So far, we've given you lists of the Ten Greatest TV Shows, Songs, and Albums of the decade. Now it's time to turn our focus to the Silver Screen.
This decade, moviemaking became incredibly fractured. After the Indie Boom of the nineties there suddenly wasn't much of a difference between an independent/art film and the mainstream movies from blockbuster studios. Many of these studios were now attempting to make their own indies, blurring the lines and resulting in more failures than successes.
Of course, there were still plenty of good movies to go around. The following is a list of the Ten Greatest such movies. Remember, we are dealing with Greatest - not Best, not Favorite - but Greatest. Here's a refresher on the five determining factors that make a movie the greatest:
Appeal - How well-liked something is by the masses. Simply put, how many people consider it their "favorite".
Acclaim - How the critics and cognoscente evaluated something. In other words, how often it is considered the "best".
Popluarity - Very simple - how many people experienced this piece of pop culture in the way it would be consumed.
Zeitgeist - How much something enters the public discourse. Catchphrases, clichés and a general buzzing determine this category.
Influence/Originality - Pretty much speaks for itself - One thing's impact on those that come after it is crucial in determining greatness.
And with that, here are the Ten Greatest Movies of the Decade:
10. "Slumdog Millionaire"
The film that gave hope to the little guy. No, not the underdog in film (that's been done a million times over) but the movie Half-Hindi Bollywood-influenced film in another land that can actually appeal to Americans on a large scale. It didn't seem possible, but "Slumdog" proved it could happen in spades.
This movie became something of a cultural phenomenon for the period around its release. Dominating the box office with a $140 million gross (who thought that could happen?) and sending crowds into roaring cheers as the credits rolled. This was as well-liked as any movie this decade and as highly acclaimed - winning the Best Picture Oscar for 2008.
Image © Twentieth Century Fox
One of the few Best Picture winners to last all decade. In a ten year period that gave us quickly forgotten Best Pic winners like "Chicago", "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Departed", this is the only one that stuck. The only one you wouldn't be surprised to see on TNT at two o'clock in the afternoon. And the only one you'd be likely to watch.
That's probably because this was the Oscar winner with the broadest appeal. It was an old-school epic filled with adrenaline, vigor, and a balls-to-the-wall performance from Russell Crowe as he took down an empire with his sword and melodramatic speeches.
Image © Paramount Pictures
8. "The Passion of the Christ"
When Mel Gibson first announced that he planned to make a film detailing the final hours of Jesus Christ's life and that he'd do it completely in the dead languages of the day, many took it as yet another of the notorious prankster's many practical jokes. Oh how wrong they were.
"The Passion" was a complete cultural watershed upon its release. Inspiring controversy from all sides of the film and raging debates in the press for weeks. All this before anybody even saw a frame of it.
When it finally did hit theaters, nobody could stop its box office storm. It raked in a divine $370 million domestically, and was hailed by critics as a directorial tour de force due to its unrelenting realism and attention to detail.
Not bad for a movie everybody thought was a joke at first.
7. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl"
Pirate movies are typically cursed at the box office. How do you break the curse? Bring in Jerry Bruckheimer and throw in a generous portion of Johnny Depp.
Depp's performance in this film is now one of screen legend just a few years after he first stumbled through the docks as Captain Jack Sparrow. A blend of Pepe Le Peu and Lee Marvin, Depp bravely spit in the face of the Disney mythology to play the pirate captain in the way he saw fit, and quickly turned his visage into an icon, earning his first-ever Oscar nomination for his efforts.
Image © Disney Enterprises, Inc.
6. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"
It may have started with the Farrelly Brothers, it may have stared with "Seinfeld", but wherever it started, coming into this century, the "no hugging, no learning" mantra for male comedy was taken as gospel. Until Judd Apatow finally hit the big screen.
With Apatow at its helm, "Virgin" took the gross-out, purely male comedy in a new direction: One that aimed at the heart as well as the belly laugh. Sure, the characters inhabiting Smart Tech were mostly sophomoric louts, but they were are louts, and Apatow used them to further his ultimate theme - providing us with a comic foil to his message of holding on to the concept of love, even if it's eluded us for so long.
Of course, the movie was also extremely funny - and took the free form improvisational comedy that's existed on the fringes of the best comedy films for years and allowed it to make up the movie's entire comic being. The way Apatow allowed his actors to simply become characters and inject into them the humor of the moment was revolutionary - and created a new type of comedy that allowed the audience to feel that they too were in on the joke, even if it was being created by professionals.
Audiences and critics responded well to this new brand of improvisational heartfelt funny film. The movie nearly notched a Best Original Screenplay nomination (an amazing feat considering how little of the film was actually written) and became a DVD mainstay - the movie most watched repeatedly by people who owned it.
This was a true comedy classic that influenced a wave of films to follow, including the hugely popular "SuperBad" and "Knocked Up". Far outlasting its gimmick title.
5. "The Hangover"
Other than "The Passion" (remember, Mel Gibson actually defended the film against controversy before anybody made a fuss, in essence, creating the controversy himself) this was the greatest movie marketing job of the decade. It took the mean guy from "The Wedding Crashers" and one of the guys from "The Office" and made them into $275 Million movie stars.
But it's not just the raw numbers. Think of it this way - "The Hangover" had no built in audience whatsoever. It had no stars, no ride with which to associate it, no comic book, no novel, no video game, no previous movies, no nothing - just a funny premise and some solid actors, and it performed like gangbusters.
Image © Warner Bros
This is usually the type of movie that falls flat with the critics, but that didn't happen with "The Hangover" as reviewers praised the use of mystery inside its comedy and breathless pacing to create something that maximized the fratboy comedy genre.
All that made "The Hangover" the Greatest Comedy of the Decade.
Before "Spider-Man" the only two real successes in the individual superhero movie genre were the original Superman films and the Batman films of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton that soon became the Batman films of Joel Schumacher and George Clooney's mailman (he was mailing it in, get it?).
With "Spider-Man", the superhero film became a true event. Building on the small (small) lead of the X-Men movie, "Spider-Man" showed that it was possible to turn something of comic book geekdom into the type of film that would pack theaters from both sides of the aisle. This was everything the typical blockbuster wanted to be and more.
The more came in the way this film captured imaginations and did more than entertain. This was a movie more about people than it was about the explosions and cheap laughs necessary for box office success in the summertime. It brought an intelligence to the popcorn genre that would soon become a requirement for transcendent success.
Image © Fox Broadcasting Company
Of course, the success of "Spider-Man" also led to the return of a certain Dark Knight, and laid the groundwork for that hero's cerebral return, but more on that later. . .
3. The "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy
Yes, it's a cop out to choose more than one movie in a slot, but since these films were all shot at the same time, and really put together like one nine-hour movie, it's okay to make an exception.
For the first few years of the decade "Rings" was like a steamroller that cleared out the holiday movie season: any other movie in its path was instantly flattened. It made more than $1 Billion at the domestic box office in total, and became the first set of movies since "Star Wars" to send people into tents and costumes in order to be the first to catch a glimpse of Gandalf and the Gang.
While the film achieved profound success among the nerd herd (something that was nearly certain) it also crossed out of that little geek nook and into the mainstream. It was adored by children and mainstream action junkies alike. It was both a family film, and one to obsess over for the film snob in us all.
Image © Pierre Vinet / © 2004 New Line Home Entertainment.
More important than the acclaim at the time of its release was the lasting impact it left in its wake. Of all the films that came out this decade, this trilogy will probably be looked back upon the most as a true classic - it's the movie that will continue to be repackaged 50 years from now on DVD and run on Turner Classic Movies with several talking heads gushing over it.
If there was an ever an Instant Classic this decade, it was this trilogy. But that didn't make it the greatest of the decade.
2. "The Dark Knight"
It seemed like we were waiting all decade for that one unequivocal box office success and then, like the Joker taking on a pencil, "The Dark Knight" dominated ticket sales for more than a month in the summer of 2008. There were other hits this decade, but nothing had anywhere near the staying power or immediate impact of this Batman flick. A rare combo of massive popularity.
But this was more than just a summer popcorn blockbuster. This was a film of rare acclaim during the summer months - a true four-star movie that led to one of the most egregious Best Picture snubs ever and featured maybe the most iconic performance of the decade.
It was that performance, Heath Ledger's incendiary Joker, that put this movie on yet another strata of greatness. The unfortunate circumstances of Ledger's death, and the fact that this is essentially Ledger's final film (yes, there's "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" still to come, but that's a bit small to be seen a true swan song) made "The Dark Knight" something more than just a movie - it was like a last chance to witness greatness, almost like being able to see James Dean's final film - if that film would have been a blockbuster anyway.
Image © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
It's "The Dark Knight's" blend of quality, gravitas, and old-fashioned popcorn appeal that sets it as the standard for summer blockbusters to come. It seems like it's no longer an option (see the widespread hatred for "Transformers" as an example, big grosses notwithstanding) for a blockbuster to simply blow things up - movies now have to have a brain as well as a body to make a lasting impact on summer audiences. Going forward, "The Dark Knight" will stand as the benchmark of the genre of the intelligent event film.
Just about every movie on this list came from something other than an original idea. Be it a comic book, a book, a previous movie, or a ride, there weren't a whole lot of original characters to emerge in the first decade of the 21st Century. There was really just one - a Scottish-accented Green Ogre.
"Shrek" was almost instantly more than a movie. The way it absolutely decimated everything we held dear about cartoons, fairy tales, and family films in general with such aplomb practically defined this decade of meta - the decade where messing with and bending genre became the only accepted way to pull off a conventional film without an audience-wide eye roll. At this point we'd seen all the tricks. "Shrek" recognized that and used that knowledge to invent tricks of its own - tricks that would be copied for the rest of the decade by Pixar, Adult Swim, and dozens of live-action satires that could never really outdo the original.
But again, it was more than a movie. "Shrek" became something that just kind of existed in the background of everything pop culture. It seemed everything from "Entourage" to Daytime Soap Operas would reference everybody's favorite green creature at every chance they could. This always felt organic and necessary, as everybody else was doing it at the same time. "Shrek" was just that beloved and successful. It couldn't be stopped and never really lost any momentum for the rest of the decade, despite its year 2001 release.
The film wasn't the biggest financial success ever (though it did do about $267 million in business), but its inferior sequel notched the second-highest gross of the decade - fueled mostly by residual love for the original and adoration for the character.
Image © Paramount Pictures
Not convinced this is the greatest movie of the decade yet? Keep this in mind - "I Am Legend", a film that grossed over $250 million at the box office, featured about 90 solid seconds where the cast did nothing but watch "Shrek". And, in retrospect, that was probably the best part of the movie.
If that's not real greatness, nothing is.
There you have it, the Ten Greatest Movies of the Decade. Check back tomorrow for the Ten Greatest Entertainers of the Decade.
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer