The Sopranos: The series people will most associate with the decade, by virtue of its having invented the quality-cable brand.
Sex and the City: Spiky, poignant, rewatchable—and I suspect humans will still be overanalyzing breakups in ten years.
American Idol: Of all the reality shows, this is the one that changed not just TV, but the music industry and the nature of stardom itself.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report: The outraged court jesters of the Bush years, they reinvented the way people get—and analyze—their news.
The Oprah Winfrey Show: The dominating pop-culture personality, she transformed herself into a multi-platform portal for all things self-improvement.
Lost: It will be remembered as oh so very aughty, but nobody will remember why they were so obsessed with that damned hatch.
The Road: Cormac McCarthy’s own personal The Old Man and the Sea—a slim late-career fable that popularized a difficult writer (and apocalyptic lit in general).
The Da Vinci Code: The inanely addictive juggernaut whose sales sustained an entire book industry.
The Tipping Point: Malcolm Gladwell’s first book of pop sociology was itself a tipping point: It ushered in a whole decade of perky theorizing about everyday experience.
The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay: Michael Chabon scrambled high-lit artistry and geek obsession long before it became trendy.
The Amber Spyglass: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is Harry Potter on human-growth hormone: dark, weird, rabble-rousing, and aggressively imaginative.
The Bourne Supremacy/Identity: Paul Greengrass employed the same faux-documentary technique he honed in Bloody Sunday to give two formula thrillers a kick. Not art, but everyone will imitate it.
Spirited Away: Animators disagree about everything but Hayao Miyazaki, whose work will be studied for its lyricism, emotional transparency, and mythic whimsy.
Adaptation: A lesser work by Eternal Sunshine’s Charlie Kaufman, but you’d need a shovel (or chainsaw) to beat back the tyro screenwriters scrambling their syntax and turning their stories inside out.
Spellbound: An eye-opening documentary about class through the prism of our language and the competitive drive to master it. For years to come, we’ll see lesser versions following characters on the road to a climactic contest.
Best in Show: Along with Spinal Tap, the mockumentary’s finest hour—and a gauntlet thrown down to comic writers, directors, and performers to find a character and improvise as if your life depended on it.
David Hammons (Ace Gallery; 2002) Viewers explored a pitch-black gallery with tiny blue lights. Still the best manifestation of life in the bad days after 9/11.
Matthew Barney, The Cremaster Cycle (Guggenheim Museum, 2002) Colossal and mythic, it caught our psychic dance with chaos, while also soaring above it.
Pipilotti Rist (MoMA; 2008) The optical shaman’s atrium installation turned a museum of stone into its metaphysical doppelgänger: A supple, voluptuous dream machine.
Carroll Dunham (Gladstone Gallery; 2007) Containing a stark and perfect encapsulation of the failed state of the world: A freak blowing his brains out by sticking a gun in his ass.
“Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” (Tony Shafrazi Gallery; 2008). A mad group show that embodied a moment when organizational order and visual hierarchy were in liberating flux.
Cindy Sherman (Metro Pictures Gallery; 2008) Fearless, magisterial oversize color photos of Sherman aging showed that following one idea as far as it can go can be timeless.
173–176 Perry Street, Richard Meier & Partners Architects: (2002) Richard Meier’s ode to transparent city living, the defining trend of the decade.
Bloomberg LP Headquarters (interior), Studios Architecture (2004):Colorful and caffeinated, this tour de force is a memory of days when new media was new and exciting to the point of exhaustion.
Hearst Tower, Foster + Partners (2006):The first tall building to start rising after 9/11 proved new ideas can thrive in adversity.
New Museum, Sanaa (2007):As old neighborhoods were being made over with wholesale indifference, this pointed a way to change without amnesia or sentimentality.
IAC Headquarters, Gehry Partners (2007):With his billowing masterpiece, Frank Gehry forever changed Manhattan’s rigid conception of an office building.
The Strokes, Is This It: Everybody, including the band itself, is still chasing the frenzied effortless cool of this post-9/11, decade-defining debut.
Britney, Oops I Did It Again: Britney was the perfect product of a society that demands to be entertained at any cost, even our dignity.
Arcade Fire, Funeral: Behold the blogosphere, a grassroots network that can transform a collective of morose Canadian eggheads into arena rock stars.
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells: A potent union of packaging and sheer talent, the White Stripes established themselves as the definitive rock band of their generation.
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak: Though not Kanye’s best record, it’s the signature album of the Auto-Tune era, in which technology trumps natural ability.
Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts: American Idol is the ultimate pop-star-making machinery of this decade, and Underwood is its purest creation.
M.I.A., Kala: A Sri Lankan revolutionary’s daughter attends posh British art school, travels the world collecting samples, then invents a new global hip-hop sound.
Coldplay, Rush of Blood to the Head: A punchline for the Apatow generation, they give the kids prom songs and the punks something to despise.
Death Cab For Cutie, Transatlanticism: The singular emo gem, like this one, shows that feelings aren’t always self-indulgent but sometimes expansive and thrilling.
Doubt:John Patrick Shanley’s four-hander was the most-produced play by American regional theaters this decade; it will be certainly be running somewhere in 2020, and be just as entertaining.
Caroline, or Change:Tony Kushner’s musical was a commercial disappointment but a beautifully written, endlessly fascinating piece of work.
Mamma Mia!:The biggest musical in the world, and the only show on Broadway likely still to be running in 2020.
Shining City:Conor McPherson’s ghost story was spooky, scary, and maybe the best play of the decade.
The Clean House:Produced in New Haven, Chicago, D.C., and California before it ever made it to New York, Sarah Ruhl’s drama reinforced the city’s ever-poorer record of developing new plays—and regional theater’s knack for developing great ones.
Kiki and Herb Will Die for You:September 19, 2005, at a sold-out Carnegie Hall. In 2020, all your friends will claim they were there.
The Coast of Utopia:Tom Stoppard capped off his remarkable decade with nine majestic, intelligent, fulfilling hours of drama.
In the Heights:In 2020, we may remember Lin-Manuel Miranda’s reggaeton-meets-Sondheim musical as a step in the reinvigoration of the Broadway musical—or as yet another missed opportunity.
Radio Golf:The last of August Wilson’s era-defining cycle of plays, collectively the signature work of the American theater.
The Producers:“Man, remember when that silly musical with the dancing Nazis was the hottest ticket in town? How the hell did that happen?”
The Brother/Sister Plays: With this dramatic trilogy, the ambitious and talented Tarell Alvin McCraney laid the groundwork to be the next decade’s great American playwright.
Blankets:Craig Thompson’s massive and heartfelt coming-of-age graphic novel will be read and loved forever.
Naruto: With 46 volumes out so far, this megaselling Japanese series was the biggest hit of a decade that saw manga take over graphic-novel bestseller lists.
Infinite Crisis and Civil War: DC and Marvel’s enormous crossover events, each requiring encyclopedic knowledge of canon, cemented superhero comics’ disdain for the casual fan.
Asterios Polyp:David Mazzucchelli’s 2009 masterpiece is the capstone to a decade in which the idea of comics as literature stopped being outrageous and started being shrug-worthy.