Cinema came a long way in its first century. A hundred years after 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang became the first ever feature-length movie, the noughties yielded a bounty of wildly different and wildly imaginative films. The world – and the movie industry as a result – spent much of the decade in the shadow of a tragic event in September 2001, which changed our lives and our culture forever.
Suddenly, paranoia was the order of the day, whether in the form of tense, dark thrillers or horror movies foregrounding real-world terror and torture instead of supernatural beasties. But it wasn’t all darkness, with a selection of animation studios innovating as one to usher in a new golden age for the genre, and Hollywood delivering comedies at a rate of knots.
These are the best movies of that decade, marking the sublime and the ridiculous of the 2000s in cinema – as well as everything in between. Prepare to be shocked, amused and amazed. There are some animated chickens as well, because why on Earth shouldn’t there be?
What are the best 2000s movies?
- Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- Chicken Run
- School of Rock
- The Descent
- This is England
- In the Loop
- Pan’s Labyrinth
Some movies are unavoidable for burgeoning cinephiles – a rite of passage. You can’t swing a virtual cat in the world of Film Twitter without it hitting a tweet extolling the virtues of Park Chan-wook’s unhinged take on revenge. Choi Min-sik portrays a drunk businessman, who is mysteriously kidnapped and then even more mysteriously released 15 years later.
What follows is a consistently surprising investigation as Choi’s character attempts to decipher who was responsible for ensnaring him, while he also bonds romantically with a young woman played by Kang Hye-jung. Come for the octopus eating and hallway hammer action sequence, but stay for the mind-bending craziness of the third act.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) / HOT FUZZ (2007)
It’s impossible to split Edgar Wright’s two movies of the noughties – the British comedy classics, which showed he could do it on the big screen as well as on Channel 4 with sitcom Spaced. The first two entries of the Cornetto Trilogy were genre homages shot through with love and affection for the history of movies, as well as instantly memorable characters, and some of the most quotable dialogue in modern cinema.
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The two movies are different beasts in a lot of ways. Shaun of the Dead focuses on a zombie outbreak in suburbia, while Hot Fuzz brings the spectacle of buddy cop action to a sleepy Gloucestershire village. Spaced actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver terrific performances in both films, proving that their union with Wright brings the best out of them both. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)
Has there ever been a more Tim Burton movie than Sweeney Todd? It’s an enormous, gothic musical in which Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter share a twisted romance in Victorian London while singing about chopping people up and putting them into pies. Basically, the only colours in the movie are red and what Lego Batman would almost certainly call “black – and sometimes, very, very dark grey”.
But by going fully unchained, Burton delivers his gore-drenched masterpiece. It’s an unashamed ode to camp, adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical with sinister delight. When was the last time you saw a movie this big, high-budget and epic that also featured bucketloads of arterial splatter?
CHICKEN RUN (2000)
Some of Pixar’s best movies came out in the noughties, from Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc to Wall-E, while rival studio DreamWorks was delivering the likes of Shrek, Madagascar and – hey, I was 10-years-old and enjoyed it – Shark Tale. But none of those films were the best-animated adventure of the noughties. That would be from a British studio – albeit with distribution and financing assistance from DreamWorks – telling a story about imprisoned poultry birds.
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Chicken Run follows a farm full of hens desperate to escape the clutches of Mrs Tweedy, who is changing her farm’s emphasis from egg production to beheading her chickens to make pies. Less brutal than Sweeney Todd, but only marginally. It’s a stone-cold classic with a great ensemble of British acting stalwarts and the terrific Aardman humour at its heart. Roll on that long-delayed sequel, Netflix.
SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)
Sometimes movies need to have a deep, meaningful theme. Sometimes they need to push the boundaries of the cinematic medium. Sometimes, though, the sheer comedic energy of Jack Black is more than enough. Richard Linklater’s 2003 comedy School of Rock features Black as the rock n roll slacker Dewey Finn, who replaces his incredibly square flatmate for a substitute teacher gig at a hoity-toity prep school.
Dewey lights a musical fire under the butts of some of the students, and it all culminates in one of the best rock performances in a mainstream movie since Michael J. Fox introduced his dad’s prom to Johnny B. Goode. In a comedy era dominated by the gross-out stylings of Judd Apatow, there was something pleasantly wholesome about it. Not only does this film catch lightning in a bottle, it captures sheer, unadulterated joy.
THE DESCENT (2005)
Before Neil Marshall took the helm of some of the best episodes of Game of Thrones and the worst Hellboy movie, he made The Descent. One of the scariest films of the 21st century, it sends a group of women on a disastrous spelunking exhibition.
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Even before a group of cave-dwelling monsters descends upon them, the intensity of the scenario and the simmering tensions between the characters have ratcheted the tension to almost unbearable levels. Marshall delivers the jumps and jolts horror fans had come to expect by this point, but he equally ensures that the fear factor is grounded as much in character as it is in genre tropes.
THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)
Shane Meadows was always going to get a spot on this list, with Paddy Considine-led thriller Dead Man’s Shoes a real contender. But it’s the 1980s-set racism drama This is England that sits as Meadows’ best work. It depicts a teenage boy’s bond with a skinhead group, which is cleaved in two when a former member of the gang emerges from prison with an extreme anti-immigrant ideology.
Stephen Graham is chilling, manipulative, and shockingly charismatic as the violent Combo – scarier than any slasher villain in the visceral final scenes. He’s surrounded by a naturalistic ensemble who each disappear into characters rounded out far beyond caricatures. It’s no coincidence that this movie spawned three exceptional TV series over the following decade, with different characters from the original story taking centre stage. It’s that good.
IN THE LOOP (2009)
The Thick of It is one of the greatest sitcoms of the noughties and has become a staple for how we discuss the increasingly bonkers politics of the UK. In 2009, creator Armando Iannucci shifted the show’s ensemble cast into different roles – with the exception, of course, of Peter Capaldi’s sweary spin doctor Malcolm Tucker – for this Transatlantic big-screen tale inspired by the invasion of Iraq.
The story positions one of Iannucci’s trademark hapless government ministers, played by Tom Hollander, as an inadvertent cheerleader for a potentially imminent conflict in the Middle East. This puts him at the heart of intense political wrangling, which is difficult to follow but is pushed along with energy and vigour by foul-mouthed and acidic dialogue. Politics has seldom been more fun.
PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
At a dark time in history, and with global politics at its most febrile, Pan’s Labyrinth had perfect thematic resonance. It follows a young girl whose stepfather is a loyal footsoldier of Spain’s fascist regime, opting to escape into a supernatural world – which may or may not be real – under the stewardship of a morally questionable faun. The young Ofelia squares off against terrifically realised creatures, including a tree-dwelling toad and the horrifying Pale Man.
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It’s a simply beautiful movie, which marks the crowning achievement of director Guillermo del Toro. His humanist ethos and affection for that which is perceived to be “monstrous” shines through beautifully in a bold, complex fairy tale of delicious escapism.
Bleak, meditative dramas were the order of the day in 2007, with the Oscar-dominating double bill of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood each major contenders for this list. The best of the bunch, though, is David Fincher’s epic true-crime tale Zodiac. It features Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal as reporters on the trail of the titular serial killer, with Mark Ruffalo as a police detective on the case.
Fincher’s icy, perfectionist style is the perfect fit for this story, helped by great performers at the peak of their powers. While other filmmakers might have baulked at the inherently unsatisfying conclusion to the story, Fincher thrives amid the moral murk to deliver one of the decade’s best thrillers.
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