Movies work in mysterious ways. They have the tendency of capturing the spirit of a given time like few other mediums. They merge with memories and become a part of a point in history. Every decade produces transcending films that stand out long after it ends, and the reason for that varies immensely. It may be the heart of the story or the groundbreaking visual effects, but each movie is special. The cultural impact and fan feedback carry the movie to become more than just movies, they become a part of the viewer's life.
Films don't necessarily have to be considered good, they just have to strike a chord with an individual and then they cease to be just any ordinary movie. These movies impacted the decade of the 2000s (2000-2009) in more ways than one. They inspired love, hate, sadness, crying and excitement. The list is highly subjective, and if we tried to include the "best" movies or more popular, the list would include 100 movies. We instead focused on the impact of the movies; from their box office performance, the way they hold up to the effects they had on their franchise and the movie landscape.
Here are the 15 Most Memorable Movies Of The 2000s.
16 Gladiator (2000)
The 2000s got started off with a bang when Ridley Scott’s Rome epic, Gladiator, hit theaters that summer. The period piece focused on the story of General Maximus Decimus Meridius, portrayed by a fantastic Russell Crowe at the peak of his career. His virtuoso character was only matched by the evil, power-hungry Commodus, played by a pre-Walk the Line Joaquin Phoenix. The juxtaposition of virtue and greed carried the film right up to the climactic scene when Maximus finally gets his revenge and joins his family in the next life.
Gladiator was well-received and went on to receive the Oscar for Best Picture. It was also a box office smash, grossing over $450 million worldwide. The movie was carried by the tour-de-force performance of Russell Crowe, who earned an Oscar for his take on the Roman General. It continues to stand out as one of the most iconic movies of the 2000s. In the pantheon of Ridley Scott films, a rather lengthy list that includes the likes of Blade Runner, Alien and The Martian, Gladiator may just be the best he’s ever directed. All that can be said is that, yes, we were entertained Maximus.
15 Transformers (2007)
The 2000’s saw the rise in adaptations of books, short stories and other source material. Studios sought to find the next best movie idea and they scoured the ends of the earth. One avenue that hadn’t really been explored up until the mid-2000s was adapting kid’s toys into feature films. That changed when Michael Bay took on Transformers and graced it with his signature style. In 2007, Transformers was released in the summer and became a massive hit. The morphing Autobots battled against evil Decepticons while befriending Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LeBoeuf. Pairing him with the then unknown Megan Fox, who instantly became a sex icon, proved to be a recipe for success.
The fast-cut, explosion-laden action flick connected with fans and grossed over $700 million at the box office. It also launched LeBeouf and Fox’s careers into superstardom. While the franchise isn’t known for its quality, it’s the financial success that matters most. Optimus Prime and company established a mega-franchise that has continued to find great success to this day. Just this past week, the title for Transformers 5 (Transformers: The Last Knight) was announced. Transformers spawned a franchise that has continued into a new decade. The original film still stands out as one of the most memorable movies of the 2000s.
14 Twilight (2008)
Hate this movie or love it, the sustainability and the cultural impact it had in the young adult audience can’t be ignored. Twilight, the young-adult novel adaptation of a girl in love with a vampire and werewolf, hit theaters in November 2008 and became a phenomenon. The difficult character of Bella, portrayed by a stoic Kristen Stewart, burst into the national cognizance like few other characters have. Her love interests, Edward Cullen, portrayed by Robert Pattinson and Jacob Black, played by the buff Taylor Lautner, launched a division between fans of who would win the affection of Ms. Bella - better known as Team Edward and Team Jacob.
Critical reviews weren’t great, but the audience feedback and turnout led to record-breaking numbers. The first film in the series launched a mightily successful franchise the produced four more movies, each averaging over $700 million worldwide. It also served as the cornerstone for the rash of Hollywood’s tryst with young adult book adaptations, which produced many Twilight-wannabes but none quite reached the same lofty goals. While the Young Adult trend has slowed quite precipitously, Twilight’s impact in the generation cannot be ignored - although many would like to.
13 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Johnny Depp has long enjoyed portraying rather quirky characters in the roles he takes on. From Edward Scissorhands to the Mad Hatter, he seems to get in the zone when he straps on a wig, puts makeup and rocks a unique styling. But his most famous role to date comes from the character that has defined his career: Captain Jack Sparrow. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is based on the famed Disneyland ride and served as the inspiration for the 2003 blockbuster. The movie opened to little fanfare but quickly became a phenomenon, and that was largely due to Captain Jack Sparrow’s swashbuckling persona. It even earned Depp an Oscar nomination for his performance.
After the success of the initial film, Disney immediately greenlit two sequels for a planned trilogy, and then another two sequels, with the fifth film set to be released next year. The three sequels have earned an average of $1 billion at the box office and cemented Johnny Depp’s status as A-list superstar. The franchise has also proven to be one of Disney’s most successful franchises away from the Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars brands. Plans for a fifth film are underway with no end in sight for the successful franchise and character that served as a highlight of the 2000s.
12 The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Over the past two decades, few films have conjured up such controversy that they became a must-see event. That’s exactly what The Passion of the Christ did when it was released in February 2004. The Mel Gibson-directed, written and produced film ignited polarizing responses. The film examined the final hours of the life Jesus and his crucifixion. The film’s use of violence earned it an R-rating and expanded the controversy surrounding the film due to its graphic nature. Religious films have rarely enjoyed anything more than moderate success at the box office, but The Passion of the Christ was never just an ordinary movie.
The $30 million movie wasn’t expected to do much business when it was released, but the response to it drove crowds to see what the hell everyone was talking about. It ended up with over $600 million on its way to becoming the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time. Even though reviews weren’t too kind, the film still struck a chord with audiences. There were many complaints about the violence and torture sequences, but that just drove up interest in the film. There are more successful and well-received movies on this list, but none are more polarizing than The Passion of the Christ.
11 X-Men (2000)
Comic book movies are commonplace in today’s world. Sure, Superman and Batman had been around in theaters for over 30 years, but the modern superhero movie isn’t that old. It can be traced back to the beginning of the 2000s when X-Men received the movie treatment and began something that has grown into a billion dollar genre. Prior to its, superhero movies focused on a singular character who was entrusted with a duty to serve the greater good. X-Men slightly differed from that idea and instead focused on a group of gifted mutants who cross paths and ultimately united to defeat the doings of a rogue mutant, Magneto.
This was the introduction to the modern superhero movie, one filled with CGI and imagination. It was also elevated by the performances of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine was so well-received, a standalone trilogy was made for his character which will conclude next year. X-Men grossed nearly $300 million and began a mighty successful franchise, which spans eight movies, the latest hitting theaters later this month (X-Men: Apocalypse).
10 The Hangover (2009)
Every generation has a comedy movie that somehow captures the essence of the decade. The 80s gave us Caddyshack while the 90s produced Clueless. The 2000s gave us many memorable comedies, but none more so than The Hangover. The comedy focused on a trio of friends taking a trip to Vegas for a bachelor party. As expected, turmoil ensues for the wolfpack and it’s nothing short of hilarious. The movie broke out when it was released in May 2009 and went on to become the biggest comedy ever.
The Hangover grossed over $465 million and is still the highest-grossing R-rated comedy at the domestic box office. The movie also launched the careers of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis to new heights. It even included an unexpected cameo by boxer Mike Tyson and his tiger. Due to the massive response of the film, two sequels were made, each very successful. While rampant adventures in Vegas happen no matter the decade, it’s a trope that has been done ad nauseam, The Hangover delivered a fresh idea that was both funny and extremely well executed. It holds up as one of the best comedies of all-time and the premiere comedy of the decade.
9 My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
The movie landscape is riddled with indie flicks that feature a great stories, but their avenues to succeed are always limited and thus lead to their eventual disappearance. Many of these great ideas often gain a cult audience, but never breakout into a blockbusters. Or at least until My Big Fat Greek Wedding became one of the biggest underdogs to succeed in box office history. The romantic comedy starred Nia Vardalos and John Corbett as the lovable Toula Portokalos and Ian Miller. The duo created such chemistry that their onscreen romance and connection spearheaded the movie’s success.
The lowly $5 million movie grossed $368 million worldwide, $241 million of those coming at the domestic box office. Even to this day, the movie ranks as the highest-grossing domestic movie without ever reaching the top of the box office chart. Like the little train that could, it developed a cult-like following into blockbuster status. My Big Fat Greek Wedding stands out as a popular favorite as a feel-good movie and is one of the standout movies of the decade, without a question.
8 Iron Man (2008)
When the MCU first started, it’s inception hindered on one movie to launch the connected universe. For that, they turned to what is now the most iconic MCU character: Iron Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is largely responsible for all those superhero movies you see every summer. The very first movie to come out of the studio was Iron Man, starring the endlessly charismatic Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. By today’s standards, the movie carried a rather meek $140 million budget. What ensued was the creation of a $10 billion movie franchise.
Iron Man opened to one of the best responses to a comic book movie ever, earning a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Robert Downey Jr. earned universal acclaim for his performance and the sheer awesomeness of the movie left a lasting impression with fans. Even 13 movies into MCU, it still holds up as one of the best in the series. The movie grossed nearly $600 million and launched the MCU, including a stand-alone trilogy of Iron Man movies. Tony Stark remains as one of the highlights in the cinema of the 2000s. And yes, he is Iron Man.
7 Finding Nemo (2003)
Whenever you think of Pixar, you think of great movies. From tearjerkers to satirical and witty movies, they do it all. Their track record speaks for itself - Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up, Monster’s Inc. and most recently, Inside Out; they’ve dominated the animation genre for two decades. They had many memorable movies in the 2000s, but none more than 2003’s Finding Nemo. The adventure of a clownfish - voiced by Albert Brooks - and tang fish - voiced by Ellen Degeneres - took viewers across the ocean East Australian Current, through a brief detour to Mount Wannahockaloogie and into the scenic Sydney bay.
The memorable story of father and son captivated audiences and critics alike to rave reviews. Finding Nemo earned a near perfect 99% Rotten Tomatoes rating and won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It now ranks as one of the best Pixar movies too, which is a very crowded list. The movie enjoyed such a glowing reputation, Pixar pushed plans forward for a sequel titled Finding Dory for a June 2016 release. Finding Nemo now stands as one of the best movies of not only the 2000’s but of all-time.
6 Spider-Man (2002)
The modern comic book era started in 2000 with the release of X-Men, but the movie to revolutionize the genre to what it is today was 2002’s Spider-Man. Up until that point, comic book adaptations were more conservative affairs (excluding the bombastic Batman movies). Spider-Man took all the elements of the genre and expounded them into a massive adventure. It transported audiences into new levels of immersion with its groundbreaking spidey-cam and reliance on CGI to create a larger than life character swinging across skyscrapers through the New York skyline. This might seem like an everyday occurrence given the sheer number of Avengers movies we get, but before 2002, it was nonexistent.
The dazzling spectacle that Spider-Man was broke records when it was released, becoming the first movie to gross over $100 million in a weekend. It eventually grossing over $800 million worldwide. The movie began the comic book era of dominance. The success led to two sequels, both yielding similar success in performance and popularity. The movie ignited interest in the comic book genre and upped the ante when it comes to the sheer scope of spectacle we now expect from these movies.
5 Avatar (2009)
James Cameron must have some sort of secret ability to create the biggest movies in Hollywood history. In the 1990s, he was the man responsible for the colossal success of Titanic. In 2009, he produced the next king of movies: Avatar. The vast space adventure took audiences to a brand new planet called Pandora filled with hoards of new beasts and lanky blue aliens called Na’vi. Focusing on the experiment of creating avatars and befriending the natives to eventually get access to Pandora’s resources, Avatar eventually turns into a battle between ecology and industrialism.
Avatar went on to gross over $2.7 billion, a record that still holds up today. The movie’s state-of-the-art CGI served as the basis for the film’s use of 3D technology. The 3D format hadn’t been widely adopted until this point, but given Avatar’s massive success, it became much more mainstream. The movie was also a hit with audiences and earned solid reviews, later receiving nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Four planned sequels are already in development, and if they’re anything close to the original, they’ll probably make the list of most memorable films in their respective decades, too.
4 The Dark Knight (2008)
Comic books movies have earned a bad rap ever since their inception. They’ve largely been seen as kid movies for adults with little else to offer other than cheap thrills and thin plots. Too many movies are guilty of this, but the movie that broke beyond these confines and shattered the expectations of what a comic book movie should be was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This visceral take on the troubled bat vigilante dove into the depths of what is good and evil. What made the movie all the more great was the fantastic acting, and taking the lead was the late Heath Ledger with an engrossing performance as The Joker.
The Dark Knight enthralled audiences and critics, shattering box office records along with earning fantastic reviews. It ended up grossing over $1 billion worldwide and at the time became the biggest comic book movie ever. Even now, the consensus is that it’s not only the best comic book movie ever made but one of the best movies of all time. Most comic book movies do tend to veer towards the campy side, but not all movies are alike and Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece stands out among the crowd and is now a classic of the 2000s.
3 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
In 2001, Peter Jackson delivered the first chapter to one of the most successful movie trilogies of all time - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The tough task of adapting J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece was no easy feat, but he certainly succeeded. The epic of the quest to destroy the “one ring to rule them all” centered around Frodo Baggins’ personal battle to complete the quest he volunteers for. The Fellowship of the Ring transported audiences to the Shire and Middle Earth to witness the battle between good and the evil forces of Sauron.
The first chapter in The Lord of the Rings trilogy grossed $871 million worldwide and was universally praised by critics, most notably, Sir Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf the Grey which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The film launched a successful trilogy that in total grossed over nearly $3 billion at the box office, culminating with Return of the King in 2003 (which won the Best Picture Oscar at the 2004 Academy Awards). A successful prequel trilogy (The Hobbit) followed nearly ten years later. The Lord of the Rings trilogy became one of the most iconic trilogies and films of the 2000s and beyond.
2 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
The success of the Harry Potter books gave way for a film adaptation in 2001 when the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was adapted. It changed the movie landscape forever. Beginning with the now-iconic John Williams score, the first film in the Harry Potter series introduced us to ‘The Boy Who Lived’ and his best friends, Ron and Hermione. The magical confines of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry instantly became every kid's dream school. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone grossed nearly $1 billion and launched one of the most successful franchises of all-time.
Six more films followed into the next decade and the praise and profit for the franchise kept rolling in. The Harry Potter brand became epochal, and a part of the lives of any who longed to major in Potions and sip a cold glass of Butterbeer. As He Who Must Not Be Named rose to power again, the grittiness of the films evolved into studies of good and evil. The entire franchise earned critical praise, concluding with the most successful film in the franchise in 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. The movies rolled out over ten years and grossed $7.7 billion.
Harry Potter is now synonymous with a generation of kids and adults who went through the journey with him to defeat Lord Voldemort. This movie and franchise stand out as the most memorable and representative of the decade.
From epic sci-fi adventures to sweet romantic stories, the 2000s certainly delivered a rich palette of movie choices. A list this subjective can always add or subtract some movies, but the movies on this list left an indelible mark in cinema. Chances are you've seen at least one these films and it conjures a specific response. That's the goal of a movie in the end, to connect with the viewer.
What did you guys think? Did we leave any of your favorite movies of the 2000's out (we probably did). Let us know in the comments down below.