HomeMoviesQuarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 2002

Quarterly Look-Back: The Top 10 Best (and The Worst) Films of 2002

A Look Back at 2002

The Year was 2002. Kelly Clarkson became the first winner of American Idol, FOX Kids aired for the final time and a young stud named Tom Brady claimed a Super Bowl victory. I wonder if he went on to do anything else. The United States was in turmoil following the September 11 Attacks, altering the way we approach politics, airports, and filmmaking style to this day.

Some of the films listed here succumbed to rewrites and reshoots because of said attacks, attempting to soften the blow and bring unity. After watching and re-watching 86 of the best, worst and most infamous films of 2002, my job here is to rank the Top 10, as well as the WORST, films of the year. An added bonus, I’ve added a Documentary Spotlight! So, grab your United We Stand sticker, set your iPod to shuffle and web-swing with me through 2002!

Author’s Note: These are just my opinions. Friendly and respectable discourse is always welcome. Also, minor spoilers, of course. 

Full List on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/popculturetommy/list/2002-ranked-1/ 

Song to Blast: “My Friend’s Over You” by New Found Glory (Sticks & Stones)

Check out Previous Lists 1982 and 1992.

10. Better Luck Tomorrow

Starring: Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, John Cho, Karin Anna Cheung
Directed by: Justin Lin (Fast & Furious franchise)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime (Subs.), Apple TV (Paid)

The early aughts and teen films are synonymous with each other, usually combining comedy and a raunchiness that is hard to explain to a younger generation.

These films were predominantly white, with any person of color relegated to offensive stereotypes. Justin Lin broke that mold with Better Luck Tomorrow, dropping the cheese and comedy, focusing on All-American kids who just so happen to be Asian. Without full spoilers (because you really should watch this film), the flick slides from a coming-of-age drama to a crime drama without any difficulty. Attempting to figure out Lin and co.’s next move is futile, keeping the viewer guessing what will come next. The cast is phenomenal, a true revelation that seems to be forgotten to time, but providing nothing but fast and furious storytelling. 

9. Panic Room

Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto
Directed by: David Fincher (Fight Club)
Where to Watch: Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

A forgotten gem in David Fincher catalogue, Panic Room highlights all the best aspects of his filmmaking prowess and contains them into one, small setting. Panic Room terrifies the audience into believing that even one’s home isn’t safe. While not the first home invasion thriller (and definitely not the last), what makes Panic Room so unique is, well, the panic room. A luxury only the rich can afford, it offers a mother and daughter a safe haven from the three robbers—one of whom had murder on the brain. Jodie Foster is a juggernaut, as usual, commanding every claustrophobic inch of the screen. Folk singer Dwight Yoakam is strangely entertaining and scary. Add in a young Kristen Stewart (doing some solid work) and the always reliable Forest Whitaker, you have a thriller that is criminally underrated and needs to be seen more. 

8. Minority Report

Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Max von Sydow
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One)
Where to Watch: AppleTV (Paid)

Speaking of criminally underrated, I am putting my name in the hat for Minority Report being both Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s most under-appreciated film. Based on the short story by Phillip K. Dick, the film focuses on technology and “Pre-crime Cops” who can predict when and where crimes, mostly murder, will happen. Cruise’s John Anderton is the best of the best until, GASP, he is targeted for a murder he will commit in the future. What begins as a cat and mouse between law enforcement and criminal becomes an epic chase between cop and cop.

This flick blew my mind when my mother took me to see it in the theater and twenty years later, it does the same, twisting and turning so much, you might hurl.  The Blade Runner-esque future world is updated for the 21st Century, crafting a world so 2002, it almost hurts, in that fun, nostalgic way. The effects and world building still hold up, especially for the time and the acting is a top notch cast of the best of the decade. However, it’s Spielberg’s excellent direction and Janusz Kamiński’s pristine cinematography that keep me coming back time after time for this wild adventure. 

7. Gangs of New York

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly,  Brendan Gleeson
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
Where to Watch: STARZ (Subs.), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

Full disclosure, I had never seen Gangs of New York before concocting this list, AND, The Departed is my favorite Martin Scorsesse film. Why is that important, you may ask? Well, these two films are very similar, as if Gangs is a Civil War era precursor to said epic post-9/11 Bostonian tale. Enough about The Departed, however (we’ll be seeing you in a few years). Gangs of New York tells the tale of a young man (DiCaprio), returning to the gang-ridden streets of New York to seek revenge for the murder of his father.

New York is run by the ruthless and violent Bill the Butcher, portrayed perfectly by Daniel Day-Lewis in arguably his most iconic role. Everything about this film works: the phenomenal directing, A+ acting, the beautiful cinematography that highlights the perfect set design and costumes. Everything pops off the screen, transporting you to what truly seems like mid-18th Century New York. It’s an absolute crime that this film was nominated for TEN Academy Awards and lost all of them to such respectable people as Roman Polanski and mediocre films like Chicago

6. Spider-Man

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons, Macho Man Randy Savage, Bruce Campbell
Directed by: Sam Raimi (Dr. Strange in The Multiverse of Madness)
Where to Watch: Netflix (Subs.), Hulu (Subs.), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

It might be hard to believe, but in 2002, superhero movies were few and far between. Only 2000’s X-Men and 1998’s Blade received any sort of recognition after the disaster that was Batman & Robin. Not concerned with telling anything but a self-contained Spidey story, Sam Raimi and Sony crafted a top-notch origin story that has been the catalyst for hundreds of comic book movies.

This is the true millennial superhero flick. Spidey might have come about in the 1960s, but his trials and tribulations still held true in the aughts. Bullying. Heartache. Puberty. All human conditions brought to life by a middling and boring boy who suddenly is entrusted with power and, ahem, responsibility. Spider-Man is the first Post-9/11 superhero movie, defining a country looking to rediscover its identity. Some may say this flick doesn’t hold up, with the CGI being a tad dated and the story being paint-by-numbers, but remember, this was fresh back then.

The film is still fun, with visuals like the Green Goblin invading the Times Square parade and Spidey swinging through New York City that still make the heart swell. It’s pretty amazing. 

5. The Ring

Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox, Daveigh Chase
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Where to Watch: Paramount+ (Subs.), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

Just as the last entry helped define an entire subgenre of action films, the American remake of 1998’s Ring (or Ringu) ushered in the Japanese to American remake phenomenon, to middling results. While history doesn’t look kindly on the American versions of Dark Water, Shutter and The Eye, there is no denying that The Ring nailed it, taking the same Japanese story, updating it to an American setting and adding in a few extra story beats to help connect it all together and make it feel fresh. Oh yeah, and it scared the ever-loving crap out of an entire generation of kids. The Ring does what every few remakes do successfully: holding up to the original and making both stronger in the process. Every second of this film is creepy, whether it be the iconic videotape that kills you in seven days or the blue filter that makes everything from the walls to the people look like they’re dripping in water. If you haven’t seen The Ring (or Ringu for that matter), get to it this spooky season!

4. 28 Days Later

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns
Directed by: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Where to Watch: HBO Max (Subs.), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

There are plenty of great zombie movies to consume; some action packed, some funny, some filled with social commentary that resonate years after release. 28 Days Later is a different breed, a fast-paced, gritty and violent showing of morality after a zombie apocalypse. It’s fair to say that fast/running zombies are scary as Hell, making any incoming horde more dangerous.

The mixture of these horrifying creatures and the whiplash-inducing editing heightens the viewers’ heart rate, speeding you through the near two-hour runtime, enticing you to watch it again. The film also looks beautiful, with the iconic shot of Cillian Murphy walking through a deserted London being a true highlight of filmmaking. Horror does not need to make you scared whilst watching it. Sometimes the true horror comes after, while you sit and contemplate exactly how you would react in a scenario like this. Humanity is ugly and while we all believe we’re moral and good at heart, do our true colors really show when the zombies arrive? 

3. Signs

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (Wayward Pines)
Where to Watch: AppleTV (Paid)

What a twist it is having an M. Night Shyamalan flick in the Top 3, but some forget he was once called “The Next Spielberg”. The Sixth Sense was a juggernaut, entrancing audiences for decades. His follow up, Unbreakable was once highly underrated and now appreciated by many. However, it’s his alien invasion family drama that truly speaks to me as his absolute best film. Signs is played perfectly from the opening beat. It’s quiet, even it’s more thrilling moments.

The film slowly builds up tension, tricking you into believing maybe this isn’t about visitors from another world. When the news report plays of the alien at the birthday party, hearts stopped in the theater. The depth of field looks stunning, making the world look as massive and unknown as it truly is. I talk a lot about acting, but Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix are incredible as brothers trying to navigate tragedy. Not to be outdone, their younger co-stars keep up, showcasing the stars they would become. Shyamalan gets a lot of flack, some deserved, but he did once have a couple GREAT ideas that he shared with the world, Signs being the best of the bunch. 

2. Catch Me If You Can

Starring: Leonard DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Where to Watch: Netflix (Subs.), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

DiCaprio is back. Spielberg is back. Damn, what a year these two had. The true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a man who conned his way into millions of dollars by pretending to be a pilot, a doctor and a prosecutor, all before he was 20 years of age. This is one of those based on a true story films that is too crazy to be true—all while actually keeping as close to the truth as possible.

Spielberg has received enough love from me and many others and, honestly, his direction isn’t what sets this film apart. It’s one hundred percent the acting. DiCaprio makes you believe he is a good guy, smarming his way into your heart and making you want him to get away with his crimes. Juxtapose that with Tom Hanks’ FBI agent on Abagnale’s tail, a volatile yet calculated man who you also want to catch this little bastard. Christopher Walken steals every scene he is in, projecting a heart that many of the other main characters are missing. Catch Me If You Can is thrilling, hilarious and heartfelt. Watch it. 

1. Spirited Away

Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away)
Where to Watch: HBO Max (Subs.), AppleTV (Paid)

No disrespect to My Neighbor Totoro  but what planet was I on when I thought that was the best Studio Ghibli film? Spirited Away is captivating, an absolutely mind-blowing adventure through The Kami, the Japanese spirit world. This perfect encapsulation of Japanese animation has been talked about positively to death. There is nothing I can say about Chihiro that hasn’t been said before. She is a perfect character, a true wonder of childhood innocence and sweetness. Everything about this film is iconic, from the parental pigs, to the witch, to No-Face. The film’s themes are Marianas Trench levels of deep, from Western consumerism, environmentalism and the supernatural. To say anything more would be ridiculous. You’ve most likely seen it, but if you haven’t, read the last entry, subscribe to HBO Max (or just buy the Blu-Ray) and enjoy one of the most beautiful and touching films ever made. 

NOTE: Yes, this movie came out in 2001 but its wider release was in 2002, hence its inclusion here. 

Documentary Spotlight: Bowling for Columbine

Subject Matter: School Shootings, Gun Control, NRA
Directed by: Michael Moore
Where to Watch: Roku (Subs.), Tubi (FREE), Kanopy (Free), Amazon (Paid), AppleTV (Paid)

Politics aside, Bowling for Columbine is eye-opening. Many of us can remember exactly where we were during the Columbine Massacre, one of the worst tragedies this nation has ever seen. Director Michael Moore uses the unfortunate tragedy as a crutch for deeper issues, such as gun control, the NRA, the media and the blame game, all topics that are still relevant in 2022. He takes a side, something that is sure to piss off many, but when it comes to documentaries, it is impossible to be impartial. 

Honorable Mentions: 

8 Mile, Lilo & Stitch, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, Infernal Affairs, Bubba Ho-Tep, Blade II, Adaptation, Red Dragon, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Not Listed

Phonebooth (Opened Wide in 2003)

Cabin Fever (Opened Wide in 2003)

Worst Film of 2002

The Master of Disguise

Starring: Dana Carvey, Brent Spiner, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin

Directed by: Perry Andelin Blake

Where to Watch: DON’T!

Honestly, this entry could have been any of the following: Feardotcom, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Rollerball, Juwanna Mann, Halloween Resurrection, American Psycho II or Firestarter Rekindled. They’re all terrible, and I need you to know it. Yet here I am, discussing a film I wished I’d never had to talk about again (never mind the fact it’s my own fault). The Master of Disguise is an assault on the senses. Dana Carvey, a true inspiration from Saturday Night Live and Wayne’s World, is the epitome of annoying here. This pretty much killed his career. I wish I could say it’s so bad it’s good, like The Room or The Happening, but it’s just grating, daring the viewer to smash their head through their television. Gross. 



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