Terrence Malick – From Worst to Best

A rare on set snap of Malick, this time with Ryan Gosling filming a yet unnamed film.

A rare on set snap of Malick, this time with Ryan Gosling filming a yet unnamed movie.

List compiled by Eddie on 4/07/2014

Words can only go so far in the describing of illusive Texan filmmaker Terrence Malick, an undisputable genius of filmmaking and storytelling who in the period of 41 years from 1973 – present has made only the 6 feature length films that are all of the highest quality.

Malick has forged a reputation as somewhat of a ghost in the movie making industry yet his films consistently gather together some of the most sort after actors in Hollywood, with his upcoming projects testimony to this fact with everyone from Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Natalie Portman signed up for a director who is not afraid to cut his stars from his pictures in his notoriously thorough edits.

If there was a tie that binds all of Malick’s films into one it would be his handle with his visuals. Creating some of the most naturally beautiful images in cinema history a Malick film is not that far separated from a painting that is to be adored in a gallery but to say that Malick only handles this well would be a disservice to his often pitch perfect and touching portrayal of what it means to be human.

As Malick continues to grow ever older we can only hope that we see as many of his stories come to life as possible as when Malick no longer makes motion pictures the industry will be that little less grand than it was when his works continued to wow and inspire.

Happy reading and happy watching!

Disclaimer – Plot summaries from IMDB

6. To the Wonder (2012)

To the Wonder

Starring: Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem

After falling in love in Paris, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Their church’s Spanish-born pastor struggles with his faith, while Neil encounters a woman from his childhood.

It’s beyond a reasonable doubt that Malick’s latest film is also his weakest but in saying that To the Wonder is a film that would rank highly in many other directors CV’s as it’s still a highly beautiful and touching tale of love and entering a new world, that from all reports is based around Malick’s own personal experiences making the journey more heartfelt because of it. The film also features foreign actress Olga Kurylenko at her most fascinating and beguiling.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – No

 5. Days of Heaven (1978)


Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard

A hot-tempered farm labourer convinces the woman he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.

Days of Heaven is a tale filled with memorable moments (the locust swarm, the cutting of the fields), stand out performances from its two leads in Gere and the never better Adams as well as the typical Malick visuals and a classic score from music master Ennio Morricone. It’s hard to fathom that Days of Heaven was only Malick’s second feature and also his last for 20 years but after making a film as wonderful as this it must have given him a huge sense of accomplishment. Unique and stunning to this day, Days of Heaven is a film worth seeking out.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – Yes (won)

 4. The Thin Red Line (1998)


Starring: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson

An adaptation of James Jones’ autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during the second World War.

In a year in which it competed with Spielberg’s World War 2 behemoth Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line crafted its own unique voice in the plethora or war tales and continues to touch and affect those that watch it to this day. Filled with an abundance of life like characters and with many voices taking the lead through the picture there is without question no other tale of War like it and a war tale that is as hauntingly beautiful.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – Yes

3. The New World (2005)


Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer

The story of the English exploration of Virginia, and of the changing world and loves of Pocahontas.

Forget the Disney animation this is the quintessential tale of Pocahontas’s and a perfect match of material and director. Without words Malick can convey feelings and emotion and his cast were all fantastically on song from newcomer Kilcher as the famous native and Colin Farrell has never been better as the haplessly in love Captain Smith, with Malick unlocking a rarely seen side to the often misused actor. A trip to a past history and a trip to nature at the hands of Malick equalled movie watching heaven.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – Yes

 2. Badlands (1973)


Starring: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates

An impressionable teen girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend go on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.

Not dissimilar to real life lovers on the run tales from the bygone eras of Americana, Badlands will long be regarded as one of the most startling debuts by a filmmaker in the history of cinema. Crafting a film filled with wonder, lust, murder and performances for the ages by Sheen and Spacek. Badlands is a film now consistently regarded as one of the quintessential American movies of all time and a perfect entry into the Malick film canon for those uninitiated.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – No

1. The Tree of Life (2011)

Tree of Life

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Tye Sheridan

The story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence and struggles with his parents’ conflicting teachings.

A film that divides the masses unlike most others, The Tree of Life may touch one and frustrate the other yet there is no questioning Malick’s look into not only life, family, love and creation is an often jaw droopingly gorgeous tale and feature length meditation unlike any other. With a vast array of top notch performances and a tale for the young and the old Tree of Life is Malick at his most daring and at his most powerful.

Oscar Nominated for Best Cinematography? – Yes

A Malick cameo in Badlands that has now become famous in it's own right. Malick filled in on the day for a sick extra

A Malick cameo in Badlands that has now become famous in it’s own right. Malick filled in on the day for a sick extra

 How does this worst to best list rank with your opinion? Do you love or do you hate Malick? Let us know in the comments below!

57 responses to “Terrence Malick – From Worst to Best

    • Hi Charles – you have to check out his others mate if you really liked Badlands I am sure there are some other gems that would really hit the mark.

  1. I have to disagree vehemently with Tree of Life as his best work. The painful allusion to the much better Kubrick Space Odessy involving that absurd dinosaur event was laughable. The floating mother throughout much of the film, unwatchable Yes, it is visually stunning. No question. But our dear director is not a DP or cinematographer, he is a director. I see his films as I must, recently get minimal pleasure from them, and would never wish them on the average film goer, who deserves better, frankly.

    • I know many that would agree with you mate but I find each of his films quite stunning and will always defend the Tree of Life as a completely fascinating and moving work of film art, and that more average cinema goers don’t like his work/don’t know his work just goes to show that the fever for blockbusters and sequels outweighs the need to see true art and originality on screen, which is a sad thing.

    • Hi Jon, your in for a real treat once you plough through his films. It’s always going to be a mystery as to why he did not make more but as you said quality is better than a film a year if they lack impact.

  2. Love it, Eddie! Malick is a top ten director for me. “The New World” is my favorite, followed closely by “Badlands” and “The Tree of Life”. “To the Wonder” is definitely the weakest, but still an achievement for any lesser talent than TM. I learned to appreciate “The Thin Red Line” on repeat viewings, and I’m very fond of “Days of Heaven”. But I’ve only seen the latter once, and I need to give it another look before deciding where it would fit. Super post! ML

    • Talking about Malick Mark always makes me want to rush home and put a blu ray of his on. The joys of his films really work with repeat viewings as well which is a tremendous feat.

  3. There’s no doubt that The Tree of Life is a great movie…but…

    It’s also good on a late night when you’re having trouble sleeping. Sorry! lol

    Not sure if I’ve said it, but a double bill of Tree of Life and Scott Pilgrim is my cinematic nightmare. (I hope the terrorists/Mexican drug cartels aren’t reading this right now)

    • I reckon I wouldn’t mind going to sleep with some Tree of Life on in the background, I could think of worse.

      Scott Pilgrim however is a major nightmare inducer.

  4. Badlands has been one of my favourite films for years but I’ve had a hard time with his recent work. I liked parts of the undeniably beautiful The Tree of Life and The New World but was left frustrated by the overall films. I’d rank them: 6) To The Wonder, 5)The New World, 4)The Tree of Life, 3) The Thin Red Line, 2)Days of Heaven, 1)Badlands

  5. Hi Eddie! Good choice of director for a career review. Agree with you about To the Wonder, though I think it suffers coming after the superb The Tree of Life. Number one for me though? Days of Heaven, my first experience of Malick, and a movie I go back to every now and again just for the sheer pleasure of it. (And the Criterion blu-ray makes it look absolutely stunning.)

  6. I didnt actually know malick had a ‘best’ category in his collection. Actually assumed this article was a joke

  7. My favorite so far is still 1978, Days of Heaven. It’s just so BEAUTIFUL to watch! I respect his other films, and am always glad when he’s got a new one coming out. I’m looking forward to Knight of Cups and wonder if/when it will be released this year or not? What a cast!

  8. My only experiences with Malick are Tree of Life, and some of New World. I enjoyed the experimental nature of Tree, but I’ve decided the film’s just not for me. I started into New World on a plane, but after 20+ previous hours of travel on that trip, I nodded off, possibly before the opening credits had finished. I caught bits and pieces as I awoke periodically each time the food cart came around. So, needless to say I had no idea what was going on. But I would like to try watching it again, fully rested. Thanks for the reminder that I need to check out the rest of his work.

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