The Coen Brothers have produced 16 feature films together since their first release Blood Simple in 1984.
Older brother Joel has co-written and directed all 16 films. The brothers have collaborated on the screenplay for every film. But since The Ladykillers (2004), Ethan Coen has been given a director credit as well.
Of the 16 features, only The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and The Ladykillers have received generally negative reviews. They have shared four Oscars, which includes a Best Picture win for No Country For Old Men (2007).
The brothers have also contributed a short film named ‘World Cinema’ to the project, To Each His Own Cinema (2007). As well as another short named ‘Tuileries’ to the international hit film, Paris, je t’aime (2006), which stands out as one of the best. They also recently collaborated on the screenplay for Steven Speilberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015).
The Coens have also worked in several genres but always manage to leave their famous footprint on each. Their next film Hail, Caesar! will be released in 2016. Here is a complete list of the best films by the Coen brothers.
1. Fargo (1996)
The top spot belongs to Fargo. It is the Coen’s perfect combination of subtle wit, excellent performances, intriguing characters, backed up by a strong storyline. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires two unscrupulous small-time criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife as a ploy to embezzle money from his father-in-law. But naturally things go wrong, as they always do in the Coen universe. Frances McDormand is excellent as a detective assigned to the case. It remains their perfect film.
2. No Country For Old Men (2007)
Based on a story by Cormac McCarthy, this film is one of the Coen’s few adaptations. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, who stumbles upon 2 million dollars left behind at a crime scene. Instead of reporting the money to the authorities, he decides to keep it. But he is quickly pursued by the menacing Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the money.An excellent thriller.
3. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
The Coen Brother’s venture into depression-era gangster films. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, a long-time confidant of a mob boss named Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney). When a rival clan is intent on killing a small-time bookie named Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro), Leo causes friction by standing in his way. Bernie is the brother of Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), Leo’s long-term mistress. Miller’s Crossing keeps you guessing everyone’s loyalties and motives until the very end.
4. True Grit (2010)
A remake of a John Wayne film by the same name, True Grit is another successful departure for the Coens. A young farm girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires a U.S. Marshall (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer. They are eventually joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is pursuing the same person for a separate crime. The relationship between the three main characters, each different from one another makes True Grit an intriguing film.
5. A Serious Man (2009)
The Coen Brothers return to their Jewish roots with this modern reconstruction of the biblical story of Job. Set in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1967, physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) struggles to find meaning in a serious of events that have left his personal life in shambles. One day Larry is offered a bribe by a student in return for a positive grade.
6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
A comedy-musical, which is a re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey. Set in the American south in the 1930s, an escape convict named Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) and his two companions head out to recover money they have hidden from a previous bank heist. On the way they are confronted with a number of strange characters, including sirens, a cyclops, a KKK lynch mob and real-life gangster Baby Face Nelson.
7. Raising Arizona (1987)
An ex-con named H.I. McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) and his wife Edwina (Holly Hunter) are unable to conceive. Desperately wanting a baby, the couple decide to kidnap one of the quintuplets belonging to a furniture tycoon named Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). The film is surprisingly lighthearted and you even begin to feel sorry for the couple. There is a hilarious scene where Nicholas Cage’s character steals diapers from a shop and goes on the run from the police. It is one of the Coen’s funniest films.
8. Barton Fink (1991)
A successful playwright (John Turturro) arrives in Hollywood to write a screenplay, but finds plenty of distractions around him. Overcome by writer’s block, Fink develops a friendship with an insurance salesman named Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). But suddenly a series of bizarre events leaves Fink even further from his work. Barton Fink is one of those films that will challenge you to piece everything together but always manages to keep you interested.
9. Burn After Reading (2008)
One of the Coen Brothers most underrated films. Burn After Reading was released amid the post-911 hysteria and includes CIA spies and state department officials. Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from his job at the CIA and decides to write his memoirs. The transcript is discovered by two unscrupulous gym employees played by Frances McDormand and a hilarious Brad Pitt. They attempt to extort money from Cox which sets off a serious of events that has major consequences for everyone involved.
10. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is roughed up by a group of thugs who accuse him of owing money to a mob boss. He soon discovers that he was mistaken for a millionaire with the exact same given name as him, played by David Huddleston. When the millionaire’s trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) is kidnapped, The Dude agrees to deliver the ransom to the thugs. He enlists the help of some of his friends but they soon realize that they are way over their heads.
Honorable Mention: The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), Blood Simple (1984)