Sofia Coppola Movies Ranked

2. Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation: Romance in a Blur

Lost in Translation remains Sofia Coppola’s best-known and most beloved work. It earned her the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, as well as nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

The movie stars Bill Murray as Bob Harris, an aging actor who travels to Toyko to film a whiskey commercial, and Scarlett Johannson as Charlotte, a young woman who follows her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) to Tokyo for work, but doesn’t seem to have much direction herself. Facing similar marital issues as well as a crisis of identity, Bob and Charlotte develop an unlikely connection.

When it was first released, Lost in Translation was praised for its unconventional narrative structure, which Coppola has since become known for. Plot points are not as important to her as feelings (vibes, if you will.) The script is short, with detailed descriptions of scenes, but not a lot of specific dialog. She leaves room for the characters to breathe and for the actors to improvise, which Murray is by reputation exceptionally good at.

Despite how good it is, Lost in Translation‘s depiction of Japanese culture and its people is, at best, ignorant and at worst racist. While Charlotte and Bob are the outlanders in this situation, the movie ends up othering its Japanese characters. Their language, food, and customs are often played for laughs and it is unclear if the issue is Japan itself or Bob and Charlotte’s perception of it. Murray’s deadpan delivery and his overall air of superiority don’t help matters.

Shot by Lance Accord, who first worked with Coppola on Lick the Star, Lost in Translation feels stripped down compared to Coppola’s other works. While there are moments that explode with her signature pastel palette, Lost in Translation’s cinematography is grounded in natural light contrasted with the neon lights of Tokyo. The movie moves slowly, as if through the haze of loneliness and alienation. Based on her own time spent in Japan, Coppola manages to capture universal feelings of displacement, cultural shock, and jet lag. It’s cathartic – to be able to visualize so clearly the things we’ve all felt at some point in our lives.

1. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Despite mixed reviews, a moral panic about teenage suicide, and a studio that didn’t quite know what to do with it, The Virgin Suicides eventually became a seminal coming-of-age tragedy about the demise of five sisters – and the boys who can’t quite let go of them. It’s a movie that launched an avalanche of Tumblr posts and Pinterest boards for its girly aesthetic as well as its pitch-perfect depiction of depression.

Aside from all of that, the movie also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance from Hayden Christensen, just two years before his turn as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones.

Based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Jeffery Eugenides, and taking place in an idyllic suburb in Detroit in the 1970s, The Virgin Suicides is told from the perspective of a group of teenage boys and narrated by Giovanni Ribisi, who details the eventual suicides of the Lisbon girls. It’s lyrical and dreamy and features the best line in any Coppola movie, uttered by Cecilia Lisbon following her first suicide attempt: “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”

The Virgin Suicides is about the haziness of memory – about all of the things we experience in our childhoods that shape who we become as adults. While most of what makes The Virgin Suicides so rich can be found in the source material, Coppola transforms the Lisbon girls from faceless fantasies of the teenage boys who loved them, into flesh and blood. By shifting the perspective ever so slightly, she makes them feel alive and real. Yet, they are still out of reach.

Lick the Star acts as a template for The Virgin Suicides. It features similar images from the malaise of looking out the car window, to the mention of rat poison, to walking down the school hallway in slow motion as a needle drops. It feels like a subversion of coming-of-age stories like Stand by Me and Now and Then, which tend the romanticize growing up in suburban America. Coppola balances its humor and horror with aplomb and it deserves a spot among other teenage black comedies like Heathers and Mean Girls.

Air’s musical score, as Alice Rohrwacher said in her coffee-table book “Sofia Coppola: Forever Young”, “…stands still as one of the greatest musical embodiments of depression and summer inertia.”

The Virgin Suicides is a deeply sad movie. It is a cautionary tale of what happens when girls are neglected and their desires are ignored. It’s about what happens when we lock girls up in an ivory tower and are surprised when they decide to jump rather than stay locked away forever. Coppola gave a voice to teenage girls everywhere, making them feel seen, perhaps for the first time.

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Sofia Coppola’s movies have been called a lot of things: vapid, empty, immersive, dreamlike, tedious. She has been praised for her writing and her ear for music, but she has also been criticized for being shallow and out of touch and for minimizing important topics. Whatever the case may be, whatever you may feel when you watch a Sofia Coppola movie, the fact is that you do feel something. And that is the opposite of empty.

Which Sofia Coppola film do you appreciate the most? What are your overall thoughts on Coppola as a filmmaker? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for more insightful movie lists.

Updated 10th January 2024 to include Priscilla. Originally published 14th May 2023.

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