The 2000s was a time of interesting change for cinema. Popular movies and award winning films were no longer one and the same as some of the best films of each year tended to flop and some of the best moments in those films were only recognized in hindsight. It was also a time where superhero movies experienced a significant resurgence and over the top performances were seen as more of an art than a stain on otherwise great projects. They all resulted in some of the best modern movie moments to hit the big screen to date. As we near the end of September my month-long look at the best moments in film continues with a breakdown of the last full decade of films and the moments that helped make them memorable. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Moments of the 2000s.
For this list I looked at famous movie moments that premiered on the big screen from the year 2000 through 2009. During this decade we saw bigger characters filled with personality and grit while superheroes, amazing villains and even some more tender character moments all helped provide memorable scenes that defined an evolutionary time in the medium. This is part of a series of lists spanning the decades of film which will all culminate to my picks for the Top 20 Movie Moments of All Time at the end of September. The top FOUR moments of every list will be considered for the ultimate list later this month.
For the sake of this series iconic moments are considered any brief or extended moments in a single project that have left a lasting impression on viewers. These can be monologues, one-shots, or several minutes of filming as long as it takes place in succession before changing to a new idea or perspective.
That said let’s return to a decade not too far gone from today that help set the stage for what cinema has become in the modern day. What is your favorite movie moment from the 2000s? Feel free to tell me in the comments below and be sure to check back all throughout the month of September to see my other lists spanning the decades. We have one more list to go before the final countdown as I explore the 2010s later this week to feel free to go back to my previous lists of Classic Movie Moments, and my Movie Moments of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to see what you missed so far. Here we go!
10. Alonzo’s Last Stand, “Training Day”
Let’s start off in 2001 with one of many great films Denzel Washington has been a part of since the dawn of the new millennium. Washington’s performance as a corrupt cop in LA earned him an Oscar and you need look nowhere else than the climactic scene of the film that makes this list for proof as to why he earned such praise. Late in the film Washington’s Alonzo is cornered for his crimes by his young partner Jake. Alonzo tries to gain support from the congregating masses by giving one of the most amazingly well done scene chewing moments to ever be recorded for film. Alonzo loses his mind bashing everyone who has turned their backs on him and then compares himself to King Kong with a line that has become famous and often used in social circles as an overexaggeration for one’s own relevance or influence. It’s one of Denzel’s best moments as an actor and brings his character’s sociopathic personality full circle in one of the best thrillers of the 2000s.
9. Bonding Over Elton John, “Almost Famous”
While originally a box office failure “Almost Famous” was hailed as one of the best films of the year 2000 and gained more respect as time went on. One scene in particular has become quite famous as it features most of the major cast singing along to “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. The film focuses on a child prodigy who begins writing for Rolling Stone and goes on tour with a band to profile them for a story while also bonding with a groupie named Penny Lane. At one point the band finds themselves at a loss but they are brought back together and their disputes resolved when they hear Elton John’s immortal tune “Tiny Dancer”. The song cuts through the tension perfectly as one by one the band members and their groupies begin to lighten up and eventually everyone joins in singing the song with passion and joy. It’s an important moment where everyone remembers why they are doing what they’re doing, for the love of the music and the passion of the lyrics, and it helped make “Tiny Dancer” an Elton John staple 28 years after its initial release.
8. The Pit of Death, “300”
You all know this scene. In 2006 “300” became a massive box office hit and established Zack Snyder as a bankable director. The movie’s most iconic scene has been imitated, parodied and referenced more times that I could count. With the film focusing on the legend of the 300 Spartans who took on the Persian army there is one epic moment that officially acknowledges Spartan’s refusal to bow to Persia. Early in the film a herald arrives and approaches King Leonidas demanding acknowledgement of the Spartans submission to Persian King Xerxes. Leonidas refuses and solidifies his stance against Persia by kicking the herald into a pit which fans have dubbed the “Pit of Death”. Leonidas’ defiant declaration that “This is Sparta” is still a popular overused quote from the film. In one bold moment viewers are shown that the Spartans are ready for war and are not afraid to defy an enemy that has all the advantages. Although people may be tired of seeing this moment play out there’s no denying it’s continued relevance in pop culture even over ten years later.
7. The Upside-Down Kiss, “Spider-Man”
The 2002 superhero film “Spider-Man” played a major role in the revitalization of an entire genre in the new millennium. We all know the story. Peter Parker becomes the titular hero and takes on the Green Goblin while also trying to woo Mary Jane Watson. It’s that very romance that I’m focusing on here as it gives us one of the most ridiculously clever, sexy and, in hindsight, over-the-top romantic scenes of the entire decade. In the film’s second act Parker is embracing his life as Spider-Man while Mary Jane finds herself in trouble as usual. Having been saved by the hero numerous times Mary Jane finds herself smitten and fulfills her fantasy after Spider-Man takes out the bad guys and hangs upside down to talk to Mary Jane. As a reward for Spider-Man’s actions Mary Jane pulls down his mask, exposing the hero’s mouth and kisses Spider-Man upside down in the rain. While today some might mock this moment there’s no getting around how memorable it is and its lasting impact on the medium. Movie’s have tried for years to match it, but none have ever been able to pull it off quite so perfectly.
6. The Crazy 88, “Kill Bill”
Oh Quentin Tarantino. After capturing the world with “Pulp Fiction” the director offered one of his most well-known projects in 2003 with “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, the first half of his “Kill Bill” duology. The movie is a martial arts masterpiece borrowing classic genre tropes, visuals and concepts and adapting them to a more modern story with updated special effects which are all on display in this extended seven-minute scene that for me is collectively an elongated moment of amazing sword fighting and combat. This moment sees the movie’s protagonist The Bride go up against the Crazy 88, as the name suggests a group of 88 martial arts fighters all experienced in weapons and combat. The Bride takes them all out one by one all on her own in bloody and stylish fashion. It’s all one fluid battle that could challenge any one-against-many scene in film and it’s by far the most memorable moment from a pair of movies that offer numerous now iconic scenes often parodied from other films and media of that era.
5. Married Life Montage, “Up”
Disney and Pixar have created many great moments during their partnership dating back to the mid-90s and while there are numerous such scenes that could have made their way onto this list few have made as big of an impact as this moment right here. The 2009 film “Up” focuses on an elderly man named Carl whose wife has died leaving him a curmudgeon who goes on an unexpected adventure with a young scout. But to set up the old man’s story we get one of the greatest opening montages in all of film. After seeing Carl meet his wife Ellie as children the film embarks on a near five-minute collection of important moments from this couple’s lives together. While yes this does bend the rules of this countdown a bit I’m not the only one who considers this to be one unified moment, almost like a flashback of sorts. I couldn’t justify leaving it off this list because it’s just so perfectly done and encapsulates everything we need to know about this pairing to allow us to invest in Carl’s upcoming adventure. It’s one of Pixar’s best overall moments and any single snapshot in this montage would be worthy of a spot here.
4. Gandalf’s Last Stand, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a masterful series. In fact, it’s safe to say these three films helped define the entire decade. It all started in 2001 with the most parodied, quoted and referenced film in the series “The Fellowship of the Ring”. While this epic introduction to the series has many quotable lines and iconic scenes, including Sean Bean’s “One does not simply…” moment that became a meme, it’s Gandalf’s final stand that makes this list. For those who knew nothing about “The Lord of the Rings” coming into the film this was extremely unexpected as we saw one of the key characters in the narrative, Gandalf the Grey, seemingly fall to his death in a final act to protect the Fellowship from the Balrog telling the beast defiantly that it will not pass him to get to its targets. While Gandalf’s involvement in the trilogy was far from over this was a moment that presented real stakes and consequences for these characters on their journey and has gone on to be among the most recognizable single moments in the entire series.
3. “I Drink You’re Milkshake”, “There Will Be Blood”
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation and possibly of all time so it’s no surprise at least one of his performances would make it onto this list. Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his role in the Best Picture nominated “There Will Be Blood” from 2007 and the climactic scene in the film not only solidified Day-Lewis as a deserving award winner but also provided one of the most memorable movie moments of the entire decade. The final confrontation between Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview and Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday is filled with tension as Plainview mercilessly lays into Eli comparing him to his twin brother Paul and using a milkshake as a metaphor for how Plainview’s cruelty has trumped Eli’s attempt at being a solid, righteous human being. It’s a scene that has been analyzed heavily since its debut and even became a meme as some have found it ridiculously over the top. Regardless it’s one of Day-Lewis’ most memorable scenes from a career filled with iconic moments that stand the test of time.
2. The Joker’s Magic Trick, “The Dark Knight”
In 2008 superhero films entered a new era with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. It became a phenomenon but one performance became even bigger than the movie itself, the late Heath Ledger as The Joker which provided countless great moments in the film. While Joker’s reveal during the opening bank heist and his blowing up the hospital in a nurse’s outfit were also considered for this list the one that truly deserves the nod is the magic trick moment. Early on Joker meets with a collection of Gotham’s gangsters and offers to rid the world of Batman if they give him half of their money. One criminal boss decides to just kill the clown but not before Joker offers a magic trick, sticking a pencil into the table and saying he is going to make it disappear. He does so by slamming the henchman’s head into the table, forcing the pencil through the man’s eye socket and thus, in fact, making the pencil disappear. It’s an awesome moment that shows Joker’s brutality and confidence in the face of some of Gotham’s most badass criminals and the fact that he does it mere seconds after walking in the room with swagger only adds to the presentation. While it’s not the first time we see him in the movie it’s a defining moment that introduces us to the villain’s creativity and ruthlessness and defines his personality for the rest of the film.
1. The Coin Toss, “No Country for Old Men”
It’s rare that a movie moment becomes iconic through word of mouth. Most know these scenes through viewings of the film, parodies, or memes produced from the imagery. Not this scene. If you know this scene it’s likely because someone told you how awesome it was and you had to see it for yourself. Javier Bardem plays one of cinema’s best villains, Anton Chigurh, in the Best Picture winning “No Country for Old Men” from 2007 and we find out everything we need to know about the character in the opening minutes. Chigurh escapes from prison, kills a driver with a bolt pistol (also an iconic moment) and makes his way to a gas station where the tenant gets on his nerves. Chigurh offers the man a chance to live or die by making the call on a coin toss setting up a tension-filled interaction resulting in Chigurh providing an awesome monologue on the concept of fate and chance. It’s an incredibly shot and performed moment in cinema that defines the personality of the man flipping the coin and well as his fractured patience and personality and his outlook on the world in barely three minutes of film. It truly is one of the best movie scenes ever and by far the most iconic and memorable of the 2000s.