American filmmaker Richard Linklater has managed to carve his own niche section in the film industry through his personalized films that heavily center on his suburban upbringing, loose narrative structure and the continued sequence of time. Before releasing his debut feature film, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988), Linklater founded the Austin Film Society in 1985 to highlight independent filmmakers and various art films. His passion for independent filmmaking further led to the creation of Detour Filmproduction, a production company that now offers internships to aspiring film creators.
From iconic hits such as Dazed and Confused (1993) and the Before trilogy, Linklater’s memorable and extensive film career has signified his spot as one of the founders of the new wave of independent films in the United States. So, here are ten of his best films, according to scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Bernie (2011) – 88%
Based on a true story, Bernie is a dark comedy film co-penned and directed by Richard Linklater and released in 2011. The film sees Jack Black as the titular Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede, a 39-year-old who murders his 81-year-old companion Marjorie “Marge” Nugent in 1958. The film explores the cause of Marge’s murder in Carthage, Texas, as well as the subsequent arrest and charge of first-degree murder for Bernie.
The film holds an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes among critics and a respectable 73% from the audience on the site as well. Bernie was lauded for its effortlessly great direction from Linklater, a strong commitment to accuracy in its script and an outstanding, career-defining performance by Jack Black. Despite its favorable reception and accumulation of accolades, the film became a point of contention in Carthage as some residents were skeptical of Linklater’s use of residential interviews in the film. Still, the film has become one of Linklater’s most beloved.
9 Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022) – 91%
Richard Linklater’s venture into the realm of animation in 2022 with Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood was seen as one of the biggest snubs at the year’s Academy Award ceremony, and for good reason. The film boasts a hearty 91% on Rotten Tomatoes among critics and an equally great 81% among the general audience.
Loosely based on the childhood Linklater, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood follows the fictional tale of a fourth grader who becomes the very first human to land on the moon. The film was originally conceived in live-action format by Linklater in 2004, but he felt that a film inspired by the Sunday morning cartoons he would watch would be more beneficial because of the playful nature of the animation format.
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is a pleasant, nostalgic movie that easily ranks itself among the great live-action films in Linklater’s extensive catalog of critically adored and beloved films.
8 The School of Rock (2003) – 92%
Whenever anyone begins to list great films starring the charismatic and highly memorable Jack Black, it will not take long before School of Rock (2003) becomes listed.
A film that Jack Black helped become iconic, School of Rock stars Black as Dewey Finn, a former rock guitarist who fakes being a substitute teacher at a local, prestigious school. In an effort to win over the school and his students as well as pay off his rent, Dewey utilizes his students’ excellent musical abilities to form a rock band that will rock the upcoming Battle of the Bands competition.
School of Rock has cemented itself as one of the best comedic films of the 2000s and became a commercial success with over $131 million amassed at the global box office. The film has been equally critically successful, boasting a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. School of Rock has also spawned numerous spin-offs into various forms of visual media, including a Broadway musical and a short-lived television adaptation from 2016-2018 by Nickelodeon.
7 Dazed and Confused (1993) – 93%
Dazed and Confused (1993) is a coming-of-age comedy film directed, produced and written by Richard Linklater. Starring Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, a relatively unknown cast at the time who would soon become stars, the film centers on the antics of teenagers on their last day of school.
Despite bombing at the box office with an $8 million amassed total on a $6.9 million budget, Linklater’s classic film became a hit on the home video market. The success on home video launched a cult classic status for the film, amassing more love from critics and audiences — even scoring a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
6 Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (2016) – 94%
The first, and only, documentary on this list is Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny. The 2016 documentary centers on the life and career of the titular acclaimed director in a film that was produced and directed by Louis Black and Karen Berstein. The film explores the journey of Linklater throughout the film industry, with insight from acclaimed names such as Ethan Hawke and Jonathan Demme.
Despite a mixed reception among fans, with a 58% on the site, critics seemed to enjoy the spotlight placed upon Linklater in this documentary by industry-acclaimed filmmakers. The film is lauded for its focus on the remarkable filmmaker in an authentic presentation.
5 Before Sunset (2004) – 94%
The first film from Richard Linklater’s acclaimed Before trilogy makes this list with a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Before Sunset is the sequel to Linklater’s first entry into the trilogy, Before Sunrise, and it continues the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) after the two reunite in Paris after nine years. While solely directed by Linklater, the film sees a collaboration between many of its actors behind the scenes. The film was written by Linklater, Delpy and Hawke from a story that was created by Linklater and Kim Krizan.
While its score lands it as the weakest in Linklater’s trilogy, the film was a critical and commercial success, earning numerous accolades, including a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination and numerous “Best Of” year-end placements.
4 Boyhood (2014) – 97%
Considered one of the best coming-of-age films of all time, Boyhood takes Linklater’s love for including the aspect of time in his films by telling the compelling story of Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) as he becomes a teenager with divorced parents. The film is Linklater’s realist film yet, exploring many aspects of realism (on-location shooting and amateur actors) to convey the story from a production period spanning 11 years from 2002 to 2013.
The film was a critical success, earning a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and earned many accolades, such as a Silver Bear for Best Director, five BAFTA nominations and six Academy Award nominations. The film’s excellent explorations of many themes, including fatherhood, cement it as one of Linklater’s most cherished and realistic films in his extensive catalog.
3 Hit Man (2023) – 98%
A more recent film on this list, Hit Man (2023), stars Glenn Powell as Houston police officer Gary Johnson, who becomes infatuated with a girl he saves while posing as a professional killer. The film had its premiere at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 5, 2023, and has already amassed a 97% from 58 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is sure to excite many fans with its blend of action and comedy and is already becoming another successful entry from Linklater. Hit Man has also become a successful entry for Powell, earning the top spot for his best film according to Rotten Tomatoes as well.
2 Before Midnight (2013) – 98%
The third and final installment in Linklater’s acclaimed Before trilogy, Before Midnight (2013), earns the second spot on this list. The film puts an end to the love connection growing between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) as the two vacation together in Greece alongside their children. The film is an excellent ending to the perfectly crafted story Linklater has created over the past two films. The film also sees the return of Linklater’s collaboration in the screenplay from stars Hawke and Delpy.
With a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, Before Midnight has become a critical success. The film has also fared well commercially, earning a $23.3 million box office gross, and is lauded as an intimate portrayal of commitment and intimacy between two lovers.
1 Before Sunrise (1995) – 100%
Before Sunset (1995) is the film that started it all and cemented Linklater’s legacy in filmmaking. The film follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), two individuals who meet on a Eurail train from Budapest to Vienna that sparks a lovely connection between the two. The film, inspired by personal perspectives and a collaboration with Kim Krizan, includes a minimal plot and instead focuses on the brewing connection between the two lovebirds. The film is another one of Linklater’s commercial successes, earning $22.5 million at the box office, and being lauded by critics with a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is highly remembered for its excellent exploration of themes of self-discovery and fulfillment that can be achieved with a significant other.