Usually when we think of the idea of an auteur, directors come to mind. These are directors who have complete control of their film and you can recognize a film is directed by a certain director based on the visual style and themes of the film. There aren’t many screenwriters that I would consider auteurs, but there is one who defines this: Aaron Sorkin. The Oscar and Emmy award winning writer has established his own style over the years to the point where you know you are watching an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. You know the speed of the dialog, the non-linear structure, the kinds of characters Sorkin likes to write about, and the kind of performances you will get from actors reading Sorkin’s dialog (seven actors have been nominated for Oscars from Sorkin screenplays). Here is my ranking of every Aaron Sorkin movie.
*NOTE* T.V. is NOT included in this list.
*NOTE* Trial of the Chicago 7 is NOT included.
8 – MALICE (1993)
- Malice is easily the weakest of Sorkin’s screenplays. Co-written with Scott Frank, Malice isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t really a good one either and most certainly doesn’t feel like an Aaron Sorkin movie. This is a perfect example of a 90’s sex thriller. There’s a lot happening in this movie, from a hot new doctor performing a questionable surgery to a serial rapist to a film noir mystery, and they’re each interesting separately, but not together. Malice felt more like a paycheck movie for Sorkin following the success of A Few Good Men rather than an Aaron Sorkin creation.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: “I am God.”
7 – CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
- Charlie Wilson’s War had everything going for it. An Aaron Sorkin screenplay, his first return to the big screen in over a decade, a legendary director in Mike Nichols, and an all-star cast of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and many more. But the film is pretty flat for all this power. The story is interesting enough, but this wasn’t the right story for they way Sorkin structures his screenplays and only Hoffman was able to capture Sorkin’s zipping dialog.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s rampage about a mistaken apology.
6 – THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)
- Easily Aaron Sorkin’s nicest and breeziest screenplay, but that isn’t such a bad thing. After the powerhouse of A Few Good Men and the darkness of Malice, Sorkin came back with a charming romantic dramedy following the love story between a widowed President (Michael Douglas) running for reelection and an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening). Douglas and Bening have terrific chemistry and you love watching their relationship bloom. This is Sorkin’s nicest movie, but also a film that acts as a warmup for Sorkin’s legendary T.V. show The West Wing.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: The final speech.
5 – A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)
- Aaron Sorkin kicked off his cinematic career with a bang with A Few Good Men. Adapted from Sorkin’s own play, this is a top-notch courtroom drama that highlights Sorkin’s mastery for dialog. Tom Cruise leads the great ensemble, which features the likes of Demi Moore, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Bacon, and Oscar nominee Jack Nicholson, all of whom bring their A-game. The courtroom scenes are gripping and the finale is electric. Sorkin established himself as a premiere writer right out the gate.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: It’s cliché, but Jack Nicholson’s iconic, “You can’t handle the truth!”
4 – MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
- Molly’s Game was Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, yet it is also one of his best works as a screenwriter. Based on the book of the same name, Molly’s Game really solidified Sorkin’s signature construction of his scripts, the popping dialog, and getting the right actors to recite his dialog. The wildest thing Sorkin does here is make a movie centered around poker captivating and make the hands make sense. Unless you’re a fan of poker, watching it in a movie could be boring and possibly confusing. Sorkin makes every hand riveting, establishing the stakes of the hands and laying out what each card means. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s small things like that that make Sorkin the great writer that he is.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: “It’s my name.”
3 – MONEYBALL (2011)
- Moneyball is a sports movie for nerds. A baseball movie that doesn’t want to focus on the action on the field, but the action in the front office and behind the scenes. Sorkin and co-screenwriter Steve Zaillian make statistics and numbers and baseball players you’ve never heard of exciting and compelling. But at the heart of Moneyball is the story of Billy Beane (a career-best performance by Brad Pitt), a man who loves the game of baseball and everything about it, yet is cursed anytime he gets on the field. Zaillian and Sorkin were both Oscar winners before Moneyball, so it’s hard to say who focused on what part, but the heart of the film, the nerdiness of the numbers and stats, and some of the dialog feels very Sorkin.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: The Trade Deadline. (Sorry for the quality of the video.)
2 – STEVE JOBS (2015)
- Steve Jobs was Sorkin’s first solo follow-up from The Social Network, so there was a lot of hype around this one, especially with the subject matter being centered around controversial Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Sorkin’s screenplay is an adaptation of the self-authorized autobiography of Steve Jobs, but Sorkin did something different than give us a typical biopic of Steve Jobs. Breaking it down into three important segments of Jobs’ life, the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of Jobs’ new venture, NeXT, in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998, Sorkin was still able to paint a portrait of who Jobs was. He was arrogant, a maniac, a perfectionist, and a genius. Yet Sorkin adds a sentimentality to Jobs by establishing the relationship between Jobs and his daughter that runs through each segment. It features the usual Sorkin flare, but the structure of this film while giving us a full picture of who Jobs was is a stroke of genius.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: Steve Jobs facing off with John Sculley right before the NeXT launch.
1 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
- Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network is a work of mastery and the film that really established him as not just a great screenwriter, but an auteur in his own right. When you think of “Aaron Sorkin movies”, this is what you think about. The bouncing back-and-forth between timelines, the rapid fire dialog, the multiple topics in each conversation, walk-and-talks, and Sorkin’s love and fascination with diving deep into flawed protagonists. Director David Fincher masterfully brings Sorkin’s script to life in what is my personal pick for the best film of the 2000’s. The Social Network is Aaron Sorkin’s crowning achievement and I would be amazed if he ever topped this one.
BEST LINE/MOMENT: The opening scene between Mark and Erica.
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