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Michael Mann’s 5 best films, ranked by IMDb

Michael Mann is one of the great American filmmakers. Over the past 40+ years, the director has delivered a number of classic, widely beloved films, including 1995’s Heat and 2004’s Collateral. His last movie, Blackhat, was released in theaters in 2015, and Mann hasn’t made a new film since.

This week does mark the release of Mann’s first directorial outing in 7 years. Returning to the same crime genre he’s frequently explored, Mann directed the pilot episode of Tokyo Vice, the new Ansel Elgort and Ken Watanabe-led series that just premiered on HBO Max. In honor of the occasion, here’s a list of the five highest-rated movies Michael Mann has made, according to IMDb.

Thief (1981) — 7.4 rating

Tuesday Weld sits across a table from James Caan in Michael Mann's Thief.
United Artists, 1981

Michael Mann made his feature directorial debut in 1979 with a TV movie titled The Jericho Mile. However, among Mann’s fans, it’s 1981’s Thief that is generally considered his first “real” film, and it’s not hard to see why. Written and directed by Mann, the film follows Frank (James Caan), a talented safecracker, as he attempts to pull off one last mob-funded robbery before retiring into the picturesque life he’s always wanted.

The film currently holds a 7.4 average rating out of 10 on IMDb, and it contains many of the hallmarks that have come to define Mann’s work. Just like so many Mann films, Thief centers on a male figure who is defined by his own code, sense of honor, and work ethic, but despite that, the film itself is also surprisingly romantic. Featuring a performance for the ages by The Godfather‘s James Cann, Thief is a seminal American crime classic.

Collateral (2004) — 7.5 rating

Tom Cruise sits behind Jamie Foxx in a taxicab in Michael Mann's Collateral.
DreamWorks Pictures, 2004 / DreamWorks Pictures

Speaking of Michael Mann-directed crime classics, Collateral is an unforgettable thriller about an unassuming cab driver (Jamie Foxx) who is forced to drive a contract killer (played by Tom Cruise) to a number of locations around Los Angeles so he can perform a series of hired hits in just one night. As of this writing, the film holds a 7.5 average rating out of 10 on IMDb.

Anchored by a pair of layered performances from Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, Collateral has earned its place as one of Michael Mann’s best films. It’s the rare thriller that manages to explore its central characters in interesting and surprisingly deep ways while still being constantly entertaining. Like all Michael Mann films, Collateral also looks gorgeous from beginning to end.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) — 7.7 rating

Daniel Day-Lewis charges forward on the poster for Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Last of the Mohicans is an interesting entry in Michael Mann’s filmography. Unlike many of his films, it does not take place in a contemporary setting. Instead, the film is set in the 1750s and follows three warriors as they try to protect a soldier and the two daughters of an important British colonel, all while the French and Indian War rages on around them.

Despite sharing little in common with his previous (and subsequent) films, The Last of the Mohicans is still a major creative and stylistic achievement for Michael Mann. The film works as both an endlessly engaging historical epic and as a sweeping romance, and it allows him the chance to showcase his filmmaking skills outside of his preferred genres. It’s a risk that paid off for the director, as the film’s impressive 7.7 rating on IMDb proves.

The Insider (1999) — 7.8 rating

Al Pacino wears glasses in Michael Mann's The Insider.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Similar to The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider isn’t like many of Michael Mann’s films. It’s a political thriller that’s less interested in cops, robbers, and hitmen, and more in the pressure journalists and whistleblowers face whenever they try to expose important corporate lies. In this case, the film follows a whistleblower (Russell Crowe) and a television producer (a ferocious Al Pacino) who team up to produce a news special about a major, game-changing tobacco industry secret.

The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, after it was released in 1999. Over 20 years later, it still ranks as one of the best political thrillers of the past 30 years. It may not be a straightforward crime drama in the same vein as Collateral or Thief, but it’s just as intense and propulsive as those films, which is probably why it holds a 7.8 rating on IMDb right now.

Heat (1995) — 8.3 rating

Robert De Niro smiles while looking at Al Pacino in Michael Mann's Heat.
Warner Bros., 1995

Heat isn’t just the most well-known or highest-rated film that Michael Mann has ever made — it’s also the one that best communicates his interests as an artist. Released in 1995, the film is notable for bringing Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on screen together for the first time. The latter actor stars in the film as an LAPD detective who becomes obsessed with tracking down a group of skilled bank robbers, while De Niro, fittingly, plays the leader of the film’s central criminal crew.

Running nearly three hours long, Heat has everything that makes Michael Mann the artist he is: Romance, intrigue, pulse-pounding action sequences, awe-inspiring visual artistry, and a deep fascination with people and the rules they choose to live their lives by. The film holds an 8.3 average rating out of 10 on IMDb, making it Michael Mann’s highest-rated movie on the website. For anyone familiar with Mann’s work, its rank probably won’t come as much of a surprise.

The first three episodes of Tokyo Vice are streaming now on HBO Max.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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