32 of the most successful movies of the noughties

The most successful movies of the noughties included fantasy blockbusters and animated classics

Angelina Jolie, Craig T. Nelson and Hayao Miyazaki.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 2000s in film saw huge changes in the industry at large, with the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar, being released in this decade.

Along with technical advances in animated films that led to a surge in popularity, the 00s introduced some of the most successful movie franchises of all time, including Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Transformers and The Twilight Saga

But aside from numbers, there were also some films widely thought of as some of the best ever made, garnering critical acclaim that kickstarted stars’ careers. How many have you seen?

32 of the most successful movies of the noughties

Harry Potter series

Daniel Radcliffe.

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The first instalment of the Harry Potter film series was released in 2001, four years after the first and equally popular children’s fantasy book was published, and became the highest-grossing film of that year. While the last film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, sits at 18th on the list of the highest-grossing films of all time, each instalment came with a widely anticipated release, and its trio of child stars were propelled into superstardom. 


Sam Worthington.

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Before the release of the 2009 science fiction/fantasy epic Avatar, director James Cameron’s previous film, 1998’s Titanic, took the top spot for the highest-grossing film of all time. Not only did Avatar result in Cameron beating his own record, but it also paved the way for future innovations in 3D cinema and CGI (computer-generated imagery), with some viewers so enamoured by the beauty of the film’s world that they struggled to return to the ‘normal’ world afterwards.

The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan.

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After the success of superhero films such as X-Men and Spider-Man earlier in the decade, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight became the highest-grossing film of 2008 and is widely considered one of the best comic book adaptations of all time. Interest in the film increased after star Heath Ledger’s tragic death before the film’s release, and his portrayal of the Joker is consistently praised to this day.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Peter Jackson.

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Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy dominated the box office for much of the decade, with the first film in the series released in 2001. Based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novels, the films would go on to make up one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time.

Shrek 2

Mike Myers.

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The highest-grossing film of 2004, Shrek 2 received two Academy Award nominations. Though not as critically acclaimed as Shrek, which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Shrek 2 is still considered one of the best-animated sequels, with the third instalment also ranking as one of the highest-grossing films of the decade.

Finding Nemo

Andrew Stanton.

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Following the success of animated films like Shrek, Monster’s Inc., Ice Age and Lilo and Stitch, Disney Pixar film Finding Nemo would go on to become the best-selling DVD of all time. Starring Ellen DeGeneres as the forgetful Dory, the film follows a clownfish who searches the ocean to find his captured son.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow.

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War film The Hurt Locker made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director. Only two women have won the award since, with only eight women ever being nominated.


Toby Maguire.

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Though later iterations of the superhero franchise would see both Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland taking on the role of Peter Parker, the first Spiderman films of the 00s featured Toby Maguire playing the superhero. 2002’s Spider-Man was one of the highest-grossing films of the decade and pushed co-star Kirsten Dunst into the mainstream.



(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the highest-grossing films of 2000, X-Men not only resulted in its own long-running franchise but also triggered a resurgence in superhero films. While these now dominate lists of the most successful films ever, with Marvel taking plenty of the top spots, prior to 2000 this wasn’t a common occurrence.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Twilight Saga is one of the most successful fantasy franchises of all time, and while the films haven’t always had the most positive critical reception, they have amassed a huge fanbase - which isn’t too surprising, considering the popularity of the original novels. Twilight’s success was followed by New Moon in 2009, for which star Taylor Lautner had to extensively weight-train and gain 13kg in order to embody his character, Jacob Black’s, physical transformation in the narrative. 

Mamma Mia!

Meryl Streep.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Based on the beloved stage production and with a soundtrack made up of iconic ABBA songs, Mamma Mia! became one of the most well-attended and fun-filled film-going experiences of 2008. With a star-studded ensemble cast that included Pierce Brosnan, Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Julie Walters, the film has retained popularity in the years since its release.


Audrey Tatou.

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Nominated for five Academy Awards and becoming one of the biggest international box-office success stories for a French film, Amélie was listed by numerous critics as one of their favourite films of the 2000s. Its quirky, whimsical film style was widely praised, and the film’s legacy hasn’t gone anywhere, with a species of glass frogs even being named after the protagonist.

The Incredibles

Craig T. Nelson.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Inspired by early Disney animations and the special effects of films like Star Wars, young filmmaker Brad Bird began making his own animated shorts, eventually sending them to animators at Disney and completing an unofficial internship with them. After moving to Pixar, Bird went on to direct and write The Incredibles, which was the fourth highest-grossing film of 2004, and also won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

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Featuring Daniel Craig in his first portrayal of the iconic James Bond, Casino Royale signalled a reboot of Ian Fleming’s novels which depicted Bond as a more flawed character. The film became one of the highest-grossing films of all time in the UK, garnering a new set of fans.

King Kong

Naomi Watts.

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As well as directing the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand director Peter Jackson also released his remake of King Kong in 2005, which became one of the most successful films of the 2000s. It differed wildly from the 1933 and 1976 versions, with a much darker tone, some horror elements and impressive advancements in CGI.

Night at the Museum

Ben Stiller on the set of Night at the Museum.

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The fifth highest-grossing film of 2006, Night at the Museum followed the fantasy trend of the decade, giving a comedic twist to the genre. Ben Stiller stars as a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History, where he discovers that the museum’s exhibits come to life at night.

Brokeback Mountain

Heath Ledger on the set of Brokeback Mountain.

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In 2005, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starred in Brokeback Mountain, which became a landmark LGBTQ+ film and a huge critical and commercial success. The film propelled the careers of co-stars Michelle Williams (who would go on to marry Ledger) and Anne Hathaway, and is regularly cited as one of the best films of the decade.


Ben Stiller.

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The 2000s was a successful time for animated films, with many garnering diverse audiences and commercial success despite being aimed at children. Madagascar starred Ben Stiller, Jada Pinket Smith, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer, and comes in at number 50 on the list of the highest-grossing films of the decade.

Kung Fu Panda

Angelina Jolie.

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Nominated for an Academy Award, Kung Fu Panda was a hugely successful animated film starring Jack Black and Angelina Jolie. Two sequels followed, with Kung Fu Panda 3 being one of the highest-grossing films of 2016, along with three TV series.

Star Wars

Natalie Portman.

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Two films in the Star Wars prequel trilogy - Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones - are featured on lists of the highest-grossing films of the decade, though the trilogy began in 1999. Set before the events of the original trilogy, which ran from 1977 to 1983, the films introduced a brand new cast of characters to a new generation of fans, with stars that included Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. 

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki.

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Hayao Miyasaki’s animated movies are some of the most highly acclaimed and revered films of all time. His most famous is 2001’s Spirited Away, which won the second-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002, and is widely considered to be one of the best animated films ever made, as well as being the highest-grossing film in Japanese history until 2020.

The Matrix Reloaded

The Matrix Reloaded.

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Following the release of The Matrix in 1999, this sequel from the Wachowski sisters became a huge success, both commercially and critically. The science fiction action films were incredibly influential, causing a boom in the use of special effects such as slow-motion and the ‘bullet time’ effect.


2012 World Premiere.

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The 2000s saw a wave of post-apocalyptic blockbuster films, including The Road, I Am Legend and The Day After Tomorrow. 2012, released in 2009, depicts a world that appears to be ending, and received mixed reviews despite its box-office success.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe

Premiere of the Chronicles of Narnia.

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While based on a famous children’s book by C.S. Lewis, the 2005 adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ended up being the third highest-grossing film of that year. The year of its release allowed for impressive visual effects and the film fit in with the wider trend of fantasy films at the time.

Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr.

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While Marvel movies dominate the box office today, when Marvel Studios released its first movie, Iron Man, it was a gamble over whether it would be as successful as executives hoped it would be. Luckily, Iron Man had one of the highest-grossing opening weekends of all time, and its success would contribute to the legacy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ice Age series

John Leguizamo.

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Two Ice Age movies take a spot on lists of the highest-grossing films of the 2000s, and it’s not surprising, considering how beloved the animated series was. Set in the Pleistocene ice age, the franchise focuses on three characters who find themselves forming an unlikely friendship group across the first film. 


Megan Fox.

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The 2000s in film saw the success of various franchises, and the Transformers franchise included two features on the list of the 50 highest-grossing films of the decade. Directed by Michael Bay and launching the career of Megan Fox, Transformers partially signalled a resurgence of big-budget, high-action blockbusters, which already had a fanbase that studios could bank on.


Brad Bird.

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Ratatouille is a much-loved Pixar animation that Brad Bird wrote and directed following the success of The Incredibles. Following a rat named Remy who inadvertently becomes a famous Parisian chef, the film became one of the highest-grossing animated films.

No Country for Old Men

Joel and Ethan Coen.

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Based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men was writer-director duo the Coen brothers’ highest-grossing film until their 2010 film, True Grit, surpassed it. While Spanish actor Javier Bardem had starred in plenty of films before he depicted the terrifying antagonist Anton Chigur, the 2007 film saw him win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and led to his casting in a range of different English-speaking roles in blockbusters and independent films alike.

The Da Vinci Code

Tom Hanks.

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Like plenty of the 2000s' biggest film successes, The Da Vinci Code is based on a well-known novel. After Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the film was the second highest-grossing of 2006, and was well-received critically, despite some controversies around the story’s religious elements.


Russell Crowe.

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Plenty of the most successful films from the 2000s were epics in some way, and 2000’s Gladiator was no different, becoming the second highest-grossing film of the year, after Mission: Impossible 2. A critical and commercial success, the film’s sequel will be released in 2024, starring Paul Mescal and Pedro Pascal.

The Simpsons Movie

Dan Castallenata.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite computer animation becoming the prominent technique used from the 2000s onwards, The Simpsons Movie is the second highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, after 1994's The Lion King. Released in 2007 after eighteen seasons of the beloved TV show, the film took an environmentalist angle and featured the original cast of the show.

Hannah Holway
Shopping writer

Hannah is the UK Shopping Writer for woman&home. As a shopping writer, Hannah has written on everything from period pants to wine subscriptions, and is especially interested in sustainable alternatives to well-known products, as well as books and homeware accessories. 

Before she joined the team at woman&home Hannah headed up the social media accounts for Wonderland in 2019, where she was also a Contributing Editor for the magazine’s sister titles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah also explored evolving shopping trends at New York Magazine’s The Strategist UK, researching everything from face masks to status candles and even pens.