Best Paul Thomas Anderson Movies - Featured - StudioBinder

At just 23 years old, Paul Thomas Anderson broke into the filmmaking scene with his short film “Cigarettes and Coffee.” Four years later, Anderson released his acclaimed sophomore feature, Boogie Nights, which nabbed him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. In the years since, Anderson has made widely revered films with some of the world’s greatest actors, becoming a forerunner of American filmmaking. And now, the best Paul Thomas Anderson movies are ranked and debated incessantly. 

Each of the writer-director’s works showcase at least one of the tools in his artistic arsenal, and some in fact showcase them all. Here, we’re going to rank PT Anderson movies from bottom to top based on their respective stories, acting, visuals, and direction.

Best paul thomas anderson movies ranked

11. "Cigarettes and Coffee" (1993)

"Cigarettes and Coffee" - Full Movie

PT Anderson’s "Cigarettes and Coffee" was made on an ultra-low $10,000 budget. Yet, despite its small scope, this short has a lot of character. Anderson's script and shot choices, here, are an early showcase of the writer-director's rigorous attention to detail.

75%
story
70%
acting
50%
visuals
70%
direction
66%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Phillip Baker Hall
  • Vision
  • Story Arc
  • Set Dressing
  • Soundtrack
  • Close-Up Framing

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

"Cigarettes and Coffee" may not be Anderson’s best work, but it's an impressive first outing, especially when considering the limitations he had to work within.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

10. Junun (2015)

Junjun is the sole documentary in PT Anderson's filmography. The film explores the making of an Indian album of the same name. This ambitious project reunited Anderson with frequent collaborator Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead fame). But rather than provide the film's score, as he did for There Will Be BloodThe Master, and Phantom Thread, Greenwood instead becomes one of Anderson's subjects, as the director films him performing with the band behind Junjun, Rajasthan Express.

Junun - Trailer

70%
Story
N/A%
acting
80%
visuals
75%
direction
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Authenticity
  • Unique Direction
  • Insightful and Educational
  • Low "Entertainment"
  • Singular Focus
  • Lack of Story

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

Music fans will adore this unlikely exploration of world music as filtered through PT Anderson's perspective. The director brings visual vibrancy to this unique "making of" story.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

9. "Anima" (2018)

Another collaboration between PT Anderson and a member of Radiohead—this time the band's frontman, Thom Yorke—"Anima" is an eye-popping visual trip. This short film delves into the subconscious, taking inspiration from philosopher Carl Jung’s interpretation of the dream state.

Anima - Video Essay

60%
story
60%
acting
95%
visuals
90%
direction
76%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Stunning Visuals
  • Philosophical Subtext
  • Camerawork
  • Lack of Narrative
  • Plodding
  • Limited Acting

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

At just 15 minutes long, "Anima" memorably melds music and imagery to offer a glimpse into the minds of two of the world’s greatest living artists.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

8. Hard Eight (1996)

PT Anderson - On Hard Eight

PT Anderson is the first to admit that Hard Eight didn’t turn out exactly how he wanted.

"I just bluffed my way through it," Anderson told Marc Maron on Maron's WTF with Marc Maron podcast. "I should have had a 90-minute movie and I cut together this two and a half hour thing. I didn't have enough time to cut it properly." Eventually, he managed to cut the film down to a version he was moderately satisfied with.

Production obstacles aside, Hard Eight turned out quite good. It's loosely based on the plot of "Cigarettes and Coffee": Both films begin in a roadside diner with tobacco smoke and cups o' Joe in spades. But Anderson fleshes out the narrative at feature length by showing us events that are relegated to mere backstory in his short.

80%
story
80%
acting
70%
visuals
75%
direction
76%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Characters
  • Cast
  • Script
  • "Studio" Vision
  • Visually Uninspired
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

The feature-length debut from PT Anderson, Hard Eight is an essential film in the writer-director's catalogue.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

7. Inherent Vice (2015)

Inherent Vice - Anatomy of a Scene

Inherent Vice may better suited with the title Incoherent Vice. This bizarro pseudo-satire, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, is about as narratively obtuse as stories come.

Yet, there’s something about the film’s style that's simply irresistible. Composer Jonny Greenwood recorded the score alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the result is infectious. But the film's visuals—expertly crafted by Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit—are what truly put it over the top.

65%
story
85%
acting
85%
visuals
85%
direction
78%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Joaquin Phoenix
  • Visually Expressive
  • Strong Direction
  • Hard to Follow
  • Narratively Dense
  • Not Much Substance

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

PT Anderson’s Inherent Vice is one of the most confounding movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s one I’d recommend to fans of film noir and enigmatic narratives.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

6. Magnolia (1999)

Making of - Magnolia

New Line Cinema gave Paul Thomas Anderson complete creative control after the success of Boogie Nights, which resulted in the deeply personal, yet somewhat flawed Magnolia.

Although Anderson gives us an intimate look at the lives of nearly a dozen characters in his home area of the San Fernando Valley, the film's scope proves too wide for those separate character threads to work seamlessly together. 

Magnolia is at its best when it’s not trying to connect everything in its narrative together. One great example: An explosive monologue from motivational speaker Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) as he reflects on the life of his dying father.
80%
story
90%
acting
80%
visuals
90%
direction
85%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Excellent Cast
  • Emotional
  • Strong Script
  • Aspects of Ending
  • Too Ambitious
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

Magnolia has one of the best ensemble casts in cinema history. Their performances are worth the price of admission alone.

Cruise famously received an Oscar nomination for his performance in the film, and Julianne Moore and Phillip Seymour Hoffman also turn in iconic performances.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

5. Boogie Nights (1997)

Boogie Nights - Video Essay

Boogie Nights put Paul Thomas Anderson on the map, announcing him as a force of nature within the American filmmaking landscape. The film unflinchingly recreates the milieu porn industry of the 1970s and '80s, with all its graphic sexuality and expressive characters. Ultimately, Boogie Nights is a uniquely American tragedy on the dueling forces of love and hedonism. 

90%
Story
80%
acting
90%
visuals
90%
direction
88%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Tragic Story
  • Clear Direction
  • Location Shooting
  • Tad Too Long
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

Boogie Nights perfectly captures the complex nature of overt sexuality and its relationship to the camera.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

4. The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson on The Master

The Master is PT Anderson’s deconstruction of cultist psychology,  modeling the new age movement it depicts after L. Ron Hubbard’s founding of Scientology. The film boasts an excellent cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams.

All three stars give riveting performances, but it’s Hoffman who steals the show in one of the last films before his untimely death. As cult leader Lancaster Dodd, he commands each frame with fervor, all the while conveying the deep insecurities that plague his character.

90%
story
100%
acting
90%
visuals
90%
direction
93%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Masterclass Acting
  • Bold Story
  • Period Detail
  • Insanely Weird
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

The Master is an imposing piece of cinema, but a necessary watch. The film shows how desperation can be the undoing of rational thought. 

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

3. Punch-Drunk Love (2012)

PT Anderson and Adam Sandler on Punch-Drunk Love

There’s so much to love in Punch-Drunk Love, a film that may well contain the best performance of Adam Sandler’s legendary career. Punch-Drunk Love is a romantic-comedy by definition, but is full of nuanced drama as well.

Sandler is often associated with his bumbling roles in cheesy comedies—unfortunate considering the impressive range he displays here. As the emotionally frustrated Barry Egan, Sandler's performance in Punch-Drunk Love makes us feel as though he's up against the entire world.

The film's oft-brutal dramatic moments never weigh it down, and that's what ultimately enables it to subvert the rom-com formula. 

95%
story
90%
acting
90%
visuals
90%
direction
93%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Adam Sandler
  • Set Production
  • "Phone-Sex" Scene
  • Strange Antagonism
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

Punch-Drunk Love's characters exude energy in every scene, but it’s Sandler as the sensitive romantic Barry Egan who steals the show.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

2. Phantom Thread (2017)

Behind the Scene of Phantom Thread

Anderson’s most recent feature, Phantom Thread, reaffirmed his status one of cinema's preeminent modern masters. Phantom Thread is a wonderfully realized character study that delights and harrows audiences in equal measure. 

The delightful: production designer Mark Tildesley's set dressing and costume designer Mark Bridges' character clothing, which both masterfully convey rich period detail. The harrowing: the film's ending, which makes its sometimes slow-burn pace well worth sticking through.

90%
story
100%
acting
95%
visuals
100%
direction
96%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Lead Performances
  • Costuming
  • Soundtrack
  • Story Resolution
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

Phantom Thread is an intoxicating story of love and obsession, anchored by excellent lead performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

1. There Will Be Blood (2007)

PT Anderson & Daniel Day-Lewis Discuss There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is one of the greatest films of the 21st century. The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an ambitious oil driller who becomes embroiled in the ongoings of a complicated California settlement. 

Much of There Will Be Blood revolves around the epistemological quandary of faith versus knowledge and the religious and capitalistic structures that surround them.

100%
story
100%
acting
100%
visuals
100%
direction
100%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Story Arc
  • Iconic Acting
  • Clear Direction
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON MOVIES RANKED

Conclusion

At once quintessentially American and internationally resonant, There Will Be Blood remains the definitive Paul Thomas Anderson picture for filmmakers and film lovers. Perhaps no film of the past two decades has been praised, studied, and emulated as much as this one. 

Up Next

Paul Thomas Anderson Directing Style

Now that we’ve ranked PT Anderson’s best movies, why don’t we dig deeper into his style as a director? In this article, that’s exactly what we do, by looking at how he uses technique to create singular visions. Up next, we have “Paul Thomas Anderson Movies and Directing Style.”

Up Next: PT Anderson Style →
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