Every Steven Soderbergh Movie Ranked From Worst to Best

For three decades, Steven Soderbergh has remained one of the most independent and influential filmmakers working, but how do his films rank from worst to best? From the experimental doodle of Schizopolis, to the epic sweep of Che, to the blockbuster charm of Ocean’s Eleven, this is a director who’s never made the same movie twice.

Storming onto the scene with 1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, a 26 year-old Soderbergh became the youngest solo director to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. That film would wind up creating an indie boom and changing the cinematic marketplace, but it would also eventually bring its director to Hollywood, where he would helm the major hit Ocean’s Eleven and become only the third filmmaker in history to receive two Best Director nominations in the same year, ultimately winning for Traffic (against his own Erin Brockovich).

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He’s directed major studio tentpoles and small art films, comedies and dramas, actioners and horror flicks. His chameleonic virtuosity is evident in a filmography that really doesn’t have any terrible movies in it. Every one of his works is worth watching, if only to see his extraordinary talent at reinveting himself and always bringing the maximum amount of fun possible. Here are Steven Soderbergh’s films, ranked from worst to best.

32. Full Frontal (2002)

After winning Best Director for Traffic, the Weinsteins gave Soderbergh two million dollars, a few DV cameras, and told him to go have some fun. That’s pretty much the most interesting thing about this glorified experiment, a star-studded day-in-the-life movie that feels far and away like the most amateurish thing the director has ever done.

31. The Underneath (1995)

In the afterglow of Soderbergh’s debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape, this neo-noir reuniting the director with Peter Gallagher is a decided low point. A remake of the 1949 film Criss Cross, The Underneath follows a man returning to his hometown and getting entangled in a risky plot to liberate a former lover from her abusive boyfriend. It’s a great looking movie, and Soderbergh is clearly experimenting with lots of editing tricks, but all that showmanship only muddles a film that isn’t that interesting to begin with. The director himself called it « sleepy, » and he’s not wrong.

30. The Laundromat (2019)

The Laundromat sees Soderbergh slipping into one of the worst modern genres of filmmaking: the snarky, fourth-wall breaking, jokey movie about Something Bad That’s Happening in Society. The movie boasts an all-star cast and colorful characters, but even fans of a film like The Big Short would ding this movie for feeling more like a gimmick than anything with an actual point.

29. Kafka (1991)

A biopic that cleverly mixes details of the famous writer’s personal life with the surreal, nightmarish imagery of his stories, Kafka is one of the more interesting failures in Soderbergh’s filmography. Gorgeously shot in striking black and white, the film’s multiple layers sees the director juggling a lot of balls, and even though he can’t quite keep them all in the air, it’s never boring. This one is worth a watch for completists, although the only place to watch it at the moment is YouTube.

28. Bubble (2005)

Fifteen years before HBO Max would strike a deal with Warner Bros. to release their films in theaters and through streaming simultaneously, this Soderbergh oddity was the first film to debut in cinemas, on DVD, and On-Demand on the same day. Eschewing stars for a cast of amateurs, the director tells this story of murder in a small town with a fairly un-showy hand. There’s some creepy imagery (a decapitated doll head, for one) and some impressive acting, but the movie’s overall stilted quality makes this another one for completists only.

27. The Good German (2006)

Here’s another experiment, Soderbergh cashing in the blank check earned by Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve and essentially remaking Casablanca with swearing and George Clooney. It’s a tonal oddity, with its over-exposed black and white artifice and the director’s penchant for trying to milk every genre for its maximum amount of fun an odd match for this melodrama centered around the Holocaust. Clooney and Cate Blanchett make a great modern-day Bogart and Bergman, but this stylistic swing is mostly doomed from the getgo.

26. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

This is exactly the movie Soderbergh cleverly avoided making when he helmed the first Ocean’s sequel, Ocean’s Twelve. It’s bigger, louder, and dumber, as epitomized by one of Al Pacino’s most shamefully outsized performances. Sure, it’s still plenty of fun getting the gang together again, but for a director known for bringing the party to every film he’s ever made, this has got to be one of his most boring and uninspired.

25. Schizopolis (1996)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape was the debut, but this was the big reset. Unhappy with the trajectory of his career, Soderbergh set off to his hometown of Baton Rouge with $250,000 and cast himself in this gonzo experimental film. Absolutely absurd and charmingly incomprehensible, this is mostly a self-indulgent palate cleanser, but it becomes more and more charming with every great new movie Soderbergh makes.

24. Gray’s Anatomy (1996)

Spalding Gray filmed four of his monologues, hiring phenomenal directors like The Silence of the Lambs’ Jonathan Demme, to translate them to the screen. His fourth and final one is his murkiest, a rambling and depressing account of a bad experience he had with eye surgery. Soderbergh, however, brings his A-game, enfolding Gray in a visual landscape that is as overwhelming as it is complementary of the text.

23. No Sudden Move (2021)

Soderbergh’s latest starts out like an instant classic. Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, and Kieran Culkin play petty criminals instructed to mask up, draw guns, and babysit a suburban family while the man of the house (a very good David Harbour) retrieves and hands over an important document from his boss. These early scenes sparkle with a bizarre effervescence, mostly due to the cast, but once the world widens to outside the house, this becomes a long-winded and convoluted caper that deflates the fun (and the civil rights subtext) to a whimper.

22. Let Them All Talk (2020)

This mostly improvised curiosity is essentially Soderbergh, Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen, and Lucas Hedges hanging out on a cruise ship. When it allows itself to simply be that, Let Them All Talk is a real charmer, with particularly great performances from Wiest and Bergen. Alas, a final act twist introduces a lot of unnecessary plot, as well as capitalizes on a conflict that just never feels fully formed. This is the better of Streep’s and Soderbergh’s collaborations, but one can’t help but want more from the duo than this mildly amusing lark.

21. Unsane (2018)

Soderbergh’s second film after Logan Lucky brought him out of a self-imposed « retirement, » Unsane could easily feel like a tossed-off Hitchcockian genre exercise. Trapped in a mental hospital and riddled with anxiety that her stalker of two years is somewhere in the facility with her, this is stripped-down Soderbergh having a blast, shooting this claustrophobic thriller on an iPhone and yielding star status to a terrifically scared Claire Foy.

20. High Flying Bird (2019)

High Flying Bird, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the Academy Award-winning writer whose play inspired Moonlight, is a bit of an underappreciated gem. Andre Holland plays a star NBA player’s agent who comes up with a bold but controversial business plan while the league is locked out due to haggling over revenue sharing. Essentially a series of backroom negotiations, all filmed on a iPhone, this is a sports drama that takes an alternate approach to the genre, but still plays as thrilling as any big game.

19. Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Soderbergh doesn’t really do romances, so it’s surprising that his 2013 HBO film about the relationship between Liberace and his much-younger assistant-slash-lover Scott Thorson is so eminently warm and lovable. Matt Damon is phenomenally sweet as Thorson, Douglas tapping in exquisitely to the powerhouse charm that made such a flamboyantly gay artist so embraced by a largely homophobic public. Behind the Candelabra sees Soderbergh shedding his cerebral qualities and delivering one of his most sincere films.

18. King of the Hill (1993)

On paper, King of the Hill, a fairly straightforward coming-of-age drama set during the Depression, might seem one of Soderbergh’s least interesting works. In reality, it was the first hint of the director’s chameleonic powers. He’s in total service of the story here, crafting a straightforward but genuinely uplifting film about a young boy figuring out how to survive in a rough and tumble world.

17. And Everything Is Going Fine (2010)

After Spalding Gray’s death, Soderbergh applied an ingenious approach to retrospectively give the actor and writer the perfect vehicle to discuss what led to his suicide. Shunning talking head style interviews or narration, Soderbergh cobbles together footage from Gray’s career into a powerful portrait of a genius’ decline to despair. Even more effective than the filmmaker’s attempt to showcase the artist during his life, this is both a document of Gray’s storytelling gifts, as well as a reveal of the pain behind every word.

16. The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Upon its release, The Girlfriend Experience was mostly viewed as a gimmick, casting porn star Sasha Grey in its leading role of a Manhattan escort. Viewed now, this is a far more interesting film than that shallow narrative implied. It’s a movie entirely about transactions, and while Grey isn’t the most dynamic of actresses, she communicates perfectly the way her character knows how to mimic romance in order to pay the bills, and how that lifestyle ultimately leaves her a bit empty inside.

15. Logan Lucky (2017)

Stepping back up to the plate after his « retirement, » Logan Lucky sees Soderbergh hitting a clean, easy home run right away. It’s a slight, tight heist movie, but impeccably made, with a dynamite cast. Everyone in this film is having a blast, but never making fun of the redneck characters at its center. The big standout is Daniel Craig, whose bleached hair and zany performance would foreshadow the type of post-Bond fun he was down to have in later films like Knives Out.

14. The Informant! (2009)

Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh have worked together many times during their long and winding careers, but this has got to be the peak of their collaboration. A bullseye depiction of the economic collapse of 2007 to 2008, The Informant sees Soderbergh tackling the utter seriousness of institutional failure with a devilish sense of humor. Damon’s character is one of the most off-kilter in the actor’s filmography, responsible for the majority of this movie’s twists and turns, yet his commanding performance makes it stand out as one of his best. With a bitingly playful Marvin Hamlisch score and an insistence on finding the pathos behind the parody, Soderbergh delivers one of the most deliciously inventive biopics ever made.

13. Side Effects (2013)

At the time, Soderbergh swore this would be his last movie, and while this pulpy psychological thriller is certainly not the height of his inimitable career, it’s a movie whose genre-flipping ridiculousness could only be delivered by a master director and a game cast. The absurdity of its plot never crosses into eye-roll territory, mostly because the tension between Rooney Mara’s depressed wife and a sketchy doctor played by a pre-Fantastic Beasts Jude Law is so palpable. It also helps that the reality of big pharma has necessitated the existence of a wild nightmare thriller about its inherent greed and corruption.

12. Haywire (2011)

Before she was cast on The Mandalorian and then embroiled in controversy, Gina Carano starred in this deeply entertaining career swerve for Soderbergh. Disillusioned after being fired from Moneyball, the filmmaker set his sights on making a full-blown action movie, and the results are stellar. An expertly choreographed, star-studded shoot-em-up crowdpleaser, Haywire deserves to be as dominant an action franchise as the Bourne films.

11. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Soderbergh has long been trumpeted as one of the best filmmakers at capturing the ineffable quality of movie stars, but one of the prime examples of this skill is the movie that won Julia Roberts her Oscar. It was a coronation that was always going to happen, but it took Soderbergh’s expertly trained camera to let her do her thing and clinch the gold. Telling the potentially paint-by-numbers story of a single mom who takes on systemic corruption and wins, Erin Brockovich sees the director taking on a conventional Hollywood movie and making it feel as fresh as his most experimental film.

10. Contagion (2011)

This film found its way back into the conversation last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, and understandably so. As a portrait of how fragile we are as humans, and how mercilessly and rapidly a virus can wipe out our entire race, there’s nothing more powerful than Contagion. Soderbergh is in pure horror movie mode here, crafting a film where every runny nose and sniffle could mean certain doom. This is The Exorcist for hypochondriacs.

9. Solaris (2002)

Dinged at the time for not being the action-packed sci-fi thriller commercial audiences wanted, Solaris has been given a just reappraisal in recent years as one of the high points in the recent trend of cerebral sci-fi films. It’s without a doubt Soderbergh’s most achingly emotional movie, grounded by a phenomenal George Clooney performance as a space-bound psychologist who finds himself haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. A remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi classic, Solaris steers clear of replicating the slow-burn majesty of that film and instead makes something more eerily personal, a meditation on grief and the terrifying unknown of letting go.

8. Che: Parts One & Two (2008)

Soderbergh has been fairly candid about how this film nearly broke him, how shooting a massive $60 million historical drama over 78 days seemed an impossibility. Somehow, though, the result is astounding, with the raw intimate center of Benicio del Toro’s greatest performance. Some critics have accused Soderbergh of glorifying the controversial revolutionary, but that’s not the case here. This is a keenly-observed slice of history, one of the best uses of the director’s signature detachment, and one of the great epics in recent film memory.

7. The Limey (1999)

One of Soderbergh’s most stylish films, this rock-solid film features a stellar performance by Terence Stamp as a British man who comes to America to solve the mystery of his daughter’s murder. Moving freely from the present to memory, and incorporating and cleverly repurposing footage of Stamp from the 1967 film Poor Cow, this is the perfect vehicle for the filmmaker’s penchant for editorial experimentation, a noir that earns its place next to genre classics like Chinatown and Mulholland Drive.

6. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Unfairly maligned by many fans of the trilogy, Ocean’s Twelve is a movie where the heist is on the audience, an excuse for movie stars to take our money and simultaneously let us bask in the glow of their ineffable charm. It’s a brazen middle finger to the strictures of what a sequel needs to be, and one of the ballsiest and most delightfully playful studio films ever made. The sequence where Bruce Willis misidentifies the character Julia Roberts is playing as Julia Roberts herself belongs in a museum.

5. Magic Mike (2012)

One of Soderbergh’s most remarkable skills is his ability to Trojan Horse more ambitious themes into what appears on the surface to be pure commercial fare. Nowhere is that more clear than in Magic Mike, which somehow scratches the itch of viewers wanting to see Channing Tatum take off his clothes to a killer soundtrack, as well as those looking for a keenly observed meditation on an America reeling from an economic crisis. Matthew McConaughey should have nabbed an Oscar nomination for his iconic work here, but it’s Soderbergh who strikes the right balance between pathos and play.

4. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

One of the most important films not just of Soderbergh’s career, but in cinema history, Sex, Lies, and Videotape set the model for the indie boom that would come in the ensuing decade, showing that a small film on a shoestring budget could still be a viable financial success. It’s no small wonder that it’s also still one of the filmmaker’s most elegant and simple. Written in eight days on a yellow legal pad, the film focuses on a married couple whose sex life has hit a speedbump. Things only get more complicated when an old college friend expresses the belief that talking about sex is actually more satisfying than the physical act. This astonishingly small-scale debut is still potent today as the picture of a society more obsessed with documenting itself than having real experienes.

3. Traffic (2000)

In 2001, Steven Soderbergh became only the third filmmaker in history to receive multiple Oscar nominations for Best Director in the same year. The other movie was Erin Brockovich, but the win went to his work on this, arguably the most weighty and serious-minded film he’s ever made. A maddeningly detached portrait of the war on drugs, Traffic can feel like six seasons of a TV show in one movie, but Soderbergh’s steady hand gives the right power to each of its disparate plotlines. The best of this stories centers on Benicio del Toro, who justifiably won Best Supporting Actor for the Mexican cop questioning his morals, and ends the film in one of the most quietly moving sequences in any of the director’s films.

2. Out of Sight (1998)

If Soderbergh’s career is the synthesis of an outsider and the Hollywood machine, then Out of Sight is his defining film. An adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that flits from romance to crime thriller to caper with the ease of a master, this is also the film that made George Clooney a true blue movie star. Jennifer Lopez has still never been better, and when the two take things upstairs to their hotel room, the result is the high watermark for onscreen sensuality to this very day. This is the cross-section of arty and mainstream, a film Soderbergh would only ever top once.

1. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Justice League look like amateur hour next to these guys. In the 20 years since Ocean’s Eleven hit theaters, no film has ever come close to the easy charm and immense rewatchability of Soderbergh’s Rat Pack remake. From the steady hand of George Clooney to the twitchiness of Matt Damon, from Carl Reiner’s old pro to Brad Pitt looking the most handsome anyone has ever looked on film, Ocean’s always feels like its having the time of its life. How Steven Soderbergh sets up these characters and then arranges them for the final heist is nothing short of masterful. It’s not only the best film he’s done, it’s the best movie about movie stars ever made.

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