Sofia Coppola has always been one of the most intriguing directors both working today and of her generation. Rising to prominence in the same decade as similar directors in her flock, including Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, Coppola brings to the table a literal lifetime’s worth of filmmaking experience. Granted, this experience was likely absorbed through watching her parents, Francis Ford Coppola and Eleanor Coppola, work as directors, writers, and producers during the latter part of the 20th century. But Coppola has made herself into a formidable writer and director on her own, too. She is a director who is keenly attuned to female stories, who is interested in giving full lives to the women she depicts onscreen, and who has a knack for creating rich worlds with as much vibrancy on the interior terrain (be that physical or psychological) as the exterior.
Below, you’ll find a ranking of a majority of Coppola’s films, starting with her 1999 debut The Virgin Suicides, and ending with her most recent movie, 2020’s On the Rocks. Now, I say “majority” because there are two notable absences here. The first absence is Coppola’s 2015 Netflix Christmas special A Very Murray Christmas, which comes in at just under an hour but has all of the pomp and circumstance of a feature outing. But, alas, it’s a TV special and so, we must ditch it. The second absence is the 2017 live performance of La Traviata, which Coppola directed after being approached by Italian state broadcaster Rai Com to helm a new staging. Tracking down La Traviata proved fruitless and until I gain the power of time travel to go back and see it for myself, this operatic outing is also cut from the list.
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7. On the Rocks
Image via A24
On the Rocks is a good movie, but it’s a movie that feels least like Coppola and perhaps the most distant from the director’s aesthetic or thematic interests. It’s also the weaker of the two movies she has made so far where the focus of the story is a father-daughter relationship (the other being Somewhere). On the Rocks is the second Coppola movie released under the A24 banner and the first in a budding partnership between Coppola and Apple TV+ (up next will be an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country), as well as a partnership between Apple TV+ and A24.
Written and directed by Coppola, On the Rocks refers both to louche art dealer Felix’s (Bill Murray) drinking habits as well as the state of his daughter Laura’s (Rashida Jones) marriage. The story centers on Laura, who, between raising two children and juggling a demanding job, is feeling disconnected from her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans). It also doesn’t help that Dean is spending a lot more time at the office as his start-up begins to take off and one of his co-workers is ridiculously attractive. When Felix, who was a semi-absent father in Laura’s life growing up but is still regarded fondly by her, swans into town to catch up, Laura makes the mistake of telling her dad about her fears the Dean might be cheating. This gives Felix the bright idea to have the pair track Dean and maybe catch him in the act — a romp which not only gives Laura the answers she needs about her marriage but also reopens old wounds with her father.
After Somewhere, you can almost feel Coppola pulling away hard from another father-daughter movie that contains anything even remotely resembling autobiographical clues about her relationship with her father. But, by the same turn, On the Rocks does confirm that the unique shape and psychology of a father-daughter relationship is a new thematic interest for the writer/director. Even with this in mind, On the Rocks feels flat and sometimes downright lifeless in spots. Murray and Jones are an intriguing pair, and it admittedly is nice to see the former collaborating with Coppola again. Unfortunately, On the Rocks just stays, well, on the rocks and never really achieves the lift-off needed to make this interesting story engaging.
Image via Focus Features
2010’s Somewhere is such a tender and patient fictional outing. It is also a movie that arguably feels closest — from an outsider’s perspective — to Coppola’s own childhood without it being an outright biopic. To be fair, Coppola has cautioned in the past (see her comments in a New York Times interview ahead of Somewhere’s release) that while some events in the movie are drawn from her own childhood, like the trip to Italy sequence, nothing plays out as it happened in her own life and it is actually inspired by her own experiences with parenthood. In this way, Somewhere is a unique coming-of-age story, one that blends the ennui of excess which Coppola explored in earlier films with the unfamiliar terrain of being a parent.
Somewhere follows Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a Hollywood actor who is stuck in a rut, going through the motions of life with little enjoyment for them. He’s living at the Chateau Marmont, having casual hook-ups, and doing various promotional duties for his newest movie. Amidst these celebrity duties, Johnny’s daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), comes to stay with him when Johnny’s ex has to go out of town. Although Cleo never says it, she observes and understands more about her father’s life and who he is than Johnny knows. More often than not, she’s the one parenting him as he works double-time just to get through the day. But it’s clear that Cleo is the apple of Johnny’s eye and she is a priority, which makes their time together throughout Somewhere a risk-free but still realistic exploration of a relationship that exists within the starry Hollywood bubble.
While there is a lot to love about Somewhere — namely, the scene where two pole dancers come to Johnny’s room at the Chateau and do a routine set to Foo Fighters “Hero” — it does crumple under the weight of the Coppola movies that came before it. Somewhere moves into interesting territory, be in exploring the emptiness of celebrity or the trickiness of parenthood, but Coppola doesn’t go the distance is finding any kind of meaningful resolution to the movie’s concerns. This is partially because she already did it so well in her earlier movies, which makes Somewhere feel like an echo of those previous works.
5. The Beguiled
Image via Focus Features
While Coppola is no stranger to adapting her movies from novels or drawing on real-world events for her movies, The Beguiled just might be her biggest swing to date. Why? Because here, even though she is yet again adapting from a novel (in this case, Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel of the same name), her adaptation will always be considered in the same breath as the 1971 adaptation of The Beguiled starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Coppola does make some smart choices in her adaptation which help set it apart from its predecessor, including removing the incestuous backstory from Nicole Kidman’s character that was intact in the 1971 movie and makes up for the absence of Black characters in a Civil War setting (a decision for which Coppola was criticized and which is understandable, but I think was a smart move) but keeping a narrow focus on the story at hand.
The Beguiled marks the second time Kidman and Colin Farrell appeared opposite one another in an artsy, gripping drama in 2017 (the other being The Killing of a Sacred Deer). The pair have great chemistry, moving and working off one another in such a kinetic way that it is hard to peel your eyes from the screen. This is especially good considering The Beguiled is a pretty claustrophobic movie that follows a Union soldier, McBurney (Farrell), who is injured and taken in by Miss Martha (Kidman), the headmistress of a girls school in Virginia, a.k.a. Confederate territory. McBurney becomes an object of curiosity and, in some cases, obsession amongst the young girls staying at the school as the war rages on outside, leaving them in Martha’s ancestral home-turned-school to survive best they can. Coppola makes a great marriage between world-building and tension-building in The Beguiled, using the small bedrooms, stuffy environment, and the archness of the etiquette of the day to help foment distrust and discord between the group and McBurney’s fox guards the proverbial henhouse.
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4. Lost in Translation
Image via Focus Features
Now it’s getting serious as we move into the best of Coppola’s movies. Lost in Translation is, without a doubt, a compelling movie. It also marks the beginning of Coppola’s long and fruitful collaboration with Bill Murray, who was in the midst of his own career renaissance in the early to mid ’00s. Lost in Translation is Coppola’s second feature film and, in the best way possible, it shows. There is a tentativeness to this follow-up, a carefulness of crafting the story which helps every scene feel authentic and grounded even though we’re following characters who live in an echelon far higher than our own. Lost in Translation is a story about a famous aging actor (Murray) in Tokyo for a brief work trip and a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) left vulnerable by a rocky marriage. As these two characters come together, Coppola makes every effort to keep them safely ensconced in their own world, allowing time for a genuine connection to flourish onscreen. Lost in Translation is also a continued study in Coppola’s curation of mood through aesthetics, with delicate lighting and long shots of characters creating an immediate intimacy. And while Lost in Translation never feels hurried, it does move and flow in a way that feels like you, too, are a traveler in another land just looking for a moment of connection in an otherwise bustling world.
3. The Bling Ring
Image via A24
The Bling Ring is fun. It’s one of the rare movies in Coppola’s body of work where you see her playful side come out as she lets loose through the irreverence of her characters. Inspired by the Nancy Jo Sales’ 2010 Vanity Fair article “The Suspect Wore Louboutins,” The Bling Ring offers a fictionalized account of the actual Bling Ring, a group of teenagers who committed a string of burglaries. The notable feature of their burglaries was that they invaded the homes of celebrities, targeting Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Audrina Patridge, and others.
The triumph of The Bling Ring is the casting of Emma Watson as Nicki, the ringleader of the Bling Ring. In 2013, Watson was still living in the shadow of her Harry Potter run and, like her co-stars, making every effort to re-establish herself as someone who had moved on from those movies personally and professionally. As such, her tackling the role of Nicki — a fame-obsessed teenager raised in a New Age-values home in Agoura Hills who dreams of being a celebrity — was a total breath of fresh air. Watson’s performance of a Southern California teen is pretty spectacular, with the vocal fry and line delivery down pat. (If you need proof, look no further than Nicki saying “I wanna rob” with a confident purr.) Of course, The Bling Ring also succeeds thanks to the vibrant energy of the supporting cast (Israel Broussard, Taissa Farmiga, Katie Chang, Claire Julien) and its expert examination of what it means to be living in a celebrity fantasy world when you are, in fact, not famous.
2. The Virgin Suicides
Image via Paramount Pictures
When it comes to directorial feature film debuts, The Virgin Suicides is at the top of the list. Coppola’s adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ bestselling 1993 novel of the same name not only set the tone for her career as a director, but it also worked wonders in establishing Coppola as a creative working on her own terms, free from the shadow of her parents. The Virgin Suicides is also arguably the perfect material for a Gen X director, with a story meditating on the uniquely disquieting disillusionment that comes with your teenage years made in the immediate aftermath of the Gen X-fueled early ’90s.
The Virgin Suicides story is not an easy one. The film follows the five Lisbon sisters — Mary (A.J. Cook), Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Therese (Leslie Hayman), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), and Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall) — who reside in an upper-middle-class suburb of Detroit in the 1970s. Following Cecilia’s first suicide attempt, the Lisbon sisters are placed under strict supervision by their well-meaning parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner). The sisters become an object of fascination for the neighborhood boys, one of who narrates the brief period of time between Cecilia’s first attempt, her eventual death, the cloistering of the Lisbon sisters altogether, and, as the title reveals, each of the Lisbon sisters’ respective deaths by suicide.
The Virgin Suicides is a stunning, haunting movie that establishes Coppola’s keen interest in telling female stories. Stories where the interiority of women are given as much space to breathe as a movie would give to a man. Stories where the lives of women are treated with careful consideration and given the sympathy they deserve. As brutal as the subject matter of The Virgin Suicides might be, Coppola’s handling of the story, attentiveness to the performances given, and even-handed direction through this very specific trip back in time make this movie all-consuming in the best way possible.
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1. Marie Antoinette
Image via Columbia Pictures
For me, the best Coppola movie is Marie Antoinette. Here is a movie which embodies all of the best and sharpest instincts Coppola has to offer as a director; a movie where every aspect — from the performances to the costume design to the music — is completely on point; a movie which has the clarity of mind to explore themes of celebrity, womanhood, sexuality, and duty with zero judgment. I have to admit there may be some bias because I first saw Marie Antoinette when it came out in 2006 as a teenager. From the opening throb of Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not in It” over the opening credits to the final shot of Versailles, seen through the eyes of Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette as she moves toward her historic fate, Coppola’s Marie Antoinette left an indelible impression.
Marie Antoinette is a biopic in the loosest sense; it leans more toward being a “just vibes” than a strict retelling of the 18th-century monarch’s life. But, in doing this, Marie Antoinette frees itself from the constraints of a biopic, thus making it all the more engaging to watch. We follow Marie Antoinette from her early years as the teenage bride of Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman, who, as a friendly reminder is also Coppola’s cousin) to her last days as queen. Over this nearly two-decade span, Marie Antoinette fixates on its subject, watching the young queen come of age in a world where decadence and frivolity is encouraged. As Marie Antoinette comes to understand the rules of this world, she must also come to understand her own place in it — a journey of self-exploration that moves her in new directions as she discovers new parts of herself.
Marie Antoinette is a marvel, a modern-day woman’s film concerned with specifically female concerns which is empathetic and playful. Dunst, once again collaborating with Coppola following The Virgin Suicides, gives one of the best performances of her career as Marie Antoinette, perfectly balancing her depiction of the royal so it never veers into something overly frivolous or too austere. The movie’s balance of punk rock and classical music helps brighten up the world, as does Milena Canonero’s incredibly lush costume design. Like its subject, there is more than meets the eye here. Viewers are rewarded through repeat viewings of Marie Antoinette, not only because it resonates on different levels, but also because it gave us hunky Jamie Dornan.
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About The Author
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Allie Gemmill is the Lead News Editor at Collider. Previous bylines can be found at Bustle, Teen Vogue, Inverse, ScreenRant, SheKnows, VICE, and Atom Tickets.
From Allie Gemmill