After the deliriousness of the new millennium wore off, audiences entered the 2000s challenged by, well, everything. So much happened, it’s easy to forget about certain movies. But which are actually the greatest underrated, mostly forgotten movies of the 2000s?
When the Y2K hysteria died down, the 2000s saw an array of existential challenges that haunted moviegoing audiences. From terrorism to bankruptcy to the rapid rise of the internet and social media, the 2000s at once saw Hollywood hits become bigger and bigger, while independent cinema drew in audiences with smaller, more intimate stories. The aforementioned internet also played a huge role in changing movies forever; Netflix streaming began in 2007, kicking off an unfathomable change to the art and business of movies few could have anticipated.
With so much happening in the 2000s, it’s all too easy to forget certain movies, even if you’ve seen them before. Here are the 32 greatest movies from the 2000s you’ve (probably) forgotten all about.
32. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Before Bradley Cooper became a regular at the Oscars, he led the little-seen horror movie The Midnight Meat Train from Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. Based on a short story by Clive Barker, Cooper plays a photographer who develops an obsession with a serial killer (played by Vinnie Jones) who targets victims in the subways. Released in a time when Saw-like “torture porn” movies were all the rage, The Midnight Meat Train came went without too much attention, though it remains a favorite even moreso in the shadow of Cooper’s superstardom. The movie’s real power lies in its primary message, in how the things that scare us are also the things that intrigue us and draw us closer.
31. The Girl Next Door (2004)
A raunchy rom-com unlike any other, The Girl Next Door stars Emilie Hirsch as an ambitious high school senior who learns that his next door neighbor, a beautiful, lively young woman (played by Elisha Cuthbert) is an adult film star. Hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming, its strange premise did not excite contemporary critics who gave the movie middling reviews. Since its release however, The Girl Next Door has developed a fierce cult following of fans who see something sweet beneath its scantily-clad surface. It helps that the movie also stars the likes of Timothy Olyphant and Paul Dano, who have only become more famous over time.
30. Kill Zone (2005)
Donnie Yen’s superstardom via the Ip Man series has retroactively brought attention to his earlier work, in particular his action vehicles from the 2000s. Towering above them all is SPL: Sha Po Lang (released in the U.S. under the more gaudy title Kill Zone), an all-star smackdown directed by Wilson Yip. Yen plays a Hong Kong cop who is transferred to a precinct that’s closing in on apprehending a major triad boss. Also featuring Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, and Wu Jing, Kill Zone is a star-studded gangster epic with dazzling choreography that splits the difference between ruthless realism and over-the-top mayhem. Though it was a hit across Asia, Kill Zone has yet to receive much attention with the rest of the world.
29. The Savages (2007)
In this delightful black comedy from Tamara Jenkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney co-star as bickering siblings whose lack of a father growing up gave them no instruction on how to be a family. But when their absentee father (Philip Bosco) begins showing signs of dementia, the siblings finally learn how to love one another before it’s too late. Despite its hard and heavy premise, The Savages never fails to inspire a few laughs. Why shouldn’t it? Let’s face it, there’s few things on Earth that’s as funny as family. Despite collecting a few Oscar nominations to its name, The Savages has largely gone overlooked.
28. Beerfest (2006)
The 2000s were a golden age for R-rated comedies, and one of that era’s dynasties was comedy troupe Broken Lizard. While their 2002 comedy Super Troopers remains endlessly quotable, their 2006 sports satire Beerfest deserves as much if not more love. Set in an underground world of competitive beer drinking, Beerfest follows a group of messy Americans who train for a year to play against an elite German team who’ve sullied their family’s honor. Arguably Broken Lizard’s tightest and perhaps its raunchiest movie, Beerfest boasts a parade of unlikely supporting actors and cameos – among them Cloris Leachman, Donald Sutherland, Will Forte, and Willie Nelson – who elevate a ridiculously dumb movie into a great party. Bottoms up.
27. Treasure Planet (2002)
Since the Disney Renaissance, the famed studio can sometimes look invincible. But not everything it’s made has been a hit. In 2002, the studio released Treasure Planet, a sci-fi adventure and a unique hybrid of 2D and 3D animation. While the movie was not the first to reimagine Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island with science fiction elements – it wasn’t Disney’s first time using the source material, either – the movie was still intended to launch a new singular Disney franchise in the vein of its other animated mega-hits. Although it tanked at the box office, the movie has over time won audiences through its spectacular imagination and timeless sense of adventure.
26. Sunshine (2007)
Sunshine is a movie teeming with big-name talent, yet has mostly become a forgotten entity in everyone’s oeuvres. Released in 2007 and directed by Danny Boyle, Sunshine is an apocalyptic sci-fi thriller set in the year 2057 in which a group of astronauts travel to reignite the solar system’s dying sun. Led by Oppneheimer’s Cillian Murphy, the movie also co-stars Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and Mark Strong. Boyle’s intention was to create an international cast, and even had his actors live together and learn the ins-and-outs of their characters’ unique professions to immerse themselves. While Sunshine was a box office disaster, the movie routinely attracts attention from people startled by its urgent premise and ridiculous collection of familiar talent.
25. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Heavily inspired by writer/director Noah Baumbach’s own adolescence experiencing his parents’ divorce, The Squid and the Whale stars Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as the bickering parents of Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg), all of them living in 1980s Brooklyn. Shot in Super 16 rather than the more trendy digital video – a trademark of indie films throughout the aughts – The Squid and the Whale remarkably looks and feels like a movie its own characters would have seen in theaters, to hopelessly salvage their decaying relationships. Though many involved with The Squid and the Whale including Baumbach have achieved further critical acclaim and Hollywood success, The Squid and the Whale feels understated despite its worthwhile qualities.
24. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
It’s easy to dismiss Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle as another stupid R-rated comedy with grossly offensive humor. Because it is that. But it was also quietly revolutionary for 2004: Its starring leads were not another pair of loudmouthed obnoxious white guys, but loudmouthed obnoxious Asian guys. John Cho and Kal Penn co-star as best friends and roommates whose craving for fast food goes awry. While the movie doesn’t even try to put on airs to feel important – there’s literally a scene where Harold and Kumar ride a cheetah – it has its share of unexpected poignancy, in how it explores burgeoning millennial angst and the burdensome expectations of immigrant parents. Even if its shock humor hasn’t allowed it to age gracefully, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle can still hit the spot.
23. One Hour Photo (2002)
An uncomfortably dark thriller where Robin Williams plays against type as the troubled antagonist, Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo is a tightly-bolted thriller that still holds up after so many years. It tells the story of Sy Parrish, a lonely photo technician who harbors a secret obsession towards a family whose pictures he’s developed for years. One Hour Photo was a hit with critics singling out Williams’ captivating performance. But when it comes to the totality of Williams’ cinematic legacy, it’s not the movie anyone remembers off the top of their head. After Robin Williams’ death in 2014, his heartwarming comedies drew the most attention – not the one where he plays the deranged stalker of an innocent family. But time has been very kind to One Hour Photo, as social media has made all of us just a little obsessed with the lives of others in ways we should admit are unhealthy.
22. It’s Complicated (2009)
Romantic comedies thrived in the 2000s, and that’s in large part due to filmmaker Nancy Meyers. In 2009, Meyers’ uproarious rom-com It’s Complicated gleefully defied genre conventions with a steamy story centered on adults in their fifties. Meryl Streep leads the movie as Jane, who reignites a secret affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) while falling in love with an architect (played by Steve Martin). It’s Complicated was a commercial hit and earned several noteworthy Golden Globe nominations, but over time fell through the cracks of our cultural consciousness as rom-coms themselves slowly vanished from theaters. After all this time, It’s Complicated is anything but hard to grasp, being a cozy and chaotic snack of a picture with obscenely great high-energy performances.
21. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
It’s hard to say with a straight face that a Coen Brothers film is “forgotten.” But when their body of work includes the likes of Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and Inside Llewyn Davis, then yeah, maybe some other movies get glossed over. Enter: The Man Who Wasn’t There, a great 2001 thriller that pays homage to 1940s black and white film noir. Billy Bob Thorton stars as a California barber who attempts to blackmail his wife’s lover – who is also his boss – to obtain investment money. Critics hailed the movie, but it failed to attract attention from a public whose eyes were set on the other two big hits of 2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. Both opened within a month of each other and eclipsed The Man Who Wasn’t There in its November 2001 release.
20. 25th Hour (2002)
In the aftermath of 9/11, New York’s own Spike Lee took on portraying an entire city’s existential crisis through 25th Hour. Based on a novel by David Benioff (yes, the same David Benioff who co-created Game of Thrones for HBO), 25th Hour stars Edward Norton as a man roaming New York City, his home, for his last 24 hours of freedom before he serves prison time. Though Benioff’s book was written and published before 9/11, Spike Lee incorporated the attacks into his movie as part of his interrogation of the city and the broader idea of standing at a proverbial crossroads. Like Roberto Rossellini’s Open City capturing Rome after Nazi occupation, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour documents a city still in recovery. We should be so glad that he did.
19. 12 Rounds (2009)
Before John Cena’s acting career really took off, his status as a pro wrestling superstar was leveraged into starring in a few mid-range action movies bankrolled by WWE’s own filmmaking entity, WWE Studios. While his first feature The Marine is entirely a vanity project to artificially kickstart his celebrity profile, his sophomore movie 12 Rounds is far more engrossing. Helmed by action auteur Renny Harlin, Cena plays an FBI agent who is forced to play a dangerous game by a charismatic arms dealer, played by Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen. While on the surface an imitation of Die Hard with a Vengeance, John Cena demonstrates early promise as an actor and star beyond the ring. You don’t get the John Cena in Blockers and Peacemaker without seeing him cut his teeth in 12 Rounds.
18. Saved! (2004)
The raunchy teen comedy meets religious satire in Brian Dannelly’s wickedly hilarious Saved!. Jena Malone leads the movie as Christian teenager Mary Cummings, who attempts to “cure” her gay boyfriend by having premarital sex only to wind up pregnant. Also starring Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, and Mary-Louise Parker, Saved is a holy riot that rips into the hypocrisies of organized religion within the confines of teen movies a la John Hughes and American Pie. Arguably the best part of the movie is Mandy Moore; primarily known as a pop star during its release, Moore’s searing performance as a self-righteous and overbearing bully is something of a revelation.
17. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)
During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon co-created a micro-budget musical that not only found a way to make income during a hard time in Hollywood, but created something that felt cutting-edge and relevant to the blogosphere era. Along with Zack Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon, they all came up with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a professionally made independent movie musical that was, get this, released on the internet to stream for free. That was an unfathomably huge deal in 2008. That Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was also just hilarious and devastating in all the right ways is icing on the cake. At the height of his How I Met Your Mother fame, Neil Patrick Harris stars as an aspiring supervillain whose initiation into the Evil League of Evil demands he commit a heinous crime. Also starring Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a funny and achingly beautiful warning that the things you want most may cost you what you don't want to lose.
16. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Despite making a star out of Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky – directed by prolific British filmmaker Mike Leigh – has fallen under the radar since its 2008 release. Perhaps it was timing. In its story about a carefree school teacher (Hawkins) who clashes with the jaded world around her, Happy-Go-Lucky espouses the virtues of keeping up a positive attitude. Positivity was quite hard to maintain in the late 2000s, and it’s only gotten harder since. But Hawkins radiates enough energy to maybe think that being happy is actually a choice one can make, instead of being the end result of something else.
15. Unleashed (2005)
In what is perhaps one of Jet Li’s finest performances as a dramatic actor (don’t worry, he still kicks butt), Louis Letterier’s Unleashed features the kung fu star as Danny, a rabid man “raised” by a ruthless gangster (played by Bob Hoskins) to be his personal bodyguard. Danny soon ends up in the care of a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon), who give Danny the nurturing environment that he was denied his whole life. Released in direct competition with Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Unleashed went largely unnoticed and has since become an overlooked gem. But Unleashed packs as much heart as it does hard-hitting punches.
14. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Inspired by her stumbling into the official website for RealDoll, writer/director Nancy Oliver crafted a heartwarming and sympathetic riff on the Greek tragedy Pygmalion through her 2007 dramedy Lars and the Real Girl. Ryan Gosling stars as kind but socially awkward Lars, whose romance with a lifelike sex doll named Bianca concerns everyone around him. Though Gosling has made a career playing the archetypal Hollywood dream man – he was Barbie’s Ken, after all – Lars and the Real Girl shows off Gosling’s chameleonic attributes, giving a performance that genuinely makes you feel for his character’s helpless (but not hopeless) sense of worth.
13. Me, Myself, & Irene (2000)
While its premise satirizing dissociative identity disorder is offensive even on paper, Jim Carrey operates at such a high degree of power in the Farrelly Brothers’ black comedy Me, Myself & Irene that it’s easy to laugh along with it. (Seriously, just watch his “transformation.” I dare you to not be amazed by what Carrey can do with his face.) Carrey stars in the movie as Charlie, a meek Rhode Island state trooper whose years of suppressed anger leads him to develop a more confident and violent alter ego. Though most of the movie’s comedy hinges on how comically inconvenient a split personality can be, Me, Myself & Irene also contains loads of shock humor that keeps you on your toes. It’s not that you can’t make a vulgar comedy like Me, Myself & Irene anymore. It’s that nobody can pull it off so well.
12. Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
In Christine Jeffs’ delightful indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt co-star as sisters who get into business as cleaners of heinous crime scenes. Though it earned positive reviews from critics and was a modest hit at the box office, the outsized stardoms of both Adams and Blunt have made Sunshine Cleaning something of an afterthought in their careers. Adams has her Oscars, and Blunt has been in everything from Disney musicals to Christopher Nolan epics. Nevertheless, Sunshine Cleaning succeeds as a radiant mid-aughts indie with unfathomable star power.
11. Titan A.E. (2000)
Prolific animation filmmaker Don Bluth released his final theatrical movie back in 2000, a sci-fi adventure epic titled Titan A.E. Set in a far future where Earth is destroyed and mankind is a nomadic species spread throughout the stars, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) discovers a secret to help give humanity a new home. Titan A.E. bombed at the box office, in large part due to a high production budget and layoffs at Fox Animation Studios that hindered marketing efforts. In the years since its release however, Titan A.E. has become a cult classic, even if it’s the movie that more or less ended Bluth’s career as a mainstream movie director.
10. Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)
True die-hard fans of the Fast & Furious franchise know to include Better Luck Tomorrow. Directed by Justin Lin and financed by maxed out credit cards and a last-minute contribution by MC Hammer, Better Luck Tomorrow follows a group of overachieving Asian American teenagers who use their covers as model students to begin a life of crime. Though the movie primarily stars Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, and John Cho, it also has Sung Kang in his debut appearance as Han before he reprised the role in the Fast Saga. Loosely inspired by the real-life murder of California teenager Stuart Tay, Better Luck Tomorrow was a landmark movie for Asian American representation that directly challenged widespread “model minority” myths.
9. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
What if your life wasn’t your own, but the work of someone else? That’s the conceit behind Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, which stars Will Ferrell as an IRS agent who starts hearing a disembodied voice narrate his life like a literary novel. When he learns that he is supposed to die, as per the narration, he does everything he can to prevent it from happening. Ferrell shines in this hilarious metaphysical fight with fate, weaponizing his reputable talents as a comic actor to effortlessly move into more dramatic spaces. While Stranger Than Fiction is typically cited as one of Ferrell’s more serious movies, it’s still easy to forget about when your friends are still loudly quoting Talladega Nights and Step Brothers.
8. Igby Goes Down (2002)
Long before he became an award-winning actor, Kieran Culkin starred in Burr Steers’ dramatic comedy Igby Goes Down. Culkin plays a sardonic teenager (Culkin was actually 20 at the time) who works overtime to break free from his overbearing mother and wealthy family. Best described as a 21st century Catcher in the Rye, the movie is altogether an exhibition of Culkin’s knack for sardonic characters and a well-written portrait of modern adolescence. It helps that Culkin is also surrounded by some hefty stars, including Jeff Goldblum, Claire Danes, Amanda Peet, Bill Pullman, Jared Harris, and Susan Sarandon, all of whom elevate the material.
7. Vanilla Sky (2001)
In Cameron Crowe’s English-language remake of Alejandro Amenabar’s Open Your Eyes, a wealthy magazine publisher (played by Tom Cruise) starts to question his own reality after a resentful lover willingly drives them into a physically devastating accident. One part existential sci-fi, one part romantic drama, and one part psychological thriller, Vanilla Sky’s dreamlike shape and ambiguous ending make it one of the more ethereal movies in Cruise’s filmography. Though plenty of other movies grapple with similar ideas – movies like The Matrix, The Truman Show, Stranger Than Fiction, and Synecdoche, New York – Vanilla Sky stands out through its own execution of glossy surrealism.
6. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
After Sam Raimi finished his Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi returned to his roots with Drag Me to Hell, a demonic supernatural horror piece where an ambitious and vindictive bank loan officer (Allison Lohman) is cursed by a woman to endure three days of torment before she’s dragged into Hell for eternity. At times freakishly terrifying and other times freakishly funny, Drag Me to Hell is simply Sam Raimi firing on his own custom cylinders. Over the next few years, hits like Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Babadook would redefine the genre, but Drag Me to Hell is an understated gem that really epitomized what studio horror movies looked like in the late 2000s. Even now, its ending is still so frightening in its aggressive nature.
5. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
If you were a high school theater kid in the late 2000s, chances are, you saw and maybe even loved Repo! The Genetic Opera. Inspired by writer Dan Smith’s own experience with bankruptcy and foreclosure, this goth rock musical imagines a bleak future where private healthcare companies make bank selling people organs on a payment plan; failure to keep up payments results in those organs being “repossessed.” Starring Alexa Vega and Paul Sorvino – as well as Paris Hilton in a minor role – Repo! The Genetic Opera looks and feels as if someone mashed up grindcore, Takashi Miike movies, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a blender. It’s still a worthwhile watch, even if you’re no longer a 17-year-old belting out showtunes after rehearsals.
4. DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
For so long, the 1995 film Mortal Kombat was considered the only good video game movie until more halfway decent blockbusters like Sonic the Hedgehog and The Super Mario Bros. Movie came along. But aficionados know that in 2006, director Corey Yuen helmed the brazenly salacious DOA: Dead or Alive, a film version of the notorious fighting game series. Featuring Sarah Carter, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance, and Jamie Pressley as its leading women, the game openly rips off Enter the Dragon – its premise being a martial arts tournament held in an exotic island – but offers some of its own twists that make sure eyes are glued to the screen. DOA: Dead or Alive is shameless with its spotlight of gorgeous gals, but it’s also stylish enough of a B-grade action movie to feel engaging, and not like mindless button-mashing.
3. Torque (2004)
After directing music videos for pop titans like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, Joseph Kahn made his feature film debut with Torque, a breakneck action movie that feels more like playing a racing video game. With a cast that includes Adam Scott, Martin Henderson, Jamie Pressly, Jay Hernandez, and Christina Milian, Torque follows a biker who goes on the run after he’s framed for murder. At first blush, Torque might look like an imitation of The Fast & the Furious – there’s even a line that thumbs its nose in Dominic Toretto’s face – but Kahn’s singular artistry makes sure that Torque is a full throttle experience completely of its own making. A true maximalist bombardment to the senses that a certain “family” could never dream to keep pace.
2. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Rotoscoping is not a new animation technique. It was created by Max Fleischer in 1915, and used to great effect by the likes of Disney throughout the 20th century. But in 2006, Richard Linklater found a way to use rotoscope aesthetics as our window into the future in A Scanner Darkly, his adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. In a near-future United States, an undercover officer struggles to separate reality from substance-induced hallucinations. Despite the mega-wattage of stars like Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder, A Scanner Darkly failed to electrify the box office. The movie has since become a cult darling, as the movie’s unusual look still feels so exciting and fresh even now, as well as its uncomfortable setting of an increasingly helpless United States infected by fascist policing.
1. Road to Perdition (2002)
In 2002, Tom Hanks dared to challenge his own image as a wholesome leading man in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition. A loose retelling of the manga series Lone Wolf & Cub, Hanks plays a hitman for the Irish mob in Depression-era Illinois who escapes with his son (Tyler Hoechlin) after the rest of their family are slaughtered. Most of the movie tension lies in Hanks’ character Michael Sullivan, who refuses to let his son grow up to be like him but still trains him in his trade as they evade rival gangsters and one particular cold-blooded assassin (Jude Law). If Road to Perdition was meant to reshape Hanks’ brand as an actor, it failed; the actor has since played more good men, including real people who’ve saved lives. But Road to Perdition is nevertheless a beautiful and sweeping picture about the lengths we go to protect our children, even if it means forcing them to grow up before they’re ready.