For those who were around to usher in the 2000s, the decade also known as the aughts, and were wondering what the new time period would bring, the era definitely turned out to be filled with many unpredictable turns, including some tumultuous world events.
Through it all, audiences kept going to the movies, to laugh, to cry, and to be thrilled. The big summer blockbusters continued to entertain, impressing moviegoers each year. Some new franchises were born while others made welcome returns to theaters, the superhero movie genre took off like never before, and computer animation became the dominant form of animation.
As we bid farewell to this year's summer movie season, A.frame takes a look back at some of the summer blockbusters from the first decade of the 21st century that made those years unforgettable.
Long dormant on the moviegoing scene, the sword-and-sandal Roman epic made a roaring comeback with director Ridley Scott's opulent action-adventure drama, Gladiator. Starring Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius, a grieving general betrayed into enslaved gladiatorial combat under the corrupt rule of Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the film was a massive hit at the box office when it was released during the first week of May, and went on to spend months in the top 10 at the box office.
Gladiator received 12 Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, and won 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Crowe, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound. The film's original score, composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, also received an Oscar nomination and remains recognizable and iconic to this day.
After years of rumors, the film's long-awaited sequel, Gladiator 2, which will be directed by Scott and will star Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, and Paul Mescal, is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2024.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
After the success of the Brian De Palma-directed first film, the tone shifted radically with John Woo in the director's chair for Tom Cruise's second outing as the intrepid Ethan Hunt. Woo had, of course, made a name for himself making operatic martial arts films and action thrillers in Hong Kong.
A global threat is afoot within the IMF as a rogue agent (Dougray Scott) intends to use a deadly modified disease as criminal leverage. The espionage, however, takes somewhat of a back seat to the explosive action scenes, including a much-touted (and very real) free solo cliffhanger opening, and extensive motorcycle stunt work.
Ving Rhames returns as IMF hacker Luther. (To date, Rhames has appeared in every single film of the franchise.) Mission: Impossible 2 also co-stars Brendan Gleeson, Dominic Purcell, and Thandiwe Newton, who plays a thief who joins Ethan's team. And the summer of 2000 got its second musical dose of Zimmer, who composed the original score for this suspenseful and exciting action thriller.
The seventh entry in the franchise, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is in theaters now.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer may be best known for action favorites such as Bad Boys (1995), The Rock (1996), and Armageddon (1998), but they changed gears radically with this epic, fictionalized depiction of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military.
The romantic drama depicts a love triangle between enlisted lifelong friends (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) and a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) while portraying a variety of historical figures. Co-starring Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Garner, and Jaime King, Pearl Harbor features a lengthy attack sequence that is simply astonishing technically. Although not a favorite among critics, the film was a huge success worldwide commercially.
Pearl Harbor received four Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song for Diane Warren's "There You'll Be." It went on to win the Oscar for Best Sound Editing.
Regarded by many as the template for the modern superhero movie, Sam Raimi's high-flying portrayal of the web-slinging comic book icon introduced Tobey Maguire's take on Peter Parker, here discovering his new superpowers following a bite from a genetically-modified spider, and facing off against Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin (both of whom would reappear in 2021's Spider-Man: No Way Home).
Spider-Man co-stars Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, and Cliff Robertson as Uncle Ben, who reminds Peter that "with great power comes great responsibility."
The task of bringing the Marvel character to the big screen was over 25 years in the making, but the end result proved worth the wait, inspiring two direct sequels, earning two Oscar nominations (Best Visual Effects and Best Sound), earning over $800 million at the box office worldwide, and paving the way for many superhero movies to come.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
The biggest surprise hit of 2002 started off as a limited release in the spring, but then went wide during the summer, eventually becoming the most commercially successful romantic comedy ever released. Nia Vardalos stars as Toula, a Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek man (John Corbett) and then tries to get her big Greek family to accept him with their wedding coming up.
Her screenplay, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, was derived from her one-woman play about the complications that ensue when a Greek woman and a non-Greek man become entangled with her large and rather colorful family leading up to their wedding.
The film went on to inspire a sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016), with a third installment (shot on location on the Greek island of Corfu) in theaters now.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The massive success of The Matrix (1999) immediately put the wheels in motion for a sequel, with sibling filmmakers the Wachowskis tapped to deliver two sequels shot back-to-back to create a trilogy.
For the first sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving all returned for an expanded look at the struggles for freedom among the people of Zion and their relationship to the virtual world where the laws of physics can be bent into eye-popping action scenes.
The show-stopping freeway chase is just one of several standout sequences in a high-octane action film that became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. (A record it held until Deadpool was released in 2016.) Audiences didn’t have to wait long for the third installment as The Matrix Revolutions was released later that year. And the fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections, followed in 2021.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Buoyed by an electrifying performance by Johnny Depp as the eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow, this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced high seas adventure brought one of Disney's most beloved classic theme park rides to vivid cinematic life. A blacksmith, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), teams up with Captain Jack Sparrow to save the woman he loves, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), from undead pirates.
Director Gore Verbinski's quirky sense of humor proved to be one of the vital ingredients in this swashbuckling action-comedy. The robust cast included Jonathan Pryce, Mackenzie Crook, and Geoffrey Rush, whose performance as Captain Barbossa was filled with so much gusto that they had to figure out a way to bring him back again and again for the subsequent entries in the franchise (Dead Man's Chest (2006), At World's End (2007), On Stranger Tides (2011), and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl received five Oscar nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role for Depp, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Makeup.
Finding Nemo (2003)
One of the many beloved films from Pixar Animation Studios is their fifth big-screen feature, Finding Nemo. The adventure comedy is a heartfelt father and son story beneath the waves involving clownfish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and his desperate search for his missing child, Nemo, aided by the eccentric Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres).
Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote the script with Bob Peterson and David Reynolds and then co-directed the film with Lee Unkrich, drew on multiple personal experiences from his life to make the film. Portraying both the beauty and the dangers of the Great Barrier Reef, the thrills and the heartache of life, Finding Nemo remains admired for its technical achievements and for its many moving messages.
Finding Nemo received four Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Editing. And it went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. A sequel, Finding Dory, followed in 2016.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The canvas of Raimi's Spider-Man universe expanded considerably with this second outing, with both Maguire and Dunst returning. This time around, Spider-Man must fend off the villainous Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and contend with Harry Osborn (James Franco) turning vengeful after the events of the previous film.
Raimi's trademark visual style, which he honed on the Evil Dead films, is far more in evidence here, including spectacular imagery involving lethal mechanical tentacles. Those scenes and the impressive flying sequences earned the film a Best Visual Effects Oscar. (It also received nominations for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing.)
The Raimi trilogy would be completed with Spider-Man 3 (2007), though the characters' journeys would be far from over as we now know.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Three years after bringing Anakin Skywalker to adulthood (played by Hayden Christensen) in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002), director George Lucas completed his prequel trilogy with Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith and fulfilled his antihero's path to the dark side in this epic sci-fi action-adventure.
Ewan McGregor returned for his third appearance as Obi-Wan Kenobi (later spun off into a Disney+ series in 2022), here grappling with his Jedi apprentice's fascist tendencies and their effects on his romantic relationship with the pregnant Amidala (Natalie Portman).
Considered the best film in the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith allowed fans of the franchise to witness Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader, a full-fledged villain. Filled with beloved characters and featuring a huge-scale opening attack sequence in space, the film marked the final big screen Star Wars feature for a decade until Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015).
War of the Worlds (2005)
H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi novel about a massive alien attack on London had been adapted numerous times before Steven Spielberg delivered this modern take, here taking place in New Jersey and starring Cruise as a blue-collar dad.
What emerged was one of the most intense sci-fi thrillers of the year, carrying distinct echoes of the still-fresh 9/11 tragedy in its depiction of the breakdown of civilization in the blink of an eye. Co-starring Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins, the film reveals the most villainous — by far — of all of Spielberg's alien visitors.
War of the Worlds proved to be a powerhouse experience on the big screen, and received Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. Its sound mix remains an excellent choice for anyone dying to test out their home theater surround sound system.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
The fifth bestselling Harry Potter novel was brought to the screen two years after its predecessor, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), this time with director David Yates taking over (and remaining in the director's chair all the way through the rest of the franchise).
Here, the mysterious organization from the title is just one element in a swirling storyline involving the growing conspiracy to bring the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) back to his full powers. However, the most fearsome foe this time is the sickly sweet sadist Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), whose swift takeover at Hogwarts is one of the franchise's most chilling depictions of evil.
In addition to the usual rollout with a premium IMAX experience, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix presented its spectacular, glass-shattering 20-minute climax in 3D.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Robert Ludlum's spy on the run, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), appeared on the big screen for the third time following 2001's The Bourne Identity and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, the action-packed The Bourne Ultimatum delivers a spy thriller with intelligent writing, outstanding camerawork, and jaw-dropping stunts. Intended to close out the trilogy, the story closes out Jason Bourne's journey from amnesiac assassin to a man who has rediscovered his identity and is able to confront those behind Treadstone's behavior modification program.
The film's warm reception from audiences and critics ensured that the series would continue, leading to two more Bourne films (to date), The Bourne Legacy (2012) with Jeremy Renner, and Jason Bourne (2016) with Damon returning to the franchise.
The Bourne Ultimatum received three Oscar nominations and went on to win an Oscar in all three of those categories: Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) had introduced a gritty and sophisticated take on Batman, but nothing could have prepared audiences for The Dark Knight, still considered to be one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Christian Bale made his second appearance behind the famous cowl, and Heath Ledger delivered a truly unforgettable performance as the Joker, an agent of chaos.
Batman, Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are attempting to clean up Gotham City. While dealing with the mob, an anarchistic criminal who wears clown makeup emerges, wreaks havoc, and tests everyone's limits.
The stellar cast of The Dark Knight also includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, William Fichtner, Michael Jai White, Chin Han, and Néstor Carbonell. Nolan's powerful writing and direction, along with the captivating performances delivered by the cast, the film's IMAX cinematography, and its thunderous sound design made The Dark Knight the must-see film of the summer of 2008.
For his stunning work, Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won an Oscar for Best Sound Editing, and received six other Oscar nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Makeup. The trilogy concluded in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises.
Iron Man (2008)
It’s hard to believe that Marvel Phase One began 15 years ago when Robert Downey Jr. first stepped into the role of wealthy defense contractor Tony Stark.
During a trip to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest weapon for the U.S. Army, the genius inventor is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build them a weapon. Tony instead creates a high-tech suit of armor and escapes captivity. Once back in the States, Tony uses the tech at his disposal to develop a crime-fighting suit of flying armor and becomes the superhero Iron Man.
Director Jon Favreau and Downey Jr. brought a comic sensibility to the material that became a staple of subsequent Marvel films. Co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard, the film received two Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing.
The character of Iron Man would get two solo sequels, but he would, of course, also appear in all four Avengers films, culminating in his grand finale in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Almost two decades since he last wielded his whip on-screen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Harrison Ford slipped on his fedora once again to play everyone's favorite archaeologist adventurer.
This time, the action jumps from the '40s to 1957, with atomic age anxieties represented by Soviet forces using Jones and his colleagues to get their hands on a treasure that's truly out of this world.
Spielberg returned to direct, and Karen Allen made her second series appearance as Marion Ravenwood, while Cate Blanchett got the chance to gnash her teeth as the villainous Irina Spalko.
Pixar's impressive streak continued with another film from Stanton, this time using computer animation to propel audiences from a ravaged futuristic version of planet Earth to the outer reaches of space where humanity has found complacent refuge from environmental disaster. A unique love story between two robots, WALL-E and EVE, forms the heart of the film, with the former voiced by pioneering sound designer Ben Burtt.
Still regarded as a groundbreaking achievement in computer animation, the film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song for the song "Down to Earth," Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.
Star Trek (2009)
After the original Enterprise crew and their next generation successors had each enjoyed multiple big-screen adventures, it was time for a reboot courtesy of director J.J. Abrams and a fresh cast embodying familiar characters. This iteration of Star Trek stars Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Zoe Saldaña as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov.
Aboard the USS Enterprise, the crew of the starship embark on a voyage, ready to explore the final frontier. Their path puts them on a collision course with Nero (Eric Bana), a commander whose mission of vengeance puts all of mankind in danger.
This was also one of the first films in which the multiverse concept in a Hollywood sci-fi film was implemented, courtesy of a key plotline involving Leonard Nimoy; that concept also figured to a lesser extent in the two sequels to the film, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek Beyond (2016).
The film made history by becoming the only — so far — Star Trek film to win an Oscar (for Best Makeup). Star Trek was also nominated for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
A major beloved character made a shocking exit and Voldemort marshalled his minions for another perilous battle in the sixth Harry Potter adaptation, with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) also dealing with their passage to young adulthood within the turbulent walls of Hogwarts.
Released in IMAX and both 3D and 2D, the film also offered particularly meaty dramatic material for Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape. By the end, the stage is dramatically set for the final showdown, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was later presented as two films; Part 1 was released in 2010, and Part 2 was released in 2011.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.
The Hangover (2009)
The raunchy comedy made a major comeback when director-producer Todd Phillips took audiences on a trip to Vegas unlike any other. Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) find their bachelor party plans for soon-to-be-married buddy Doug (Justin Bartha) going hilariously haywire when the groom is nowhere to be found after a blackout night of partying. The crew must find Doug and get him back to Los Angeles in time for the wedding.
The term "Wolfpack" was never quite the same after The Hangover was released, a rapid-fire comedy that had audiences rolling. Co-starring Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Mike Tyson, Rob Riggle, and Mike Epps, The Hangover made close to half a billion dollars worldwide and became one of the highest-grossing comedies ever produced.
Two sequels were made featuring the same crew, The Hangover Part II (2011) and The Hangover Part III (2013).
Pixar closed out the decade with a film that caught everyone off guard with its deeply moving opening, a sequence which depicts the decades-long romance of adventure-loving Carl and Ellie Fredricksen.
The rest of Up involves 78-year-old widower Carl (voiced by the late Ed Asner) traveling to Paradise Falls in South America in order to fulfill a promise that he made to his late wife. Carl's house happens to be equipped with thousands of colorful helium balloons that allow him to stay in his house and float while on this adventure. Accompanying Carl is a stowaway, Russell (Jordan Nagai), who initially complicates matters before eventually winning Carl over.
Although filled with plenty of laughs, Up never loses sight of its big heart. Co-directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, the smash hit became the second animated feature to ever receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Editing. It went on to win Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score.