Regardless of what you might think of his movies, his worldview, or anything else, filmmaker Kevin Smith remains a genuine maverick in the industry. His first movie, Clerks, was made for $27,000 with local actors in and around the south New Jersey environs of his youth, which inspired the movie. And it remains a genuine milestone of independent filmmaking. It helped pave the way for more DIY filmmakers to emerge outside the confines of the studio systems, with its improvised, lo-fi aesthetic being seen today in movies filmed on iPhones.
In the nearly 30 years since Clerks was released, Smith has continued to write and direct his own features while also occasionally working as a director-for-hire on larger studio projects. The core movies of his canon, known as the View Askewniverse and featuring Jason Mewes and Smith himself as anchor characters Jay and Silent Bob, predated the Marvel Cinematic Universe by more than a decade.
Throughout it all, Smith has retained the style—if you call it that—which marked Clerks and most of his movies since: an emphasis on dialogue (and lots of it), raunchy or crude humor, and an almost willful reluctance to make the visuals of his films anything more than adequate.
But whether you like the man’s movies or not (and you’ll find a plethora of opinions below), there is a beating heart at the center of them, just as there is a distinct view of the world, humanity, and love that is both cynical and compassionate. Below is the definitive ranking—or at least the results of polling our own staff and you, dear readers.
*Editor’s Note: We are not including Killroy Was Here on this list since no one on staff bought one of the 5,555 NFTs it was released as.
15. Yoga Hosers (2016)
At the bottom of a list that has grown conspicuously stinky is this pointless, self-indulgent and really, really unfunny mess of a film. The second in Smith’s “True North trilogy” (after Tusk), this is a film inspired by someone saying something on Smith’s Smodcast (not going to elaborate, it is no more worth the words in this article, than it was AN ENTIRE FEATURE FILM).
Yoga Hosers came at the height of the Smith echo chamber where the director appears to think he and his mates having a good time was enough to produce a good movie. It’s not. Anyway, this stars his daughter Harley Quinn Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose Depp (who frankly both deserve better) as a couple of store clerks who have to fight one-foot high Nazis made of bratwurst. And it really isn’t as entertaining as that sounds. Surely the epitome of “sounded funny when we were stoned” creativity. – Rosie Fletcher
14. Cop Out (2010)
After Zack and Miri Make a Porno was a relative box office flop, Smith decided to try his hand at something new by directing a film that he didn’t also write. He settled on the script “A Couple of Dicks,” written by the Cullen Brothers. Wordy, profane, and funny, the project seemed right up Smith’s alley. Another big factor was the involvement of star Bruce Willis, whom Smith respected and bonded with while working together as actors on 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard.
The studio eventually chickened out on the title, changing the project’s name several times before landing on Cop Out. That turned out to be one of the film’s smaller controversies; apparently, Smith had a difficult time working with Willis, going on to say that were it not for co-star Tracy Morgan, “I might have killed either myself or someone else in the making of fucking Cop Out.”
With such a tumultuous production, it makes sense why the film is so poor. The script isn’t as funny as it thinks it is, and Willis and Morgan are even less adept at trying to deliver the jokes. Smith meanwhile feels completely out of his element, staging incoherent chase sequences and employing slow-mo like a film student who just saw his first Michael Bay movie. It’s a limp, lifeless movie and would be Smith’s last studio effort before going back to his independent roots. – Nick Harley
13. Tusk (2014)
Tusk began as an extended joke stretched out into a story on one of Kevin Smith’s podcasts. There are many of us who probably wish it stayed there. With all the coherence of a weed-fueled diatribe, Tusk follows Wallace (Justin Long), an arrogant and mean-spirited podcaster who unwisely travels to Canada in search of a fringe type he can interview and demean on his show. He should’ve stayed in the States.
The supposed sideshow Wallace ultimately finds is Howard Howe (Michael Parks) a retired seaman with a certain eccentric charm. Howe promises to tell Wallace a story, and it turns out to be a whopper: He was saved during a shipwreck many years ago by a walrus he nicknamed “Mr. Tusk.” Now he wants to bring Mr. Tusk back by mutilating Wallace’s body until he is shaped like a Walrus.
It’s an unfunny, lowbrow gag extended into 100 minutes of gross-out body horror. At the time, Smith imagined it would be the beginning of a “True North Trilogy” of horror movies. But along with the subsequent Yoga Hosers, these projects represented the lowest point of his career. – David Crow
12. Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie! (2013)
This animated Jay and Silent Bob adventure, where the pair finally get a chance to live out their lives as superheroes Bluntman and Chronic, is unfortunately for the diehards only. While it features a few amusing references to Smith’s past work and some superhero properties, the joke runs stale even at a lean 64 minutes. Smith’s reference-heavy humor may have felt novel in 1994, but with the explosion of geek culture in the ensuing 20-plus years, it just feels tiresome here. On top of that, the animation looks cheap and is a significant step down from the scrapped Clerks animated series from a few years before. – NH
11. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)
Over the years, Kevin Smith’s movies have increasingly felt like excuses to get the band back together for one (or five) more adventures. Yet never have these reunions felt so brazen in their intent as Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Smith’s first View Askewverse movie since Clerks II 13 years earlier. And to be sure, there is an ungainly, shaggy quality to a movie that shamelessly repeats the general plot line of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to diminishing results—only now Jay’s a father!
Yet as the first movie that Smith made after a life-changing heart attack, there is a tangible determination by all involved to really enjoy being back together, and the sentiment is sweet if underserved in a mediocre movie. Smith would use that trick to better effect later on, and here even admits to the camera that he “guilted my friends” to be in this, but it’s kind of nice just to see everybody have a good time. This includes having Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams close the loop on their recurring Chasing Amy characters with a little more grace than Jay and Silent Bob can manage. – DC
10. Red State (2011)
At first glance, 2011’s Red State appears like a more direct followup to Dogma, Kevin Smith’s original attempt at tackling religion. While Dogma focuses more on the celestial aspects of the faith, Red State hones in on the earthbound people who misinterpret all that dogma to destructive and toxic lengths. In reality, however, religion is little more than a backdrop for what Smith is really going for here: pure grindhouse violence.
Though still overseen by Smith and his longtime cinematographer Dave Klein, Red State looks almost nothing like a Kevin Smith film. The cameras actually *gasp* move as they zoom around to capture the chaotic violence that ensues when three unassuming teens are led into charismatic preacher Abin Cooper’s den of horrors. There is some political and social commentary to be found in here. Smith based Cooper off of Fred Phelps and his bigoted Westboro Baptist Church. The siege that makes up the movie’s back half is straight out of the ATF’s 1993 assault on a Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
For the most part though, Red State is just a quick and dirty actioner with a handful of compelling scenes, even as they don’t ultimately gel into a compelling film. – Alec Bojalad
9. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2007)
Roommates and longtime friends Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) live in a suburb of Pittsburgh and struggle to make ends meet, until a video of Miri undressing goes viral and gives Zack the brilliant idea that they should make a porn film to earn some money. With the help of some friends—-even though no one really knows what they’re doing—he film gets underway. But as Zack and Miri’s onscreen chemistry reveals their true feelings for each other, both the movie and their friendship face real consequences.
Only the second non-Askewniverse movie in Smith’s filmography up to that time, Zack and Miri is still brimming with all the usual Smith-isms. But Rogen and Banks bring sincerity and warmth to their roles, and their relationship is genuinely sweet (their performances in the “porn shoot” scene, with each of them realizing that they’re not just having perfunctory sex, are impressive in such an awkward scenario). It may be predictable to a certain extent, but as a Kevin Smith rom-com it’s somewhat underrated. – Don Kaye
8. Jersey Girl (2004)
I didn’t hate Jersey Girl. There are those of us out there that even think elements of the movie work. (Gasp!) This is unpopular to state online since the movie has long been the punching bag of Smith’s most ardent fans, and sometimes Smith himself. Yet there’s something bittersweet about Smith’s first outing outside of the View Askewaverse: It glimpses the road not taken.
Made after the first Jay and Silent Bob movie was intended to close the curtain on Smith’s ‘90s era, there’s a forlorn melancholy to what was intended to be Smith’s serious attempt to do a movie for “grown-ups.” Here Smith and Ben Affleck reteamed for a subject that would come to dominate the filmmaker’s later Clerks films: death and mortality—and in this case imagining what it would be like if he’d lost his wife at the beginning of having a family.
The movie can be saccharine and treacly. But those elements are also counterweighted in the movie’s ability to rely on Smith’s big-hearted sentimentality, which would come to anchor most of Smith’s better projects. In 2004, it revealed a flickering ambition to break out of weed and dick jokes. Plus, the chemistry between Affleck and his onscreen daughter, played by Raquel Castro, sparkles when the movie ends with the pair performing a number from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, cannibalism and all, before Castro’s elementary school. Who says Smith doesn’t know how to make all-ages family entertainment? – DC
7. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)
The Avengers of Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was the culmination of all of the interconnectedness of Smith’s first four films filtered through a cartoonish lens and centered on the fan-favorite, dopey Rosencrantz and Guildenstern analogs Jay and Silent Bob. Before Kevin Smith made fan service his full-time job, this felt like a love letter to his fans while also mirroring the broad, male-centered road trip films that were en vogue during the era.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back follows Jersey’s favorite stoners as they travel to Hollywood to stop a Bluntman and Chronic movie from being made. Remarkably, the film predicts issues with internet commentary culture and the superhero movie industrial machine, but don’t get it twisted, this is still a Kevin Smith movie centered on his most crass characters.
This film was aimed squarely at 13-year-old boys and it hits that mark extremely well. Granted, there is some icky male gaze stuff at play here, but Smith’s buddies like Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, as well as newcomers like Will Ferrell and Chris Rock, make the most of their screen time, and virtually all of the cameos, from Mark Hamill to Wes Craven, score (subsequent attempts to return to this cameo well pale in comparison). Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back really feels like a turning point in Smith’s career, for better or for worse. After a few studio failures and indie horror oddball entries, the cozy comfort of the View Askew toy chest is where Smith seems content to play these days, with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back feeling like the template. – NH
6. Clerks III (2022)
Like Clerks II before it, Kevin Smith used the long, long, long promised Clerks III to get a little more serious while reflecting on his career, if not his existence. This makes a certain amount of sense. Brian O’Halloran’s Dante Hicks was, after all, always intended to be the fate Smith escaped—the Jersey hell of working behind a Quick Stop counter for the rest of his life.
But as with J&SBR before it, Clerks III saw Smith’s perspective on his own life change after a heart attack. Once again he gets all the old faces back together, and has them to still go through the paces of the same familiar, juvenile pop culture jokes, but there’s a finality to this go-round. Clerks III revisits old stomping grounds with a storyline literally about remaking Clerks, but in this case it is to say goodbye—goodbye to favorite memories, to past glories, and even to youth itself, misspent or otherwise.
As ridiculous as it sounds, it also makes us realize we might miss these garden state nitwits who never let the ‘90s go. – DC
5. Clerks II (2006)
When it comes to the unwritten rules of filmmaking, creating an extremely belated sequel to your first film, a beloved indie classic, is high up on the list of “Things You’re Not Supposed to Do.” In 2006, Kevin Smith opted to do just that anyway. And the results are surprisingly good! There are those who maintain that the original Clerks is an unimpeachable cultural document that no sequel could live up to. And then there are those of us on the right side of history who know that Clerks II is even better.
After the Quick Stop burns down (in a colorful bit of visual creativity that reveals Smith learned a thing or two as a director in the decade between the two films), Clerks heroes Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are forced to get jobs at soul-crushing fast food chain Mooby’s. There they settle into another comfortable rhythm of shooting the shit, hating their customers, and interacting with a new host of characters and a couple of old friends in Jay and Silent Bob.
In many ways, Clerks II is the same movie as Clerks, just more refined, arguably funnier, and with a more professional cast. It also features an immensely satisfying, emotional ending that makes the argument for the movie’s mere existence better than anyone else ever could. – AB
4. Mallrats (1995)
Like many of Smith’s early films, Mallrats hasn’t aged especially well but it achieved a cult following at the time thanks to its youthful energy and charismatic cast. It’s an ensemble caper vaguely structured around two best mates T.S. (Jeremy London) and Brodie (Jason Lee) who both get dumped by their girlfriends (Shannon Dougherty and Claire Forlani), and who then head to the mall to take their minds off it.
They don’t make them like this anymore, and that is undoubtedly a good thing, but at the time the snappy dialogue, stoner gags, increased involvement of (then) fan favorites Jay and Silent Bob, and bonkers plot were enough to win the movie a following despite the lukewarm critical response. – RF
3. Dogma (1999)
How one feels about Dogma may be informed by where, exactly, one first watched Dogma. If you’re like me and first viewed Kevin Smith’s simultaneous ode to and condemnation of his native Catholicism as a midday TV movie on Comedy Central in the early aughts, then Dogma is certainly one of filmmaker’s best creations. The TV edit of Dogma is a quick, breezy, and wildly entertaining jaunt about the contradictions of religious dogma and the complex mysteries of faith. If you saw the unedited version of the film, however, you’d be subjected to a literal shit monster.
Yes, the penultimate act of Dogma is marred by the inexplicable conclusion of the Golgothan, a demon made of shit. Its inclusion in the film highlights the strange place Smith’s career was in in 1999, where he wanted to be taken seriously… but not that seriously. It’s a shame, because the more mature elements of Dogma really work. An all-star cast of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Linda Fiorentino, Jason Lee, and many more guide the audience through a fascinating parable about how two angels merely wanting to go home could accidentally tear apart the very fabric of reality.
It also reveals God is a woman—and looks like Alanis Morissette. That’s peak ‘90s wisdom. – AB
2. Chasing Amy (1997)
Kevin Smith’s third feature film is often regarded by many as his best, his “most mature,” and his most fully realized. While that may have been true then and still is in many ways, 25 years later the movie is semi-problematic in its depiction of male attitudes toward female sexuality. It’s important to note, however, that the attitudes are expressed by the characters, particularly Holden (Ben Affleck), and seemingly not condoned by the film itself or Smith. Likewise, the movie’s portrayal of Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), the object of Holden’s romantic interest, is labeled as “gay,” but is more of an example of sexual fluidity—misunderstood at the time, perhaps even by Smith.
Holden’s ham-fisted attempts to come to grips with Alyssa’s sexuality and choices are his downfall in the story, and the movie is very much about his attempts to find love despite his limited male understanding and empathy. Affleck gives a star-making performance that captures his charm and everyman sensibility, while Adams lights up the screen. Why she never became a bigger star remains an enigma.
Smith may have been in over his head to some degree, but there is still a lot of truth and humor in Chasing Amy, and it remains one of the most sophisticated high points of his career. – DK
1. Clerks (1994)
If you weren’t around in the ‘90s, or were too young to remember that decade, it’s hard to describe just how seminal Kevin Smith’s first and best movie really was. Clerks is a product of the then thriving indie scene—and we mean truly independent, as in max out your mother’s credit cards and hope you get into a festival. It’s also unshakably derived from Smith’s own sense of post-high school ennui. These highly specific elements, somewhat miraculously, came together and tapped directly into the Gen-X/older millennial zeitgeist, which allowed it to land in middle America like a foul-mouthed atom bomb.
Yet, in spite of that specificity, there remains something universal about Smith’s first screenplay. While pulling heavily from his own bouts of aimlessness and the obsessions of post-‘80s nerds everywhere—seriously, what would the life of a contractor on the Death Star be like?—Smith nevertheless captures the indecision most young people experience when trying to get out on their own and (maybe) put away childish things. In the process, Smith created a distinct kind of long-winded monologue that was filled with four-letter words and grueling sexual insecurity. To this day, those diatribes retain a crisp determination to shock and surprise. And they do.
Even the film’s raw naiveté and amateurish quality remain assets, with the visual and narrative limitations lending it an air of documentarian authenticity. You can smell the condensation on the gallons of milk that the film’s title characters have to stock daily, and smell the weed emanating from the stoners on the street. It has the immediacy of modern social media, but a hundred times the eloquence. – DC