19 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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

The entirety of Pieces of April takes place on Thanksgiving Day, a busy holiday meant to bring loved ones together. Sure enough, April, the eldest Burns daughter, takes great pains to prepare a nice dinner for her visiting family. But we soon learn that she is motivated less by excitement than by dread: she's long been estranged, disowned even, by her uptight mother, Joy, who is only agreeing to come because she's sick with cancer. April seems to be on a reluctant mission to fix their fraught relationship, but pesky (albeit funny) mishaps, both on her and Joy's end, keep getting in the way. 

Shot digitally and very closely with hand-held cameras, Pieces of April looks as intimate as it feels. It's a snapshot of an era and of a particular family dynamic, one that relatably relies on both love and scorn to keep going. It's an excellent, honest, and underrated gem of a movie.

This documentary... man, where do I even begin? It captures the lives of the Friedmans and how their world turned upside down when their father, Arnold, and brother, Jesse, were both convicted of sexually abusing children. The filmmaker interviews victims, family members, and experts to strike you with the two sides of the story. The Oscar nominated film shows real footage from the family which makes it even more of an authentic experience. I won't tell you much more about it- but let me just say, this documentary will leave you speechless.
Let me just preface this by saying The Best of Youth is 6 hours long. Yes, that's 358 minutes of run time, and it puts off a lot of people. But if you're into unusual movie premises like me and up for the challenge - the reward is tremendous. The Best of Youth tells the story of four friends through a period of 30 years; what they go through how they develop their personalities, their worldviews, etc. And because it spans such an extended period of time, it acts as a highlight reel of moments from the characters' lives (so the long run-time actually feels short). It wouldn't be an understatement to say that you'll probably never know characters of any movie as well as you will in The Best of Youth. A perfect illustration of the genius of Italian cinema that gave us The Great Beauty and other amazing movies.

Shattered Glass tells the unbelievably true story of Stephen Glass, a popular and promising young journalist at The New Republic. Stephen's storytelling skills are sought out not just by his admiring colleagues but by other publications as well, so when a rival journalist from Forbes finds holes in one of Stephen's stories, no one takes the accusation seriously at first—except perhaps for Charles Lane, Stephen's editor. Immune to Stephen's charms, Charles digs for the truth and tries, despite an alarming lack of support, to pursue what's right.

Set in the '90s, Shattered Glass may be a throwback to old-school journalism, but its ideas about the integrity of facts still hold water, especially in an age fraught with rampant disinformation.

Set in the 1930's English Countryside, the story of the eccentric Mortmain family is told from the daughter Cassandra's point of view. Her father, a once acclaimed and famous writer has written nothing in years, leading the family into bankruptcy. Themes such as first love and financial troubles are explored from Cassandra's comic and intelligent point of view. A classic and a must-see.