'Avatar' & 9 Other Films That Broke Ground In The New Millennium – Collider

Influential movies that will go down in cinematic history.
Avatar: The Way of Water premiered to critical and commercial success, cementing James Cameron as the king of Hollywood. The original Avatar was already a hit – it's the all-time highest-grossing film, after all – but the sequel cemented the franchise as a crucial part of modern Hollywood.
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It's easy to forget how groundbreaking Avatar was. It revolutionized the 3D experience and redefined the limits of VFX. Avatar was a major stepping stone in Hollywood, just like these other films, which broke ground in their genres and fields. All these projects were before-and-afters in their own way, and modern cinema wouldn't be the same without them.
Twelve years after becoming the metaphorical "king of the world" with Titanic, James Cameron returned to the director's chair with Avatar. The film centers on humanity's efforts to colonize the moon Pandora, which threatens the survival of the indigenous tribe known as Na'vi.
Although criticized for its formulaic plot, the film received considerable praise for its breathtaking VFX. Avatar featured groundbreaking 3D technology and brought the trend back into fashion – many subsequent films tried to capture the same result but failed miserably. Avatar's technical achievements remained unmatched for years, arguably until now when Cameron returned with the long-awaited sequel.
Jennifer Lawrence owned 2012. She might've won the Oscar for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook but became a bonafide movie star thanks to The Hunger Games. The film tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young girl who volunteers as a tribute for a televised competition to the death known as the Hunger Games.
Based on Suzane Collins' eponymous novel, The Hunger Games was the birth of the YA frenzy of the mid-2010s. It kickstarted a trend of YA-oriented films set in a dystopian version of the United States and starring a promising up-and-coming actress. However, none of its successors managed to repeat The Hunger Games' critical and commercial success.
Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain broke ground on multiple levels. The film stars the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and tells the story of the twenty-year romantic relationship between two cowboys living in the American Midwest.
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Queer cinema existed for years before Brokeback Mountain. However, the film was the first to become a bonafide phenomenon. It became a box office hit and received three Oscars, becoming one of the first queer movies to transcend its usually-niche genre. It could be seen as the film that introduced queer cinema into the mainstream, cementing itself as one of the most important projects of the new millennium.
The Mission: Impossible franchise was already a beloved and reasonably respected trilogy when 2014's Ghost Protocol premiered. Tom Cruise reprised his role as Ethan Hunt in a story that featured the IMF's disintegration following an incident in Russia, forcing Hunt and his team to go undercover to clear their names.
Ghost Protocol was the beginning of a new chapter in the Mission: Impossible series. Featuring larger-than-life and thrilling action sequences, Ghost Protocol and its sequels are among the best action movies that defined the 2010s. They cemented Tom Cruise as the last of Hollywood's great action stars and inspired the business to invest in over-the-top action movies that favored spectacle without losing their narrative punch.
Baz Luhrmann defied expectations with his wildly original take on the musical romance. 2001's Moulin Rouge! stars Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor and follows the blossoming romance of a Parisian courtesan and a young English writer.
A jukebox musical with enough panache to make Liberace jealous, Moulin Rouge! revived the then-dying movie musical. Once one of Hollywood's leading genres, the musical was dying a slow and painful death in the latter half of the 20th century. However, Moulin Rouge! proved there was still life in the once-beloved genre, prompting studios to bring many Broadway smashes to the big screen in later years.
The MCU was born in 2008, but 2012's The Avengers cemented it as the cinematic phenomenon of the millennium. The film follows the creation of the eponymous team, which first assembles to fight the ambitious Loki and his alien army.
Beyond its contributions to the superhero genre, The Avengers was the blueprint for the modern cinematic universe. The film proved there was a fortune hiding in plain sight, and practically every studio jumped at the chance to have its own cinematic universe. None has been able to replicate the MCU's formula so far, and it's all because of the groundbreaking magic of The Avengers.
Moonlight centers on Chiron, chronicling his life in three parts – childhood, adolescence, and adulthood – and focusing on his struggles with sexuality and identity. Directed by Barry Jenkins, the film stars Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris in major supporting roles, and Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert as Chiron.
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If Brokeback Mountain helped queer cinema break into the mainstream, then Moonlight cemented it as one of the richest and most complex cinematic genres. The film was a major turning point for Black queer representation in cinema, placing a seldom-seen storyline front and center. Its Oscar win – and the debacle that went with it – established it as a memorable part of pop culture, but its depth and resonance cemented it as one of the 21st century's greatest cinematic achievements.
Christopher Nolan's neo-noir take on the superhero genre changed things for good. The Dark Knight stars Christian Bale as Batman and follows the Caped Crusader's efforts to bring down the deranged criminal known as Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger.
The Dark Knight legitimized the superhero genre in the industry's eyes. Featuring a tense and thrilling plot and a tour-de-force, Oscar-winning performance by Ledger, The Dark Knight proved there was more to a comic book-based movie than just capes and tights. It showed that superhero movies could blend genres successfully, setting the stage for future comic book movies to try and explore beyond their own confinements.
James Bond came roaring back to life with a surprisingly gritty and hectic reboot focusing on the early years of his spy career. Casino Royale stars the perpetually stoic Daniel Craig as 007 and follows him as he infiltrates a dangerous poker tournament with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Casino Royale breathed new life into the then-dormant spy genre. Disposing of the larger-than-life gadgets and gimmicky sequences, the film showed a more grounded take on Bond, portraying him as a reckless action man who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Casino Royale launched a new and successful iteration of Bond and proved there was still room for a spy thriller where the spy's fists were as effective as his gun.
The fantasy genre was all but dead when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone came out in November 2001. Based on J.K. Rowling's novel of the same name, the film centers on the titular character as he discovers he's a wizard and becomes involved in the mystery of the Sorcerer's Stone at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter revitalized the dying fantasy genre. The film launched a multi-billion dollar franchise that includes merchandise, video games, and theme parks. However, the films remain a beloved part of noughties culture. They inspired countless rip-offs that tried and failed to capture the same audience, proving that the Potter formula really is unique.
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