Barry Sonnenfeld Movies Ranked

Barry Sonnenfeld Movies Ranked

Barry Sonnenfeld cut his teeth in Hollywood being a well-respected cinematographer.  He shot the likes of Raising Arizona, Big, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery.  However, soon thereafter, he got into the driver’s seat and directed The Addams Family.  From that moment on, Sonnenfeld had solidified his reputation in Hollywood as a unique, quirky visionary.  Sonnenfeld also does not limit himself to feature films.  He has an Emmy for his directorial efforts on the wonderful, but criminally short-lived Pushing Daisies.  Currently, Sonnenfeld has been executive producing and directing A Series of Unfortunate Events for Netflix.  However, he is still famous for being one of the most respected and successful directors in the 90s and 2000s.  Here is a ranking of all of Barry Sonnenfeld’s films.

#11:  Nine Lives (2016)

Nobody knows what  Barry Sonnenfeld was thinking when he made 2016’s Nine Lives.  Where was the auteur behind the Men in Black and Addams Family franchises?  Why is he making a movie about Kevin Spacey getting trapped inside the body of the family cat?  Really? No more time will be wasted on this bottom entry. It feels less like an artistic endeavor than it does a dare, or a punishment, or a prison sentence.

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#10:  Men in Black II (2002)

After the resounding success of Men in Black, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel.  It came five years later as Men in Black II.  Sorry to say, it was a disaster.  Nearly nothing worked. Lara Flynn Boyle and Johnny Knoxville as the villainous pair or Serleena and Charlie are just irritating.  The worms and Frank the Pug are WAY too overused. Also, the writing is incredibly lazy. Agent K was neuralized? Well of COURSE there is a de-neuralizer.  They even have a thug alien called a Ball-Chinian, probably because of the large scrotum-looking appendage under its head.  Unfortunately, Barry Sonnenfeld could not even get good performances out of his actors.  Will Smith isn’t even trying and transforms Agent J from cocky to simply a jerk. Tommy Lee Jones looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.  Finally, what was Rip Torn doing in this movie?

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#9: RV (2006)

RV isn’t as insultingly bad as you may have been led to believe, but it is pretty uninspired.  Effectively, Barry Sonnenfeld set out to remake National Lampoon’s Vacation.  However, instead of Chevy Chase in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, he had Robin Williams in the titular RV.  There is hardly any directorial or creative flair with this film, but Robin Williams is sure doing his darnedest to squeeze some life out of it.  Williams’ Bob Munro has promised his family a trip to Hawaii. But, when his boss insists he gets to a meeting in Colorado. So instead of telling his family, he changes his vacation plans to a cross-country drive.  The one joke of the movie is that RVs are not easy to handle.  Get it?  Accidents, toilet mishaps, annoying camp neighbors. It is all so bland.

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#8:  Wild Wild West (1999)

Wild Wild West is one of the most absurdly ridiculous disasters in the history of Hollywood.  However, if it were not for the brilliant special effects, beautiful costume design, and absolutely phenomenal production design, this film would have been unwatchable.  Wild Wild West is essentially a steam-punkers’ wet dream, even if none of it makes sense.  First of all, if you’re going to have a black lawman in the 1860s, you could at least throw a nod to the original Lone Ranger, and law enforcement pioneer, Bass Reeves.  The screenplay is nowhere near clever enough for someone like Kevin Kline either. The film is an absolute visual delight and it can be enjoyed as a kind of masochistic, guilty pleasure.  However, objectively, it belongs low on Barry Sonnenfeld’s list.

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#7:  For Love or Money (1993)

In 1993, Michael J. Fox was the hottest thing in Hollywood.  He has just finished Family Ties, was Doc Hollywood, was Teen Wolf, and was immortalized as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future franchise.  He even starred in a Brian se Palma movie.  So it is a shame that he has to star is such a bland Barry Sonnenfeld film, For the Love of Money.  Everything is just so simple, obvious, and uninspired.  Fox is a hotel concierge who has been saving to open up his own hotel.  His rich backer, a staple hotel visitor, tasks him one day to entertain his young girlfriend.  The wrinkle is that he has been lusting after this girl forever. Get it? He has to choose love or money!!  It all plays out exactly the way you think it will, but Michael J. Fox is never boring to watch.

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#6:  Big Trouble (2002)

After the astounding success of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, he set out to make another plot-heavy, star-powered black comedy.  While Big Trouble is certainly not Get Shorty, it is certainly a hoot.  The story is so convoluted that it almost defies description, but here is an attempt.  Arthur Herk is a corrupt businessman who wants to get his hands on a suitcase of money at Miami airport.  Two hitmen want to kill him. His wife and daughter hate him and want to hook up with a divorced dad and son, respectively.  Then there are cops that were called because of a real/fake assassin mix up. There are also FBI agents trying to prevent Herk from buying a nuclear bomb.  The story can go on and on.

It’s all so crazy that it’s almost impossible to dislike. Look at this cast.  Stanley Tucci, Tim Allen, Ben Foster, Denis Farina, Rene Russo, Zooey Deschanel, Johnny Knoxville, Sofia Vergara, Patrick Warburton, Janeane Garafolo, and on and on.  It is as if Barry Sonnenfeld saw The Big Lebowski with all of its meandering nonsense and felt that he wanted to make a version of that.  Unfortunately for Sonnenfeld, he is no Coen brother. Still, Big Trouble is a pretty fun film.

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#5: Men in Black 3 (2012)

With Men in Black 3, Barry Sonnenfeld undid a lot of the damage he did to his franchise with the second film.  Though, it did take a decade to do it. He did such a superb job at revitalizing the series that we will be getting a spinoff film in 2019 with Rebecca Ferguson and Tessa Thompson, but directed by F. Gary Gray.

This time around, Agent J is sent back in time to when Agent K was a young man to save the world.  It doesn’t really matter. Josh Brolin’s spot-on impersonation of that patented Tommy Lee Jones gruffness never gets old and he steals every scene he is in.  However, the strongest part of the film is Jemaine Clement’s Boris the Animal. Again, filmmakers really have to understand how important the villain is in films like this.  Clement is odd, hysterical, intimidating, and flat-out frightening at times. Throw in a bit of a charming Michael Stuhlbarg as Griffin, a quantum alien that can see all possible universes, you get a great time.  Sure, not much of it makes sense, timeline wise, when all is said and done, but it is fun enough that it ceases to really matter.

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#4:  The Addams Family (1991)

Barry Sonnenfeld knocked it out of the park when he made the transition from cinematographer to director.  His first project was bringing the creepy and kooky Addams Family to the big screen.  Well, it basically gave him a career, because it is outstanding fun.  Sonnenfeld creates a beautifully macabre atmosphere for this story of the Addams family dropped right into the middle of our normal, modern society.  

The cast is superb, with Raul Julia and Angelica Huston effectively showing us that they were born for the roles of Gomez and Morticia.  Christopher Lloyd is also an inspired choice as Uncle Fester. The story follows a mother/son pair trying to swindle the Addams family fortune out from under them.  But that is beside the point. Somehow, the screenplay reads like 100 minutes of one-liners. Nearly every line spoken is a bait-and-switch about what normal society would say and what the depraved Addams family would say.  It is simply brilliant.

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#3: Addams Family Values (1993)

However, as brilliant as The Addams Family was, Barry Sonnenfeld outdid himself with its sequel.  Addams Family Values is a better film in almost every way from its predecessor, and that is no small feat.  The comedy is darker and more subversive. The kids being sent away to rich kids summer camp is a stroke of comically rich brilliance.  However, Addams Family Values would not be what it is without Joan Cusack as the homicidal Debbie Jelinsky.  Her performance is Oscar-worthy.  She has such perfect comic timing.  Debbie is a serial killer who is out to marry Fester and run away with his fortune.  Though, she may have underestimated the family. Again, the design of the Addams Family world is a sight to behold.  Also, the screenplay’s style of one-liners and quips is back and better than ever.

A few favorites:

Debbie: Isn’t he a ladykiller?

Gomez: Acquitted!!


Debbie:  These Addams men, where do you find them?

Morticia:  It has to be damp!


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#2:  Men in Black (1997)

With the Addams Family films, the world knew that Barry Sonnenfeld had an incredible eye for production design and atmosphere.  What no one could have expected, that he had a sci-fi comedy gem like Men in Black up his sleeve.  The film tells the story of the infamous government agency that patrols alien activity across the planet.  They are so good at their job that no one knows they exist, and they need a new recruit.

Fresh off his smash hit Independence Day, Will Smith proves that his superstardom appeal was no fluke.  His Agent J and Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent K have loads of chemistry and their banter is excellent.  However, without such creative realization of a world full of aliens, Men in Black would not be as great as it is.  It is as if every second, and every corner of the screen, is purposefully chock-full of alien tech, disguises, and interactions.  This film was truly an astonishing achievement back in 1997.

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#1:  Get Shorty (1995)

This may be going out on a limb here, but John Travolta’s performance as Chili Palmer in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty is his best work.  Sure, his roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease are more iconic.  And yes, his career-resurrecting role as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction is outstanding.  However, his Chili Palmer is so suave, so confident, and so funny that it is as if Travolta was possessed.  He encapsulates Elmore Leonard’s brilliant character to his core.

But Travolta aside, Get Shorty is also Barry Sonnenfeld’s best film.  There is a rhythm, a darkly comic theme, and an intangible attitude that permeates every single second of the film.  The sweeping camerawork that follows these colorful characters really exhibits Sonnenfeld’s knack for cinematography. The convoluted plot may be a bit hard to keep straight, but if you pay close attention, it all pays off in a gloriously gratifying conclusion.

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Weekend: Dec. 5, 2019, Dec. 8, 2019

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