National Retro Day: 20 films turning 20 in 2021

We're inviting you to celebrate National Retro Day here on the Cineworld blog. Officially, this is a day of nostalgia that celebrates a time before iPhones, tablets, the internet and so on, but we've co-opted the idea to include some of our favourite retro films.

On that note, here's our blog list of 20 films turning 20 in 2021. If you're looking for lockdown movie playlist inspiration, then you've come to the right place. 

1. Hannibal

Anthony Hopkins chews the scenery and his fellow cast members in Ridley Scott's ghoulishly gory follow-up to classic 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins reprises his role as the brilliant yet deranged serial killer Hannibal Lecter while Julianne Moore takes over from Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling.

In a marked contrast from the procedural intelligence of Silence, Hannibal (adapted from Thomas Harris' controversial novel) is cloaked in a portentous gothic atmosphere as the title character stalks the streets of his favourite city, Florence. It's not a patch on the previous film but there are tasty pleasures to be had, not least in the form of Hopkins' star turn.

2. Memento

It all started here for Tenet director Christopher Nolan. All of Nolan's time-scrambling, head-spinning narrative trickery owes itself to Memento, the atmospheric and moving story of one man suffering from short-term memory loss. Brilliantly, Nolan makes us feel the sorrow of Guy Pearce's central character Leonard, wrapping two narratives around one another, variously proceeding forwards and backwards.

The end result is a movie that compels us to scramble together bits and pieces of information on a scene-by-scene basis, exactly in the manner of Leonard's body tattoos and polaroids. This is the evidence he's using to hunt down his wife's killer – but is there more to his story than meets the eye? Anchored by Pearce's subtle central turn and Nolan's incisive, Oscar-nominated screenplay, this remains a superior thriller.

3. Spy Kids

Here's something a bit more family-friendly. If you remember this one coming out when you were young, chances are you now have kids of your own – and we apologise for making you feel old. The multi-talented director/producer/writer/editor/cinematographer Robert Rodriguez puts his stamp on this entertaining story of two seemingly ordinary children burdened with the knowledge that their parents are actually brilliant espionage agents.

Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega are superb as the pint-sized central duo and there's scene-stealing support from the likes of Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming and Danny Trejo. The movie skews a lot younger than Rodriguez's usual violent exploitation fare, and proved so popular that it spawned a veritable Spy Kids movie franchise.

4. Bridget Jones's Diary

Yes, it's true: it's been 20 years since we were first introduced to the big-screen incarnation of the hapless Bridget Jones. Renee Zellweger scored an Oscar nomination for her delightful performance as Bridget, a lovelorn London singleton who can't quite nail her karaoke skills, alcohol consumption or love life. Zellweger brilliantly embodies author Helen Fielding's creation, fashioning a funny yet deeply relatable portrayal of a 30-something trying to make sense of their life.

Colin Firth offers solid support as the starchy Mark Darcy who might offer the solution Bridget is looking for. Even so, the show is stolen by a fiendishly entertaining Hugh Grant as Bridget's caddish editor and seducer Daniel Cleaver – one can sense him gleefully taking the hatchet to his floppy-haired, bumbling Four Weddings image. The flailing fight scene between Cleaver and Darcy (improvised by both actors) remains one of the best in cinema history.

5. A Knight's Tale

Watching any Heath Ledger movie is now coated with a sense of poignancy. Who knows what he would have gone on to achieve in the wake of The Dark Knight? One of his earliest star-making roles was this likeably scrappy and eccentric medieval comedy, in which Ledger plays aspiring jouster William. Ledger is an immediately likeable lead, guiding us through the movie's central gimmick, which off-sets anachronistic pop songs like David Bowie's 'Golden Years' against the historical setting.

It's perhaps an odd film for L.A. Confidential writer Brian Helgeland to have helmed, but its spirit is hard to deny. And there's a brilliant performance from Paul Bettany as the oft-inspired (and nude) writer by the name of Geoffrey Chaucer.

6. Shrek

Fire up All Stars and tear up those sappy fairy tale stories, because Shrek has officially hit the two-decade marker. Will Steig's book of the same name informs this deliriously funny satirical animation, an early success story from studio DreamWorks. Taking the hatchet to classic Disney conventions, the movie also embraces its sweet side as Mike Myers' titular grumpy ogre falls for Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), whom he's tasked with rescuing from the fire-breathing dragon.

There are too many classic scenes in Shrek to list here. But a great many of them go to the fast-talking Eddie Murphy as Donkey, surely one of the most inspired casting choices in animation history. A huge box office success, Shrek also won the inaugural Oscar for Best Animated Feature, setting in motion a blockbuster franchise and a range of spin-offs. Even so, you can't beat the original.

7. Moulin Rouge!

Here's the first of two Nicole Kidman vehicles from 2001. Kidman lights up the screen as doomed Parisian cabaret star and courtesan Satine, who undergoes a forbidden love affair with struggling writer Christian (Ewan McGregor). Their chemistry is forced to compete with director Baz Luhrmann's typically hyper-kinetic visual style, mixing baroque visuals, fast-paced editing and an anachronistic onslaught of music.

Moulin Rouge! remains bold, brash, energetic and a distinctly acquired taste. Nevertheless, it proves that few directors can tackle a musical project of this scale in the same way as Luhrmann. Nominated for eight Oscars (including Best Actress for Kidman), it won awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. No surprises there.

8. The Fast and The Furious

The Fast & Furious journey started here with a relatively humble B-movie based around street racing. The film introduced us to Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto whose vocal delivery is barely less growly than the V8 muscle cars he hijacks. Pitted against him: Paul Walker's bleach-blonde FBI agent Johnny Utah – sorry, Brian O'Conner. Yes, this is essential Point Break on wheels but it delivers its popcorn promises.

It's fascinating going back and seeing where the Fast mythology all started. In particular, we see how Dom and Brian were initially on opposite sides of the law, before embracing the family mantra of the later films. It's also, stylistically, very different, leaving the more ridiculous set-pieces at the door (well, sort of), and instead building the majority of its action scenes out of the straight-line progress from A to B.

9. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Steven Spielberg's ambitious futuristic drama builds on concepts and designs laid down by Stanley Kubrick. The end result is a hybrid of sensibilities, the wholesome and sentimental meshing with the clinical and disturbing. Yet Spielberg has claimed in recent years that a lot of the material attributed to him actually came from the late Kubrick's own drafts.

Either way, it's a bold and nightmarish twist on the Pinocchio narrative about a young robot boy who seeks to return to his human mother. Haley Joel Osment is a revelation as the bionic David, never blinking but subtly showing us how a mechanical object is becoming subject to complicated human emotions. The film sharply split opinion at the time but is now recognised as a profound statement on the nature of the soul.

10. Legally Blonde

Waiting for the release of Legally Blonde 3? Well, now's the perfect time to celebrate Elle Woods' debut, which has officially turned 20 years old. Reese Witherspoon's endearingly ditzy fashion guru turned ace lawyer helped guide this frothy rom-com to huge box office returns, and it's not hard to see why.

Fluffy though it is, Legally Blonde is also a sweet story about not judging a book by its cover. Witherspoon was Golden Globe-nominated for her performance, cementing her star status with a portrayal of a seemingly air-headed sorority girl who turns the tables on those who doubt her.

11. Ghost World

In the last decade or so, we've become accustomed to the idea of comic book movies as roaring, big-budget behemoths packed with effects and action set-pieces. But the world of the graphic novel is a rich and diverse one, often favouring disquieting narratives of urban alienation. Ghost World is just such an example. Adapted by director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes from Clowes' own source material, it's the story of two teenage girls and their discombobulating relationship with an older man.

In the lead roles, a pre-Black Widow Scarlett Johansson and a post-American Beauty Thora Birch excel as two outsiders drifting through the miasma of day-to-day life. The movie unashamedly portrays adolescent life as dislocating and odd, and it yielded an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

12. The Princess Diaries

Several years before she claimed her Oscar for Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway was on sparkling form as the clumsy yet loveable Mia Thermopolis. Ostensibly a normal American teenager, Mia discovers she is in fact heir to the throne of a European kingdom. And this prompts the best kind of intervention: regal schooling and etiquette training from the peerless Julie Andrews, here playing Mia's grandmother and Queen of Genovia Clarisse.

Director Garry Marshall adapts Meg Cabot's novel of the same name and coaxes a star-making performance from Anne Hathaway. Whether she's messing up a royal dinner or misunderstanding her queenly attire, Mia is a character with whom we sympathise entirely.

13. The Others

Nicole Kidman delivers what is possibly her finest performance in this blood-curdling ghost story from writer-director Alejandro Amenabar. The filmmaker hones the sense of unease from classic chillers such as The Innocents and The Haunting, locking us inside a shadowy mansion where dark secrets lurk in every corner.

Kidman is terrific as Grace, a neurotic mother living a solitary existence in Jersey in the wake of World War II. Grace's two children are sensitive to light and must be kept in perpetual darkness – but then she senses that someone, or something, is in the house with them. Cheap jump scares are abandoned in favour of a velvety, all-encompassing atmosphere of mounting dread, anchored around the central character of a mother whose parental protection may well be spilling over into dangerous paranoia.

14. Zoolander

No, you haven't taken crazy pills. It really is two decades since we were introduced to the gormless Derek Zoolander and his concept of 'blue steel'. Ben Stiller writes, directs and stars in this cult favourite fashion comedy, as an aspiring catwalk model finds himself brainwashed by sinister guru Mugatu (an early, hilarious appearance from Will Ferrell).

Something of a box office flop on its initial release, Zoolander has only gained in stature in the intervening years. (The unbelievably poor 2016 sequel has also increased the love for the original film.) Packed with knowing cameos, none funnier than catwalk judge David Bowie, and with an astute eye for the self-absorbed vanity of the fashion industry, it remains a classic comedy. And the eugoogly scene still destroys us.

15. Training Day

Denzel Washington won his second Oscar for this riveting corrupt cop thriller. He tucks into a rare villainous role, playing scheming detective Alonzo Harris whose job it is to 'school' naive young rookie Jake (Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke). Directed by Antoine Fuqua and scripted by David Ayer (who would go on to make Suicide Squad), Training Day authentically absorbs the violence and paranoia of the Los Angeles streets, over which Alonzo presides.

The final, explosive meltdown becomes all the more powerful when contrasted with Washington's usual screen image. Usually an actor who excels in portraying noble and considered characters, here he's terrific and scary as the embodiment of corruption who finds the walls closing in. One must also credit Hawke's believable turn, one that mediates the louder, brasher, more attention-grabbing performance from Washington.

16. Mulholland Drive

High prince of the macabre. David Lynch, delivers a masterclass in unease with Mullholland Drive. Lynch dispenses with conventional narrative to fashion a menacing, allegorical story of the Dream Factory and its pernicious effect on wannabe young starlets. Filmed in layers of shadow by Peter Deming and scored to unnerving effect by Angelo Badalamenti, Mulholland Drive is a movie that plugs into emotional truths even as the storyline becomes increasingly fragmented.

In other words, it's pure cinema, bringing us the story of an amnesiac woman (Laura Harring), and the aspiring young actor (Naomi Watts) who decides to help her. Several of the sequences rank with Lynch's finest, including the infamous Winkies diner scene that admirably conjures a sense of bone-chilling dread in the midst of broad daylight. What does it all mean? That's up to subjective opinion, but it's really all about the journey, not the destination.

17. Amélie

Audrey Tatou proved an irresistible breakout star in this French fantasy-comedy hit. Amélie was the biggest hit to emerge from France in years, honing a quintessentially Gallic sense of whimsy and romance in its story of the pixie-like central character. 

In any other hands, the depiction of a seemingly ordinary young woman who loves the cinema and drifts in and out of romance might have seemed staggeringly dull. But director Jeune-Pierre Jeunet has always specialised in the surreal and macabre, particularly with the earlier likes of The City of the Lost Children (1995). He turns social norms on their head to depict ordinary life as something bracingly strange yet charming, and Tatou's performance is the grounding element,

18. Monsters, Inc.

It's amazing to think that Monsters, Inc. arrived a mere six years after Disney-Pixar's debut feature film, Toy Story. And yet, it demonstrates a dramatic and comic evolution for the studio, both in terms of the CGI animation quality and the characterisation. From the ruffling fur on Sully (voiced by John Goodman) to the banter shared between Sully and one-eyed pal Mike (Billy Crystal), Monsters, Inc. is a feast for both the senses and the emotions.

In the manner of Pixar's best films, the central scenario is also a thing of genius. Put simply, monsters scare children in their beds to harness their fear and power their factory. That's up there with toys coming to life in Toy Story, a clownfish searching for his son in Finding Nemo and emotions becoming humanised in Inside Out. The greatest Pixar efforts like Monsters, Inc. are easy to explain on a conceptual level, and yet conceal profound depths that gain in potency the older you become.

19. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Yes, it's been 20 years since Harry Potter made his big-screen debut. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and the soon-to-be-retired (if rumours are to be believed) Emma Watson nail the portrayals of Hogwarts trio Harry, Ron and Hermione. They translate the charm, humour and verve of J.K. Rowling's original source material, ensuring that we have a relatable human element in the midst of all the magical Hogwarts madness.

Even so, the show is really stolen by the dazzlingly good line-up of British thespians, none more memorable than the late Alan Rickman as the ambiguous potions master Severus Snape. Mrs. Doubtfire helmer Chris Columbus was the man responsible for getting the Potter franchise off the start line, and it was a huge box office success, yielding more than $900 million worldwide. It ignited the hunger for a franchise, with Columbus helming one more movie (The Chamber of Secrets) before giving way to Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates on the later movies.

20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Rivalling Harry Potter's supremacy as the go-to fantasy movie of 2001, the first Lord of the Rings movie swept audiences into a remarkable landscape. Writer/director Peter Jackson was informed before production that any attempt to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's landmark source novel was a folly. There were too many characters and too many storylines, and the overwhelmingly ambitious scale would surely defeat any filmmaker.

That Jackson proved the cynics wrong was a testament to both his vision and his tenacity. Organic New Zealand landscapes meshed with cutting-edge CGI and superb make-up effects in a manner never before seen in fantasy cinema. Yet underpinning the technique is a clear love for Tolkien's narrative, which resonates most strongly in the excellent casting. Elijah Wood is the brave hobbit Frodo Baggins, tasked with destroying the One Ring, and an Oscar-nominated Ian McKellen radiates wisdom as wizard Gandalf. The Fellowship of the Ring truly was a staggering watershed moment in movie history.


Which of these retro movies are you prioritising as part of your lockdown playlist? Let us know @Cineworld.