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)
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.
Great Denis Villeneuve Films
8. August 32nd on Earth (1998)
Ranking Denis Villeneuve Films
7. Enemy (2013)
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.
List of Denis Villeneuve Films
6. Polytechnique (2009)
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.
Denis Villeneuve Films, Ranked
5. Sicario (2015)
Denis Villeneuve Films, Ranked
4. Incendies (2010)
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 Sicario. Incendies 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.
Excellent Denis Villeneuve Films
3. Prisoners (2013)
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.
Denis Villeneuve Films, Worst to Best
2. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
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.
The Best Denis Villeneuve Movie
1. Arrival (2016)
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.
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.