We look back and rank the first two decades of Kevin Smith's films

Posted Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 5:15 PM Central
Last updated Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 9:42 AM Central

by John Couture

The third week of October is a special one for us devotees of Kevin Smith, Clerks was released on October 19, 1994, while Mallrats debuted on October 20, 1995. For those of you who couldn't care less about math, that means that this week celebrates two pretty big milestones, the 21st anniversary for Clerks and the 20th anniversary for Mallrats.

While there was no official recognition from Universal, the studio that released Mallrats 20 years ago last week, Kevin made sure that the milestone was properly marked.

Mallrats is a film that always has a soft place in my heart because I discovered it while I worked in a video store and it's a film that instantly resonated with me. I saw Clerks at school and while I enjoyed it, there was just something about Mallrats that spoke to me in a way that very few films did up to that point.

So, I just had to write something to mark the occasion. Everyone knows of my long love affair with Kevin's work, so there's no need to rehash things that I've said a million times, but I wanted to find a fresh approach to the material. Then, I was struck by inspiration.

Twenty years is enough time to really get a handle on how things will stand up to the test of time. Is Clerks really an amazing ground-breaking work, or did it just hit me at a time when I could relate to the material? Would Dogma feel dated? Has Kevin written the timeless classic yet?

The answers to these questions may surprise you, I know they shocked me. I decided to watch Kevin's entire body of work in chronological order of release and see how they stacked up to each other and more importantly to films as a whole. I decided to simply watch the ten films that he both wrote and directed starting with Clerks in 1994 and ending with Tusk last year.

I have seen all ten on the big screen (although I didn't see Mallrats during its original theatrical run) and numerous times on DVD and Blu-ray, but this the first time in a long while that I've watched so many of his films in a virtual marathon setting. What I discovered about these films and myself is something that even I wasn't ready for.

So, sit back and enjoy as I rank Kevin Smith's films from ten to one in terms of holding up to the test of time.

  1. Jersey Girl

    Look, I was really cheering for this film, I was. I haven't seen Jersey Girl in probably 8 years or so. Since then, I've had not one, but two children, including a little girl. I remember rather enjoying the film the first time I had seen it and was sure that now that I could relate with Ollie Trinke, the film would find a controversial spot in my top five.

    It did no such thing. There is just a massive divide between Jersey Girl and the rest of Kevin's films. I spent so much time agonizing over the placement of each film, except for this one. It's too bad because there are some great things about this film. George Carlin and Liv Tyler deliver great performances that are sadly tainted by the rest of them in this film.

    The main problem is that they spend too much time building up a relationship that goes nowhere. It didn't help the film that the whole Bennifer thing blew up in its face either. The best parts of the film are toward the end. There's so much more chemistry between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler that you wouldn't realize that in real life it was Ben and J. Lo who were an item.

    It's also the only film where Kevin Smith got to direct Will Smith, which actually turned out to be a pretty cool thing.

  2. Clerks II

    I have to reiterate here again that there's a great divide between Jersey Girl and the rest of Kevin Smith's films. As it stands, I enjoyed the Clerks II re-watch and think that it stands the time pretty well for what it is. That being said, I had to put this film somewhere on the list and this is the spot where I feel it belongs.

    There are so many great things that work in this film. Mostly, it's a story of friendship being threatened by maturity. It's not rocket science and it's not much different from the original Clerks when you boil them both down. The dissection of Dante and Randal's relationship mostly works and it really shines during the climax in jail.

    Unfortunately, while it always worked in Clerks, there are moments where their back and forth falls flat, namely the donkey show scene. Don't get me wrong, that scene continues to be funny, but I just had a tough time believing that it would actually come to fruition between these two characters.

    With news that there's a Clerks III film on the way, I'm curious as to where Smith will take the storyline. I think you could easily make the leap to a future where Dante and Randal end up together romantically, but despite the blatant overtures in the films, would this step be too unexpected and cause a backlash? The alternative is checking in on a midlife Dante and Randal as they settle down and start a family.

    There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems to me that Kevin Smith said everything about this time in Jersey Girl and would Clerks III be original? Time will tell.

  3. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back

    Again, this is a film that was completely enjoyable to watch again after a few years. But, there was just something lacking from the film that hurts it when judging it in time, which is ironic given that The Time have a cameo in the film.

    Still, it's a fun road trip film chock full of cameos and does a pretty good job of entertaining even a casual viewer. Another thing that I took away from this film is just how lost you would be if you weren't a fan of Kevin's earlier View Askew works.

    I know that he's often said that this was his love letter to the fans and it certainly shows. I would have moved it down lower, but scoring Mark Hamill to play a character called Cock-knocker is worth at least a spot or two.

    Speaking of Cock-knocker, did you know that the phrase is first uttered by a View Askew character in Chasing Amy? Well, it is. And that's just one of a number of things you learn when you watch the films in such close rotation.

  4. Tusk

    A film so quirky that it launched a trilogy, Tusk is a natural progression for Kevin Smith. Without reliance upon the View Askewniverse, this film should stand the test of time much better than some of his earlier films.

    It's only been a year since Tusk was released, so it's really hard to judge it in relation to films that have been out for 10 or even 20 years, but this feels like the proper place for it. If you haven't seen this film yet, then you need to rectify that. Michael Parks' performance alone is worthy of a view or two.

    The film still has plenty of Kevin's trademark scatological humor, but yet it's also dark and quirky. It would definitely own a place on the Cult Classic wall of fame in a video store.

  5. Mallrats

    So, as much as I love Mallrats, it didn't even make the top five which I consider an upset. It's odd because I was sure that I would be hard pressed not to have it in the top spot, but it just didn't resonate as much with me when I watched it this time.

    It seemed that the film dragged in spots and the whole Holden beat down on Brodie really went to a dark place in an otherwise funny film. There were also several jokes that fell flat, mostly because malls are no longer the bastions of retail shopping that they once were.

    With MallBrats on the horizon, I'm intrigued as to how Kevin will make the mall experience relevant for an entire generation who has grown up without spending much time in one. Of course, signs point to the film poking fun at the decline of the mall, so there should be plenty of territory to mine in this area.

  6. Clerks

    Boom, two surprises right in a row. I think many people would put Kevin's first film at the top of any list of his, but it's clear that the passage of time hasn't been kind to Clerks.

    It's like watching sports from the 1940s, you can appreciate their athleticism and skill, but you know they would get crushed today. It's a testament to how far Kevin has come as a director that this film is so far down the list.

    It could also have something about where I find myself now. When I first watched the film I was much closer in age to Dante and Randal and I could relate to working in retail. Now, it's hard to put me in their shoes. I wonder if the film still works for young 20 somethings now who weren't even born when this film came out.

  7. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

    As beloved as Mallrats is and was back in the day, I have a suspicion that Zack and Miri Make a Porno will be the cult comedy hit that has he greatest longevity 10 years from now. It's hard to understand how a film starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks isn't more beloved than it is.

    I have a feeling that people will soon discover this film and it will get a second life that it sorely deserves. The good news for the film is that it stands up to the test of time quite nicely. It's ageless, yet still holds a certain nostalgic bent that films like Romy and Michele's High School Reunion and Grosse Pointe Blank have ridden to cult classic status.

    Since it's not a part of the View Askewniverse, it's a simple stand-alone film that anyone can come to fresh and digest with little work on their part. And yet, there is a great message in there about friendship and the casual relationships of our youth and how they help to shape us as adults.

    Let's revisit this list in another 20 years and I'm willing to bet more people feel the same way about this film as I do.

  8. Red State

    Again, this is a film that plays so well on so many levels. It's a psychological thriller and a political statement rolled into one. There's plenty of Smith's trademark humor mostly in the first half of the film that will allow him to lay claim to the film despite it feeling the least like anything he's ever done before.

    The real reason for repeat viewing though is none other than the man himself Michael Parks. Playing the leader of a cult/religious sect, he is perfect as the creepy messiah in bigot's clothing that so many of the religious zealots and fanatics turn out to be. Not a straight ahead horror film, nonetheless this film will leave you bothered and disturbed especially when you realize just how possible that something like this is.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I may be a bit biased with this film as it is one that holds a special place near and dear to my heart. Not only was I able to enjoy a screening of the film out in L.A. with Kevin himself, but I was then able to introduce him at a screening at my alma mater, Butler University. If that wasn't enough, that night my future wife and I conceived our daughter.

    Thankfully, she doesn't look like Kevin Smith, but he will always be her virtual Godfather as a result. Yeah, so this film will always be special for me.

  9. Chasing Amy

    Largely considered the high water mark of Kevin's career, Chasing Amy is still an enjoyable film all these years later. In light of how much progress our country has made in the realm of LGBT rights, the film resonates even more so today with its main message of finding true love no matter what.

    Of course, for Holden and Alyssa, the end is bittersweet if not optimistic that these characters will eventually find true love, even if that love is not with one another. It's the open-ended finale that I think speaks most to me and why I still love this film more than many of his other features.

    To me, it's the classic Kevin Smith film with plenty of dick and fart jokes, but they are undercut with a soft tenderness that makes you realize that when you are done watching the film, you are better off because of it. I can't wait to share this film with my daughter so that she can appreciate that no matter what decisions she makes in her life, we will be there to support her.

  10. Dogma

    I'm sure you're probably looking at this list and wondering if I misnumbered it or if I transposed the films in the opposite order, but no Dogma remains the top Kevin Smith film that still stands the test of time. Of course, it's probably no coincidence that it's also one of his more personal films as well.

    Given that I was also raised Roman Catholic, the film naturally speaks to me than those who weren't raised under the constraints of that religion. As someone who has always wondered about religion and our place in the world, it was refreshing to see someone else from a similar background who could summon up my feelings on the topic in a much more beautiful way than I ever could.

    The road trip aspect allows the film to flow naturally to its climax with the requisite pit stops to poke much-needed fun at a few things that deserve. Vanity and American consumerism are easy, but deserved targets in this film and from all appearances, they will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

    When it's all said and done, the one film that I grab first when I need my Kevin Smith fix, it's this one and it looks like it will continue to hold that spot for at least a few more years.