Sam Mendes, director of stage and screen, may not release quite as many feature films as some of his contemporaries but one thing he has displayed in abundance is variety. With the exception of his turns in the James Bond series as the Spectre and Skyfall director, it’s rare to see Sam Mendes movies tackle the same subject matter more than once. With a chameleon filmography, he leaps from gangster film to war film to drama to rom-com. Mendes adapts his style to best suit the story at hand, rather than focusing on a cohesive directorial fingerprint across his body of work.
Despite all the variance, a Sam Mendes film can always be counted on to deliver challenging narratives, strong performances, and sumptuous visuals. Without further ado, join us in counting down the very best movies directed by Sam Mendes.
Watch: The Most Important Shot in Road to Perdition
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Sam Mendes movies list
8. Spectre (2015)
Perhaps the weakest of all movies directed by Sam Mendes was his hotly anticipated return to the James Bond franchise. Spectre was a disappointment of a Bond film, especially as Sam Mendes’s follow up to the much higher-quality Skyfall which he also directed. Despite some excellent visual sequences, the magic just wasn’t there this time around, especially for Daniel Craig in the James Bond role who looks like he would rather be anywhere else playing any other role.
Perhaps the biggest shame was that they wasted Christoph Waltz in the classic Bond-villain role that he seemed like a perfect fit for on paper.
Mendes of film
7. Revolutionary Road (2008)
Revolutionary Road divided audiences to a degree. There is a lot to appreciate and admire about the film but also a few major shortcomings that keep it from reaching its full potential. The strongest elements of the film include the production design, cinematography and especially the performances. Outshining both leads is Michael Shannon in a one-scene-wonder role; he completely steals the show.
Unfortunately, the downsides are significant enough to bring the entire film down a notch or two, and most of these failings come down to the screenplay and the writing of the lead characters. The point in their lives at which the narrative joins these two protagonists is unnatural and missing vital character development. Add onto that the unlikability of the male lead, the tell-don’t-show characterization, and the shallow exploration of themes handled much better by Mendes previously in American Beauty, and you’re left with a film that is only marginally worth watching.
Sam Mendes films
6. Away We Go (2009)
The simplest and most straightforward story in Sam Mendes’s filmography is undoubtedly his 2009 romantic comedy, drama Away We Go. There aren’t any glaring issues with the film but it also doesn’t excel in any of the ways his other films do. The cinematography is simple and workman-like, the characters are likable enough but not overly complex. And the themes might dig a touch deeper than the average rom-com but only just barely.
A decent amount of the humor hits, but Away We Go isn’t comedically focused enough to be watched for the laughs alone. Away We Go is a decent watch that may or may not leave much of an impression once the credits have rolled.
Mendes of film
5. Jarhead (2005)
Jarhead is the antithesis of many war films; a war film that seems determined to avoid showing the actual war as much as possible and instead revel in the moments on the sidelines. It is an interesting approach to the war-movie subgenre and a gamble that mostly pays off, allowing for excellent character development and thought-provoking themes that are sometimes left by the wayside in this subgenre.
Out of the two Sam Mendes movies examining warfare, Jarhead might come out slightly behind but it is the bolder take on the subgenre.
Sam Mendes Movies
4. Road to Perdition (2002)
Road to Perdition holds its own against the best gangster films and could potentially be considered in the same league as the best Neo-Noir films of recent years too. The film makes the most of a brilliant cast to tell a gritty, if familiar, story with just enough of an original streak to set it apart from its contemporaries. For more on Road to Perdition, be sure to check out our revisiting of the classic Sam Mendes film.
Sam Mendes Films
3. 1917 (2019)
The most recent Sam Mendes film is also one of his best. The second of two Sam Mendes movies tacking war as the subject matter, 1917 impresses even more than the former. The film takes aim at WWI with the challenging choice to present the entire movie as a single take. Learn more about how Roger Deakins executed the faux-oner.
What at first feels slightly gimmicky, eventually proves itself to be an important storytelling decision that elevates the entire surrounding film. For further insights into long takes, be sure to read about how long shots can push storytelling forward. 1917 is also unique in Sam Mendes’s filmography as it's his only screenwriting credit to date.
Skyfall Director Mendes
2. Skyfall (2012)
Sam Mendes’s first at bat with the James Bond franchise proved to be a massive success. Skyfall is arguably the best of the Daniel Craig Bond films and ranks highly amongst the best films of the entire James Bond series.
Skyfall delivered Daniel Craig in peak form, a grade-A Bond villain in Javier Bardem, quite possibly the best cinematography the series has ever seen, and a deeper, more personal story for Bond than most entries in the long running franchise get. All of these stellar attributes make Skyfall the second best of all Sam Mendes movies.
American Beauty Director Mendes
1. American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty was the film that launched Sam Mendes’s directorial career to new heights, the film that earned him the Best Director Academy Award, and the film that remains the best movie directed by Sam Mendes. There is one big elephant in the room regarding American Beauty and that is Kevin Spacey. If the creep’s involvement doesn’t put you off altogether, there is plenty to love and admire about the filmmaking at play.
With an excellent, emotional script and impeccable direction, American Beauty tackles complex, layered themes and delivers moments of raw emotion and poignant profundity in equal measure. It’s as beautiful as watching a plastic bag blow around a parking lot.
The Best Spike Lee Movies
Those were the best Sam Mendes movies. Now is the perfect time for an exploration of another director’s filmography, one who has worked far more frequently since his first feature film back in the 1980s. Up next, we’re taking a look at the work of filmmaker Spike Lee, check it out.