Top 10 Films of the Decade

(In order of release)

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett , Andy Serkis
Directed by Peter Jackson
Why It Makes the List: Tolkien himself once called his books “un-filmable.” Admittedly, he may not have foreseen the revolutions in technology that lay ahead, but he was thankfully proven wrong. With an unprecedented production schedule of shooting all three films simultaneously in 1999-2000, Peter Jackson brought to life the most beloved fictional novels of all-time. In keeping true to the spirit of Tolkien, Jackson’s faithful adaptations translated the heart, depth and scale of the story in a fashion that redefined modern cinema and re-wrote the book of what fantasies, adventures and epics could be. Every detail of the world was scrutinized and every line honorable to the intent of Tolkien. With its universal appeal, revolutionary filmmaking techniques and a record 11 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay) for the final installment alone, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an unchallenged cinematic achievement of not just this past decade, but of all-time.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Ed Harris
Directed by Ron Howard
Why It Makes the List: Howard (Apollo 13, Da Vinci Code) achieved what may be his career milestone with this 2001 drama about real-life mathematician and economist John Nash and his struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. Winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by Michel Gondry
Why It Makes the List: Using elements of science fiction, comedy and nonlinear narration, filmmaker Michel Gondry and co-writer Charlie Kaufman crafted one of the most memorable love stories of all-time. Carrey and Winslet’s performances were widely lauded and each received numerous awards and nominations around the world. The film itself won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina
Directed by Sam Raimi
Why It Makes the List: The first film was an enormous success but director Sam Raimi provided the first new blueprint of comic book adaptations by injecting pathos and complexity into the beloved characters with just as much relevance as the brilliant set pieces that drive the film’s climax.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid
Directed by George Lucas
Why It Makes the List: Despite the mixed reception of the first two Star Wars prequels, Lucas closed out his beloved saga with a dramatic and emotional depiction of perhaps the most anticipated moment in film history: Anakin’s final transformation into Darth Vader. Though still having its fair share of weak dialogue, Sith proved to be the best directorial effort of Lucas’s career.

The Departed (2006)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Why It Makes the List: It had been over a decade since Scorsese’s last mob film (Goodfellas) but his remake proved to be an insurmountably epic crime tragedy. From Leo’s strung-out undercover cop to Nicholson’s powerful mob boss to Wahlberg’s hilariously brash supporting turn, the acting was as genuine as the script’s and Scorsese’s faithfulness to the streets and culture of Boston itself. The film won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Scorsese’s first) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Casino Royale (2006)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by Martin Campbell
Why It Makes the List: Director Martin Campbell had previously reinvigorated the Bond franchise with 1995’s GoldenEye and was called upon to do so again following the cheesy black hole that the last few films had fallen into. This time, he was tasked with rebooting the entire franchise and succeeded with flying colors. Thanks to a newfound gritty realism, a raw and emotionally-charged script, and Craig’s unbridled understanding of the character in his debut turn, Casino Royale was one of the best reviewed films of 2006 and took the franchise to an entirely new level.

Knocked Up (2007)
Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
Directed by Judd Apatow
Why It Makes the List: Apatow can almost solely be credited for the revival of adult comedies with films that actually don’t insult the intelligence of audiences. Calling upon his cast of protégés once again and with an original story written by Apatow himself, Knocked Up proved that comedy is just as much about character and heart as it about gut-busting hilarity. The film was met with enormously positive reception and will be a standard of the comedy genre for years to come.

Heather Ledger as the Joker

Heather Ledger as the Joker

The Dark Knight (2008)
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Why It Makes the List: Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with 2005’s Batman Begins, another of the great films of this past decade, but his singular vision with The Dark Knight set an entirely new bar of what comic adaptations could be when in the hands of a filmmaker that understands the characters. Ledger’s turn as The Joker was one of the best performances in film history and he was deservingly awarded, posthumously, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a first for the genre.

Star Trek (2009)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Leonard Nimoy
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Why It Makes the List: After a box office flop and a cancelled television series, the franchise appeared to be on its deathbed in 2005. Abrams stepped in to reboot the franchise, however, and brought with him the talent necessary not only to bring back the fans but extend the appeal into the mainstream. 2009’s Star Trek was one of the year’s best reviewed films and also one of the best reviewed sci-fi movies in history. Abrams successfully combined the spirit of Kirk, Spock and the entire original crew with a modern day blockbuster-scale film that erased every stigma associated with the franchise. It’s not only cool to enjoy Star Trek now, but it’s one of the most fun and energetic films to hit the silver screen in years.

Honorable Mentions:
There Will Be Blood
American Psycho
Inglourious Basterds
Pirates of the Caribbean


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  • Jason Johnson

    No personal offense to Shawn Robbins, but this list is horrible.

    Knocked UP?
    Star Trek?
    Spider Man 2?
    Revenge of the Sith????
    (Revenge of the Sith wished it could be mediocre.)

    What about:

    City of God (Easily the best movie of the decade.)
    Michael Clayton
    Gone Baby Gone
    Mystic River
    No Country For Old Men
    Good Night and Good Luck
    About Schmidt
    You Can Count On Me
    21 Grams
    Brokeback Mountain

  • Stewart

    Is this suppose to be serious?

  • Bracken Mayo

    What about Kill Bill???

    And possibly my favorite of the decade – Oh Brother Where Art Thou. Now that I think about it, I probably should have included its soundtrack on my Top Albums list.

    Other notable ones –
    Donnie Darko

    Jason, I really liked the way Traffic was made.
    Good call

    Two others on my “to see” list I’ve heard good things about –
    No Country for Old Men
    Pan’s Labyrinth

    It’s weird, but should probably be included in the conversation – Mulholland Drive

    I totally agree with Lord of the Rings, but I don’t know about Knocked Up . . .
    If we’re talking funny, how about:

    Team America: World Police
    Bad Santa

    The editor’s two cents.

  • Shawn Robbins

    Thanks for the feedback, guys.

    I did strongly consider a few of those films but I wanted to compile a list that offered a bit different perspective. While I personally loved films like Mystic River, Traffic, and Michael Clayton, they just didn’t fit the criteria. The awards-bait films get plenty of recognition from film circles and are rarely remembered 10 years after the fact.

    I could easily make a list that favors those films much more and approaches it from a strictly technical point of view, but that wasn’t the goal of this particular one. I structured the list around a criteria combination of entertainment, critical praise, commercial (audience) success, and significant contributions to pop culture. Using that criteria, most of the Oscar-bait films were fast eliminated.

  • Jason Johnson

    “The awards-bait films get plenty of recognition from film circles and are rarely remembered 10 years after the fact.”

    Always great to use that in your criteria. No one will remember it so it can’t be good. Who’s forgetting about great movies aside from people who don’t care about movies? And if a list of good moives is considered awards bait, then does a list of flashpan films get to be called “money-bait”?

  • Shawn Robbins

    “Always great to use that in your criteria. No one will remember it so it can’t be good. Who’s forgetting about great movies aside from people who don’t care about movies?”

    I never said anything about it not being good if people don’t remember it. In fact, I did specifically say that I loved several of those films and they would make the list under the right criteria. There’s no definitive “best” list…it’s all a matter of opinion.

    “And if a list of good moives is considered awards bait, then does a list of flashpan films get to be called “money-bait”?”

    If we were talking about Michael Bay or the Saw franchise, sure. But just because a film makes money doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of being remembered as among the best. Even then, all films are made to make money. The film industry is a business, first and foremost, from the eyes of the studios that release them…Oscar-bait, included. If filmmakers didn’t make money, they wouldn’t be making movies. The only reason we ever hear about half of the Oscar-bait films is because they have money behind them, not to mention politically-driven motives and voting sects like SAG.

    You’ll notice that every film in the list rated very highly with critics and not just audiences, even Star Wars. I’m not saying Oscar-bait films can’t be among the best. In fact, most of the films in the list were Oscar nominees…three of them being Best Picture winners.

    Film, like any art, is entirely subjective. That’s why I specifically list films that performed outstandingly across the board.

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