Lists · Movies

The Films of Steven Soderbergh, Ranked

‘Unsane’ is the latest addition to a long and diverse list of Steven Soderbergh films. And guess what, we ranked ’em all.
Steven Soderbergh Shutterstock
By  · Published on March 22nd, 2018

20. The Informant! (2009)

Before he became an internet joke, Kurt Eichenwald wrote the kind of gritty journalism tales that excited Hollywood executives still chasing the coattails of 90s bad boy cynicism. The most successful of these landed on Soderbergh’s desk after he did Traffic and he eventually got around to turning it into a fake-Coen caper starring Matt Damon at the end of the next decade. Reprising his Ocean’s-role of not looking like he knows what he’s talking about, Damon tries very hard to turn this into looking ordinary. Soderbergh even helps out by giving him an atrocious mustache and pair of glasses to boot. But why not just watch Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man? (which came out that same year.) Or Clooney in Michael Clayton, which also had to do with getting mixed up in an agri-scandal but was sexy about it? (which Soderbergh happened to produce.) – Andrew Karpan

19. Contagion (2011)

Disaster films are constantly revisited for their potentially grand scale nature – think anything from a ridiculous natural disaster to the zombie apocalypse. But Soderbergh’s take on disease and the terrifying nature of it in context of intercontinental travel is subtler and way more effective. Contagion actually instills very real feelings of anxiety and worry in viewers, possibly because it’s a rather timely experience in the 21st century. Furthermore, the powerhouse cast full of big names gels the various threads in the overall storyline together. That said, the ending lessens the impact of the plot considerably in that it could result in a kind of blame game. The final act is the one thing is about the only thing I’d change about Contagion though because otherwise, Soderbergh – as he always does – absolutely nailed the tautness of the genre he’s trying to replicate. – Sheryl Oh

18. Bubble (2005)

I was once producing this small joint when I was in college and we had hired, by which I mean paid nothing, these struggling actors and the hardest thing I remember was getting this guy, some pompous amateur playwright who was playing a diner manager, to mop up the floor, in-character. He attacked the mop like a Shakespearian orator and it took half an hour to get the required five silent seconds the script demanded. In Bubble, Soderbergh went straight to the sauce, hiring police chiefs to play police chiefs, fast-food managers to manager fast food operations. These total randos, plucked from small towns in Ohio and West Virginia, populate the most openly likable of Soderbergh’s “experimental” movies, a murder mystery that manages to feel tragic, as you imagine it would, and not weird and Bates Motel-y as it does on expanded cable. Amateurs, what do they know? – Andrew Karpan

17. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Soderbergh’s favorite, and mine, of the Ocean movies, Twelve flirts with some serious crit of the overindulgence of the decade. The long pans of ill-got wealth that he uses to welcome us back into its world, burst with agitation and, we quickly learn, debt. How many heist movies let you know of the bad investments that even stolen funds accrue? By the time it explodes in a fit of meta-comedy, with Julia Roberts literally returning to play someone impersonating Julia Roberts, Ocean (Clooney) is unmasked as human, after all, regulated to a bit part in a longer con. The ceaseless hoodwinkery exhausted many—Why Europe? Why a fabergé egg? But its ridiculousness also refused to make things feel as luxuriously easy as Ocean’s 11 sold them. – Andrew Karpan

16. Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Equal parts biopic of a camp icon and character study of performance and celebrity, Behind the Candelabra points a calculated eye at the last ten years of Liberace’s life with the added accessibility of having big-name actors on board. The film is exactly what it says on the tin – a less glitzy look into the life and motivations of a man who is very different from his public persona. It’s a top-notch biographical drama that amps up the drama as much as possible without losing the heart that drives the primary love story forward. Behind the Candelabra does a good job in juxtaposing the luxury and garishness of outward glamor and the inward decay that follows. Soderbergh is good at making us care, even if it’s about a performer that’s long past their prime. – Sheryl Oh

15. Side Effects (2013)

The third collaboration between Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns is my personal favorite in that it feels like the most stylish, most thrilling yet most contained piece of all. The initial draw of the fantastic cast in Side Effects absolutely lives up to expectations, with this being one of Rooney Mara’s best performances to date. She’s the standout propping up the narrative of the movie, being fantastic at playing both vulnerable and defiant. And once again, Soderbergh taps into anxieties about illness and medication in this film, which adds to the tension in a cat-and-mouse chase that showcases the value of understatement when it comes to a cinematic twist. – Sheryl Oh

14. Kafka (1991)

On the tails of the massive critical success of Sex, Lies and Videotape, Soderbergh took a 180 and made a formally audacious biopic of Kafka. Evocatively shot in black and white (with the exception of a notable middle section of the film), the film combines themes and plot lines from The Trial and The Castle. Rather than telling a straight-forward biopic, Soderbergh enacts the work of Kafka, with German Expressionism overtones and an Eastern European score by Cliff Martinez to boot. Ans yet, neither an epic, sprawling biopic nor an intimate portrait, Kafka was a big commercial disappointment and received mixed reviews. But if you’re a fan of the film, or at least of the film it could be, Soderbergh is remaking it. – Sarah Foulkes

13. Traffic (2000)

Soderbergh teamed up with screenwriter (and former addict) Stephen Gaghan to make a sprawling, complex film about the futile War on Drugs. Once again showcasing his disdain for bureaucracy and governmental authority, Soderbergh chronicles the many, overlapping lives of the people affected by the illegal drug trade. It won Benicio Del Toro an Oscar and as well as Soderbergh (nominated against himself). Though it might seem dated now, it paved the way for contemporary classics like Sicario and Narcos. – Sarah Foulkes

12. Solaris (2002)

Jeremy Davies’s line, “I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know if it would really tell you what’s happening” defines the kind of confusing zen that Soderbergh tries to accomplish on what I’ve taken to calling his “mind dramas,” a genre that stretches from Schizopolis to, most literally, the title of Unsane. Another remake, it came one year after Ocean’s 11, it revealed a Soderbergh suddenly insistent on pursuing the values of independent, emotional cinema at any budget. Arriving a few months after the grand and opulently populated space of Attack of the Clones cleared a few hundred million, Soderbergh’s intimate, yet bare, portrayal of a clinical psychologist (Clooney) and his long-lost wife (Natascha McElhone) would burn slowly. Yet, the current generation of intimate sci-fi, most recently represented by spouse/child-chasing movies like Arrival and Annihilation, feels indebted to it. – Andrew Karpan

11. Erin Brokovich (2000)

Perhaps the most conventional film on the list, Erin Brockovich received much acclaim and was a big box-office success. Certainly a more straight-forward and accessible biopic than Kafka, it tells the story of a single mother and environment activist Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts). Despite it’s linear narrative and formal simplicity, the film still feels like a Soderbergh film. Most notably in its confidence.  It’s also similar in theme to Side Effects and Kafka in that it shows a deep mistrust of corporations and bureaucracy. It’s an unsentimental tale about working-class strife and ultimate triumph, something which Soderbergh does very well. – Sarah Foulkes

Next Page

Pages: 1 2 3

Related Topics: ,

Writer/Director/Actor/FKA the girl at the party who'd ask, "does anyone wanna watch a movie?"