Skip to main content
Got a tip?

Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the 50 Best Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

Over the course of a few months, several Zoom meetings, and countless emails, six THR film critics came together to hash out, and rank, what they consider the greatest films since 2000.

Why now? Why not?

Sure, we’ve yet to hit the quarter-century mark, when these sorts of lists tend to start landing. But we’ve arguably already lived through 100 years’ worth of upheaval, progress, pain, destruction, hope and heartache in the world — not to mention the film industry — since 2000. We thought it as good a time as any to look back at the films that have, to us, stood the ever-unfolding test of time.

In the spirit of transparency, our methodology went something like this: We all offered up titles we thought were worthy of consideration (an initial list of well over 100 movies). Everyone voted “yea” or “nay” on each of those titles. The films with the most yeas — about 80 — advanced to the next round. Everyone scored each title from 0 to 3. We tallied up the points, and then hashed it out from there. Countless emails and a few long Zoom meetings later, we had our list.

Our only parameters: All six of us had to love, like or at least respect every film on the list. And we did not consider anything from 2022; it just felt too soon (translation: after the forever-long awards season, we needed a breather from talking about Tár, Everything Everywhere All at Once and the rest of ’em).

Picking the movies we love the most, while being mindful of variety and inclusivity, significance and staying power, was difficult (we know: world’s smallest violin). We wanted our list to reflect the breadth of world cinema and of our tastes, but we also didn’t want to placate or pander or allow fear of Film Twitter or Outrage Twitter (or any Twitter) to weigh on our process.

That doesn’t mean we weren’t plagued by doubts along the way. What are we missing? Who are we leaving out?  Why this movie and not that one? We know certain omissions and selections are bound to incite eye rolls, grumbles and maybe a shriek or two.

But we tried to stay true to our love of movies, these movies, and others that didn’t make the cut. (Remember, it’s only 50!) The final list is a reflection of that love, but also of a system that favors certain stories and storytellers at the expense of others. If the list is not a model of representational balance, call us out — we can take it — but also continue to call out an industry that hasn’t given us a more diverse landscape of voices to love, hate and argue over.

The most conspicuous, surprising (including to us) and, surely to some readers, infuriating, thing about our list is how many masters are missing. After all our deliberating, point tallying, reconsidering, revoting, retallying and re-deliberating, none of the following directors cracked the top 50 films or 15 honorable mentions: Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, Jean-Luc Godard, David Cronenberg, Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch, James Gray, Jia Zhangke, Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Ditto polarizing though prolific auteurs like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Lars von Trier.

This wasn’t the result of any kind of “out with the old, in with the new” intention. In some cases — Scorsese, Spike, Godard — we felt their best work was pre-21st century. In Spielberg’s case, there were several films that had love (including Minority Report and West Side Story), but none that united all six of us in full-throated enthusiasm. In other cases, as in Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, Malick’s The New World and The Tree of Life, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there were ardent supporters but also just-as-ardent detractors.

In other words, we didn’t reverse-engineer the list by starting with great directors and pulling from their filmographies; we allowed the titles to emerge organically, via memory and good old-fashioned brainstorming. (Five directors — or six if you count the Coens separately — ended up with two films apiece on the list: Jane Campion, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alfonso Cuarón, David Fincher and Richard Linklater. For more stats and specifics about the results, read this breakdown.)

Straight-up studio comedy, action, sci-fi and horror are largely, though not entirely, absent from our final selections (cue the cries of film-critic elitism). We love those genres, we swear! Movies like Borat, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Collateral, The Bourne Ultimatum, Master and Commander and, yes, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy were all in contention at one point or another. But the scarcity of this type of entertainment on our list reflects what we see as a certain creative impoverishment in those genres over the past few decades. The lack of risk-taking in mainstream filmmaking, the sameness and safeness of so much of that “product,” results in few of those movies lingering in the mind for longer than their runtimes.

We could go on and on about the shortcomings of our work here — not enough animation! — but that’s what we count on you for! Without further ado, here are what we consider the 50 best films of the 21st century so far.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005); The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008); L’Enfant (The Child) (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2006); Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012); The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009); Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011); Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019); The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2002); The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001); Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2009); There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007); Under the Sand (François Ozon, 2001); Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014); Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004); Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)