If you had to pick one movie director as the greatest modern-day movie director still creating films, who would you pick? There are plenty of solid candidates, but our choice is... Denis Villeneuve.
There are many reasons for that, but one in particular sticks out for the Canadian filmmaker: whereas many great directors have a favored style and genre—like Martin Scorsese with gangster epics or Christopher Nolan with time-warped stories—Denis Villeneuve is a chameleon whose skills and vision can fit to any film genre.
Among all that, Villeneuve is always consistent in one thing: the ability to tell human stories that are grounded and emotional yet epic in scale. Expect every movie of his to captivate you with an immersive experience that's a feast—not only for the eyes, but also the heart and mind.
We think all of his movies are worth watching, but here are our picks for the best Denis Villeneuve movies of all time.
10. August 32nd on Earth (1998)
A model named Simone survives a car accident. Struggling with her own mortality, she thinks conceiving a baby will give her life meaning—so she enlists her best friend Philippe to help her. He agrees, but only if they travel to Salt Lake City. What follows is a road trip of reflection.
August 32nd on Earth is Denis Villeneuve's directorial debut. While it isn't his most familiar work nor his best, it contains his stylistic fingerprints—like the sweeping cinematography and the characters' profound journey. It is pure arthouse, but the experience is worth taking.
9. Maelstrom (2000)
A depressed woman accidentally hits an old fishmonger. When his demise is confirmed, the woman hides her car but encounters the son of the man she killed. As she's dealing with guilt, she also develops a romance with the son, pulling them into a whirlwind of love and oddities.
Maelstrom finds Villeneuve in a unique position where he incorporates drama, humor, and magical realism—and that mix of genres is rounded out by dark narration from a talking fish. (Yes, really.) While the tone is all over the place, Villeneuve made it all easy to swallow.
8. Enemy (2013)
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college professor living a dull life in Toronto. One day, he watches a movie that features a striking lookalike of himself (also played by Gyllenhaal). This fascination leads Adam to search for his doppelganger, ruining his life in return.
Of all the movies that Denis Villeneuve directed, Enemy is the most complicated—and one that requires rewatching. There's layers upon layers of symbolism, going deeper than what was in José Saramago's novel. But it builds up to an ending that changes your perspective.
7. Dune (2021)
Based on one of the most important science fiction books of all time, Dune follows a young boy named Paul Atreides, the heir of House Atreides. When his family is given rule over planet Arrakis, their enemies retaliate by sending Paul to unknown territory to redeem the planet.
This second adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic novel was hotly anticipated—and without giving away much, Dune delivers on its massive scale. The visual and sound designs work together to bring Arrakis to life. And despite being "Part One," it succeeds in complex worldbuilding.
6. Prisoners (2013)
Two young girls suddenly go missing. Their parents call the police to start their search. But when their investigation becomes fruitless, the father of one of the girls takes matters to his own hands. At the same time, Detective Loki finds a startling mystery behind the abduction.
The premise of Prisoners might seem like any crime movie, but in the hands of Villeneuve, there's vast darkness beneath its mystery. The title gives a clue to its dark themes, and thanks to its terrific cast and Roger Deakins' aesthetics, Prisoners is hauntingly immersive.
5. Polytechnique (2009)
Polytechnique is based on the 1989 Montreal Massacre, where fourteen women were murdered and another fourteen were injured.
The shooting, perpetrated by a bigoted man, is seen through the eyes of two students, Valérie and Stéphanie. And the aftermath of the massacre leads to despair for those who witnessed it.
Filmed in black and white, Polytechnique is a brief yet gripping portrait of a real-life horror. There isn't much focus on its graphic violence, nor the attack's details, nor its sleek filmmaking. It places focus on the humanity and empathy present in uncontrollable tragedy. It's achingly beautiful.
4. Sicario (2015)
Grace Mercer (played by Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who joins a task force overseen by CIA officer Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) and mysterious operative Alejandro Gillick (played by Benicio del Toro).
While the unit's main priority is to take down a powerful cartel, Mercer uncovers a sinister agenda behind the operation.
Sicario is an unorthodox take on the crime-thriller genre. More effort is placed in fleshing out its characters, mainly the ethical Mercer and the vengeful Gillick. But that doesn't detract from its sprawling action, topped by a tense shootout on the US-Mexico border and a shocking climax.
3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Thirty years after the first film, Blade Runner 2049 centers on another blade runner K who follows a trail of secrets that leads him to find former blade runner Rick Deckard. But the more revelations K unearths, the fiercer he gets on solving the case himself.
As a sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi films ever, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy production. It expands on the original's themes of free will, technological dystopia, and gender roles. But what brings it to life are the gorgeous visuals and cinematography. Truly a masterpiece.
2. Incendies (2010)
Twins Jeanne and Simon fly to their mother's native country in the Middle East to retrace their family history. But upon arriving, they must overcome many hurdles—like ongoing civil war violence, haunting secrets from their mother, and their family's estrangement.
Incendies is the project responsible for forcing us to know the name "Denis Villeneuve." It has many of his specialties: characters on a daunting journey, haunting themes, subtle violence, quiet moments, and a memorable shot that sums up the film.
1. Arrival (2016)
Louise Banks is a linguist assigned with the task of making first contact with aliens who have arrived on Earth via lens-shaped spacecraft.
For months, she and physicist Ian Donnelly work to establish a way to communicate with the aliens so they can ascertain their purpose in arrival—all before the world implodes due to political tension.
Arrival is a masterclass of modern-day science fiction. Nearly every theme imaginable can be found in Arrival, from grief to communication, paranoia to diplomacy, from parenting to filmic language.
Every shot and sound is sweeping. Plus, Amy Adams gives a career-defining performance. It's one experience that will truly transform you.