5 best Yorgos Lanthimos movies, ranked

Emma Stone in "Poor Things"
(Image credit: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Yorgos Lanthimos is a weirdo. That’s the best way to describe the Greek filmmaker known for his eccentric movies, who’s managed to helm big-budget, Oscar-winning Hollywood productions without compromising his unique vision. Lanthimos’ films can be confrontational and off-putting, with a bleak but often darkly funny view of human nature.

Lanthimos started by making small-scale films in his native country before breaking through on the international festival circuit with 2009’s “Dogtooth.” He made an impressive transition to English-language features while retaining his particular sensibilities, and he’s since become one of the most acclaimed auteurs in American cinema, too.

With Lanthimos’ latest film, the three-part anthology “Kinds of Kindness,” starring Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe, now in theaters, here’s a look at his most creative and interesting films, ranked in order of quality (not weirdness).

5. ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

The Killing of a Sacred Deer | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube The Killing of a Sacred Deer | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube
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Lanthimos’ darkest film can be tough to watch, although it doesn’t entirely abandon his dry sense of humor. The horrific torture of the family of surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is all the more disturbing because of the matter-of-fact way Lanthimos presents it, with a sense of bored detachment. Barry Keoghan is chilling as the young man who inflicts some kind of curse on Steven’s family, ordering him to kill his wife or one of his children, or they will all die painful deaths.

It’s a twisted revenge scenario right out of a horror movie, but Lanthimos delivers it with aloof formalism, depriving it of any excitement or satisfaction. The audience squirms along with the Murphy family, knowing that there is no choice but to succumb to the grim outcome.

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4. ‘The Lobster’

The Lobster | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube The Lobster | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube
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Lanthimos’ first English-language film is a bizarre sort of romantic comedy, set in a world in which everyone is required to find a romantic partner or face being transformed into an animal. Newly divorced David (Colin Farrell) arrives at a hotel for single people, where residents must pair off within 45 days. Many of the residents go to extreme lengths to convince themselves that they are romantically compatible, while others attempt to reject society’s rigid mating requirements.

David eventually forms a bond with a member of a rebel group of “loners,” played by Rachel Weisz, but their connection proves just as meaningless as the pairings made at the hotel. Lanthimos turns romance into a series of dangerous, incomprehensible rituals, pursued by people whose desperation for human contact has been made unsettlingly literal.

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3. ‘Dogtooth’

Dogtooth | Official Trailer | Yorgos Lanthimos - YouTube Dogtooth | Official Trailer | Yorgos Lanthimos - YouTube
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Lanthimos’ international breakthrough showcases his unique approach to storytelling, in a family drama about a completely unrecognizable type of family. In a walled-off compound, a married couple has raised their children in total isolation, teaching them strange, untrue lessons about the outside world and warping their language skills by swapping the meanings of seemingly random words. The children are now adults, but they remain fully under their parents’ spell, believing in the nonsensical reasons they’ve been given for why they can’t leave the family property.

“Dogtooth” mixes thriller and coming-of-age elements with inexplicable interludes as the family enacts their baffling traditions. It’s both confounding and fascinating, and it’s easy to see why it gained Lanthimos such a following. The sensibility that draws viewers to his bigger-budget productions gets its start right here. 

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2. ‘The Favourite’

THE FAVOURITE | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube THE FAVOURITE | Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight - YouTube
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Lanthimos made the leap to mainstream acceptance and major awards attention in his first collaboration with Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara. “The Favourite” is a fictionalized biopic about England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a vain 18th-century monarch whose capriciousness threatens the country’s stability. Two women vie for the romantic and political affections of the queen: her longtime advisor Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Sarah’s ambitious young cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone).

Colman deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal of the eccentric, horny Queen Anne in a movie that is only marginally concerned with historical accuracy. Instead of a dull period piece, “The Favourite” is a bawdy, nasty and often hilarious remix of history, with a focus on the debauchery and ruthlessness of the ruling class.

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1. ‘Poor Things’

POOR THINGS | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures - YouTube POOR THINGS | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures - YouTube
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Once again collaborating with Tony McNamara, Lanthimos reached even greater heights of acclaim with this loose adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel. Emma Stone became the second Lanthimos star to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of Bella Baxter, a sort of hybrid creature brought to life by the Frankenstein-like scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Mark Ruffalo is hilarious as the sleazy lawyer who seduces and then resents Bella after he whisks her away from her creator.

“Poor Things” riffs on themes from “Frankenstein,” as Bella discovers both the pleasures and the cruelties of the world beyond Godwin’s lab. The movie takes place in a sort of steampunk version of Victorian England, brought to life by gorgeous, intricate set design and special effects. It’s an inventive epic that feels like a culmination of Lanthimos’ longtime thematic fixations.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.