2001 one was a big year for movies everywhere. Indian cinema saw some game-changing releases, Hollywood saw the beginning of iconic franchises that are popular to this date, and some great filmmakers made their debuts. A 20th anniversary is a great excuse to revisit and celebrate these cult-classics, blockbuster franchises and guilty pleasures.
The relevance of one of Christopher Nolan’s first features seems to only increase over time. The bigger and more mind-bendingly ambitious his films get, the more they make us want to discover where it all started. Memento began his career of mind-mess movies and to this day it remains one of his most interesting.
2) Legally Blonde
One of the most unlikely yet wonderful underdog stories on screen. Elle Woods’ (Reese Witherspoon) origin story seems to have only appreciated with age. While many dismissed it for its shiny goofiness, over time it’s been celebrated as a progressive, self-aware and heartening comedy which remains a strong reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. There’s also a much-awaited new instalment on the way.
3) Ocean’s Eleven
The first part of Steven Soderbergh’s slick, sophisticated crime caper is still the yardstick for not only a great heist movie, but also a killer ensemble cast that became the very definition of cool.
The urban fairytale about a charmingly naive girl who tries to help those around her remains full of escapism, unbridled hope and optimism. Qualities which have never been more important.
20 years on, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan hasn’t lost its magic. One of Hindi cinema’s greatest underdog tales, a powerful script, impressive execution and an unforgettable soundtrack from A R Rahman made it one of the only Indian films to have bagged an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. And rightly so.
6) Dil Chahta Hai
A month after Lagaan came another game-changer starring Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna and Saif Ali Khan. Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut Dil Chahta Hai (2001) was…different. From the way it was shot, to the costumes, to the way characters talked and behaved, to the pitch of the performances. It was the definitive introduction to cool for an entire generation.
7) Spirited Away
You can see why Spirited Away remains one of the most celebrated animation films of all time. In this age of Pixar and Dreamworks where mainstream animation has developed a sort of sameness, the studio Ghibli aesthetic has never been more refreshing. Aside from storytelling that challenged and refused to be for young minds alone, Spirited Away still makes you feel every feeling possible.
8) The Fast And The Furious
It’s always fun to see where it all started. This is the film that launched a billion prequels, sequels and spin offs. While the franchise has got larger and more cartoonish over time, the first instalment remains one of the series’ best – an action flick with a genuinely interesting plot and winning characters.
9) Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
Massive CGI-fuelled epic fantasy sagas don’t tend to age all that well as filmmaking advances. That’s why it’s pretty amazing how these films continue to dazzle despite numerous attempts over the years by few fantasy franchises to come close to recreating a similar kind of magic.
10) Chandni Bar
National treasure Tabu won her second National Film Award for Best Actress for her unforgettable performance as a bar dancer in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Chandni Bar.
Gautham Vasudev Menon’s first film, issues an all, remains a much-loved love story with great music. It’s a film he made before developing the signature style he’s now known for, but it’s still full of unforgettable sequences like that sensational love-at-first-sight scene. I bet you’re whistling that tune now.
Sibi Malayil’s beloved Malayalam rom-com about a son who tries to reunite his widower father with his first love is just as enjoyable today, giving us an unforgettable father-son bromance.
Despite it sketchy depiction of mental illness, Kamal Haasan’s film was ahead of its time and still holds, down to its wildly imaginative scenes (like that acid trip sequence) and the thrilling cat and mouse chases between the hero and psychotic villain Nandhu, both played by Kamal Hassan.
14) Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone
The coming of age fantasy franchise that an entire generation grew up with, The Philosopher’s Stone saw the birth of a rare franchise that seemed to really understand the meaning of adaptation. Also they’re straight up adorable in it.
15) Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
Not all the films on this list have aged like fine wine. Time has ensured that K3G remains just as iconic, but not necessarily for the same reasons. In its time it felt like one of the greatest, grandest movies ever. Over the years it’s become more of a guilty pleasure. But while the nature of the appeal may have changed, it certainly hasn’t diminished.
A film about a man who schools dirty politicians will never not be relevant in India. Anil Kapoor played a different kind of angry young man figure offering a more commercial take on what we wish a politician was – an almost vigilante-esque figure who dols out justice against the corrupt left, right and centre. While much of the packaging feels dated, the emotions feel just as strong.
Shyam Benegal’s Zubeidaa stood out for its compelling narrative, grounded storytelling and fantastic performances from Rekha, Karisma Kapoor and Manoj Bajpayee. It’s that rare film that refused to portray women as victims, but rather as headstrong characters taking charge of their own narratives.
Widely considered one of the most game-changing animated films of all time (and the very first to use CGI technology), Shrek broke the innocent image of animation by being a fairy tale that made fun of fairy tales.
Director Jayaraj’s adaption of Antony and Cleopatra still very much holds up for how it transported the classic doomed love story to a more local setting.
20) Bridget Jones’s Diary
The zany beloved comedy starring Renee Zellweger was a product of the golden age of rom-coms. The story of an overweight girl whose life is a total mess and yet winds up with the hot lawyer never gets old.