After a three-year hiatus in which he directed the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies and a stage production of "Frankenstein," Danny Boyle returns to the big screen this Friday with "Trance," a violent psychological crime drama starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel.
You're unlikely to find another director who has tackled such a wide variety of genres and themes in his (relatively) brief career. From crime to horror to sci-fi to kid's flicks, Boyle has consistently challenged himself with every film. While his efforts have not always been entirely successful, Boyle had solidified himself as an auteur with a distinct style that can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
Before checking out "Trance" this weekend, check out our ranking of Boyle's nine previous feature films, from worst to best.
9.) "A Life Less Ordinary" (1997)
Boyle's dark romantic comedy about a fired janitor, Robert (Ewan McGregor), who kidnaps his boss' daughter, Celine (Cameron Diaz), is an attempt at updating '30s and '40s screwball fantasy comedies with a distinctly '90s sensibility. Angels are manipulating McGregor and Diaz's characters' romance, and if angel partners O'Reilly (Holly Hunter) and Jackson (Delroy Lindo) don't keep them together, then they will be punished and forced to return to Earth forever. For some reason, this is accomplished by O'Reilly and Jackson posing as bounty hunters attempting to track down and kill Robert and save Celine. The film's misguided attempts at being edgy sink it to the bottom of the barrel.
8.) "The Beach" (2000)
"The Beach" is mostly remembered today as Leonardo DiCaprio's big post-“Titanic” splash, the increasingly demented story of a young American who escapes to an island paradise only to discover that, of course, it's not really as idyllic as it seems. While "The Beach" features some gorgeous cinematography on the island of Koh Phi Phi (which apparently was razed and transformed during production in order to be more beautiful), the film's story is too jumbled and overstuffed to work: marijuana farmers, shark attacks and love triangles are all ticked off as plot points without emphasis. While Tilda Swinton does her best to bring her signature blend of androgynous weirdness, there's not nearly enough of her to save the film from being a mess.
7.) "Sunshine" (2007)
"Sunshine" is about two-thirds of a really great film that just fails to stick its landing. It's not to say that the film isn't worth seeing; Boyle's talent as a visual artist really shines (no pun intended) in the film's outer space scenes. While the science behind launching a nuclear missile into the sun is completely bonkers, the world Boyle creates is plausible enough that you're able to overlook it (unless you majored in astrophysics perhaps). Unfortunately, the film focuses less on its human drama in the end and more on a last minute horror movie scenario that seriously disrupts the flow. Bonus points go to Chris Evans though, who shows off some of the spark and charisma that he'll have as Captain America.
6.) "Shallow Grave" (1994)
Boyle's debut feature film is a deliciously nasty piece of work: after their roommate dies mysteriously, three friends decide to steal his money and hide the body, mutilating it beyond recognition. The film marks Boyle's first collaboration with Ewan McGregor, and it's a fitting introduction for the type of filmmaking that Boyle will tackle again in the future (quick editing, gruesome violence, black humor). Boyle reveals his great sense of visual style, and while the twists are not always as shocking as they should be, "Shallow Grave" is a very assured and confident first feature.
5.) "127 Hours" (2010)
The primary conceit of "127 Hours" is that the film is set entirely around James Franco being trapped in a cave for nearly its entire running time. While this might seem less appealing after his 2011 Academy Awards stint, Franco actually gives one of his best performances as real-life canyoneer Aron Ralston. Ralston suffers from the occasional hallucination and dream sequence, allowing Boyle the opportunity to get creative with his camera work (Ralston imagines he's flying out of the cave in one great moment). But really, the success of the film is on Franco's shoulders, as the camera is in his face 90% of the time, so if you can't stand the guy, "127 Hours" won't be for you.
4.) "Millions" (2004)
Coming from a man who specializes in grim hyper violence, "Millions" is a surprisingly well-made and endearing children's film that's also not torture for adults. After two brothers discover a bag filled with money, they both have very different ideas about what to do with it. The film's unique sense of whimsy (the younger brother talks to saints) never comes across as precious, and the child actors (Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon) are perfectly cast. Boyle effectively proves his appeal is more than just violent and disturbing content as "Millions" is likely to leave even the most jaded cinemagoers smiling by its conclusion.
3.) "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)
"Slumdog Millionaire" has been unfairly maligned in recent years as one of the lesser Best Picture Oscar winners of the past decade. While it certainly may not be as thought provoking or "important" as the winners it is sandwiched between ("No Country for Old Men" and "The Hurt Locker"), "Slumdog Millionaire" was really the perfect film for its time. The world was smack in the middle of the recession in 2008, and Boyle gave us a film to remind us that all of our terrible, traumatic experiences could somehow be worth it if we happened to win a million dollars on an Indian quiz show. The film was a huge box office and critical success because it's pure fantasy wish fulfillment; sometimes it just feels good for the underdog to rise up in the end.
2.) "28 Days Later" (2002)
The horror genre got a kick to the gut at the start of the new millennium when Boyle released "28 Days Later." While plenty of people would argue that the infected hordes in "28 Days Later" are not technically zombies, they certainly act enough like them for the name to stick. Yet instead of being shambling slow corpses, these zombies were quick and even more dangerous than George Romero's creations. Boyle's trademark editing turned out to be a perfect fit for the zombie genre, balancing moments of sheer terror with surprising beauty. The film also introduced Cillian Murphy to U.S. audiences in the first of his two collaborations with Boyle.
1.) "Trainspotting" (1996)
Boyle's second film is also his best, and much like the heroin addicts who populate "Trainspotting," he's been working hard to reach that high again ever since. Featuring one of the best soundtracks of the '90s, "Trainspotting" is a fresh, occasionally shocking film about being young, careless and drugged out in Scotland. The film conveys the ecstasy and the agony of drug use with its bold, fantastic imagery. Ewan McGregor's dive into a filthy toilet leads him on an underwater excursion to the ocean, and his suffering from withdrawal features a dead baby crawling out of the ceiling with a twisting head straight out of "The Exorcist." "Trainspotting" is one of the best British films of all time and Boyle's greatest film to date.
Check out our review of "Trance" and just try and guess where our editor would have ranked it on this list.