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From ‘Trainspotting’ to ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ every Danny Boyle movie, ranked

We put the spotlight on the Oscar-winning director's widely varied film career.

English director Danny Boyle has an incredibly interesting and varied career as a filmmaker, making 12 very distinct movies all with his unique flash and style. Born and raised in Lancashire, England, Boyle’s career got off to a very fast start and he was — for at least the early portion of his time as a director — considered one of the coolest, most imaginative minds working in movies.

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Much of this could be attributed to 1996’s Trainspotting, a drug-fueled tale of wayward 20-somethings with self-destructive streaks. It was the way it was filmed, though, that made it such an exciting movie. For a while Boyle was seen as the English counterpart to someone like Quentin Tarantino. Since then he has continued an impressive career in which he has dipped his toe into pretty much every genre of movie in existence including — most recently — romantic comedy with Yesterday. In honor of his long and varied career, we have ranked all of Boyle’s movies from worst to best.

13. Trance (2013)

This 2013 feature sees Boyle take on the heist genre, though with more than a bit of his typical flourishes. Starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, and Rosario Dawson, Trance is the story of an art heist gone wrong and the only solution becoming some experimental hypnotism. Coming off the success of 127 Hours, this was a bit of a commercial and artistic disappointment for Boyle, as the film was both a box office and critical failure.

12. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)

A Life Less Ordinary comes right on the heels of the aforementioned Trainspotting and so came with a whole lot of pressure to deliver. The result is a very messy movie which tries to be several things at once without ever really nailing down its tone. Starring frequent Boyle collaborator Ewan McGregor and a very young Cameron Diaz, A Life Less Ordinary is a kind of twisted rom-com that sees its characters involved in increasingly heightened situations, all while ending up exactly where you might have guessed. 

11. Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday is a film with one of the wilder elevator pitches you can possibly imagine: “What if The Beatles didn’t exist?” It’s a concept that would get most filmmakers laughed out of the room, but it is a credit to both Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) that this movie works as well as it does. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, Yesterday was actually quite successful at the box office, despite mixed reviews from critics, perhaps because of the enduring love for the band at its center. 

10. The Beach (2000)

Despite the relative disappointment of a movie like A Life Less Ordinary, Boyle still had heat around the point of 2000’s The Beach. Blend that with the overwhelming excitement the public had at the time for the still up-and-coming, post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, and you have a movie with ample hype. While The Beach doesn’t always deliver, it is nothing if not interesting, telling a story of a mysterious island and the commune-like community that inhabits its shores. 

9. T2 Trainspotting (2017)

It is a testament to the huge success and legacy of a movie like Trainspotting that the audience still called for a sequel over 20 years later. With T2, Boyle finally delivered the long-awaited follow up to the story of Mark Renton and his hapless gang of criminals and drug addicts. Though it obviously couldn’t live up to the original, there is plenty to like about T2 Trainspotting. You can stream the movie now on Starz. 

8. Shallow Grave (1995)

Though Trainspotting was the moment Boyle became the hot new director on the scene, Shallow Grave marked his true debut and shared many of the characteristics that would bring him popularity further along in his career. Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox, Shallow Grave is a dark tale of three roommates who stumble upon a briefcase full of cash, which leads, as you might imagine, to more trouble than it’s worth. It’s a fairly simple story, but the way Boyle displays the three young professionals descending into petty madness is riveting from start to finish. You can stream Shallow Grave now on HBO Max.

7. 127 Hours (2010)

One of his only films in which he also served as a screenwriter, 127 Hours is based on the real-life story of Aron Ralston, a mountaineer who — after a hiking accident that left him trapped beneath a boulder — was forced to cut off a section of his arm to escape. This is, obviously, an incredible story of survival and perseverance, but it is also a difficult film to make work, if only because the protagonist is in one spot for much of the action. To combat this, Boyle cross-cuts between hallucinations Ralston is experiencing while trapped. Starring James Franco alongside supporting roles from Kate Mara and Clémence Poésy, 127 Hours was a huge success, earning seven nominations at the Academy Awards. 

6. Millions (2005)

2004’s Millions is a coming-of-age drama that tells the story of a young boy and his brother who find a duffle bag full of cash and must decide how best to spend the titular “millions.” That fact that Boyle turned to a story like Millions right after releasing his zombie flick, 28 Days Later (which we will get to shortly), goes to show the range he has as a filmmaker. Though Millions is a modest film in scope, it was roundly praised by critics upon its release. You can stream Millions now on Disney Plus. 

5. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Aside from Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire might be Boyle’s most famous work, a sweeping drama that tells the story of a young, impoverished boy coming of age in India. Featuring breakout performances from Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire was an absolute smash hit, impressing audiences all over the world with its inspiring story of conquered odds. It would also go on to sweep the Academy Awards in incredible fashion, winning Boyle a Best Director Oscar with the film also taking home Best Picture. 

4. Sunshine (2007)

Starring Michelle Yeoh, Cillian Murphy, and Chris Evans, Sunshine tells the story of the Icarus II, a spaceship whose mission is no less massive than to reignite our dying sun with a nuclear fission bomb. This is obviously an already stressful situation, but the tension is ramped up even further when the crew receives a distress signal from the ill-fated Icarus I. Notable for being Boyle’s one and only foray into pure science-fiction, Sunshine was a box-office bomb but works quite well in its own, very strange way. 

3. Steve Jobs (2015)

Boyle has always been willing to work on projects with any number of different screenwriters, but Steve Jobs is the only time he worked with one as notable as Aaron Sorkin, who penned this biopic adapted from the 2011 biography by Walter Isaacson. Starring Michael Fassbender as the titular co-founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs is a fascinating take on the typical biopic, framing the story in three distinct sections rather than in the biographical way you might expect. Both Fassbender and co-star Kate Winselt were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in the film. 

2. 28 Days Later (2002)

A zombie-adjacent, existentially-searching dystopian tale, 28 Days Later centers on Jim (Cillian Murphy). He wakes up in a hospital 28 days after the world is decimated by an apocalyptic, whose origins we get a sense of in the film’s intense cold-open. Jim, like the viewer, is completely oblivious, but with the help of characters like Selena (Naomie Harris) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson), he is able to piece together the horror of the world in which he now lives, one where a single mistake can quickly become deadly. Again teaming up with director/screenwriter Alex Garland, Boyle’s film toes the line between humanism and fatalism in a way we see pop up again and again throughout his filmography. 

1. Trainspotting (1996)

Even 25-odd years later, Trainspotting still feels revolutionary. Based on the novel of the same name by Welsh writer Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting is the story of a handful of 20-somethings living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Though their lives are listless and their ambitions nonexistent, the group have one thing in common — their crippling heroin addictions. Each of them deal with the drug in their own way, but the focus becomes Mark Renton, here played by Ewan McGregor in his breakout role.

While he tries, more than once, to shed his addiction, the drug proves harder to shake than he might think. This isn’t, however, only some morality tale about the dangers of drug addiction, but an exploration of the meaning of life and friendship as a whole. Renton learns to hate living as a drug addict, but the alternative — a static life as an office drone — doesn’t seem all that appealing, either. Trainspotting was a huge underground success upon its release and has since become one of the most influential and iconic movies of the 1990s. 

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Sean Fennell
Sean Fennell is a pop-culture obsessive from Philadelphia who's desperate attempt to watch, read, and listen to everything is the great battle of his time. Sean graduated with a Journalism degree from Shippensburg University in 2015 and since that time has been freelancing for sites all over the web, covering everything from music to television to movies and interviewing dozens of creative minds along the way. If you’re wondering whether he has seen or heard it, he has, and he has thoughts.