From goofball comedies to deadly serious thrillers and everything in between, Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most distinctive writers and directors in movie history.
With their latest film Hail, Caesar! hitting UK cinema screens today, we thought we’d cast our eyes back over the Coens brothers’ amazing and eclectic back catalogue thus far, and present a ranking of their many, varied movies in order of worst to best.
Disagree with the ranking? Not a problem, simply head to the bottom of the page to vote for your favourites – and least favourites.
Without further ado…
The Ladykillers (2004)
We kick off the list with arguably the only Coen Brothers movie that could be considered downright bad. This Tom Hanks comedy was an ill-advised remake that not even Joel and Ethan could handle.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
It has its moments, both funny and moving (and Jennifer Jason Leigh is great). But though it still carries a strange and visually distinctive style, this journey of Tim Robbins’ lowly postroom clerk to the top of a ruthless, scheming corporation in a strange version of ’50s America will never live up to the brothers’ other oddball efforts.
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
The second instalment of George Clooney’s self-professed ‘Idiot Trilogy’ (which concludes with Hail, Caesar!) this oft laughed at – note, not laughed with – Coen comedy treads a more mainstream path than their other films, and suffers all the more for it.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
This, the first film in Clooney’s aforementioned moronic three-parter, easily eclipses the first. It’s delightfully loopy prison escape premise sets up a fun film focusing on Everett Ulysses McGill and the perpetually angry Pete. Cracking music too.
Burn After Reading (2008)
If you ever wanted to see Brad Pitt dancing exuberhantly with his tongue out, you’ve come to the right place. Perhaps the funniest of the Coens’ straight up comedies, the whole things a big mess… but that’s kind of the hilarious point.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Coens’ most familiar film is – if we’re being fair – certainly not their best (though it is still amazing, of course), but it has wonderful cult appeal. Strong performances from John Goodman and Jeff Bridges (the latter being the only Coens character to make a viable fancy dress outfit) and the brothers’ deft touch with a script, bring the whole thing to life.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Filmed entirely in monochrome, this clever, often under-appreciated tribute to the film noir genre is probably the Coens’ least remembered work, but definitely deserving of a watch. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as the mostly silent, downtrodden protagonist, who becomes embroiled in an escalating series of unfortunate events.
A Serious Man (2009)
A Serious Man is one of those films where you feel like laughing to stop yourself from crying (in the best possible way). The proverbial hits the fan for physics professor Larry Gopnik, as just about everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. One of the Coens’ most mature films.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Establishing an alternating pattern between straight-up screwball comedies and most down to Earth dramas, Raising Arizona – the brothers’ second feature – saw Nicholas Cage at his overzealous best in one of the Coens’ most purely entertaining films.
Barton Fink (1991)
The duo’s 90s work is perhaps their most consistently strong, and this twisty and unsettling tale of a 1940s playwright struggling with writer’s block is one of the highlights. As usual, amazingly engaging performances from a talented cast deliver the brothers’ trademark sense of dark humor with panache.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Their take on the classic gangster flick features sharp dialogue, impressive cinematography, and a typically quirky ensemble of characters. The story gets a little bogged down with itself by the end, but the distinctive style – and Gabriel Byrne’s ruthless protagonist – will see you through no problem.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Featuring the kind of performance from Oscar Isaac to really put an actor on the map, this tale of the titular folk-singer is beautifully tragi-comic in a way that only the Coens really know how to handle. Yet another amazing cast (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman) flesh out the backdrop of Greenwich Village musicians.
No Country For Old Men (2007)
The first half is pitch perfect, blending bleak landscapes with a broiling chase narrative. Featuring superb cinematography and some of the finest hairstyles put to film, this is a tense, brooding and edge of the seat thriller. A must watch.
Blood Simple (1984)
The directorial debut from the Coens established everything that would go on to make them great in the decades to come: brutal violence, flashes of genuinely funny comedy, and Frances McDormand popping up somewhere. Blood Simple set the brothers’ standards at the highest of levels.
It would take them more than 10 years to truly top the brilliance of Blood Simple, but Joel and Ethan did it with Fargo, an iconic neo-noir black comedy and thriller that finally gave Frances McDormand her own leading role after so many appearances in the brothers’ films. Notable for that wood chipper scene, but worth watching for so much more, it combines all of their greatest elements into an exhilarating whole. One of the best films ever made.
True Grit (2010)
But this might just top Fargo. Nobody expected the Coens’ remake of the John Wayne-starring 1969 classic to be so good, and that’s perhaps precisely why it is considered so. A cast including Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and sparkling newcomer Hailee Steinfeld carry this spellbinding Western to dizzying heights, and to the top of the Coens’ body of work.