The new decade of the 2000s introduced a number of cult favorites into the mix, on top of quite a few blockbusters, romantic comedies, franchises, animations, and buddy comedies. These next 40 movies are some of the absolute standouts from the decade, including classics like James Bond and The Lord of the Rings franchises, as well as underrated favorites like Almost Famous and animated hits such as Up and Ratatouille.
The 40 Best Movies of the 2000s
1. 'Casino Royale'
The movie that kicked off the new era of James Bond films, and the one that introduced Daniel Craig as 007, Casino Royale provides all the thrills, intrigue, and action you'd expect from a spy movie and more.
In the first movie of Craig's series of films, we see Bond take on an international financier of terrorism named Le Chiffre, played by the legendary Mads Mikkelsen. In order to hunt him down, Bond ends up playing in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro at, where else, the Casino Royale.
2. 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'
The first film of one of the greatest trilogies of all time, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, introduces us to the world of Middle-Earth. It's a classic tale of good vs. evil, and we follow and dedicated group of heroes as they quest to destroy the One Ring, which is the source of the villainous Sauron's power.
The winner of numerous awards as well as being a critical and commercial success, Fellowship has stood the test of time as one of the best starts to a film franchise ever.
3. 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers'
The second film of the Lord of the Rings franchise, The Two Towers, finds many of our heroes reeling from the events of the first movie and trying to find their way.
Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor encounter Gollum, a creature who is drawn to the power of the One Ring and who will do anything to get it back, including kill. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli ride in chase of Merry and Pippin, where they come across the human kingdom of Rohan, currently under siege by dark forces.
4. 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'
The Return of the King is arguably the best of the trilogy, and this is evidenced by its incredible success at the Academy Awards and the box office. Nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director, the movie won all of the awards it was in the running for. It holds the record for most wins along with Titanic and Ben-Hur.
In this final film, Frodo and Sam finally make their way into Mordor, coming face-to-face with their destiny as the ones who would destroy the Ring.
Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin join the war against Sauron and his armies, mounting a last stand at the city of Minas Tirith.
5. 'Gangs of New York'
Alright, we know that this may be an unpopular pick and can admit that it isn't one of Martin Scorsese's strongest films, but Gangs of New York is a good movie. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, Gangs of New York tells the story of a young Irish immigrant played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he seeks revenge on the gang leader that murdered his father.
In many ways, Gangs of New York is carried by the performance of arguably the greatest actor of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis. He towers over the film as Bill the Butcher, the aforementioned gang leader.
It's a film whose themes—immigration and integration, political corruption and division, racism—are as relevant now as they were then. Gangs of New York is a movie worth revisiting.
6. 'The Dark Knight'
The greatest superhero movie ever made, The Dark Knight needs little to no introduction. With great performances across the board, none more so than Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight asks the question of how far Batman must go in order to stop a villain as evil as the Clown Prince of Crime.
When does a hero become a vigilante? What is the line that Batman can't bring himself to cross? He is pushed to his limits in this film.
"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, and loyal servant to the true Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
If you don't get goosebumps every time you hear Russell Crowe give that monologue, then I don't know what to tell you. Crowe is a Roman general branded a traitor by the cowardly Emperor who sees his family killed and himself forced to become a gladiator.
8. 'No Country for Old Men'
Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men finds Josh Brolin's character Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam War veteran that stumbles across a large amount of money in the desert, on the run from a cartel Assassin Anthon Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem. Tommy Lee Jones also plays the local sheriff who is tasked with investigating the whole situation.
Directed by the Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men is as much a thriller as it is an examination of crimes and conscience.
9. 'The Departed'
Another Martin Scorsese classic, The Departed, is an American adaption of the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs and is packed with an ensemble cast.
Matt Damon plays a Massachusetts State Police detective who is secretly working for the Irish Mob in Boston, led by Jack Nicholson's character Frank Costello. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays another detective that is undercover in Costello's organization. It's a game of cat and mouse as both characters attempt to find the rats in their organizations, leading to an explosive and violent ending.
10. 'There Will Be Blood'
Another film that is led by an unforgettable performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, sees the actor take on the role of Daniel Plainview. Plainview is a silver miner turned oil prospector who cons and cheats his way into becoming wealthy.
Examining the concept of capitalism and its inherent tendency to encourage greed, There Will Be Blood is a film that asks the question, "how far are we willing to go to be successful?"
11. 'Inglourious Basterds'
"We're gonna be doing one thing: Killing Nazis."
Brad Pitt leads an ensemble cast in Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which follows Aldo Raine's (Pitt) elite unit of Jewish-American soldiers as they make their way across France in World War II.
Parallel to their story is a revenge tale, seeing Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the lone survivor of a massacre that killed her entire family. She looks to enact justice against not just the man responsible, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) but all Nazis, leading to a climactic showdown at her movie theater in Paris that also involves the Basterds.
12. 'Training Day'
One of Denzel Washington's best performances and the one that saw him win an Oscar, Training Day is a crime thriller set in Los Angeles. Washington's character, Detective Alonzo Harris, is as corrupt as they come and is responsible for training newcomer Jake Hoyt, played by Ethan Hawke, and takes him through a day as a Narcotics detective.
Or at least Harris' version of a narcotics detective aka one that's heavily involved in all sorts of criminal behavior.
13. 'In Bruges'
One of the most criminally underrated movies of the 2000s, In Bruges, tells the story of two hitmen, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who flee to Bruges, Belgium, after a killing gone wrong.
While there, they suffer through existential crises, boredom, guilt and are forced to come to terms with what they've done. It is an extremely dark comedy, one that will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next.
Written and directed by Academy Award nominee Martin McDonagh, In Bruges is a film everyone should watch.
14. 'V For Vendetta'
Set in a totalitarian England dominated by an extreme right-wing regime, V For Vendetta follows a freedom fighter named V, who seeks to overthrow the government by inspiring the people of the country to fight for their freedom. Evie, played by Natalie Portman, eventually comes to join his cause and becomes V's protégé.
As funny now as it was when it was first released, Superbad is a coming-of-age story that follows Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse in their final days of high school. They're trying to do what many teenagers try to do: Celebrate the end of high school by partying and trying to hook up.
16. 'Tropic Thunder'
A comedy classic that is an incredible satire of the film industry and the pretentiousness of actors, Tropic Thunder has an all-star cast that includes Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Matthew McConnaughey, and Tom Cruise.
Following the disastrous production of a movie, Tropic Thunder is laugh-out-loud funny and is endlessly rewatchable.
17. 'American Psycho'
A black comedy slasher film, American Psycho, stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a wealthy New York investment banker with a dark secret: He's a serial killer.
On the outside, he is a vain, self-absorbed narcissist, but on the inside is suffering, and he seeks to inflict suffering on others. Throughout the film, Bateman murders friends and strangers alike, leading to an investigation and his worry that he may be discovered.
18. 'Kingdom of Heaven' (Director's Cut)
Before going into this one, I need to stress that the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven is the only version worth watching.
Another historical epic directed by Ridley Scott, Kingdom of Heaven, is set during the Crusades and follows Balian (Orlando Bloom) as he journeys to Jerusalem in search of absolution and the forgiveness of his sins.
The movie's theatrical cut is more of a summer blockbuster and loses many of the deeper thematic elements that the director's cut does. So if you're going to check this one out, make sure it's the director's cut.
19. 'Iron Man'
The movie that jumpstarted the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man is both a great superhero film and an action movie. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark has since become an iconic character and career-defining role for the actor, and he is at his absolute best in Iron Man.
20. 'Shaun of the Dead'
Shaun of the Dead, a comedy set during a zombie apocalypse, follows perpetual slacker Shaun (Simon Pegg) as he attempts to keep his friends and family safe as the world falls apart.
Directed by Pegg's long-time friend and frequent collaborator Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead is as funny as it is incredibly touching.
21. 'Julie & Julia'
Both directed, written, and produced by Nora Ephron, her last film seals off an amazing run of movies over the span of her long career from journalist to movie director.
Julie & Julia is two true stories weaved into one: the story of Julia Child, who would later in life become one of the most well-known cooking teachers and cookbook authors, and Julie Powell, a woman who decided to blog about her experience of cooking one of Child's recipes per day from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
22. 'Slumdog Millionaire'
Earning eight Academy Awards in 2009 including Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), who wins $1 million on an Indian game show but is promptly accused of cheating after his win. We learn about Jamal as he's questioned by the police, recounting how very specific moments of his life led him to the correct answer to each of the questions.
23. 'The Devil Wears Prada'
Based on the book of the same name, The Devil Wears Prada follows Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) as she starts her new job as an assistant at Runway, a fashion magazine meant to mirror that of Vogue. Her boss, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), is Editor-in-Chief of the magazine and is based on Anna Wintour.
Knowing nothing about fashion, Andy doesn't take her work very seriously until she gets a rude awakening from Miranda and the upper-level assistant with who she works closely, Emily (Emily Blunt). She has to weigh her options: become one of the "Runway Girls" or stay true to her genuine passion for journalism and her boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier).
24. 'Erin Brockovich'
Starring Julia Roberts as the namesake character, Erin Brockovich is based on the real story of Erin Brockovich, a legal clerk who sparked the fight against an energy corporation after residents in a California town started experiencing a host of medical issues. Although she was just a legal clerk, Brockovich impresses her boss, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), and colleagues by bringing attention to the case and for committing herself to it.
25. 'Mean Girls'
Lindsay Lohan leads in Mean Girls, which quickly became an iconic comedy following its release in 2004. Based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, Tine Fey co-wrote the screenplay, also playing the supporting role of Ms. Norbury.
After moving from Africa, Cady Heron (Lohan) quickly realizes that she's had very limited social experience upon arriving at high school, where she befriends Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese), who give her the rundown on the scene. They tell her all about the "Plastics," a group of the most popular girls at school, and their leader, Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and come up with a plan to get revenge on the group by having Cady befriend them.
26. 'Spirited Away'
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (who's also the creator of My Neighbor Totoro), Spirited Away has gained a cult following in the years following its release. The film explores different realms of the world told through the eyes of Chihiro Ogino, a girl who finds herself in the realm of Kami. She has to figure out a way to return to the real world when she realizes that her parents have been turned into pigs by a powerful witch, Yubaba.
27. 'Almost Famous'
Based on the story of Cameron Crowe's life, Almost Famous is about a teenager, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), who's an aspiring rock journalist. After building up a few bylines, he's offered the chance to cover Stillwater (based on The Allman Brothers) by going along on tour with them. Given that he's still in high school, he has to convince his overprotective mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), to trust him.
On the tour, he befriends Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie of the band, although she would never refer to herself as that. It's a coming-of-age film, as William is finally allowed to see a world past his home and is able to figure out who he is within all of it.
Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Ed Asner, is a 78-year-old balloon salesman who has always wanted to travel to South America. When he ties thousands of balloons to his house and finally sets sail, he realizes that Russell (Jordan Nagai) has accidentally come along for the ride. Winning Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, Up has been applauded for its incredible screenplay and characters, telling the story of a very unlikely friendship.
29. 'Legally Blonde'
Reese Witherspoon is Elle Woods in this cult comedy, which follows her as she attends Harvard Law School in an effort to win back her ex-boyfriend. Feeling like she's being wrongly judged by her personality and the fact that she's blonde, Woods attempts to extinguish those feelings and prove the others wrong.
Although Legally Blonde has had a few less-successful spinoffs following the original, Legally Blonde 3 is in the works, with Reese Witherspoon signed on to reprise her original role and Mindy Kaling along as a co-writer.
A talented and aspiring rat-chef, Remy (Patton Oswalt), gets a chance at pursuing his dream when he befriends a sanitation worker, Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano), at a restaurant in France. Working under Linguini's hat by pulling on his hair as directional tools, Remy (through Linguini) takes the food world by storm, impressing his co-workers maybe a bit too much, which causes some of them to become suspicious.
Standing its ground even though it's mostly thought of as being just another kids' animated film, Ratatouille has an incredible screenplay, cast, and characters—it even went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
31. 'Mission: Impossible 3'
The third installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Mission: Impossible 3 just might be the best one out of the bunch. Guest-starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film centers around the "rabbit's foot," a highly-coveted item of intelligence that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is set on capturing. At the same time, the main protagonist, Owen Davian (Hoffman), is also on the hunt for the rabbit's foot, leading the two to converge and battle it out through various different means.
32. 'The Queen'
Following Princess Diana's death, The Queen focuses on Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren), who has yet to make a statement about her death. While Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, wants the Royal Family to address the country, the Royal Family itself feels differently. With even Prince Charles wanting his family to make an official statement, Queen Elizabeth has to finally make a decision on the matter.
33. 'Grey Gardens'
Based on the 1975 documentary of the same name, Grey Gardens (2009) takes a more in-depth look into the two Edith Beales, Big Edie (Jessica Lange) and Little Edie (Drew Barrymore). Perfectly cast, this film flips back and forth from different stages of the pair's life, from Little Edie's childhood to their final state as they film the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles.
34. 'Little Miss Sunshine'
With Abigail Breslin and Greg Kinnear in the leading roles of this unforgettable comedy, Little Miss Sunshine revolves around Olive (Breslin) as she finds out that's she has qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California. Olive's entire family comes along on the 800-mile journey in a yellow Volkswagen bus, where various setbacks occur. The film won two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Screenplay and another for Alan Arkin's role as Edwin Hoover.
35. 'Something's Gotta Give'
Directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Keanu Reeves, and Frances McDormand, Something's Gotta Give focuses on Erica Barry (Keaton), a successful playwright, and Harry Sanborn (Nicholson), an older bachelor who is dating her daughter, Marin (Amanda Peet).
When Harry has a heart attack at her house in the Hamptons, Erica is forced to take care of him when everyone heads back to Manhattan. Through this, the two strike up a relationship even though they didn't start off on great terms. However, at the same time as this, Erica begins a relationship with the young doctor that treated Harry at the hospital, Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves).
36. 'Napoleon Dynamite'
Another cult classic, Napoleon Dynamite stars John Heder in the namesake role of the film, playing a 16-year-old, awkward high schooler who only has two friends, Deb (Tina Majorino) and Pedro (Efren Ramirez). Even if you haven't seen the film, there's a good chance that you've probably encountered someone wearing a "Vote For Pedro" shirt around, citing the portion of the film where Pedro runs for class president against the popular Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff).
Elf stars Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, a man who was adopted by elves as a child and has been living in the North Pole ever since. When he decides to travel to New York City to meet his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), things are much different than the North Pole. Buddy falls backward into a job at a department store and faces some challenges but is able to meet a woman he really likes through it all: Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).
38. 'Lost in Translation'
Starring Bill Murray, Lost in Translation follows the almost-retired actor Bob Harris (Murray) as he heads to Tokyo to promote a new type of whiskey. Given that he's mostly alone in this new city, he befriends someone in a similar situation, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who has just graduated from college. Although there's a large age difference between the two, they're able to find common ground in the fact that they're both in a very similar situation culturally.
39. 'Panic Room'
Starring Jodie Foster alongside Kristen Stewart in one of her first film roles, Panic Room is an intense thriller that tracks Meg Altman (Foster) and her daughter, Sarah (Stewart), as they hide in their apartment's panic room while their house is being broken into. Because the apartment's former owner was very wealthy, he had installed surveillance cameras, a PA system, thick walls, and more, which aid the two as they figure out how to survive the break-in.
40. 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'
Starring John Corbett and Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is almost exactly what it sounds like. In the film, Toula Portokalos—who's supposed to marry a Greek man—falls for Ian Miller, a Protestant, and tries to keep it a secret from her very involved Greek family. Obviously, this doesn't go over well once everyone finds out, and Toula has to make things right between her family, herself, and Ian as she plans her wedding with him.
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