Ever since Guy Ritchie exploded into the independent cinema landscape in the late 1990s, he’s been one of the signature auteurs of the crime genre, injecting a particular blend of style and enthusiasm -- and a penchant for overlapping ensemble storylines -- into the cinematic lexicon. To his fans, that’s enough: Ritchie’s many similar crime comedies scratch a particular itch by telling one type of story in largely similar ways, not unlike a series of slasher sequels or rom-coms. To his critics, it sometimes seems like Ritchie is a one-trick pony, even though he’s repeatedly tried, with some success and some failures, to break out of his iconic style and prove how multifaceted he can be.
11. "Swept Away" (2002)
Lina Wertmüller’s “Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August,” and all of its controversial ideas and artistic ambition, gets swept away in a tidal wave of ineptitude by Guy Ritchie’s ill-fated remake. Madonna stars as a stuck-up American capitalist who abuses a fisherman (Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in the original) aboard her yacht, but when they get stranded on a deserted island, he has all the power, and he uses it to humiliate and woo her. The first half of Ritchie’s “Swept Away” can’t decide if it’s a clumsy social satire or an awful screwball comedy. The second half can’t decide if it’s painful or just plain embarrassing.
10. "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017)
Ritchie’s attempt to do for King Arthur what he did for Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have the same zing, perhaps its because this attempt to modernize the character for young audiences relies on “cool” filmmaking tropes the filmmaker has been using since the 1990s. To put it another way, this actually is your parents’ “King Arthur.” Grungy and streetwise and full of handsome men pummeling each other, Ritchie’s interpretation would be enjoyably familiar if it didn’t play like a collection of endless montages, connected only by the thinnest strands of plot.
Daniel Smith/Warner Bros.
9. "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" (2011)
The sequel to “Sherlock Holmes” is more of the same, to the extent that a few weeks after you watch it, it’s hard to distinguish it from its predecessor. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are still charming, and Jared Harris is a welcome addition as Dr. Moriarty, but Noomi Rapace is squandered, Rachel McAdams deserved better too, and the overall story is a tedious miasma. The best part of the “Game of Shadows” is its clever climax, in which Holmes and Moriarty finally face off, but their intense battle of wits -- each one predicting the other’s every move -- looks remarkably like the world’s most melodramatic staring contest.
8. "Aladdin" (2019)
For whatever reason, Ritchie pulled his signature style almost entirely back for his remake of Disney’s “Aladdin,” to the point that it’s hard to imagine why he even made it. If his name wasn’t on the credits, you’d probably never know. It’s a capable production, with sparkling performances by Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the wisecracking Genie, but the film fails to address some of the more serious thematic problems with the text, and its sense of spectacle tops out at “elaborate Las Vegas stage show.” It’s far from the worst live-action Disney remake, but it’s one of the least interesting examples so far of the studio going back to the well, and of Ritchie’s search for mainstream success.
7. "Revolver" (2005)
It’s been said that Guy Ritchie tends to make the same movie over and over again, i.e. elaborate ensemble crime comedies presented with complex editing, thunderous stylization and tons of macho preening. While that’s often true, it’s worth noting that “Revolver” is Ritchie’s attempt to use that framework to serve a different function: He finds within this story of a dying gambler (Jason Statham) conned into working for devious loan sharks (André Benjamin and Vincent Pastore), while evading the rage of his old nemesis (Ray Liotta), a path to philosophical enlightenment. Ritchie’s attempt to explore Kabbalah via criminal storylines and brutal symbolism is ham-fisted to the point of putting a serious strain on the ham industry, and the inclusion of documentary footage over the credits explaining the message of the film is borderline insulting to the audience’s intelligence. But “Revolver” is nevertheless an intriguing stab at using the filmmaker’s usual predilections in the service of self-exploration.
6. "The Gentlemen" (2020)
Well, what do we have here? An elaborate ensemble crime comedy, you say? “The Gentlemen” is very much a return to form for Ritchie, after a series of dabbles in blockbuster franchise flicks, but although the cast is dapper and having a good time -- Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding and Colin Farrell are all engaged in criminal enterprises surrounding a massive illegal marijuana operation -- Ritchie’s style is subdued this time, to the point of being comparatively drowsy. And the film’s framing device, in which a blackmailing reporter played by Hugh Grant pitches his illicit info like he’s pitching a Guy Ritchie movie, isn’t so much clever or metatextual as it is a thinly disguised attempt to make this similar story seem ever so slightly different from the rest.
5. "RockNRolla" (2008)
Ritchie once again assembled a phenomenal cast for a wiry, energetic, sprawling crime comedy, and he succeeded just fine in “RockNRolla.” It’s the story of a giant corporate business deal that trickles down into the criminal underworld, where street-level thieves played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba and Tom Hardy get in way over their heads. And somehow it all ties into the mysterious death of a rock star. Lively and engaging, although heavily reliant on tedious and insulting gay-panic jokes, “RockNRolla” isn’t Ritchie’s best film, it’s not his worst film, it’s just one of them. And that’s more-or-less fine.
4. "Sherlock Holmes" (2009)
Forcefully pulling Sherlock Holmes off of his high horse and throwing him into a street-fighting tournament -- where, it turns out he may have always belonged -- was a smart play in Ritchie’s first “Holmes” movie. The detective was always a pulp hero, and Ritchie just added a different variety of pulp. Robert Downey Jr. navigates the fine line between intellectual superior and social lout, Jude Law is a fantastic straight man, and Rachel McAdams steals many a scene as Holmes’s greatest match. Ritchie takes this spry screenplay in the right directions, assembles a fantastic cast, and absolutely satisfies.
3. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998)
Ritchie’s feature directorial debut can’t possibly have the same explosive impact today as it did more than 20 years ago, but it’s still a raucous delight. Our introduction to Ritchie’s distinct world of the English criminal underworld, where well-intentioned hooligans careen across the bow of hardened killers, and every illegitimate enterprise is directly or indirectly connected to every other, has all the brash energy of a filmmaker desperately trying to show the world what they can do. And it turns out that what Guy Ritchie can do is craft lovable antiheroes by the dozen and pit them against each other in an eclectic Rube Goldberg machine of coincidence and irony.
2. "Snatch" (2000)
Guy Ritchie’s second film is, frankly, a lot like his first, and it helped solidify three fundamental truths about the filmmaker: 1) He’s got a schtick; 2) That schtick frequently works; and 3) No seriously, he’s really got a schtick. But although “Snatch” feels like a kissing cousin of “Lock, Stock” (and “RockNRolla,” and “Revolver,” and “The Gentlemen”), it’s a great example of a filmmaker honing their craft. “Snatch” is a sharper production, full of great moments and distinctive characters, edited slickly, presented with intensity and glee. It’s a spectacular crime caper from start to finish.
1. "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (2015)
Nestled perfectly in the middle of Ritchie’s fascination with male ego, macho bonding and eye-catching slickness, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is far more than an adaptation of a 50-year-old TV spy show. The plot is exactly what you’d expect, with an suave American espionage agent (Henry Cavill) teaming up with and sniping at his sophisticated Russian counterpart (Armie Hammer) at the height of the Cold War, but all the details are predicated on luxurious explorations of 1960s style. These heroes don’t dress sexily as a byproduct of their coolness; they dress sexily because they care about fashion and know it inside and out. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” subverts the spy genre by working backwards, asking what kind of people would actually engage in the lifestyle these movies sell their audiences, and absolutely falling in love with those kinds of people. Heroic and sexy, exciting and wry, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is Ritchie’s finest work, and one of the most underrated films in the genre.