Popsickle's 20 Greatest Films of the 2000s


Contributors: Laura Culp, D. W. Hurt, Dempsey Kraft, Daniel J. Lay, Matthew D. Miller, Philip Tallman, and Emily Whelchel

The Popsickle team took a break from writing about the Significant Films of the 2000s to list what we thought were the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

20. Taken


I view Taken as Finding Nemo for adults. It portrays the love of a father who will stop at nothing to have his child back. Liam Neeson is what truly makes the movie. He shows how talented he really is in this film. Along with his acting and fighting abilities, he shows that his voice is well trained. After watching the film, one can’t help but say “I will find you” in their best Liam Neeson-like voice. Most of all, the film does a great job of reminding everyone that human trafficking is real, and not everyone’s dad comes to save them. This movie is fictional, but what happens in this movie is not. When watching this film, don’t ever forget that fact. —P.T.

19. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

How far would you go to save someone you love? What would you fight to have a loved one back? One clown fish proved that he would do whatever it takes. In a humorous way, this film shows the love of a father. The main storyline of this film is so simplistic, yet it is a brilliant film. Additionally, it is treat for the eyes to watch the clown fish brave the colorful ocean. It is a beautiful sight. Anyone who has ever experienced the deep love of a father will be reminded of it while watching this entertaining movie. —P.T.

18. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has opened the eyes of many to the life of a “slumdog,” a person of lower caste living in India. Hope is found through the eyes of the meek Jamal Malik when he makes it onto an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film contains many scenes that can only create horror and anger as it reveals frightening truths about child slavery and other severe content, but the message shows without fail that love overcomes all trials and that is what attracts many to this powerful film. —E.W.

17. Up


Pixar does what it does best, extolling the simple virtues in life against a backdrop of bright silliness. The real point of the story is the quiet, consistent people that love us and shape our lives and our duty to pass on that kind of kindness to others (even if they annoy us and disrupt our plans). Where this film really excels is telling the audience these things without ever saying a word. The montage sequences with only the score to guide the emotional rise and fall of the plot are stellar. —L.C.

16. Avatar


Avatar debuted when three-hour movies had become the norm—some carry an air of being an epic, some just drag out. However, Avatar stands out, because it is an original story. It’s not a reboot, adaptation, or part of an existing franchise. Avatar also sums up the spirit of the decade. It shows our growing interest in environmental concern. It reflects vulnerability to terrorism. The destruction of the Hometree carries the imagery we saw almost a decade earlier when the World Trade Towers came down. In a time when films are revisiting the nostalgia of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Avatar reminded us of what we saw in the first decade of the twenty-first century. —D.L.J.

15. Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite created a sensation that even its creators did not expect. The awkward choices in music and dress for the actors only complimented the blundering main character. The world created felt retro and yet very close to home. But perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the film’s surprise success was its quotability. The ridiculousness of the dialogue is funny completely out of context and so has made its way onto t-shirts, bumper stickers, socks, and every young person’s lexicon of randomness. But perhaps more subtly, the film knew what it was. It did not take itself too seriously. It chose its pace intentionally, its color schemes carefully, and took someone who was completely inept and made them graceful. The viewer might not say it, but they wonder, “If Napoleon can get up and dance like that, why can’t I?” —D.W.H.

14. Gladiator


After a lengthy absence of appropriate Roman period films, Gladiator appears on the scene and does not disappoint. Ridley Scott’s film bears real pain, real heroism, and a strong sense of justice—all while appealing to the modern taste for action and blood. The film contains all-star acting (thank you Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe), epic battle sequences, and the sense that cinema is still viable to communicate the deeper truths of life. —D.W.H.

13. The Incredibles

The Incredibles

Among a group of highly talented filmmakers (there are four Pixar films on this list!), writer-directory Brad Bird outshines the rest. In my opinion, the two films he wrote and directed, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, are the two best films Pixar has produced. The Incredibles was not only a fantastic animated film but a superb superhero film too. Although they had superpowers, both children and adults could relate to the troubles the characters experienced. —M.D.M.

12. Serenity


About a decade ago there was a short-lived television series that got abysmal ratings, aired for only eleven non-consecutive episodes, and partook in improbable genre mixing (Chinese Western! In space!). This sounds like a lost piece of obscure trivia except for the fact that it went on to garner so much attention that Universal Studios made a feature film based on it. Why? Because it was that awesome. —L.C.

11. Identity


An updated and more labyrinthine take on the classic Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians structure. A film for those of us who lament that horror films have become gory and plotless things and wonder why we can’t have more Hitchcockesque suspense. The final twist is what most films fail in, but this one gets right. It makes perfect sense within the constraints of what we know about the characters and yet is still hard to see coming for first time viewers. —L.C.

10. Juno


Director Jason Reitman was just thirty years old when Juno, his second feature, came out. The young director, who now has three feature films in his filmography, has proven one of the freshest, most original talents working in Hollywood today. Hopefully he will become an auteur on the scale of Woody Allen in the decades to come. Juno was also the feature film debut of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody. The story affirmed life and became a cultural phenomenon. —M.D.M.

9. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Batman Begins brought much needed new life back to the Batman franchise. With its gritty real world take on Batman, it allowed us to believe in this superhero again. For so many years, Batman was portrayed as a cheesy colorful superhero. Batman Begins brought in the “dark side” of Batman and the insanity of the villains he faced. Batman is a hero of the night and a man without any real superpowers. He makes us believe that we might even be able to be a superhero some day. Batman Begins brings a whole new level of greatness when it shows us that a hero can be born out of the worst situations possible. Bruce Wayne was stuck in a prison when Henri Ducard sought him out to train him. We need to always be reminded that no matter how bad our situation may appear, God is always seeking us out to become his heroes on the earth. —D.K.

8. Spider-Man 1 and 2


Spider-Man 1 and 2 relaunched superhero movies and did it in a way never done before. After an era where superhero movies were so far from the comics that even die-hard fans avoided them and so cheesy that the normal moviegoer couldn’t stand them, Spider-Man 1 and 2 reinvigorated the superhero movie industry. Full of action, good versus evil, and drama, these movies draw us all into them. One of the best things about these movies is that the heroes and villains are not one-dimensional. Peter Parker has to try to reconcile his feelings for Mary Jane while understanding the dangers she will face if he pursues her. Even Doctor Octopus ultimately wanted to help the world but fell victim to his ideals when they clearly would not help the greater good. These movies at the very least remind us to reevaluate what our priorities really are. Should we sacrifice everything we are and the people we love for the greater good, or should we seek what is best for others even to the point of laying down our lives? —D.K.

7. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth, like Stranger than Fiction, presents the viewer with a film where the lines between reality and fantasy blur. But the similarities end there. The strength of Pan’s Labyrinth comes in the contrasting worlds it presents. The violence and brutality of the Spanish Civil War strongly contrasts with the fairy tales of a young girl. Ultimately, the director uses the mixture of the real and the fantastic to dialogue with the audience. The film’s ending is either happy or tragic. The choice belongs to the viewer. —D.L.J.



WALL-E carries an underlying message of hope amidst devastation. The film begins with a desolate image of a lifeless earth that has been destroyed by waste that humans left behind. Throughout the film viewers actually find themselves becoming endeared to a rickety robot whose job is to attempt to clean up the abandoned garbage and make earth habitable once again. In a world where life or hope cannot seem to be found, WALL-E experiences new life and true love, and the hope that follows is what makes a beautiful film by Pixar. —E.W.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme park ride. No one realized that the film would become such an obsession for viewers across the nation. Each of the characters are engaging and memorable even though most of them are swashbuckling, undead pirates. This film caters to a wide audience as it carries scenes of tender romance, action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and a factor of genuine humor. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean is the sense of adventure and excitement its viewers feel long after they leave the theater. —E.W.

4. Stanger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

The key quality that makes Stranger Than Fiction stand out among all the films of the past decade is its use of a frame narrative. Lots of great stories are framed narratives, that is, a story within a story. Heart of Darkness, The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump—none of these framed stories mix fiction and reality quite like Stranger than Fiction. But a framed narrative is only a gimmick without a strong story. The journey Will Ferrell’s character takes to discover his creator and then knowing his fate is in the hands of another mortal serves as a catalyst for many discussions on the nature of choice and free will. —D.L.J.

3. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead introduced the filmmaking trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost to the big screen (previously the three had produced the great TV series Spaced). This zombie romantic comedy set the standard for horror comedy that decade. Zombieland, another zombie romantic comedy later in the decade, came closest but still paled in comparison to Shaun. —M.D.M.

2. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Sequels tend to be hit and miss. The Dark Knight is definitely a hit! Drawing much of its material from countless comics, this film brings Batman to life. Unlike the majority of superhero films, this film takes place in a realistic world where men can’t fly, bullets kill people, and sadistic criminals kill for no reason other than their twisted pleasure. The plot of the film is excellent, but the cast is what really sells the film. Of course, Health Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was Oscar-worthy, but the supporting cast really brought the film together. The performances of Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were superb. Overall the film presents itself to be not just an incredible comic book film but a great action/crime movie. A must see for all comic book readers. —P.T.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Lord of the Rings

These cinematic masterpieces directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the books by J. R. R. Tolkein represent the most well-loved fantasy series in the world. What once was esoteric and vehemently discussed in bookstores and literature classes firmly rooted itself to the most mundane levels of popular culture. The films made huge advancements in digital effects technology and established a relentless design ethic to be challenged by few. Besides this the films earned an enormous sum of money, established acting careers for many, received a host international awards, and created a renewed interest in fantasy as a seductive, lucrative, and entertaining genre of film. —D.W.H.

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