The 20 Best Movies of the 2000s

iStock/danr13 and IFC Films
iStock/danr13 and IFC Films

The world changed in the 2000s, and not just because the years started with “2” now (although that was huge). In movies, the spread of digital technology made filmmaking less expensive than before, resulting in a new batch of young directors entering the playing field. Out in the real world, the events of September 11, 2001, would influence movies for the rest of the decade and beyond. Here are 20 films from 2000 to 2009 that we consider the best of the decade.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

It remains the highest-grossing foreign-language movie in U.S. box office history, and even adjusting for inflation, the highest since at least 1980. Such is the power of Ang Lee's masterful, breathtaking action epic that changed martial arts movies forever and was most Westerners' first introduction to Michelle Yeoh. Timeless romance and flying warriors never blended so well.

2. Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent embedded with a touring rock band didn't turn a profit in its initial release but has since come to be one of the most beloved movies of its kind, with excellent performances by Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and more.

3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

We're cheating by counting three movies as one entry, but Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy was filmed as one giant project, not three separate ones—and besides, it means we don't have LOTR taking up three spots. Aside from being a monumental technical achievement, with special effects that still look good today, it's a rousing spectacle full of weighty themes, inspiring heroes, noble sacrifices, and Viggo Mortensen.

4. Memento (2001)

Before he gained legions of fans with his Batman movies and Inceptions and Dunkirks and whatnot, Christopher Nolan (along with co-writer/brother Jonathan) made Memento, an ingeniously constructed neo-noir about a man with short-term memory loss trying to find his wife's killer—oh, and the movie starts with the final scene and works its way backward. More than a twisty thriller, it's about the tricks our memories play on us and the lies we tell ourselves.

5. The Hours (2002)

Stephen Daldry's story about three women in different eras each impacted by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway offered brilliant performances by a trio of Hollywood's best actresses: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman (who played Woolf herself and won an Oscar for it). And the rest of the cast: John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, Margo Martindale, Ed Harris, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels!

6. Spirited Away (2002)

The fervor with which people love Hayao Miyazaki's imaginative animated films—particularly this one, about a girl who travels to the world of spirits—rivals the passion felt for Disney and Pixar (albeit without the same level of box office success). The inspired, magical weirdness of Spirited Away offers a glimpse at worlds most other animated films never even thought of.

7. About a Boy (2002)

There are movies on this list that are more hoity-toity, but few as breezy, charming, and heartfelt as this comedy about Hugh Grant becoming friends with a bullied kid (Nicholas Hoult) and his mom (Toni Collette). Deceptively simple, it turns rom-com and other clichés on their heads while delivering a frankly beautiful story about connecting with others.

8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

It wasn't Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, or even DreamWorks that made one of the decade's most visually hilarious animated films, but Frenchman Sylvain Chomet. His gentle yet insane, almost dialogue-free adventure has something amusing or wonderful to look at in every frame—everything from surrealism to caricatures to Looney Tunes-style anarchy.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

A 21st-century love story from the brilliantly sad mind of Charlie Kaufman, directed by the visionary Michel Gondry, in which Jim Carrey seeks to erase his memories of a lost love (Kate Winslet). Visually, it's ingenious; thematically, it's melancholy and insightful (not to mention funny) in its exploration of true love and the persistence of memory.

10. The Incredibles (2004)

Everything Pixar put out in the 2000s could have made this list (except Cars, obviously), but we’re going with Brad Bird’s widescreen action comedy about a family of superheroes. Even without the “animated” qualifier this is one of Hollywood’s best superhero films, with vivid characters, relatable problems, dynamics visuals, and a sly sense of humor.

11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

After writing Lethal Weapon and a handful of other noisy, ludicrous buddy-cop movies, Shane Black made his directorial debut skewering the genre, mocking the very conventions that Black helped create. A pulpy detective story a la Raymond Chandler, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and a post-Batman Val Kilmer yukking it up with a Hollywood mystery and a screenplay full of screwy one-liners.

12. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In an alternate universe, Ang Lee’s beautifully rendered adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about love between two cowboys won the Oscar for Best Picture and Crash was never spoken of again. In our universe, we have Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s emotional, taciturn performances centering a powerful film that taps into the universal aspects of falling in love.

13. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

More than a decade before he would win Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro dazzled audiences with this lush, dark fairy tale for grown-ups set in fascist Spain. Existing in a world between fantasy and nightmare, Pan’s Labyrinth is morbid, stunning, gorgeous, thematically rich, and chock-full of amazing things to see and consider.

14. CHILDREN OF MEN (2006)

We knew at the time that Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian sci-fi thriller—about a woman getting pregnant in a world where no children have been born for 18 years—was technically brilliant and thematically layered. What we couldn’t have known was how prescient its depiction of a society trying to hold onto hope would seem in 2019.

15. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Joel and Ethan Coen have made at least one film in each decade since the 1980s that could reasonably be considered their best, and each of those bests is better than most of the other films released that decade. Such is the case with this Best Picture winner, a perfect marriage of filmmakers and material (Cormac McCarthy’s novel already had Coen-esque touches) that ruminates on fate, luck, and destiny.

16. There Will Be Blood (2007)

It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher.

17. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

After scoring with screenplays for loopy, melancholy comedies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman directed this one himself and out-weirded everything he’d done before, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director who creates a massive stage production based on his own life. Surrounded by whimsical, surreal details, it’s an unforgettable piece of art about how life can slip away while you’re not looking.

18. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Surely there was no better Hollywood satire in the 2000s than Ben Stiller’s scathing, piercing, merciless mockery of showbiz egos set during a disastrous film shoot in the jungles of Asia. Among the most astonishing achievements: Tom Cruise nearly unrecognizable as a vicious studio exec, and Robert Downey Jr. being in blackface the whole time—and getting away with it.

19. In the Loop (2009)

An extension of the British TV series The Thick of It and predating Veep, this profanely scabrous political satire directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci depicts both English and American politicians as cynical, petty, conniving opportunists. It’s a dismally accurate view but a hilarious one, and the film features the decade’s best, most creative swearing.

20. The Hurt Locker (2009)

Several films about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged in the second half of the decade, but this one, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by journalist Mark Boal, is unique in its emotional resonance. Jeremy Renner stars as a bomb technician so numb to the dangers of war that he’s become addicted to it, resulting in a sharp, tight, and suspenseful action drama.

10 Unforgettable Facts About The Notebook On Its 15th Anniversary

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams star in The Notebook (2004).
New Line Cinema

In 1996, Nicholas Sparks published his first book, The Notebook. He would go on to write several more romance novels, many of which would be adapted into films. But 2004’s film adaption of The Notebook remains the highest-grossing Sparks adaptation, making $115 million worldwide against a $25 million budget. It was Rachel McAdams's breakout lead role (it was released just a few months after Mean Girls); it solidified Ryan Gosling as a “hey girl” heartthrob; and it swept all eight categories it was nominated for at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards, winning in categories like Choice Movie Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock.

The book and movie follow a young couple named Noah (Gosling) and Allie (Adams) in 1940s North Carolina (the movie was filmed in South Carolina). Despite some obstacles, the couple fall in love, marry, and spend the next 60 years together. In present day, it’s revealed that Allie, now an old woman (played by Gena Rowlands), has Alzheimer’s, and her doting husband (James Garner, as an elderly Noah) helps her remember their storied past. In 2003, Sparks published a loose sequel called The Wedding, featuring the characters Allie and Noah. Here are 10 facts about the beloved romance, which arrived in theaters 15 years ago today.

1. It was based on a true story.

Nicholas Sparks’s book was based on his then-wife Cathy's grandparents, who spent more than 60 years together. Cathy was close to her grandparents, and visited them frequently. The grandparents were too ill to attend their wedding, in 1989, so the newly-married couple brought the wedding to them. They dressed up in their wedding clothes and surprised them at their house. Cathy's grandparents told the Sparks how they met and fell in love, decades ago.

“But though their story was wonderful, what I most remember from that day is the way they were treating each other,” Sparks wrote on his website. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after 60 years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after 12 hours. What a wonderful gift they’d given us, I thought, to show us on our first day of marriage that true love can last forever.”

Unfortunately for Nicholas and Cathy, their love didn’t last forever—they divorced in 2015

2. Nicholas Sparks thinks the book was successful because it was relatable.


Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

“It seems that nearly everyone I spoke with about the novel knew a ‘Noah and Allie’ in their own life,” Sparks wrote on his website. He also said the book was short enough (224 pages) for people to read it quickly. “I think that readers also appreciate that the novel didn’t include foul language and its love scene was tasteful and mild compared to what’s found in many other novels,” he said. “These factors made people feel comfortable about recommending it to others.”

3. The screenwriter had to work hard to make the characters seem real.

The Notebook screenwriter Jeremy Leven had the daunting task of adapting Sparks's book into a script. “The problem with the book is that it’s melodramatic and sweet, and you have to find a way to appeal to an audience that is apprehensive about yet another sweet movie,” Leven told The Harvard Crimson. “So you have to give it an edge, make it real, and make the choices the characters face real.” That “edge” probably includes the love scene in the rain.

4. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling didn't get along—at first.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Even though they played lovers in the movie and then began dating in real life, the couple clashed during production. Director Nick Cassavetes told MTV a story about an incident when Gosling and McAdams weren’t getting along on the set one day: “Ryan came to me, and there’s 150 people standing in this big scene, and he says, ‘Nick come here,’” Cassavetes shared. “And he’s doing a scene with Rachel and he says, ‘Would you take her out of here and bring in another actress to read off camera with me?’ I said, ‘What?’ We went into a room with a producer; they started screaming and yelling at each other ... The rest of the film wasn’t smooth sailing, but it was smoother sailing.”

5. McAdams and Gosling's on-screen chemistry probably wasn't real.

“[Our later relationship] certainly wasn’t something that either of us had expected would come out of that filmmaking experience,” McAdams said, “which goes to show you that you can engineer chemistry on-screen just by telling the audience that these two people love each other.” She said it was attributed to the acting. “As an actor you don’t have to feel it. You don’t have to feel anything. Just imagine it.”

6. Jessica Biel was bummed she didn't get to play Allie.


Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC

Unlike Gosling, McAdams had to audition for the role of Allie, and so did Jessica Biel. “I was in the middle of shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I auditioned with Ryan Gosling in my trailer—covered in blood,” Biel told Elle. “That’s one that I wanted so badly. But there’s a million that get away. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s just rejection.”

7. McAdams felt a lot of pressure to deliver a great performance.

The actress told Film Monthly she knew she had to be good in the movie, because she had to carry it. “At first I put way too much pressure on myself and realized that it wasn’t getting me anywhere,” she said. “I was just a ball of stress, and eventually the character kicked in where she’s sort of free-spirited, doesn’t care what people think, and chases down those things she wants.” She eventually found the right balance.

8. James Marsden thought the movie was going to be "schmaltzy."


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

James Marsden played Allie’s fiancé—and Noah’s rival—Lon Hammond Jr. The actor told Out Magazine how he tries not to make a bad movie, but they sometimes turn out that way. “Then there are some movies that I’ve been in that I was sure people would laugh at, that have become huge,” he said. “I thought The Notebook was going to be a schmaltzy Movie of the Week–type thing, and here we are!”

9. Nick Cassavetes was the fourth choice to direct the movie.

New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Sparks's novel in 1995, before the book was even published. In 1998, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg wanted to direct the film. Jim Sheridan was also interested, but he decided to direct In America instead. In 2001, The Mask of Zorro and GoldenEye director Martin Campbel almost signed on, but in 2002 New Line brought Cassavetes aboard.

10. James Garner ruined his first take shooting with Gena Rowlands.


Melissa Moseley/New Line Cinema

Nick Cassavetes—son of legendary director John Cassavetes—cast his mother, the great Gena Rowlands, as the elderly Allie. Garner recalled the first day he and Gena filmed together. “She's going to come out and I’m sitting on the porch in a chair or something. And I hear Nick say, ‘Okay, mom. Action.’ Well, I ruined that take because I just broke up. That was so funny. That tickled me to death. But he showed his mother great respect. He was gentle with her and worked with her. What I loved about it is that she listened to him. Here’s a professional actress who’s one of the best ever, and she’s listening to her son tell her about things. I really admired that in both of them.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Alexander Skarsgård Could Have Played Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Marvel fans may have trouble imagining Thor played by anyone other than Chris Hemsworth, but apparently, Alexander Skarsgård was pretty darn close to getting the role. How close, you ask? He tried on the costume, held the hammer, and even filmed an audition in the garb.

In 2009—just a year after True Blood premiered—the actor told MTV that he met with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and Thor director Kenneth Branagh about the part. “Yeah, I met with Kevin [Feige] a few times and the director,” he said. “There was definitely some truth in that, yeah.”

When the MTV interviewer said he thought the actor had the perfect look to bring Thor to life, Skarsgård simply replied, “So did I.”

But before you start to feel too sorry for Skarsgård, let's not forget the number of impressive roles the True Blood alum has landed. At the moment, he’s playing Perry Wright in HBO’s Big Little Lies, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

As for the Thor role, Hemsworth went on to play the God of Thunder in multiple films, and although his future in the MCU is not certain after Avengers: Endgame, the Australian actor confirmed he’d love to keep playing the character.

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