Over the past 24 years, Sofia Coppola has built one of the most impressive filmographies of any filmmaker of her generation. After directing one of the most striking feature debuts of the 1990s, Coppola went on to make some of the best movies of the 2000s. While the 2010s marked a bit of a creative lull for the filmmaker, she’s returned this year with the new A24 drama Priscilla, which has already emerged as one of the fall’s most acclaimed new releases.
The Priscilla Presley biopic, which explores its subject’s perspective on her famous real-life relationship with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, sees Coppola return to some of the ideas and themes that have interested her throughout her entire career. For that reason, it seems fitting to use Priscilla’s release this week as an opportunity to look back at Coppola’s career and rank all of her films from worst to best.
It feels strange to even include A Very Murray Christmas on this list. The 56-minute Netflix special is the only thing Sofia Coppola has ever directed that doesn’t feel like she made it.
The special packs enough highlights into its relatively short runtime, including a showstopping performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Maya Rudolph, to justify its existence, and it establishes a fascination with New York City that Coppola would go on to explore further a few years later. However, it is, perhaps, the only title on this list that doesn’t feel like an essential entry in Coppola’s filmography, which is why it deserves to rank where it does.
On paper, a Sofia Coppola-directed film about a series of real-life LA burglaries that targeted some of the world’s biggest celebrities seems like a recipe for success. Who else, after all, could be more well-suited for exploring the toxicity of celebrity culture than the daughter of one of the world’s most famous and well-connected filmmakers?
Unfortunately, The Bling Ring never lives up to its own promise. The film contains a handful of well-calibrated stylistic flourishes and unforgettable moments, but it never grows beyond its surface-level ideas. It isn’t a complete miss, though, and the fact that it ranks so low on this list just speaks even more to the quality of Coppola’s filmography.
On the Rocks is a low-key father-daughter comedy that is, well, exactly that and nothing more. Featuring one of Bill Murray’s most charming late-career performances and a moody, darkly rich aesthetic, it’s a perfectly fine, lightly comedic romp that occasionally transcends its own limited expectations for itself. Like A Very Murray Christmas, it functions better as a love letter to the New York City of old than it does as a showcase for its legendary star.
While it doesn’t leave much of a lasting mark, this 2020 comedy is worth seeking out solely for its few moments of greatness, which include a late-night drive through the streets of New York in a cherry-red convertible that will single-handedly remind you why Coppola has long been regarded as one of the best visual stylists of her generation.
Its unwillingness to deal with some of the racial elements of both its source material and its Don Siegel-directed 1971 predecessor aside, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is an alluringly moody and sensual Southern Gothic thriller. Boasting one of the most impressive ensembles that Coppola has ever assembled on-screen (scene-stealers include The Banshees of Inisherin‘s Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Elle Fanning), the film sees its director dip her toes into a world that is more openly sinister than any she’d previously explored, all while navigating the same tricky social dynamics between men and women that have long fascinated her.
It’s a visually staggering drama — one that slowly. but surely sinks its claws into you until it has you fully locked in its venomous, vicelike grip. It isn’t perfect and its scope is, as many have previously noted, more limited than it should be, but as a foray into the kind of genre filmmaking Coppola had long avoided, The Beguiled is a remarkably effective experiment.
Somewhere is a stripped-down, decidedly mundane look at modern life. Stylistically, the film feels like a sun-drenched LA counter to Sofia Coppola’s neon-lit, nocturnal 2003 masterpiece Lost in Translation, which is similarly preoccupied with the suffocating nature of urban loneliness. At the same time, thanks to its distaste toward West Coast vanity and celebrity culture at large, it feels like an acid-tinged response to Marie Antoinette.
Coming four years after that film, which saw Coppola achieve a level of visual extravagance still unmatched by many of her contemporaries, Somewhere is a full-throated rejection of luxury and an embrace of the kind of unattractive, vulnerable connections that fill our lives with meaning. It is, without a doubt, the least sexy film that Coppola has ever made, and it only grows more profound the longer one spends with it and the further into her career its maker gets.
A companion piece to both Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides, Priscilla is a predictably stunning, surprisingly somber treatise on the dangers of achieving one’s teenage dream. Based on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, the film follows Cailee Spaeny’s young lead as she’s whisked away to a Memphis castle by the man of her dreams, Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi), only to realize too late that it’s just as much of a cage as the military base she’d grown up on.
Lit and structured like a gothic fairy tale, the film is a strikingly quiet exploration of the agonizing, confusing transition from adolescence to adulthood — its third act is a movingly optimistic counter to the all-consuming darkness of The Virgin Suicides‘ finale. If falling in love really is like a dream, Priscilla proves what a painful, yet vital step it is when you finally, inevitably wake up.
Based on a 1993 novel about a group of doomed teenage sisters and the young boys who admire them from afar, The Virgin Suicides is a perfect, if haunting, entry into Sofia Coppola’s filmography. It bears all the same hallmarks as her later work, including a primarily synth-pop soundtrack by Air and an unrivaled talent for capturing the inner lives of young American girls on-screen, but it also vibrates with the intense, infectious energy of an artist who has finally found her calling.
In bringing its source material’s morbid story to life, Coppola employs a fragmented structure and a soft light aesthetic that allows the film to feel alternately like a hazy dream and a distant nightmare. Rarely has a director’s debut feature ever felt as assured and beguilingly elusive.
Unfairly derided when it was released for its anachronistic song choices and unexpectedly sympathetic look at one of history’s most widely hated elites, Marie Antoinette is a bombastic, pop-rock historical drama — and one of the best films of the past 20 years. Shot on location at Versailles, Sofia Coppola’s third directorial effort reframes its infamous titular subject not as a stuffy, airheaded queen, but as a teenage girl who is treated like a piece of property and then given access to the kind of luxurious lifestyle few could imagine living.
In doing so, Coppola expands her female-minded perspective past the limitations of her own circumstances — forcing viewers to reconsider any preexisting opinions they might have had about some of the world’s most oft-vilified women. Featuring a career-best performance from Kirsten Dunst, Marie Antoinette is a vibrant example of historical reclamation and an even more stunning piece of pure, untainted artistic expression.
It isn’t often the case that a filmmaker’s most well-known movie is their best, but when it comes to Sofia Coppola, there is no better entry in her filmography than Lost in Translation. The Oscar-winning 2003 film is simultaneously the most personal movie that the writer-director has ever made and the most universal. Few films have ever depicted the quietly numbing effects of loneliness as beautifully, and even fewer have demonstrated the importance and power of connection with as much wisdom and understated grace.
Anchored by the best performance of Bill Murray’s career, the film is a delicate, masterful drama that hasn’t lost an ounce of its power in the 20 years since its release. The same goes for its famous climax, which brings its story to a conclusion that manages to strike a difficult, yet perfect balance between ambiguous and satisfying.
Priscilla is now playing in theaters.
- Every Edgar Wright movie, ranked from worst to best
- All of David Fincher’s movies, ranked from worst to best
- The 5 best duos in action movies, ranked
- All of The Conjuring Universe horror movies, ranked from worst to best
- 10 best Martin Scorsese movies, ranked