Danny Boyle kick-started the careers of many actors. Star Wars without Ewan McGregor’s Obi-wan Kenobi, or Peaky Blinders without Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby, seems impossible to imagine. But thanks to Boyle, not only have certain actors become iconic, but his unique style of movie making has also given cinema memorable stories. From the zombie apocalypse, and onto the much lauded Steve Jobs, Boyle has created a varied, but significant set of films. Although, sometimes overlooked for bigger and brasher Hollywood backed directors, yet no less ordinary.
Here are the thirteen movies of one of Britain’s finest directors and cultural icons.
13. Yesterday (2019)
Yesterday isn’t a bad movie, it’s just lists have to start somewhere. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician who, after a worldwide power cut, is hit by a bus and wakes up in a reality that has forgotten The Beatles. Using this sole knowledge, Jack becomes globally famous as he plagiarizes some of the most famous songs ever written.
Boyle has made a perfectly likeable movie, but one full of cliques and jovial parallels, (from Ed Sheeran making a cameo and wanting to rename ‘Hey Jude’ to ‘Hey Dude’, to rooftop gigs echoing that of The Beatles). The movie needed to take the humor more intelligently. Somewhat pedestrian at times and predictable, it does, however, offer plenty of respect to the world’s greatest band.
12. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Angels have been tasked to make sure Robert Lewis (Ewan McGregor) and Celine Naville (Cameron Diaz) fall in love, or they will be forced to remain on earth forever. The catch is, Robert has lost his job and kidnapped his boss’s daughter, who just happens to be Celine. A fast-paced, energetic, dark comedy ensues as the angels become more of a hindrance than help.
Contrived and at times confusing, A Life Less Ordinary does have style. It’s a British perception of America that’s neither UK nor the USA, and consequently adds flavor on a humorous level.
11. Millions (2004)
Millions is the story of Catholic school boy Damian (Alex Etel), who discovers a bag of cash that he assumes has been sent from god to help him. Damian tries to do the right thing by helping others also, but when he finally finds out that the bag was in fact stolen, he not only feels awful, he becomes in danger from the robber that wants it back.
Somewhat magical in the sense that it is a movie of morals and the codes of ethics. Lacking in originality, it is a film that explores a child’s decisions and their impacts, but we do get to ride through Damian’s wonderful imagination. A family movie that can strike a chord with adults alike.
10. The Beach (2000)
An adaptation of the eponymous novel by Alex Garlan, The Beach stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard, an adventure-seeking traveler. Whilst staying in Bangkok, Richard hears whispers of a secret beach, and stumbles across a map to its location. It’s a paradise with a community that has rules and Richard tries to do anything to stay. Moreover, the community’s leader, Sal (Tilda Swinton), cold and calculated, goes one step further to protect her beach.
DiCaprio was still sailing comfortably in the wake of Titanic when the Beach was released. Regardless of quality, it was always going to be a hit. Shot magnificently, beautifully surreal at times, and with a backdrop of Thai paradise, Danny Boyle’s adapted vision looks inspiring. Although it did lack substance, the plot was lost to a more aesthetical approach. The movie deserves better than negative critiques.
9. Sunshine (2007)
The sun is dim and dying. Earth is facing perpetual winter and all life faces extinction. A team of astronauts, including Robert Capa (Cilian Murphy) is sent to reignite the sun. Their spacecraft, the Icaurus 2, is carrying a massive stella bomb, and when they receive a distress signal from the previously failed Icarus 2, they decide that two bombs are better than one. Unbeknownst to them, Icarus 2 has more than just a bomb on board.
Forlorn and bleak, Sunshine is a psychological sci-fi suspense that gains momentum throughout. Boyle’s impact is present and notable through the movie’s psychological aspect. He uniquely explores the boundary of science and religion through dream-like sequences of madness. The plot might not be scientific fact, but Boyle has created a compelling fictional story.
8. T2: Trainspotting (2017)
Set twenty years after the events of Trainspotting, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh to find things have moved on. The problem is, people haven’t moved on. Old animosities and the fallout from twenty years past still live in his old home, and now it’s time to face them, and his old (mentally unstable) pal, Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
Many sequels chase former glories of their predecessors, but this sequel is a standalone movie about regret, revenge, and betrayal that has only a sprinkle of nostalgia for its beginnings. Boyle did what so many other directors failed, by making a sequel, although not as edgy and direct as its original, but worth the twenty-year wait.
7. Trance (2013)
Another psychological thriller from Boyle. This time it’s art theft with a twist. Simon Newton (James McAvoy) double-crosses his criminal gang after they steal a valuable painting. And after he is struck on the head, he forgets where he has hidden the loot. The gang force him to see a hypnotist in order to find the painting’s whereabouts, but instead, all they find is a troubled psyche, full of twists and turns.
Boyle does what he does best and explores the mind with abstract fondness. The story is complicated and far from straightforward for such a thing as trivial as a missing painting. Trance just beats T2: Trainspotting to seventh place due to its narrative structure, we are being led throughout, not quite knowing where we are being taken. And it concludes not in the place we expect, but somewhere completely different. That’s always enjoyable.
6. 127 Hours (2010)
127 Hours (co-written by Boyle) is the length of time from when Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) hand becomes stuck under a rock within an isolated canyon, to when he is finally rescued. A biographical survival drama that starts like a panoramic advertisement, and then becomes a dark, grueling drama where Aron is forced to do the unthinkable to survive.
Boyle juxtaposes light and dark excellently and to full effect. The bright, sun-kissed Canyonlands National Park Utah represents freedom, cinematically shot, and is where Aron starts his adventure. As a contrast, the Canyon where he becomes trapped is claustrophobic, dark, and full of despair, the place that ends any adventure. When tone shifts to complement the events happening, it can only be described as clever. For a very static movie with little plot, the tension is sublimely deafening.
5. Shallow Grave (1994)
Boyle’s directorial debut. Three friends Alex Law (Ewan McGregor), David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), and Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox) discover that their new flatmate is dead. They also find a suitcase of money. They agree to keep the money and dispose of the body. Loyalties become strained when others come looking for the money, and their relationships with one another fall apart, spiralling into mistrust.
A dark comedy that cemented Boyle’s directorial stamp. His use of cross-cuts, close-ups and angles always add a certain atmosphere. None more so than when David is hiding in the loft, spying on his two friends from various holes throughout the house.
4. Steve Jobs (2015)
The biographical Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is set against the backdrop of three, different product launches. The drama and the plot centers on Jobs’s relationships with his staff and family. And the story culminates with the unveiling of the game-changing iMac.
A mundane sounding synopsis on the face of things, but the reason it is ranked in at number four, is due to its gritty tenacity to jar with what we would expect from a leading character. Fassbender is perfect in the acerbic and difficult role, and he portrays Jobs as equally a protagonist as an antagonist. Supporting cast is led by Seth Rogen who plays the managed, (and far from his stereotypical comedic performances) voice-of-reason Steve Wozniak. Jobs was a genius, but Boyle’s genius was to make the mundane compelling.
3. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
18-year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is on the brink of winning ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. Except, the police do not believe that a boy from the slums of Mumbai should have already got this far, and answered every question right. Jamal successfully justifies each answer. He’s not cheating, but can he go on to win, and win the heart of his true love?
Boyle captures innocence with a well-worked flashback structure. Each place in time is when Jamal had an experience which has led him to answer the game show’s question correctly. Tight and precise, the flow of the movie is perfectly orchestrated by Boyle. Gripping and darkly funny in places, we are rewarded at the end with a Bollywood send off to ‘Jai Ho’. Winning seven Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, it’s a must-see.
2. 28 Days Later (2002)
Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes in hospital to find it abandoned. London is desolate. It’s been four weeks since a virus named ‘Rage’ has spread throughout Britain, and when Jim joins a small group of survivors, they leave the capital together and journey through post-apocalyptic England.
28 Days Later is a frenetic challenge to all conventional zombie horrors. Although strictly not a zombie flick, it did reinvigorate interest in the genre and help spawn countless clones. The infected run, not comically stumble like zombies of the past, and are not so easily killed. Fast-paced and extreme, Boyle’s twisted moments of calm, from shopping in a supermarket while outside the world has died, to lying in bed with the letters ‘H-E-L-L’ seen outside (part of an unfinished ‘H-E-L-P’ sign), are what makes him a visionary, and his movies chillingly believable.
1. Trainspotting (1996)
Trainspotting follows a group of heroin addicts and their lives through the impoverished parts of Edinburgh. The movie is narrated by Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) who tries his best to clean up his act and kick his drug habit. When he does, he still can’t get clear of his drug dependent friends. After a drug deal in London, Renton finally leaves them for good, and takes with him most of the drug money.
This is the first real glimpse into the creative mind of Boyle. It is also his finest movie to date. A chaotic, and other-worldly interpretation of drug-fueled ecstasy. With scenes, such as Renton going ‘cold turkey’ whilst watching his friend’s dead baby walk across the ceiling, to climbing into ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ to recover his heroin. It’s as insane as it is brilliant. Well done Danny!