Denis Villeneuve is a French-Canadian director, with whom we must be familiar due to the highly anticipated adaption of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune. Villeneuve’s Dune (2021), that released on October 1st, 2021, is only another attempt in the long history of the classic sci-fi novel’s film adaptation; with David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s incomplete project preceding his.
However, what restores one’s faith in Villeneuve -despite what is seemingly a cursed attempt, witnessing the prior failures of adaptation- is his mastery of approach towards science fiction. For most science fiction movie enthusiasts, Villeneuve happens to be a familiar face whose attempt of adapting Dune is only a self-challenging undertaking.
For one to truly realize what the hype regarding Dune (2021) is all about, one must go through the rich catalog of films by Denis Villeneuve.
Best movies of Denis Villeneuve
The following list has been made keeping in mind the necessity to communicate one of the characteristics of Villeneuve’s films. As a filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve is not restricted merely to science fiction. The following list, then, attempts to sum up markers of Villeneuve’s cinematic journey until Dune (2021). Although in narrating this journey, the list does not follow a chronological order.
Arrival (2016) by Denis Villeneuve
Arrival is not just one of Villeneuve’s best movies, but a sci-fi classic in itself. What makes it so is its uncommon approach towards a highly recurring sci-fi context -that of aliens. Unlike aliens depicted commonly as destroyers, Arrival depicts them as ones willing to communicate. For this communication to happen with the earthlings, the aliens have to learn their language.
Although it is a Ted Chiang adaptation, what makes the movie stand apart is its visually stunning approach. For instance, the movie’s representation of the symmetrical, space-faring, seven-limbed Heptapods.
All in all, Arrival does not reduce itself to an upholder of generalized representations of extraterrestrial beings. There is neither the flashy violence nor the conspiracy-led conflicts typical of alien movies. However, that is not to say that the movie does not have its own set of complexities. One may turn to Arrival only if they want to engage in a thought-provoking watch, despite the popular subject matter.
This is one of Denis Villeneuve’s initial movies that does not come anywhere near Arrival. However, the reason that Maelstrom finds its way into this list is because of the ideas this movie showcases of a budding filmmaker. Also, this movie, being Villeneuve’s second undertaking, outweighed his debut movie, August 32nd on Earth.
Maelstrom has quite peculiar ideas in its store, and may perhaps be a testimony to the Dune‘s filmmaker’s journey. It also inclines towards Villeneuve’s interest in the dark aspects of the human mind, which its melancholic color tone enhances.
The plot itself serves as a blatant narration. It is about a woman who falls in love with the son of the fishmonger she runs down with her car. However, the movie itself is peculiarly existential, narrated by a fish in the midst of being butchered. It loses its head before revealing the secret of world peace. A peculiar approach, indeed, even if not quite original!
One should watch this movie especially for the potential that Villeneuve holds as a weaver of ideas. Witnessing it will make one come close to realizing what the hype regarding Villeneuve’s Dune is all about.
Denis Villeneuve‘s reservoir of peculiar ideas does not get exhausted after Maelstrom. His 2013 film Enemy is evidently hinting at this. An adaptation of José Saramago’s The Double, this movie sees Jake Gyllenhaal in a double role. One of them is a professor, and another is an actor. Insanely resembling each other, their lives are intertwined, and it so happens that even their partners get involved. With one mistaken for another, they confront each other’s lives and throughout the entirety of the movie, keeps viewers baffled. The underplaying fear of confrontation prevents the two characters from reaching an understanding. The movie itself builds itself upon the resultant stress.
Complete with adultery and sex, a car crash, and an absurd inclusion of spiders, Enemy is another overwhelming attempt by Villeneuve. This would also be the movie that would eventually enable Villeneuve to use itself as a stepping stone to commercial success. With Enemy as a catapult, Villeneuve would launch himself towards Arrival and later, his 2017 movie Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) by Denis Villeneuve
If Villeneuve was yet an obscure name, this movie projected him to the seventh sky of popularity. A sequel to Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner 2049 is an ambitious attempt on Villeneuve’s part. With the first movie adapted from Philip K Dick’s cyberpunk novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this sequel continues the plot, however with much visual extravagance.
As a movie rooted in the cyberpunk genre, Blade Runner 2049 is complete with advanced Artificial Intelligence, bioengineered humans, and machine awareness; in addition, there is the absurd dilemma of K(Ryan Gosling) regarding his affair with replicant and machine partners. Blade Runner 2049, in retrospect, is a movie akin to Christopher Nolan’s which combines muscle with science fiction. Mostly, it stays focused on K, his masculinity, and general struggles and demands as a male individual. However, the movie also serves as a playground for Villeneuve, bringing his peculiar ideas and visually compelling aesthetics to confrontation.
The plot itself may appear unnecessarily dragging at some instances, but watching this movie will make one realize why Villeneuve’s Dune is so hyped about. Blade Runner 2049 only restores faith in Villeneuve’s capability in adapting science fiction.
If Enemy was a stepping stone and Blade Runner 2049 the destination (at least until Dune), then Sicario was only a stop in Villeneuve’s journey. With the list coming to a close, it would be safe to note that Villeneuve is a filmmaker who constantly pushes. In 2013, he released Prisoners as well as Enemy. Since Enemy, Villeneuve has ensured his presence ever more in Cinema. Armed with ideas that, despite being not always effective, are continuously spawning, Villeneuve has successfully paved his way in the competitive world of Cinema; that too, to a point now where his movie is eagerly anticipated.
Even being a stop in the journey, Sicario ensured Villeneuve’s major commercial success. After this, it is perhaps only apparent what happened with Arrival, that released the succeeding year. The plot of Sicario is that of a drug cartel investigation, but with insertions of emotional complexities combined with breathtaking performances. Starring Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, Sicario is much more than just an FBI investigation romanticization. The dark aspect, akin to Maelstrom, is reflective of this movie. Villeneuve’s inclination towards the subconscious, as cemented in Enemy, is also apparent.
Although not being Villeneuve’s best effort, Sicario holds credibility for efficient direction. Acting performances, even if superb, could not have made it all by themselves. The efficiency of communication between the filmmaker and actors makes up for any possible flaws in the narration. Sicario is as much a stop in the journey as it is a reflective moment for Villeneuve on future undertakings.
Denis Villeneuve’s net worth
At age 54 now, Denis Villeneuve holds a reputation for being one of the most active filmmakers of contemporary times. With several films under his belt now, his net worth stands at about $16 million. Apart from as many as 60 awards that he has won, Villeneuve was also a nominee for “Best Film Not in the English Language”. This was due to his 2010 film Incendies, which was an adaptation of Wajdi Mouawad‘s play.