7 best Richard Linklater movies, ranked

Matthew McConaughey and Rory Cochrane in Dazed and Confused
(Image credit: Alamy)

Three things come to mind when watching a Richard Linklater film: characters, dialogue and experimentation. Linklater is known for crafting memorable characters, emphasizing character development over plot. It’s how you get David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused” or Bernie Tiede in “Bernie.” In Linklater’s dialogue, every word makes sense for the characters. Nothing feels scripted. The best example is in the “Before” trilogy, which features Linklater’s most naturalistic and conversational scripts. 

Then there’s Linklater’s experimentation. Linklater has never been one to shy away from taking risks or making films without a major studio behind him. “Boyhood” was filmed for over a decade with the same cast. “Waking Life” used a rotoscoping animation technique. And “Hit Man,” Linklater’s latest film starring Glen Powell, was written on spec with no distributor. 

After a strong festival run, Netflix scooped up the rights to “Hit Man,” which streams on June 7. It’s too early to decide where “Hit Man” will fall on the director’s resume. However, we did rank Linklater’s seven best movies below.

7. ‘Boyhood’

Groundbreaking is a word often attributed to things that are not that innovative. In “Boyhood,” it’s the perfect word to describe Linklater’s coming-of-age drama. Shot over 12 years, “Boyhood” follows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 to 18. The film captures several influential moments in Mason’s life, from birthdays and baseball games to first girlfriends and camping trips.

“Boyhood” also illustrates a faithful portrayal of divorce between Mason’s parents, Oliva (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), and its effect on the children. At its core, “Boyhood” is a tender depiction of growing up in a film rooted in realism and authenticity. 

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6. ‘Before Midnight’

“Before Midnight” is the bravest film Linklater has ever directed. Nine years prior, Linklater gave Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) closure in “Before Sunset.” The duo reunited in Paris and rekindled their relationship. While “Before Sunset” is an uplifting love story, “Before Midnight” is a gut punch that explores a relationship on the rocks. 

Jesse and Céline are on a Greek holiday with their twin girls. Jesse’s estranged son lives in America, but he tries to maintain their relationship. The couple’s friends pay for a hotel room so they can spend a romantic evening together. Shortly after Jesse and Céline arrive at the hotel, all hell breaks loose as the couple engages in one of the most visceral arguments about love and commitment depicted on screen. “Before Midnight” was an audacious risk that cemented Linklater as one of Hollywood’s most daring filmmakers. 

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5. ‘School of Rock’

Linklater has predominantly worked within the confines of independent filmmaking. However, Linklater has played ball with the major studios before, with his most successful outing being “School of Rock” for Paramount. Dewey Finn (Jack Black) wants to be a rock star. However, his dream suffers a setback when he’s kicked out of his band. In need of work, Dewey poses as a substitute music teacher at a private elementary school. Upon witnessing the class’s musical talents, Dewey starts a new class project: create a rock band.

Dewey teaches the kids about rock and roll history in the mornings and practices songs in the afternoon. Dewey plans to compete in the local Battle of the Bands with his new group of students. Black’s charisma as Dewey is through the roof in a role perfectly suited to his talents. The music is memorable, Mike White’s script is legitimately funny, and the kids prove that one rock show can change the world.  

Watch on Paramount Plus or Pluto TV

4. ‘Before Sunrise’

The best example of Linklater’s ability to use dialogue to move the plot is the “Before” trilogy. The first film, “Before Sunrise,” introduced audiences to Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American tourist, and Céline (Julie Delpy), a Parisian college student. The two meet on a train from Budapest and have instant chemistry. Jesse convinces Céline to get off the train in Vienna and spend the day together before his flight the next morning. 

Over the course of one night, Jesse and Céline walk and talk throughout the streets of Vienna, discussing things like love, sex, and the meaning of life. From a magical kiss on a Ferris wheel to fake phone calls in a cafe, “Before Sunrise” is a beautiful film about young love with two dynamic performances from Hawke and Delpy. 

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3. ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’

After “Dazed and Confused” explored high school in the 1970s, “Everybody Wants Some!!” took the show on the road to college in the 1980s. It’s the start of the new semester, and freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) arrives at his off-campus house and meets the rest of his baseball teammates. For the next three days, Jake gets a crash course for college life, which consists of beer, girls, and baseball. 

As the spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” is an instant classic for hangout movies. It’s also a great reflection on self-discovery, using college as a vehicle for kids to find themselves and discover who they are. The music is spectacular, from Van Halen and The Knack to Cheap Trick and The Cars. The film has been out for eight years, yet, it still feels criminally underseen. More importantly, “Everybody Wants Some!!” introduced the world to Glen Powell, whose charm and star power are undeniable. 

Watch on Paramount Plus or Prime Video

2. ‘Before Sunset’

If you ever wondered if Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met Céline (Julie Delpy) in Vienna six months later, you get your answer in “Before Sunset.” Set nine years after “Before Sunset,” the film reunites Jese and Céline in Paris. Jesse is now a best-selling author, having written about his magical night with Céline in Vienna. Céline meets Jesse at a bookstore after a reading. With only a few hours before his flight, Jesse and Céline aimlessly wander the streets of Paris, conversing about their personal and professional lives. 

The secret to “Before Sunset’s” success is Linklater inviting Hawke and Delpy to help write the screenplay. They know the characters inside and out, as the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is even better in this film than in the first. It elegantly captures what it means to be in love. Good luck topping this ending.

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple

1. ‘Dazed and Confused’

The greatest hangout movie ever is “Dazed and Confused.” The coming-of-age story follows the lives of rising high school seniors and freshmen navigating the last day of school in 1976. Linklater nails every stereotype: the jock with a brain (Jason London), the nervous freshman (Wiley Wiggins), the stoner (Rory Cochrane), the bully (Bem Affleck), the evil queen (Parker Posey), and the nerds (Anthony Rapp, Adam Goldberg, and Marissa Ribisi). 

Then, there’s Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), who taught us to just keep livin’ and say, “Alright, alright, alright.” Watching teenagers listen to great music, drink beer, and get high is fun. However, the genius of “Dazed and Confused” is how it captures the nostalgic feeling of teenage years. Adulthood comes for us all, but not before one last party at the Moontower. Absolutely no notes for this film, Mr. Linklater.  

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple

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Dan Girolamo
Writer

Dan is a talented content creator who specializes in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. His entertainment interviews have been featured on Digital Trends, where he has spoken with various actors and entertainers, including Brendan Fraser, Alison Brie, and James Cameron. Additionally, Dan is a sportswriter with The Sports Daily, breaking down the top news in the NFL and NBA while providing picks and predictions for each league. Other bylines include ComingSoon.net, Unafraid Show, Fansided, and WatchMojo. When he’s not working, Dan enjoys rooting for his favorite New York sports teams and watching the latest movie from Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese.