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.