20 Movies That Defined the 2000s

In just 20 years, the world of film went through an onslaught of change: The onset of the new millennium brought on higher production values — think the glitzy extravaganza of Moulin Rouge! or the vibrant computer animation of Despicable Me — and more diverse storytelling, like the quiet identity exploration of Real Women Have Curves or the visceral tension of Us. As 2019 comes to a close, HBO breaks down 20 memorable movies from 2001 to today that you'll still be thinking about years from now. All 20 movies are now streaming.


Moulin Rouge!

Baz Luhrmann’s lavish spectacle is often credited with revitalizing the movie musical, and is nothing short of “Spectacular, Spectacular.” Set in Belle Époque Paris, Moulin Rouge draws from tragedies like La Bohème for the story of penniless poet Christian (played with masterful naiveté by Ewan McGregor) as he becomes immersed in the bohemian and seductive world of the Moulin Rouge, and falls dangerously in love with its star courtesan, Satine (portrayed by an Oscar-nominated Nicole Kidman). With an approach that merges the style of both MTV and old-Hollywood melodramas, Luhrmann reimagines some of the most beloved songs of the twentieth century, covering everything from Madonna to Nirvana. Moulin Rouge! proved that there was (and still is) an audience for blockbuster movie musicals, inspiring countless other films, music videos and even a recent Broadway adaptation. —Maxwell Mierzejewski


Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Before Neil Patrick Harris breathed new life into the 2014 Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell’s big-screen opus was known among movie fans as a scrappy, underground classic. Adapted from the original stage show, the film follows the titular Hedwig, an “internationally ignored” transgender East German rock singer touring the U.S., telling her story of trauma and heartbreak through music. It’s a wry, touching, hilarious and wholly singular tale about coping with pain, and quite unlike anything else you’ll ever see. —Allison Picurro



Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet presents us with a love story filled with humor, wit and magic in 2001’s Amélie, about an eccentric (but isolated) young woman who discovers a man’s box of childhood treasures and resolves to return it to him, setting in motion her newfound passion to bring happiness to others. Anchored by a charmingly innocent performance by Audrey Tautou and a lush score by Yann Tiersen, Amélie transports us to a Paris (particularly the cobblestone streets of Montmarte) filled with warmth, color and joy. This romantic comedy went on to receive five Academy Award nominations, and remains one of the most well-known and beloved French films from the past quarter century. —MM


Real Women Have Curves

America Ferrara, now a Golden Globe-winning actress, made her onscreen debut at age 17 in Real Women Have Curves, a coming-of-age story that gives a rare glimpse into a young Latina’s life in America. Her character, an intelligent high school senior named Ana, quickly became a teenage icon, struggling against everything from her complex relationship with her mother to society’s standard of beauty. That Ana is a Mexican-American girl living in Los Angeles brought a powerful specificity to the story, making the film’s universal themes of self-acceptance and female empowerment even more poignant. —Ariana Bacle


My Big Fat Greek Wedding

In 2002, Nia Vardalos adapted her one-woman show about her own family’s personal story and turned it into an Oscar-nominated rom-com juggernaut. As Toula, a single 30-year-old from a proud Greek family whose dream man just happens not to be Greek, Vardalos uses comedy (and a lot of Windex) to tell a still-relevant story of what happens when traditional values are challenged by the modern age. It’s not difficult to see why My Big Fat Greek Wedding developed an enormous fan following, with plenty of memorable lines — “That’s okay, I make lamb” — and a warm-hearted message about all the ways differences can bring families together. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll learn what, exactly, a bundt cake is. —Allysa Tangco


Love Actually

Though it wasn’t a critical success at the time of its release, Richard Curtis’ ensemble showcase has become a holiday season staple and a frequent reference for the rom-coms that followed. It’s easy to find echoes of Laura Linney’s hapless Sarah in The Holiday, of Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s troubled married couple in Crazy, Stupid, Love, of Hugh Grant’s reluctantly-in-love Prime Minister in Long Shot. Where would we, as a society, be without now-iconic lines like “To me, you are perfect,” or Billy Mack’s (Bill Nighy) intentionally absurd rendition of “Christmas Is All Around”? In those ways, and many others, Love Actually is the gift that keeps on giving. —AP


How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

In the age of online dating apps and all that comes with them, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days still rings true as a playful, over-the-top testament to the difficulties of dating. Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is on a mission to write a new piece for her magazine column on how to get a man to leave you in 10 days; the object of her affection is Ben Barry (Matthew McConaughey), a confident executive convinced he can get any woman to fall in love with him in 10 days. Their plans quickly unravel, leading to a rom-com conflict that remains iconic. —Megan Zenger


The Day After Tomorrow

Remember when everyone believed the world was really going to end in 2012? Thank The Day After Tomorrow, from disaster movie veteran Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), for fueling that fear. Dennis Quaid stars as a climatologist desperately trying to present environmental concerns to the UN as catastrophic events start occurring all over the world, including a superstorm that traps his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) in New York. The action-packed film foreshadowed very real climate change concerns that are only growing more urgent with each passing day. —MZ


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A film centered around someone who’s suffered a debilitating stroke and can only communicate through blinking shouldn’t be mesmerizing, but you won’t be able to stop thinking about this adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir. Bauby, a former magazine editor, wakes up from a coma to discover he has locked-in syndrome, meaning that his brain still works but the rest of his body is paralyzed. Because he’s unable to speak or write, he and his therapist develop a system for communication: She holds up a sign with the alphabet and says each letter aloud, and he blinks with his left eye when she gets to the correct one. Writing a book this way is a fascinating feat, especially when you see everything that went through Bauby’s mind during what would be the last year of his life. By exploring his reflections during that time, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly becomes a beautiful portrait of the memories that both pain and buoy us — and an eloquent look at how one man faced his mortality. —AB


The Hurt Locker

In a decade haunted by an endless war in the Middle East, The Hurt Locker emerged as a seminal film centering around — and more importantly, humanizing — a bomb removal squad in the Iraq War. By illustrating how the combatants (compellingly portrayed by Jeremy Renner, Brian Geraghty and the incomparable Anthony Mackie) deal with the psychological turmoil of such a high-stress job, the drama helped localize the impact of the war back home to the United States and was rewarded for its efforts: The Hurt Locker took home six trophies at the 82nd Academy Awards, including Best Director honors for Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first female director to win for Best Picture. —Bill Leopold


Black Swan

This is the psychological thriller that gripped moviegoers in 2010 — and rightfully so. Natalie Portman, who won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her performance, and Mila Kunis play Nina and Lily, ballerinas in pursuit of perfection as they audition for and secure lead roles in Swan Lake. As the rivalry between the two heats up, Nina’s dark side emerges, making for a riveting ride through her subconscious that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the movie’s final haunting moment. —MZ


The Town

In his second directorial venture, Ben Affleck solidified himself as a force to be reckoned with behind the camera. The Town, which Affleck also co-wrote and starred in, follows a career criminal who falls in love with the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) taken hostage during one of his heists. It’s a masterfully tense thriller, and although its shootout scenes make up some of The Town’s most visually striking moments, Affleck’s film is more concerned with humanizing the criminals themselves, showing them as fully realized people rather than just men who steal money. —AP


Despicable Me

An animated movie suitably entertaining to both kids and adults, Despicable Me is the tale of a supervillain’s diabolical plan to use three orphan children in his latest scheme. When it goes horribly wrong… he turns heel to become the hero. While the film features Steve Carell as the protagonist (Gru) and Jason Segel as his archnemesis (Vector), the real stars of the production are Gru’s adorable sidekicks: the Minions. Similar to the aliens from Toy Story, the Minions became a pop culture phenomenon that spawned memes, merch and, determined to outshine their pop culture predecessors, these cute, little would-be evil doers earned their own spin-off franchise. —BL



Before Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids came out in 2011, women-led comedies were few and far between, and even less frequently were they commercially and critically successful. Then came Bridesmaids. Comedy veteran Judd Apatow produced while Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo wrote the screenplay — which went on to be Oscar-nominated — about a woman (Wiig) who watches with conflicted feelings as her best friend (Maya Rudolph) prepares for her wedding. It explored the complexities of female friendships while never faltering in its sly, raunchy humor. Bridesmaids not only put Feig on the map as a director, but turned Melissa McCarthy into a bonafide star (her performance earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, a comedy rarity), and argued there is, in fact, an audience for stories by and about women, setting the stage for new classics like Girls Trip and Booksmart. Better yet: It’s still just as funny as it was in 2011. —AP


Paddington 2

One of Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed movies of all time, Paddington 2 illustrates one family’s unbreakable connections in a way that will have you grinning from ear to ear until the very end. When London’s favorite bear sets out to recover a rare book that’s gone missing — and clear his name from the list of suspects — its Paddington’s family, friends and neighbors who band together to help him out. An adventure filled with laughter, accents, marmalade and a career-best performance from Hugh Grant, Paddington 2’s elements of positivity and equality also inspired signs at the 2018 Women’s March, and its core message — that an outsider can very well become part of a community — continues to encourage audiences to be better people. —AT


The Favourite

The Favourite is many things: a reimagining of the period piece with anachronistic dialogue and modern comedic beats, a star-making (and Oscar-winning) vehicle for Olivia Colman, an unabashedly queer film. Yorgos Lanthimos’ pitch-black comedy details the brutal rivalry that develops between two cousins (Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill and Emma Stone’s Abigail Masham) as they vie for the affection of Queen Anne (Colman). It’s a vicious, wicked and sometimes disturbing (the Queen keeps a horde of pet rabbits, each named after one of her dead children) thrill ride, a visual game of chess that none of the characters can win — but what a joy it is to watch unfold. —AP



Steve McQueen’s Widows is the rare heist film that doesn’t revel in crime. Unlike Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s franchise, the crime isn’t a sexy thrill, but instead a means for survival. Like Ocean’s, the film is star-studded (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell are just a few of the names that fill out the main cast), but Widows — about four women who take fate into their own hands after being left with a debt when their husbands are murdered — focuses on the lasting effects of grief, the corrupt political system and all that women endure simply to get through the day. —AP


First Man

Eight years before Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, he and his wife lost their two-year-old daughter to pneumonia stemming from a tumor. His response to this tragedy — as well as the deaths of multiple colleagues over the ensuing years — is at the heart of the story the unexpectedly moving First Man, directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, tells. Most biopics aim to show the human side of a larger-than-life icon, but few do so as powerfully as First Man, which portrays Armstrong as a reserved man who wrestled with unimaginable pain as he tried to achieve a seemingly impossible mission. The result is a visually stunning and emotionally wrenching portrait of an American hero that juxtaposes the violence of space travel with the aching quietude of loss. —AB


A Star Is Born

Lady Gaga made waves in both the music and fashion worlds almost immediately after she appeared on the scene in 2008; however, it wasn’t until the release of 2018’s A Star Is Born that Gaga revealed she has the potential to become a film icon as well. Nominated for eight Oscars, winning one for the epically show-stopping “Shallow,” A Star Is Born sheds a new light on the artistic process and the tumultuous journey to superstardom not seen in the film’s three previous iterations. Thanks in no small part to Bradley Cooper (the film’s director and costar), A Star Is Born also paints a heartbreaking and illuminating portrait of the realities of addiction and its wide-ranging effects. Fueled by powerful songs, exceptional acting, smooth editing and impressive cinematography, this essential work of modern cinema will make you go “off the deep end” — in the best way possible. —MM



Writer, director and actor Jordan Peele followed up his Oscar-winning debut Get Out with a worthy successor: the horror-centric Us, which paired white knuckle-inducing thrills with laugh-out-loud moments to break the tension. The story kicks off in earnest when a family of four dressed in red break into a vacation home occupied by the Wilsons — also a family of four, with the parents played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. As the Wilsons are held hostage in their living room, it’s revealed that the intruders are the Wilsons’ doppelgängers, yearning to be set free from their suffering. The film unfolds as the family fights to escape their captors and vanquish the stalkers. Earning both critical acclaim and box office success, Us proved Peele to be much more than a comedy star turned Hollywood one-hit-wonder and cemented his place among the must-see actor/directors of the generation. —BL


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