Steven Soderbergh is like the Ozzy Osbourne of filmmakers — he keeps saying he’s going to retire, and he keeps making his “final” film, but then he just comes back and makes another movie. He doesn’t so much have a style like David Fincher or Quentin Tarantino, where every movie follows the same basic visual pattern. Rather, Soderbergh takes each movie as it comes and gives each one its own individual style — whatever style is best suited to that movie. He’s made smaller, more intimate indie darlings, but he’s also made bigger blockbusters. Here are Steven Soderbergh’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Erin Brockovich (84%)
This true-to-life tale stars Julia Roberts as a regular working-class single mom who took a giant corporation to court and, against all odds, won the case. In 2000, Steven Soderbergh received two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director — very few directors make it to one nomination, let alone two, let alone two in the same year — which was an impeccable achievement. He ended up winning the award, but for Traffic, not Erin Brockovich. Still, that’s not much of a negative mark on Erin Brockovich. It’s a great movie — the only director that could beat it was its own.
9 Contagion (84%)
Viral outbreak movies are always scary because any day, a disease could become airborne that would wipe out the human race. With recent outbreaks like the Zika virus and the Ebola crisis, Steven Soderbergh seized the perfect opportunity to prey on the public’s fears with a terrifying thriller about efforts to prevent a highly contagious virus from taking too many lives.
It’s a globetrotting ride, taking audiences all over the world to different breakout sites with a star-studded ensemble cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, and Jude Law. The movie was praised for its realistic depiction of a biochemical outbreak.
8 Logan Lucky (91%)
Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement to helm this heist comedy starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig. You’d think that the director had his fill of the heist genre when he helmed three Ocean’s movies, but Logan Lucky has a totally different tone to that Clooney-starring trilogy. In fact, Soderbergh himself has described it as an “anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie,” where the characters aren’t rich or flashy and don’t wear fancy suits. Soderbergh was initially given Rebecca Blunt’s script in the hopes that he could find a suitable director for it, but he ended up taking it on himself.
7 High Flying Bird (92%)
This sports drama about a sports agent teaming up with a rookie basketball player to propose an innovative new business idea to the world of professional sports was based on a story idea brought to Steven Soderbergh by André Holland. Like Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Unsane, High Flying Bird was shot on an iPhone (it was an iPhone 8 fitted with an anamorphic lens). It’s one of the most inventive sports movies in recent memory. Since a theatrical release would be confined to arthouse theaters and Soderbergh wanted it available to as many viewers as possible, High Flying Bird was released on Netflix.
6 Traffic (92%)
This sprawling crime epic in the vein of Martin Scorsese or Brian De Palma’s work looks at the illegal drug trade from a number of different perspectives. We see the users, the dealers, the suppliers, the police, the feds, the politicians — every single level of the drug trade from both sides to give a rounded portrait and varying opinions. The movie’s MVPs are clear from its Oscar wins: Best Director for Steven Soderbergh; Best Supporting Actor for Benicio del Toro; Best Adapted Screenplay for Stephen Gaghan; and Best Film Editing for Stephen Mirrione, who cut together all the interweaving storylines and gave each its own distinctive color grade.
5 Out of Sight (93%)
Elmore Leonard is arguably the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. His simplistic prose, his grasp of dialogue and plotting, and the complex characters in his work all combine to comprise the finest body of crime writing ever put to paper. While Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a more striking, cinematic, and faithful translation of Leonard’s work for the screen, Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight is also a terrific movie, starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in a zany, hilarious crime caper. Funnily enough, it recast Michael Keaton from Jackie Brown as Ray Nicolette, a recurring character in the Leonard-verse.
4 The Limey (93%)
Made in the grand tradition of old British gangster movies of the 1960s, Steven Soderbergh’s little-seen gem The Limey stars Terence Stamp as an aging career criminal who travels to the U.S. to investigate his daughter’s mysterious death. Soderbergh did something interesting with the movie — he used dialogue-free scenes from an old Stamp movie and recontextualized them as his new character’s backstory. It was a shame that the movie bombed at the box office, because it was a really gripping crime thriller with some fantastic performances — not only from Stamp, but from similarly legendary supporting players like Luis Guzman and Peter Fonda.
3 Behind the Candelabra (95%)
Steven Soderbergh directed this biopic of Liberace for HBO, since no major Hollywood studio was willing to fund a biopic about a gay music legend (although the tremendous success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman in the past year shows that they were wrong to consider such a movie a risk).
The movie focuses specifically on the pianist’s romantic relationship with Scott Thorson, because it was adapted from Thorson’s memoir of their time together. Michael Douglas plays Liberace and Matt Damon plays Thorson. The two of them give brilliant individual performances in the film and also share palpable on-screen chemistry with one another.
2 Sex, Lies, and Videotape (96%)
Given the fact that it was Steven Soderbergh’s directorial debut and it was produced on a shoestring indie budget, Sex, Lies, and Videotape looks a little rough around the edges. But astoundingly, it still holds up. It has a simplistic premise, focusing on the relationships shared by four people, but that just opens it up to becoming a deep character study with some incredible performances, particularly from Andie MacDowell, to keep it interesting. James Spader stars as an impotent man who videotapes women talking about sex. He arrives on the doorstep of a married couple and soon changes their lives.
1 King of the Hill (97%)
While the title King of the Hill is best-known for its use as an animated family sitcom about a Texan propane and propane accessories salesman, it had been previously used as the title of Steven Soderbergh’s greatest movie. Set in the Depression, the movie tells the story of a young man struggling to live on his own in a motel after being separated from his family. It’s a shame that King of the Hill often gets overlooked in favor of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, because as Rotten Tomatoes can attest, it’s arguably his best work. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes — it didn’t win, but that’s still pretty impressive.