Ranked: Kevin Smith Movies from Worst to Best

With Red State out this week, we take a look back at the man who made New Jersey famous (no, not Frank Sinatra).

By Simon Abrams
 

Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith represents an integral part of the American independent film scene of the ‘90s. His brand of eloquent, working-class slacker quickly became an archetype unto itself, and though the quality of his films varies wildly, he’s nothing if not consistent when it comes to style and tone. For your consideration, we submit this list of his films, from worst to best.

 

10. Cop Out (2010)

Not nearly as bad as everybody seemed to think when it came out, Cop Out is sometimes charming. No, seriously! The chemistry between Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan intermittently generates results. And we can all agree that Seann William Scott is funny, right? Right? Look, I tried, okay?
 
 

 

9. Jersey Girl (2004)

Smith's penultimate Jersey-set film is pretty bland. Liv Tyler's spunky, sexually liberated grad student is grating, though the thought of hearing Ben Affleck perform songs from Sweeney Todd is funny. Ultimately, though, Jersey Girl is just too maudlin, too saccharine, and not interesting enough. When not even George Carlin can elevate your film beyond a Lifetime movie with dick jokes, you know you’re in trouble.
 
 

8. Mallrats (1995)

Granted, Mallrats is inept, but in an amiable and endearing way. It also plays like a teenage boy’s fantasy of what romance is like (you play video games, read comics, act like a smartass, and still wind up getting the hot chick). This is the first of Smith’s safety-net projects, a no-stakes comedy that he felt he could handle after Clerks made him look like the next big thing. Stan Lee’s cameo and the recurring jokes about Silent Bob peeping on Joey Lauren Adams prove that in spite of diarrheic dialogue and amateurish performances (I’m looking at you, Jeremy London), Smith's duds could still be entertaining.
 
 

7. Red State (2011)

This is the most ambitious of Smith’s post-View Askew films and, while it’s too rambling to be totally successful, it’s pretty exciting to see Smith trying so hard to pull the rug out from under his audience. Though Melissa Leo comes on stronger than she does in The Fighter (and that's saying a lot), Michael Parks’ performance as a psychopathic fundamentalist is pretty spot-on. Smith’s satire of fundamentalism falls flat, but the church scenes in the film are unsettling enough, and the last minute not-really-a-twist is pretty fun. The rest of the film is tense, but doesn’t really make the impact it strives to.
 
 

6. Dogma (1999)

The stilted and crude expository dialogue nearly wrecks Smith's religious farce. It also lurches all over the place tonally. (According to Smith, this is because he made some major changes to the film after seeing Pulp Fiction and being deeply impressed by the way that film shifts moods from scene to scene as well as it does. But Smith, of course, is no Quentin Tarantino.) Still, while it’s easy to shrug your shoulders at the Shit Demon and snicker at Chris Rock’s schtick as Christ’s 13th apostle, the cast makes Dogma a lot better than it has any right to be. Ultimately, it’s a more ambitious film than most of his other work, which makes it a worthwhile entry to his canon.
 

Commentarium (54 Comments)

Oct 13 11 - 1:17am
Weary

If you had picked anything other than "Chasing Amy" as number one, I would have been pissed. It's one of the great relationship films of the last 20 years, its subplots are hilarious when they're supposed to be funny and excruciatingly painful when they're supposed to awkward. It's what Kevin Smith can be most proud of. And Joey Lauren Adams probably should have gotten an Oscar.

Oct 14 11 - 3:58am
AD

Ditto.

Oct 18 11 - 3:00pm
Sam Fisher

Yes. I third it.

Oct 20 11 - 1:49am
LiquidCourage

Jesus, it's such a bad film...then again it may have to do with the fact that I watched it for the first time last year.

Oct 13 11 - 2:46am
duh

Chasing Amy was my favorite movie in high school, but after watching it recently I don't think it's nearly as good. The script is burdened with attempts at cleverness, the plot is contrived, and it's pretty ham-fisted in terms of emotions. I mean, look, the two major problems in the film could have been solved if any of the seemingly reasonable people surrounding Affleck's character just spoke up. As in: "Oh, well hey, this girl you seem to like is a lesbian" and, later, "Hey, stop being such a spaz." When you need to dumb everyone in the movie down just to make the plot work, there's a problem.

On the other hand, I'll always have a soft spot for it, and I don't really know what else would deserve to be at number one. There's something charming about that crew of people working together in their early careers, Jason Lee is great, and I appreciate that Smith tried to give us a view of modern romance, replete with modern complexities.

In short: okeedokee.

Oct 20 11 - 1:50am
LiquidCourage

Yeah, I only watched it for the first time last year and I thought it was absolutely terrible, which is strange bc I figured it'd be great bc people I respect really like the film

Oct 13 11 - 2:53am
hm

I definitely agree with Chasing Amy as number one, but Mallrats holds a special place in my heart. Definitely would have put it a bit higher.

Oct 15 11 - 12:02am
jbird

totally agreed.

Oct 13 11 - 3:57am
nerkums

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is glorious. Any film that lampoons Hollywood that mercilessly holds a special place in my heart.

"If you make eye contact with Ben Affleck or Matt Damon you will be fired!"

I always liked Dogma. Haven't seen it in years, but I always thought the premise (and execution, for the most part) was clever, and pretty out there, considering all his other films.

Oct 13 11 - 6:25am
Alan Coffee

I think this list is kinda fucked. I've always thought Chasing Amy was mediocre, earning acclaim for its subject matter rather than its story. I also think that any writer who'd put Zack and Miri and Clerks 2 in the top 5 spot of Kevin Smith's best needs to have their brain examined. Maybe Nerve too for publishing this trash.

Oct 13 11 - 10:12am
faulknersaysrelax

Yeah! Have your brain examined, web site!

Oct 14 11 - 10:09am
oldtimey

i felt the story was good, and as to the subject matter, i think for the late 90s it was the thing to do. I love chasing amy, joey lauren adams is a precious precious treasure, but the movie was lacking. clerks was better though, it was more to the feel of what people wanted, or didn't know they wanted. And jay and silent bob was NOT better than clerks two! HELL NO!!

Oct 13 11 - 7:45am
B.

Clerks 2? Really? Clerks 2 was much, much worse than Dogma, in opinion. Dogma was at least clever. Clunky performances, maybe, but fucking Oscar gold compared to Clerks 1, which was still miles and miles ahead of Clerks 2.

Oct 13 11 - 7:46am
Hmmm

I'm not sure about chasing Amy at #1... that being said, it is the only Kevin Smith movie that I have liked significantly better on late viewings, so while it still isn't my favorite, I guess maybe it is the one that ages best.

Oct 13 11 - 11:35am
SS

If me had magic wand, me would make Kevin Smith go way an no return.

Oct 13 11 - 12:23pm
Dear Simon

Did you actually watch these movies before writing up such poorly written half-assed analyses of them? This article is poorly written and relies on douchey quips as support for your choices rather than actually talking about the movies. Seriously, I was a major fan of the movie ranking features Nerve was doing until now.

Oct 13 11 - 1:10pm
Kim

I should really re-watch Chasing Amy. And I like Jersey Girl, okay! It's sweet, why is that a bad thing again?

Oct 13 11 - 1:31pm
scr_north

Clerks 2, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Zack and Miri Make a Porno are in the top 5? They're better than Dogma? I think that the author has been hanging out with Jay a little too much. Dogma had some problems but it was original, well acted, witty and for the most part well directed but the others suffered from too much budget and Smith going a little Hollywood.

Oct 13 11 - 1:56pm
DaOrange

"Dogma" is one of the worst films I've ever seen.

Oct 13 11 - 2:12pm
sgnodlol

Ok so while we're all disagreeing here, I would totally put Clerks 2 ahead of the original.

Oct 13 11 - 2:16pm
Wossamotta

I thought "Jersey Girl" was actually okay. It just came out when everyone was hating on Affleck for that "Gigli" fiasco and no one gave it a chance.

Oct 13 11 - 3:10pm
mp

So much of his work is such garbage nonsense I am sort of shocked anyone contemplated this list worth writing or "publishing"

Oct 29 11 - 12:15pm
Mankey

Kevin Smith's work is for a certain Generation for the most part. Some of his movies are supposed to be watched by all but most of them are meant for that "Lost Generation" of the 90's. So Suck It Broseph Stalin.

Oct 13 11 - 5:45pm
MJ

I'm a huge Smith fan, but I would've put Strike Back after Red State, and ranked Dogma higher. But that's just me. Didn't like Cop Out (although I'll admit I got a couple chuckles out of it), Jersey Girl was actually kinda sweet, despite cliches. Still, good list.

Oct 13 11 - 8:46pm
David

Some points I'd like to make:

- I liked Clerks 2 way more then Clerks.
- I also enjoyed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back immensely, but agree that Dogma should be higher.
- My wife very much enjoyed seeing Jason Mewes' penis.

That is all.

Oct 13 11 - 9:32pm
NeverVicky

No Dogma? Sacrilege!

Oct 14 11 - 10:28am
TC

What do you mean? Dogma was #6. IMO, that's not where it should have been, but it was on the list.

Oct 13 11 - 11:10pm
el profe

"Clerks 2" was shittier than the Shit Demon. "Zack and Miri" was even worse. There is no redeeming value to those two movies, at all. I didn't realize how many bad movies Kevin Smith has made until this list.

On the other hand, "Chasing Amy" remains excellent.

Oct 14 11 - 12:26am
Scagsdale

Sorry, but I don't agree with much of this list. Dogma would be # 1 on my list. The original Clerks, and Clerks 2, would have been 2 and 3, then Mall Rats at 4, then Chasing Amy at 5. I thought Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was terrible - a huge disappointing mess that luckily didn't keep me from seeing Clerks 2. I don't care about the other films.

Oct 14 11 - 10:36am
TC

As the only Kevin Smith film I actually own on DVD, I would have put Dogma at No. 1. It's a typical Kevin Smith film, so most of its problems exist in other films he has made and, therefore, can't be included when ranking. I look at messages in films and performances by actors as my guide, and I think a lot of religious people need to listen to what's pointed out in this film. Also, George Carlin as a Catholic priest makes me laugh even today when I see it. Same with Chris Rock's character. As for the rest of the films, I wouldn't disagree with many other rankings. Chasing Amy and Clerks are what people think about when you say Kevin Smith. I'd maybe put Zack and Miri earlier in the list, but everything seems pretty spot on to me.

Oct 14 11 - 12:05pm
David

just in case no one said it yet, you could have just wrote "ten way tie for last place" and been done with it. all these movies are shitty.

Oct 14 11 - 8:46pm
Michael

My brain tricked me when I read the headline the first time. I saw "Kevin Smith movies from crap to worst."

Oct 14 11 - 3:22pm
Myke

At the rate he's going, Kevin Smith will be lucky to be a historical footnote. Where Richard Linklater, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Tarantino all left their indelible auteurist marks on the 90s and the films that followed, the only movie made by Smith that really mattered was Clerks. And even that was more a coincidence than an artistic manifesto (Linklater's Slacker was far more formally daring and much more enjoyable to rewatch, then and now). If it weren't for critics prematurely sensing a revolution, Clerks probably never would have made it off the festival circuits. Although, funnily enough, the critics were right; they just attributed it to the wrong film, and the wrong man.

I think Linklater's the best point-of-comparison, really. Where he went on to continue playing with temporality, film techniques, and star personas after Slacker launched him into the big leagues, Smith's been coasting on fumes ever since. Clerks is single-handedly responsible for his career so far. His films have flirted with commercial success occasionally and artistic success even more rarely, to the point where you wonder why he's still in the public spotlight at all (I guess relentless self-promotion is the answer to that, though). Other than Clerks, his artistic high point was Chasing Amy, which is admittedly pretty decent. That's it, though. It wasn't long after that that everyone collectively realized Smith didn't have much to say other than what he had already said. Where Clerks once looked like a bold statement of Generation X ennui and the slow death of the American dream, Smith's subsequent work pretty decisively revealed him to be less the spokesperson of Gen X than just another member of it, one whose work wasn't really all that remarkably insightful. Where Linklater managed to both be a part of his generation and critique it incisively from the outside, Kevin Smith could only manage to complain from inside. He saw the symptoms but not the causes. Some people say he deserves credit for that, but I don't really think that's such an achievement. Almost any half-decent artist can find the problems in their society. What separates the amateurs from the pros is that the pros can say what's wrong with strength, conviction, and creativity.

This is all a really long-winded way of saying Kevin Smith's career is just a series of continuing disappointment. There are certainly far worse directors out there, but I think it's pretty telling that Smith ran out of things to say in the mid-to-late 90s, and yet here we are in the 10s facing the prospect of another new film by the man. He had his moment, and that moment passed a long time ago. The saddest part is that I don't think he really ever deserved it in the first place. Back to Linklater one more time: after Before Sunset (which was magnificent), the 00s weren't kind to him. To say nothing of the movies he made (some of which are actually pretty good), Linklater's had a hard time finding funding for his films, and he's had to scale back a bit despite proving for nearly two decades now that he has the vision and talent to give us great films. In comparison, there's Kevin Smith, who hasn't said anything relevant about American life since 1993 at best. How is this fair? It isn't. Some artists make it, some don't; some deserve it, and some don't. Smith's a great case study in that particular phenomenon.

And that's officially more words than I ever have/ever will write about Kevin Smith. More than he deserves, that's for sure. I just think Smith almost archetypally represents a career built on empty hype. His filmography, as a whole and as a point in history, is far more interesting than the movies actually in it, which range from decent to almost unwatchable. He doesn't seem to realize that, though, wrapped up in his own celebrity as he is. But his case will prove instructive in years to come as we all sift and sort through the many aspiring filmmakers YouTube and digital cameras will enable. So, in conclusion, let's hope we pick more Linklaters than Smiths.

Oct 14 11 - 3:22pm
Myke

...That looked a lot shorter in the Comment box.

Oct 17 11 - 2:37pm
Johnny

You must have psychic abilities, Myke. You'll have something to comment on about Linklater a month from now.

Oct 17 11 - 5:17pm
Interquel

My guess is that you ARE Richard Linklater lurking here and praising yourself all the while knocking down Kevin Smith. Mr. Smith has always admitted that his style is that he has no style; he is not making films to be an auteur, nor to expand horizons and get the next best cool shot. Other filmmakers do that -- IMHO in the old school, Bertolucci does it and in the new school, Tarantino is the Master. Kevin Smith makes movies to explore ideas, and to entertain. My vantage point is theology; I am a minister of religion. To me, Dogma is one of the most brilliant films that examines the issue of evil, and humanity's rejection of grace & God. At face value, it looks like Mr. Smith is making fun of the Church, viz. the Roman Catholic Church, but I think that the reality is -- as he himself says in his first "An Evening With..." the film represents his struggle with a lot of these existential questions. That's just one movie... so it goes with Clerks and Clerks II, which look at the complexity of relationships.... Lastly, Myke, I make the point to each their own. Mr. Smith is able to find the funding to make movies, again and again and again, and to do so, it seems, with some ease even though he is not a Hollywood insider. I am quite curious to see how the marketing and exhibition style of Red State will work out: THAT is something in which he is unique, and a bit of an 'auteur'.

Oct 15 11 - 1:14am
Kudos!

Good on you for putting Chasing Amy at the top. It was so good, I forgot it was a Kevin Smith movie.

Oct 16 11 - 2:10pm
JS

I was underwhelmed by Chasing Amy. It felt as his Kevin Smith was trying to not be himself when he directed it - so it struck me a laborious and artificial. Plus, no movie should have Affleck as the lead.

Oct 17 11 - 5:15pm
BrosephofArimathea

This list doesn't map exactly with my own opinion so I must voice my discontent.

Oct 20 11 - 1:31am
JD

^ (Hilarious)

Oct 17 11 - 5:20pm
Interquel

I have watched Chasing Amy a number of times... I like the movie, it's okay. I way more prefer Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and Dogma. Yet, time and time again, people tell me of their love for this small little film (it was made on a budget of 250k apparently). What am I missing about Chasing Amy? Why should it rate number one? Like, what am I not seeing?

Oct 18 11 - 5:09pm
a guy

I remember the first time I saw Chasing Amy and going "Oh, hey, he CAN write!" It's a funny, moving very good film that catches the feelings of its generation in a way that's more than just shallow, pop-culture-drunk clap-trap and actually deals with reasonably mature themes in a fairly intelligent way. Dogma has some interesting ideas in it, but it shows that Smith is way more a writer than a director in that the way that it's shot just looks amateurish to me.

Oct 21 11 - 11:59am
Luigi

I am not a Kevin Smith fan at all (his movies exist so that dumb people can watch them and feel smart, IMO), but Cop-Out is an underrated gem that, in five years, will gain cult-status and be appreciated for the awesome throwback 80s action-flick that it is.

Aug 23 12 - 12:46am
Geoff

I was going to say something along these lines but you've already done it for me. I agree with you wholeheartedly with your assessment on Cop Out, it's an underrated gem. I remember just after watching it. I was surprised by how much dislike people had for it. The film takes so much of what I loved about all the 80's and early 90's cop films Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hrs, The Hard Way etc and then pulls it altogether with Kevin Smith dialogue and humor.

Oct 21 11 - 6:31pm
Trippy Panda

Red State needs to be placed in the #1 spot. I watched it without knowing he did it.

I was surprised when his name popped up, credited at the end: I would not have placed him with that kind of script.

Reading about it afterwards, I found it interesting that Smith invited 2 former members of the Phelps Westboro Craptank to the premier. They gave him credit for some level of accuracy in the depiction of the fractured, mutated and shallow moral code of these absurd animals.

The “attractiveness” of the movie is not limited to the parallels with Phelps. The style, editing, sound, narrative, twists, subplots, acting are executed in such a fashion that this could be looked at Smith’s “magnum opus”. I can see why he would say that it would be his last. How could you justify doing anything more after you have reached the pinnacle?

A landmark classic for what remains of human history. His bust can be placed in the pantheon next to Quentin and Oliver. The movie should be placed in the next time capsule and shot into space to make sure that any aliens, thinking about dropping by, consider another destination for their spring break. It wouldn't be the movie itself that scares them off but the hyper realism depicted should give them some type of hint as to what happens on the interplanetary insane asylum that we call Earth.

Oct 21 11 - 10:42pm
woody

I like most Kevin Smith stuff, but Dogma was a terrible movie. And hey, Mallrats had an*l sex, right? That should move it up a notch, I say!

Nov 22 11 - 8:11pm
Dalton

Which came first, the problem or the solution? Luckliy it doesn't matter.

Dec 10 11 - 11:31pm
Wow

You're all trolling, Chasing Amy was by far the worst tragedy of Kevin Smith's career. KS is a genius writer of cult following films, not mainstream bullshit that you're all obviously used to being spoonfed down your idiotic throats.

Feb 20 12 - 11:43pm
jjared

the trouble with critics or anyone that's slamming Kevin smith's work, aren't looking at the most important thing! they are expressing there own thoughts, what they think who really cares if your entertained , if not, don't go to his movies, I've liked some more than others but the fact is at least he's done it his way and i'm sure like everyone, at some point in his or her life? he would maybe think a another direction another time but at that moment, hay, It's has to be fun, so lighten up! who are you to . .

Feb 24 12 - 8:47pm
budman2008

Jay and Silent Bob above Mallrats and (especially) Dogma? For me its easily Smith's weakest of his "Askewniverse" films as it lacks any of the heart or character development of his best flicks (I'd put all of his non Askewniverse flicks, besides Zack and Miri, behind J&SBSB th ough) and while I can understand the dislike for Mallrats I can't fathom why anyone would find Dogman to be weaker than Jay and Silent Bob.

Feb 28 12 - 4:39am
lol

fuck this list, fuck it up its stupid asses

srsly tho, this list is all kinds of wrong and illogical imo

Jul 31 12 - 1:14pm
Michael a...

I'm sorry but Mallrats should be up there

Aug 14 12 - 3:19pm
Krambo III

The Clerks animated series is much better than any of these movies. It's actually pretty amazing.

Having said that, Chasing Amy is the only one of his films that I think is even decent, so I guess I'm glad it's #1.

Sep 05 12 - 7:53pm
Derek

Chasing Amy!? REALLY???