23 Years of Cinematic Greatness: The 15 Best Pictures of the 21st Century (So Far)

Max and the brides struggle in the desert

Movies are a form of art that have the power to move us, challenge our perspectives, and take us on impossible journeys. Over the past 23 years, the 21st century has brought us some of history's most visually stunning, emotionally impactful, and intellectually stimulating films. From blockbusters to indie flicks, a diverse range of exceptional movies have captured audiences worldwide. These are our 15 best picks for the theatrical wonders that have left us in awe.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Furiosa and Max in take aim
Image Credit: Village Roadshow Pictures.

George Miller pulled off something incredible with Fury Road, despite the many roadblocks (pun intended) faced during production. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron don’t say much throughout their off-road adventure through flat salt planes, and they don’t have to. The movie’s visuals, many of which are practical, do much of the talking. Fury Road is an adrenaline-packed adventure that doesn’t feel cheap. It earns your excitement and is quite relentless as it builds upon the world’s lore while keeping the action forward-moving.

2. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Harry and Marion sit on a couch
Image Credit: Artisan Entertainment.

Kicking off the 21st century also happens to be one of the 2000s most distressing movies. Darren Aronofsky takes viewers on a cerebral trip through a world full of drugs and desperation. Each character has a vice, and it’s those obsessions and addictions that send them spiraling. Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans are wonderfully tragic, and the film’s camera work and visuals ensure you’re right there with them on their horrifying descent to rock bottom.

3. No Country for Old Men (2007)

No Country For Old Men
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Javier Bardem brings to life one of cinema’s most terrifying characters with Anton Chigurh, a cold and calculated hitman hired to recover a briefcase full of money. Even hapless store owners aren’t safe from Chigurh’s brutality. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of No Country’s brilliant cast, which includes Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, and Woody Harrelson. The Coen brothers adapted Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel into a cinematic masterpiece that earned four Academy Award wins, including Best Picture.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Jordan addresses his firm
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The Wolf of Wall Street has that signature Martin Scorsese style, but with Leonard DiCaprio at the helm, the movie tends to feel like a quintessential work for the famed director. Retelling the true story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who rises to Wall Street’s big leagues before engaging in fraud, The Wolf of Wall Street is a high-energy black comedy that sees Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, and Kyle Chandler owning the screen every time they’re on it. There isn’t a dull moment as DiCaprio gives one of his best and most spirited performances of the 21st century.

5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Borat at the rodeo
Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

Sacha Baron Cohen put life and limb on the line with Borat, a mockumentary designed to highlight the shortcomings of the United States. As the titular character, Cohen poses as a Kazakhstan reporter who’s sent to America to film a documentary on its culture and society. Much of the film is unscripted as Borat interacts with average Americans, sings an Americanized version of the Kazakhstani national anthem at a rodeo, and causes general chaos along the way. Cohen does use the opportunity to embarrass the South a bit, a move that’s resulted in quite a bit of controversy, including lawsuits and defamation claims.

6. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)

The Bride and Bill's confrontation
Image Credit: Miramax Films.

While many film aficionados claim they prefer Kill Bill Vol 1, I hold firm in my opinion that Vol 2 is the superior of the two. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a cinematic masterpiece with brilliant performances, breathtaking action, and a gripping story. With its blend of genres, primarily inspired by Japanese samurai films, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a unique and unforgettable film that pushes the boundaries of cinema.

7. Parasite (2019)

A bloodied rag after a confrontation
Image Credit: CJ Entertainment.

Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is a cinematic triumph that combines humor, suspense, and social commentary in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. With its powerful themes and expertly crafted plot, Parasite is a film that resonates long after the credits roll. It was the first foreign language film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020.

8. Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can
Image Credit: Dreamworks.

Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can is a film that dazzles with its stylish visuals, top-notch performances, and thrilling story. The movie follows the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a con man who successfully impersonated a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, all before the age of 21. This is a classic in Spielberg's filmography, earning the praise it's received over the years.

9. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight Movie (2008)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies of all time, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is a dark and intense film that explores the line between good and evil. With its iconic performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight is a film that has had a lasting impact on cinema. It's still an industry scandal that it was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars the following year. Nevertheless, it did go on to score 178 nominations and 107 wins across global award ceremonies.

10. Ex Machina (2014)

Ava the android looks on
Image Credit: Universal Studios International.

A haunting sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina is a film that challenges our beliefs about artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness. With its stunning visuals, eerie soundtrack, and powerful performances, Ex Machina is a film that stays with you long after the credits roll. Alex Garland's work is revered as the greatest cinematic achievement to tackle the complex subject of A.I. since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

11. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Officer K inspecting his hands.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

A stunning sequel to the classic Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is a film whose breathtaking cyberpunk visuals and masterful storytelling explores what it means to be human and examines the impact of technology on society. This Denis Villeneuve film is both timely and timeless. With remarkable performances from its cast and a beautiful screenplay, many argue this film is even better than its predecessor.

12. Before Midnight (2013)

Jesse and Celine have a conversation
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

The final installment in Richard Linklater's Before trilogy, Before Midnight is a film that delves deep into the complexities of long-term relationships. With its raw, honest portrayal of the challenges faced by a couple who have been together for over two decades, Before Midnight is a film that resonates with anyone who has ever loved and lost. With its beautiful scenery, naturalistic dialogue, and stunning performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight is a film that leaves a lasting impression on the heart and soul.

13. The Witch (2015)

Thomasin looks panicked
Image Credit: A24.

A chilling horror film that immerses viewers in the world of 17th-century New England, The Witch is a film that is both terrifying and thought-provoking. With its powerful themes of isolation, religious fanaticism, and family dynamics, The Witch is haunting and unforgettable. At the age of just 18 years old, this film launched Anya Taylor Joy's career and solidified her as a promising actress and potential scream queen.

14. Us (2019)

The alternate Wilson family.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Jordan Peele's Us is a horror film that explores the duality of human nature and the impact of childhood trauma on our adult selves. Us is a thought-provoking film that challenges the audience to examine the darker aspects of society and human nature. The film explores themes of identity, trauma, and societal inequality, and is filled with symbolism and hidden messages that are open to interpretation. It is a perfect example of how horror films can be both terrifying and insightful at the same time.

15. Minority Report (2002)

Tom Cruise Minority Report
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

A sci-fi thriller directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, and Samantha Morton that explores the impact of technology on crime prevention, Minority Report is a film that is both thought-provoking and action-packed. Set in the year 2054, the movie portrays a future where crime has been eradicated due to the invention of a technology called “Precrime.”

Precrime uses three psychics, known as “pre-cogs,” to predict future murders and allows the police to arrest the would-be killers before the crime is committed. Tom Cruise delivers a captivating performance as Anderton, a man who has devoted his life to the Precrime system and must now question everything he believed to be true.

Colin Farrell also delivers a strong performance as Danny Witwer, an FBI agent tasked with auditing the Precrime system, who becomes Anderton's adversary. The film's premise is thought-provoking as we encounter the ethical repercussions of an increasingly technologically advanced society.

Source: Reddit

Author: Jaimee Marshall

Title: Freelance Writer

Expertise: Politics, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Pop Culture

Bio:

Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.