Updated date:

Ranking Paul Thomas Anderson’s Films 1-8

I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 14 years.

ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

Between directing music videos for the all sibling music group Haim (my favorite band), writer/director/auteur Paul Thomas Anderson occasionally directs movies. He’s made 7 films since 1996 and I know I’m not the only one who wishes he’d make more.

I can never watch a PTA movie once as it takes me at least two times to take it all in. Even if you don’t like his movies, you’d be hard pressed to say they’re cookie cutter or anything resembling something you see every other week. Even if you’re not a fan, PTA’s films stay with you. They are rarely met with indifference.

They’re also rarely set in the present day, as PTA seems obsessed with the 70s for a good portion of his filmography. To date, only three of the movies on this list are set in what you’d call the present day.

Love them. Hate them (Clerks writer/director Kevin Smith is decidedly not a fan). You can’t forget them

PTA’s newest untitled movie (starring Bradley Cooper) is set to come out in 2021. Until it’s released, here are his previous eight movies ranked.

Be sure to vote below for your favorite PTA film.

ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

1) Boogie Nights (1997)

PTA’s sprawling epic centered on the 1970s Southern California porn industry is an all-gas, no-brakes experience. It’s a ride that you don’t want to get off, so to speak. He was 27 when he made Nights, but you couldn’t tell based on the flawless structure and sharply drawn characters, even in an ensemble. Equal parts tragedy (William H. Macy’s exit still catches you off guard) and comedy (Dirk Diggler’s “real” movies are funnier than most actual comedies) and thriller (the firecrackers), you never thought you could identify and care for the people in an industry most will never be a part of. The wonderfully vapid Dirk Diggler remains Mark Wahlberg’s best performance. You love Dirk and Amber and Buck and Reed because no matter how dysfunctional they are, you know they’re family. A big bright shining star indeed.

Oscar Wins - None

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Supporting Actor (Burt Reynolds)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore)
  • Best Original Screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson)
ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

2) There Will Be Blood (2007)

The choice between Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood for 1 and 2 was, by far, the toughest to decide because they’re both such a great films and yet nothing like each other. The only reason Boogie Nights (barely) gets the top spot is because of its wider range of emotion while Blood is dour and its harsher critics may see it as one-note. That may be true but it’s still one of the top five films of the aughties. Daniel Day-Lewis’ pit-bull of a performance as Daniel Plainview is one for the ages. He dominates the edges of the frame. Paul Dano is solid as Paul or Eli Sunday, but he gets blown off the screen whenever Plainview appears. From Jonny Greenwood’s iconic score to Plainview’s much imitated final line, when the closing credits rolled almost three hours later, the audience was sent through a ringer, leaving blood (figuratively) behind as they left the theater. One of the seminal films of the century.

Oscar Wins

  • Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Best Cinematography (Robert Elswit)

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (PTA)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (PTA)
  • Best Editing (Dylan Tichenor)
  • Best Art Direction (Jack Fisk, Jim Erickson)
  • Best Sound Editing (Matthew Wood, Christopher Scarabosio)
So much thread. So few phantoms.

So much thread. So few phantoms.

3) Phantom Thread (2017)

To those of you who haven’t seen this, I implore you to go into this cold. As of the time of this writing, Phantom Thread has been out for a while, but with fewer spoilers, the better your experience will be. Unless you hate it, which is entirely possible. Maybe PTA’s most polarizing movie (Jennifer Lawrence reportedly walked out after five minutes) begs to be seen at least once. One of the most twisted love stories of all time, dressed up as a standard period drama. Daniel Day-Lewis’ (in his final role) Reynolds Woodcock is a boorish domineering character…until he doesn’t want to be. By the end you’re not sure if it’s Woodcock or Alma (a subtly effed up Vicky Krieps) that’s more in need of serious psychological help. Or if they’re perfect for each other, like we hope someone out there’s perfect for us, a phantom thread holding us together while other forces tear us apart.

Oscar Win

  • Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges)

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (PTA)
  • Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Lesley Manville)
  • Best Score (Jonny Greenwood)
ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

4) The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson says it’s the film he’s most proud of. While I find parts of it to be emotionally distant, it’s one of the best acted of PTA’s films. Joaquin Phoenix’ Freddie Quell is perfectly cast as the PTSD sailor caught in the spell of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles). Loosely based on the founder of Scientology (PTA and Tom Cruise got into a shouting match after a screening), you can see how a man like Quell could be easily influenced, as well as the dozens if not hundreds of people that give themselves to the Cause. It’s not always an easy film to watch, but upon further reflection, the payoff is as perfect as you could hope for. Proof that PTA is a master at forming singular stories even if you’re not familiar with the world they take place in. One of PTA’s movies I know I need to watch again, but distance is needed after your initial viewing.

Oscar Wins- None

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams)
ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

5) Magnolia (1999)

An artistic swing for the fences. Everything in this movie is meant to be larger than life, from the characters, to the emotional swings, to the music. You either love the ride or want to get off really quickly. The ensemble cast is at their best, knowing they individually don’t have a lot of screentime so they make the best of it. Amidst all the “big” performances (Tom Cruise), it’s the quieter ones that make a real impression. John C. Reilly’s lovesick cop and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s decent caring nurse stay with you after the credits roll. Just watch the sky for the, you know.

Oscar Wins - None

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise)
  • Best Original Screenplay (PTA)
  • Best Original Song (Aimee Mann for “Save Me”)
ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

6) Inherent Vice (2014)

PTA gets an all-star cast in his expansive adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. It has Joaquin Phoenix in one of his best comic performances as “Doc” Sportello and the superb supporting cast (including Joanna Newsom as a narrator who is probably real but we can’t be sure and Josh Brolin as an alpha male brutal cop who may be gay or just like chocolate bananas) give Phoenix a lot to play with. PTA captures the 70s vibe perfectly and even though the films runs long at 2.5 hours, the acting keeps you interested when your attention wanders. Could you pass a test as to what actually happens during the movie? Maybe, maybe not. But you get the feeling that Doc (“Something Spanish”) couldn’t pass one either.

Oscar Wins - None

Oscar Nominations

  • Best Adapted Screenplay (PTA)
  • Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges)
ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

7) Punch-Drunk Love

PTA’s shortest picture at just under 90 minutes has one of Adam Sandler’s best (and sunnily darkest) performances. His chemistry with Emily Watson is something to behold onscreen simply because they seem like such odd ducks together. And they are, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t want it to work out for them. It’s a PTA love story and there are times when it feels as light as air, which is something in and of itself for an Anderson picture. Sandler’s performance projected unexpected depths from its star. You wished more directors pushed him like that.

Oscar Wins - None

Oscar Nominations - None

ranking-paul-thomas-andersons-films-1-8

8) Hard Eight (1996)

The story behind the making of Hard Eight (originally titled ‘Sydney’) is more interesting than the film itself. As a first time director, PTA got the movie taken away and recut because it was over 2.5 hours. He then got final cut but had to keep the name Hard Eight. The finished movie itself is well-acted, but pretty standard. It’s not bad for a first movie, but there are hints as to the great director PTA would become. The only PTA movie I’ve only seen once. I don’t think I’m missing much if I don’t see it again.

Oscar Wins - None

Oscar Nominations - None

Overall

Paul Thomas Anderson remains a unique and vital voice in cinema. Though you get recurring themes throughout all of his movies, they’re rarely told in the same way and are always captivating. You, well, I wish he’d make more movies.

Until his new one comes out revisit some new classics from a modern master, no matter what Kevin Smith says.

Vote!

Buy Boogie Nights Here!

Related Articles