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

Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.

Sam Mendes movies list

8. Spectre (2015)

Sam Mendes Movies  •  Spectre

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.

30%
ACTING
60%
Visuals
40%
WRITING
20%
THEMES
38%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Train fight
  • Visually dynamic
  • N/A
  • Craig tired of role
  • Squanders Waltz
  • Nothing new

Sam Mendez Films

Critic review highlight

Daniel Craig recently said that he'd rather "kill himself" than do another Bond film -- and in Spectre, his misery shows. Full Review - Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine

Mendes of film

7. Revolutionary Road (2008)

Revolutionary Road  •  Sam Mendes Director

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.

80%
ACTING
70%
VISUALS
20%
WRITING
20%
THEMES
48%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Michael Shannon scene
  • Cinematography
  • DiCaprio and Winslet
  • Poor characterization
  • Shallow drama
  • Weak thematic exploration

Sam Mendez Films

Critic review highlight

These people are not tragic, they're not even pathetic - they're fountains of soap-opera profundities. Full Review - Kelly Vance, East Bay Express

Sam Mendes films

6. Away We Go (2009)

  Sam Mendes Movies  •  Away We Go

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.

60%
ACTING
50%
VISUALS
60%
WRITING
50%
THEMES
55%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Likable cast
  • Humorous moments
  • Somber tone
  • Overly simple
  • Surface level
  • N/A

Sam Mendes Movies

Critic review highlight

Burt and Verona are amiable enough travelling companions and their trip does throw up some moderately amusing situations, but the film's episodic structure does get a bit wearying. Full Review - Jason Best, Movie Talk

Mendes of film

5. Jarhead (2005)

Jarhead directed by Sam Mendes

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.

70%
ACTING
60%
VISUALS
70%
WRITING
70%
THEMES
68%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Characterization
  • Unique approach
  • Strong themes
  • Slow-moving
  • Could drill deeper
  • N/A

Sam Mendes Movies

Critic review highlight

Jarhead takes a perverse pleasure in confounding your expectations of what a war movie should be. Full Review - Paul Arendt, BBC

Sam Mendes Movies

4. Road to Perdition (2002)

Road to Perdition  •  Sam Mendes Director

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.

70%
ACTING
80%
VISUALS
70%
WRITING
60%
THEMES
70%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Visuals
  • Grittiness
  • Cast
  • Familiar story
  • N/A
  • N/A

Sam Mendez (Mendes)

Critic review highlight

What makes the movie pay off is moving pictures of real action and of intimate scenes between man and boy that are all the more moving for being understated. Full Review - Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

Sam Mendes Films

3. 1917 (2019)

1917  •  Sam Mendes director

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.

70%
ACTING
100%
VISUALS
50%
WRITING
60%
THEMES
70%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Gorgeous cinematography
  • Strong pacing
  • Intense set pieces
  • Simplistic plot
  • Shallow characters
  • Gimmicky feeling early on

Sam Mendes Movies

Critic review highlight

Its visual artistry places it among the best historical war films of the past decade or two. Full Review - John Serba, Decider

Skyfall Director Mendes

2. Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall Director  •  Sam Mendes Movies

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.

70%
ACTING
90%
VISUALS
80%
WRITING
60%
THEMES
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Bond’s past
  • Visual decadence
  • Javier Bardem
  • Questionable shower scene
  • N/A
  • N/A

Skyfall director Mendes

Critic review highlight

Skyfall easily moves into the top 5 of Bond movies ever, maybe even the top 3 with From Russia With Love and Casino Royale. Full review - Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

American Beauty Director Mendes

1. American Beauty (1999)

American Beauty Director  •  Sam Mendes Movies

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.

80%
ACTING
75%
VISUALS
90%
WRITING
90%
THEMES
84%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Screenplay
  • Supporting cast
  • Thematic exploration
  • Kevin Spacey Creep-factor
  • N/A
  • N/A

American Beauty Director Mendes

Critic review highlight

American Beauty is deeply disturbing, acerbically funny, brilliantly acted, breathtakingly original and highly sophisticated. Full review - Paul Clinton, CNN

UP NEXT

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.

Up Next: Spike Lee's Best →

Showcase your vision with elegant shot lists and storyboards.

Create robust and customizable shot lists. Upload images to make storyboards and slideshows.

Learn More ➜

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.