8 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2002

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2002. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

Adam Sandler, though currently imminently marketable, incredibly played out and boring, used to be a real actor. This is the film by which his legacy will be judged, where we see the funnyman drop the mask and actually show real feelings besides bumbling rage. Sandler's hurt and confused performance is beautifully vulnerable and true and is complimented by P.T. Anderson's incomparable direction (the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood), creating a true masterpiece of American cinema. This beauty also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson.

Grounded by Lesley Manville and Timothy Spall’s powerhouse performances, this gut-wrenching family drama from Mike Leigh is an acting juggernaut. Penny and Phil are a working-class couple whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating and pushed to the brink when their son, played by a young James Corden, is hospitalized. 

While Manville and Spall are centered as the leads, Leigh draws a staggering amount of depth from Corden as well as a young Sally Hawkins who plays a neighbor. Despite being one of Leigh’s grimmest films, there is still a profound sweetness lingering at the edges as the story teeters between despondency and hope.

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Joachim and Ceilie are engaged to be married when a car crash leaves the former paralyzed. While Joachim recovers in the hospital, Ceilie becomes entangled with his doctor—who also happens to be the husband of the woman who caused Joachim’s accident. What transpires after is not unlike a car crash itself: gut-wrenching to watch, impossible to look away from.

Although the film’s premise toes the line of melodrama, Susanne Bier handles the characters with extraordinary care. Elsker dig for evigt (Open Hearts) boasts incredible performances from its core cast of four, with Mads Mikkelsen and Paprika Steen particularly shining. This is not an easy nor feel-good movie to sit through, but its unflinching gaze at complicated characters in a tragic situation makes for a rewarding journey.

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as "fallen" that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents. The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, "Why?" and "Who are they to?". You will share in Bernadette's sense of outrage, in Rose's compassion and Margaret's acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina's questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists. The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is compassionate and diminutive, but her social awkwardness hinders her as she attempts to navigate young adulthood. After recently being hospitalized for self-harm, Lee is determined to prove she is capable of autonomously taking care of herself. She begins working as a secretary for E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a meticulous attorney.

It’s not long before both Lee and Edward realize they’re attracted to one another’s opposite natures: Lee’s obedience and Edward’s dominance. They begin a mutually consensual BDSM relationship, with both experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening. 

The premise may sound familiar: 50 Shades of Grey is widely acknowledged as, at the very least, owing its title to Secretary. But while 50 Shades of Grey portrays an unhealthy, toxic, and superficial idea of a BDSM affair, Secretary maintains that consent must be at the core of any relationship. And ultimately for Lee and Edward, BDSM becomes a way for them to communicate and overcome their individual pain, and unite stronger as a vulnerable, loving whole.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a disgraced doctor-turned-immigrant cab driver who inadvertently stumbles upon London's black market organ trade. Audrey Tatou and Sophie Okonedo also star as fellow "illegals" struggling to make ends meet in the shadows of England. This film is about illegal immigrants, it is told from their perspective, and because of that it becomes so humane that it indulges in social commentary. It's a really interesting, sometimes thrilling, watch.

A true story based film about three girls whose lives become a tragedy shaped by the Rabbit-proof fence, which runs along Australia splitting it to two parts. These girls, daughters of an aboriginal mother and a white father who worked on building the fence and then moved on, get taken from their mother to a so-called re-education camp. This is the story of their escape to find the fence and then their mother, a journey of 1500 miles that they can only do on foot. Tragic, yes, but this is an honest film that sends clear messages without any excessive emotional dwelling.