29 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2003

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2003. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

The Station Agent is about loneliness, change and friendship. Sounds corny right? It’s not. The characters are developed, they have their own reasons for the choices they make and nothing feels forced, neither actions or conversations. It’s a small and wonderful movie about a little man that moves out of the city and his comfort zone when his only friend dies, moves to said friend’s old train station and sets his life there. From there on it follows his social interactions with a slew of people, the relationships he forms with them. Oh, and the little man? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), who pulls off a great performance, albeit a quiet one.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bobby Cannavale, Ileen Getz, Jase Blankfort, Jayce Bartok, Jeremy Bergman, Joe Lo Truglio, John Slattery, Josh Pais, Lynn Cohen, Maile Flanagan, Marla Sucharetza, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Benjamin, Paula Garces, Peter Dinklage, Raven Goodwin, Richard Kind

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rating: R

, 2003

From Korean director Park Chan-wook, who also brought you the far quieter The Handmaiden, comes a movie that is positively terrifying. Its premise alone is enough for any sentient human being to shudder. On his daughter's birthday, the good-for-nothing Oh Dae-su (played by Choic Min-sik) gets drunk and is arrested by the police. A friend eventually bails him out and, while he is making a phone call, Oh Dae-su disappears. Not knowing why, he is held in the same room for 15 years for no apparent reason. Until, one day, he is released. That's all that can be revealed about this winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004 without giving away too much. All we can add here is the way we recommend Oldboy to people admitting to not having seen it yet: “Watch Oldboy. You're welcome. We're sorry.” A crazy, twisted film that goes to extremes. A cult classic and a statement.

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Byeong-ok Kim, Choi Min-sik, Dae-han Ji, Dae-yeon Lee, Han Jae-duk, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji Dae-han, Ji-tae Yu, Jin-Seo Yoon, Jin-seo Yun, Kang Hye-jeong, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Byeong-Ok, Kim Byung-ok, Kim Su-hyun, Kwang-rok Oh, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Seung-shin, Lee Young-hee, Min-sik Choi, Oh Dal-su, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Oh Tae-kyung, Park Jae-Woong, Park Myung-shin, Seo Myeong-Seok, Seung-Shin Lee, Syd Lim, Yoo Il-han, Yoo Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok, Yoon Jin-seo, Yoon Jin-yul

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Written and directed by the filmmaker Sylvain Chomet, this 2003 French film is, in the strictest sense, an animated comedy film. It's the one that introduced Chomet's name to an international audience. Triplets' visual style, however, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Focusing on ugliness and imperfection, the characters are deliciously exaggerated, while the animation steers clear of the naturalist hyperrealism, cutesiness, or porcelain perfection of other animated movies. That doesn't mean it's not incredibly detailed. Without much of a dialogue, it tells the story of a young orphan boy, who loves to watch the vivacious jazz of the The Triplets of Belleville trio, and grows up to become a Tour de France racer. He gets kidnapped by sinister characters (the French mafia?) and the beloved jazz trio of his childhood and others come to his rescue. While this film is not for the causal movie watcher, it is a fiercely original piece of hand-drawn animation and a strange, surreal experience.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Beatrice Bonifassi, Betty Bonifassi, Charles Linton, Jean-Claude Donda, Lina Boudreau, Michel Robin, Michèle Caucheteux, Suzy Falk

Director: Sylvain Chomet

Rating: PG-13

, 2003

It has become increasingly rare to find films made in Afghanistan, so when a movie like Osama comes along, it becomes nothing short of essential viewing. This is a profoundly depressing but beautifully crafted story of a young girl made to look like a boy so as to go unnoticed by Taliban forces while trying to help her family. It's a simple film wherein this character's budding awareness of her girlhood is set against a terrifying backdrop of violence, abuse, and fundamentalist extremism—all of which director Siddiq Barmak keeps off the screen.

Barmak knows exactly what to point his camera at, covering multiple angles of life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan without calling attention to himself, and still finding ways to show the smallest shreds of sympathy and support hiding within this society. And in the lead role, a teenage Marina Golbahari delivers a towering, heartbreaking performance that never registers as anything but authentic. The fear that she embodies is almost too real to watch without becoming afraid yourself. Osama is incredibly difficult viewing, but it's a truly valuable work of art that deserves to be preserved.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arif Herati, Malik Akhlaqi, Marina Golbahari, Zabih ullah Frotan, Zubaida Sahar, مالک اخلاقی

Director: Siddiq Barmak

We love to see Colin Farrell playing an unlikeable guy, it feels like there is balance in the universe. Stu is quite annoying and often offensive, and he's been having an extra-marital affair, which he then gets punished for. Phone Booth carries over this remnant of 2000s morale with a sadistic twist, but that's not what defines it. Instead, the film is a rollicking ride that appeals to both cinephiles and entertainment-seeking viewers alike, a box-office hit that would be just as thrilling and triumphant if it was released today, with the added nostalgia value of the phone booth as a thing of the past. Could it be that in 2002, Schumacher pre-empted our fears regarding internet privacy and cancel culture?

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Actor: Arian Ash, Ben Foster, Billy 'Sly' Williams, Colin Farrell, Colin Patrick Lynch, Dean Cochran, Dean Tarrolly, Dell Yount, Django Craig, Domenick Lombardozzi, Forest Whitaker, Greg Finley, James MacDonald, Jared Leto, Jason Pace, John Enos III, John Vargas, Josh Pais, Juan Pope, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Karara Muhoro, Katie Holmes, Keith Nobbs, Kiefer Sutherland, Kimberly Bailey, Lanei Chapman, Maile Flanagan, Mary Randle, Nicole Prescott, Paula Jai Parker, Radha Mitchell, Ramón Franco, Richard T. Jones, Ruth Zalduondo, Seth William Meier, Shu Lan Tuan, Steve Alterman, Svetlana Efremova, Tanya Vidal, Tia Texada, Tom Reynolds, Tory Kittles, Tracy Metro, Troy Gilbert, Tyree Michael Simpson, Yorgo Constantine

Director: Joel Schumacher

Rating: R

Serene and almost silent, Goodbye, Dragon Inn is a film contemplating an old movie theater in Taipei. In its heyday, this cinema was jam-packed and full of eager eyes watching the 1967 Wuxia classic Dragon Inn, but now it’s nearly empty for its last screening. Despite the lack of attendees, this cinema still has some life. Like the annoying audience members we're all familiar with, the moviegoers still noisily chew on popcorn, put their feet on the headrest in front of them, and refuse to remain silent when walking. Director Tsai Ming-liang affectionately captures moviegoers in their natural element, recreating an experience so nostalgic it makes me want to go back to the theaters. Watching this, post-pandemic in the age of streaming, reminds us of the ways we still try to connect in the cinema in real life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Chen Chao-jung, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Lee Kang-sheng, Miao Tien, Shih Chun, Yang Kuei-Mei

Director: Tsai Ming-liang

Rating: Not Rated

This small-scale but incredibly fun 88-minute drama from 2003 is about a group of Latino teenagers who grow up in New York’s Lower East Side.

Victor lives with his eccentric grandmother, which sometimes gets in the way of him pursuing Judy, his dream girl.

The actor who plays Victor is called Victor Rasuk, the one who plays Judy is called Judy Marte. This is a film so personal that both main characters needed to be named after the actors who play them.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Donna Maldonado, Jeff Knite, Joe Rosario, Judy Marte, Kevin Rivera, Melonie Diaz, Silvestre Rasuk, Victor Rasuk, Wilfree Vasquez

Director: Peter Sollett

Rating: R

This forgotten gem is the perfect family movie. It stars Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as the two eccentric uncles of Walter, a shy city kid (played by Haley Joel Osment). When Walter moves in with his uncles in rural Texas, he first has a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings. However his routine is changed after he starts hearing local gossip about his uncles, and reminiscence spurs in all three an incredible eagerness for adventure. Secondhand Lions has gathered impressive cult following in the past few years, and rightfully so. Its fast-paced, entertaining yet substantial storyline shines a light on the amazing performances by the cast, and offers a surprising mix of funny, heartwarming and sad. Look out for the flashback scenes.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adam Ozturk, Adrian Pasdar, Billy Joe Shaver, Brian Stanton, Christian Kane, Dameon Clarke, Deirdre O'Connell, Deirdre OConnell, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Eric Balfour, Eugene Osment, Haley Joel Osment, Jason Douglas, Jennifer Stone, Jo Harvey Allen, Joe Stevens, Josh Lucas, Kanin Howell, Kevin Haberer, Kyra Sedgwick, Marc Musso, Michael Caine, Michael O'Neill, Mitchel Musso, Morgana Shaw, Nick Price, Nicky Katt, Rick Dial, Robert Duvall, Rory Thost, Travis Willingham

Director: Tim McCanlies

Rating: PG

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Cannonball, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

An intriguing, funny and rather bizarre movie which serves as a fantastic introduction to 'new-wave' German cinema. Featuring a cast of young talented actors and excellent direction, this movie takes place around the time the Berlin wall fell and East and West Berlin were still united. Christiane, a devout socialist activist in East Berlin suffers an accident which leaves her in a coma, during which time the Berlin wall comes down and Western capitalism encroaches on her beloved East Berlin. Fearing that she may relapse into a coma after waking up, her doctors warn that she must remain calm and not endure any shocks. Despite the somewhat contrived premise, the film really takes off from this point as her son Alex and his friend aim to hide this fact from her, by faking news reports on the television, coming up with excuses for a giant Coca Cola banner and a whole host of other amusing exploits to prevent her from knowing. While categorised as a comedy, it is also a moving portrayal of a loving family enduring great, historic change.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexander Beyer, Armin Dillenberger, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Burghart Klaussner, Christine Schorn, Chulpan Khamatova, Daniel Brühl, Eberhard Kirchberg, Ernst-Georg Schwill, Florian Lukas, Fritz Roth, Hanna Schwamborn, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Jochen Stern, Jürgen Holtz, Jürgen Vogel, Katrin Saß, Marc Bischoff, Maria Simon, Martin Brambach, Mennan Yapo, Michael Gerber, Michael Gwisdek, Peter Kurth, Stefan Walz, Svea Timander

Director: Wolfgang Becker

Rating: R

The story that Whale Rider tells is a familiar one: that of a young girl challenging the expectations of a patriarchal community in order to claim her rightful place in a position of authority. But this isn't a superficial girl-power movie; writer/director Niki Caro maintains the utmost reverence for this Māori community, even if its customs might not appear fair to an outsider's point of view. It's a film full of realistically flawed people, whose struggles are all borne from a common love for their culture in their little corner of the world. What could have been generic and simplistic is made beautiful—especially thanks to a truly moving performance from Keisha Castle-Hughes, who at the time became the youngest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Rawiri Paratene, Tahei Simpson, Tammy Davis, Taungaroa Emile, Vicky Haughton

Director: Niki Caro

A documentary about two "climbing" friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking, Simon Yates

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Rating: R

Six years after blowing box-office records out of the water with Titanic, director James Cameron once again plunged into the deep for Ghosts of the Abyss. This documentary charts several 12500-foot-deep trips that Cameron, actor Bill Paxton (who played a treasure-hunter in the 1997 movie), and others took in submersibles down to the ship’s wreckage on the pitch-black bed of the Atlantic. The images they captured there are eerie and awe-inspiring: the camera floats through the skeleton of the once-grand ship, now colonised by sea life but still bearing haunting reminders of the people who perished with it. Digital superimpositions of the original layout help to bring the rusted interiors back to life, while ghostly, translucent images of actors are overlaid to recreate the panic and tragedy of the Titanic’s last night.

Granted, it isn’t the romantic epic the 1997 movie was, but Ghosts of the Abyss is an absorbing opportunity for Titanic fans to geek out and a window into the plucky logistics of these undersea trips (which have themselves become an object of great interest, given more recent, ill-fated journeys). Stripping back the Hollywood glamor and diving more deeply into the tragic reality of the Titanic, this is a companion piece that works just as compellingly on its own.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bill Paxton, Charles Pellegrino, Don Lynch, Federico Zambrano, James Cameron, John Broadwater, Ken Marschall, Lewis Abernathy, Lori Johnston, Mike Cameron, Tava Smiley

Director: James Cameron

Rating: G, PG