The Best Films of the 21st Century, According to Critics

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These are the 100 greatest movies from the past 18 years. Various

If it feels like just yesterday you put down your brick phone and hung up your low-rise flares, it may be disconcerting to learn we’re almost a fifth if the way through the 21st century.

Considering that movies were only popularized around the turn of the 20th century, that means the last 18 years make up a significant chunk of cinematic history.

Although some may say that movies peaked with classics such as Casablanca or Citizen Kane, it could be argued that filmmakers now have a century of movies to build on, pushing the art form into interesting new directions.

Metacritic has created a list of the 100 best movies of the 21st century, using their secretive score calculator. “We carefully curate a large group of the world’s most respected critics, assign scores to their reviews, and apply a weighted average to summarize the range of their opinions,” they say. The result is a single-number score that gives a sense of how critics felt about a film.

The list kicks off with the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, which follows the French performance artist Philippe Petit’s incredible tightrope walk between the top of the Twin Towers.

It goes on to include recent films that have done well with critics. Faces Places (2017), another documentary, follows filmmakers Agnes Varda and JR as they travel across France, making portraits of everyone they meet. World War II film Dunkirk, released in 2017, is also high up on the list.

This list indicates what were vintage years for movie making—and which ones weren’t. There seems to be an increase in film quality during 2013, the years when the number of entries on the list jumps up rapidly—the very top film on the list was made in 2014. 2005 seems to have been a very poor year for cinema, with only one entry — at number 95.

The list was made before the 2018 release of The Rider, a story of a young cowboy that critics gave an impressive score of 92. The Tale, which stars Laura Dern as a woman questioning her past sexual experiences, would also make the list, having received a score of 90 since it was released in May this year.

Neither, though, reaches the number one film’s perfect 100. Join us on our cinematic voyage to discover which films are the very best of the 21st century.

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100. Man on Wire (2008). Metacritic score: 89. Director: James Marsh. Summary: “On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between New York's twin towers, then the world’s tallest buildings.”—Magnolia Pictures Magnolia Pictures
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99. Columbus (2017). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Kogonada. Summary: “When a renowned architecture scholar falls suddenly ill during a speaking tour, his son Jin (John Cho) finds himself stranded in Columbus, Indiana.”—Metacritic Sundance Institute
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98. House of Flying Daggers (2004). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Yimou Zhang. Summary: “The year is 859 AD, and China's once flourishing Tang Dynasty is in decline. Unrest is raging throughout the land, and the corrupt government is locked in battle with rebel armies that are forming in protest.”—Sony Pictures Classics Sony Pictures Classics
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97. The Lives of Others (2006). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Summary: “At once a political thriller and human drama, The Lives of Others begins in East Berlin in 1984, five years before Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall and ultimately takes us to 1991, in what is now the reunited Germany.”—Sony Pictures Classics Sony Pictures Classics
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96. The Overnighters (2014). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Jesse Moss. Summary: “In the tiny town of Williston, North Dakota, tens of thousands of unemployed hopefuls show up with dreams of honest work and a big paycheck under the lure of the oil boom.”—Drafthouse Films Drafthouse Films
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95. The Best of Youth (2005). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Marco Tullio Giordana. Summary: “Spanning four decades, from the chaotic 1960s to the present, this passionate epic follows two Italian brothers through some of the most tumultuous events of recent Italian history.”—Miramax Miramax
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94. Lost in Translation (2003). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Sofia Coppola. Summary: “Unable to sleep, Bob (Murray) and Charlotte (Johansson), two Americans in Tokyo, cross paths one night in the luxury hotel bar. This chance meeting soon becomes a surprising friendship.”—Focus Features Focus Features
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93. The Act of Killing (2013). Metacritic score: 89. Director: Anonymous and Christine Cynn and Joshua Oppenheimer. Summary: “A documentary in which former Indonesian death squad leaders reenact their real-life mass-killings in various cinematic genres.”—Metacritic Det Danske Filminstitut
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92. Persepolis (2007). Metacritic score: 90. Director: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Summary: “Persepolis is the poignant story of a young girl in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of the precocious and outspoken 9-year-old Marjane that we see a people's hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power--forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands.”—Sony Classics Diaphana Distribution
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91. Paterson (2016). Metacritic score: 90. Director: Jim Jarmusch. Summary: “Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him.”—Metacritic Amazon Studios
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90. American Hustle (2013). Metacritic score: 90. Director: David O. Russell. Summary: “A fictional film set in the alluring world of one of the most stunning scandals to rock our nation.”—Sony Pictures Columbia Pictures