10 Best Paul Schrader Movies, According to IMDb

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10 Best Paul Schrader Movies, According to IMDb
10 Best Paul Schrader Movies, According to IMDb


Paul Schrader is a veteran filmmaker, with a career spanning five decades. He started out as a screenwriter, penning the scripts for Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver and Brian De Palma‘s Obsession, as well as early drafts of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the cult revenge thriller Rolling Thunder. Schrader began directing in 1978 and, since then, he’s made several terrific dramas and thrillers.

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His films tend to revolve around isolated men dealing with psychological or spiritual crises; a narrative he refers to as “God’s lonely man.” He shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. His next film Master Gardener starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver is set for release in March 2023. Until then, cinephiles can content themselves with diving into his impressive filmography.


‘Patty Hearst’ (1988) – IMDb: 6.3/10

This biographical drama tells the true story of Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. In 1974, she was kidnapped by a far-left group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. After months in the group’s custody, Hearst began to commit crimes alongside them.

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Critic Pauline Kael praised the movie for offering a nuanced explanation of Hearst’s actions. “Did Patty Hearst become part of the S.L.A. willingly, out of conviction, or was she simply trying to save her life?” Kael wrote. “The movie shows you that, in the state she was in, there was no difference.”

‘The Comfort of Strangers’ (1990) – IMDb: 6.3/10

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The Comfort of Strangers is a psychological thriller, with a script by playwright Harold Pinter based on the novel by Ian McEwan. It follows Mary (Natasha Richardson) and Colin (Rupert Everett), a British couple who vacation in Venice hoping to revive their relationship. There, they encounter the mysterious Robert (Christopher Walken) who tries to befriend them, but there are sinister dynamics at play.

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“The two things I’ve stressed are that it’s character-driven, and that it’s equal parts the three sensibilities,” Schrader has said of the film. “Ian McEwan’s interest in the dark and the perverse, Pinter’s interest in language as a guise for emotion, and my own sensibility. To really understand, or to really enjoy the film, you have to see it as part of a whole sensibility.”

‘American Gigolo’ (1980) – IMDb: 6.3/10

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Julian (Richard Gere) is a male escort in Los Angeles who becomes romantically entangled with Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of a powerful politician. At the same time, one of Julian’s clients is found dead, and he becomes the prime suspect.

American Gigolo was Gere’s first movie as a leading man, and one of the first mainstream movies to feature full-frontal nudity of its male lead. Julian was consciously conceived as the opposite of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. “The character in ‘Taxi Driver’ was compulsively nonsexual,” Schrader explains. “The character in ‘American Gigolo’ is compulsively sexual.”

‘Auto Focus’ (2002) – IMDb: 6.6/10

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Auto Focus dramatizes the true story of Bob Crane (played by Greg Kinnear), an actor who appeared on the TV show Hogan’s Heroes in the late 1960s. After the series is canceled, Crane develops an unhealthy friendship with John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a video equipment salesman. As a result of Carpenter’s influence, Crane becomes a sex addict and begins shooting amateur porn.

Crane was murdered in 1978. Carpenter was charged with the crime and acquitted, but suspicion around his involvement remains to this day. The film explores their friendship in-depth and is a character study of both men. Roger Ebert awarded it a full four stars. “A hypnotic portrait […] pitch-perfect in its decor, music, clothes, cars, language and values,” he wrote. “Greg Kinnear gives a creepy, brilliant performance as a man lacking in all insight.”

‘Light Sleeper’ (1992) – IMDb: 6.8/10

John (Willem Dafoe) is a middle-aged drug dealer suffering from insomnia. He witnesses his ex-girlfriend Marianne (Dana Delany) fall from a window to her death and is dragged into a dark, violent situation involving one of his clients. It was the first of many collaborations between Schrader and Defoe, the most recent being 2021’s The Card Counter. It also includes a terrific performance from Susan Sarandon as Defoe’s employer, Ann.

“Part of what I’ve tried to do with [Defoe’s] character is mix a personal evolution with a social one,” Schrader said when the film premiered in 1992. “I think we are in very anxious times and this character is appropriate.” He has also said that Light Sleeper is his most personal movie, as he has also struggled with insomnia and addiction.

‘Affliction’ (1997) – IMDb: 6.9/10


Wade (Nick Nolte) is a small-town policeman investigating the death of a local man (Sean McCann). Jack (Jim True-Frost), a hunting guide, claims that the man accidentally shot and killed himself, but Wade suspects that there is more to the story. However, it soon turns out that Wade is haunted by a violent past, and that he may be losing his grip on reality.

Schrader says he borrowed some elements of his own childhood growing up in Michigan for the film. “I got into film for the best of all possible reasons — as a kind of self-therapy with Taxi Driver,” he explains. “And I still see it as self-therapy.” The highlight of the movie is James Coburn, who won an Oscar for the performance.

‘Hardcore’ (1979) – IMDb: 7.0/10


Schrader’s sophomore directorial effort is this neo-noir crime drama about Jake (George C. Scott), a father searching for his missing daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis). After a private investigator shows him a pornographic film in which Kristen appears, Jakes ventures into the criminal underworld disguised as a porn producer.

Schrader has said that Hardcore was inspired by The Searchers, the classic western starring John Wayne as a man also looking for his child. He updates that film by setting it in LA in the 1970s. It succeeds thanks to the powerhouse lead performance from Scott. “So much of this film is just a slow burn,” Schrader has said of Hardcore. “The fun of putting [Scott] in these environments and just watching his reactions.”

‘First Reformed’ (2017) – IMDb: 7.1/10

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed

Ethan Hawke stars in this drama as Ernst Toller, a minister of a small church in upstate New York. Toller struggles to accept the death of his son in the Iraq War. He battles depression, alcoholism, and doubts about his faith. At the same time, Mary (Amanda Seyfriend), a member of his congregation, approaches him for advice, as she is dealing with problems of her own.

Once again, Schrader brings in autobiographical elements, as he himself grew up in a religious household and initially enrolled in seminary training before pursuing film. “This is a troubling film about a troubled person,” he explains. “All of this thinking and praying isn’t doing him a lot of good […] But the film takes matters of faith very seriously. Films often don’t.”

‘Blue Collar’ (1978) – IMDb: 7.5/10

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Blue Collar was Schrader’s feature debut. It stars Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto as autoworkers in Michigan. Hard up on cash, the trio break into the safe in the office of their own union. However, they find it almost empty – except for a ledger that seems to contain evidence of the union’s illegal activity.

The film is worth it purely for the performances by the leads, who are all excellent (young Keitel is always a treat). But Blue Collar has also aged well as an exploration of big business and big labor, as well as the toxic effects of corruption. It’ll appeal to fans of more recent films like Dark Waters or the Hulu series Dopesick.

‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters’ (1985) – IMDb: 7.9/10


This historical film dramatizes the life of one of the most influential Japanese writers of the 20th century. Yukio Mishima was born in 1925 and lived through a period of upheaval in his homeland. He experienced World War II as a teenager, including Japan’s defeat by the American forces. For Mishima, this was not simply a military defeat but a cultural one. He despised the post-war political order and mass consumer culture.

As a young man, Mishima published several acclaimed novels which expressed his feelings of disconnection from modern Japan. Later in his life, he became increasingly radical and politically active, eventually forming a paramilitary group. Ultimately, this culminated in a misguided attempt to hold a military official hostage. Mishima remains a controversial figure in Japan, and Schrader’s film brings his fascinating story to life.

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