All 8 Alejandro G. Iñárritu Movies, Ranked

Love him or loathe him, it's hard to remain neutral on the work of Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He makes big (some might say bombastic) films that swagger with their authority and artistry. Iñárritu emerged at the beginning of the millennium with films that felt distinctly of the time. His "Trilogy of Death," all written by Guillermo Arriaga, were among the most prominent and successful examples of the emergent "hyperlink cinema." As people connected in ways that transcended geography through the Internet, so did unexpected connections emerge between seemingly disparate characters on-screen.

Since this initial run culminated in best picture and director nominations for "Babel," Iñárritu has begun greater involvement in his work by writing the screenplays as well. Results of the "full Iñárritu" vary depending on who you ask, but the numbers don't lie as to how the industry feels. He's won five Oscars over the past decade, including consecutive best director wins, a feat achieved by only two others in history. Iñárritu's latest work titled "Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths" captures the filmmaker in all his contradictions. This story of a journalist/documentarian torn between his native Mexico and adoptive United States —feeling fully accepted in neither — is perhaps his most personal work to date and one of his grandest canvases. As the conversation ignites, we're sizing up his body of work as we rank all eight Alejandro G. Iñárritu movies.

8. Biutiful (2010)

If you can vibe with unadulterated misery porn, then "Biutiful" might be just the thing for you. Alejandro G. Iñárritu's first screenplay credit is two-and-a-half hours of non-stop bummers delivered with cheap, lazy cynicism. He's aiming for profundity in a pitiable situation but finds nothing but grim pronunciations. The subject matter has a right to be dour: Javier Bardem's Uxbal, a hustling businessman in Barcelona, learns he has terminal prostate cancer at the start of the film. For an orphan who built his name and success largely on the strength of his individual will, the discovery that he can do nothing to stop his inevitable — and immediate — demise sends Uxbal into a psychological tailspin. Bardem brings gravitas to a character falling apart before our eyes, yet his performance is wasted running in grief-laden circles as Uxbal settles scores to make things right before his forthcoming departure from the world.

The biggest problem with "Biutiful" is that Iñárritu struggles to get out of his own way. He knows how to gesture at big ideas and suggest great depth in his work. Yet with bloated runtimes full of poetic flourishes, the hollowness of his explorations quickly becomes evident as the ponderousness wears thin. There's no requirement for Iñárritu to provide moral instruction around what it means to live and die, but in the absence of meaningful commentary, the audience is simply left to sit in the unpleasantness of an unfinished life cut short. And for what?

7. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022)

"Bardo" is the kind of movie you only get to make after you've earned five Oscars ... which is precisely the pratfall for Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He throws all but the kitchen sink on the screen in this epic drama about a man torn between two worlds. Even at 152 minutes (slimmed down from its 174-minute runtime at the Venice world premiere), it's a container large enough to fit all of Iñárritu's ideas about displacement and belonging. Truly, all of them.

It's not hard to draw the line between documentarian Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and Iñárritu himself, even beyond their physical similarities. Splitting time between America and Mexico, he feels at home in neither but has plenty to say about both. His inner torment does get heard, at the expense of martyring himself. One flight of fancy involves Silverio literally being crucified in front of a crowd of ghastly onlookers, in case you missed the purpose of his whiny self-flagellation. Whatever cleverness or insight Iñárritu brings, his translation of the immigrant experience to the big screen gets drowned out in a sea of mixed metaphors and self-aggrandizement. To call the film "self-indulgent" undersells just how unfiltered a look into Iñárritu's mind "Bardo" represents. It's a mish-mash of surrealistic imagery combined with on-the-nose observations, all splashed across the screen with little regard for tonal control or moderation. It's maximalism in overdrive and simply exhausting to behold.

6. Carne y Arena (2017)

The most recent Alejandro G. Iñárritu Oscar victory came for a project that is quite site-specific: "Carne Y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible)," a 7-minute virtual reality short film that was the first of its kind to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. It received an increasingly rare special achievement award from the Academy, and continues to tour museums such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it began its multi-year run. Ticket-buyers experience this film viscerally: Viewers enter a waiting room alone where they remove their shoes before gaining access to a large, cold room with a sandy floor meant to recreate a desert environment. After an assistant secures the VR headset with an exceptionally long cord, the film plays out an encounter between Mexican migrants and the U.S. border patrol. The viewer has control over how and where to direct their gaze.

Credit to Iñárritu for embracing immersive VR within such a tightly controlled environment, a great match for his larger-than-life stylistic proclivities. Of course, a filmmaker obsessed with pummeling the eyes and ears with his virtuosity would clamor for the chance to control touch as well. Yet "Carne Y Arena" often leans on technology as a crutch for what should be achieved through the restraints of filmmaking. The real kicker is making the audience exit through a hallway full of migrants telling their own stories in talking-head style, bludgeoning participants with soapbox messaging rather than letting the work speak for itself.

5. Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

The rise of digital filmmaking enabled a boom in extended single-take shots. Without the need to replace a reel of film, cinematographers and filmmakers were free to keep cameras rolling as long as they wanted. In the early 2010s, the image quality finally caught up with imagination, giving us films such as Alejandro G. Iñárritu's best picture winner "Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" that stitch together extended oners to give the perception of an unbroken single take. There's narrative justification for this choice given that "Birdman" takes place in the theater world. As former cinematic superhero Riggan Thompson (a very meta-casted Michael Keaton) attempts to mount a vanity play in search of pure artistry, the film's camerawork puts control back in the hands of the actors. The performances are not the product of the director's eye in the edit bay, which shows in confident work by a full ensemble that includes mesmerizing turns from Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton.

Unfortunately, all the characters sit around talking about the desire to create meaningful art, but no one in "Birdman" ever really does. Iñárritu falls back on gimmickry to disguise his own project's lack of authenticity, the very thing all the characters so desperately seek. It's a riveting film on a moment-to-moment basis as it picks up momentum through its unedited action, yet all the sound and fury never quite cohere into the manifesto the film fashions itself to be.

4. 21 Grams (2003)

The middle portion of Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga's "Trilogy of Death," "21 Grams" is the weakest entry of the three. It may also be the most ambitious piece of hyperlink cinema, taking bold narrative swings. Even when the film whiffs a bit, the purposeful provocations are refreshing jolts of energy to tired redemption tales that often lose their way in a mire of clichés. "21 Grams" charts a hit-and-run incident involving a dying math professor (Sean Penn), a former drug addict in recovery (Naomi Watts), and a born-again ex-con (Benicio Del Toro). The collision feels cosmic, and the film's structure reflects that. Rather than presenting their intertwined fates in chronological order, the film jumbles the events in a non-linear fashion. There is no "before, during, and after," nor a "past, present, or future." All become one as they navigate life, death, and everything in between together.

The film doesn't follow narrative logic so much as emotional logic. Even if the story's events are difficult to understand in the order Arriaga presents them, they can also be felt. Additional credit here goes to the trio of talented topline performers in "21 Grams," who are all giving their tearful, sweaty most in commitment to the film's overwhelming tragedy and tenderness. Watts is the standout of the three, performing unfathomable grief without ever resorting to maudlin tropes. Iñárritu shapes her turn, along with all others in the film, into something tragically moving but never overwrought.

3. Babel (2006)

How does the shooting of an American tourist in Morocco have ripple effects that cascade to Japan and Mexico? "Babel" connects four countries through its multilingual ensemble cast through the firing of a single errant bullet that strikes Cate Blanchett's Susan Jones on a tour bus. The incident affects her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), who scrambles to find her medical care as the rest of the group frets for their own safety. It extends to their two children back home in San Diego and their Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza), who must bring them to her son's wedding across the border. It reaches as far as Tokyo, where a deaf-mute teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) tries to make sense of an investigation into her father's recent international travel. Finally, it shows to two young Moroccan boys who got far more than they bargained for by taking their father's goat-herding rifle out for a test.

"Babel" represents both a paradigmatic example of hyperlink cinema as well as a late-stage case of disillusionment with the formula itself. The hope of connectedness clashes with the realities of closed borders and closed mindsets, with the paranoia of a post-9/11 era throwing fuel on the fire of the world's most fearful tendencies. Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga's War on Terror-era worldview is one where the only meaningful tie between unrelated people is violence. The film avoids unearned preachiness, letting the missed connections and unspoken heartbreaks powerfully communicate what the characters cannot see or say.

2. The Revenant (2015)

The enduring cultural legacy of "The Revenant" will likely be that it was the film that got Leonardo DiCaprio over the finish line to win best actor at the Oscars. (And some funny business around him and a bear that ginned up some internet controversy upon release.) It deserves to be remembered for much more. This wilderness revenge tale is a remarkable feat of technical achievement, with streaks of hyperrealism and poetry that sit comfortably together in a single package. In collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Iñárritu stages stunning battle and survival scenes using nature's lighting to achieve levels of wonder recalling the daring yet disparate works of Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick.

After being left for dead by trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), DiCaprio's Hugh Glass must crawl and scrounge his way to health and to revenge. He's in critical condition, too, after a bear attack leaves him on death's door. Iñárritu is interested in every grunt, snort, and tortured maneuver Glass makes — especially because DiCaprio is leaving nothing to the imagination with all his capital-A "Acting" — while also casting his struggles as part of a quasi-spiritual quest for retribution against the man who did him wrong. "The Revenant" cuts a long, brutal journey to their inevitable face-off, but it's always exciting and energizing ... even if the three men who won Oscars for their work on the film are not shy about letting you know how hard they worked to make it all happen.

1. Amores Perros (2000)

It might feel like damning with faint praise to say that a director's first feature is their best one, but filmmaker Alexander Payne offers some insight into why that's often the case: "Because he or she has been waiting 30, 35 years to tell that story, so a lifetime of whatever it is, frustration or observation, that all comes out." Alejandro G. Iñárritu certainly came storming out of the gate with "Amores Perros," a bolt of cinematic lightning that announced the emergence of an exciting new talent with an energy that could revitalize the medium.

Guillermo Arriaga's screenplay feels like a writing challenge: a three-part anthology film where each section is connected by a single event ... oh, and each has to involve dogs. Not unlike "21 Grams," the film uses a car crash as its inciting incident. "Amores Perros" never feels academic, with each portion of the triptych assuming its own vibrant color that's distinct from the other yet entirely in keeping with the film at large. Whether it's Octavio (Gael García Bernal) caught in a gang thriller amidst the underground dogfighting world, supermodel Valeria (Goya Toledo) stuck in a claustrophobic psychodrama, or hitman El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría) in politically charged action, the film always crackles with surprise and suspense. What ultimately sets this film apart from Iñárritu's later work is the attention to details of everyday life. These mundane textures grant "Amores Perros" a unique intimacy that accompanies its grand scope. While the two might seem contradictory, Iñárritu shows how they can be quite complementary.