Movies

Every Alex Garland Movie Ranked, Including Civil War

Much like Charlie Kaufman (whose movies I’ve also ranked), Alex Garland is probably just as known for his screenwriting as he is for his directing. 

With his recent movie, Civil War, Garland has established himself as one of the most distinctive filmmakers that we currently have. 

But, where does Civil War end up on the list of Alex Garland movies (both directed, and non-directed)? Well, you’re about to find out.  

Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

8. Never Let Me Go (2010) – Writer 

Directed by Mark Romanek and adapted by Garland, Never Let Me Go is based off of the novel of the same name written by Garland’s friend, Kazuo Ishiguro. And, I’ll be honest – I think Never Let Me Go is one of those movies that is arguably better than the book. That said, I never really liked the book (I know! How?), so that probably says a lot more about me than it does about this story. 

Speaking of which, the story is essentially a love triangle between two women and a man, played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield, respectively. There’s a twist to the story that I won’t spoil here, but it’s the basis for why this tale’s so tragic. And, I like that the movie gets to that twist faster than the novel.

That said, when it comes to Garland’s work, I find this one to be his weakest. It’s a beautiful film, and Romanek does a great job of directing it, but the story just lacks that oomph of Garland’s other screenplays. That may just be me being a philistine, though. If you loved the book, then you’ll probably love this film, since it’s pretty faithful. 

The cast in Sunshine

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

7. Sunshine (2007) – Writer 

Oh, man. Directed by Danny Boyle, and again written by Garland, Sunshine honestly had the potential to be one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, but a late in the game genre-swerve definitely knocks it out of contention for me. 

The story is super high concept, though! The sun is dying, so astronauts are going to space to reignite it. The film also has some phenomenal actors, like Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cliff Curtis, and Rose Byrne, just to name a few, and they’re all great. I mean, more than HALF of this movie is amazing. 

But then…well, it turns into a slasher flick for some reason late in the film, and that just kills it for me. I understand that many can overlook that, but I just can’t. The tonal shift just sinks it for me. It could have been so good! 

Jessie Buckley in Men

(Image credit: Entertainment Film Distributors)

6. Men (2022) – Writer/Director 

Men, which stars Jessie Buckley, and Rory Kinnear, is a fascinating film, and one that had me thinking about it long after it was over. 

The film is about a widow (Buckley) who vacations out in the countryside after the suicide of her husband, and she’s pretty much pestered/followed/and even terrorized by various men (who are all portrayed by Rory Kinnear) all throughout the film. 

There’s a great deal of tension throughout. However, a part of me feels like the messaging – whatever it’s actually supposed to be – kind of misses the mark. 

There are some startling scenes, and the film is a fine representation of trauma, but much like Sunshine, the direction this movie takes (especially in the climax) might do it more harm than good. It’s a fine horror movie just on the cusp of being a great one.  

Jesse Plemons in Civil War

(Image credit: A24)

5. Civil War (2024) – Writer/Director 

Setting records for A24 when it comes to box office, Civil War is definitely Alex Garland’s most divisive film, in more ways than one. Many people (including ourselves) praised the film for its “electrifying” storytelling, and yes, it certainly wallops you with the bombast. But your mileage on the film really hinges on whether you’re okay with an apolitical political movie. I’ll explain.

Civil War doesn’t really take a side. Instead, it concerns four journalists (played by Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, and Stephen McKinley Henderson), who are on a road trip through war torn America for various reasons. Along the way, we see some striking visuals, and it all culminates in an explosive conclusion.

But, that’s just it. ARE you okay with a nonpartisan movie about America at war with itself? I will say that this is a movie of moments. Like, I won’t soon forget some of the scenes in this film (especially the one featuring Jesse Plemons). However, I’m not sure if the whole movie works. It’s a great film that I will dwell on for a while, but it’s still lacking something by being so neutral. 

Natalie Portman investigating an albino crocodile in Annihilation

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

4. Annihilation (2018) – Writer/Director 

One of the most rewatchable sci-fi movies ever, Annihilation is a top-tier Alex Garland movie. Starring Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Oscar Issac, and others, the film concerns a group of the most badass scientists you’ve ever seen entering an alien environment with all of these terrifying plants and animals. 

Based on the book of the same name, Annihilation is utterly haunting. Everything about it, from the way it philosophizes what “the shimmer” actually is, to the slow, deliberate nature of its pacing, just screams modern day classic. 

What I especially love about it, though, is that every time I think I get what the movie is driving at, it seems to slip away from me. But, it’s not frustrating. It’s mysterious! Annihilation is the kind of movie that keeps rewarding you, the more and more you plumb its depths.  

Karl Urban in Dredd

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

3. Dredd (2012) – Writer 

Depending upon whom you ask (cough Karl Urban! *cough*), Alex Garland directed Dredd and not Pete Travis. Either way, Dredd is still, after all these years, my pick for the best comic book movie ever

Its strength lies in its simplicity. Instead of an end of the world scenario, we’re just dropped into this day in the life of a police officer. It doesn’t hurt that Urban is the perfect Judge Dredd, never taking off his helmet and instead becoming one with the character.

I mentioned before how Annihilation is super rewatchable, but I honestly think that Dredd is infinitely rewatchable, as it’s pretty much the perfect action movie. He is the law!  

Cillian Murphy stands in front of a desolate London in 28 Days Later.

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

2. 28 Days Later (2002) – Writer 

It’s safe to say that Dredd didn’t change the comic book movie genre, but 28 Days Later very well may have changed the zombie genre (even though many people don’t even consider it a zombie movie). Directed by Danny Boyle and starring Cillian Murphy, as well as many others, 28 Days Later is still haunting to this very day.

The story might seem a little trite, as it’s about a bike courier who wakes up from a coma only to realize that the world he left behind is not the world that he’s waking up to, but you can cut the tension with a knife. The movie is constantly barreling forward, and the way the rage virus shuts down all of England, is all the more horrifying today once you think back to the empty streets amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. 

28 Days Later is one of the most startling movies ever made, but it’s still not Alex Garland’s best work… 

Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

(Image credit: A24)

1. Ex Machina (2014) – Writer/Director  

That would of course be Ex Machina, which I’m still pissed off wasn’t even up for Best Picture. The story of an A.I. growing sentient, Ex Machina is pretty much the best Black Mirror episode ever, if it were a movie. 

Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina isn’t technically a horror movie, but it’s probably the scariest movie on this list. It’s likely because this film, which was released 10 years ago (!) honestly feels like it’s right at our doorstep. It seemed like the near future back then, but with the rapid acceleration of A.I., it seems like one of the most prescient movies ever made.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is immaculately paced, has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen, and is still just as twisty now as it was back then. I honestly don’t think any movie could beat Ex Machina in Garland’s filmography, but we shall see. He’s obviously immensely talented.

What’s your favorite Alex Garland film? 

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