1. A boy named Harry Potter
He’s the Boy Who Lived, the only one who can (spoiler alert!) defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and restore order to the wizarding world. But that’s not the reason Harry Potter lives in our memories more vividly than any other character we’ve read about or seen on screen this decade. It’s precisely because J.K. Rowling created him (and Daniel Radcliffe plays him) not as a mighty doer of epic deeds but as a regular kid — a teenager just trying to get by in a crazy, scary world. Who can’t relate to that? Long after we’ve turned the last page and watched the last end credit, Harry still feels like someone we know. And that’s the most magical thing about him.
2. The Sopranos
(Best TV show)
David Chase took a baseball bat to the knees of the term ”family drama” and created this landmark mafioso show whose nuanced characters were riddled with conflict and, of course, bullets.
Providing a safe home for piano-playing cats, celeb goof-ups, and overzealous lip-synchers since 2005.
4. The Lord of the Rings
Bringing a cherished book to the big screen? No sweat. Peter Jackson’s trilogy — or, as we like to call it, our preciousssss — exerted its irresistible pull on advanced Elvish speakers and neophytes alike.
Plane crash. Smoke monster. Polar bear. Crazy French lady. The Others. The hatch. The Dharma Initiative. Time-travel flashes. Name another network drama that can so wondrously turn a ? into a !
6. The College Dropout, Kanye West
The 2004 debut from West — a revolutionarily relatable rapper who also happened to be a beatmaking genius — was accepted into the hip-hop canon instantly, no diploma needed.
Yes, children, there really was a time when we roamed the earth without thousands of our favorite jams tucked comfortably into our hip pockets. Weird.
8. The Daily Show
No target is too big (U.S. foreign policy) or too small (Tucker Carlson) for Jon Stewart and his fake news correspondents, who skewer American politics and our increasingly alarmist media.
9. American Idol
It’s given us Kelly, Carrie, Daughtry, and J. Hud. Idol rules the reality roost because the winners of Fox’s ratings juggernaut actually do go on to greatness. And Taylor Hicks? He’s the exception that proves the rule.
10. Beyoncé’s ”Single Ladies” video
Sorry, Taylor. Kanye was right. With choreography that had everyone flashing their bling-free ring fingers, Beyoncé’s fierce female anthem really is ”one of the best videos of all time.”
11. Brokeback Mountain
Everyone called it ”The Gay Cowboy Movie.” Until they saw it. In the end, Ang Lee’s 2005 love story wasn’t gay or straight, just human.
12. A scoundrel named Capt. Jack Sparrow
Part Keith Richards riff, part sozzled lounge lizard, Johnny Depp’s swizzle-shtick pirate was definitely one of the most dazzling characters of the decade.
13. Arrested Development
This low-rated gem about a family of misfits teemed with so many smart, self-referential jokes, it may have been the reason TiVo was invented.
Were you not entertained?
15. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
With its spare prose, McCarthy’s postapocalyptic odyssey from 2006 managed to be both harrowing and heartbreaking.
How on earth did we stalk our exes, remember our co-workers’ birthdays, bug our friends, and play a rousing game of Scrabulous before Facebook?
17. The Dark Knight
Every great hero needs a great villain. And in 2008, Christian Bale’s Batman found his in Heath Ledger’s demented dervish, the Joker.
18. The clothes from SATC
Raise your cosmos! A toast to the wonderful wardrobe from Sex and the City, which taught us that no flower is too big, no skirt too short, and no shoe too expensive.
19. ”The Landlord” video
The only thing funnier than a foulmouthed 2-year-old? A foulmouthed 2-year-old named Pearl berating Will Ferrell on FunnyOrDie.com.
20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ”The Body”
In this episode from 2001, Buffy comes home to find her mother dead from a brain aneurysm and then battles an enemy more terrifying than any vampire: her own crippling grief. It’s a work of stake-to-your-heart genius.
Conventional wisdom crumbled in the face of imagination in 2008, when Pixar made the decade’s unlikeliest megahit out of a melancholy, semi-silent movie about a lonely, music-loving robot.
22. ”SexyBack,” Justin Timberlake
We didn’t even know that sexy was missing until 2006. We’re just happy Justin brought it back safe and sound.
23. Susan Hawk’s speech in Survivor‘s season 1 finale
The truck driver wrapped up her Tribal Council diatribe with ”Let it be in the end the way Mother Nature intended it to be: for the snake to eat the rat.” (Snake = Richard. Rat = Kelly. 51.7 million viewers = riveted.)
24. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob
Torn between a buff BFF and a broody bad boy with incredible hair? Bella, we feel your pain. Twilight‘s werewolf-versus-vampire love triangle had all of America choosing sides.
25. The Wire
The deft writing — which used the cop-genre format to give shape to creator David Simon’s scathing social critiques — was matched by one of the deepest benches of acting talent in TV history.
26. A federal agent named Jack Bauer
When Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 superagent barks ”Dammit, Chloe — we’re running out of time!” America’s ass is about to be saved in some new, heart-stopping way.
27. Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan
Against all odds, the Nigerian priest’s searing African stories from 2008 imparted both joy and hope.
28. The Office, U.K. version
We love the Scranton crew. But Ricky Gervais’ mockumentary series about sad-sack employees in Slough, England, is the undisputed champion of awesomely awkward cubicle hell.
29. J. Lo’s dress at the 2000 Grammys
Gowns come prettier, classier, and even skimpier. But Jennifer Lopez’s down-to-there Versace earned its place in fashion history thanks to an inimitable red-carpet alchemy of style and star. And double-stick tape.
30. An ogre named Shrek
Prince Charming? So last millennium. This decade, fairy-tale fans — and Princess Fiona — fell for a fat and flatulent ogre. Now, that’s progress.
31. Tina Fey as Sarah Palin
Fey’s freakishly spot-on SNL impersonation of the wannabe VP (and her ability to strike a balance between comedy and cruelty) made for truly transcendent television.
32. Moulin Rouge!
Baz Luhrmann’s trippy pop culture pastiche from 2001 was an aesthetically arresting ode to poetry, passion, and Elton John. It was so good, we’ll forgive him for Australia.
33. The Blueprint, Jay-Z
One of the greatest poets ever to pick up a mic released his magnum opus in 2001. One retirement and one un-retirement later, it’s still his finest hour.
34. The West Wing, ”Two Cathedrals”
The mile-a-minute season 2 finale was the show at its most brilliantly dramatic: President Jed Bartlet confesses that he has (and had concealed) multiple sclerosis, then announces he’ll be seeking a second term.
35. Guitar Hero
An addictive videogame provides the illusion of musical mastery for even the least gifted: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Tap, tap, tap.
36. August: Osage County
Even with a run time of three and a half hours, Tracy Letts’ 2007 drama of Southern-fried familial dysfunction went by in one lightning-fast jolt of pure theatrical electricity.
37. Britney Spears performing ”Oops!” at the 2000 VMAs
This is the Britney Spears we choose to remember — the pre-breakdown pop tart, then just 19 years old, writhing and shaking her moneymaker in nude-colored rhinestone spandex to a mash-up of ”Satisfaction” and ”Oops!…I Did It Again.” Pure kitsch bliss.
38. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
This 2000 novel blended comic books, Jewish mysticism, and American history into something truly amazing.
39. The Shield
Det. Vic Mackey didn’t just clean up the streets — he cleaned up on the streets. Would he pay for those sins? This gutsy TV drama kept us guessing.
40. Kid A, Radiohead
In an abrupt left turn, one of the world’s biggest rock bands began the decade with a disc of complex electronic explorations. Our minds: still blown, nine years later.
41. Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian 2006 film reminded us that adrenaline-juicing action sequences can work best when the future looks just as grimy as today.
42. A matriarch named Madea
Whether she’s going to jail or just opening up a can of whupass, Tyler Perry’s Madea is the profane, gun-toting granny you never had but (maybe) wish you did.
43. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Raunchy Hollywood comedies — and Steve Carell’s chest hair — would never be the same after Judd Apatow’s 2005 hit. Who knew you could aim for the heart and below the belt at the same time?
Great role selection, a devotion to do-gooding, and a beautiful family: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt could teach a master class on movie stardom.
45. Gilmore Girls
Thank you, fast-talking Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, for suggesting moms and teenage daughters really can get along — all it takes is love, patience, and copious quantities of coffee.
46. A baby named Stewie
TV has seen lots of adorable babies. But when it comes to devious, scheming, matricidal tots, Family Guy‘s Stewie is our fave by far. And we’re not saying that just so he won’t kill us.
47. SNL DIGITAL SHORT ”Lazy Sunday”
The hallowed genre of ”white dudes rapping about mundane stuff” reached new heights of hilarity with Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell’s 2005 ode to an afternoon viewing of The Chronic — what! — cles of Narnia.
48. ”Umbrella,” Rihanna
In 2007, Rihanna had us all singin’ in the rain.
(Best Stage Musical)
With Kristin Chenoweth’s soaring vocals, Idina Menzel’s show-stopping ”Defying Gravity,” and an army of winged monkeys, is it any wonder 2003’s Oz-themed musical left audiences feeling carried away?
50. Six Feet Under series finale
Wrapping up an acclaimed show is pretty much a no-win proposition (e.g., The Sopranos). But Alan Ball’s 2005 coda distilled all that we’d learned about life and death after five seasons with the Fishers.
51. On Beauty, Zadie Smith
With this magnificent 2005 novel about a well-educated mixed-race family in Boston, Smith successfully fulfilled her idol E.M. Forster’s exhortation: Only connect.
52. Eminem & Elton John’s 2001 Grammy performance
It was the hug heard ’round the world. Eminem, under fire for homophobic lyrics, shared the stage with a gay icon for a performance of ”Stan” that would have been memorable in any context.
53. 30 Rock, ”Rosemary’s Baby”
Between Carrie Fisher’s delightfully bonkers guest role and Jack Donaghy’s hijacking of Tracy Jordan’s therapy session, this 2007 episode was so wrong. And so good.
54. Lost in Translation
Six years later, we still have no clue what Bill Murray whispered into Scarlett Johansson’s ear. And we don’t want to. Why spoil a perfect film?
Whether they were walking (March of the Penguins), dancing (Happy Feet), or hanging ten (Surf’s Up), these oddly adorable birds took flight at the box office all decade long.
56. ”Rehab,” Amy Winehouse
Soon she’d be making headlines for all the wrong reasons. But back in 2007, we were all saying yes, yes, yes to the British belter’s one-of-a-kind voice.
57. A reporter named Borat
Sacha Baron Cohen’s fake Kazakhstani journalist gave us some of the most incisive cultural commentary ever filmed. That, and a wrestling match between butt-naked men. Something for everyone.
Replacing key combos with natural movement, this revolutionary game system turned everyday activities — sports, walking, yoga — into the decade’s best reason to stay home.
59. CSI, ”Chaos Theory”
This 2001 episode of the procedural powerhouse involves the death of a college coed. So whodunit? No one. Breaking all conventions, it turns out her death was just an accident.
60. Matt Damon as action star
When he first signed on as the ass-kicking amnesiac Jason Bourne in 2002, no one would’ve predicted that Damon would become the decade’s best mixer of brawn and brains. Shows what we know.
61. Almost Famous
Every Cameron Crowe film is, in one way or another, about romance, rock & roll, and his romance with rock & roll. This power ballad of a movie, from 2000, also happens to be Crowe’s greatest (and most personal) film thanks to the golden gods of Stillwater and their biggest fan, Kate Hudson’s incomparable Penny Lane.
62. ”I’m F—ing Matt Damon” video
A talk-show host’s famous comedian girlfriend confesses in a catchy song that she’s shtupping No. 60? Yeah, that’ll go viral.
63. Love and Theft, Bob Dylan
The predictably unpredictable rock poet greeted the new millennium with a folksy, bluesy instant classic.
64. Friends, ”The One That Could Have Been”
Joey as a famous soap star? Phoebe as a chain-smoking Wall Street exec? The alternate reality in this season 6 show left us no alternative but to laugh out loud. Plus: Fat Monica gets a spot on all our best-of lists.
Limiting yourself to 140 characters — the maximum for messages on this diabolically addictive social-networking tool — is easy once you get the
66. ”Since U Been Gone,” Kelly Clarkson
Can anyone do bitter better? Nothing packs more romantic rage than the original Idol’s 2004 kiss-off to a coldhearted ex.
67. Fahrenheit 9/11
Michael Moore’s anti-Bush polemic gave millions of frustrated liberals exactly what they needed to hear in 2004 — and infuriated just about everyone else. Along the way, it became the highest-grossing documentary of all time.
68. Mad Men, ”Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”
Don Draper grabs the reins of his career and assembles a crack team of Sterling Cooper ad execs to form a rival agency in the season 3 finale. For Don — and us — it’s an emotion-jammed hour of ends and beginnings.
69. Patrick Dempsey’s hair
What made Grey’s Anatomy a mega-medi-hit? It could have something to do with creator Shonda Rhimes’ scalpel-sharp writing…or McDreamy’s impossibly luxurious mane. Just saying.
70. Stankonia, OutKast
With hummable hits (”Ms. Jackson”) and out-there experiments (”B.O.B.”), the rap duo gave us all a visa to the funky if fictional land of Stankonia in 2000.
71. Bond bathing suits
And you thought spies were supposed to be inconspicuous! Halle Berry’s orange bikini in Die Another Day (2002) and Daniel Craig’s supersnug powder blue trunks in Casino Royale (2006) suggest that neither 007 star can keep a secret.
72. The Comeback
Starring the superb Lisa Kudrow as a washed-up sitcom actress, this comedy may have lasted only 13 episodes, but it’s the most brilliantly brutal satire of reality TV ever captured on screen.
73. How I Met Your Mother, ”Slapsgiving”
After winning permission to slap Barney in a bet, Marshall renames Turkey Day in 2007. Slapstick ensues, setting the stage for ”Slapsgiving 2” in 2009. Did we mention it’s a real knee-slapper?
74. ”Fell in Love With a Girl” video, the White Stripes
An idea so simple it’s a wonder no one thought of it before 2002: rock & roll Legos!
75. High School Musical franchise
Call it kid stuff. But HSM became a billion-dollar hit across screens big and small thanks to a love of song, dance, and happy endings. And that’s pure, old-fashioned showbiz.
76. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Only the bizarre and byzantine brain of Charlie Kaufman could turn this 2004 story about erasing all memories of love into one of the most romantic movies of the decade.
77. Dave Chappelle as Lil Jon
”WHAT?!?!” We could have filled this list with 100 reasons we miss Chappelle’s Show, but the biggest one would have to be his riotous celebrity impressions.
78. A legal eagle named Elle Woods
She’s blond, bubbly, and carries a tiny Chihuahua. But despite the inevitable Paris Hilton comparisons, Reese Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde dynamo managed to be taken seriously. Case closed!
79. Bravo reality shows
From Queer Eye for the Straight Guy‘s Fab Five to Project Runway‘s fierce fashionistas to the kvetching, perma-tanned Real Housewives, Bravo’s quirky reality programming mixes high culture and low scruples to create deliciously addictive television.
80. The Ocean’s Eleven heist scene
Featuring three impregnable Vegas casinos and 11 ring-a-ding criminals, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 roll of the dice provided the most winning robbery sequence of the decade.
81. Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
He kicked off the decade as the look-at-me stylist behind 2000’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The fact that Eggers bookended it with this gut-wrenchingly poignant and selfless Katrina story proves that even boy wonders can grow up.
82. Prison inmates’ ”Thriller” video
Now that’s a ”breakout” hit: The clip of inmates at a high-security prison in the Philippines performing an intricately choreographed dance to Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller” has nabbed more than 42 million views since 2007.
83. Alias pilot
Fiery red hair. Weird red ball. Black ops. White knuckles. Our 2001 introduction to Jennifer Garner’s Sydney Bristow — the grad-student/fake-banker/double-agent superspy at the rapidly beating heart of this intricate action serial — was mesmerizingly colorful.
84. David Letterman’s first show after 9/11
He’s snarky. He’s snide. But when a solemn Letterman returned to the air Sept. 17, 2001 (his was the first late-night comedy show to air after the attacks), his off-the-cuff monologue showed the shell-shocked audience it was okay to laugh…and to cry.
85. Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Sure, Beyoncé’s performance was great. And Eddie Murphy’s was impressive. But there was really only one reason we all rushed to see 2006’s Dreamgirls: Jennifer Hudson’s soul-to-the-rafters rendition of the classic ”And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” When she sang ”You’re gonna love me,” it wasn’t just a lyric — it was a fact.
86. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Forget all the Oprah hoo-ha: Franzen’s 2001 doorstop of a domestic drama teaches that, yes, you can go home again. But you might not want to.
87. Michael Phelps at the Olympics
Athletes and pop culture don’t often overlap, but the Aquaman of Beijing and his staggering eight gold medals were bigger than sports. For those nine days, there was no brighter star.
88. Home, Dixie Chicks
Even George W. Bush fans have to respect the Chicks’ authentic bluegrass sound on ”Long Time Gone” and ”Landslide.” Okay, maybe they don’t. But they should.
89. Avenue Q
This 2003 smash musical is Sesame Street for grown-ups, with filthy-minded puppets who teach useful lessons like ”The Internet Is for Porn.” Somewhere, Big Bird is molting.
90. The Departed
If they’re lucky, directors make one classic film in their career. Martin Scorsese has one per decade (Taxi Driver in the ’70s, Raging Bull in the ’80s, GoodFellas in the ’90s). His 2006 Irish Mafia masterpiece kept the streak alive.
91. Friday Night Lights, ”Mud Bowl”
This season 1 episode serves up a Texas-size helping of drama and trauma. But there’s a game, too — played during a rainstorm — with the Panthers slipping and sliding their way to thrilling victory.
92. Mean Girls
”Fetch” may never happen, but 2004’s eminently quotable movie is still one of the sharpest high school satires ever. Which is pretty grool, if you ask us.
93. Ken Jennings on Jeopardy!
Answer: A software engineer from Utah, he dominated the quizfest for a record 74 shows in 2004, amassing $2,520,700. Question: Who is Ken Jennings?
94. ”Paper Planes,” M.I.A.
Admit it: That gunfire-and-cash-registers hook was stuck in your head for weeks after seeing the Pineapple Express trailer (or, uh, Slumdog Millionaire) in 2008.
95. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
(Best graphic novel)
This 2006 illustrated memoir about growing up with a closeted gay father proves a comic can pack just as much pathos as any novel.
96. Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch
Lesson learned: Tell, don’t show.
97. Lady Gaga’s outfits
Whether it’s a dress made of Muppets or strategically placed bubbles, Gaga’s outré ensembles brought performance art into the mainstream. (We’re still not sold on the hair bow, though.)
98. Funeral, Arcade Fire
Funerals are generally somber affairs, but the Canadian indie rockers’ emotionally charged 2004 debut mostly just made us smile. And, okay, mist up a little.
Da cutest distractshun of da decaid? Y, lolcats of corse! We can neber haz enuf of deez capshioned pics of cuddlie kittehs.
100. The kiss in Spider-Man
There’s a fine line between romantic and corny. And the rain-soaked smooch between Spider-Man and Mary Jane from 2002 tap-dances right on that line. The reason it works? Even if she suspects he’s Peter Parker, she doesn’t try to find out. And that’s sexy as hell.
Written by Thom Geier, Jeff Jensen, Tina Jordan, Margaret Lyons, Adam Markovitz, Chris Nashawaty, Whitney Pastorek, Lynette Rice, Josh Rottenberg, Missy Schwartz, Michael Slezak, Dan Snierson, Tim Stack, Kate Stroup, Ken Tucker, Adam B. Vary, Simon Vozick-Levinson, and Kate Ward