Denis Villeneuve's Best Movies - Featured - StudioBinder

Most filmmakers likely know Denis Villeneuve for bursting onto the scene with 2013’s Prisoners. However, the truth of the matter is that he’s been directing excellent movies for well over 20 years now. With Dune just around the corner, it’s time to look at the best Denis Villeneuve movies of all time.

There’s really no such thing as a bad Denis Villeneuve film, just lesser and greater ones. It may have taken him a while to find his footing, but he’s quickly become one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers working today. Where do you think Dune should end up on this list? What do you think should take the #1 spot? Keep reading to unravel the answers to those questions.

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Denis Villeneuve Films

9. Maelström (2000)

Trailer  •  Maelström

Maelström showcases Villeneuve’s avant-garde sensibilities through his decision to have a talking fish as the narrator. He decided to include this device because it would be an entirely fictional component of the realistic tale of a woman dealing with the fallout of a car accident that left a man dead. The fish also provides moments of levity in an otherwise dark tale. 

It may be Villeneuve’s least effective effort, but he still made bold choices that resulted in a memorable watch. His sensibilities as a filmmaker were still being developed, and you can see the spark of genius that would soon grow.

80%
Filmmaking
55%
Story
75%
ACting
70%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Painfully Exposed
  • Very Funny
  • Thought Provoking
  • Dull Moments
  • Less Baseball
  • A Bit Repetitive

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Maelström is interesting for the risks Villeneuve takes. It doesn’t always come together to form a cohesive narrative, but it’s admirable nonetheless.

Great Denis Villeneuve Films

8. August 32nd on Earth (1998)

Chaos is Order  •  The Art of Denis Villeneuve

On its surface, August 32nd on Earth feels wildly different from other Denis Villeneuve films. It just feels like a comical sex romp, but under the surface, it harbors all of the themes the director would go on to explore in his other films. The movie is about searching for meaning in a vacant life and the realization that none of us are long for this world.
70%
Filmmaking
80%
Story
75%
ACting
75%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Chemistry Btwn. Leads
  • The Dialogue
  • Thematic Depth
  • Aimless Interludes
  • Feels Distant
  • Very 90s

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

The film follows a couple heading out to Utah to conceive a baby in the desert. It’s a basic premise, but the performances and dialogue help make for an engrossing watch.

Ranking Denis Villeneuve Films

7. Enemy (2013)

How Denis Villeneuve Pushes His Characters  •  Screened

Enemy is a movie about repetition. In the end, it’s not about making one right choice. It’s about needing to commit to a life where you consistently make the right choice. It’s an interesting notion to make in a movie where typically a character just needs to get a few things right to have a happy ending. 

It’s an unnerving film, and just like so many movies in Denis Villeneuve’s filmography, it lingers with you long after it’s over.

70%
Filmmaking
75%
Story
90%
ACting
78%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Highly Stylish
  • Abstract, Eerie Music
  • The Ending
  • Heavy-Handed
  • Thin Story
  • Overly Energtic

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Enemy is appropriately creepy and mysterious. Bolstered by an amazing dual performance from Jake Gylenhaal, it’s an overlooked gem in Villeneuve’s filmography.

List of Denis Villeneuve Films

6. Polytechnique (2009)

Hidden Gems of Cinema  •  Polytechnique

How do you dramatize a tragedy? That was the task laid before actress Karine Vanasse and Denis Villeneuve. The research for Polytechnique began by speaking to the families of the victims of the 1989 Montreal Massacre that left 14 young women dead.

It was these conversations that led to Vanasse discovering that one of the students told the murderer that the girls in the classroom were not feminists and that it was the first time they had to confront their femininity head-on.

The film isn’t afraid to dive into the darkness, and instead of lingering on any reasons for why a senseless act of violence had to occur, the overarching theme is that sadness simply exists and there’s no reason for anything.

80%
Filmmaking
75%
Story
85%
ACting
80%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Tension Building
  • Raw Emotions
  • Contemplative
  • Bleak
  • Lack of Subtext
  • Not for the Squeamish

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Polytechnique takes an appropriately unflinching look at a horrific tragedy. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the brutality, you’ll find a film that looks at how empathy can aid in times of violence.

Denis Villeneuve Films, Ranked

5. Sicario (2015)

1 Brilliant Moment of Tension  •  CineFix

Sicario ponders whether you can fight a monster without turning into a monster yourself. Rather than offer geopolitical insight into the U.S./Mexico border, Villeneuve creates a more universal film by focusing on broader themes. It’s a trick that works to his advantage by circumventing political discussions and instead focusing on the darkness that lies in us all.
90%
Filmmaking
75%
Story
80%
ACting
82%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Score
  • The Cinematography
  • The Atmosphere
  • Slow Pacing in Spots
  • Some Character Choices
  • N/A

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Sicario is a taut political thriller. With intricate set pieces beautifully filmed, it holds your attention even in the quieter moments.

Denis Villeneuve Films, Ranked

4. Incendies (2010)

Denis Villeneuve on Incendies  •  Empire Magazine

Incendies features themes prevalent in Villeneuve’s filmography. The movie works as a parable for forgiveness, carried over from Polytechnique, as well as the female capacity to see light in the darkness, which would be featured heavily in SicarioIncendies is a great film to watch if you want to understand everything Denis Villeneuve stands for as a filmmaker and the power he can distill from such a simple story.

90%
Filmmaking
75%
Story
90%
ACting
85%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Emotional Impact
  • Stellar Performances
  • Intensity
  • Melodramatic
  • Overly Long
  • N/A

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

The story may be thin, but Villeneuve provides beautifully shot set pieces and incredible performances to bolster the movie into new heights. It’s a gripping tale that leaves you wanting more.

Excellent Denis Villeneuve Films

3. Prisoners (2013)

Anatomy of a Scene  •  The New York Times

The ending of Prisoners perfectly proves how you do an ambiguous conclusion right. Naturally, spoilers ahead, but the movie ends with Detective Loki hearing Dover blow the whistle. However, the film ends before we see whether Loki decides to save him. 

It’s an ideal ambiguous ending because we’ve seen Loki’s persistent character and how that’s been challenged throughout the film. We’ve seen his relationship with Dover change, so you could argue the story ends any number of ways and have facts to back it up.

90%
Filmmaking
90%
Story
100%
ACting
93%
OVERALL SCORE
  • The Performances
  • Moral Ambiguity
  • Thrilling Plot
  • Slow Pacing
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Prisoners is arguably Villeneuve’s most underrated film. It’s a chilling, suspenseful film with performances that pull you in and won’t let go.

Denis Villeneuve Films, Worst to Best

2. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Do Memories Make Us Human?  •  Wisecrack

Long-delayed sequels mostly come across as cash grabs benefiting off of the public’s nostalgia. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare sequel that earns its existence by doing something many sequels lose sight of. It takes the essence of the original and expands up on its themes. 

If the first film asks, “What does it mean to be human?” 2049 asks, “What is even real?” It’s not just a collection of references to the original. It forges its own path and makes the case for continuing to explore this universe once every few decades.

100%
Filmmaking
95%
Story
90%
ACting
95%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Thin Story
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent film on visuals alone. The color palette alone is positively exquisite. If you’re willing to engage with the film and dive a little deeper, you’ll find a breadth of philosophical questions.

The Best Denis Villeneuve Movie

1. Arrival (2016)

Arrival — Fear and Intrigue  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Many directors have a way of dropping the ending. However, Villeneuve proves time and time again that he knows exactly how to synthesize the story at hand into a single scene. Arrival is his most optimistic, and while it does end on a note of death, there’s no avoiding pain, only making do with the joy you have now.

Arrival is a sci-fi masterpiece focusing on the power of communication and how it can save humanity. In our Arrival movie analysis, we deconstruct Villeneuve's powerful directing for the scene when Louise encounters and communicates with the Heptapods.

100%
Filmmaking
100%
Story
100%
ACting
100%
OVERALL SCORE
  • Amy Adams' Performance
  • The Cinematography
  • The Score
  • N/A
  • N/A
  • N/A

BEST DENIS VILLENEUVE MOVIES

Conclusion

Amy Adams should have won an Oscar for her work here. Still, it’s Villeneuve’s best work and a testament to the immense power of filmmaking.

Up Next

Denis Villeneuve’s Directing Style

So what kind of tricks can you expect to see in the upcoming Dune? If you want to dive deeper into the esoteric directing style of Denis Villeneuve, then you’ll want to check out our blog detailing the commonalities in production design, cinematography, and editing he implements across many of his films. 

Up Next: Villeneuve's Directing Style →
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