Every now and then, a year comes along that’s absolutely stacked with incredible films. 2008 was such a year. It was 12 epic months of hit after hit, from cinematic masterpieces to popcorn flicks that became pop culture sensations. In any given year, most of these movies could have claimed an Academy Award for Best Picture. The fact they all came out in the same year is a testament to how special 2008 really was for cinema. How long has it been since we’ve had a year that even comes close to this one? Most of these movies were made by acclaimed filmmakers and directors and are armed with star power. Here are ten films that made 2008 a great year to go to the movies.
Milk is the biographical film about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. It was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant and starred Sean Penn as the titular character, who delivered one of his finest performances. His portrayal of Harvey Milk earned him the Oscar for Best Actor, his second win in that category. Milk received critical acclaim and was hailed as one of the best movies of 2008.
9 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an imaginative tale that follows the life of Benjamin Button who ages backwards, beginning his life as an old man and ending it as an infant. Its feels similar to Forrest Gump and was even crafted by the same screenwriter. It was also directed by acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher.
This movie employed impressive make-up and visual effects and boasted an all-star cast that included Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Mahershala Ali, and Tilda Swinton. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button didn’t quite live up to expectations. But it was still a sold film with a creative premise, snagging numerous Oscar nominations in 2008.
8 In Bruges
In Bruges is a crime thriller that humorously toes the line between drama and black comedy. After a job goes horribly wrong, guilt-stricken hitman Ray and his partner Ken are sent to Bruges, Belgium until things cool down. Or as Ray calls it throughout the film, “F***ing Bruges.” In Bruges didn’t get as much attention as other films on this list, but it’s since become somewhat of a cult classic. It’s led by a stellar cast that includes Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes.
In Bruges willmake you wonderif it’s bad to laugh at the movie’s jokes, even though you already are. It’s a delightful, little movie that will make you want to visit the picturesque, fairy tale town of Bruges, despite Ray and Ken’s persistent disgust with it.
7 Revolutionary Road
You know those powerful but depressing movies that you can only watch once every few years? Revolutionary Road is such a film. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Mendes, this romantic drama reunites Titanic co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. And somehow, it feels more depressing than its 1997 counterpart. Unlike their characters in Titanic, Frank and April Wheeler (DiCaprio and Winslet respectively) are a picture-perfect couple who are trapped in boring suburbia — and also in an unfulfilling marriage that’s littered with explosive arguments, lost dreams, and extramarital affairs. It’s a gloomy film, all the way up to its tragic finale.
It’s an amazing piece of work, a train wreck that you can’t help but watch. DiCaprio and Winslet’s performances are this film’s beating heart, though it ultimately gets shattered by the broken romance of their characters.
Back in 2008, long before he butchered Star Wars, J.J. Abrams was considered a creative genius, the nerd of Hollywood. And Cloverfield was gearing up to be his biggest movie. Its trailer went viral before going viral was even a thing. Everyone became obsessed when they saw it. When they saw the smoking head of the Statue of Liberty go hurtling through the air and into the streets of Manhattan. When that one-word title popped up at the end of the trailer, and audiences everywhere collectively asked themselves, “What the hell is that?”
We eventually learned that Cloverfield was a monster movie, but that was about it. The mystery surrounding this film turned it into a cultural phenomenon that had everyone talking and speculating. Was it a Godzilla movie? What did this creature look like? The answers finally came when Cloverfield hit theaters. The result polarized the movie’s fanbase. Some disappointed viewers felt robbed of answers and of good looks at the monster. Other people loved it and found the movie to be realistic; if a monster suddenly appeared and attacked New York City, nobody would know what the hell was going on or where the creature came from. Regardless of where you fall in this debate, there’s no denying that Cloverfield was one of the biggest movie events of 2008.
5 The Wrestler
The Wrestler is a fictional story about professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who’s way past his 1980s prime. Figuratively, Randy’s got a good heart (physically, his heart is in terrible shape). Yet he continues to make self-destructive mistakes and poor decisions, worsening the relationship that he tries so hard to mend with his estranged daughter. It’s a heart-breaking story that offers an interesting look at the world beyond the ring, costumes, fame, and money.
It’s the perfect film for director Darren Aronofsky, who has a penchant for masterfully telling tragic stories. Mickey Rourke is perfect in the lead role, both physically and emotionally, and probably could relate to some of the character’s struggles, given that he had tried and failed at a boxing career himself. Rourke earned an Oscar nomination for his performance, as did his co-star Marisa Tomei. The Wrester received universal acclaim, another hit on Aronofsky’s resume.
Pixar is known for crafting emotional and incredible animated films, and WALL-E is no exception. It’s a sci-fi movie set in the distant future, where humanity has become a race of obese people on scooters and has evacuated the uninhabitable planet Earth — which sadly doesn’t sound that far-fetched. The only sign of life (sort of) on Earth comes in the form of WALL-E, a small waste-collecting robot with an adorably innocent personality. WALL-E’s friendship with a robot that suddenly visits Earth, EVE, is endearing and tugs at your heartstrings, even though there’s not a line of dialogue between them. It’s a beautiful, masterfully done film that ranks as one of Pixar’s best works. Although it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, WALL-E did claim the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Frost/Nixon is a historical film that tells the story behind the interviews with one of America’s most infamous presidents. And no, we’re not talking about Donald Trump. We’re referring to Richard Nixon and his 1977 discussions with British journalist David Frost. These interviews took place after the notorious Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, making him the first and only President to ever resign from office.
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon is a political story that gets surprisingly intense. Frank Langella is transformative as Richard Nixon and captures all aspects of the flawed president’s personality. Despite underwhelming box office numbers, this film received universal acclaim. If Slumdog Millionaire didn’t win 2008’s Oscar for Best Picture, then it’s likely that Frost/Nixon would’ve claimed the prize.
2 The Dark Knight
Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight took the superhero genre to the next level. Even people who don’t like superheroes enjoyed this movie. It perfectly captures the yin and yang relationship of arch-nemeses Batman and the Joker, showing what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. This movie has everything you could possibly want: explosive action, jaw-dropping plot twists, and a stellar story. It also had phenomenal acting from an all-star ensemble that included Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and most notably Heath Ledger.
Ledger’s performance as the twisted and chaotic Joker is iconic, and for many people, it’s the definitive live-action version of this character. Ledger claimed the posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. And controversially, it’s the only major Oscar that The Dark Knight was nominated for. Many people felt that the movie was snubbed from Best Picture and Best Director nominations, simply because it was a superhero movie. Since 2008, The Dark Knight has gone down as one of the greatest superhero films of all time,
1 Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire was the smash hit of 2008 that nobody saw coming. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Danny Boyle, it tells the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), who goes from the slums of India to competing on the Indian-Hindi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Every game show question ties to a special memory in Jamal’s life, taking us through his past while showing his game show progress in the present. But it’s not the million dollars that Jamal ultimately wants. It’s the love of Latika (Freida Pinto), who’s the reason why Jamal went on the game show in the first place.
Slumdog Millionaire’s unique and brilliant premise lured in viewers and turned it into one of the best movies of the 2000s. Out of 10 nominations, it nabbed eight wins at the Academy Awards. It was labeled as the Best Picture of 2008, an impressive accomplishment given its stellar competition.