5 Best Steven Soderbergh Films, Ranked
Magic Mike’s Last Dance has just been released, and most fans of the franchise were disappointed by a sequel that seems to lack the charm of the first two films. But most movies in director Steven Soderbergh’s filmography are actually pretty great! Over the course of nearly twenty-five years, the filmmaker tackled many different genres (sometimes within the same movies) and succeeded at delivering groundbreaking, memorable stories that stick with you for a long time. Compiling a list of the best Steven Soderbergh films was very difficult, as so many of them are all-time classics for different reasons, but we decided to give it a try and pick 5 movies you should definitely check out, ranked from worst to best.
Most Steven Soderbergh films revolve around charming, smart protagonists on a mission. They often contain socio-political undertones and leave you with something to think about after the credits roll. Thanks to the attention to detail in their storytelling, the characters feel authentic and the stories immediately grip you, whether it’s with talks of taboos (Sex, Lies and Videotapes), tension and high stakes (Contagion, Traffic, Side Effects), the desire to see our heroes succeed (Ocean’s Eleven), irresistible protagonists (Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight), and well-timed humor (The Laundromat).
Though some of Soderbergh’s movies received more praise than others, most succeeded thanks to their genuinely interesting subject matter, unconventional filmmaking, and memorable performances from their all-star cast. Below are the 5 best Steven Soderbergh films, ranked from worst to best! They are all great watches that are bound to make an impression on you.
If when COVID-19 struck, you inexplicably found yourself watching Contagion, you’re not alone. When we have to come to grips with something scary and unfamiliar, it’s only natural to seek solace in movies, as there is comfort to be found in watching fictional characters go through the same thing that’s happening to us. But the reason why most people chose the same film is that Contagion is one of the best pandemic movies out there. Scott Z. Burns’s perfectly paced screenplay contains enough tension and catastrophes to absolutely terrify us, but it also gives us well-rounded characters that feel like real people at all times, immersing us into the action, as if it was happening in real time. Combine this with superb performances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and its all-star cast, and you have a perfect recipe for a paranoia-fueled, thought-provoking disaster movie with timely undertones.
4. Ocean’s Eleven
Why is it that whenever we feel like watching a good heist movie, we immediately think of Ocean’s Eleven? Once again, it’s because Steven Soderbergh managed to do what he does best: take a well-known formula and put his spin to it, crafting a film that’s simply so compelling that we can’t take our eyes off it.
The film is about a charming thief named Danny Ocean (George Clooney), who gets out of prison only to start plotting his next heist. This time, his target is Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), a wealthy businessman and owner of multiple casinos, where people play casino low deposit games. Danny plans to steal $160 million from him, taking advantage of an event that will make his heist even more profitable. But Danny can’t do it alone. Enter Rusty (Brad Pitt), Turk (Scott Caan), Virgil (Casey Affleck), Livingston (Eddie Jemison), Basher (Don Cheadle), Reuben (Elliott Gould), Frank (Bernie Mac), Yen (Shaobo Qin), Linus (Matt Damon), and Saul (Carl Reiner), and the plan is in motion.
Ocean’s Eleven is quite simply an incredibly gripping film, and that is because watching our underdogs succeed against an arrogant millionaire is extremely rewarding. Not only that, but every single performance is great, and the chemistry between all cast members delivers a gem of a movie that has plenty of epic moments, humor, catchy one-liners, and action to keep you entertained throughout.
Traffic is one of Steven Soderbergh’s most complex projects, as it contains three different story threads that all revolve around complex issues: a conservative US judge tasked with heading the campaign against drugs makes the discovery that his own daughter is an addict, two DEA agents need to protect an informant, and the wife of a drug lord tries to managed the family business while her husband is in jail. Of course, all these stories have the same underlying theme, but it was no easy feat to make them all equally compelling, even more so since, underneath it all, there are questions to be asked about ethics and morality.
In the best Soderbergh tradition, there are superb performance from highly recognizable names: Michael Douglas, Benicio del Toro, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Andrew Chavez and more stars give great turns, in a story where no one is truly evil but everyone is just trying their best to survive in a dangerous, corrupt world. This thriller is a must-watch for Steven Soderbergh fans, if only for the storytelling (Simon Moore, Stephen Gaghan) and acting on display.
2. Out of Sight
Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, Out of Sight is quite simply a movie that shouldn’t work, and yet it does. On paper, the premise is very simple: a charismatic bank thief named Jack Foley (George Clooney) busts out of jail and, due to a series of mishaps, ends up sharing a car booth with Federal Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Jack and Karen immediately hit it off and pretty much spend the entire film running into one another and figuring out what their relationship should be. And yet, despite an extremely straightforward and even predictable plot, Out of Sight absolutely works, due to great turns from both Lopez and Clooney, whose chemistry is undeniable, and a smart screenplay (Scott Frank) that gives us well-rounded characters and the right emotional beats. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s definitely going to become one of your guilty pleasures!
1. Sex, Lies, And Videotape
Most critics would seem to agree that the best Steven Soderbergh film out there is Out of Sight, but we think Sex, Lies and Videotape deserves even more love because it’s not what you’d expect it to be. If you haven’t seen the 1989 movie yet, you’ll be surprised by how gripping you’ll find it even if most of it consists of characters talking and filming one another. But this Palme d’Or winner is a great example of a master storyteller at work, as Steven Soderbergh manages to give such authentic, complex characters that it’s impossible not to be immediately drawn into their lives.
The film is about a woman named Ann (Andie Macdowell) and her husband, John (Peter Gallagher), who are having some relationship trouble, even more so since Ann doesn’t know that John happens to be sleeping with her sister (Laura San Giacomo). But the real issues begin when John’s best friend Graham (James Spader) arrives into their lives, immediately getting the attention of the frustrated Ann with his sex talk. Because Graham’s hobby is that of interviewing women about their sex lives and recording them as they speak. Needless to say, Anne starts seeing Graham and things become even more complicated for all parties involved.
As you’d expect, this is a movie about sexuality, but it’s more than that: the film is just as intimate as it is mentally stimulating and even provocative, making us think about relationships and desire but also about the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden, the masks we put on to conform to society, and the people we become when those masks are removed. Sex, Lies and Videotape is unique in its genre and deserves the first spot on this list of best Steven Soderbergh films: it’s astonishing to think that the filmmaker was only 26 years old when he made it.