The 2000s were marked by iconic '00s trends: Juicy Couture tracksuits, thin eyebrows, low-rise jeans, MTV's Cribs—and the films of that time were equally iconic. What other decade could we escape to such magical new worlds like those of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Avatar? Movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days signaled the golden era of rom-coms, while The Dark Knight and Iron Man brought on the superhero craze we know today. And don’t even get us started on the cultural reset that was Twilight.
From Elle Woods reminding all of us that we can do anything we feel like to Napoleon Dynamite teaching us to just listen to our hearts, the best 2000s movies just hit differently. Maybe it's because it was one of the last decades before streaming made it big (RIP Blockbuster), so we were able to watch all of our favorites in a not-so-comfortable seat at the movie theater with a large bucket of buttery popcorn. Or maybe it's because it was the decade in which many of us felt like we were coming of age. The '00s were a kiss goodbye to the old Hollywood tropes as Tinseltown welcomed in all new kinds of stories.
To remind you just how great of a decade it was, we've scoured the archives to round up the best 2000s movies. As ‘90s babies and self-proclaimed movie lovers, these are the movies we grew up on and turned to time and time again. More than a decade later, these movies from the aughts are still on our must-watch films list. And because the 2000s invited us to such a variety of great films, we’ve arranged this list by genre so you can easily navigate your favorites. Without further ado, here are the greatest, most essential 2000s movies.
Best Comedies of the 2000s
'Mean Girls' (2004)
The high school comedy written by Tina Fey is the '00s pop culture staple. Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), the new girl at school, is taken in by the uber-cool mean girl group "The Plastics." Everything is going well until Cady has eyes for the leader of the pack, Regina George's (Rachel McAdams) boyfriend. Chaos ensues!
'Almost Famous' (2000)
A kid is offered the chance to follow an up-and-coming band on tour and write about the experience for Rolling Stone. What sounds like a dream for many aspiring music journalists is loosely based on what happened to rock journalist Cameron Crowe in real life. You'll be forever jealous after watching this one.
'The Hangover' (2009)
Three friends on a bachelor party in Vegas wake up after a wild night to find the bachelor is missing. The friends find themselves tracing their steps to find the soon-to-be groom, from returning Mike Tyson's tiger to figuring out how they ended up carrying around a baby. It's highly inappropriate at times, but oh, is it funny.
'Napoleon Dynamite' (2004)
A not-so-popular teenager named Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) decides to help the new kid at school, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), run for class president against the ever-so-popular Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff). The story is one that most audiences will be familiar with, but with characters like these (Uh, hello Uncle Rico? Kip?), it becomes a tale all its own.
'Legally Blonde' (2001)
When your boyfriend dumps you and heads off to Harvard Law School because you're too "blonde," you get into said law school and prove you're far more than just a pretty face. Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) soon finds out that she'll have to do more than what made her stand out at her college in L.A. to win him back and close her case. What, like it's hard?
'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' (2005)
Judd Apatow's directorial debut is very funny and has a lot of heart. Andy Stitzer (Steve Carrel) is a 40-year-old geeky guy who works at his local electronic store. On the outside, he seems happy with his life, but one poker night he lets it slip to his friends that he's never been intimate with a woman. His friends then make it their own mission for Andy to meet "the one."
When 16-year-old Juno (Elliot Page) finds herself pregnant, she tries to get an abortion but then finds herself deciding to give the baby up for adoption to a wealthy couple. Juno was one of the first films to start a discussion about teenage pregnancy, and the Oscar-winning screenplay still holds up years later.
It's safe to say Superbad was able to freeze in time what was so great about the year 2007 and throw it into a tale about a wild Friday night for two best friends who are about to graduate high school. The "McLovin" fake ID will live rent-free in my mind for all eternity.
So far, this has been a list FOR ANTS. And that's because it doesn't get any more early aughts than Zoolander. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play ridiculously good looking male models who become assassins. That's a quality script, folks. Plus, is that Winona Ryder, Natalie Portman and Paris Hilton we see in the trailer? Why yes, yes it is.
'School of Rock' (2003)
'00s kids will have a complete nostalgia trip watching this film and remembering the days when they hoped Jack Black would turn their classroom into a rock studio. Plus there's an appearance from 2000s It Girl Miranda Cosgrove, pre Nickelodeon.
'Step Brothers' (2008)
This comedy starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly might just be the most quotable movie ever made. From Brennan sneakily playing Dale's drumset to Brennan and Dale becoming best friends and building bunkbeds, this movie is downright hilarious. Sure, it may lean on the immature side, but Ferrell and Reilly are a match made in comedy heaven.
Best Rom-Coms of the 2000s
'Bridget Jones's Diary' (2001)
Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is kicking off the new year by keeping a diary, swearing off bad men, and abandoning her other bad habits. As luck would have it, when she starts to do these things, she meets two men that pique her attention. Bridget soon has to find out not only which one likes the real Bridget, but also must dig up the self-love she's had for herself all along. Can I tempt you further by saying Hugh Grant has ridiculously great hair in this?
'Mamma Mia' (2008)
Did someone call for one of the best musical films ever made? Because Mamma Mia answered. A bride-to-be, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried ) doesn't know who her real father is despite pleading with her mom (Meryl Streep) for the answer. Logically, instead of walking down the aisle alone, she invites all three of her potential dads to the wedding. There's a lot of ABBA music and dancing, which is equally as great as the all-star cast.
'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' (2002)
To love romantic comedies is to love My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) falls in love with a non-Greek man (John Corbett), it'll take a lot of convincing to her family for them to have a happily ever after.
'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' (2003)
Probably the ultimate 2000s rom-com, this one stars Kate Hudson as an ambitious journalist and Matthew McConaughey as a sorta-sleazy marketing rep who start dating to fulfill separate bets (though neither knows about the other's plot) but—surprise, surprise—they soon start developing actual feelings for one another. And don't forget about the love fern!
'She's the Man' (2006)
I don't care what anyone else may say, this is one of the funniest rom-coms ever. Amanda Bynes stars as Viola, a soccer player who disguises herself as her twin brother Sebastian to play on his elite boarding school's team. There, she meets the school's star player Duke (Channing Tatum) and soon a tangled web of relationships real and fake is spun. Just thinking about this movie, especially the tampon scene, get's a huge laugh out of me.
'The Proposal' (2009)
Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are a rom-com match made in heaven. Bullock plays snobby publishing exec Margaret who narrowly dodges deportation after announcing she's engaged to her assistant, Andrew (Reynolds). Andrew goes along with the charade only when Margaret agrees to meet Andrew's eccentric family in Alaska. Come for Bullock and Reynolds' chemistry, stay for Betty White's dancing to "Get Low."
Best Romances of the 2000s
'The Notebook' (2004)
By the time you finish watching the love story of Allie and Noah, there will not be a dry eye in the house. This famous Nicholas Sparks novel is the classic poor boy (Ryan Gosling) who falls in love with a girl from the upper class (Rachel McAdams) kind of drama. Still, it's a classic romance movie I can't stop watching years later.
Hear me out: Twilight was a cultural reset! The story of a teenage girl (Kristen Stewart) who moves to the sleepy town of Forks, Washington, where she meets a handsome dude (Robert Pattinson) with a bloodthirsty secret rocked my world as an adolescent. Maybe you watch for the plot or a young Taylor Lautner, but real cinema fans know it's all about the scene of Pattinson getting out of his Volvo at school wearing Ray-Bans.
'Pride and Prejudice' (2005)
Who knew eye contact could be so sexy? In this retelling of Jane Austen's novel of the same name, we meet Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew McFayden), two people who fall in love from different social classes. Can they put their pride and, yes, prejudice aside to be together?
'Love and Basketball' (2000)
Two L.A. basketball-loving next door neighbors have always been intertwined in each other's lives. When they get to USC and start playing college basketball, they begin to explore their hidden feelings for each other. As they make it to the big leagues, they still struggle to make the ultimate shot: committing to a life together.
'Love Actually' (2003)
Love Actually is one of those films where everyone's connected in some way. Set in London five weeks before Christmas, eight very different pairs of people are going through it. From the Prime Minister falling in love with his assistant to a girl finding out her husband's best friend is in love with her, it gets very, very complicated.
'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
Brokeback Mountain walked so Call Me By Your Name could run! I said what I said. The Oscar-winning love story between two cowboys played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal brings tears to my eyes no matter how many times I see it.
'500 Days of Summer' (2009)
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) at his greeting card company job and instantly falls in love with her. To his surprise, Summer tells him she doesn't believe in love. Over 500 days, we see the highs and lows of what happens next.
'Moulin Rouge!' (2001)
Usually, musical films using modern songs rely on just one artist to provide the soundtrack, like the ABBA-filled Mammia Mia and all-Beatles Yesterday. But Moulin Rouge! turns the genre on its head, with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor bursting into songs from Elton John, Madonna, Nirvana, and more as they sing and dance their way through this Baz Luhrmann fever dream. You'll have the soundtrack stuck in your head for days (or, you know, the last 20 years).
Best Dramas of the 2000s
'Devil Wears Prada' (2006)
Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) has just graduated journalism school when she lands a highly sought-out position at Runway magazine, the fictional equivalent to Vogue. She soon realizes working as the assistant to editor in chief Miranda Presley (Meryl Streep) requires a lot of guts and some life-altering choices.
'The Departed' (2006)
The newest mission for an undercover cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) is to infiltrate one of the biggest mafias in South Boston. At the same time, a member of that very same mob starts to work undercover for the police department to report everything concerning said mob group to its head boss (Jack Nicholson). The stakes are high, and no one wants to get found out as a rat.
'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' (2004)
Ever gone through a nasty breakup and wished you could forget it ever happened? That literally happens here. Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) is upset about his ex-girlfriend Clementine's (Kate Winslet) decision to undergo a procedure to erase him from her memory, so he decides to do the same. However, as he watches his memories of her fade away, he starts to realize the feelings for her are still there.
'Million Dollar Baby' (2004)
Hilary Swank plays Maggie Fitzgerald, a 31-year-old boxer who pleads for trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) to take her on. At first he says no, but soon gives in. The pair start to fill holes in each other lives that were always unfulfilled, but when Maggie faces a troubling hit in the ring and asks Frankie for a favor, their lives become forever changed.
'Walk the Line' (2005)
This biopic of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) follows his early years in his career and his relationship with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), who helps him find his greatness. Sure, you come for Cash's story, but you'll stay for the spark between Phoenix and Witherspoon. After all, it's the role that got Witherspoon her Oscar.
'Slumdog Millionare' (2008)
A teenager in Mumbai (Dev Patel) is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India's Kaun Banega Crorepati? (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) when he's arrested for cheating. At the police station, he tells his life story of growing up in the slums and how his adolescent adventures have helped him answer the show's incredibly hard questions.
'Inglorious Basterds' (2009)
A group of Jewish U.S. soldiers and a theater owner in France both have plans to take down Nazi leaders, but they don't know about each other's intentions—yet. The first 15 minutes of this Quentin Tarantino flick get my heart racing every single time, no matter how many times I watch it.
'Lost in Translation' (2003)
While separately staying at a hotel in Tokyo, each feeling unmoored and lonely in their lives, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) strike up an unlikely but intensely meaningful friendship that includes hangouts in the hotel bar and exciting jaunts around the city. I'm still holding out hope that ScarJo will someday reveal what Bob whispered in Charlotte's ear before he left for the airport.
'Remember the Titans' (2002)
When you think of a capital G GREAT sports movie, Remember the Titans must come to mind. Denzel Washington plays Herman Boone, a football coach on a mission to integrate a high school team in Virginia circa 1971.
'Catch Me If You Can' (2002)
Turns out a character played by young Leonardo DiCaprio can convince people of anything, including his made-up careers as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. In this film, the young scammer is tracked all over the country by a determined detective played by Tom Hanks.
All hail Keira Knightly, the queen of the period piece. At the heart of this film is a love story between two young people torn by World War II, but it's also about the tragic mistake of a young girl that has devastating consequences. Trust me, you're going to want to grab some Kleenex for this ending.
Best Action Movies of the 2000s
The story of an ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) sent to the moon Pandora in disguise as one of the aliens who live there to find out information about the species captivated audiences when it dropped. Like any James Cameron film, it won big at the Oscars and has a longer runtime than most, but don't let that stop you from taking in this glorious cinematic journey.
'The Dark Knight' (2008)
Say what you will about Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, but in my heart, there's the one true supreme: Heath Ledger. In the second installment of Christian Bale's journey as Batman, he's put to the test when the Joker torments the city of Gotham with his psychological and physical tests. There are so many twists and turns, you won't be able to guess how it ends.
'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' (2005)
You didn't think I was going to talk about the '00s and not mention the movie that brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together, did you? This film is about a married couple who each don't know that the other is a highly skilled assassin. They're then hired by competing agencies to kill each other. Typical marriage stuff.
'V for Vendetta' (2006)
In the year 2032, the U.K. is under the rule of the fascist and tyrannical Norsefire Party. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) finds a target on her back after she has an accidental run-in with a freedom fighter named "V." The masked man persuades her to come underground for a year, during which time a bond quickly forms between the two that neither of them saw coming.
'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King' (2003)
Viewers finally see Frodo and Sam finish their mission of destroying the One Ring at the fires of Mount Doom. The final movie of the Lord of the Rings franchise is at its best, and its 11 Academy Awards aren't too shabby either. Also, Orlando Bloom with elf ears? Unforgettable.
'National Treasure' (2004)
Don't come for me, but National Treasure is a national masterpiece. I'll die on this hill. A historical treasure hunt that starts with our leading guy (Nicolas Cage!!!) stealing the Declaration of Independence? Sign us up for a rewatch!
'Iron Man' (2008)
The movie that started the MCU was a cultural event of the late '00s, when no one could expect what would come after Samuel L. Jackson stepped out on the shadows in the end-credits scene. It's definitely worth a watch for any superhero fan, and if you decide to continue on a binge marathon, just make sure to stay hydrated.
Not everyone is into period pieces, but surely everyone can appreciate this action-packed revenge story. In a particularly star-making role, Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a war general who has been stripped of his title by the new emperor, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Director Ridley Scott paints ancient Rome as a grim, yet opulent backdrop and Crowe's Maximus is a hero you cannot help but root for in this Best Picture winner.
'Casino Royale' (2006)
Daniel Craig's reimagining of the iconic 007 agent is moodier, buffer, and blonder than past versions, plus there's plenty of stunts to get the heart pumping. The first installment sees James Bond go against Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes poker game that turns deadly.
'The Hurt Locker' (2008)
Before they were Marvel superheroes, Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie stared in a little war drama called The Hurt Locker. The two star as members of a bomb squad in the Iraq War, which, of course, lends to plenty of gut-clenching moments. This film went on to earn six Academy Awards, including Best Director, which made Kathryn Bigelow the first female director to earn the distinction.
Best Scary and Thriller Movies of the 2000s
'Donnie Darko' (2001)
A sleepy-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a teen who narrowly escapes death when an engine falls off a plane and destroys his bedroom when he's not there. Soon, he finds himself committing crimes ordered by his imaginary friend Frank, a man in a large rabbit suit. This cult classic is definitely odd, but a must-see.
'Paranormal Activity' (2007)
The '90s had The Blair Witch Project (which, of course, is on our list of the best '90s movies) and the '00s were given Paranormal Activity. A couple moves into a house, and one of them believes something is haunting them. To prove that nothing supernatural is going on, they set up hidden cameras during the night to make sure—and are quickly proven wrong.
'The Ring' (2002)
If you didn't watch this terrifying classic horror movie (about a videotape that kills you 7 days after you watch it) at a middle school sleepover, were you really a early 2000's kid? I think not! If not, you have seven days to put this film on your watchlist.
'28 Days Later'
Zombie movies were never the same after Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. London bike messenger Jim (Cillian Murphy) has an unfortunately-timed accident that lands him in a coma during the onset of a zombie apocalypse. When he wakes up... 28 days later, the world is in shambles and its people are ravaged by a virus. Be warned: This one may keep you up at night with its especially gory zombies, but it's not to be missed for those that love horror.
Maybe it's just me, but I think the presence of aliens is the most terrifying trope in horror, which is why I find this M. Night Shyamalan flick especially creepy. When I watched this in middle school, I had nightmares about that birthday party scene for months and months (IYKYK). Just like Shyamalan's other films, this thriller slowly builds the suspense, but you're guaranteed to get the chills.
Best Family Movies of the 2000s
'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone' (2001)
Ah, the first of the eight movies based on J.K. Rowling's popular book series! Harry Potter gets a letter (many letters actually) informing him that he is, in fact, a wizard, and is invited to attend the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he discovers a magical world he never knew and, also, the darkness that ultimately waits for him.
'The Princess Diaries' (2001)
As someone who saw this movie in theaters, has watched it on a fairly regular basis ever since, and once even watched it every day for a week just to say I did, I can attest that The Princess Diaries truly never gets old. What could be better than watching a young woman slowly but surely realize that she's had the power and grace needed to assume her rightful place as princess of Genovia inside her all along?!
'Spy Kids' (2001)
Did you want to be a spy kid when you were younger? Yes. Do you still want to be a spy kid? Also yes. This childhood classic follows two siblings who find out their parents are secret agents... and have gone missing. So, the school age duo has to save them and the world.
'Spirited Away' (2001)
This beloved Studio Ghibli classic follows a 10-year-old's journey through a world of spirits inspired by Japanese folklore, with surprises in every scene.
'Finding Nemo' (2003)
The 2000s were Pixar's golden era, with several of the animation studios' releases deserving spots on this list (Monster's Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up... we'll be here all day). Start with this film about a clownfish gone missing, which will make you laugh, cry, and quote memorable lines the whole way through. And remember, "fish are friends, not food!"
'Shrek 2' (2004)
Don't come at me, but this may be one of the few sequels to be better than the original. Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona are back and this time they are heading to Far, Far, Away to meet Fiona's human parents. This sequel sees the addition of iconic characters like Puss in Boots, Prince Charming, and, of course, the Fairy Godmother—How could we ever forget her iconic rendition of "Holding Out for a Hero?" All of the Shrek movies are worthy of this list, but this sequel is especially funny.
Bianca Rodriguez is the Fashion & Luxury Commerce Manager at Hearst Magazines, covering fashion, beauty, and more for Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s BAZAAR, and Town & Country. She likes lounging about with a good book and thinks a closet without platform sneakers is a travesty.
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