Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was met with overwhelming acclaim, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 93%. Winslet's and Carrey's performances were generally praised. Roger Ebert commented, "Despite jumping through the deliberately disorienting hoops of its story, Eternal Sunshine has an emotional center, and that's what makes it work." Ebert later included the film in his "Great Movies" series. Similarly, A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised the film for being "cerebral, formally and conceptually complicated, dense with literary allusions and as unabashedly romantic as any movie you’ll ever see."
Time Out summed up their review by saying, "the formidable Gondry/Kaufman/Carrey axis works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one's own addled mind, and in allegorising the self-preserving amnesia of a broken but hopeful heart."
In 2006, in issue 201 of Empire, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was voted #83 in their 201 Greatest Movies of All Time poll as voted for by readers. That same year, Winslet's performance as Clementine was included in Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time at #81. Claudia Puig, reviewer in USA Today said about her performance that "Winslet is wonderful as a free spirit whose hair color changes along with her moods. She hasn't had such a meaty role in a while, and she plays it just right."
Carol Vernallis points out that Gondry's experience in directing music videos contributed to the film's mise-en-scène and sound design. Vernallis describes some threads of the visual, aural and musical motifs throughout the film, and how some motifs can work in counterpoint.
In November 2009, Time Out New York ranked the film as the third-best of the decade:
In the past, both director Michel Gondry's kindergarten arts-and-crafts aesthetic and Charlie Kaufman's Möbius-striptease scripts have come off as insufferably twee and gimmicky. So why does this existential meta-rom-com always leave us teary-eyed and genuinely moved?...[T]he duo finally finds the right combination of high-concept and humanity here, taking the what-if idea of a company that lobotomizes the lovelorn into territory that's funny, painful, poetic and unsettlingly weird.
Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "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." Slant Magazine placed the film at number 87 on their list of the best films of the 2000s. Paste Magazine named it one of the 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000-2009), ranking it at number 5.
At the end of 2009, The Onion's A.V. Club rated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as the number one film of the 2000s, beating out Christopher Nolan's Memento and the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. The article states, "It's the rare film that shows us who we are now and who we're likely, for better or worse, forever to be."
It has been calculated to be the 11th most critically acclaimed film of the 2000s by virtue of its number of appearances on prominent 'films of the decade' lists.
In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the film at #24 on its list of "101 Greatest Screenplays".
Kaufman, Gondry, and Bismuth won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The film was nominated for placement on two American Film Institute lists.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film