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Films That Defined The ‘2000s

Entertainment Analysis

Films That Defined The ‘2000s

Illustration By Paige Gaskins

Everyone knows the lines, “That’s so fetch,” “Get out of my swamp!” “You shall not pass!” “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow” and many more from early 2000s film classics. 

The American pop culture that raged throughout the 90s continued into the early 2000s. Movies were meaningful and made an impact on the progression of our entertainment culture. I am going to be listing out movies that I believe defined the early 2000s from 2000 until up to 2005. 

What I mean when I say “movies that defined the early 2000s,” I am referring to the movies that a majority of Americans (or even the world) have seen. These movies are ones that we still quote today. These movies are also how we met adored and iconic characters such as Nemo, Captain Jack Sparrow, Regina George, Pedro, Napoleon Dynamite and so many more. 

These are the movies that introduced us to the characters we dress up as for Halloween and dedicate themed parties to, much like how there are “Harry Potter”-themed parties that include aspects like wands, butterbeers, dressing up in your respective Hogwarts house and so on.

While there are many movies that surround this time period that are still adored today, I am going to stray from movies released in the early 2000s but were already a part of a series of films e.g. the “Star Wars” franchise. 

As a warning before you continue, spoilers are ahead.

“Castaway” (2000)

As early into the 2000s as it gets, “Castaway” is the popular survival story of Chuck Nolan, played by Tom Hanks, who gets stranded on a deserted island after a freak plane accident with the company he works for, FedEx. 

21 years later and I would still say that this film is iconic due to its popularity on the theme of man versus the wild. It’s a true survival story and personally a favorite classic of mine. 

Don’t lie, you know what it means when someone screams, “Willllssooon!!!” 

As a result of the popularity of the film and the importance of the Wilson volleyball, Wilson Sporting Goods Company even created a promotional Wilson ball complete with the face markings that are seen in the film! Who knew a ball could make such a great companion?

“Castaway” is defined in not just the plot but the deeper themes and motifs that are represented in the movie. Despite getting stranded on a deserted island, the main character still holds on to some of who he was before, like his obsession with time and holding out for the love of his life, even after years go by of him being alone and having to adjust to a life of survival. The movie has attracted a lot of attention at its release, and still does to this day for those who rewatch this Tom Hanks classic.

“Shrek” (2001)

Perhaps one of the most iconic characters to come out of the early 2000s is Shrek. While “Shrek” was the first release, other movies in the franchise soon followed and left a large impression on a generation of viewers.

Everybody’s favorite green ogre debuted in theaters in2001, and the movie was a box office hit!. 

The entertaining scenes, like Donkey and the Dragon, Fiona turning into an ogre, Puss in Boots’ adorable smolder, etc., from the first movie and those that followed are some that marked many childhoods and even young adult lives. Everyone can feel some type of happy nostalgia when they watch “Shrek.”

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001)

The first movie of the “Harry Potter” series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was a milestone in pop culture history and the beginning of the “Harry Potter” film series. This movie saw the start of actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson’s careers and their beloved roles as Harry, Ron and Hermione. 

Whether you are a fan or not, you cannot escape hearing about the “Harry Potter” series and most likely have seen at least one, if not all, of the movies. Lines such as “Wingardium leviosa,” or “I solemnly swear I am up to no good” are still used by fans and are a staple of pop culture today. The popularity and fans of “Harry Potter” could not be made possible without the book series itself and of course, the first movie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) 

While one does not simply walk into Mordor, one also simply does not forget about this pop culture classic and the first of a trilogy all to come out within the next two years of the first: “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

Based on the book series of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, this movie became an overnight hit with fantasy film fans and has gotten a great fan base to follow them for years to come.

“American Psycho” (2002)

The crime/comedy film “American Psycho” is as intellectual as it is riveting. It really takes hold of its audience from even just the famous first minutes of the movie. Patrick Bateman, played by  Christian Bale, goes through his eerie morning routine — something which has been imitated many times since the movie’s release. Its iconic scenes and Bale’s character are a large part of why I would call this film defining to the early 2000s. 

Finding Nemo (2003)

The beloved movie “Finding Nemo” made waves (haha, get it?) in the early 2000s with its story of a father, Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks, who searches the ocean far and wide for his son, Nemo, voiced by Alexander Gould, with the help of Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. You can’t lie and say you haven’t seen it, and if you truly haven’t well … What are you waiting for? 

“Finding Nemo” won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards after its release and has continued to usher in generations of Nemo fans, whether they be young or old. While the outstanding visuals and aesthetic of the movie are remarkable, the storyline really drew in the fans and makes this a defining movie of the early 2000s. 

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) 

Everybody’s favorite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, played byJohnny Depp, first graced our screens in 2003 as the witty, adventurous and all-around troublesome main character of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series. 

The series began with “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which took us to the fictional world of Jack Sparrow’s Caribbean and his adventures with blacksmith William Turner, played by Orlando Bloom, and governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swan, played by Kiera Knightly. 

There’s something for everyone in this classic adventure movie. To this day, people love going back to rewatch their favorite pirate adventures and muse over one of the snarkiest characters Depp has portrayed. I can also bet that you’ve seen a few Jack Sparrows running around on Halloween. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a pirate at least once? If so, might as well be the most famous one. 

“Mean Girls” (2004)

You know you’ve seen the “Mean Girls” trio (or sometimes group of four) grace a costume party you’ve attended. “Mean Girls” was an immediate hit after its release in 2004. A lot of its popularity, in my opinion, is because of how it was very up-front and realistic on the cattiness girls experience in high school — and sometimes even after that. 

This popular movie still gets quoted to this day, specifically on October 3 (iykyk).

“Napoleon Dynamite” (2004) 

Gawky teenager Napoleon Dynamite, played by Jon Heder, is an icon on his own as the funny teen who we follow as the lead in “Napoleon Dynamite.” On the off chance you haven’t seen this film, I highly suggest it. It has that lighthearted humor and a certain funny take on it that can only be found in an early 2000s movie, which is exactly why it’s made the list. 

“The Notebook” (2005) 

Undoubtedly one of Nicholas Sparks’ best, “The Notebook” is a real tearjerker and a movie that is iconic because of its love story. Noah, played by Ryan Gosling, and Ally, played by Rachel McAdams, captivate viewers with their youthful summertime love that has spanned into a lifetime of trials and tribulations.

You’ve definitely seen this iconic romance, and if not, you have a friend or significant other pestering you to watch it.

There are a number of iconic movies that you can claim defined the early 2000s, but the ones listed above definitely made the top of the list by having the most views and references from movie lovers all over. Do yourself a favor: stay in, get cozy and enjoy a nice blast to the past with these pop culture favorites. 


Hi, I’m Holly Liptak, a senior journalism student from Akron and the editor-in-chief of The Burr this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you interesting, humorous and hard-hitting stories that tap into current events, trends and the lives of those who have made a home in Kent, Ohio. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.

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