25 modern classic movies everyone needs to watch in their lifetime

jguerrasio@businessinsider.com (Jason Guerrasio)
Emma Stone in "The Favourite."

FOX Searchlight

  • There's no time like the present to beef up on your movie watching.
  • If you are in the mood for some good ones, here are 25 of the best that have been made in the last 15 years.
  • From "Zodiac" to "The Favourite," these are the movies you need to watch in your lifetime.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

There's never a bad time to dive back into the archives and watch some good movies.

And if you have some time on your hands these days, this might be a good time to binge some modern-day classics.

So we've come up with 25 essential titles from the past 15 years that you should reexamine or, if you've never seen them, watch them now.

Here are 25 modern classic movies everyone needs to watch in their lifetime:

"Brokeback Mountain" (2005)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain."

Focus Features

Ang Lee's gripping drama about two cowboys in love is highlighted by the wonderful performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.

"Michael Clayton" (2007)

George Clooney in "Michael Clayton."

Warner Bros.

This is one of those movies where you instantly get sucked into the story at any moment you start watching it.

The performances by George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Sydney Pollack are some of their best ever. And writer-director Tony Gilroy's suspenseful tone is perfection.

"No Country For Old Men" (2007)

Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men."

Paramount Pictures

The Coen brothers create a classic modern-day Western thanks to the adaptation of this Cormac McCarthy novel. Starring Josh Brolin as a man who stumbles upon a large suitcase of cash and Javier Bardem as a psychotic hit man, the movie gets better every time you see it. 

"Paranormal Activity" (2007)

Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity."

Blumhouse Productions

In the early 2000s first-time filmmaker Oren Peli got some unknown actors, rented a house, and concocted one of the scariest movies of the last 15 years. The found-footage style only amps up the horror as we follow a couple being tormented by an evil spirit through the camera they have on a tripod set up in their bedroom.

"Ratatouille" (2007)

remy's ratatouille

Pixar Animation Studios

"Ratatouille" tells a compelling story through animation that isn't just for kids. Set in the posh Paris cooking world, "Ratatouille" follows a rat who fancies himself a chef.

The movie could have been a disaster, but instead, it showed that stories with lots of layers could be told well through the animation form.

"There Will Be Blood" (2007)

there will be blood

Pparamount Vantage

Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a film that is epic in so many ways, including its story, its music, and its photography. And Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as a maniacal oil baron will be studied long after we all are gone.

"Zodiac" (2007)

Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Zodiac."

Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures.

David Fincher, who is known for his attraction to dark material, was perfect for bringing the story of the Zodiac Killer to the big screen.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a cartoonist for a newspaper who becomes obsessed with the case and takes over the detective work when the cops' leads dry up. Perhaps the best trick Fincher pulls off is building constant suspense so that by the end, anyone could be the Zodiac. 

"Man on Wire" (2008)

Philippe Petit in "Man on Wire."

Magnolia Pictures

We get the story about the daring 1974 high-wire walk across the Twin Towers from the real people who did it in James Marsh's "Man on Wire." The Oscar-winning documentary is elevated thanks to the man who did the walking, Philippe Petit, as our narrator.

Though the reenactments show viewers how incredible the feat was, it's Petit's masterful storytelling that keeps it engaging.

"WALL-E" (2008)

What's not to love about "WALL-E"?

Pixar

Arguably Pixar's greatest work, "WALL-E" explores so many different issues that you can watch it a dozen times and enjoy focusing on each one. From a love story to commentaries on obesity and climate change, the movie is much more than the mere travels of a lovable robot (but that part is great, too). 

"Inglourious Basterds" (2009)

Brad Pitt is at his best in this role.

The Weinstein Company

Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited Nazi-killing movie was worth the wait.

Brad Pitt plays the leader of a group of Jewish US soldiers whose mission is to kill as many Nazis as possible in France. But along with great characters like "The Bear Jew" and incredible action sequences, the film is also a love letter to cinema. 

"Inception" (2010)

Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception."

Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan always likes to mess with us, but "Inception" is one of his biggest mind tricks. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a group who enters people's dreams to steal information. For his latest job, however, he's hired to plant a memory. This leads to a dizzying chase through the deepest subconscious that you can't turn away from.

"The Social Network" (2010)

Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network."

David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin team up to look at the rise of Facebook and its complicated creator, Mark Zuckerberg. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast in the role of Zuck, while Fincher's expert eye masterfully sets the mood.

"Contagion" (2011)

Jude Law in "Contagion."

Warner Bros.

This one is now required viewing after what the world has become. Director Steven Soderbergh uses a pandemic to deliver a thriller that seems all too real.

"The Master" (2012)

"The Master."

Annapurna Pictures

Some of the best acting you'll ever see is in the exchanges between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master."

The movie follows a Navy veteran who befriends the leader of an organization. The mental gymnastics the two play with each other over the course of the film is thrilling to watch.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Paramount

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a stock-broker who had an incredible rise and fall that is filled with drugs, sex, and ultimately fraud. With Martin Scorsese at the helm, this is one of his most entertaining and rewatchable movies of his career.

"Boyhood" (2014)

Richard Linklater's "Boyhood."

Universal Pictures

Shot from 2002 to 2013, Richard Linklater's look at a young boy's life from adolescence to young adulthood is a special work that has rarely been attempted. The dedication by everyone involved is commendable, but the story itself is so powerful it rivals some documentaries in how realistic it is.

"Edge of Tomorrow" (2014)

Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in "Edge of Tomorrow."

Warner Bros.

Tom Cruise has to save the world by dying. A lot.

Doug Liman makes you feel like you are watching a video game as he makes a story about a soldier who is repeating the same day over and over again until he can destroy the aliens that are destroying the world. What makes the movie an all-time great is Emily Blunt as the one who teams with Cruise on his fight.

"La La Land" (2016)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in "La La Land."

Lionsgate

Damien Chazelle's beautiful love letter to Los Angeles and the musical movie follows Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as two people who have to combat love with their careers.

"O.J.: Made In America" (2016)

O.J. Simpson in "O.J.: Made in America."

ESPN

There is great debate if this documentary is a movie or a docuseries, but, hey, it won an Oscar so I'm good with calling it a movie.

Ezra Edelman's look at the life of O.J. Simpson is an ultimate deep dive that will be hard to top. The detailed examination of every aspect of his life (the very good and the very bad) over seven-plus hours is so good you could watch seven hours more and it wouldn't get old.

"Dunkirk" (2017)

Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk."

Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan looks at the fierce World War II battle from several different points of view that finally converge into a thrilling ending. Everything from the direction, score, production design, and acting are done at an incredibly high level.

"The Favourite" (2018)

Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in "The Favourite."

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone give wickedly awesome performances in this period piece set in 18th century England.

Colman's performance as the mentally unstable Queen Anne earned her an Oscar, but you can't forget Weisz and Stone who are great as manipulative cousins.

"Free Solo" (2018)

Alex Honnold in "Free Solo."

National Geography Documentary Films

Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhlyi earned an Oscar for their powerful documentary about Alex Honnold's attempt to become the first person to free solo climb El Capitan.

The drama in this movie happens as much on the ground as it does on the climb.

"Roma" (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma."

Espectáculos Fílmicos El Coyúl/Netflix

Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical look at his youth growing up in Mexico City is a powerful story about the strength of family and personal self-perseverance. And then there's the black-and-white cinematography that is a marvel to look at, especially the single-shot beach rescue scene.

"Ford v Ferrari" (2019)

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in "Ford v Ferrari."

Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

Based on a true story, we follow car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they try to build a car in the 1960s for Ford that can beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Director James Mangold delivers a thrilling drama that both gear heads and people who have never been to a car race will love.

"Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" (2019)

(L-R) Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood."

Sony

Though the movie is only a year old it's already an essential watch. That's how good it is.

Quentin Tarantino is in his glory celebrating Hollywood in 1969 and use Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in ways no director ever has before.

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