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What is the Best Movie of the 21st Century? An In-Depth Look Into Critical and Audience Ratings

March 24, 2016


What 21st century films do audiences and critics love the most? I started asking myself this question when I was compiling data for my piece about 21st century horror.  I loved the results of the horror analysis, and it got me thinking about the entirety of 21st century cinema. Here are some of the questions I had.

  • How do the 21st century independent and documentary features fare against the Pixar, Marvel and Christopher Nolan films that are ruling the modern world?
  • Which modern blockbusters do critics and audiences love equally?
  • How do my favorite 21st century films fare against the rest?
  • Why would I willingly collect data on over 1,300 (list here) films?

In case you were wondering here are my favorite 21st century films.

  • Bloody Sunday
  • Take Shelter
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The New World
  • The Act of Killing/The Look of Silence
  • Once
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Goon
  • Man on Wire
  • 13 Assassins 

My favorite moment of any 21st century film. I play tennis and this scene always makes me laugh

The following post examines which 21st century films have the highest combined audience/critical average. I collected critical/user data from three sources:

  • IMDb User Votes – The amount of votes did not matter (1,339 is the minimum on the list). I didn’t want to punish films for not getting wide releases.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Critic/Audience Scores – The films needed at least 40 reviews to be considered. That is par for the course when it comes to RT’s ranking system.
  • Metacritic Critic Average 

I added the four scores (RT critic/audience, IMDb user, Metacritic critic) together and averaged them out. The averaging process isn’t sophisticated, but, it gives a straightforward look at the averaged scores. If you want to see some more in-depth metrics check out the movie poster explosion and horror franchises posts (you will love them). I gave the same weight to critic and user ratings despite there being more users. Critics can push the agenda, so their ratings get equal weight. If data was missing from one of the sites I left the movie out of the list.

Some cool facts about the top 26 before you read (you can see the top 200 here):

I didn’t want to make people’s heads explode with too much data, so, I included the top 200 critic/audience rated movies of the 21st century in glorious list form. That way you can see if your favorites made the list.

Here are the top 26 audience/critic rated films of the 21st century!

26. Boyhood (2014) – 89.75

25. Ratatouille (2007) – 89.75

24. The Dark Knight (2008) – 89.75

23. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)  – 90

22. Inside Job (2010) – 90

21. The Fog of War (2003) – 90

20. We Were Here (2011) – 90

19. The Pianist (2001) – 90.25

18. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014) – 90.25

17. Whiplash (2014) – 90.25.

16. No End in Sight (2007) – 90.5

15. The Lives of Others (2006) – 90.5

14. Inside Out (2015)  – 90.75

13. Toy Story 3 (2010) – 90.75

12. Wall-E (2008) – 90.75

11. Werckmeister Harmonies (2001) – 90.75

10. 12 Years a Slave (2013) – 91

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – 91

8. Spotlight (2015) – 91

7. The Look of Silence (2015) – 91.25

6. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – 91.5

5. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – 91.5 – The #1 horror (or dark fantasy war thriller with elements of horror) film of the 21st century

4. The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – 91.5

3. The Best of Youth (2003) – 91.75

2. A Separation (2011)  – 92.25

  1. Spirited Away (2001)  – 93

At first glance Spirited Away at #1 might comes across as a shock. However, here are some facts that will surprise you and prove Spirited Away deserves the number one spot.

  • Winner – Best Animated Feature – Academy Awards (2003)
  • Winner – Best Animated Feature – Saturn Awards (2003)
  • Winner – Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature – Annie Awards (2003)
  • Winner – Golden Berlin Bear – Berlin International Film Festival (2003)
  • #29 – IMDb’s Top 250
  • #13 – Metacritic’s Best Movies of the 21st Century
  • #339 – Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies of All Time
  • #6 – A.V. Club’s The Best Films of the ’00’s
  • #1 – Indiewire’s 25 Best Animated Films of the 21st Century so far


Comment below and let me know what you think about the list! Also, make sure to check out the top 200! You will love it.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Leavengood permalink
    March 24, 2016 10:16 am

    Spirited Away!?!?!!?!?!? Whaaaaaat? lol
    Didn’t expect that!

    • March 24, 2016 10:18 am

      hahaha. It actually earned it. Pretty much everyone loves it. My favorite is Bloody Sunday though.

      • John Leavengood permalink
        March 24, 2016 10:20 am

        I actually never saw Spirited Away. If you had to sell me on seeing it in one sentence, what would you say?

      • March 24, 2016 10:25 am

        Spirited Away is a beautiful film that was directed by the master Hayao Miyazaki. Think Alice in Wonderland met Pan’s Labyrinth and formed something totally different.

      • March 24, 2016 11:40 am

        Spirited Away is one of my all time favorite movies. Definitely my favorite from Miyazaki (and I love all of his films). Definitely my favorite animated feature (better than anything Disney has ever released). Sure, Alice in Wonderland is a close comparison. But this movie doesn’t just have heart, it is about heart.

        It is the story of a brat who becomes a hero not through violence but through friendship and personal responsibility. Not to give anything away, but there are parallel scenes from the beginning and the end. In the first instance, the character is whiny and anxious. In the second, she is wary and protective. And you understand why because you have watched this journey of growth.

        Seriously, it’s incredible. It’s the only movie that nearly moves me to tears of happiness every time I watch it.

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