steven soderbergh movies
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

The 15 Best Steven Soderbergh Movies, Ranked

The 'Ocean's Eleven' director has been making movies for over three decades—and he shows no signs of slowing down.

In 2013, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh retired from directing movies. During his brief time off from the theatrical film business, he helmed every episode of an acclaimed television series (The Knick), directed an off-Broadway production (The Library), published a novella on Twitter (Glue), and even began importing and selling his own brand of Bolivian liquor (Singani 63). Clearly, the guy likes to stay busy, always seeking out the next creative challenge to take on or the latest artistic puzzle to solve.

When he returned to filmmaking full-time with 2017's Southern-fried heist caper Logan Lucky, it was hardly a surprise to see him back in the director's chair. In the last few years, he's mostly shot movies for streaming services, releasing both High Flying Bird and The Laundromat on Netflix in 2019 and last year's Let Them All Talk on HBO Max. Today, he dropped yet another witty crime thriller, No Sudden Move starring Don Cheadle, on HBO Max, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

With around 32 movies to his name, including documentaries and Oscar-winners and one-off experiments, he's far more prolific than some of his '90s filmmaking peers like Quentin Tarantino or David Fincher. That can make diving into his varied filmography a little intimidating. To help you make sense of one of Hollywood's most adventurous, curious minds, we went ahead and ranked his best 15 movies below. In true Soderbergh spirit—he's known for editing his own films as he shoots them and occasionally tinkering with the works of others—we decided to cut right to the best material.

traffic
USA Films

15. Traffic (2000)

Though it's the movie that won him the Best Director Oscar in 2001, when he was also competing against himself in the category for his work on Erin Brokovich, Traffic feels almost underrated at this point in Soderbergh's career. To contemporary audiences, the drug epic's interlocking story structure—which pings between Michael Douglas as a judge grappling with his teenage daughter's descent into addiction, Catherine Zeta Jones as the pregnant wife of a drug kingpin battling the DEA, and Benicio del Toro as a Mexican street cop facing corruption everywhere he looks—might resemble a streamlined version of a single season of a prestige TV show. (Writer Stephen Gaghan's script was based on a six-episode British miniseries from 1989.) The decision to shoot each section in a distinct color palette, widely praised at the time, might strike some as too schematic. Still, the performances Soderbergh gets from his stars, particularly del Toro (also excellent in Soderbergh's bifurcated historical epic Che), make this required viewing, an earnest attempt to infuse the issue-driven social drama with nervy craft and unyielding intensity.—Dan Jackson

solaris
20th Century Fox

14. Solaris (2002)

Remaking one of the greatest and most influential science fiction movies of all time is intimidating to say the least, so instead of trying to update Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky's masterwork, Soderbergh went back to its source material, the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem about a planet that can resurrect the dead simply by using the memories of those still living. George Clooney plays clinical psychologist Chris Kelvin, who is invited to a space station orbiting the technicolor planet Solaris to help diagnose a strange phenomenon occurring onboard. After spending the night on the space station, Kelvin is shocked to discover his long-dead wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) seemingly alive and well, constructed from his nightly dreams of her. Though he's dealing with existential horrors beyond human control, Soderbergh keeps things quiet and meditative. Actors murmur their way through scenes and meander through memories, watched over by the hypnotic purple-and-blue celestial body just outside their windows.—Emma Stefansky

high flying bird
Netflix

13. High Flying Bird (2019)

The second film Soderbergh made on an iPhone after the twist-filled mental health thriller Unsane, High Flying Bird uses the limits of that technology to allow the screenplay by Tarell Alvin McCraney to shine. Reuniting with André Holland who starred in his TV series The Knick, Soderbergh uses the Apple product's lens as meta-textual commentary in this story of a sports agent trying to negotiate his way out of a messy situation during an NBA lockout. The phone ends up playing a role in the narrative, as Holland's Ray attempts to disrupt the entire professional sports industry through a young player (Melvin Gregg). High Flying Bird brims with the edgy intensity that Holland brings to his performance.—Esther Zuckerman

ocean's twelve
Warner Bros. Pictures

12. Ocean's Twelve (2004)

In certain corners of the internet, Ocean's Twelve, which received a rather mixed reception on its release, is now considered the best Ocean's movie, a stylish European romp packed with droll meta jokes, sly filmmaking choices, and incredible outfits. Obviously, given its placement on this list, we're not quite willing to go that far. But Ocean's Twelve, which follows George Clooney's crew of thieves as they pull off yet another heist in Amsterdam, is deserving of a second (or third) look, particularly for the way it so joyfully and playfully messes with the formula provided by the first entry in the series. In the current IP-obsessed moment, when so many sequels stick to the plan with a combination of nerd-like studiousness and corporate-mandated servitude, it's bracing to watch a star-studded blockbuster color outside the lines with such bold brushwork.—DJ

logan lucky
Bleecker Street

11. Logan Lucky (2017)

Soderbergh's return to the heist comedy in the late 2000s has decidedly lower stakes than his Ocean's trilogy, and a sense of fashion that skews closer to cutoff denim and well-worn T-shirts than sleek suits and tiepins. But there's an emotional through-line in Logan Lucky that comes as a welcome surprise to anyone expecting a down-the-line blue collar comedy. The "Ocean's 7-Eleven" crew finds Channing Tatum in himbo mode and a soft-spoken Adam Driver rubbing shoulders with Daniel Craig doing a low-country drawl that basically paved the way for his r-dropping Knives Out private detective Benoit Blanc. The sly humor will have you in stitches, Driver's pronunciation of "cawlyflower" is mesmerizing, and Tatum's rendition of "Country Roads" is guaranteed to make you weep.—ES

haywire
Relativity Media

10. Haywire (2011)

Who knew Soderbergh had a classic action movie in him? In the middle of his pre-retirement burst of creativity, possibly the most exciting and unpredictable phase of his long career, the director teamed up with MMA fighter Gina Carano for this kinetic, nimble spy thriller. While the script, penned by frequent collaborator Lem Dobbs, has plenty of surprises, including a handful of memorable double-crosses and a surprisingly poignant appearance from Bill Paxton as a loving spy-dad, it’s the tightly choreographed, music-free fight scenes—a brawl with Channing Tatum at a diner, a hotel-room rendezvous with Michael Fassbender, and an epic throwdown against Ewan McGregor on a beach—that make this essential, ass-kicking viewing.—DJ

contagion
Warner Bros. Pictures

9. Contagion (2011)

Though it's, by all accounts, one of the most terrifying and depressing outbreak apocalypse movies ever made, Soderbergh's Contagion gained a strange second life at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when all the citizens of the world could do was stay indoors and dream of the end of the world. Following the lightning fast spread of an unknown virus, the movie bounces between several different narratives—an epidemiologist working to create a vaccine, a conspiracy theorist vlogger's attempt at fame by claiming to have an unlikely cure, a father's fight to protect his teen daughter from a rapidly deteriorating outside world—to tell a cohesive tale of a world brought nearly to its knees by the tiniest of invaders. It's frightening because it's never too heightened, never spilling into melodrama, and, now that we've lived through our own version, closer to reality than we'd ever care to admit.—ES

Let them all talk
HBO Max

8. Let Them All Talk (2020)

Easily dismissed as one of Soderbergh's quickly filmed direct-to-streaming offerings, Let Them All Talk, which pairs him for the first time with Meryl Streep, is a quiet masterpiece. The premise puts three actresses of enormous caliber—Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen—on a gorgeous cruise ship, the Queen Mary II. Working from a script by the great short story author Deborah Eisenberg, Streep plays Alice, a celebrated author whose eager agent (Gemma Chan) agrees to send her on a transatlantic trip to work on her latest manuscript. Alice's demand: Her old friends portrayed by Wiest and Bergen get invited along with her nephew (Lucas Hedges). What could be just ladies of a certain age having a fun sea adventure becomes a deft and devastating story about creative pursuits, long simmering resentments, and what we owe to those who we use in art. Soderbergh uses the confines of his settings to heighten the tension, the luxury of the boat becoming a way for the central women to hash out the questions about privilege and status that have been nagging them for years.—EZ

the informant
Warner Bros. Pictures

7. The Informant! (2009)

Often, movies about complicated legal plots or unsolvable conspiracies take on a menacing, unnerving tone that captures the paranoia of the main characters. Think of the shadow-filled parking garage of All the President's Men or the shot of the bullet in the mailbox in The Insider. As you might guess from the cheery exclamation point in its title, The Informant! is not your average legal thriller. Instead, this true-crime tale, adapted from an investigative non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, takes a more ironic approach, inviting the viewer into the mind of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a whistleblower who confounds his FBI handlers, shocks his company, and subtly messes with audience expectations along the way. While the supporting cast is filled with comic actors like Joel McHale, Paul F. Tompkins, and Patton Oswalt in mostly non-comedic roles, Damon gives the movie's funniest performance as a man who remains a cipher to himself. It would make an ideal double-feature with the Coen Brothers' similarly darkly funny spy farce Burn After Reading, another tale of ineptitude and greed told with an often brutal satirical touch.—DJ

magic mike
Warner Bros. Pictures

6. Magic Mike (2012)

OK, yes, if Magic Mike only consisted of Channing Tatum's incredible "Pony" strip, it would still end up on this list. But the beauty of Magic Mike extends beyond the wonderfully over-the-top club sequences. Instead, Tatum and Soderbergh's collaboration, written by Reid Carolin, was also a surprisingly grim, sharp exploration of Recession era anxiety as seen through the lens of a guy whose brand has become having a good time, much to his own chagrin. Magic Mike is raucous, but it's also moody and melancholy, the grayness and humidity of its Florida setting hanging over the action. But, if we're being honest, this entry also belongs to Magic Mike XXL, which takes the Magic Mike premise and just goes wild with it. The sequel is directed by Soderbergh's longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs, but Soderbergh had a strong hand in it, serving as cinematographer under a pseudonym, as he is wont to do.—EZ

sex lies and videotape
Miramax Films

5. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

For his feature debut, Soderbergh took the trappings of a suburban relationship drama and pulled back its layers to expose the compulsions, desires, and unfulfilled subconscious regrets of the modern American marriage. The story revolves around a videographer (James Spader) who makes videotapes (remember those?) of women frankly confessing their sexual desires, and who, after reconnecting with a friend from his past, becomes involved in the dissolution of a marriage buckling under its own strain. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, the movie is seductive and provocative in a melancholy way, showcasing Soderbergh's fascinatingly askew perspective of modern sexuality.—ES

erin brokovich
Universal Pictures/Getty Images

4. Erin Brokovich (2000)

Of course Julia Roberts' Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brokovich is worthy of praise. Taking on the role of the foul-mouthed legal aid who uncovers massive corruption and contamination perpetuated by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Roberts' performance is star power at its most powerful. With wit and grit, she transforms into someone else while mustering all the gusto her status allows. But that doesn't mean you should discount the rest of the film. Bathed in oppressive, orange California light, it's as much a character study as it is a thrilling legal procedural following Erin as she does everything she can to prove that PG&EC has been poisoning people. Soderbergh bucks the notion that inspirational, based-on-real-life stories have to be sappy and maudlin by making a film that's as rough around the edges as the woman at its center.—EZ

the limey
Artisan Entertainment

3. The Limey (1999)

The crime genre, with its complicated web of plots, ever-shifting character motivations, and emphasis on surface-level pleasures, clearly suits Soderbergh's exacting, cerebral style of filmmaking. Plenty of Soderbergh movies not on this list—like 1995's admirably knotty neo-noir The Underneath—find inventive, starling ways of cutting through the most obvious tough-guy clichés and hard-boiled contrivances. But The Limey, a sun-kissed LA chronicle of vengeance starring Terence Stamp as an English ex-con investigating the death of his daughter, might be Soderbergh's most emotionally impactful and sneakily poignant thriller. By slicing and dicing the narrative in a nonlinear manner, the movie achieves a stark power, drawing connections between the past and the present without sacrificing the urgency of the story. It's one of those pleasingly disjointed movies where every sharp fragment feels like it's in the right place.—DJ

ocean's eleven
Warner Bros. Pictures

2. Ocean's Eleven (2001)

If there's a better "guys being dudes" movie than Ocean's Eleven, Soderbergh's update of the 1960 heist comedy classic, I certainly don't know it. Assembling his own Rat Pack out of the hottest stars of the early 2000s, Soderbergh trips the light fantastic around the casino heist genre, as his unlikely crew of misfits snap together like puzzle pieces, pulling off the impossible seemingly on charm alone. Led by the tag team of George Clooney's irresistible Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt's endlessly snacking, loud-shirt-wearing Rusty Ryan—whom you absolutely believe are two sides of the same poker chip thanks to a lean script and breathtakingly entertaining character work ("You think we need one more. All right, we'll get one more.")—and antagonized every step of the way by Andy Garcia's steely yet hapless casino owner villain Terry Benedict, Ocean's Eleven is simply great fun, with a thrilling here's-how-they-pulled-it-off twist ending that set the tone for the director's oeuvre ever afterward. Come for the high stakes caper, stay for Carl Reiner's endless repetitions of "My name is Lyman ZERGA. My NAME is Lyman Zerga. MY name is Lyman Zerga."—ES

out of sight
Universal Pictures

1. Out of Sight (1998)

Soderbergh has long been a director fascinated with sex and celebrity. From his 1989 breakout Sex, Lies, and Videotape to 2009's biting The Girlfriend Experience, he's produced work that's explored eroticism on screen. Then, with the likes of the Ocean's franchise, he figured out a way to make the most glittery stars in the movie stratosphere glitter even brighter. But none of his films have been sexier or featured a better use of star power than Out of Sight. An Elmore Leonard adaptation by Scott Frank—now best known for The Queen's GambitOut of Sight sizzles. George Clooney stars as a bank robber named Jack Foley, maybe the role that most perfectly fits his suave rakishness. He's caught escaping from prison by Jennifer Lopez's US Marshal Karen Sisco and they end up sharing the trunk of a car, the close quarters immediately breeding tension. What follows is a cracking cat-and-mouse game, filled with bravura supporting performances from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, and even a cameo from Michael Keaton. But Soderbergh also takes time to slow down, luxuriating in the gaze between Clooney and Lopez over dinner as snow falls over Detroit. It's utterly seductive.—EZ

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