Every Richard Linklater Movie | Ranked
Today saw the nationwide release of Everybody Wants Some!!, billed as a “spiritual sequel” to Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult hit Dazed and Confused. They share no common characters or actors, but one is about high school fresmen in 1976, and the other is about college freshmen in 1980, so one easily interpret that Linklater (born in 1960) may be tracing his own childhood experiences.
Richard Linklater is one of the more significant filmmakers to have come out of the American Indie Boom of the 1990s. In 1991, he released his first major feature Slacker which was striking at the time, and feels revolutionary today. Since then, Linklater has moved from soulful, talky indie features about well-spoken Texans to larger-scale Hollywood studio features. He has made a remake, a few sequels, a few animated films, a few bombs, and a few Oscar-worthy prestige pictures.
Despite the breadth and variety of his output, however, Linklater films all tend to have a similar laidback, almost casual tone. The characters tend to be quietly confident in their ideas, and are free to speak their minds. Linklater assures us that his characters have thought stuff through, or are at least not shy about sussing it out. To quote Alanis Morissette, what it all comes down to is that no one has it figured out just yet. The conversations in Linklater films tend to be natural and realistic, and freeing to the open-eared listener. After experiencing film after film of affected and artificial dialogue, carefully constructed plots, and stultifying fakeness, the work of Richard Linklater can feel like a salve.
We at Crave are, naturally, enormous Richard Linklater fans, and have, as such, watched all of his movies. To celebrate the amazing career of an amazing filmmaker – as well as his newest film – we have elected to rank them, from worst to best.
17. The Newton Boys (1998)
It’s not that The Newton Boys is bad, per se – indeed, it’s actually a fun, affable, and easily-consumed Hollywood confection – it’s just that, ultimately, it’s very slight. It tells the story of four real-life brothers who, in the early 1920s, robbed about 40 banks and held up one train, getting away with millions of dollars. And all without killing anyone (although they did shoot a few people in the arms, and one of the Newtons was once accidentally shot in the face; luckily he survived). The brothers were all eventually caught by the police, but proved to be so charming in court that they received light sentences. Linklater’s only thematic recourse, then, is to make the film about their charm. It’s fun seeing Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Skeet Ulrich flinging woo at the audience, but there’s not much beyond that.
16. Tape (2001)
The early 2000s saw the rise of digital cinema technologies, and certain filmmakers began pushing a digital agenda on the Hollywood firmament (cough, George Lucas, cough). Linklater decided he would experiment with these new then-shoddy tools by shooting a feature film on a consumer-grade digital camcorder, and contain his action in one motel room. The conversation is contrived and feels fake for a Linklater film, as the three main characters discuss drug deals, rape accusations, and the like, but with the tone of an acidic murder mystery. The experiment wasn’t entirely a success. Tape is more of an object lesson on what filmmakers can try than what works.
15. Fast Food Nation (2006)
Eric Schlosser’s invaluable exposé of the American fast food industry may very well change your eating habits forever, or at least have you thinking twice before eating at McDonalds. Linklater’s fictionalized film version, maybe not so much. By making fictions out of the real-life horrors of fast food, the film begins to feel like an unfocused ensemble drama instead of the polemic it could have been. Fast Food Nation‘s final shots, however, of an actual cow being actual rended for food, might have the power Linklater was seeking; you’ll think of that when you bite into your next Jumbo Jack.
14. Bad News Bears (2005)
Linklater’s remake of the 1976 Walter Matthau film is the biggest oddity in his filmography. From a plot perspective, it’s a very, very rote sports movie, replete with all the clichés therein. A rough drunk (Billy Bob Thornton) must lead a band of kid misfits (allowed to play through a tut-tut PTA ordinance) to the championship. No surprises. Linklater, at the very least, proves that he can deftly handle Hollywood material, and gives as much casual character to the film as he can. At the end of the day, it’s harmless entertainment. He’s capable of more, though.
13. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, Linklater makes an intentionally scattered fever dream about a future populated by shadowy conspiracies ensuring that drug addicts stay addicted. Keanu Reeves plays a cop who has been trying to bust a drug den for years, but who is, in practice, a complete burn-out who is also addicted. The messages of The Drug War and addiction are rushed in near the end, and while the visuals are amazing (A Scanner Darkly was filmed using rotoscope animation), it feels like Linklater was too high on the film to really underline his thesis.
12. School of Rock (2003)
School of Rock is an affable film about a burn-out man-child (Jack Black) who poses as a substitute teacher, only to become obsessed with teaching his students on the power of rock and roll, and on how to be better rock musicians. It’s a fine and enjoyable film, featuring, as it does, an obsessed man finding catharsis – and benevolence for kids – through his personal interests. The kids are are pretty great, and come across as real characters instead of a band of faceless moppets. It also may teach you a thing or two about the importance and the power of rock and roll.
11. SubUrbia (1997)
Written by Eric Bogosian, based on his play, based on his own experiences, SubUrbia is about a group of young slackers who do little else besides stand outside of convenience stores shooting the breeze. They talk about their new rock star friend, the military, and are generally disaffected, very purely in the 1990s mold. The film may feel dated today, and isn’t quite as striking as Slacker, Clerks, or other similar films. But the disaffected ’90s milieu was a fun thing to explore, and young people are always searching for meaning. It’s nice to hear them so frank.
10. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Perhaps Linklater’s most-quoted film (“That’s what I like about high school girls: I keep getting older, they stay the same age” is cracked off often) is often seen by its cult as a pro-party polemic. In actuality, it’s really subtly about friendship and the way young men relate to one another, told through the late-1970s Texan milieu that Linklater lived through. It’s a fun period piece and a charming flick, and immensely fun. If one could say anything against it, it’s that Dazed and Confused is a little too loose and structurally shabby.
9. Bernie (2011)
Bernie tells the true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), an East Texas man – most certainly gay – who was such a kind soul and generous spirit that he was easily manipulated into becoming, essentially, a slave and prisoner for a tyrannical 80-year-old named Marjoie Nugent (played by Shirley MacLaine). Bernie would end up murdering Nugent, only to be treated kindly by the court. The kind criminal treated well by the system is a similar theme to The Newton Boys. The film bristles with character, and features interviews with the real-life Texans who remember Bernie and how wonderful he was. It’s authentic and very good.
8. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)
The themes of Dazed and Confused are more sharply communicated in its “spiritual sequel.” It’s 1980, college is just beginning, and a newly assembled college baseball team has to spend the next few days exploring how they relate as a team, as males, and as young people on the frontier of college. It’s romantic (Linklater has a thing for falling-in-love-in-one-night), as well as affable. It’s loose without losing focus. It may be poised as something raucous and dirty, but it’s actually well-mannered for what is essentially an ’80s sex comedy.
7. Me and Orson Welles (2008)
The life of Orson Welles was amazing, and hearing tales of his early days in the theater is a fascinating whirlwind of ego, talent, exploitation, inspiration, and amazing art. Christian McKay (in a career-making performance) plays Welles as a tyrannical genius who takes a young hopeful (Zac Efron) under his wing. The film is about discovering the thrill and the pitfalls of working in theater (an emotional minefield of glories and pains), while exploring the history of Welles and his pre-film effect on the world.
6. Before Sunset (2004)
The three Before movies now function as a piece, but individually, they are also great. Before Sunset, the second film of three, encounters Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they reunite a decade after falling in love, but never dating, in Before Sunrise. The film is about the way youthful idealism tends to settle into casual outrage and a general pragmatism. But, as with all three films in the series, it’s all explored on the periphery of a long string of conversations. Before Sunset is the least of the three, as it doesn’t have the giant emotional punch of the other two, but that’s not to say it’s not great.
5. Before Sunrise (1995)
A time capsule of what young people were talking about in the 1990s, Before Sunrise meets up with Jesse and Celine as they are both traveling through Vienna only to spend the entire night exploring their excellent conversational rapport, similar and differing views on the world, and their mutual attraction. They fall deeply in love over the course of the night, but never consummate their relationship. We’re left with the falling and the enthused, if unsure intellect. Which is a pretty glorious place.
4. Before Midnight (2013)
The best of the Before films sees Jesse and Celine after they have been married for several years, and how they have more or less grown apart. Revisiting these characters, in 2013, feels like a welcome family reunion by now, and we know the characters very well. We also see that Linklater is maturing past mere nostalgia, pointing out how adults might talk and relate after years of gabbing at each other too much. things aren’t always so rosy. And yet they’re still romantic and real, even if the two may be mildly weary of one another.
3. Boyhood (2014)
The best film of 2014 was filmed over the course of 12 years, allowing the audience to see a 6-year-old (Ellar Coltrane) slowly turn into an 18-year-old. The function of cinema may be, it has been said, to capture real life and reflect it back at us. By seeing the characters grow in real time, we get the entire emotional encapsulation of what life’s small moments really mean. Some moments may be grand in the future. Some may not. The movie is exploring as it goes, just the way humans explore their own real lives.
2. Slacker (1991)
I love this movie beyond reason. The voice was so striking in 1991, and is still striking today. The structure and the words may be of their time (some may find the film dated), but the urgency of Linklater’s filmmaking comes through. He wants to depict Austin, TX, but he also wants to show the dissatisfaction of the early 1990s in its entirety. It’s a young man raving to the sky, and coming up with art.
1. Waking Life (2001)
Linklater’s deepest “conversation” is one of the oddest films you may see. Achieved through rotoscope animation, Waking Life is about a narrator (Wiley Wiggins) as he drifts from one conversation to the next, only this time each conversation is pointedly about existentialism, philosophy, dreams, and the importance of idiosyncrasies. We eventually learn that the narrator is dreaming, and how the reality of living may be less tenable than we may have assumed. But don’t get the impression that Waking Life is a slog or a lecture. It glitters and moves and shimmies with a vibrancy all its own.
Top Image: Paramount
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.