Every Luc Besson Movie Ranked Worst To Best

Luc Besson is different things to different people. A director of memorable genre films ("The Professional," "The Fifth Element"). A writer of action hits with no fewer than five successful franchises to his name ("Taxi," "The Transporter," "District B13," "Taken," "Nikita"). A businessman with poor bookkeeping skills. A real prick and alleged rapist. But for now at least, he and his nearly three-decades of directorial efforts are solely the subject of this wholly necessary and incontrovertible ranking.

Most folks have seen (and probably enjoy) his action efforts from the 90s, but his filmography also includes biopic dramas, epic period films, animated kiddie fare, and a couple of artsy flicks in black and white. Are they all worth seeing? Absolutely not. And in an effort to help you parse the treasure from the trash, I've done the world a real solid by visiting, revisiting, and ranking all of Besson's movies as director.

17. Arthur 3: The War of the Two Worlds

Arthur Bach thought he lost both his fortune and his will to drink, but when an alien invader threatens the planet he calls home, he discovers there are more important things than money and booze. Can he stop the villains, get the girl, and save his liver from failing? Here's hoping!

Okay, that synopsis is a lie, but if you had to sit through these three "Arthur and the Invisibles" films, you'd be daydreaming about sequels to Dudley Moore's 80s comedies too. The real story here sees the diminutive Arthur struggling to fight and finally defeat the enemy who has dogged him the entire trilogy, a task made more challenging after the devious Maltazard leaves the miniature world behind and grows over seven feet tall. Plenty of chaos ensues, but none of it is remotely interesting or engaging — which is legit bonkers, as the big guy looks like he should be real fun at parties.

16. Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard

When the princess he loves is abducted by the evil Maltazard, Arthur must return to the land of the Minimoys to save her. His rescue mission is complicated by competing interests that threaten to leave him trapped in the miniature world forever.

When movie franchises die at the box-office in the US, the sequels are never made. In France, though, Besson just keeps plugging away while millions of euros swirl down le drain. The story this time around picks up a few years after the end of the first film. It sees young Arthur return to his CG form as a Minimoy, but it gives up all interest in emotional development and engaging narrative — and instead aims for terrible humor and chaos. Two heavy hitters from the first film see their voices replaced this time around, but while Selena Gomez is fine as the damsel in distress, Lou Reed can't muster the sexy gravitas that David Bowie originally brought to the dastardly Maltazard.

15. Anna

A fashion model hides a depressing past and a dangerous present, as beneath the glitz and glamour sits an assassin in high heels. She's an effective tool for a malicious government organization, but her biggest fight comes as she tries to leave the life behind her.

Besson returns to a familiar well one last time (for now), only to find the previously successful formula crumble before his eyes. His fetish for strong, attractive women slaughtering their way through dozens of villainous dudes is wearing thin. While this latest incarnation delivers a little style and at least one good action scene, it lacks the most important element — a compelling lead. No disrespect to Sasha Luss, but acting skills, action chops, and charisma aren't her strong points. We need the lead performer to pull us into her situation, and Luss can't muster the engagement. Besson's script, built on recycled story beats and his increasingly icky ideas of female empowerment, isn't doing her any favors either.

14. Arthur and the Invisibles

A boy whose family is in financial trouble finds a possible salvation in the hidden world of his grandmother's garden. Of course, he also finds danger, romance, and oodles of magic after being shrunk to miniature size and dropped into a big adventure.

This is an animated fantasy for kids, but I need to get this tidbit out of the way first thing. 14-year-old Freddie Highmore plays/voices the hero Arthur, and his love interest is voiced by ... Madonna. Besson, you dirty rascal you. David Bowie voices the villain, and others are brought to life by an eclectic group including Jimmy Fallon, Jason Bateman, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Snoop Dogg. Does it work? Hell no, but there's enough world-building and mildly interesting beats to make it a lively watch suitable for underaged fans of "Like a Virgin." We get messy action, a little bit of heart, and an ending that closes the book and leaves no need for sequels.

13. The Family

A mobster betrays his fellow gangsters. He and his family are sent to France, but find their time in witness protection to be its own kind of punishment. It's hard enough to fit in with "normal" neighbors, but when mob hitmen come calling, the little village finds more excitement and danger than it can handle.

You certainly can't argue with the cast here as Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones headline, but hoo boy. Celebs gotta pay some bills too, I suppose. The action and comedy are forgettably lightweight, Besson squeezes in his favorite thing (Dianna Agron plays the daughter who kicks some boys' asses), and your enjoyment comes down to how much you enjoy seeing De Niro cannibalize past roles. Every beat here is just too formulaic and far less funny than it thinks. Honestly, you'd be better served watching 1990's "My Blue Heaven" with Steve Martin and Rick Moranis in the De Niro/Jones roles.

12. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

A pair of intergalactic coppers are tasked with identifying and stopping a malevolent force working its way through the Alpha system. Can they save the known universe while also coming to grips with their passionless feelings for each other?

This movie continues to boggle me. Take one look at most any frame of the film, and it feels like something that should be fantastically entertaining. Watch a few seconds and you'll likely be in awe. Settle in for all one-hundred and thirty-six-minutes, though, and you'll be shocked to discover that all of its visual splendor is in service of a remarkably dull and bland space opera. As with "Anna" above, Besson once again lands on leads who lack charisma. While Dane DeHaan is an interesting actor, his gearbox isn't designed for big, sprawling, high-energy adventures like this. Honestly, surrounding DeHaan and Cara Delevingne with such color and personality feels like a cruel joke at their expense. Add in an increasing silliness that hampers the thrills and viewer interest, and you're left with a gorgeous screensaver that will never become the franchise Besson was hoping for.

11. Le Dernier Combat

The apocalypse has left a world ravaged and a sparse population mute in the dirt, but one man trudges through with a hope for something more. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for the rest of us, what he finds is a bespectacled Jean Reno.

Besson's first feature film (also known as "The Last Battle") is his most experimental. While the near complete lack of dialogue will challenge some viewers the black and white cinematography and various themes still hold attention. The lead protagonist, known only as The Man, makes his way among the survivors, but it's two others who affect his life the most. The Doctor introduces him to art, better living, and the possibility of speech, while The Brute offers only violence and destruction. There are whiffs of environmentalism and capitalism among the film's non-verbal commentary, but the clearer theme here seems to be man's struggle with his own urges and desires. The two men offer wildly different nudges to The Man, like an angel and devil sitting on his shoulders, and both help shape his future. It's far from the most exciting film in Besson's career, but completists should still seek it out.

10. The Lady

Aung San Suu Kyi was just a child when her father was assassinated, but when she returns to Burma as an adult she's called to continue his work bringing democracy to the country. The people are behind her, but the military takes a different approach and works to silence her voice by any means necessary. The toll it takes is heavy, but it's a cause she believes in with both her heart and mind.

Easily the most atypical entry in Besson's filmography, this biopic of the famed politician, Nobel laureate, and author succeeds mostly on the shoulders of Michelle Yeoh. Besson resists his inclination to drop her into street battles. He instead explores the warmth of a woman, a wife, a mother who truly cares about the people of Burma as if they were her own family. It's a bit dry and overlong, perhaps, as biopics tend to be, but the respect and admiration for the eponymous lady is powerful stuff.

9. Lucy

A woman expected to be nothing more than a drug mule instead evolves into an all-knowing, all-powerful version of Siri. With villains in pursuit, she sets out to bring them down, save others from similar fates, and hopefully increase her cloud storage space along the way.

Sometimes a film is just dumb, but once in a while we get a movie that is so spectacularly stupid that it comes full circle towards brilliance. "Lucy" is that movie. Scarlett Johansson plays the woman suckered into transporting drugs. When a bag bursts inside her, she begins transforming into someone capable of using more than a measly ten percent of her brain. That's right, Besson's digging in on that old chestnut and pairing it with his favorite pastime — women kicking men's asses. The sci-fi gibberish here is laughable, both in its sincerity and its detail, but Besson throws caution to the wind and unleashes a refreshingly brief (running time is under ninety minutes!) but effective blast of goofy fun. Johansson's character is named Lucy, and she travels back in time to meet the OG Lucy, "the mother of man!" This is gold, people, gold!

8. The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

A young woman believes she's received a message from God, and it told her to save France from foreign invaders. The men in power are all for it while she's winning battles, but her fate seems sealed when they decide she's no longer necessary.

This one doesn't get talked about much in conversations about big, epic biopics –especially ones filled with troubled characters from history and bloody battle scenes — but it's a solid film. Milla Jovovich stars as the legendary Joan of Arc, and while she obviously can't match the intensity of Falconetti's performance in "The Passion of Joan of Arc," she sure wields a sword like a boss. She's supported by the likes of John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and the always welcome Tcheky Karyo. It manages to find moments both thrilling and affecting. Granted, there's also plenty of filler stretching the film roughly a half hour too long, but history can't be rushed. Apparently.

7. Subway

A thief on the run takes refuge in the Paris Metro, but his plan to quietly hide out from his pursuers takes a detour as he meets an eccentric crew of weirdos beneath the city's streets. His life takes an even bigger turn when he falls in love with a bad man's moll.

The term "sloppy cool" feels like an oxymoron, but it's the best way to describe this offbeat feature that's as messy as it is stylish. Christopher Lambert plays the blond-haired live-wire of a safecracker who seems somewhat delighted by his circumstances — understandable as he uses his free time below to form a band and fall in love, all while eluding cops and crooks alike. Isabelle Adjani and Jean Reno co-star. While the film delivers a car chase, other action, and plenty of style, it's the sweeter, softer, and stranger moments that will stick with you up to and including the very last.

6. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

A novelist finds inspiration and adventure in her daily life involving Egyptian tombs, living pterodactyls, and men who won't take no for an answer. Her adventures are international, but when her latest comes home all hell breaks loose in the city.

The easy description here boils down to "Amelie" meets "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (or "The Mummy," if we're being honest) but with the whimsical energy of "Night at the Museum" or "Sonic the Hedgehog." Louise Bourgoin is no Audrey Tautou (or Harrison Ford), but she holds her own as an action gal (Besson's done it again!) and as a fun, engaging character on a zany historical adventure. It's immensely silly stuff at times that I imagine would have found a bigger audience had it been in English — but honestly, if your kids aren't watching subtitled films yet, what are you even doing being a parent?

5. Angel-A

A man with more debt than self-worth decides to kill himself, but fate drops a beautiful, mysterious woman into his life instead. She shakes things up in both his heart and bank account, but can it last?

An intimate little character piece that dabbles in genre, "Angel-A" is an oddly affecting entry in Besson's filmography. Jamel Debbouze (the young scene-stealer from "Amelie") stars as Andre, a disillusioned and broke sad sack. His life is interrupted by the arrival of Angela, a statuesque blonde who just might be something more than human. They're an incongruous pair, but both actors do good work finding the heart despite an occasionally clunky script. They share a beautiful scene in a bathroom mirror (non-French speakers will need to choose English subtitles) that delivers the core theme of the film, and it's easily among the most emotionally affecting moments from Besson's entire career. Gorgeous black and white cinematography adds to the film's romantic, dreamlike atmosphere, and it's one worth seeking out.

4. The Big Blue

Two men, friends and competitors since childhood, find their fates drawn to the ocean and the perilous sport of freediving. When one pushes the other to an overdue competition, though, the ocean threatens to exact a human price.

This was actually the very first Besson film I saw, and while it may lack the kinetic action beats of the filmmaker's better known works, it holds a secure place in my memory. Rewatching it seemed risky, but happily it holds up well as a beautiful and sometimes otherworldly look at our humanity, our dreams, and our place in a world we'll never know as well as we'd like to. The cinematography is at times breathtaking. The film takes us beneath the surface of the ocean without the usual trappings of boats and bubbles to find only beauty, wonder, and silence. Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo (Jean Reno) compete, but it's their friendship that keeps them close, and the actors convey the strength of their relationship as much through shared quiet as they do through dialogue. The director's cut is the way to go here, as it allows the film's meditative atmosphere to soak in and take control. Composer Eric Serra, a Besson collaborator from the very beginning, delivers his most memorable score here as well.

3. The Fifth Element

A rough-around-the-edges cab driver has a beautiful woman fall in his lap — and soon evil forces, aliens, and destiny itself are hot on their heels. Things are complicated even more with the arrival of a high-pitched talk-show host and a budding romance. With the woman, not the host.

What's that? Another movie from Besson about a badass, scantily clad woman? What are the odds! While it's unsurprising that the Frenchman started writing this script while just a horny teen, the resulting film remains an epic blast of cool, exciting, weird, sexy fun. Bruce Willis (back when he was still an actual actor and not just someone who appears in forgettable direct-to-video fare) stars as the terrifically named Korben Dallas in the year 2263, and becomes a reluctant hero when a goofy gal named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) enters his life with gun-toting thugs in hot pursuit. Aerial chases, scrappy brawls, and gun fights commence with plenty of detours into even more madness. An ornery Gary Oldman, an annoying/hilarious (take your pick) Chris Tucker, alien operas, cool prosthetic aliens, brilliant CG visuals, Luke Perry wandering on set, intergalactic bureaucracy ... this movie has it all!

2. La Femme Nikita

A convicted murderer is given a second chance and trained as an elite assassin for the French government. The job saves her life, but she quickly realizes it might not be a life worth living.

It's easy to forget seeing as there have been roughly a thousand iterations since, but Besson's "La Femme Nikita" really got the ball rolling on the whole female assassin sub-genre. (It also may have kicked off the trope of women being forced into becoming professional killers after being orphaned, mistreated, and/or addicted to something.) Anne Parillaud stars and does a wonderful job morphing from street urchin into a gun-toting Eliza Doolittle-type while still holding onto a struggling humanity. Remade both in Hong Kong ("Black Cat") and the US ("Point of No Return"), and the basis of two successful television series, it remains the best of all incarnations. It's both stylish and grim, thrilling and contemplative, and it bravely goes out on a dramatically satisfying character beat rather than an explosive, action-oriented one. Add in a brief turn by Jean Reno as a mean, effective, and entertainingly ruthless cleaner, and you have a movie deserving of a rewatch.

1. Leon: The Professional

When the best French hitman in New York City meets a young girl in trouble, he goes against his better judgment to try and save her life. He's a killer, but should he be encouraging her own thirst for vengeance or taking the bullet for her on that count instead.

In a career filled with movies about female killers, Besson's best film features a girl who never actually takes that final step towards being a murderer. Instead, it's a socially awkward immigrant and an insanely power hungry detective who unleash all the carnage. The film delivers with stellar action setpieces, suspense, and real heart, and it's a far better remake of John Cassavetes' "Gloria" than even Sidney Lumet managed in 1999 with the actual remake. All three leads are pitch perfect, starting with Natalie Portman as young Mathilda. She's a grieving child forced to grow up a little faster than intended, and you can't help but feel for her desperation as death comes knocking. Jean Reno is equally strong as the hitman who just wants to be left alone with his plants, and Gary Oldman absolutely shines as the corrupt, pill-popping cop who wants Mathilda dead. Am I still hoping for an eventual sequel with a grown up Mathilda whose good and bad impulses are personified by imagined visits from both Leon and Stansfield? Obviously.