will hopefully live up to expectations.

Avatar is still the highest-grossing film ever. Avatar, which grossed a record $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office, is also the only film in cinematic history to have nearly surpassed the $3 billion mark. From its universally relatable environmental themes to the captivating work of the hundreds of artists at Weta Digital flawlessly executing James Cameron’s vision, Avatar was and continues to be hailed as a technical breakthrough in CGI-heavy storytelling. Avatar: Way of Water earned $2.3 billion at the box office, placing it in third place among the highest-grossing films of all time. 

9. Monster’s Ball 

Monster’s Ball movie poster

The provocative drama by Marc Forster is not your average romance. Halle Berry portrays the widow of a convicted murderer, whereas Billy Bob Thornton portrays the racial corrections officer who supervised the execution. Both protagonists are abusive parents and profoundly flawed individuals. Their love story is brutal, but due in large part to the actors’ profoundly believable performances (Berry was the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress), the audience wishes them a sliver of happiness.

10. Ocean’s Eleven 

Ocean’s Eleven cast

As time passes, what is deemed popular becomes as fluid as water. Occasionally, a film can be ahead of its time in this regard, dictating an entire epoch of coolness by its very existence. Ocean’s Eleven by director Steven Soderbergh was both an ultra-slick crime film and a modernized remake of an earlier film. 

The 1960s Rat Pack extravaganza about war veterans looking for a large score has been transformed into a gathering of thieves assembled by a man (George Clooney) seeking more than money. While the consequences were altered and the number was spelled out in the title, this film perfectly captured the breezy spirit that made the original so charming.

Ocean’s Eleven does not broadcast its style, despite its all-star cast, which includes Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts, its insanely slick soundtrack, and George Clooney’s ability to wear a suit without a tie. It presents it with great assurance and allows you to determine whether it is worthwhile. The result is as cool as the cocktail you just ordered at the bar: a love letter to the past that plays to the viewer of today.

11. Shrek 

Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek

Shrek is one of the first DreamWorks Animation movies that comes to mind. 

Shrek’s release was a momentous occasion for DreamWorks Animation. It was the first animated film to earn the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was a box office smash. The film predominantly centers around the character of Shrek, an ogre whose habitat is unexpectedly invaded by fantastical beings from fairy tales. In order to restore order, Shrek embarks on a mission to rescue Princess Fiona from her captivity in a tower, which is vigilantly guarded by a formidable dragon situated atop a perilous mountain of molten lava. Subsequently, Shrek endeavors to transport Princess Fiona to Lord Farquad. 

The Shrek film by DreamWorks Animation created an empire of triumph. Shrek is one of the most successful animated franchises of all time, with numerous sequels and spinoff films. The first film featured excellent CGI animation for 2001, as well as adult jokes that parents would find hilarious while their children relished the fantasy, animation, and love story. Moreover, who wouldn’t enjoy an hour and a half of Eddie Murphy cracking quips as Donkey?

12. Pride and Prejudice 

Bennet sisters in the film Pride and Prejudice

Pride & Prejudice is not the first adaptation of the same-named novel, but the 2005 film arguably set the standard for contemporary Jane Austen film adaptations. The love tale between Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) is told beautifully, and the cinematography, score, and chemistry between the actors make it all the more memorable. In addition to Knightley and Macfadyen, the cast also included Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, and Kelly Reilly, all of whom were already or would become household names. 

This Pride & Prejudice adds a hint of modern realism to a Regency-era period drama and contrasts the more austere beauty of Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate by depicting the Bennet family’s world as lived-in and domestic. The film isn’t as faithful to the book as the 1995 BBC miniseries, but it hits all of the major plot points of the original Jane Austen story in less than two hours and is completely accessible to viewers who haven’t read the book, with iconic moments like Mr. Darcy’s hand flex.

13. The Departed

The Departed movie poster

There are crime films and then there are Martin Scorsese crime films, and the director does not disappoint with The Departed. The 2006 film, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, offers us a variety of characters to support, oppose, or simply watch to see what they’ll do or say next. This comprises Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Billy Costigan, Matt Damon’s character Colin Sullivan, Jack Nicholson’s character Frank Costello, and Vera Farmiga’s character Dr. Madalyn Madden. It would be an understatement to say that things become complicated, but the complexity of the characters and their roles in this tale is what makes The Departed such a fantastic and riveting film from beginning to end. 

In a sense, it’s all business for everyone involved, but on some level, it’s also personal for each character. It is impossible not to feel anxious for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character as he attempts to navigate the criminal world without being discovered for who he really is, just as it is impossible not to become increasingly irritated by Matt Damon’s character, who poses as an upstanding law enforcement officer but is actually up to no good. It is thrilling, tense, riveting, and ultimately satisfying, and that’s not even considering Mark Wahlberg’s character whenever he has something to say (that’s an added benefit).

14. Mean Girls 

Mean Girls writer Tina Fey

Mean Girls has had an undeniable impact on popular culture over the last (almost) two decades, from donning pink on Wednesdays to yelling “You go, Glen Coco” So, “get in, loser,” it’s time to appreciate Tina Fey’s cherished coming-of-age comedy.

This film is a classic coming-of-age story about a girl who transfers from Africa to the United States and experiences the rude awakening of high school through The Plastics. Even though it’s a typical coming-of-age story, Fey’s trademark sense of humor is in it, and the characters are played by actors who have since become famous. It also shows high school in a way that is completely different from anything else out there. 

In addition to establishing Lindsay Lohan as a sensation of the early 2000s, the film also launched the careers of many of the Mean Girls cast, including lesser-known actresses like Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. In addition, its legacy has endured, as it has been adapted into a Broadway musical and will return to the big screen in an adaptation of said stage production. It is almost an understatement to call this film a quintessential classic of the 2000s due to its enduring impact on audiences of all ages since its 2004 release.

15. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 

Jim Carrey

One could argue that Jim Carrey’s dramatic films are far superior to his comedies. And this opinion is shared by a fan of both Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber. When you consider the dramatic detours he took for The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and this incredible romance, you begin to question how many Oscars Jim Carrey would have won if he had convinced the industry to take him seriously instead of talking out of his (literal) arse. 

Joel and Clementine, two soul mates who undertake a radical procedure to have their memories of each other erased after a bitter argument, are portrayed magnificently by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Only screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) could contain such a convoluted premise. And while the side-mission actions of the memory technicians can get a little silly, the heartbreaking and gorgeous chemistry between Carrey and Winslet keeps us completely invested in Joel and Clementine’s complicated journey. It’s a true challenge for these actors, as it’s unclear whether Joel and Clementine are better off together or apart. But the satisfying resolution reveals as much about fate as it does about the existence of true love, provided we remember when and where to search for it.

To conclude

Every decade is a defining one in terms of art, this is indisputable. Whether it be the film industry, the cultural roller coaster, the dialect, or the political influence, ten years serve as a wide frame for a revolution. Such is the case with the 2000s, which was an intriguing decade, particularly for films. After the technological advancements of the 1990s shook up the industry, filmmakers had all the tools necessary to create innovative content and produce gold. As a consequence of the endeavor, a plethora of high-quality films were produced. After delving into the top movies of the 2000s, shift your focus to the small screen with our piece, Which 2000s Sitcoms Are Still Relevant Today?. This article explores the sitcoms from the same era that continue to capture audiences with their timeless humor and relatable stories.

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