The 10 Best Sidney Lumet Movies

The 10 Best Sidney Lumet Movies

Sidney Lumet was a generational talent. Though his name is not often enough uttered with the same breath as Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, and Martin Scorsese, it probably should. Some of his films continue to be touted as the best in American cinema. Network alone should grant him passage to the highest echelon of admiration and respect that should be bestowed upon an artist. Truly he was a massively talented individual. Here are ten of the best films of his career.

Network (1976)

Network is one of the best films to come out of one of the best eras in American film. It is ranked number 66 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. It is a dark satire about the nature of media and the bizarre characters it attracts and creates. It is probably Lumet’s greatest achievement as well as screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s.

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12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men is a close second to Network in the list of Lumet’s work. It is a fantastic courtroom drama that truly meditates on what it means to send a person to their death — whether they have committed a crime or not. Henry Fonda gives an incredible performance in the film.

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Hot off of some of his best performances — including The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Lumet’s own Serpico Al Pacino has an incredible turn as Sonny Wortzik, a wet-behind-the-ears criminal whose bank heist goes wrong. His motives are good, his actions bad. It is another undeniably essential film by Lumet.

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The Verdict (1982)

The Verdict is another frequently-lauded courtroom drama also directed by Lumet. Paul Newman plays an alcoholic Boston lawyer who takes one last shot of redemption to resurrect his career which has been marred by the demons of his past. It is one of the best films of Newman’s late-career as well as Lumet’s in general.

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Serpico (1973)

Al Pacino’s performance as real-life police corruption whistleblower Frank Serpico earned him a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination. The film is an above-average biographical picture — a much more difficult task to accomplish than one might think at first. Lumet provides compelling storytelling from start to finish.

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Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Agatha Christie’s beloved Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot — whom she wrote almost three-dozen novels about — has been adapted innumerable times into various mediums. If there is one above the rest, it is here by Lumet. As in the novel, while en route to England, a widely-despised billionaire is murdered. Poirot must try to identify the culprit amongst the other passengers on the train. In it, Lumet delivers some of his most tense work.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was a late-career release for Lumet. In fact, it was the final film before his passing four years later. It is a dark film — even by Lumet’s standards — in which two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) are desperate for cash and attempt to rob the jewelry store which their parents own and operate. Things go awry and their father vows justice, all while he is unaware his own sons are the culprits he seeks.

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Fail Safe (1964)

Fail Safe contains many similarities to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb — which would come out four years later — though its tone is not one of them. While the latter is an all-out farce, the former is a much more serious take on impending nuclear war. While Dr. Strangelove is probably the preferable of the two in the matchup, both are worthwhile films from talented filmmakers.

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The Wiz (1978)

Far and away one of Lumet’s lightest films, The Wiz is a different take on The Wizard of Oz. The cult classic film features an all-black cast with some of the eras biggest stars. Diana Ross plays Dorothy, Michael Jackson plays the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor plays the Wiz himself. The music was written and produced by, among others, Luther Vandross and Quincy Jones. It is certainly an enjoyable musical film.

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Running on Empty (1988)

Running on Empty contains one of the best performances of River Phoenix’s tragically short career. He plays the son of two fugitives whose natural desire to branch out into the world as his own person could result in him being no longer able to keep in contact with his nomadic family. He is torn apart by his decision in this, one of Lumet’s best late-career films.

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