Ranking The Films Of The Coen Brothers

Two momentous Coen brothers events this week – The Big Lebowski celebrates 10 years with a new limited-edition DVD release… and the latest Coen bros film, Burn After Reading, hits theaters September 12. Check out our ranking of the Coen brother’s films – do you agree with our rundown?

12. The Ladykillers (2004)


Tom Hanks – Professor G.H. Dorr
Irma P. Hall – Marva Munson
Marlon Wayans – Gawain MacSam
J.K. Simmons – Garth Pancake
Tzi Ma – The General
Ryan Hurst – Lump Hudson

While we think this is an often overlooked Coen brothers flick, we’re betting this doesn’t make many people’s Coen top 5 list. Tom Hanks’ creepy Colonel Sanders vibe and the ragtag criminals (played by Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst) provide some funny moments, but it’s not the Coen Bros’ finest. The Ladykillers tunnel their way to a casino vault, but the dark endings for each character prove that crime doesn’t pay.

11. Intolerable Cruelty (2003)


George Clooney – Miles
Catherine Zeta-Jones – Marylin
Geoffrey Rush – Donovan Donaly
Edward Herrmann – Rex Rexroth
Billy Bob Thornton – Howard D. Doyle

We have to put this one low on the list of Coen greats because, well, it was so completely mainstream that it didn’t even feel like Coen territory. Stars George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones sure make this one pretty, but it doesn’t have the hear t and soul of some of the brothers’ other quirky flicks.

10. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)


Tim Robbins – Norville Barnes
Jennifer Jason Leigh – Amy Archer
Paul Newman – Sidney J. Mussburger
Charles Durning – Waring Hudsucker

The Hudsucker Proxy features a great cast – the amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins (and, hello?) Paul Newman – but the story and characters didn’t quite connect with all movie goers. If you found this tale of a stock scam and hula hoops a little out there, you weren’t alone. A look and feel that captures the 50s, Hudsucker was worth a look, but likely doesn’t grace many Coen fans’ collections.

9. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)


Billy Bob Thornton – Ed Crane
Frances McDormand – Doris Crane
Michael Badalucco – Frank
James Gandolfini- Big Dave Brewster

This Coen flick, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand, seemed to turn audiences off with its artsy black and white delivery. Those who gave it the time of day, however, found a thoughtful and well-done Coen creation, beautifully acted by Thornton and McDormand and a fun time for fans of film noir. It looks amazing, but a lot of people passed it up – give this tale of blackmail gone wrong a second chance.

8. Barton Fink (1991)


John Turturro – Barton Fink
John Goodman – Charlie Meadows
Judy Davis- Audrey Taylor
Michael Lerner- Jack Lipnick

A dark comedy in the Cohen brothers’ tradition, Barton Fink stars John Turturro as the title character, a successful Broadway playwright faced with writer’s block when he moves to 1941 Hollywood for his big break as a screenplay writer. While Barton Fink won a number of Cannes awards (and Michael Lerner received an Oscar nomination), audiences were largely bored because of the slow-pace of the film. Hang in there and you’ll find a smart, funny tale of Hollywood and hell – oftentimes they’re one and the same.

7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)


George Clooney – Everett
John Turturro – Pete
Tim Blake Nelson – Delmar
John Goodman – Big Dan Teague
Holly Hunter – Penny

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson escape from a 1930s Mississippi chain gang. It’s odd – it’s different – heck, it’s the Coen brothers, whaddya want? It’s definitely not a film for the masses – and people either love or hate O Brother, Where Art Though. O Brother offers up a lot of fun and interesting little bits throughout, but collectively, it doesn’t completely satisfy. Love those Soggy Bottom Boys though.

6. Blood Simple (1984)


John Getz – Ray
Frances McDormand – Abby
Dan Hedaya – Julian Marty
M. Emmet Walsh- Loren Visser

Blood Simple was our first introduction to the Coen brothers – and they didn’t disappoint. This thriller set the stage for many amazing Coen collaborations to come and featured Frances McDormand (who married Joel Coen the year Blood Simple came out) as a cheating wife – her rich husband hires shifty private detective M. Emmet Walsh to kill his cheatin’ wife and her lover – but oh how deliciously the double -crossing goes down.

5. Raising Arizona (1987)


Nicolas Cage – H.I. McDunnough
Holly Hunter – Edwina ‘Ed’ McDunnough
Trey Wilson – Nathan Arizona
John Goodman – Gale Snoats
William Forsythe – Evelle Snoats

This is Nicolas Cage at his finest and a Coen classic, to be sure. Raising Arizona is the hilarious tale of n’er-do-well ex-con H.I. and straight shooting ex-cop wife Ed (Holly Hunter) – their infertility issues lead them to kidnap one of the Arizona Quints (Ed asserts: “They got more than they can handle.”). Supporting players in Arizona include John Goodman and William Forsythe as escaped cons, Randall “Tex” Cobb as bounty hunter and Frances McDormand and Sam McMurray as friendly (albeit weird) neighbors. Raising Arizona is nothing short of a comedy gem.

4. Miller’s Crossing (1990)


Gabriel Byrne – Tom Reagan
Albert Finney – Liam ‘Leo’ O’Bannon
Marcia Gay Harden – Verna Bernbaum
John Turturro – Bernie Bernbaum
Jon Polito – Johnny Caspar

Powerhouse actors Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and John Turturro (not to mention Marcia Gay Harden in her film debut) make Miller’s Crossing a force to be reckoned with. Complex and glorious, in the Coen brothers way, Miller’s Crossing is a smarter, savvier gangster flick than most. This violent and bloody 1930’s mobster movie sets the bar very, very high.

3. No Country For Old Men (2007)


Tommy Lee Jones – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell
Javier Bardem – Anton Chigurh
Josh Brolin – Llewelyn Moss
Woody Harrelson- Carson Wells

This Oscar winning movie (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor Javier Bardem) had critics foaming at the mouth. The amazing cast, remarkable script and oh-so-creepy undertones kept movie-goers riveted. No Country is a suspense movie of the highest caliber. While the abrupt ending had more than a few folks scratching their heads, overall, Coen brilliance shines in No Country.

2. The Big Lebowski (1998)


Jeff Bridges – Jeffrey Lebowski – The Dude
John Goodman – Walter Sobchak
Julianne Moore – Maude Lebowski
Steve Buscemi – Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos
Sam Elliott – The Stranger

Lebowski has a huge fan following – in fact, there’s a Lebowski festival devoted entirely to this Coen brothers’ tour de force. But when Lebowski hit theaters, it didn’t fill the seats. Over time, Lebowski has built momentum to become a hallmark of the Coen’s. It’s a case of mistaken identity for the Dude in a twisted tale ripe with juicy dialog. And hell, who doesn’t love The Dude? (For more Dude-lovin, visit our picks for The 20 Best Stoner Movies)

1. Fargo


Frances McDormand – Police Chief Marge Gunderson
William H. Macy – Jerome ‘Jerry’ Lundegaard
Steve Buscemi – Carl Showalter
Peter Stormare – Gaear Grimsrud

You just can’t get much better than Fargo in the Coen brothers film collection. As good as many of their films are, Fargo is the Coen masterpiece. The horrifying, hilarious and all around flawless storytelling and character development are perfectly married with brilliant turns by William H. Macy and Frances McDormand (who won an Oscar for her role as Marge Gunderson). While most Coen flicks are works of art, we crown Fargo the best of the best.

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