All 11 Denis Villeneuve Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

Though he’s risen to become one of Hollywood’s premiere filmmakers, Denis Villeneuve’s keen sense of epic scale didn’t come fully formed. Long before he was trusted with astronomical budgets and stacked ensembles, the Quebec-born director learned his trade churning out small indie fare back in his native Canada. It was only after he’d leveraged the rapturous acclaim for his 2010s “Incendies” into a successful career overseas that now includes “Prisoners”, “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049”, that Villeneuve began to be talked about within cinephile circles as the next big thing.

The three-time Oscar nominee is in the public eye more than ever following the release of “Dune: Part Two”, a star-studded sci-fi epic based on Frank Herbert’s iconic saga that was pushed back from late 2023 amid the recent strikes but is now out in cinemas worldwide. The hotly-anticipated sequel picks up right where the 2021 film left off, concluding (for now) the mythic journey of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) from castaway prince to messianic antihero as he vows to avenge his family and lead the Fremen tribe into revolt against the tyrannical Harkonnen forces in what’s already become the buzziest movie release of 2024.

With 11 films and counting under his belt, Villeneuve has already established himself as one of the most intriguing filmmakers working today. But even among his most fervid fans, there’s no real consensus about which of his films is the best. To honor his soaring return to theaters, we decided to take stock of the director’s impressive body of work, from his underseen early works to his enormously popular Hollywood tentpoles, to see which one stands tallest.


11. August 32nd on Earth (1998)

August 32nd on Earth

In the opening scene of Villeneuve’s debut film, a young photo model called Simone (Pascale Bussières) barely makes it out alive from a brutal car accident. Though not without spurts of brilliance, “August 32nd on Earth” doesn’t quite live up to the hefty promise of that remarkably-shot, unflinchingly visceral crash sequence, quickly evolving instead into an off-kilter rom-com stewed from bits and pieces of Godard and Truffaut where a visibly shaken-up Simone re-evaluates her life choices and decides to travel all the way to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flat to conceive a baby with his longtime best friend Philippe.

It’s fairly evident that a then-thirty-something Villeneuve, fresh off graduating Montreal’s film school, was still trying to find his footing and not entirely confident behind the camera during his first foray into feature-length filmmaking. Dune aficionados shouldn’t expect glorious vistas of the desert or 30-meter-long sandworms crawling through the vast horizon, but the breezy 88-minute runtime and light-hearted tone make this early-career curio a fairly low-commitment endeavor for curious viewers eager to check it out.


10. Maelström (2000)

Villeneuve fared somewhat better in his sophomore directorial effort, which curiously enough also concerns a young woman’s downward spiral after being involved in some capacity in a traumatic car accident. As tempting as it may be to similarly write off this Canadian indie film as an early misfire, especially considering how Villeneuve’s career has worked out, where else in the director’s sparkling resumé but here could you find a robotic fish talking straight into the camera and acting as narrator right as a butcher is about to chop it his head off?

Suffice it to say, things take a dark and unexpected turn in the life of Bibi (Marie-Josée Croze), a wayward twentysomething who’s suddenly overcome with feelings of guilt and regret following an abortion and a traumatic hit-and-run incident. Not every creative choice works, but watching “Maelström” with the benefit of hindsight as a sort of sneak peek at Villeneuve’s pet interests — in particular the way trauma wraps its tendrils around troubled young women who are deeply unsatisfied with their maternal roles (or lack thereof) — as well as a straight-up bonkers arthouse flick that isn’t afraid to get weird and funky is oddly fascinating all the same.


9. Polytechnique (2009)


After a couple of false starts that did little to suggest he was on his path to becoming one of Hollywood’s premiere big-budget auteurs, Villeneuve spent almost an entire decade away from the director’s chair quietly honing his craft. He came roaring back in 2009 with what turned out to be his first major career breakthrough — a festival sleeper hit that proved highly divisive and stirred up heated debate at the Cannes Film Festival but ultimately established Villeneuve as a must-see director who deserved to be on everyone’s radar.

A 77-minute-long, black-and-white recreation of the real-life 1989 gun massacre in which a misogynist incel brutally murdered several female engineering students at the Polytechnique Montreal university, Villeneuve’s third feature remains as depressingly relevant today as it once did 15 years ago. In sparing the viewer no gruesome detail in recounting the chilling events of that fateful day and wholly refusing to rehabilitate the psychopathic serial killer at the center of its narrative, “Polytechnique” eschews tone-deaf sensationalizing to provide a vivid document of a senseless tragedy that offers no easy solutions but plenty of valuable introspection. This is the skeleton key to Villeneuve’s entire career, but its grisly violence is bound to turn off unassuming viewers, so proceed at your own risk.


8. Enemy (2013)

Jake Gyllenhaal will not be reuniting with Denis Villeneuve on a TV adaption of Jo Nesbø’s novel “The Son” after all, so it seems as good a time as any to revisit their first two collaborations to date. While “Prisoners” became a surefire hit that cemented the Quebecois director as a household name overseas, audiences had little idea what to make of this Kafkaesque brainteaser, loosely based on José Saramago’s 2002 novel, about a jaded Toronto college professor who decides to track down and meet his doppelgänger.

The entire movie is basically a one-man showcase for Gyllenhaal to chew up the scenery slipping into dual roles: First as a sleep-deprived average Joe whose sense of identity slowly begins to unravel, and later on as a hot-shot movie actor who seems to have everything all worked out for him. This is one of those multilayered, metaphor-heavy thrillers that are obviously not for everyone but offer rewards galore for viewers who don’t exactly mind being left with less clear-cut answers than questions to chew on afterwards. Though hardly the crowning jewel in Villeneuve’s catalog, “Enemy” creeps up on you and leaves a firm impression with a WTF ending for the ages.


7. Sicario (2015)

sicario 2015 movie review

The systematic failure of the ongoing war on drugs is captured with hard-hitting grittiness in this bullet-riddled military thriller starring a phenomenal Emily Blunt as an ace FBI agent recruited for a high-stakes drug-busting mission near the U.S.-Mexican border.

Ambiguity is the name of the game as Blunt’s idealistic but morally compromised character begins to butt heads with her gruff superiors and is soon forced to reckon with the ethical fault lines of her particular line of work, as well as the backstabbing tactics that have become commonplace in U.S. foreign policy, while trying to take down a powerful cartel boss. The nerve-wracking opening raid sequence is an obvious standout — Roger Deakins, take a bow — that instantly draws the viewer in and sets the tone for the rest of the movie, though watch out for top-caliber acting across the board with big-name A-listers like Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, and Josh Brolin rounding out the stellar cast.