10 Best Period Dramas of the 2000s, Ranked

The period drama thrived in the 2000s. The genre might’ve reached its apex in the 90s with the numerous Merchant-Ivory productions, but it didn’t slow down in the new millennium. Indeed, the period drama endured, even among the storm of blockbuster filmmaking that would come to define the decade.



However, the genre changed for the better. New, younger voices behind the camera led to refreshing and modern interpretations of well-known classics. The period drama kept many of its most recognizable qualities, but it evolved to better fit the time’s new sensibilities. And while some of these films still feel relatively fresh, some are certified hits on their way to becoming classics.

10 ‘Marie Antoinette’ (2006)

Image via Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group

Kirsten Dunst re-teamed with Sofia Coppola for the 2006 period drama Marie Antoinette. The film chronicles the titular character’s life, focusing on her arrival at the French court, her complicated marriage to Louis XVI, and her eventual fall from grace as the French Revolution begins.

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Marie Antoinette is refreshing, if uneven, less a classic period drama and more of an intimate character study of a young woman thrust into a position of great power for which she was utterly unprepared. Dunst brings great gravitas to her performance, perfectly complemented by Coppola’s lighthearted and naturalistic approach and a series of top-notch production values that successfully bring Roccocco France to life.

9 ‘The Prestige’ (2006)

Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johannson, and Michael Caine standing in a circle talking.

Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson star in Christopher Nolan‘s 2006 psychological period thriller The Prestige. Based on the eponymous 1995 novel, the plot follows the rivalry of two stage magicians in Victorian London.

Elegant, thrilling, and thought-provoking, The Prestige is among Christopher Nolan’s most rewatchable movies. The film is a riveting exploration of the human psyche, boasting stunning production values in the costume and production design departments. Enhanced by Nolan’s trademark twisting approach, The Prestige is a mystifying and intelligent thriller that brings the best out of everyone involved.

8 ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ (2003)

Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth as Griet and Johannes Vermeer in Girl with a Pearl Earring.

Scarlett Johansson had an incredible 2003, delivering two breakthrough performances that turned her into a household name. Lost in Translation might be the best-known film from this period, but the underrated Girl with a Pearl Earring deserves as much attention. Johansson plays Griet, a young servant working for Johannes Vermeer, who serves as the subject for his seminal painting Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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Although largely fictional and with glacial pacing, Girl with a Pearl Earring offers a luscious adaptation of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. Johansson is arresting as the young Griet, delivering a subtle and vulnerable performance that earned her rave reviews and confirmed her as one of her generation’s leading talents.

7 ‘Quills’ (2000)

Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet as the Marquis de Sade and Madeleine in Quills

Philip Kaufman‘s period drama Quills tells the story of the infamous literary figure Marquis de Sade. Loosely inspired by the controversial writer’s real life, Quills dramatizes the Marquis’ last years incarcerated at Charenton asylum. Academy Award winners Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine star.

As seductive as off-putting, Quills is a suitably divisive portrayal of one of literature’s most polarizing figures. The film is chaotic and flamboyant, mixing tones and themes with uneven results. Rush, Winslet, and Phoenix are all at the top of their games, elevating this discomforting but satisfying period piece about freedom, repression, and sexual exploration.

6 ‘Gangs of New York (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon and Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher Cutting in Gangs of New York
Image via Miramax

Academy Award winner and cinematic icon Martin Scorsese has several historical movies on his resumé; 2002’s Gangs of New York is one of his finest. Screen titan Daniel Day-Lewis joins Leonardo DiCaprio in a story set in the Five Points slum in the mid-1800s. The plot follows Amsterdam Valon, a young Irish man seeking revenge for his father’s death, setting him on a path leading to the infamous William « Bill the Butcher » Cutting.

Featuring a bravura performance by Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York is violent, provocative, sprawling, and messy. The film is inelegant, unsubtle, and absolutely electrifying, an angry and brutal depiction of class struggle, identity, and revenge. With stunning production values and Scorsese’s famously uncompromising approach, Gangs of New York is a modern epic.

5 ‘Atonement’ (2007)

Keira Knightley and James McAvoy walking side by side in Atonement
Image via Universal Pictures

If there’s an actress worthy of challenging Kate Winslet’s crown as the queen of the period piece, it’s Keira Knightley. The two-time Oscar nominee has multiple period dramas under her belt, although few are more memorable as Joe Wright‘s World War II romantic drama Atonement. Based on Ian McEwan’s eponymous novel, the film chronicles the doomed romance of two lovers separated by a lie.

Atonement is the best war romance of the 21st century, a sweeping and haunting story about the unforeseen consequences of a simple lie. Knightley and James McAvoy deliver two of their finest performances, accompanied by an iconic score by Dario Marianelli and a series of top-notch production values. Heartbreaking but memorable, Atonement is one of the all-time great war dramas.

4 ‘Vera Drake’ (2004)

vera drake0

Imelda Staunton provides one of the best performances from the 2000s in Mike Leigh‘s harrowing 2004 period drama Vera Drake. The revered thespian plays the titular role, a working-class woman in London who performs illegal abortions behind her family and the authority’s backs.

Vera Drake is among Mike Leigh’s best films, which is no simple task. Powered by an outstanding turn from Staunton, Vera Drake is a thought-provoking and emotional period piece. Leigh brings great thoughtfulness and empathy to the story, handling a potentially thorny subject with remarkable humanity.

3 ‘Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen as Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride & Prejudice
Image via Focus Features

Few films from the 2000s have achieved the same level of cultural influence as Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice. A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic romance, the film stars Keira Knightley as the beloved heroine Elizabeth Bennet, with Matthew Macfadyen as the stoic and proud Mr. Darcy.

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Wright does an admirable job adapting a well-known classic for a modern audience. In his hands, Pride & Prejudice feels fresh and topical, with the director exploiting the story’s timeless romance to the fullest. Knightley is stellar as the adored Lizzie, becoming an icon to an entire generation who embraced her with open arms. Faithful but timely, Pride & Prejudice is what most period adaptations should strive to be.

2 ‘Far From Heaven (2002)

Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven
Image via Focus Features

Todd Haynes‘ independent romantic period drama Far From Heaven stars Julianne Moore in arguably the best performance of her revered career. The actress stars as Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s housewife whose seemingly ideal life falls apart as secrets emerge and lines get blurred.

A riveting exploration of class, racial relationships, and sexuality, Far From Heaven is an exquisite and heart-wrenching period drama. Moore anchors the film with a subtle, earnest, and raw performance, aided by a stellar supporting cast including Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Patricia Clarkson. A classic story about the deceitful facade of the suburbs and the betrayal of the American dream, Far From Heaven is nothing short of a masterpiece.

1 ‘There Will Be Blood (2007)

Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood
Image via Paramount Vantage

It’s no surprise or coincidence that Daniel Day-Lewis stars in many of modern history’s most celebrated films. The celebrated actor is a giant of the silver screen, delivering one masterful portrayal after another, and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s 2007 epic period drama There Will Be Blood is yet another showcase for his titanic talent. The film tells the story of Daniel Plainview, a ruthless silver miner turned oilman seeking fortune during the oil boom of the late 19th century.

Reigning supreme as Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie, There Will Be Blood is a fascinating and brutal exploration of ambition, wealth, greed, and capitalism. Guided by Anderson’s confident hand behind the camera and rising on the strength of Day-Lewis’ bravado performance, There Will Be Blood is among the best films of the 21st century and the new millennium’s best period drama.

KEEP READING: The 10 Best Period Dramas of the 80s, Ranked

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