Best Paul Schrader Movies, Ranked

Disturbing existentialism, religious anxiety, men journaling in a room and interacting with an unfamiliar subculture, are some of the themes that run through the work of Paul Schrader throughout his career. A director whose ambition is to create an aesthetic pierced by transcendentalism, as evidenced by his book on theory, Transcendent style in cinema, and its clear allusions to the influence of French director Robert Bresson. Schrader’s work has gone from controversial to undigestible. While also speaking to create controversy lag (e.g. slamming modern moviegoers).



Nevertheless, when his work hits the treble, he gravitates towards the masterpiece. Affecting some of the best works of his frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese – with scripts like Taxi driver, angry bull,and Last Temptation of Christ — Schrader has found himself in the director’s chair most often over the past three decades. But what remains is a thought-provoking and often haunting look at humanity through the eyes of his signature, lonely man of God that began with Travis Bickle.

Related: Best Martin Scorsese Movies, Ranked

8 cat people

Paul Schrader’s weird and thrilling horror film – a remake of Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 classic – cat people was a creative excursion for the maker of so many solitary, solitary films. Although the film was sold as a horror film, it is much more concerned with mystery and atmosphere than scaring its audience. Plus, tapping deep into the lust for forbidden love and sexualizing the change from person to cat, Schrader delivered some gross kills and a body transformation that David Cronenberg would be proud of. Schrader would never make a movie as fantastic as this again. But also: Post-production was blighted by Schrader allegedly stalking star Nastassja Kinski after he had an affair while filming the film.

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seven Affliction

A deeply moving look at the cyclical nature of trauma and the disillusionment it can cause in a man’s psyche as he struggles for reconciliation. by Paul Schrader Affliction is a deeply disturbing look at small-town life between the macabre Nick Nolte and his Oscar-winning father played by James Coburn – whose violent alcoholism throws the two into a downward spiral. It’s as haunting as a horror movie creating an atmosphere of sheer terror as Nolte’s life spirals out of control as his belief in the conspiracy deepens.

6 A light sleeper

One of Paul Schrader’s frequent collaborators, Willem Dafoe, shines as a distant New York drug dealer as he spends his day writing about his solitary life, then spends his nights delivering the product to his wealthy clientele. . Including a hilariously coked David Spade in a cameo role, Schrader’s version of God’s lonely man in A light sleeper contributes to the episodic nature of being a drug dealer, making it one of his most unique forays into New York nightlife.


5 american gigolo

Paul Schader’s Lonely Man mixed with Robert Bresson’s classical aesthetic constitutes a unique foray into the world of black eroticism transposed into american gigolo. Sometimes a clear accusation of being a male sex worker, but also a look at the sexual politics of those who play freely in their supposedly closed relationships and whose affairs harm the most. Richard Gere plays the dedicated, lonely man who gets caught up in a murder mystery. Primarily a demonstration of how open sex can sow suspicion and how ambition can get the better of you, Schrader’s film exudes a delicious sense of excitement from pickup to pickup as the gigolo of Gere realizes that desire and confidence are not the same thing.

4 The card counter

Oscar Isaac was Paul Schrader’s original choice to play his existential priest in First reformed, but decided he wasn’t old enough. Fortunately, Schrader had another big role in mind for one of the best leading men today. Isaac’s magnetism was the perfect face for a man seeking salvation through a series of poker games. With the guilt of the war in Iraq constantly nagging his mind, Isaac embarks on a journey that turns into revenge. In search of the cruel major (Willem Dafoe) who led him to the horrific tortures of Abu-Ghraib prison, The card counter is a descent into the creation of a prison through routine and punishment.

Related: Best Willem Dafoe Movies, Ranked

3 Blue collar

A first film in the heart of an anti-capitalist air of time, Blue collar was Paul Schrader’s introduction to the world as a director. With a large leading trio of Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto as three union workers exploited by their company, the three embarked on a daring heist to take back what was theirs. The film weaves in cutting socio-political themes and how race relations cause tension in the workplace. Blue collar remains relevant because of how working class struggles have been exasperated by greedy business owners today and how technology threatens their way of life.

2 Mishima: a life in four chapters

Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s buried rage and disturbing masculinity made him the perfect muse for Paul Schrader. Mishima was a controversial figure in the artistic history of Japan. Mishima killed himself on national television by ritual suicide after taking a general hostage at a military headquarters. Schrader directed a film in a similar vein to the character, making him unconventional and controversial. The film shows his life in beautiful black and white but also in vivid color, as he chronicles important moments in his life through his novels. It’s an exemplary film and has a towering lead performance from Ken Ogata as a writer whose patriotism has led him to a rigid, crazy life.


1 First reformed

A movie that becomes more relevant with each passing day, First reformed is the manifesto of Paul Schrader’s lonely man of God complex and one of the best films dealing with the anxiety surrounding the climate crisis. As a priest – in a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke – already grappling with his faith and the mockery made of his parish. Hawke fails to counsel a depressed veteran who commits suicide because he feels crippled by a hopeless future due to the irreversible destruction of the planet. Hawke then takes it upon himself to carry the burden of environmental terrorism and begins a slow plunge into the abyss of doing something he feels is bigger than himself. It’s a solitary, solitary march to transcendence and the best film Schrader has ever made, even earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

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