ByJack Mitchell, writer at
I'm a student at the University of Sussex, studying Drama and Film. I'm a huge cinephile, watching and discussing a wide variety of cinema
Jack Mitchell

The 2010s have struggled to find their own distinctive identity. Although social media has become more influential, politics are in turmoil and celebrity culture is more prevalent than ever, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly unique about this generation. Everything seems to just be an intensified version of the tensions of previous eras. However, hindsight could eventually reveal the identity of the 2010s. For now, let's take a retrospective look at what movies encapsulated the atmosphere of the 2000s:

5. American Pie (1999)

'American Pie' [Credit: Universal]
'American Pie' [Credit: Universal]

While coming-of-age movies have always been common (with films like Stand By Me and The Goonies being major examples), the aftermath of American Pie in 1999 was huge. What followed was a whole new comedy genre in the 2000s. There's often a huge cultural hangover from the previous decade, and the trends set in the '90s leaked into the noughties.

The coming-of-age genre was turned on its head by introducing traditionally American gross-out humor, profanities, sexualization, drugs and alcohol into a previously rather innocent genre. These elements had tended to be sidelined beforehand, but this look at teenage life, while sensationalized, captured a new form of adventure for teenagers in our less censored society. While by no means a critically acclaimed or highbrow film, American Pie sums up the coming of age shift that oozed into the 2000s.

4. The Matrix (1999)

Here we go, the second film on my noughties list made in the '90s. But, like before, the cultural hangover stuck around for years after. Everything in the early 2000s seemed hellbent on emulating The Matrix. While now aged and far less cool than it used to seem, this film had such a huge impact on the action movie genre. Every movie had people in dark black clothing leaping around in slow motion and shooting CGI bullets at each other.

Alongside momentarily changing the trajectory of the action movie genre, it also tapped into people's Y2K fears. The fear of technology combatting those who made it isn't a new concept, but with the new decade approaching, people thought the Y2K bug would contaminate computers and turn them wild. This didn't happen, but The Matrix embodied these concerns right on the brink of the event. The Matrix may not belong to the noughties, but my oh my did it change the terrain of the new centuries cinematic landscape.

3. The Dark Knight (2008)

'The Dark Knight' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Dark Knight' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Superhero films, while at times gloomy, have traditionally been fun, fantastical films. However, the 2000s, or more specifically The Dark Knight, has caused a huge shift in the genre. Now, it seems more common to see the dark and gritty superhero aesthetic. Arguably the best superhero film ever made, The Dark Knight incorporated elements of crime, noir and superhero genres into one tightly constructed, haunting, tense and masterful whole. It proved that superhero films don't just have to be men in spandex slapping each other in the face; it can be something more profound, human, realist and nightmarish.

On top of revolutionizing a major genre, The Dark Knight also summed up the growing fears of terrorism post 9/11. The Joker's scheme centers on stirring mass hysteria, something prevalent in today's unpredictable world of terror. This fear reached its boiling point in the noughties, as emphasized by this film, and left an irreversible mark on the political world.

2. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

'The Day After Tomorrow' [Credit: Fox]
'The Day After Tomorrow' [Credit: Fox]

We've been conscious of environmental damage for decades now, but the 2000s saw an intensification of pressure on governments to curb the damage. The disaster film franchise started to focus on issues like pollution and global warming, with The Day After Tomorrow summarizing the changing attitudes of the era. While an eccentric, overly dramatic, scientifically illiterate film, it emphasized people's concerns with a blockbuster aimed at a wide audience.

While films like An Inconvenient Truth take a more credible approach to the issue of environmental damage, incorporating real science, less critically lauded films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 definitely had a greater cultural significance due to their widespread appeal for audiences of all kinds.

1. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive [Credit: Universal]
Mulholland Drive [Credit: Universal]

While on the surface a classically ambiguous Lynch tale, Mulholland Drive is a story about our obsession with celebrity culture. The media has never given the famous an easy ride, constantly harassing them and invading their personal lives. However, this escalated in the 2000s. With the popularization of the internet and fewer restrictions on censorship, celebrity culture has taken over the world. The cult of celebrity is inescapable, and Mulholland Drive perfectly exemplified the shift in societal attitudes.

Also, regardless of being a vital message about our society, this film was voted the best film of the century. When people think of classics, they almost always automatically delve back to the advent of cinema, but there are groundbreaking, phenomenal films still being made. Mulholland Drive is a classic that won't be forgotten anytime soon (nor should it be). Although it summed up the birth of an intensified celebrity culture in the 2000s, it seems even more relevant to the social media generation.

Which films defined the 2000s for you? Let us know in the comments.


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