Best Steven Soderbergh Movies - Contagion Coronavirus and Covid 19 Comparison - Header

Throughout film school, one is inundated with a list of “the masters.” Your Kubricks, your Scorseses, and your Tarantinos. And while they all have their rightful place in the pantheon of auteurs, I’ve always wondered why one name has yet to reach the list. Sex, lies, and videotape debuted 30 years ago, and ever since Steven Soderbergh has directed upwards of 40 projects. 40! Steven Soderbergh movies run the gamut of tone, genre, and big-name talent. In this list, we’ll detail the Top 10 Steven Soderbergh movies from worst to best (the word worst being used loosely). By the end, we’ll have examined Soderbergh’s best movies and how they can help us become better storytellers.

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Soderbergh Movies Ranked

10. The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

The Girlfriend Experience’s Trailer

Coming in at number ten, Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience is a character study about human connection, a return to Soderbergh's trademark independent flair. The story focuses on Chelsea (played in meta fashion by real-life porn star Sasha Grey), a high-priced call girl balancing her career with her relationship as well as her identity.

This film ranks high in Soderbergh's filmography because it represents his tendency to explore prescient socio-economic and class issues all the while entertaining within an evocative narrative. 

90%
character
70%
story
95%
camera
90%
editing
86%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Cinematography
  • Nuanced performances
  • Dark humor
  • Slow burn
  • Largely episodic
  • Lacks catharsis

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

The Girlfriend Experience rewards patient audience members the way any great slow burn does. Soderbergh builds a mountain of emotional evidence that adds to a larger point about commodification, especially of human relationships. 

Soderbergh & Black Comedy

9. The Informant! (2009)

“But I’ll be okay, right?”

The same year as The Girlfriend Experience, The Informant! was released widely to critical and commercial success. Starring frequent collaborator Matt Damon, this true story follows Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranking executive in U.S. history to ever blow the whistle on corporate fraud.

The fun ensemble film combines equal parts of black comedy and espionage thriller to create a morality play. Soderbergh crafts a hilarious character study that examines American greed, hubris, and folly.  

100%
character
100%
story
95%
camera
90%
editing
96%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Great cast
  • Hilarious dialogue
  • Politically poignant
  • Long monologues
  • Somewhat ambiguous
  • Wants second viewing

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

The Informant! (don’t forget the !) is a golden example of black comedy. Soderbergh gives stars and bit players so many classic lines and scenery to chew. For any Soderbergh fan, this is a highly-rewatchable home run. 

Elmore Leonard Alert

8. Out of Sight (1998)

A masterful example of editing

Soderbergh films often intersect at the corner of crime and romance. Usually, you can find George Clooney hanging out on that corner, too. In this Soderbergh film, a bank robber (Clooney) grows attracted to federal marshal Sisco (Jennifer Lopez).

However, the film is less about action than it is about the steam between these two stars. This film ranks not only for its content, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel (author of many 90’s adaptations such as Jackie Brown and Get Shorty) but for Anne V. Coates’ classic non-linear editing.   

90%
character
100%
story
85%
camera
100%
editing
94%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Amazing cast
  • Steamy
  • Gripping
  • Complex timeline
  • Wants second viewing
  • Romance, less action

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

If nothing else, watch this film to learn how a masterful director collaborates with a masterful editor. Likewise, the list of the star-studded cast is mind-boggling. This sexy romantic-thriller competes with the best of the genre.

Danceable Soderbergh Movies

7. Magic Mike (2012)

Exhibition or exploitation?

Speaking of steamy, Channing Tatum (whose real-life experiences as a former male dancer informed much of Reid Carolin’s script) leads this hunky, star-studded cast of dudes in fan-fav Magic Mike. And while much has been said about the film, Soderbergh doesn’t pander to the desires of anyone gender.

In fact, Magic Mike is a well-rounded story that explores sexual commodification much in the same way The Girlfriend Experience does, only this time through the male POV. While it’s often billed as a chance to see McConaughey strut, Soderbergh does double-duty by creating a true story caught inside a system of exploitation AND a thrilling, entertaining ride.

95%
character
95%
story
95%
camera
95%
editing
95%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Amazing cast
  • Sexy AF
  • Story
  • Somewhat white-washed
  • Female’s Male Gaze
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Magic Mike is a fun time, but one that knows it plays a role in a larger conversation about the sex industry. Soderbergh’s films often deal with sexual subject matter, but here he expertly does so while giving the audience a thrilling ride.

Soderbergh Thriller

6. Side Effects (2013)

Everyone takes them

After Magic Mike, Tatum and Soderbergh worked together on
Side Effects. It's another masterful film about humans caught up in a system bigger than themselves, in particular, the pharmaceutical system. As with many Steven Soderbergh movies, he inculpates the drug industry by exploring its side effects on human relationships.

As a director, Soderbergh uses depth of field in a way that approximates the dizziness one might feel on Ablixa. Side Effects features what’s perhaps the mark of Soderbergh’s genius: his ability to make a non-political political film, one that doesn’t cram an agenda, but presents a situation and asks you to decide.

100%
character
95%
story
95%
camera
90%
editing
95%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Tour-de-force
  • Dialogue
  • Subject matter
  • Some stale performances
  • N/A
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Side Effects was reported to be his final film as a director. Thankfully, it wasn’t and turned out to be one of the best Steven Soderbergh movies.

Soderbergh Films, Ranked

5. Logan Lucky (2017)

No peekin’

Logan Lucky tells the tale of the rednecks (played to perfection by Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) as they try to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway. If it isn’t obvious, Soderbergh is the modern master of the heist movie and this “Oceans’ 7-Eleven” proves it. Here, there are so many elements that make a Soderbergh film so much fun. Suspense. Twists. Great actors. Hilarious dialogue. Cauliflower.

100%
character
90%
story
90%
camera
95%
editing
94%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Daniel Craig
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

The closer we get to #1, the better Soderbergh’s movies balance entertainment with tone, character, and story. Logan Lucky may be the last true comedy on the list, but it holds its own against even the most prestigious of Steven Soderbergh’s movies.

Soderbergh Films

4. Traffic (2000)

You realize the futility of what you’re doin’, but you do it anyway

The Academy has only bestowed Steven Soderbergh with one Oscar. And while awards are trivial, Traffic certainly was the type of movie made to win one (it did). A wide-scope examination of the controversial War on Drugs, Traffic was chosen for this position because it’s an example of Soderbergh’s storytelling superpower.

Soderbergh gets across themes, deep themes about socio-political conundrums without agenda-cramming. Here is a perfect example. Soderbergh lets the characters represent different aspects of the film’s theme and, through individual conflict, they and the audience arrive at a well-earned message.

100%
character
95%
story
100%
camera
100%
editing
99%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Color theory
  • Star-studded
  • Story
  • Real buzzkill
  • N/A
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Traffic is a real, gritty film. But it’s truly an experience to watch. If you’re in the mood for something serious, snatch the Criterion Collection version and enjoy the director’s commentary. 

Soderbergh's Breakout

3. sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

Do you have sex?

30 years ago, Steven Soderbergh won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his debut film, a small-budget indie sex-thriller entitled
sex, lies, and videotape. The movie is simple enough: four people and their sexual relationships.

But what makes this a remarkable movie is that it sets the question of what Soderbergh would further discuss throughout his career. Likewise, it started and set the tone for the '90s indie film boom that spawned the likes of Tarantino, Jarmusch, and Baumbach.

100%
character
90%
story
95%
camera
100%
editing
96%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Superb acting
  • Thematic idea
  • Dialogue
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Fun Fact: At age 29, Soderbergh wrote the script within the span of eight days while on a trip to Los Angeles. The rest is history.

Best Soderbergh Movies

2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Recruiting Reuben

Perhaps one of the Steven Soderbergh movies people know best,
Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is pretty much universally praised as a groundbreaking heist movie. In fact, it’s probably best classified as the modern heist movie. It has a star-studded cast portraying now-iconic characters. Its stars, so effortlessly cool. Cooler even than the original Ocean’s gang.

From a directing perspective, Soderbergh’s film is a masterclass in suspense. Soderbergh is economical with story information, choosing precisely when and how to reveal twists for maximum audience impact.

100%
character
95%
story
95%
camera
100%
editing
98%
OVERALL SCORE
  • All-star cast
  • Editing
  • Writing
  • N/A 
  • N/A 
  • N/A 

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Who can forget those now-classic sequences, montages, and reveals? If you haven’t seen it in a while, pop in Ocean’s Eleven. It ages like wine.

Steven Soderbergh's Best

1. Contagion (2011)

Grocery shopping used to be fun

Contagion is Soderbergh’s emergent classic, thanks to the fact that we’re living it. Coronavirus notwithstanding, Contagion serves as the perfect embodiment of Soderbergh’s signature style. This includes weaving multiple narratives and having each character represent an aspect of the theme. His unwavering focus on the characters is rather admirable.

Like so many other global crisis movies, Soderbergh could have been tempted to exploit the chaos for drama. Instead, he locks into these characters and forces us to empathize with them, making this deadly pandemic that much more personal and frightening.

95%
character
100%
story
95%
camera
100%
editing
98%
OVERALL SCORE
  • All-star cast
  • Theme
  • Editing
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Conclusion

Stranger than fiction: In April 2020, the Director’s Guild of America tapped Soderbergh to lead its committee on how directors should resume work on movies once the COVID-19 pandemic quiets.

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