Movies shape the way people absorb culture across the globe. In the past twenty years, the film landscape has undergone enormous changes thanks to technology, the marketplace, and other factors. Still, the movies made in the recent past have plenty of lessons to teach, and hours of entertainment to enjoy. Check out ten top tier movies of the past 20 years below.
1. The Dark Knight
No list of recent top tier movies would be complete without mentioning one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, The Dark Knight. This dark, gritty take on the famous Batman franchise marks acclaimed director Christopher Nolan’s dive into the beloved DC Comics franchise. The movie is bursting with dazzling performances and outstanding action sequences.
The movie even spawned a whole new generation of Batman and DC comics fans. To this day, you will still find Batman toys and comics emulating The Dark Knight in nearly every gift store around. The movie also led to several sequels, each with a new approach to the story of Batman, Gotham City, and all its nefarious villains.
Christian Bale plays the lead character of Bruce Wayne, a tortured billionaire and philanthropist who is dealing with the weight of a secret life. As his alter ego Batman learns of new crime lords who dare to take over the city he loves, Batman must reach within to summon new bravery as he fights to uphold the forces of good.
While Bale’s performance is incredible, the role of the villain opposite him, The Joker played by the late Heath Ledger, really demands a place in cinematic history. Ledger delivers a stunning portrayal of quirky evil as The Joker robs banks and aims to destroy society as a whole. The role received instant attention from some of the film world’s most notable critics for its raw portrayal of an infamous comic book character.
Often considered to be famous director Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Inception is a film that deals with the liminal spaces between dream and reality. You’ve probably heard about this movie from anyone interested in dream analysis, lucid dreaming, and anything involved with unexplored psychological themes. The movie has since developed a major following for its superb performances and edge-of-your-seat thrills. These simple facts make Inception one of the top tier movies of the last two decades.
The style of the movie is also a testament to excellence in aesthetic sensibilities. Whether you’re into cinematography, set design, or even makeup and wardrobe setups for mens t shirt printing and costumes, Inception has something for you to adore. The cast is also quite incredible, led by famous performer Leonardo Dicaprio. Other notable cast members include Cillian Murphy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tom Hardy.
Inception made such a major ripple in the cinematic landscape because of its approach to dreams. As an often studied and misunderstood aspect of human psychology, dreams have puzzled philosophers and artists alike for millennia. Inception tackles the subject with a fresh lens, examining the space between dreams and reality with a radical plot.
3. Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You is one of the more interesting top tier movies of the past 20 years. In the film, the lead character Cassius discovers a key that allows him to finally achieve all of his wildest dreams. As the plot unfolds, more layers reveal themselves, taking the viewer into a new dimension that begs them to answer important questions about life, work, and ambition.
The movie, released in 2018, was a bit of a first mover for films that aim to merge the mundane with the fantastical. The recent Oscar winnings of films like Everything Everywhere All At Once owe at least some homage to Sorry to Bother You. The movie also stands as a statement for diversity in cinema, as a large portion of the cast and crew are made up almost entirely of underrepresented groups.
4. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse might sound like a movie about lighting fixtures, but it’s about so much more than that. Known more for its unhinged, chaotic atmosphere, The Lighthouse is a deceptively simple film mainly featuring just two actors. Hollywood phenoms Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play face to face in this instant classic that is often described as a fever dream. The film is both beautiful and unsettling, giving audiences a mixed reaction and leaving viewers stunned by the end.
A quality present in most of the recent top tier movies of the last two decades, The Lighthouse has some stunning visuals. Plot-wise, it follows the journey of two lighthouse keepers who find themselves trapped in a remote location with only themselves to figure out a plan of escape. The movie received distribution from A24, a production house that has gained immense traction in the film industry over the past few years. A24 films like The Lighthouse contain a certain aesthetic, often favoring striking visual palettes and edgy storylines. The Lighthouse certainly fits this mold, offering a filmgoing experience you’re unlikely to experience with any other movie.
If you’re searching for one of the more lighthearted top tier movies of the past few decades, then Wall-E is the perfect option. As one of Pixar’s most well-regarded films, the movie is both fun and introspective. It tracks the quest of Wall-E, a small robot searching for love and connection. While the movie is certainly targeted at younger audiences, you may be surprised by some of the lessons it has to offer adults.
From themes of technological consumption and environmental cleanup services to touching voice acting performances, Wall-E has aged better than many movies in its category. The movie has a dystopian leaning, showcasing the potential ills of technology and how it can threaten to stunt humanity if not properly implemented. Like any great sci-fi movie, Wall-E does a great job of toeing the line between humans and robots, begging viewers to entertain large ideas about life, love, and what it means to experience the world through human eyes.
6. The Departed
Top tier movies like The Departed only come around once in a great while, and when they do it’s difficult to ignore their impact on all movies that come after them. Set in the crude Boston underworld of crooked police and mob crime, The Departed is a witty, thrilling story about family and betrayal. Written by William Monahan and directed by one of the all-time greats, Martin Scorcese, the movie will go down as one of the best movies of the 21st century.
The film’s story is dense and layered, making it a perfect candidate for rewatching over and over again, as there are many details you can easily miss on the first viewing. The cast is also rich with talent, starring acclaimed actors such as Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg. The plot revolves around a police officer who wants nothing more than to achieve his dreams in the Boston police force. However, he is also torn by his family obligations, leading him to make choices he would otherwise avoid at all costs.
More characters complicate the plot of the film, as Jack Nicholson plays one of his most malicious roles as the crime boss Frank Costello. A cast of ancillary characters such as a therapist, a criminal attorney, and private investigators flesh out the rest of the film’s spaces, leading to a rich tapestry of dialogue and conflict. If you love fast-paced films with a knack for screenwriting and detail, The Departed will not disappoint you.
7. Finding Nemo
What do the ocean, a skiff boat, an aquarium, and a relaxed sea turtle all have in common? They’re all parts of the now household-beloved Pixar/Disney film Finding Nemo. Released in 2003, this aquatic adventure follows a small clownfish as he tries to find his lost son. The movie has some incredible lessons about courage, friendship, and family. To this day it stands out as one of Pixar’s greatest movies, as it is both fun and moving.
As far as top tier movies are concerned, Finding Nemo was a success both during its release and after. The movie is very quotable, with many of its character’s lines quickly turning into inside jokes. The movie also boasts some viral musical numbers, with ‘Just Keep Swimming’ becoming an instant hit among kids and families.
8. Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino is a polarizing filmmaker, and for good reason. His movies, often chock full of explicit violence, elicit audience reactions, unlike any other writer/director of the past two decades. Regardless of his sorted reputation, Tarantino delivers with his ode to vintage Kung Fu films in Kill Bill. As the first installment of an epic revenge series, Kill Bill set the tone for action movies with depth and character.
Veteran actor Uma Thurman plays a character simply known as The Bride, who awakes in a local er to discover that she has been betrayed not only by her husband but also by those whom she considered close friends. From this point forward, The Bride must embark on a journey to seek revenge against those who betrayed her and left her for dead.
In the realm of top tier movies, Kill Bill retains its place as one of the more stylized action movies of the recent past. The movie is an homage to vintage Kung Fu films, and it draws from the tone of this genre with campy sound effects, recycled tropes, and a kicking soundtrack. Fans of Kill Bill love the depth of the characters too, as each presence on-screen, whether good or bad, carries a weight and dynamism that is often missing from action movies.
After the first chapter, director Tarantino went on to create Kill Bill Vol. 2, a movie that completes the story that started in the first part. If you like movies with grit and style, then the Kill Bill series is one to watch.
Most discussions of the top tier movies in history will include some sort of boxing epic. Whether you are looking at Sylvester Stallone’s legendary Rocky series, or if you are considering Robert DeNiro’s stellar performance in Raging Bull, boxing films have earned their place in the cinematic spotlight. However, the recent extension of the Rocky series through Creed places these films in some of the upper echelons of sports films.
The movies offer a variety of scenes and settings, including scenes in everything from a sports training room to a boxing ring bedazzled with lights and cameras. Michael B. Jordan provides the perfect performance in each of these settings, bringing an intensity and authenticity rarely seen in modern sports and boxing films. The movie is a great reminder of the importance of finding your purpose and pursuing your passions, no matter what the costs may be.
10. Let’s Go to Prison
When most people think of influential movies, they rarely reference the comedy genre. However, 2006’s Let’s Go to Prison is a comedic film that deserves its place in cinema halls. The movie is perfect for anyone who likes to laugh at the ineptitude of the prison system, legalese, and even the bailbond industry.
As a classic revenge story, the film explores the humor that brews when plans go wrong. The cast is star-studded as far as comedies go, featuring such actors as Will Arnett, Bob Odenkirk, and Dax Shephard. The movie is based on a book called ‘You Are Going to Prison,’ which acts as a guide for those who are about to have their first prison experience. If you want to laugh and enjoy a compelling story at the same time, then Let’s Go to Prison is the perfect movie for you.
Even if you’re not much of a moviegoer, there are some excellent films to check out from the past twenty years. Without the movies on this list, it would be tough to find others to fill their spots. The next time you’re trying to watch a great movie produced recently, be sure to reference some of the top tier movies here.