Darren Aronofsky’s Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
I am never bored by a Darren Aronofsky movie. I may be annoyed, I may be inspired, I may be confounded, but I’m never bored. He is an exhilarating and exasperating filmmaker, completely driven to put his audience’s soul in a vice. And yet there’s diversity in his filmography as it swings from gut-wrenching horrors to cerebral nightmares to melancholy conclusions. His films are big, bold, and ambitious, and while they don’t always work 100% of the time, I’m glad that he’s found a way to keep making movies in a marketplace that encourages conformity and chasing trends.
With his new film, mother!, now in theaters, I’ve gone back and ranked Aronofsky’s feature films from worst to best. Hopefully, like every Aronofsky movie, it will spark heated opinions, division, and conversation.
Aronofsky’s latest film is also his weakest, which isn’t an insult when you consider that he got away with making a movie that’s built entirely on dream logic and is aggressively anti-humanity. I don’t really like the film, but it impresses the hell out of me, and I love that it will have you talking with people afterwards. The main problem with mother! is once you figure out what Aronofsky is going for, there’s not much more to do than spot Easter eggs and symbolism. mother! exists as a statement, and the problem with statement movies is once you’ve got the statement, there’s not much more you can do. For mother!, even though it’s exquisitely made, once you gather than it’s about God, Mother Earth, and humanity ruining the planet, you’re done.
Noah is a difficult balancing act. Thematically, it’s in a similar place as mother!, but it’s trying to exist between being a biblical epic and an intimate human drama that still deals with Aronofsky’s frequent topics of obsession and death. However, the film still gets bogged down in what details need explanation and which ones don’t. There’s no way the ark could fit every animal on Earth, but we need a scene where they get put to sleep by special smoke. Trying to balance realism with the symbolism and biblical aspects is a heavy lift, but the movie’s morality is intriguing. It’s also exciting to see Aronofsky work with his biggest budget to date and really swing for the fences with something that clearly wasn’t going to please everybody.
Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature isn’t his best movie, but it’s one that shows the immense promise of a young filmmaker. It’s a film that’s grown on me over time as it shows the intensity of Aronofsky’s vision and his unrelenting drive to get to themes he finds important. The plot deals with a number theorist who believes that Pi holds surprising answer, but then becomes paranoid that he’s being hunted by financial analysts who think it will unlock the stock market as well as Hasidic Jews who think it holds answers for the Torah. It’s bold, unrelenting, and will make you look at power tools in a whole new light.
4) Requiem for a Dream
This is the film that arguably put Aronofsky on the map, and made Clint Mansell’s theme the go-to trailer music for about half a decade. While the broad overview of the movie looks like the world’s most effective anti-drug PSA, what Aronofsky is reaching for is something that goes to the heart of his filmography, which is obsession and suffering. Those two intersect at the heart of addiction, which is what makes Requiem for a Dream so powerful. The movie becomes increasingly nightmarish as it goes on, but the real soul of the picture is Ellen Burstyn’s tragic Sara Goldfarb. Lonely and desperate for any kind of attention, her life falls apart when she accidentally becomes addicted to pills. It’s Aronofsky’s hardest movie to watch, but it’s also probably the most essential to understanding his recurring themes.
3) Black Swan
Aronofsky’s 2010 psychological horror surprisingly ended up in that year’s Oscar race pulling in nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing, and earning Best Actress for Natalie Portman. Even more surprising is that it’s kind of a more elegant riff on Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler. Both movies deal with people who sacrifice their bodies in the name of their art, and the reception both received ended up proving Aronofsky’s point about how wrestling is seen as low-art while the ballet of Black Swan receives the accolades. Portman is astounding and the movie goes to some truly surreal and horrifying places (the scene with Winona Ryder in the hospital feels like a test run for mother!) while never sacrificing its rich subtext.
2) The Wrestler
Although it will probably be best remembered as the brief, shining moment where Mickey Rourke’s career experienced a brief resurgence (and in all fairness, he deserved to win Best Actor that year), The Wrestler is a deeply empathetic and earnest movie that shows a serious respect towards a kind of performance art that’s too easily dismissed for being “fake.” Even if you’re not a fan of wrestling, The Wrestler makes you respect it and see how what you’re watching isn’t a sports match but a performance where people sacrifice their bodies and ultimately their lives for our entertainment. It’s incredibly power to watch Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson try to pull away from his profession only to discover that life without wrestling is no life at all even if it will eventually kill him.
1) The Fountain
If you know my favorite movies, this shouldn’t surprise you. The Fountain is one of my all-time favorite films. I’ve watched it countless times. I’m constantly in awe of its craft, its emotional resonance, and its unabashed earnestness. It’s telling that Aronofsky’s most moving feature is also the one that’s about death. While I feel like the marketing misconstrued what the film was about and tried to turn it into a story that spanned centuries, it’s really about completing a story and accepting death. The film features a career-best performance from Hugh Jackman, Clint Mansell’s score is one of the best of all-time, and it’s visually stunning. It’s a movie that has it all, and I get something new from it every time I watch it, which is at least once a year. I adore this film, and it’s a film that only Aronofsky could have made.