With Clerks III out in the world, it’s time to look back at the Kevin Smith movies featured over his three-decade career. Emerging in the early 1990s as part of the era’s burgeoning bunch of Gen-X independent filmmakers, Smith’s idiosyncratic brand of equally articulate and apathetic slacker dialogue became instantly recognizable, earning him a spot near the top of the list of the most promising new talents. Not only that, as Smith’s characters would frequently chew the fat over seemingly insignificant details of Star Wars and superheroes, he was the first to really give a relatable voice to nerdy interests during a time when this particular subculture was far from cool.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
Influenced by the plot-light, dialogue-driven comedies of Woody Allen, and more directly by Richard Linklater's debut movie, the purposefully meandering $23,000 DIY debut, Slacker, Smith set his sights on becoming a filmmaker, achieved this goal, and hasn’t looked back since. His endeavors may have expanded into podcasting, talking events, YouTube, comic book stores, and television, further establishing his brand of style and personality, but Smith has remained consistent as a filmmaker. Mass acceptance seems to no longer be a concern of his, with many of his recent films being tailored purely to satisfy his legions of hardcore fans.
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This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that they sacrifice quality or moments of genuine hilarity and pathos that wouldn’t be out of place in his early classics. The upcoming Clerks III, which is arguably be Smith's most personal movie to date, is his fourteenth feature-length film as a director. Here are all of the Kevin Smith movies ranked from worst to best.
14. Yoga Hosers
The second film of Kevin Smith movies in his proposed True North trilogy – following 2014’s Tusk – can only be described as a cinematic abomination of stupefyingly terrible quality and very comfortably festers at the very bottom of his filmography. Yoga Hosers follows two 15-year-old yoga enthusiasts and convenience store clerks from Manitoba (Lily-Rose Depp and Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith) who, through a bizarre series of incidents become embroiled in a battle against one-foot-tall bratwurst Nazis. Broken down like that, the film sounds funnier and more enjoyably anarchic than it actually is. In reality, however, its 88-minute runtime is an excruciatingly irritating chore – and not entirely for its lame humor and undisciplined family-and-friends in-joke vibes, either. It’s also because Yoga Hosers represented such an abysmal fall from Smith's inaugural status as cherished and hugely promising filmmaker. Herem he's seemingly regressing and wasting his talents on something puerile and lacking in anything resembling a purpose. Here’s hoping that Moose Jaws will find Smith rounding off his trilogy on a higher note.
13. Cop Out
Cop Out is certainly terrible; it’s a tacky, mean-spirited, and flabbily-paced rehashing of buddy cop clichés that were already well-worn and ripe for mockery years before it was released. However, at least its atrociousness comes in a more plainly flat and unfunny way than the eye-gouging irritation that Yoga Hosers triggers. The perfunctory and half-baked plot of the movie sees Bruce Willis’ veteran NYPD detective and his partner, played by Tracy Morgan, caught in the pursuit of a valuable and rare baseball card that could pay for his daughter’s wedding. Cop Out marked the first and only instance of Smith not writing a film he directed, and it shows. His barb-tongued dialogue is sorely missed and could have injected some life into the boilerplate script and bland, signposted gags.
12. Jersey Girl
Jersey Girl was without Jay and Silent Bob, and therefore clearly a real attempt by Smith to branch out and try his hand at something a little more adult, cinematic, and less scruffy. In the film, Ben Affleck struggles to navigate the tribulations of being a single father and salvage his career after moving back in with his father. Despite his earnest efforts, Smith struggled to produce something that didn’t succumb to bland sentimentalism and to substitute his usual brazenly ribald humor for something more meaningful. The main issue, however, is that instead of sticking to this more grown-up brand of dramedy to improve, Smith took the film’s failure as a sign he could – and should – retreat back to the View Askewniverse to please his fans, if nobody else. The results thereafter have been patchy, but it’s hard not to wonder what kind of filmmaker he could have been.
Related: Every Kevin Smith View Askewniverse Movie Ranked Worst To Best
11. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot finds Smith catering squarely to his own die-hard fans and doubling down on the self-mythologizing to deliver what is inarguably the most Kevin Smith film to date. Sardonically rehashing the narrative of their original 2001 film, Smith’s most popular and enduring slacker creations, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself) again embark on a cross-country adventure to prevent Hollywood from producing a film based on their own comic book alter-egos, Bluntman and Chronic. Only this time, it’s a cynical reboot. It certainly won't generate Smith any new fans; its airtight insularity and relentless determination to exist as a "for fans only" spectacle ensure this. Yet, despite the film’s cavalcade of self-deprecating humor on Smith’s part and unearthed in-jokes from his films that are as much as a quarter of a century old at this point, Reboot's best trick is lampooning the current state of modern cinema and eliciting some of the biggest laughs of his later career.
10. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Judd Apatow’s sex comedies of the early-to-mid 2000s – Superbad, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, etc. – essentially picked up where Kevin Smith’s original run of similarly fun but filthy-minded films left off. It’s ironic, then, that Zack and Miri Make A Porno found Smith making a movie that could easily be mistaken for an Apatow comedy at first glance and not one of his own. In the film, Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks play cash-strapped housemates and best friends who attempt to boost their incomes by putting their Platonic affections aside and making porn together. Clerks III director Kevin Smith keeps the laughs coming thick and fast with a wacky roster of supporting characters, but he sometimes struggles to afford his eponymous characters the affection they deserve. Though this isn’t enough to completely derail the film, it is a shame considering the strength of its central concept and Rogen and Banks’ charming chemistry.
Smith’s first film with a double-figure budget might just be his most ambitious, though it's not necessarily his most significant to date. Dogma tells the story of two fallen angels, Bartleby and Loki (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), who attempt to use a loophole to ascend back to Heaven after being excommunicated by God. By doing so, however, they’ll be defying God and will undo all creation and so must be stopped at all costs. Dogma does present a fantastically imaginative story of cheating redemption and theological grappling and maybe features the greatest ensemble cast, including Askewniverse regular Ben Affleck, that he has ever been afforded. And while it is adored by many, the key thing that mires it in hindsight is Smith’s complete lack of discipline. It’s a fault that results in too much comedic dillydallying and poor pacing that belies the urgency of the story and a bloated 130-minute runtime. The instance of Smith picketing the film himself after it was perceived to be blasphemous by the Catholic Church might just be funnier than anything in the film, too.
Avoiding the gravitational pull of the View Askewniverse for a number of years following the success of Clerks II, Smith was seemingly intent on developing another body of films with their own recurring characters and irreverent interweaving stories. This time they would encompass decidedly horror-inflected subject matter and consistently take place in Canada. The first film in Smith's proposed True North trilogy, Tusk, saw Smith delve into the gross-out realms of body horror. It focuses on a podcaster (Justin Long) who embarks on a mission to the backwoods of Manitoba to meet a man for an interview, only to become imprisoned and surgically turned into something resembling a walrus. Tusk merges Smith’s offbeat humor with some genuinely unsettling ideas and imagery à la The Human Centipede, and the weirdness is galvanized by a terrifically unhinged performance by late character actor Michael Parks. Tusk might be a tonal mess, but it remains an unconventional oddity that has to be seen to be believed.
Related: Tusk: Walrus Man True Story Explained
7. Clerks III
In his most recent filmmaking endeavor, Smith turns back to his roots within the View Askewniverse by rounding out the final Clerks installment, Clerks III. This time, however, the filmmaker takes a similar approach to Zack & Miri by making a meta film-within-a-film. In the movie, Randal suffers a heart attack and begins to question the meaning of his life. Therefore, he enlists Dante, Elias, Jay, and Silent Bob to help him make a movie about his time at the Quick Stop. Clerks III is standard Kevin Smith fare, a lot of crude jokes with a lot of heart. However, seeing the Clerks gang back together again brings a different type of nostalgia that isn't felt in his other movies. Rather than it being nostalgia for nostalgia's sake, though, there's a definitive purpose for the movie's existence. Clerks III perfectly brings the franchise to an end, wrapping up on a positive note rather than a down-ending. It's another deeply personal film for director Kevin Smith, as he himself suffered a heart attack, and his experiences seep out earnestly into the movie.
6. Clerks II
Following his self-described failure with Jersey Girl, his full-hearted attempt to grow as a filmmaker, Smith returned to the sanctuary of the View Askewniverse. Picking up a decade after Clerks, the film again follows perennial minimum-wagers Randal and Dante who must individually determine their destinies while working at a fast-food chain. It’s easy to draw parallels between the author and the art here as we see can clearly Smith wrestling with himself as to whether he should embrace his inclinations as a limited storyteller, or evolve and take chances. The conundrum with the View Askewniverse movie Clerks II is that he takes for the former option, the path of least resistance, but still manages to turn in a perfectly fine and fitting follow-up to the beloved original. What it lacks in that film’s endearing naivety and witty verbal savagery, it makes up with heartfelt spirit.
5. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Having created his own appealing universe of suburban Gen-X slackerism, it was time for Smith to create something of a spinoff for his most commonly recurring characters: dope-smoking miscreants Jay and Silent Bob. The result was a film that was far smarter than most would have ever expected. Similar to Reboot, Strike Back focuses upon the eponymous duo learning that their comic book alter-egos, Bluntman and Chronic, have been sold to Hollywood in a deal that excludes them from any royalties. Accordingly, the pair road-trip across the country to sabotage the production. Beneath the deliberately dumb humor and Smith’s typical infantile excesses, however, is a hilarious, if one-note, takedown of Hollywood and metaphysical head-scrambler. Consider how Ben Affleck first appears in this movie in a reprisal of his role from Chasing Amy, only to later re-appear as himself in the hilarious fictional Good Will Hunting sequel segment. With such a dimension-obliterating disregard for narrative filmmaking, Smith here created an imaginative and entertainingly insouciant mess.
With his first significant budget, Smith did the obvious thing and upscaled the convenience store in Clerks to an entire mall for the arena wherein his wayward youths and lovesick adolescent creations could congregate. Like the memorable Empire Records, another cult favorite from 1995, Mallrats is a microcosm of the 1990s sensibilities and styles as remembered at their most innocent and appealing. The film follows a duo of slackers who are dumped by their girlfriends on the same day so resort to mooching about the local mall where they engage in all manner of layabout escapades. Though Smith's attempt at observing the young male’s struggles with meaningful relationships and mature romance isn't given enough substance, Mallrats is best enjoyed as a kind of madcap hangout film that offers a comic look at quarter-life crises, pop Americana, and junk culture. And while some of Smith’s dialogue was still a little clunky, pro-skater Jason Lee was a revelation and delivered it effortlessly.
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3. Red State
Smith’s first horror movie was a real shock to the senses – especially when considering how it came directly after the vapid would-be comedy Cop Out. Red State is a politically-minded horror, and it's an often genuinely disturbing film that was heavily inspired by the Waco siege as much as it is a no-holds-barred critique of the homophobic views held by the Westboro Baptist Church. Set in the Bible Belt, the film follows a bunch of high school teens who receive an online invitation for sex, only to encounter a dangerous clan of Christian fundamentalists who have a sinister plan. With only faint glimmers of Smith’s trademark irreverent humor, Red State goes for the throat and rarely loosens its grip. John Goodman, Kevin Pollack, and Melissa Leo add pedigree to a cast of lesser-knowns, but it is Michael Parks, who would later feature in Tusk, that completely steals the film as a fire and brimstone pastor from Hell.
Though unmistakably a product of the 1990s particular brand of insouciant mopery, (and the introduction of Jay and Silent Bob) Smith’s verbose and vulgar slacker classic debut remains a timeless testament to the tedium – and peculiarity – of working menial jobs. The film follows two convenience store clerks, Dante and Randal, as they discuss their early-20s slump in between treating customers with less than zero respect and over-analyzing the minutiae of the visual effects of Star Wars. Clerks is something of a paradox in that it addresses apathy and wasting one’s life in dead-end employment, yet it was produced DIY-style by a young filmmaker steadfastly committed to making a name for himself. Accordingly, the film’s untidy aesthetic and lack of cinematic elegance are completely outshone by the undeniable charm and self-belief. Smith also proved himself to be an idiosyncratic wordsmith straight away. So important is the film now considered that it was even selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2019. That’s not bad going for a film that was partly funded by a guy selling his comic book collection.
1. Chasing Amy
1997's Chasing Amy was Kevin Smith's first true stab at tackling broader themes and adult issues. The film concerns a comic book writer (Ben Affleck), who falls in love with a queer woman (a terrific Joey Lauren Adams). However, his diffidence and insecurities regarding her sexual history (with both sexes) threaten to destroy not only his relationship with her but also with his best friend (Jason Lee). Many have argued, including Smith himself, that Chasing Amy might have been best told from the perspective of the queer character, and they certainly have a point. However, Smith’s third feature, as quaint as it might appear in 2022, remains crucial for a number of reasons. The second View Askewniverse film's forthright exploration of male sexual anxieties and latent homophobia, and how it attempts to depict queer culture seriously and not resort to clichés, are still resoundingly effective – especially considering how the film was produced in far less culturally sensitive times. The overall result is a poignant and bittersweet dramedy that dared to deal with sexuality and love at their most complicated. It’s still Kevin Smith’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker — here’s to hoping he’s still got one this good left in him.