English director Danny Boyle has been a staple of both British cinema and worldwide cinema for the best part of three decades. After bursting onto the scene with Shallow Grave all the way back in 1994, the now iconic filmmaker has moved between independent film and mainstream Hollywood while effortlessly maintaining his own unique style, offering glimpses of brilliance in amongst some truly exceptional films.
The now Oscar-winning director from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester has released 12 films as of 2019, with his silver screen offerings being as wide ranging as Trainspotting and Steve Jobs; he’s even directed stage shows and (did you know) the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
He’s a man who seems to have directed them all – cult hits, era-defining works, Oscar-winning movies, timeless horrors – so what better time than the 25th anniversary of his big screen debut feature than to rank each of these films from worst to best in this edition of Ranked?
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12. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Openly cited as “the time I tried to make a Hollywood movie and it didn’t work out” by the director himself, A Life Less Ordinary starring rising 90s star Cameron Diaz (whatever happened to her?) and Boyle’s 3-time 90s collaborator Ewan McGregor was almost precisely “ordinary”. A film described as being “tedious and contrived” by the late-great Roger Ebert, this film tried to tell a compelling fantasy tale of angels sent to earth to see if love is really possible, but it didn’t quite hit the mark in the same way Boyle’s wholly more British 90s outings did, relegating this misfire to the bottom of the pile.
11. Trance (2013)
Following the mantra of choosing unpredictable directorial projects, Danny Boyle followed up his achievements at the helm of the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony with the hugely divisive Trance. Mixing a heist movie with a psychological thriller, complete with a nurturing therapist figure (played by Rosario Dawson), Trance was the type of film to either laugh off or become completely engrossed in upon first viewing but seemed to fall apart under further scrutiny regardless of your initial reaction. This was a movie that featured the flare and brilliance of Boyle in moments but ultimately felt less authentic to him than plenty of his other films.
10. The Beach (2000)
Starring Romeo + Juliet and Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio as a beautiful American man wishing away his Western comforts in favour of a more feral way of life, The Beach was initially met with an outstandingly negative consensus, though such reactions have since faded. Boyle’s fourth feature release, The Beach was initially supposed to star long-term collaborator Ewan McGregor, and the director’s choice to replace him here was the root cause of a split that wouldn’t be rectified until 2017’s T2 Trainspotting. The ills we each suffered were hardly worth the wait, The Beach cashing in on an of-the-time glamour that wasn’t quite in-keeping with the central most subject matter and the film ultimately bombing. Though it has since been re-evaluated as an important time capsule of the time and a much deeper movie than first realised, The Beach remains one of Boyle’s least beloved feature films, earning it its low 10th spot here.
9. 127 Hours (2010)
Nominated for 6 Oscars – including Best Picture – 127 Hours was a sort of phenomenon in Hollywood that most people quickly forgot about, Boyle’s brave visual decision to tell vast portions of the film through the hero’s own video camera being an ultimate “I’m in all the way” or “what is this?” choice for the audience that, regardless of which side you landed on, shone the film in an of-its-time, almost cheesy, light. Described by most as “visceral”, the use of sound in 127 Hours is particularly outstanding, a layover from the respect Boyle earned for the craft with his earlier film Sunshine. This, mixed with particularly gruesome visuals perfected earlier in the likes of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, and a performance that put star James Franco on the map for dramatic roles, make for interesting albeit flawed Boyle outing that fails to push beyond 9th on this list.
8. Millions (2004)
Based on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s novel of the same name, Millions mixed a sentimental and sweet natured story about a child who finds a bag of UK Pound Sterling in his backyard just days ahead of the switch to the Euro with some of Boyle’s trademark visual wizardry and the director’s now trademark digitally-perfected camera tricks to offer a rather lovely respite between two of the director’s most recognisable movies, 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Millions was an obvious change in atmosphere from the usually dark, horror-inspired outings Boyle had become associated with, but it was one that not only proved he could maintain his unique feeling across movies of any genre, but one that also proved he could maintain his unique visual style too. Millions isn’t a film oft-associated with the director as it wasn’t nearly as big as his most iconic films, but it was a damned good movie nonetheless.
7. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Undoubtedly the critical success of Boyle’s career, Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Oscars in 2009, with Boyle taking home the Best Director award for the first and only time in his career. The film, which was told from India through a mix of Hollywood and Bollywood sensibilities, earned 10 nominations overall at that year’s ceremony, with the picture earning a spot in the zeitgeist through its mix of down and dirty filmmaking, and fantastical Bollywood-inspired musical numbers. Popularly received as a movie of hope and joy, Slumdog was perhaps lacking the best of its director’s more serious sentiments and deep thematic explorations, but it did for a small while shine a light on a culture not often thought of in the West but huge nonetheless, and it made for a fun Oscar-winning movie.