20 Great Movies Celebrating 20 Years in 2023

Every year the movies produced vary in quantity and quality. Some years offer a few beautiful movies, while others give us an abundance of such. One such case in point would be 1939, which many consider the most remarkable year in cinema history because of movies like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz alone.

While I'm not here to argue with that, there are other years that, at the very least, come close to rivaling such feats. 2003 was just such a year, with many exceptional films released that are still beloved and revered today. From epic adventures,

Christmas films, fluffy romantic comedies, and grounded dramas, let's take a look at these 20 films (plus a few honorable mentions), in alphabetical order, that are celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2023.

Big Fish

big fish
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures, Inc.

One of Tim Burton's most light-hearted, and beautifully whimsical films, Big Fish is about believing in the impossible and the power of love and storytelling. This story revolves around old and ailing Ed Bloom, who tells his skeptical son great tales of his younger days involving witches, giants, enormous fish, and most importantly, the love of his life, his wife, Sandra.

As we hear of these tall tales, his son cannot bring himself to believe his father entirely. But in the end, whether these grand adventures are true, false, or somewhere in between, what matters is belief in something can make it real. Faith and determination are timeless themes, and Big Fish has that quality in abundance.

The most idyllic and romantic of all of Burton's films, Big Fish has a sweet whimsy and, in the end, a very moving central heartbeat that will elicit tears from many. And as you see with almost every film on this list, Big Fish feels just as fresh and relevant 20 years later.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Down With Love

down with love
Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox and Doug Kirkland

Colorful, creative, and even a bit zany, Down With Love is an homage to 1960 comedies where traditional gender roles and romance were challenged and changed. At that time, women began finding a new voice, and films began to reflect that without completely reversing or going against the norm.

In the 60s, these films starred Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and others. In Down With Love, Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger, David Hyde Pierce, and Sarah Paulson easily slip into their roles.

The premise involves the notorious “man’s man, lady’s man, man about town,” Catcher Block, trying to prove that the author of the best-selling book Down With Love, Barbara Novak, is just like every other woman. He dons a Clark Kent-esque disguise and southern accent to woo the author. But things, of course, get very complicated.

Underappreciated 20 years ago, Down With Love is still an under-the-radar film but has earned a cult following for those who appreciate its clever nods to films of the past with a fresh and funny modern twist. It's a candy-colored delight that will continue to find new viewers as the years go by.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Elf

Elf
Image Credit: Warner Home Video

These days Jon Favreau is known for directing the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and great Star Wars successes like The Mandalorian. But in 2003, Favreau found his first significant success as a director with the sweet, hilarious, and fanciful Christmas tale Elf.

The Story of Buddy the Elf, a man raised by Elves who travels to New York City to connect with his birth father, is both wholesome and sharp. Thanks to the performance of Will Ferrell as Buddy, who gives the character such sweet and childlike earnestness and enthusiasm, the film retains a heartwarming appeal.

But because the characters surrounding him are more cynical and grounded, it gives the film its authenticity despite its whimsical nature. And the contrast between the Rankin and Bass inspired North Pole, and jaded New York is inspired. Elf has not aged a day and, and, like another film we shall get to on this list, has become a modern-day Christmas classic.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Finding Nemo

finding nemo
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

The fifth film from Pixar Animation Studios is still one of their greatest and one of my favorites. Since its inception, Pixar has led the way in state-of-the-art technology, computer animation quality, exceptional storytelling, and characters that ingratiate themselves into our heats and the cultural zeitgeist.

Despite being one of the earliest films, the animation in Finding Nemo still holds up today and remains a glorious example of artistry. The underwater scenes are brimming with color and realistic movement, while the character designs are distinct. Moreover, the story of the fearful clownfish father Marlin, who travels the ocean to find his son Nemo and meets the sweet but forgetful fish Dory, is heartwarming and hilarious.

Not many films can create a motto that is both inspiring and everlasting, but Finding Nemo’s mantra to “just keep swimming” is timeless and has an impact that is as deep as the ocean.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Disney+, and rent VOD)

Freaky Friday

freaky friday
Image Credit: Walt Disney Productions

Very rarely do remakes surpass the original, but Freaky Friday undeniably does. While it feels like a 2000s-era movie with its music, style, and tone, that is part of the charm. The other part is the performances by Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. The two play mother and daughter, who inexplicably swap bodies after proclaiming how neither one understands the other.

Changing places is an ideal scenario for comedy, and Curtis especially channels a teenager keenly and hilariously so. Moreover, the film resonates with anyone who feels misunderstood no matter their age, making the reconciliation between mother and daughter surprisingly moving.

Freaky Friday may feel quintessentially 2000s, but that doesn't mean it's not still likable in 2023.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Disney+, and rent VOD)

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

how to lose a guy in 10 days 1
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures and Michael Gibson

Some call this light-hearted, while others find it mean-spirited. But I find How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which has become a quintessential 2000s rom-com, is well-intentioned, fluffy, self-aware fun. The premise could only exist in its genre, which is part of its appeal.

Journalist Andie Anderson works at Composure Magazine and wants to write on more heavy-hitting subject matter than makeup and lifestyle. Her editor will give her a chance if she writes an article on “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”

But the guy in question has made a bet with the promise of promotion at his advertising firm that he can make any woman fall in love with him in 10 days.

The opposing objectives make for some highly amusing scenarios, and stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey have fantastic comedic and romantic chemistry. They both shine in their respective roles, as do the supporting cast, including Kathryn Hahn, Bebe Neuwirth, and Robert Klein.

Despite being 20 years old, this film does not feel dated in its feel, style, and depiction of dating woes. This is a frothy and madcap rom-com at its funniest.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Paramount+ and Netflix, and rent VOD)

The Italian Job

the italian job
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Who doesn't love an exciting caper film with stunning locations and an all-star cast? While The Italian Job may not have the popularity of movies like Ocean's 11, it still is a fun and fast-paced film. The story centers on a group of thieves who are betrayed by one of their own and left for dead.

When they miraculously survive, they plan an intricate heist that also serves as revenge on their former partner.

Of all the films here, this one is probably the most dated in some of its humor and inclusion of Mini Cooper cars that were all the rage at the time. However, these don't detract from any true enjoyment as the film is still great fun with an incredibly satisfying ending.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Paramount+, and rent VOD)

Kill Bill Vol. 1

kill bill vol 1
Image Credit: Miramax Films

One of Quentin Tarantino’s best is the first installment in this trilogy that stars Uma Thurman. She plays “The Bride,” a woman who decides to leave her life as a member of a Deadly Assassin squad when she discovers she's pregnant. After finding happiness and peace with another man, her former lover, Bill, and former fellow assassins track her down and kill her husband-to-be.

When she awakens four years later from a coma with her baby seemingly killed as well, thus begins her journey of revenge against those who destroyed her life.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is arguably the best of the series and features Tarantino's usual style of graphically artistic and stylized violence. The fight sequences have become legendary, particularly between Thurman and co-star Lucy Liu. And the color scheme gives the film a very pop art aesthetic that is creative and visually interesting.

For Tarantino's fans, especially, this one still ranks very high.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

lord of the rings the return of the king
Image Credit: New Line Cinema

The breathtaking, captivating, and stunning conclusion to the epic trilogy is still one of the greatest cinematic achievements. Peter Jackson's adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s novels are unparalleled in terms of production. In this final installment, the different groups of the fellowship that split up in the first film continue on their journeys to Mordor.

From epic battle scenes to quiet moments of love, despair, and hope, The Return of the King is a brilliant and utterly moving film.

Although many may jest about the multiple endings this film possesses, these much-earned scenes are beautiful and bring each character their well-deserved conclusions, made more emotional by the outstanding performances and direction and gorgeous and moving score by Howard Shore.

The Return of King holds the record for most wins at the Oscars, winning 11. Although the movie tied for the most wins with Titanic and Ben Hur, it holds the distinction of winning every Oscar it was nominated for. Twenty years later, this film feels ageless.

While that is in part to the fantasy setting, the themes of fortitude, courage, love, and friendship, as well as the overall quality of the production and special effects, make The Return of the King still one of the best movies ever.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Prime Video and HBO Max, and rent VOD)

The Last Samurai

the last samurai
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.

This captivating film is one of the most unique for Tom Cruise‘s career. While he's made many action films, none quite have the visual scope and beauty as The Last Samurai. In the movie, Cruise plays a Civil War veteran who works as an advisor and is hired to train the Japanese military in new, Western ways and eradicate the “ancient” practices of samurai warriors.

But when he is captured, the real battle is within his heart and mind.

The Last Samurai is a fascinating story with intricate and authentic production design. This is an intelligent film, and while it is an epic adventure, the quiet moments and themes of loyalty and compassion are the true standouts. Like many others on this list, this film remains a grand, entertaining one that has aged very well.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Lost in Translation

lost in translation
Image Credit: Focus Features

Loneliness, isolation, sadness, existential fear, love, and friendship are themes that are beautifully and effectively demonstrated in Sofia Coppola's film, which stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The story is simple. Murray is an aging actor going through a mid-life crisis, shooting alcohol commercials in Japan.

Johansson is the young wife of a photographer so busy with work that she's often left to her own devices. One evening the pair strike up a conversation at the hotel bar, and almost immediately, the two form an unlikely and primarily platonic friendship.

This film still resonates 20 years later, thanks to the performances and poignant themes. It's a quiet, reflective film that contrasts the serenity with the loudness in Japan's various landscapes. This juxtaposition gives Lost in Translation an intoxicating and often calming feel.

Moreover, its themes of loneliness and more enrich the film. Lost in Translation is about the need for human connection on more than a superficial level. At the same time, its setting is a metaphor for how we can feel isolated, even among many. For these reasons, Lost in Translation has evergreen appeal and effectiveness.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Love Actually

love actually
Image Credit: Universal Studios and Peter Mountain

Writer/Director Richard Curtis is more than adept at creating memorable and well-loved British romantic comedies being the writer and sometimes director of such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, About Time, and Bridget Jones's Diary. But Love Actually is on another level as far as cultural impact.

If you can create a Christmas film that touches the hearts of many, you will create a classic film. And that is precisely what Love Actually is: a modern Christmas classic.

Following the intertwining lives of Londoners a month before Christmas, we see all the joys and pangs of love in many forms, from young, unrequited, and passionate affection to heartbreak and despair.

What makes this film still such a treasure are the stories that remain relatable, the terrific writing by Curtis, and the engaging performances by the likes of Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Billy Nighy, Laura Linney, and Keira Knightley. Although some storylines may not have aged well by some standards, Love Actually remains a fantastic and heartfelt romantic comedy.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Prime Video, and rent VOD)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

master and commander
Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Universal Studios

Much praised at the time but somewhat forgotten over the past 20 years, Master and Commander is one that still should be highly revered. Based on the historical novel by Patrick O'Brien, this film follows the crew of the ship H.M.S. Surprise, a British ship ordered to find and destroy a French privateer ship during the Napoleonic Wars.

We follow the brave Captain Aubrey (Russell Crowe), the ship's doctor (Paul Bettany), and the loyal seamen as they are faced with imminent dangers on this treacherous voyage.

Master and Commander is, for lack of a better word, masterful in its storytelling, production design, direction, and performances. The story and atmosphere are gripping and evocative, whether it is a battle scene or quieter moments of introspection.

Although it's not as well remembered as other films on this list, Master and Commander is the type of film that was commonplace 20 years ago. Its historical setting and lesser-known source material make it less likely to be made today, but films as rich as this one still should be.

(Available on DVD, to stream on HBO Max and Spectrum, and rent VOD)

Mystic River

mystic river
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

A gripping, dark, and chilling drama, Mystic River may not be discussed as much today, but it should be because its quality cannot be understated. This film was lauded with praise and award nominations in 2003.

These include praise for director Clint Eastwood and the fine ensemble cast that includes Best Actor and Best Supporting actor Oscar winners that year, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, as well as Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Emmy Rossum.

The subject matter may be challenging to watch for some, but the intense story draws you in instantly. The film begins with three young boys, one of which is kidnapped by men posing as police officers. He suffers abuse before escaping, but this event causes a ripple effect that has consequences for them all.

And in the present day, those lasting effects are seen in the murder of one of their daughters.

The acting and direction in Mystic River are superb. The dark atmosphere and the unnerving and often shocking storyline are riveting and heart-wrenching and show us that dangers lurk everywhere, how our choices matter greatly, and that untreated trauma can have overreaching and devastating circumstances.

This film, which was remarkably shot in only 39 days, is drama at its finest.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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Image Credit: © 2003 – Buena Vista Pictures

2003 saw the return of epic swashbuckling adventure movies with the original and still the best installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Based on the Disney Parks attraction, the filmmakers did an incredible job using the ride as inspiration, incorporating many Easter eggs fans had fun looking for.

But this was not just a carbon copy of the attraction; the film creates an original story filled with adventure, fun, and unforgettable characters.

No one would deny that 20 years later, the Pirates films, especially The Curse of the Black Pearl, are still revered.

Moreover, for the film's three leads, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, this film solidified 2003 as a significant year for them: Bloom was two heroic figures in both Pearl and The Return of the King, both huge box office successes, Knightley as both a Disney heroine and rom-com star in Love Actually, and Depp in creating a remarkably unique character in Captain Jack Sparrow.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Disney+, and rent VOD)

Runaway Jury

runaway jury
Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Dramatic thrillers with stellar ensemble casts sometimes feel like a thing of the past. But when examining the films celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, Runaway Jury should be a blueprint if attempting to make a movie of this sort today.

The story is riveting, centering on the careful selection of jury members for a high-profile trial against a firearms manufacturer following a shooting at an office. Exposing corruption and the nuances of the justice system and all the twists and dynamic performances make it a captivating watch. It's no wonder it is.

The talented cast includes Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, and Rachel Weisz. The subject matter is still highly relevant, and the storytelling style is still thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking.

(Available on DVD, to stream on STARZ and Spectrum,  and rent VOD)

Seabiscuit

seabiscuit
Image Credit: Universal Pictures and Dreamworks LLC.

You hear the term “Cinderella” story concerning sports many times, and Seabiscuit more than qualifies. During the Great Depression, times were lean, and spirits were low, so people sought hope and inspiration in many places. And in horse racing, it is more than just the animal that leads to victory. It takes a village, and the story of Seabiscuit is no different.

An enthralling, lovely, and riveting tale, Seabiscuit tells the true story of one of the finest racehorses ever and the people surrounding this spectacular steed.

Owners, trainers, and jockeys alike all contribute. In the case of Seabiscuit, it truly is an against-all-odds story. He is a horse that is smaller and thought unfit for racing. But this story proves that when you believe, anything is possible. This movie may be set during the Great Depression and be 20 years old, but these themes still resonate today.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Netflix, Paramount+ and PlutoTV, and rent VOD)

School of Rock

school of rock
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures and Andrew Schwartz

This comedy, which stars Jack Black, Joan Cusack, and Sarah Silverman, is genuinely hilarious, heartfelt, and original. Black is a musician himself and one half of the band Tenacious D, which is the perfect word to describe Black and his character.

In the film, Black plays a man who is forced out of his band and completely broke, on the verge of being kicked out by his roommate. Out of desperation, he poses as his roommate, acting as a substitute teacher at a private school.

When he discovers the kids take music, he hatches a plan to teach them to play well enough to compete in the “Battle of the Bands” contest. But everyone learns essential lessons about believing in themselves, honesty, and courage.

This film is so entertaining and does not feel 20 years old in the least. The humor remains sharp and sweet, with Black giving a fearless and funny performance and the kids being cute, heartwarming, and not cloying. Learning the school of rock was never more fun and lively.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

Secondhand Lions

secondhand lions
Image Credit: New Line Cinema

A love of adventure, the importance of storytelling, and the desire for love, both romantic and familial, are multi-generational and timeless themes. And in Secondhand Lions, these are ever apparent and beautifully expressed. In the coming-of-age film, a young boy named Walter is sent to stay with his seemingly wealthy and outwardly eccentric uncles in Texas.

His neglectful mother tells him to search for their money, but he wants to feel loved and have a sense of belonging at a trying time in his life.

As the months pass, Walter is told amazing stories about his uncles' lives when they were younger, learning important life lessons. But in turn, Walter helps these men open their hearts again after isolating themselves for years.

Secondhand Lions is another film on the list that hasn't aged that much. This is thanks to its period setting and evergreen and heartwarming moments. It's an underrated and less-remembered film that many consider a classic.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Tubi, and rent VOD)

Something’s Gotta Give

somethings gotta give
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Writer/director Nancy Meyers carved out a niche for herself in the 2000s with a specific type of romantic comedy. Something’s Gotta Give is just such a film with a terrific cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, and Frances McDormand.

In the movie, Nicholson is a notorious consummate bachelor named Harry, who begins dating a much younger woman (Peet) who turns out to be the daughter of Keaton's playwright character Erica. After an embarrassing encounter and a heart attack, Harry recuperates in Erica's seaside home, where the two grow close.

Something's Gotta Give proved to be a commercial and critical success thanks to its delightful and ever-relatable characters. This film also proves that not every rom-com needs to center around young characters to succeed.

The films from Meyers are known for beautiful homes in stunning locations and top-notch ensemble casts, which Something's Gotta Give embodies perfectly. It may not have the same cultural reach and impact as her Christmas flick The Holiday, but it's still well-loved today.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Pop, and rent VOD)

Honorable Mentions:

cold mountain
Image Credit: Miramax Films

– Cold Mountain

This beautifully filmed and performed Civil War set film is sometimes captivating, if somewhat depressing. Still, the production is exceptional. It was highly regarded at the time, garnering multiple Oscar nominations and a win for Renée Zellweger for Best Supporting Actress.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Paramount+ and Pluto TV, and rent VOD)

– Girl With a Pearl Earring

As visually breathtaking as the painting that inspired this film, Girl With A Pearl Earring is loosely based on the model of the classic Vermeer portrait. Rich and lovely but also severe and somber, the cinematography and colors are muted and dim, reflecting the real-life painting.

The performances by Scarlet Johansson and Colin Firth are exceptional, and the story is captivating.

(Available on DVD, to stream on Cinemax and Spectrum, and rent VOD)

– Mona Lisa Smile

This film is a poignant drama that every woman should watch at least once. It centers on an art teacher at an all-girls school in the 1950s who does her best to inspire her students that they are more than just pretty faces meant to lead simple, domestic lives. She wants them to realize their self-worth and that they have strong minds.

But she also learns something in return. The superb ensemble cast includes Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Marcia Gay Harden, Topher Grace, and Dominic West.

(Available on DVD, to stream on HBO Max, Spectrum, and Cinemax, and rent VOD)

– Peter Pan

This gorgeous and moving take on the classic children's story by J.M Barrie may not be the only version of the story, but it's one of the most faithful.

We all know the story: the Darling children travel to Neverland with the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan, having adventures with the Lost Boys and mermaids and battling the treacherous Captain Hook. Keeping with tradition, the stand our performance is that of Jason Isaacs, who plays Captain Hook and the father of the Darling children.

Visually stunning and thematically enriching, this film will make you believe in fairies.

(Available on DVD and to rent VOD)

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video