Every Brian De Palma Movie Ranked Worst To Best – Screen Rant

From remaking classic crime films, to launching one of the best action film series, Brian De Palma has had a varied career. Here are his films ranked.
Brian De Palma is an incredibly important, yet controversial and provocative, filmmaker; his films range from some of the greatest of all time to some unfortunate misfires and therefore his body of work is worth ranking. Heavily influenced by filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michelangelo Antonioni, De Palma emerged as one of the most significant directors of the "New Hollywood" movement of the late '60s and '70s. Despite his obvious influences, De Palma has an identity all his own as a director with his own unique stylistic flourishes – reflected in each one of Brian De Palma's movies.
De Palma is often regarded as a master of thrillers and suspense. He is a lifelong fan of the director Alfred Hitchcock and regards Hitchcock's Vertigo as the film that made him want to become a filmmaker. His love for the works of Hitchcock is clear to see in many of his movies as not only does De Palma often reference Hitchcock through similar imagery but also by using Hitchcock's films as a blueprint. Many of De Palma's films have direct parallels with Hitchcock's filmography, fittingly, as doubles and doppelgängers often appear in De Palma's oeuvre.
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That said, De Palma's work is not just a shallow retread of Hitchcock's. The revered filmmaker has directed some of the most critically acclaimed and popular movies of all time. Aside from thrillers, he has also worked across a wide variety of genres, from science-fiction to satirical comedies, representing a wide body of work. Here's every movie Brian De Palma has directed, ranked from worst to best.
Brian De Palma's 2019 movie, Domino, was unlucky from the outset. The production was, by all accounts, an underfunded nightmare with undelivered promises of payment and De Palma himself locked out of post-production entirely. Unfortunately, all the budgetary and production issues are incredibly easy to spot in the final film, from the cheap-looking sets to the seemingly unfinished visual effects. While several of De Palma's calling cards are visible throughout Domino, notably split screens and his use of split-diopter shots, where a partial lens is placed in front of the camera that allows two separate distances to be in focus, they are not enough to save Domino. One redeeming feature is Prometheus' Guy Pearce's turn as the scenery-chewing CIA agent, Joe Martin.
With Passion, Brian De Palma attempts to make a throwback to his '80s erotic thrillers but fails to recapture what makes those movies endure. Instead, Passion feels like a cheap parody of De Palma's previous work. The third act of Passion comprises a series of consecutive plot twists, each more implausible than the last, piling on top of each other until the movie finally decides to stop. The talented cast, including Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, and an early performance from Peaky Blinders' Paul Anderson, is simply wasted, and De Palma has covered similar ground in much better movies.
Although it was the third Brian De Palma film to be released, in 1969, The Wedding Party was actually the first film he was involved in when it was shot back in 1963. Brian De Palma is also one of three credited directors, the others being Wilford Leach and Cynthia Munroe. Its early production, on top of the presence of two other co-directors, means that The Wedding Party is missing many stylistic elements that would go on to define De Palma's career, such as voyeuristic imagery and POV shots. It also often feels like the student film that it is. However, it does have a 19-year-old actor Robert De Niro in a supporting role as one of the lead character's groomsmen.
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Get to Know Your Rabbit was the first studio film for Brian De Palma and, thankfully, the last of his series of early comedies. It opens promisingly with a fantastic visual trick, fitting for a film about a magician, where the opening two shot reveals itself to be a split screen and the two characters conversing were not only not talking to each other, but in two separate rooms entirely. However, the film quickly loses steam as it attempts to be an American feature-length Monty Python sketch, and misses that mark quite considerably. Get to Know Your Rabbit was taken away from De Palma by the studio, Warner Bros, in post-production and re-edited the film without his involvement. Due to the way he was treated, De Palma would not work with Warner Bros again until The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was a highly publicized production disaster.
Greetings, Brian De Palma's second film to be released, is a satirical comedy about 1960s counterculture, the Vietnam War, and JFK assassination conspiracy theories. The film is about as messy as it sounds; Greetings, instead of a traditional plot, features a series of sketches centered around three characters, one of which is played by a young Robert De Niro. De Palma employs many experimental techniques here: breaking the fourth wall, montage editing, and blocking for frames within the frame itself. While the filmmaking is interesting, the comedy is incredibly dated and often painfully unfunny.
Wise Guys is the last of Brian De Palma's comedies and is among the worst of his movies. With an utterly wasted cast that includes the talents of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Dan Hedaya, and Harvey Keitel, Wise Guys disappoints with unfunny humor that all too often relies on Italian and Jewish stereotypes. Wise Guys once again emphasizes that Brian De Palma's strengths lie outside of comedy.
While Home Movies is clearly a creative failure, the project had an utterly fascinating, and unique, production. Home Movies was conceived as a learning device for De Palma’s students at Sarah Lawrence College, allowing them to “learn by doing”. The students shot the film while De Palma supervised their work, co-wrote the script, and co-produced the movie. De Palma also managed to get a couple of movie stars on board, namely the legendary actor Kirk Douglas and an incredibly game Nancy Allen, who just happened to be De Palma's wife at the time.
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Unfortunately, De Palma makes the bafflingly racist decision to have several sequences where the lead character is in blackface. It's a needless inclusion that only sours Home Movies. It's another reason De Palma made his name with thrillers and not screwball comedies.
The Bonfire of the Vanities undoubtedly has some redeeming qualities. The shot of the Concorde passing across the setting Sun as it comes into land, for instance, with Manhattan in the background, is arguably one of the most spectacular images ever put to film. It's perhaps unsurprising that this scene alone took five cameras, months of planning by Eric Schwab, the film's Second Unit Director, and $80,000.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to live up to this opening. The controversial satirical tone present in Tom Wolfe's novel is defanged through some truly remarkable miscasting, especially Elvis actor Tom Hanks in the lead, and a tacked-on, embarrassingly poor speech that attempts to sum up The Bonfire of the Vanities' themes but instead ends up feeling like an overly-long sermon. The trouble with The Bonfire of the Vanities is that its difficult production is so much more interesting than the film itself, in large part to the presence of journalist Julie Salamon on set, who wrote about the troubled making of the film in her book The Devil's Candy.
In his feature debut, De Palma steals from many of his usual haunts: Hitchcock’s Psycho, Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Powell’s Peeping Tom, and also, in a surprise twist, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. While its story may not be the most original, Murder à la Mod's filmmaking is highly experimental; De Palma plays with all sorts of techniques like jump cuts, varying frame rates, POV shots, and film exposure. Murder à la Mod is also an early showcase for themes that will go on to define De Palma's career such as voyeurism, graphic violence, and their intersection: the opening few minutes of the film feature a woman changing clothes and then her brutal murder via a razor blade wielded by an unseen cameraman. Murder à la Mod also features a gloriously cheesy late '60s pop-rock theme song, that shares its title with the film, performed by one of the film's lead actors, William Finley, with a relatively passable David Crosby impression.
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The Black Dahlia effectively captures the tone of a classic film noir tale with its excellent, Oscar-nominated cinematography from Brian De Palma regular, Vilmos Zsigmond, but little else. Based on the book by L.A. Confidential scribe James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia was widely hyped upon release but unfortunately fell victim to executive meddling. De Palma's original cut of the film came in at around three hours long and while it was heavily praised by the book's author, the film's producers insisted on cutting an hour from the film's runtime, turning The Black Dahlia's narrative into a hard-to-follow mess. The Black Dahlia, despite its own title, does not focus too much on the real-life Black Dahlia murder, rather using it as a springboard to focus on the fictional relationship between Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart's detectives. Due to the film's critical and commercial failure, on top of the executive meddling, The Black Dahlia is, to date, De Palma's last Hollywood film.
Mission to Mars pushes the PG rating to its very limit. The scene where several astronauts are killed on Mars by an extraterrestrial force of nature is truly horrific and violent. One of the characters meets an unfortunate fate at the hand of a Martian tornado that's hard to forget and would be scarring for any young child watching, much like the villains' fates in Raiders of the Lost Ark​​​​​​. Unfortunately, De Palma does not continue this energy throughout the rest of the runtime and instead Mission to Mars becomes a mash-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact, without ever reaching the highs that those science fiction classics do.
Hi, Mom! is a sequel to De Palma's sophomore film Greetings, following Robert De Niro's voyeuristic filmmaker and Vietnam vet, Jon Rubin. The first half comprises an even more voyeuristic version of Hitchcock's Rear Window, with Rubin recording his neighbors, hoping to catch them in the act as he hopes to sell the footage as pornography. The second half takes a deeply satirical and uncomfortable turn as Hi, Mom! transforms into a satire on race relations as an acting troupe that Rubin joins, called Be Black Baby, takes their white audience hostage. The theme of voyeurism is further cemented by the adoption of black and white cinema vérité style footage. De Niro's Rubin really feels like a predecessor to two of his more famous roles: Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and The King of Comedy's Rupert Pupkin.
Obsession, a film written by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader and directed by Brian De Palma, should be an absolute all-timer. However, this disappointing film does not so much feel like the homage to Hitchcock's Vertigo that was intended, but rather a poor remake. All that is not helped by lead actor Cliff Robertson, best known for playing Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, and his incredibly stiff performance. Robertson has to try and sell his character's obsession with Sandra, a woman who looks mysteriously like his late wife, but utterly fails to. Without the anchor of a strong lead performance, Obsession, unfortunately, falls apart at the seams, especially when the easy-to-spot twist ending eventually arrives. It's not all bad, however, as John Lithgow almost single-handedly saves the film with his outrageous southern accent – an accent that would make even Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc blush.
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Body Double infuses De Palma's Hitchcockian sensibilities with an unmistakable 1980s style and sleaze. Heavily influenced by Rear Window and Vertigo, Body Double details an actor's descent into the adult film industry after witnessing a murder across the street from the house he's looking after for a friend. The film's main theme of pornography melds perfectly with De Palma's voyeuristic sensibilities, even if Body Double represents De Palma at his most referential: entire sequences are practically stolen from the aforementioned Hitchcock movies. Unfortunately, the mystery set up in Body Double is rather easy to unravel, so it can be a frustrating watch, waiting for the protagonist to catch up to what the audience has already figured out.
Raising Cain feels like the first draft of M. Night Shyamalan's Split. This dreamlike and often clumsy thriller about Carter Nix, a psychologist with Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.), brings to mind Split, not only for its genuinely fantastic central performance but also for its insensitive portrayal of D.I.D. However, Raising Cain differentiates itself with a unique structure, with many scenes that ultimately reveal themselves to be dreams, or otherwise trick the audience. De Palma uses everything in his bag of tricks in Raising Cain, and there's a truly impressive one-take that helps to hide some awkward exposition. De Palma also makes sure to remind his audience of his influences, with a car disposal scene ripped straight out of Psycho and an iconic costume replicated from the similarly ethereal thriller Don't Look Now​​​​​​.
Dressed to Kill opens with three De Palma staples: a long tracking shot, a dream sequence, and a lot of nudity. As the film continues it reveals itself to be another case of De Palma playing homage to Hitchcock. This time he combines the plot of Psycho with the colorful, quick-cut, and violent imagery of Dario Argento, specifically Deep Red. Dressed to Kill's killer even wears Argento's signature black gloves and wields a razor. While Dressed to Kill is entertaining and stylish, the film stumbles with its twist ending reveal. Dressed to Kill unfortunately plays into dangerous stereotypes about trans women, though the film's depictions feel more like an awkward rewrite of Psycho's ending rather than outright bigotry and hatred.
Femme Fatale opens with one of the most fun sequences in De Palma's career; a heist at the Cannes Film Festival. Here, De Palma is not only able to indulge his referential tendencies (the film premiere seen in Femme Fatale is East/West, an actual movie) but also his stylistic ones with a cacophony of split diopter shots, long one-takes, and brilliant split-screen distractions. Femme Fatale practically demands multiple re-watches in order for the audience to spot every double cross and twist hidden in plain sight. However, Femme Fatale features a divisive twist ending that may frustrate as many viewers as it impresses.
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Redacted is a powerful, but largely unnecessary film. Its brutal message about how the U.S. military closes ranks and covers up war crimes is covered practically beat for beat in De Palma's earlier movie Casualties of War. Even the crime that the soldiers commit is the same. However, De Palma here sets Redacted apart through a massive change in style. Redacted is a found footage movie, not typical of De Palma, consisting of various clips purported to have been found on the internet, newsreel-style documentaries, and footage recorded by the soldiers themselves. Found Footage comes naturally to De Palma, as it effortlessly fits into his voyeuristic sensibilities, but the similarities to the better Casualties of War cannot be overlooked.
If Scarface is about anything, it's excess. Brian De Palma's remake of Howard Hawks' original gangster film is excessive in every regard: there are mountains of cocaine, practically unforeseen levels of profanity, a shocking amount of violence, and a nearly three-hour runtime. Unfortunately, this runtime proves to be the downfall of Scarface as the pacing really drags in the middle hour as the film indulges itself in every crime movie cliché it can. However, there is a reason that Scarface has resonated so well in the nearly four decades since its release: Al Pacino's iconic performance as Tony Montana. Whatever its flaws, Scarface is an incredibly memorable and quotable film, all because of Al Pacino's career-defining role.
Snake Eyes has one of the most ambitious and impressive scenes in De Palma's entire career. The opening shot begins with a frame within a frame of a television news report, before tracking Nicolas Cage's protagonist, corrupt cop Rick Santoro, for 13 minutes of runtime as he strides around an Atlantic City stadium as it prepares for a boxing match to begin. The shot only cuts, at least visibly, when a government minister sitting behind Santoro is assassinated, setting off the plot of the film. The impressive technical achievement arguably makes this oner comparable to 1917.
Snake Eyes is exceptionally directed throughout, with another mind-blowing shot taking place later in the runtime that glides over four different hotel rooms. Unfortunately, the ending collapses under its own weight. The third act of the film was completely reworked shortly before release and the metaphorical staples holding it together are sadly visible. However, Snake Eyes is still an incredibly enjoyable ride with some truly skilled direction from Brian De Palma.
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The Fury is about as close to a superhero movie De Palma has ever been. It's a fun action thriller about a man trying to rescue his telepathic son from an evil government agent, with help from a similarly telepathic teenage girl. A 62-year-old Kirk Douglas somehow fills the role of an action hero lead well, complete with a Parkour escape scene that he does in only his underwear. The majority of the film is a fun thrill ride, with some of the most conventional filmmaking in De Palma's entire career. However, it all builds up to a fantastic finale that is sure to blow anyone away.
Sisters, Brian De Palma's first horror movie, brilliantly melds De Palma's political side with his Hitchcockian sensibilities. Through the lens of a thriller, De Palma is able to explore social themes such as police racism and the oppression of women, in a far less scattershot manner than in his early satirical comedies. A thrilling plot, reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window, about a journalist witnessing a murder in a model's apartment and desperately trying to prove her story to unhelpful police officers ties all of De Palma's ideas together. There are a number of truly horrifying moments here, especially the aforementioned murder, as well as some very well-executed terrifying twists. It's no wonder Brian De Palma would soon become known for his horror movies after Sisters.
Carlito's Way, De Palma's reunion with Al Pacino, feels like a companion piece to their earlier collaboration Scarface. The darker Carlito's Way feels like it is catapulting itself to an inevitable tragic end for its lead, while Scarface details the rise of its criminal protagonist. There's the promise of a life outside of crime for Carlito Brigante, but it is always just out of reach, sending Carlito back into the criminal lifestyle he tries so hard to leave behind.
Among the tragedy of Carlito's Way, De Palma adds some of the best action set pieces of his career. An early sequence set in a pool hall is a masterclass in building tension before it explodes into a messy flurry of bloody violence. The climactic chase and shootout in Grand Central Station brings to mind another of De Palma's films, The Untouchables, but adds a fantastic sense of desperation as Carlito attempts to make it to his train out of both New York and his criminal lifestyle. Carlito's Way takes the exciting and thrilling tone of Scarface and flips it on its head to create a character study of a man who cannot escape his past, no matter how hard he tries.
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Phantom of the Paradise is a film like no other. It completely defies genre; somehow it's simultaneously a fantasy, comedy, thriller, musical, and horror movie. Within this tonal grab-bag, there's no way that Phantom of the Paradise should work, and yet it's a highlight of Brian De Palma's career.
Plot-wise, De Palma cuts down on his Hitchcock obsession, instead taking inspiration from stories like Faust, Phantom of the Opera, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. However, this does not mean that De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise isn't chock-full of references. There's a fantastic spin on the "bomb in the car" one-take from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and a hilarious recreation of the shower scene in Psycho, with a toilet plunger. Throw in some gloriously over-the-top '70s rock opera musical numbers, and Phantom of the Paradise is the most fun film in De Palma's whole oeuvre.
Casualties of War represents Brian De Palma at his most mature as a director. For a filmmaker who is most often known for his exploitation features, a film based on a real-life war crime that U.S. troops committed could have gone horribly wrong. However, De Palma uses his visual trademarks, such as POV tracking shots, and voyeuristic tone to deliver a powerful film about the witness of a truly horrific crime.
Michael J. Fox, primarily known as Marty McFly in Back to the Future, delivers a career-best performance as the aforementioned witness, who reports his squad mates, led by a terrifying Sean Penn, for raping and murdering an innocent Vietnamese girl. It's a difficult film to watch but at the same time brave and incredibly powerful. Casualties of War is arguably De Palma's most underrated film and deserves to be mentioned alongside the best Vietnam War movies, like Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.
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The Untouchables reunites Brian De Palma with Robert De Niro after 17 years for their best movie together. The Untouchables presents itself as a tale of black and white morality on its surface, only to reveal itself as a story of futility as Eliot Ness has to sacrifice all of his ideals, not to mention many of his allies, to even get the opportunity to get real-life gangster Al Capone, only for the Volstead Act, the law he worked so hard to uphold, to get repealed at the end anyway.
Sean Connery received his only Academy Award for his performance as beat cop turned anti-corruption crusader Jimmy Malone. Although his infamous Irish accent may not stand up to much scrutiny, the emotion of his performance still rings true. Brian De Palma, on top of getting career-best performances out of his actors, constructs some of the best scenes of his career in the Hitchcockian bombing that opens the film and the climatic train station shootout that references Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin​​​​​.
Carrie is a legendary horror movie for a reason. Not only did it launch the careers of its star Sissy Spacek, not to mention its writer, Stephen King, but it was nominated for two Oscars, a rarity for the horror genre. However, that's no surprise considering the now-iconic performance that Sissy Spacek gives as the titular Carrie.
Spacek is able to transform a character that could so easily be considered a monster, given the events of the finale, and injects her with so much pathos and wide-eyed terror that the audience cannot help but sympathize with Carrie. Piper Laurie aids with this too as her legendary performance as Carrie's abusive and ultra-religious mother is truly terrifying at times. The aforementioned finale is a stylistic masterpiece, filled with some of the best split screen work that De Palma has ever done.
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Brian De Palma began one of the most exciting action film series ever with 1996's Mission: Impossible. Although the first entry is a world away from the high-flying, stunt-filled, spectacle that Mission: Impossible is now, Brian De Palma's film is one of the greatest spy movies ever made. That is not to say that Mission: Impossible is devoid of action, on the contrary, it has two of the best set pieces in the entire franchise with the Langley heist and the high-speed train finale.
However, De Palma's Mission: Impossible also delivers a series of fantastic plot twists and double-crosses throughout its runtime. The IMF team massacre is still shocking and Tom Cruise's desperate performance is unlike any other he's delivered as Ethan Hunt. Not only would the action genre as a whole be lesser without the impact that Mission: Impossible has had, but it would have also lost a fantastic action spy thriller in its own right. It will be a shame when Tom Cruise stops making Mission: Impossible movies.
Blow Out represents De Palma at his best. With Blow Out, De Palma truly showcases his love for Antonioni's Blow-Up with a spiritual successor, swapping out the original's photographer for John Travolta's sound recordist. Travolta, while recording sounds for an awful horror film he's working on, accidentally picks up a car crash on his microphone that will lead him to uncover a political conspiracy, with deadly consequences. Ironically, Blow Out represented the beginning of a slump, and the resurgence of John Travolta's career. Beginning with Blow Out, John Travolta would star in a series of commercial failures that would see his career slowly downturn. However, Quentin Tarantino would ultimately cast Travolta in Pulp Fiction because of his career-best performance in Blow Out. As such, Blow Out simultaneously doomed and resurrected John Travolta's acting career.
Ironically, for a film about sound, Blow Out has some of the best imagery of De Palma's career. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond pulls out all the stops with some incredible compositions and stylish shots. He and De Palma are able to utilize the split diopter lens to visualize how a microphone records sound. The lack of focus in the middle of the two clear areas of the shot emphasizes the distance between the sound and the microphone, while the focused areas represent how clear the sound is to listen to. It's an incredibly clever use of the lens that makes it no wonder that Blow Out is Tarantino's favorite De Palma movie. De Palma's voyeuristic imagery is also perfect for a paranoid thriller about a man who accidentally records something he shouldn't, and uncovers a conspiracy. The atmosphere of watching something that should not be watched puts the audience directly into the mindset of Blow Out's lead character. Blow Out brings together all the typical themes and style that Brian De Palma usually makes use of, and distills it into the best thriller, and film, of his entire career.
Jack Carter is a new Movie/TV Features Writer for Screen Rant, based in the UK. He has been obsessed with filmmaking all his life, from making short films with his friends in his back garden to obtaining a Film and Television Production degree from the University of York. His favorite films include The Matrix (yes, even the sequels), Star Wars, Point Break, The Silence of the Lambs, and anything with David Lynch’s name attached, though he will be the first to admit that he’ll watch anything and everything. When not writing, you will probably find him hanging out on the beach with his dog or at the movies, popcorn in one hand, Letterboxd in the other. He also posts the occasional rant about movies on Twitter @Jakarta2354 to anyone who will read them. One of these days he may even finish the screenplay he’s been threatening to write for so long.


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