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All of Denis Villeneuve’s movies, ranked

The renowned French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is one of the most popular and best filmmakers working today. Villeneuve has been making movies since 1998, but really burst onto the scene with 2013’s Prisoners, which was soon followed by one blockbuster after another.

Villeneuve has created films spanning multiple genres, but he’s well-known for his crime, thriller, and sci-fi movies. From the riveting thriller Sicario to his latest sci-fi epic, Dune: Part Two, Denis Villeneuve’s best movies showcase his talent for creating immersive and visually stunning worlds full of complex characters and compelling stories. As audiences flock to theaters to see his latest entry in the Dune trilogy, it’s the perfect time to revisit the director’s works to see which of his films may be worth watching.

11. Maelström (2000)

A shot of Marie-Josée Croze in Maelström (2000).
Alliance Atlantis

Maelström, Villeneuve’s second feature-length film, is an absurdist psychological drama telling the story of Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze), an unhappy part-time model who suffers a traumatic abortion. After turning to substances to combat her depression, Bibiane is involved in a drunk-driving accident that leaves one pedestrian dead. The protagonist runs, but her guilt motivates her to attend her victim’s funeral, where she meets and falls in love with his son, Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verreault).

The 2000 film was inspired by Villeneuve’s fascination with car crashes, which he calls the “most dramatic events common and closest to us.” It uses distinct fantasy and humorous elements, like a talking fish for a narrator, to tell its darkly comedic story. While not all of its elements work well together, Maelström is still a fascinating watch and a strong reminder of the importance of taking responsibility for individual actions.

10. August 32nd on Earth (1998)

Pascale Bussières and Alexis Martin in August 32nd on Earth (1998).
Max Films Inc.

Villeneuve’s feature film directorial debut, August 32nd on Earth, is a drama centered on the life of a woman who survives a near-death experience. Following that life-changing event, Simone Prévost (Pascale Bussières) feels compelled to fulfill an unusual promise, which is to have a child with her best friend, Philippe (Alexis Martin). Despite having a girlfriend, he agrees, and the film depicts their journey to the desert, the only place where Philippe wants to conceive the potential child.

With it being his first movie, August 32nd on Earth looks quite different compared to the director’s works today. The plot is sparse and its pacing is shaky, but the 1998 film undoubtedly shows traces of the striking visuals Villeneuve would become known for in his later works. The desert scenes are particularly memorable, with the emptiness of the setting complementing the protagonist’s search for new meaning in her life.

9. Enemy (2013)

A shot of Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy (2013).
Entertainment One

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in dual roles as the mild-mannered college professor Adam Bell and struggling actor Anthony Claire in 2013’s Enemy. The neo-noir psychological thriller revolves around Adam’s discovery of the look-alike actor and his subsequent attempts at learning more about Anthony’s life. He inevitably crosses boundaries in the process of learning about Anthony, which soon leads to a dramatic confrontation and a confounding conclusion.

Enemy soars thanks to the impeccably cast Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the contradicting roles with ease. There’s a mounting sense of dread in the movie, thanks to the protagonist’s increasingly dangerous decisions and the film’s purposive color scheme and heavy atmosphere. The divisive point in Enemy comes toward the end, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate ambiguity or surrealism should steer clear. Those who are OK with movies that leave much to audiences’ interpretation are more likely to enjoy Villeneuve’s intriguing 2013 film.

8. Polytechnique (2009)

Students panicking in Polytechnique (2009).
Alliance Films

Based on the horrific real-life 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, Polytechnique depicts the harrowing events through the eyes of two students, Valérie (Karine Vanasse) and Jean-François (Sébastien Huberdeau). As the gunman mercilessly targets women, the horrors that take place in the engineering school are on full display in Villeneuve’s haunting 77-minute drama film.

Polytechnique is unflinching in its portrayal of the gender-based violence that took the lives of 14 young women in what is also known as the “Montreal Massacre.” Its stark black-and-white cinematography and powerful performances from Vanasse and Huberdeau are at the root of the film’s emotional impact. Polytechnique also benefits from Villeneuve’s sensitive direction, which faithfully shows the terrifying events without glorifying them. The 2009 film refrains from making any kind of judgment about the event, choosing instead to portray the terrible massacre with rawness and honesty. This straightforwardness was also the source of most criticisms of the movie.

7. Incendies (2010)

Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin in front of something burning in the background in Incendies (2010).
Entertainment One

The award-winning 2010 drama film Incendies is Villeneuve’s darkest and heaviest movie, which says a lot considering his filmography. It tells the story of Canadian twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette), who move to their mother’s native country in the Levant area of West Asia following her death. A war-torn country and startling family secrets that change their perceptions of their whole identities awaits them there.

Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s eponymous play, Incendies doesn’t hold back in its portrayal of the twins’ heartbreaking odyssey in what was once their mother’s home. As they each learn unnerving truths about themselves and meet relatives they never knew existed, they grapple with what these things mean for their lives. Is it a touch too melodramatic at times? Maybe. But the devastating emotional impact and powerful performances from its two leads far outweigh any minor criticisms of the unforgettable film.

6. Prisoners (2013)

Hugh Jackman holding Paul Dano by the jacket against a car in Prisoners (2013).
Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the best crime movies of all time, Prisoners shows just how far parents will go to protect their children. The thriller follows Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), who panics when his 6-year-old daughter and her friend go missing. When the police, led by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), fail to find the girls, Keller and the other father, Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard), take matters into their own hands, kidnapping the man they believe is responsible.

Villeneuve’s 2013 film provides a stressful viewing experience in the best way possible, with the anxiety-inducing film and its morally gray characters making it hard to root for its perfectly cast protagonists. Hugh Jackman, in particular, gives an exceptional and surprisingly emotional performance as a desperate father just looking for answers. Some questionable twists aside, Prisoners is an absorbing movie that does an excellent job of inspiring dread in anyone watching, especially parents.

5. Sicario (2015)

Emily Blunt standing in front of a house in Sicario.
Lionsgate

Sicario plunges idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) into the dark and treacherous realities of the drug war along the U.S.-Mexico border. There, she joins a government task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) that is looking to dismantle a powerful drug cartel. Kate soon realizes that there’s much more to the mission than she initially realized, with old wounds and hidden agendas threatening to stop any chance of progress.

Villeneuve’s masterful direction is obvious in Sicario, which relies on an intense atmosphere and gritty realism to tell a disturbing, yet entirely plausible story. Emily Blunt gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the inexperienced FBI agent, who becomes increasingly cynical as she witnesses one disturbing event after another. For fans of unwavering and unsettling thrillers, Sicario should be considered essential viewing.

4. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Officer K looking up at a neon-colored hologram in Blade Runner 2049.
Warner Bros.

Blade Runner 2049 is a great example of a movie sequel done right, as well a a testament to Villeneuve’s talent for building engrossing worlds. Set in a dystopian future where replicants live alongside humans, the 2019 neo-noir sci-fi film follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant blade runner who uncovers a long-buried secret that could disrupt society’s fragile balance. His investigation leads him to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for decades.

Villeneuve brings the iconic cyberpunk world to the modern age, with neon colors, noir fashion, endless cityscapes, and cybernetic details creating a mesmerizing setting. With a conspiracy to anchor its intriguing story, as well as philosophical musings about what it means to be alive, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t typical sci-fi fare. The film also features Ford and Gosling’s surprising chemistry, with the two reluctant strangers learning to work together to uncover the mystery so many have died for.

3. Dune (2021)

Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Fergusson in one of the scenes from Dune
Warner Bros. Pictures

Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi books have been infamously challenging to adapt, but Dune may have met its match in Villeneuve. Dune: Part One serves as the first of a planned trilogy that chronicles the young nobleman Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet) story as his family takes control of the desert planet Arrakis. As the planet is the only source of the valuable spice melange, many other political opponents seek to overthrow the noble family, with tensions soon coming to a head and leading to betrayal and bloodshed.

Villeneuve’s most popular film yet, 2021’s Dune creates a sweeping and visually stunning sci-fi world teeming with fantasy, mystery, and danger. One of the most difficult parts of adapting Herbert’s work is its complexity, but the director effortlessly lays the groundwork for Dune‘s complicated future. I seems as if the best is yet to come for the highly anticipated trilogy, with Dune: Part Two already impressing fans and critics alike thanks to its higher stakes and an even grander scale.

2. Arrival (2016)

Amy Adams holds up a whiteboard sign in Arrival.
Paramount Pictures

Amy Adams stars as linguistics professor Louise Banks in the one-of-a-kind alien invasion movie Arrival. The protagonist is enlisted to communicate with mysterious spacecraft that have landed across the globe. Attempts at a safe first contact with the extraterrestrial beings prove to be tricky, with Louise needing some time to understand them. As tensions escalate between nations, she races against time to decipher the alien language and learn what they want from humans.

Arrival is a cerebral sci-fi masterpiece with a unique narrative structure and hypnotic visuals and atmosphere. Louise’s continuously evolving interactions with the aliens are spellbinding, with Arrival‘s scientific accuracy in its portrayal of language making it feel more grounded and real. It’s impossible to talk about all of the aspects that make Villeneuve’s 2016 movie great without spoiling its mind-bending twist, which will likely inspire a second viewing for most audiences.

1. Dune: Part Two (2024)

Paul and Chani looking at each other in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

Dune: Part Two proves that Villeneuve’s ambitious vision is precisely what Herbert’s book series needed to successfully be adapted to the big screen. Picking up right after the events of the first movie, the epic sci-fi film follows Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica’s (Rebecca Ferguson) journey deeper into the desert, where they join the hesitant Fremen, including Chani (Zendaya). On the other side of Arrakis, the Harkonnens have retaken control of spice production and a huge battle is about to break out between their forces and Paul’s new faithful followers.

With a larger ensemble, massive set pieces, and a characteristically bombastic Hans Zimmer score for the ages, Part Two is a jaw-dropping spectacle that exceeds its predecessor. Fans of the books will especially appreciate the inclusion of many key characters and plotlines, with Villeneuve’s direction ensuring that the story remains compelling despite the amount of exposition. It’s the visuals, huge battles, and flawless music that are the true highlights of the film, though, with many likely hoping that the director can retain those strengths and stick the landing with the final part of the trilogy.

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Saab Hannah
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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