Scott Cooper is a rare story in Hollywood; an actor who kicked around for nearly a decade before moving into directing, only to make a certified hit that was nominated for three Academy Awards. Directors can go their whole careers without making something as accomplished as Crazy Heart, the 2009 debut that won Jeff Bridges his first Academy Award. Since that time, Cooper has continued to establish himself as an exciting director, taking on many different genres while retaining a specific vision.
Cooper is now six movies into his sprawling career and arrives in 2023 with a brand new feature film, the Netflix gothic mystery thriller The Pale Blue Eye, which stars Cooper’s most frequent collaborator, Christian Bale. To celebrate the release, we have ranked all six of Cooper’s movies, from worst to best.
6. Antlers (2021)
When it was announced that Cooper’s next movie would be produced by horror aficionado Guillermo del Toro, one could easily assume that Cooper would be taking things in a far creepier direction than he ever had. Antlers very much delivers on that promise, giving us an allegorical tale of demons that will leave you with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Starring the always excellent Jesse Plemons and Kerri Russell, Antlers works best when it leans into its creature feature elements and gives its stars space to shine. Though Antlers received mixed reviews from critics, there is plenty to like about Cooper’s first real foray into the horror genre. You can stream Antlers now on HBO Max and Hulu.
5. Out Of The Furnace (2013)
Cooper’s second feature, 2013’s Out of the Furnace, is nothing if not star-studded. Cooper always seems to be a director able to get some A-list actors to join his movies, but this is a truly absurd collective of talent, including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker, and Willem Dafoe. The center of the film is the relationship between brothers Russell (Bale) and Rodney (Affleck), the latter of which is an Iraq veteran having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life, returning to a violent past. The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t always add up to the sum of its parts. That said, there is plenty to enjoy and watching these talented actors and actresses work is enough to make up for a sometimes lackluster story. If nothing else, Cooper shows an ability to work with some of the biggest actors in the world without losing control of his vision, a talent in and of itself.
4. Black Mass (2015)
Black Mass sees Cooper take on a true story in this biographical crime drama about infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. Bulger here is played by Johnny Depp who, in typical fashion, does his best to disappear into the role — bald cap and thick accent included — in what many praised as being his best performance in years. Based on Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s 2001 book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, the movie also features Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons and Dakota Johnson. Black Mass is, at its heart, an excellent crime drama, weaving biographical into a tapestry of violence and intrigue. Cooper is far from a showy director, but does an excellent job of keeping his eye on the ball and keeping viewers engaged in this sprawling story.
3. The Pale Blue Eye (2023)
This, the newest of Cooper’s films and his first made exclusively for Netflix, once again stars his favorite collaborator, Christian Bale. This time, Bale plays a detective named Augustus Landor, a man brought in to solve a series of murder that occur in 1830 at the The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. To do so, he is forced to elicit the help of a young cadet, none other than the famous macabre writer Edgar Allen Poe. Adapted from the 2003 novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, this is not a factual story, but an imagined and clever bit of fictionalization. Also starring alongside Bale is Henry Melling, Gillian Anderson, and Lucy Boynton.
2. Hostiles (2017)
Cooper is a very interesting director in that he seems to want to try his hand at nearly every classic American film genre. If Antlers was his horror movie and Black Mass his gangster flick, then Hostiles is his Western, and boy is his take bleak and violent. This is a movie that holds nothing back, giving us an unsparing view of life on the edge of civilization right before the dawn of the 20th century. Cooper once again teams up with Bale, who here plays Army Capt. Joseph Blocker, a man tasked with accompanying a Cheyenne chief and his family from New Mexico to tribal land in Montana. It’s a story of hardship and heroism that features some great performances from Bale as well as Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons, and Ben Foster. Though the film received mostly positive reviews, some were turned off by just how harsh and uncompromising Cooper was in his view of turn-of-the-century America.
1. Crazy Heart (2009)
Again, Cooper tackles a new genre here with 2009’s Crazy Heart. Up until this point in our list, most of Cooper’s movies have been genre movies, or films that tell their respective stories within a familiar structure of crime, horror, or adventure. This marks his most staid subject, a pure drama centered on a musician named Otis “Bad” Blake (played by the always amazing Jeff Bridges), a down and out former country music star who spends more time drinking in sad dive bars than he does writing songs. However, after meeting and subsequently falling in love with a young journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, things show signs of turning around. Of course, this is a story we are familiar with and so, as you might imagine, redemption doesn’t follow a perfectly straight line. Though this is a far more languid and measured film than most in Cooper’s filmography, the performances are fantastic, including Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall. Bridge, though, takes the cake, winning his first and only Academy Award for the role.