Every single Coen brothers movie, ranked from 'Blood Simple' to 'Drive-Away Dolls'

A ranking of every movie made by the Coen brothers — or a Coen brother. Ballads, bowling, and bowl cuts. And so, so, SO much blackmail.

Every single Coen brothers movie, ranked from 'Blood Simple' to 'Drive-Away Dolls'
Best Coen brothers movies, ranked

Bearded bowlers. A pregnant police chief. A serial killer with a bowl cut and a cattle gun.

Since they burst onto the movie scene over 35 years ago with Blood Simple, Joel and Ethan Coen have been responsible for some of the most iconic characters in the history of cinema.

There aren't many directors out there who regularly pop up at the top of the box office charts despite making movies that don't really conform to Hollywood traditions, but the writer/director team known as the Coen brothers have managed to carve out a style that's as popular as it is unique — think recurring actors like Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, and John Goodman; frequent bouts of blackmail and bungled kidnapping; a love of certain genres like noir and western; and a clever intertwining of comedy and drama that constantly keeps viewers on their toes.

But how does their extensive list of movies compare with one another? Which are the best of the best?

As tricky as the task proved (and leaving out the movies they wrote but didn't also direct), we've done our best to rank every single Coen brothers movie below.

Where will classics like The Big Lebowski and Fargo land? Is there no victory for No Country for Old Men? How about Intolerable Cruelty? (Yep, that's a Coen brothers film.) Oh, and we've also included Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth and Ethan Coen's Drive-Away Dolls, even if they are technically more of Coen brother movies. (Shut the f*ck up, Donny.)

20. The Ladykillers

Tom Hanks and Marlon Wayans in "The Ladykillers".
Credit: Touchstone / Kobal / Shutterstock

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: This just may be the Coen brothers’ worst film. To be fair, it has some big shoes to fill after the 1955 original. You’d think the Coen brothers would easily be able to do it with an all-star cast composed of Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, and Stephen Root, but this is where they struck out. Though there's hilarious character work consistent in the Coens' work, it’s cartoon-y and ungrounded, the on-screen chemistry never quite clicks, and Hanks’ accent feels more like a Foghorn Leghorn impression than an organic choice. 

The movie starts with Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr, a classics "professor" played by Hanks, renting a room from a religious elderly widow, Marva Munson, played by Irma P. Hall. We quickly find out, however, that he intends to use Marva’s house as a base for his ragtag band of criminals to execute a casino vault heist. Hijinks ensue as stupidity and greed digs them into deeper and deeper trouble. If you’re looking for a silly heist film, The Ladykillers is a fun one as long as you go in with realistic expectations. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just a bad Coen brothers movie. — Mark Stetson, Producer

How to watch: The Ladykillers is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

19. Intolerable Cruelty

George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones standing against a wall in "Intolerable Cruelty".
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

It might not have quite the same edge or originality as other movies further down this list, but make no mistake: Intolerable Cruelty is still a lot of fun. Pitting sly divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) against equally devious divorcée Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the movie is essentially a twisty-turny battle of wits that plays out in dramatic courtrooms and tense boardrooms. Everybody is always one step ahead of each other, it's impossible to guess who's actually ahead, and there are plenty of moments you almost certainly won't see coming. A good one to watch if you just want something light. — S.H.

How to watch: Intolerable Cruelty is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

18. Raising Arizona

Nicolas Cage in "Raising Arizona".
Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / 20th Century Fox / Kobal / Shutterstock

All the elements are there. Following an ex-con (Nicolas Cage) on a mission to give his wife a baby at all costs, the Coens' second ever movie comes with bumbling criminals, a wacky plot centred around a kidnapping, an ominous bounty hunter, and many other tropes that they've since become known for. The problem, at least for me, was that these elements didn't come together anywhere near as well as they do in some other Coen brothers movies — the characters weren't quite as well developed, the story wasn't as fun, and overall I just didn't find myself remembering scenes and quotes in the way I have with the duo's better films. In this way Raising Arizona felt like a training ground for ideas that would be better executed later on — an early attempt at themes that are polished up in movies like The Big Lebowski. — Sam Haysom, Deputy UK Editor

How to watch: Raising Arizona is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

17. The Man Who Wasn't There

Billy Bob Thornton and Frances McDormand in
Credit: Working Title / Kobal / Shutterstock

This genre-flipping film noir had so much potential yet ultimately falls short of being a perfect Coen brothers movie. It nails pretty much every noir trope but doesn’t do much to elevate the genre, which is something the Coens usually do incredibly well. However, one thing you can't deny is that this is one of, if not the most, beautifully shot of the duo's movies. Filmed entirely in black and white, this homage to classic noir showcases the otherworldly talent of the Coens' longtime cinematographer, Roger Deakins.

The film follows barber Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), a man not exactly happy with his situation. His wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is a hard-drinking, department store bookkeeper, and Ed begrudgingly works for her brother, Frank (Michael Badalucco), while she's having an affair with her rich boss, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). When a conman convinces Ed to invest in a get-rich-quick scheme, he decides to blackmail Big Dave Brewster for the cash. Throw in Tony Shalhoub, Richard Jenkins, Jon Polito, and a young Scarlett Johansson and you’ve got an all-star cast that shines in this very-good-but-not-great film noir that ends, like most Coen films, in a weird yet satisfyingly unexpected place. — M.S.

How to watch: The Man Who Wasn't There is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

16. Hail, Caesar!

Scarlett Johansson in "Hail, Caesar!"
Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa / Universal/Working Title / Kobal/Shutterstock

A film about making a film in 1950s Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! brings together a ridiculously star-studded cast for this silly costumed romp. The story sees movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) getting kidnapped by a group of communist screenwriters while fixer Eddie Manx (Josh Brolin) scrambles to pay the ransom for the studio. Meanwhile, gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton) circle looking for a story. The whole thing is as wild as it sounds, but I can't help but feel (as we'll see further down the list) that the Coens have made a better film about movie-making... — S.H.

How to watch: Hail, Caesar! is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

15. Drive-Away Dolls

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in "Drive-Away Dolls."
Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in "Drive-Away Dolls." Credit: Focus Features

For his first narrative film without Joel, Ethan teamed with longtime collaborator and wife, Tricia Cooke, who was an editor on Coen brothers movies like O Brother Where Art Thou? and Barton Fink. Together, Cooke and Coen scripted a gleefully outrageous comedy about two lesbian besties (Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan) on a roadtrip that'll change their lives forever. True to Coen brothers form, the film offers colorful characters, a quirky Southern charm (chiefly in Qualley's Texan free spirit, whose drawl is thicker than molasses), wild twists, wacky humor, and a stack of stars, including Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Matt Damon, and Pedro Pascal. Proudly inspired by B-movies of the '60s and '70s, this Coen offering also relishes is "trashy" jokes and Cooke's queer sensibility. The result is a ridiculous romp that's a howling good time. And — if Cooke and Coen have their way — Drive-Away Dolls will be the first in a lesbian B-movie trilogy. — Kristy Puchko, Entertainment Editor

How to watch: Drive-Away Dolls is now in theaters.

14. A Serious Man

Michael Stuhlbarg in "A Serious Man".
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Many of the Coen brothers' movies revel in their own obliqueness and complexity, but A Serious Man takes things to a whole other level. The movie follows the various misfortunes of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish academic in 1960s Minnesota whose wife wants a divorce while he's struggling to make tenure in the wake of a series of anonymous letters aiming to discredit him. Unfortunately for Gopnik things go from bad to worse, and when he turns to his faith for help the various rabbis he consults with seem unable to offer constructive advice. Given that A Serious Man explores the search for meaning in an often chaotic and unforgiving universe, it makes sense that this one would be somewhat chaotic in and of itself — but the bleakness (and deliberate vagueness) also make it harder to enjoy than some. — S.H.

How to watch: A Serious Man is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

13. True Grit

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit".
Credit: Skydance Productions / Kobal / Shutterstock

A heavy-drinking Jeff Bridges takes to the saddle as Deputy U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in this western, hired by young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) to chase down the outlaw (Josh Brolin) who killed her father. True Grit is based on the 1969 John Wayne film, which was an adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel of the same name. Roger Deakins’ ever-poster-worthy cinematography is on full display in this one, and Matt Damon gets a fun turn as the awkward Texas ranger LaBoeuf. Bridges is on top form as always, meanwhile, and Steinfeld is excellent as the no-nonsense 14-year-old trying to keep them both in check. So why doesn’t this one make it higher on the list? Well, the tricky thing for True Grit is that as a western, you automatically compare it with the Coens’ other westerns — and as we’ll see later on, it’s just not quite as memorable as some. — S.H.

How to watch: True Grit is available to rent or buy on Prime Video or stream on NOW TV in the UK.

12. Burn After Reading

Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand in "Burn After Reading".
Credit: Working Title / Studio Canal / Kobal / Shutterstock

You've got to keep up in Burn After Reading, a movie that combines some serious star power with the Coens' trademark black comedy and an impressively convoluted plot. The story revolves around — deep breath — two less-than-genius gym trainers (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who attempt to blackmail a former CIA agent (John Malkovich) whose wife (Tilda Swinton) happens to be having an affair with a paranoid U.S. Marshal (George Clooney) who is also seeing one of the gym trainers (McDormand) at the same time as he's seeing the agent's wife. Yep, there's a lot going on. The movie doesn't take itself too seriously though, there are some genuinely amusing and shocking moments, and in today's age of disinformation it feels more relevant than ever. The only downside is it sometimes feels almost too meta, with the levels of parody and convolution occasionally tripping over themselves. — S.H.

How to watch: Burn After Reading is now streaming on Prime Video.

11. The Tragedy of Macbeth

Denzel Washington in "The Tragedy of Macbeth".
Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa

So, this one technically isn't a Coen Bros movie; it's a Coen bro movie. With Ethan having stepped away from filmmaking, Joel adapted this Shakespearean classic on his own, inspired by the onstage performance of his own wife as Lady Macbeth. Four-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand reprised the role of the ruthless villainess who infamously urged her husband toward treasonous murder in the quest for the crown. Meeting McDormand at her lofty level of excellence is two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, taking on the titular role with rigor. Backed by an impeccable ensemble, this dynamic duo devastates, whether whispering schemes, touching in tenderness, or delivering truly iconic lines. 

Joel gives this centuries-old tale a new vision, employing settings that have a pronounced artifice that blurs the visual expectations between screen and stage. Surreal imagery around the witches urges audiences onto the slippery slope of this descent into murder, madness, and doom. The final touch is cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's black and white cinematography. Mid-contrast and keenly focused, it captures these modern stars' precise performances as instantly timeless. However, for all its virtues, it's not really a Coen Bros movie. So... — K.P.

How to watch: The Tragedy of Macbeth is now streaming on Apple+.

10. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and George Clooney in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".
Credit: Touchstone / Universal / Kobal / Shutterstock

Would some people put this one higher up on the list? Absolutely. Loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a classic Coen mish-mash of extreme silliness, following Everett (George Clooney), Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and Pete (John Turturro), three escaped convicts on the hunt for buried treasure. There's a lot to love about this one and its clever satirisation of the American South, but for some reason it just hasn't stuck in my memory in the same way that the Coens' other cult favourites have. Maybe it's just that little bit too silly? Perhaps there's not enough darkness in there to contrast with the comedy? It's difficult to pinpoint, and it's certainly not the popular opinion — but in my mind it can't compete with some of the Coens' grittier works. — S.H.

How to watch: O Brother, Where Art Thou? is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Tom Waits in "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs".
Yep, that's Tom Waits. Credit: Netflix

The Coens return to their love of Westerns with this six-in-one anthology, an American frontier short story collection magicked to life in one movie. The 20-or-so-minute films cover a range of characters struggling to make their way in the unforgiving Wild West, from the ageing gold prospector (Tom Waits) toiling in a sun-streaked valley to the recent widow (Zoe Kazan) navigating marriage proposals and a tiny barking dog on a wagon train.

Admittedly not everyone sitting down to watch a movie will be a fan of the six-in-one structure, and some of the stories are stronger than others — but there's a hugely entertaining variety on offer and the overarching themes (the chaotic, unpredictable nature of life; the harshness of the world and those in it) tie the whole thing nicely together while still feeling relevant today. — S.H.

How to watch: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is now streaming on Netflix.

8. Blood Simple

Frances McDormand in "Blood Simple".
A young Frances McDormand in her first movie role. Credit: River Road Prods / Kobal / Shutterstock

For their first feature film, the Coens started as they meant to go on: with a messy neo-noir crime thriller full of affairs, identity mix-ups, and one very unorthodox (and memorable) bit of body disposal. Starring Coens-regular Frances McDormand in her breakout role, Blood Simple follows bartender Ray (John Getz) as he attempts to navigate the less than ideal situation of the affair he's having with his boss' wife. What follows is a chaotic jumble of jealousy, suspicion, and one very shady private detective prepared to go to some fairly extreme lengths to get what he wants.

There are plenty of early Coen brothers tropes in evidence here, and even though this one may not be quite as polished as some of their later work, it's still incredibly accomplished and entertaining (especially for a first feature). — S.H.

How to watch: Blood Simple is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

7. The Hudsucker Proxy

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Robbins in "The Hudsucker Proxy".
Credit: Polygram / Warners / Silver / Kobal / Shutterstock

A box office bomb that was met with mixed reviews, this jaunty 1994 comedy is often considered mid-tier Coen Bros at best. But it deserves much better. In a script penned by Joel and Ethan Coen, and Sam Raimi, The Hudsucker Proxy pays tribute to the screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age with a daffy tale of a corny stooge and corporate sabotage. Tim Robbins stars as Norville Barnes, a small-town American businessman who has come to the Big Apple with big-city ambitions. So, when happenstance — and a surly, cigar-chomping executive (Paul Newman) — hands him the reigns of Hudsucker Industries, he'd be a fool not to take it, right? But fast-talking dame/hardheaded news reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) smells a rat. So, she goes undercover as a secretary to find a scoop...and ends up falling for the rube. But can this odd couple outwit and outlast the fiendish heads of corporate America?

Radiating with energy, popping with pratfalls, and snapping with quips, this broad comedy is so sweet it could rot your teeth. However, in a nod to their love for noir, the Coens' winsome romance adds spice with blackmail, betrayal, jealously, and death. The collision of content and tone might be dizzying, but a crackerjack cast — that also boasts Charles Durning, Steve Buscemi, Bill Cobbs, and Bruce Campbell — brings plenty of zing to zip past the rough edges. — K.P.

How to watch: The Hudsucker Proxy is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

6. Barton Fink

John Turturro in "Barton Fink"
It's hard to write a screenplay with noisy neighbors. Credit: Circle / Kobal / Shutterstock

It's easy to imagine the Coens, as young Hollywood writers themselves, having a lot of fun with this one. Barton Fink follows a successful playwright (John Turturro) who makes the move from New York to Hollywood to take a lucrative screenwriting job with a major studio. After setting himself up in a gloomy hotel, though, and meeting the intimidating studio boss (Michael Lerner), Fink soon finds himself with a case of writer's block — which he's forced to navigate via interactions with his talkative neighbour (John Goodman), a famous alcoholic writer (John Mahoney), and the writer's troubled wife and secretary, Audrey (Judy Davis).

There's a lot happening in this movie, from an exploration of the creative process and its many obstacles to the tension between art for money versus art as a vehicle for meaning and change. The Coens handle it all with a deft touch, throwing in some incredibly amusing moments (Goodman's wrestling tutorial and Lerner's poolside rant being two of them) and creating a movie that you'll want to rewatch the minute the (perfect) final shot cuts to the credits. — S.H.

How to watch: Barton Fink is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

5. Fargo

Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, taking aim.
Credit: Michael Tackett / Working Title / Polygram / Kobal / Shutterstock

There aren't many films out there popular enough to inspire a very-popular-in-its-own-right TV show, but Fargo — with its snowy North Dakota setting and offbeat black comedy style — has managed it with aplomb. One of the most memorable roles in Hollywood history, heavily pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) attempts to untangle a messy murder and its links to some hired kidnappers, with things quickly spiralling in the amusingly chaotic way only Coen brothers movies can. Complimentary characters include a spineless William H. Macy as desperate-for-money car dealer Jerry Lundegaard, a chillingly dead-eyed Peter Stormare as hired kidnapper Gaear Grimsrud, and Steve Buscemi as his slimy partner in crime. — S.H.

How to watch: Fargo is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac with a cat in "Inside Llewyn Davis".
A truly troublesome cat, that one. Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

It might not be as legendary as some of the Coens' other movies (or at least not yet), but Inside Llewyn Davis more than deserves its spot near the top of this list. A melancholy film about creative frustrations and failure, the film centres on titular folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) over a chaotic and dreary week in New York's Greenwich Village in the '60s. Davis is struggling to get his big break but is hampered by a lack of money, constant bad luck, and the death of his former musical partner. This all hangs over him like a cloud as he deals with lost pet cats, strange carpool companions, and a competitive music scene he can never quite keep up with. Partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, the film has some interesting structural quirks that I won't go into to avoid spoiler territory, and the soundtrack (including live recorded folk songs, some sung by Isaac himself) forms the perfect sorrowful backdrop to a movie that beautifully captures the struggle of realising your dreams. — S.H.

How to watch: Inside Llewyn Davis is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

3. Miller's Crossing

Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden in
It's only going to end badly. Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

The gangster movie genre is a heavily competitive one, filled with all-time classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas. But even among these titans, Miller's Crossing deserves its seat at the table. Set in Prohibition-era America, the movie follows Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), a mobster caught in an escalating war between two rival crime bosses who also happens to be having an affair with one of the boss' girlfriends.

Like all the Coen brothers movies at the top of this list Miller's Crossing has some truly legendary scenes, from bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) begging for his life in the woods to mobster Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney) having a shootout in his dressing gown while "Danny Boy" plays in the background. These moments are as brilliant as they are because, like the film as a whole, they subvert expectations. This isn't a movie that follows a conventional trajectory or plays out how you think it's going to. Unlike the smart character arc of The Godfather's Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Miller's Crossing is all rough and ragged around the edges. You don't know where it's going, but it's all the better for it.

How to watch: Miller's Crossing is now streaming on Paramount+

2. The Big Lebowski

Jeff Bridges and John Goodman as The Dude and Walter in "The Big Lebowski".
"Walter, man..." Credit: Merrick Morton / Polygram / Working Title / Kobal / Shutterstock

When the phrase "cult classic" is uttered, The Big Lebowski has to be one of the first movies to spring to mind. With its cast of idiosyncratic characters, its stream of quotable lines, and a powerhouse central performance from Jeff Bridges as The Dude, it also has to be one of the Coens' best films.

The movie starts with a case of mistaken identity (a popular Coen Bros trope), with Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski getting confused for a totally different Lebowski who just so happens to be a) a millionaire, and b) in some serious trouble with some bad people. What follows is a spectacularly entertaining farce involving blackmail, stolen rugs, and more bowling than you can shake a White Russian cocktail at. John Goodman is brilliant as angry Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak and Steve Buscemi's nervous Donny is the perfect complement to their bowling trio, not to mention the excellent supporting performances from the likes of Julianne Moore, Peter Stormare, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Oh, and you're still in any doubt about the enduring popularity of this movie, there's even an annual Lebowski Fest where fans get dressed up and play games. There aren't many movies that leave that kind of legacy, but this one most certainly abides. — S.H.

How to watch: The Big Lebowski is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

1. No Country For Old Men

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men"
If looks could kill. Credit: Paramount / Miramax / Kobal / Shutterstock

OK, I'm just going to say it: Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh is the greatest movie villain we've seen so far this millennium. With his bowl cut and dead-eyed gaze he's both terrifying and completely iconic, a force of chaotic evil who sweeps through everyone in his path without a hint of emotion or remorse. That scene where he flips the coin in the gas station? Brilliant. His cat-and-mouse game with Josh Brolin's Llewelyn Moss? Brilliant. Carrying that bolt pistol around like the grim reaper, he'd be enough to carry any movie on his own, but the good news is he doesn't even need to. Because the whole film is exceptional.

Based on Cormac MacCarthy's novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men is a neo-western that revolves around the aftermath of a botched drug deal and the discovery of a suitcase full of money. What follows combines Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography with a cast of memorable characters, some poster-worthy dialogue, and staggering moments that are truly impossible to see coming. The first time I watched it, in all honesty, I was left with mixed emotions at the very end — but the more I see this film, the better it gets. It's the kind of movie you can watch over and over and still enjoy the thrill and tension of the core chase, even as you notice small details that you completely missed on earlier viewings.

Which one's your favourite Coen brothers film? Call it, friendo.— S.H.

How to watch: No Country for Old Men is available to rent or buy on Prime Video.

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UPDATE: Feb. 22, 2024, 4:49 p.m. EST This was updated to reflect the newest Coen Bros movies.

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