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Ranking the Films of Kevin Smith

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: Kevin Smith attends the Saban Films' "Jay & Silent Bob Reboot" Los Angeles Premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre on October 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

I’m just going to get straight to it…Kevin Smith is one of my favorite filmmakers. As far back as when I was first getting into film, Smith was someone I gravitated towards immediately. Sure, occasionally it leads to some smirking at an Oscar prognosticator loving a storyteller far from the awards race, but we love who we love. It’s no secret my affection for the man, but not everyone knows how I feel about all of his flicks. So, I’ve had this one in my back pocket for a while, waiting for his latest movie to come out. Now that his Clerks sequel is well into release, and even available on digital, it seems like the perfect time to rank his films.

I’ve written about Smith a lot in my career, and just in the past year, I got plenty in. Hell, I even recently had an essay on a Smith title published here in a book! For example, I reviewed the documentary Clerk here, interviewing director Malcolm Ingram about the Smith doc here. There’s also my interview with Clerks III actors Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes, and Brian O’Halloran here. Speaking of Clerks III, I raved about it here, as well as, you know, an interview here with the man himself. Plus, there’s my four part Sunday Scaries series, just on his horror outings, consisting of a preview here, Red State here, Tusk here, and even Yoga Hosers here. So, I have my bonafides.

Below, you can see how I rank the filmography of Smith. One notable exclusion here is going to be Killroy Was Here, since it’s currently only available as an NFT and I’ve become an old man at 35 and barely understand what that means. So, it can’t be included here, but every other feature Smith’s made is represented. Special citation to his segment in the anthology fright flick Holidays. His effort is pretty solid, if less memorable than his best work. What constitutes his best? Well, you can see next…

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 01: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Kevin Smith visits the SiriusXM studios on October 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Here now is my Kevin Smith movie ranking. Behold:

14. Yoga Hosers

Yoga Hosers

Among the least admired Kevin Smith works, Yoga Hosers is one of his oddest, for sure. I found enough to appreciate, though I recognize that I’m in the minority. A Sunday Scaries piece on the odd duck includes this bit here:

This film may not be particularly scary, but it’s trippy and bizarre in a way that I think is slept on a bit. This is closer to Smith trying to meld his brand of stoner humor with his dabbling in horror. Red State was pretty close to completely serious, while Tusk played it straight while slyly winking at you. This is much more Smith giving teenage girls their lightly horrific adventure, and I respect that. His heart, as well as his ambitions, are truly in the right place.

Yoga Hosers is a movie that hardcore Kevin Smith fans appreciate more than most, but if you like weird shit, this horror comedy has something there.

13. Cop Out

Warner Bros.

The other fairly maligned Smith work, Cop Out is the one real studio effort for the filmmaker. It’s also, as of now, his only director for hire job. It looks fine and some of the cast is a hoot, but it’s definitely the most forgettable of Smith’s flicks. There’s the least reason to ever revisit it, though on an initial watch it’s good for a few laughs.

12. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

Saban Films

Following Smith’s heart attack, he wanted to play with his old toys again, finding a meta way to do another Jay and Silent Bob adventure. Here, in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, they almost remake the prior installment, while commenting on reboots. It’s as silly as Smith has ever been, but it also includes a heartfelt Chasing Amy reunion. There are high highs, but some lower lows too.

11. Mallrats

Arrow Video

Our first bit of controversy is that I don’t have this one ranked higher. That speaks more to the quality of what’s to come than to this movie. Mallrats may have been a box office disappointment, but it proved that Smith’s voice was no fluke. Clerks set the stage, but this flick showed that, even if it wouldn’t be immediately appreciated, that Smith had staying power.

10. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) Cinematography by Jamie Anderson

The closest Smith ever got to a true stoner comedy is this Looney Tunes-esque road trip romp. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ups the zany factor from the already sometimes manic Mallrats. He’s just letting it all hang out, given some more resources than normal, too. The results are admittedly silly, but very fun.

9. Dogma

Dogma

One of Smith’s biggest swings, Dogma was controversial at the time, which almost seems quaint. He tackles religion head on, while also bringing in one of his biggest and most diverse casts. It doesn’t quite land as fully as it does for others, but I love watching Smith stretch himself out in interesting ways.

8. Tusk

“Tusk” (2014) Cinematography by James Laxton

Springing up from a podcast, Tusk is Smith doing Hammer Horror. If that sounds like an odd fit, it works way better than you’d think. I detail some of the very reasons why here in a Sunday Scaries piece:

What stands out so much for me here is Smith’s commitment to the premise. He never winks at the audience. Instead, he leans in, treating a walrus body horror concept completely seriously. By allowing you to find the humor, it’s even funnier. Plus, it allows the unsettling nature of it all to sink in, letting the film work as horror. For such a ridiculous idea, it comes off as earnest and almost even-handed, in a way.

Tusk notably sprung up from a podcast episode. Along with Scott Mosier, Smith and Mosier went over an ad (later proven to be a prank) asking for a very open-minded roommate. It’s well worth listening to, as not only do you get to hear the two of them really get a lot of humor out of the oddness, but you can actually be in the room as a screenplay idea comes together. It’s actually kind of magical.

Not only is the premise creepy as all hell, both Justin Long and Michael Parks really sell it all. Plus, the ultimate fate of Wallace, as well as the creature design, really hammers home how bonkers it all is, in a way that you can’t look away from. Revisiting it last night, the tension of it all, as well as the lingering impact of the ending, still hit home in a big way. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it should have been more than a blip on the cinematic radar.

7. Clerks III

Lionsgate

Kevin Smith gets meta in this new Clerks sequel. I loved it, obviously, but you can see this bit from my rave review for why it deserves near top five placement in his oeuvre:

Kevin Smith always goes back to the Quick-Stop. However, just because he’s now returned for a third Clerks outing, that doesn’t mean he’s doing the same thing again. Much like how Clerks II was about growing older and friendship, Clerks III builds upon that, while also reflecting on the career that Smith managed to build. In doing so, Clerks III has a weight that many of his comedies don’t. In fact, it wouldn’t be beyond the pale to call this one a dramedy. In going meta here, Smith is looking inward, but he’s also using every tool in his toolbox not just to make you laugh, but also to make you cry. Admittedly, this is a film that’s more or less made specifically for me, but I found it to be incredibly effective.

Clerks III is, in some ways, the movie Smith was born to make. It overtly references his real life heart attack, while also continuing the story of the characters that first got his career started. The choice pays off in spades, as he’s able to reach emotional highs and lows unlike anything else prior in the Clerks franchise. There’s even a boldness to this storytelling, as he leaves his heroes in places you’d never expect.

6. Jersey Girl

Jersey Girl

This is the Kevin Smith title that even my family likes. Jersey Girl is a very mainstream romantic comedy, with the occasional Smith tip of the cap. Luckily, he also knows exactly which cliches work, making it a manipulative yet very effective experience. Plus, bonus points for a perfectly curated soundtrack as well.

5. Clerks II

Clerks II

The Clerks sequel is nearly as funny as the first one, with a raised emotional quotient. Even more so than in Clerks, Clerks II is focused on friendship, as well as growth. Smith would obviously further this conversation with another sequel this year, but this was the sequel that supposedly returned him to form after Jersey Girl.

4. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

If this romantic comedy had performed differently, the latest act of Smith’s career might have been massively different. Zack and Miri Makes a Porno was poised to be a $100 million comedy, if not for the studio deciding to release it on Halloween. Instead, it became Smith’s highest grossing film by a smidge. Had it been a hit, Smith might have been a true A-list director, preventing him from tackling some of his more recent, weirder, projects. Remove money from the equation and this is among Smith’s sweetest flicks. Beneath all the filth, his beating heart is still incredibly full of romance.

3. Red State

Red State

The first Kevin Smith horror flick, Red State is also his first thriller. It’s a real change of pace for the auteur, to put it mildly. From my Sunday Scaries piece here:

The film is one of Smith’s smartest, as well as his most nihilistic. You don’t expect the Clerks guy to make something bleak, but he’s effectively channeling the mood of the country at the time, even if he somewhat dismissed any overt political statements. Plus, it features some of his best directed performances. Michael Parks rightly was seen as an Oscar snub by Smith for his turn as Pastor Abin Cooper, as he’s a master at work. However, John Goodman is just as good and sadly ignored by the Academy as well. His ATF Agent Joseph Keenan also gets an incredible monologue at the very end. His final line stays with you, summarizing the movie in a way that you want to stand up and applaud.

Smith does a great job of subverting expectations. The body count is unexpected, with several deaths being genuine shocks. The plot takes a number of turns, as if Smith makes sure that whenever you think you know where the film is going, he flips it on its axis. The cleverness of the work never seems showy, either. It’s just a project that’s about to do a lot, both with limited time and money, but also with a very tightly focused premise.

2. Clerks

‘Clerks’ Directed by Kevin Smith Cinematography by Dave Klein

The one that started it all, Clerks is a classic for a reason. Smith was talking to an entire audience that was, until then, largely ignored on film. One of the great success stories of independent cinema, this tribute to working class malaise and a very specific time of your life still manages to retain its edge. Much of what would make Smith great was already well in evidence, kicking off the View Askewniverse in the process.

1. Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy

My second favorite film of all-time (The Shawshank Redemption takes top honors), Chasing Amy literally was one of the first rom-coms I’d ever seen where the couple doesn’t wind up together in the end. as I revisited it, Smith’s themes of sexual mores and unconscious bias seeped more to the surprise. To be fair, some of the language hasn’t aged well, but very much is of its time. That being said, Smith has even acknowledged that, so it’s not like the author himself wouldn’t have done things differently now. Remove that from the equation and this is not just Smith’s best film, but a damn near perfect one at that.

There you have it. My Kevin Smith ranking. I’m sure yours is different, so if you’ve seen them all, definitely chime in. Or, if you just have a top three or a top five, that’s cool too. Keep the Smith love coming…

Lionsgate

What are your favorite Kevin Smith films? Let us know!

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Brian
Brian
1 month ago

This is a good read, and definitely has me itching to revisit of the few of these films, particularly Red State. I did my own rankings of Smith’s catalogue after seeing Clerks III, and our lists compare interestingly. Structurally, they’re not that far off and I think we generally agree on what Kevin does best. That said, there are a couple of major differences. Personally, I go:
1. Clerks II (2006)
2. Chasing Amy (1997)
3. Clerks (1994)
4. Clerks III (2022)
5. Dogma (1999)
6. Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008)
7. Jersey Girl (2003)
8. Mallrats (1995)
9. Tusk (2014)
10. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
11. Red State (2011)
12. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
13. Yoga Hosers (2016)
14. Cop Out (2010)

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Written by Joey Magidson

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