Best summer movies since 2000

2000: "Gladiator" (Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix)—On top of impressive action sequences, award-worthy performances by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix and a legendary score from Hans Zimmer, "Gladiator" is a modern epic that rivals "Spartacus" as the definitive gladiator film. Not only is it pleasing to the eyes and ears, but "Gladiator" is filled with quotable dialogue and has an engaging subtext of greed, power, revenge and politics. The film took home five Oscars (picture, actor, sound, visual effects and costume) and was the fourth highest-grossing film of the year behind "Mission Impossible II," "Cast Away," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

2001: "Moulin Rouge!" (Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor)—Not your conventional summer flick, but "Moulin Rouge!" was nonetheless one of the biggest surprises of the year. Taking classic love songs and mixing them into a story of true love, passion and desire while blending camp and emotion makes this movie a heartfelt and engaging experience. The movie wasn't a massive box-office sensation, making only $57 million domestically, but it won two Oscars (art direction, costume design) and was nominated for six others. (picture, actress, sound, makeup, cinematography, editing)."

2002: "Minority Report" (Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow)—Steven Spielberg is probably the greatest director alive today, and sci-fi films are where he reigns supreme. "Minority Report" was a book by Philip K. Dick and told the story of a futuristic America where murder is nonexistent thanks to telepaths known as "Pre-Cogs." John Anderton (Tom Cruise) then must go on the run when the Pre-Cogs predict he will kill a man. The movie is thrilling, beautifully shot and poses questions on ethics in government operations. It's a realistic science fiction film with no punching robots in sight.

2003: "Finding Nemo" (Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres)—Pixar had already established itself as the leader in computer-animated movies. But it wasn't until "Finding Nemo" that the fact was cemented into the framework. The story of a fish, Marlon (Albert Brooks), looking for his son, Nemo, with the help of a fish with short-term memory loss, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), is equal parts hilarious and touching. It showed you can have real, human stories at the heart of animation. "Nemo" went on to make $340 million in the U.S. and was the highest-grossing Pixar movie until "Toy Story 3." The film also won Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards.

2004: "Spider-Man 2" (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst)—The first "Spider-Man" movie was a critical and box-office sensation making $402 million in the U.S. The sequel did not make as much ($373 million), but what it did do was set the standard for all comic book movies until 2008's "The Dark Knight." Along with Oscar-winning visuals, the story focused on what it truly means to be a super hero. Peter Parker a.k.a Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) has to make the decision to continue being Spider-Man or live a normal life. Other comic movies have scratched only the surface on this idea, whereas "Spider-Man 2" made it the entire structure. It made a superhero seem plausible in a dramatic sense.

2005: "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" (Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman)—The previous two prequels in the legendary Star Wars series are the bane of every nerd's existence. But even they cannot deny the sheer power of the final installment "Revenge of the Sith." Sure some of the same problems exist. Dialogue and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are laughable at times, but everything else is top-notch. The visuals, even today, are state-of-the-art and the emotional power of the entire saga comes pouring in during the movie's final half. The final chapter triumphs over many flaws in the previous installments and brings balance to the series.

2006: "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly)— 2006 was a low point in summer movie history. With few rays of sunshine ("MI: 3," "Little Miss Sunshine") not even Pixar's "Cars" was able to salvage it. But Will Ferrell and the gang brought a little hope back with their hilarious NASCAR spoof. Ferrell played arrogant redneck Ricky Bobby to a tee and showed that Oscar-nominee John C. Reilly had sharp comedic chops. The movie made $142 million in the U.S. and brought the comedy team of Ferrell, Reilly and Adam McKay into the limelight.

2007: "Knocked Up" (Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl)—Following the success of "40-Year-Old Virgin," director Judd Apatow stepped up his game for "Knocked Up." And, boy, did he succeed. The movie took a stoner comedy and turned it into a real-world story of a goofy-looking pothead (Rogen) who knocks up a blonde beauty (Heigl) and is forced to grow up. The movie provided humor, depth and true insight thanks to the movie's well-rounded cast who brought added fame to Jonah Hill and Jason Segel. "Knocked Up" remains Apatow's best-reviewed and highest-grossing directorial at $140 million.

2008: "The Dark Knight" (Christian Bale, Heath Ledger)—"Batman Begins" brought a new, darker and more realistic version of Batman into theaters in 2005. Then "The Dark Knight" blew that and every other comic book movie out of the water. Christopher Nolan has made a modern legacy as a man who can provide popcorn thrills on top of films with deep context. The movie is thrilling while asking complex questions on morals in society. "The Dark Knight" won Academy Awards for the late Heath Ledger and sound editing and made $533 million at the U.S. box office. It is the third highest-grossing movie ever in the U.S. behind "Titanic" and "Avatar."

2009: "Up" (Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer)—The second Pixar movie to appear on the list is not as funny as "Nemo," but it makes up for it with heartfelt emotion. The first 15 minutes alone would cause waterworks in the meanest Nazi and has already become a part of movie history. "Up" gets most of its humor from the small boy, Russell, who tags along with the elderly gentleman, Carl, as they set off to Paradise Falls. Another show stopper is the talking dog, Doug, as well as the other many talking canines. But whenever Carl reminisces about his wife, Pixar once again proves real stories can exist in fake people.

2010: "Inception" (Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy)—Christopher Nolan's directorial follow-up to "The Dark Knight" once again proved he is the modern master of mixing intellect and entertainment. With a plot too confusing to type in less than two pages, "Inception" involved thieves who break into other people's minds. The visuals are astounding, and the story's set-up is ingenious and goes to show that creative filmmaking is nowhere near dead in Hollywood. All you need is your mind. The movie made $290 million in the U.S. and got a nomination for best picture at the Academy Awards.

2011: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (Danielle Radcliffe, Rupert Grint)—They say save the best for last. With the final installment in the "Harry Potter" series, the filmmakers took that to heart. Some 10 years of fan anticipation built up to this moment, and it delivered in spades. Thrilling, emotionally resonant and acted in full force from the entire cast (especially Alan Rickman), the final chapter since made $381 million in the U.S. and $1.3 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing franchise of all time.

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