When it comes to the films of Doug Liman, it's best to expect the unexpected. The American filmmaker started out in low budget indies, before rapidly moving to studio fare and finally to projects of immense size, scale, and complexity. But every so often he'll go back to something smaller and simpler. Which of his movies are the most successful, and which missed the mark? Find out as we go through his filmography (except his tiny debut, "Getting In," which honestly we couldn't uncover), from worst to best.
9. 'Jumper' (2008)
This is clearly a case of Doug Liman being offered a juicy sci-fi action concept and saying "yes" before he had really figured out what, exactly, was interesting about that concept in the first place. And it's that uncertainty that hobbles "Jumper." Admittedly, the central conceit -- about a special group of humans who can teleport around the world and the villainous agency determined to track them down-- is cool. And Liman does imbibe it with a certain amount of visual flair. But virtually everything else about the movie, from Samuel L. Jackson's white wig to the dangling plot threads (meant to suggest a trilogy Fox prematurely announced) makes you go, "Huh?"
8. 'American Made' (2017)
It should have been a slam-dunk. After all, this was Liman reuniting with Tom Cruise, telling the raggedy, true-life tale of a commercial pilot who wound up running drugs for both Pablo Escobar and the American government. It felt like a breath of fresh air for both Liman and Cruise -- a smaller-scale, adult drama that would allow both to spread their wings, creatively. Unfortunately, much of "American Made" feels repetitive and limp; not even Cruise's typically electrifying performance could make up for what felt like a disjointed, scattershot affair. Worst of all, Liman's aesthetic trademarks (the jangly camerawork and whip-fire editing) wound up overwhelmed the compelling narrative.
7. 'The Wall' (2017)
After making a series of mega-budget extravaganzas, Liman returned to the world of low budget filmmaking in this Amazon Studios-backed thriller that follows an American sniper (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) pinned down by an unseen insurgent sniper. "The Wall" is nifty filmmaking, like the bottle episode of your favorite sprawling series, and Liman is at the top of his game. Somehow he's able to layer in rich characterizations and subtle political commentary, into what is essentially a cat-and-mouse suspense piece. It was also proof that Liman could reign in his flamboyant visual panache to tell a story that is gripping in its streamlined simplicity. It's not essential but still worth seeking out.
6. 'Fair Game' (2010)
Incredibly, Liman was the only filmmaker to tackle the Valerie Plame scandal, wherein a deep cover CIA agent (Naomi Watts) was revealed following the publication of an Op-Ed in the New York Times, wherein the categorically false pretext for the Iraq invasion was laid bare. It's a thrilling real life tale, made all the more gripping by Liman's decision to shoot and edit the movie like one of his big budget spy adventures. At its heart, though, "Fair Game" remains one of the filmmaker's most sensitive and deeply felt works, as he watches Plame's marriage (Sean Penn is her husband) creak and moan under the stress of the scandal. For these two, the personal very much is the political.
5. 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' (2005)
Overshadowed by the tabloid coverage of the real-life coupling of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is Liman's most commercial and mainstream work. While the plot is high concept mumbo jumbo (a married couple discovers that they're each assassins working for rival factions), Liman commits fully, finding time in between the gunfire to investigate the nooks and crannies of their relationship. The refined action extravaganza has held up remarkably well, even after all the paparazzi flashes have faded.
4. 'Swingers' (1996)
Liman's second feature really put him on the map. "Swingers" is a cool, casual romp through modern Los Angeles, which at the time just happened to be fixated on cultural movements of the past (specifically swing dancing and its assorted affectations). Written by Jon Favreau, who also costars, alongside young actors like Vince Vaughn and Heather Graham, it introduced a stylized old timey vernacular that would soon become cringe-worthy. But when you were having this much fun just hanging out with these characters, it was all worth it. Judging by "Swingers," you'd think that Liman would have veered towards Linklater-esque character studies, but instead he's ramped up the action and suspense ever since.
3. 'Go' (1999)
After his breakthrough "Swingers," Liman stayed in youth subculture but pivoted away from fedoras and towards glow sticks in this fractured, "Pulp Fiction"-meets-"American Graffiti" blast. Told from three different points of view and following a cluster of young folks in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (with a brief jaunt to Las Vegas), it emphasized style and characterization above all else. In someone else's hands it could have been vacuous and teen-y, but thanks to Liman and a terrific cast (anchored by Sarah Polley and filled out by Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, Katie Holmes and Taye Diggs, amongst others), "Go" becomes something larger and more profound -- a cultural snapshot of a very specific moment.
2. 'The Bourne Identity' (2002)
Just three years after "Go," Liman was handed his first big budget studio movie -- an action picture that would have a profound affect on the next decade of filmmaking (and beyond) thanks to its grittiness, shaky camerawork and almost cubist editing style. Not that anyone thought "The Bourne Identity" would shake things up. Instead, it was based on an ancient Robert Ludlum novel about an amnesiac spy (Matt Damon) who wakes up and has to figure out who he is, while avoiding all sorts of villainous forces plotting against him. The movie holds up incredibly well, even though subsequent sequels (by Paul Greengrass) have gotten much of the attention. This is one of those moments in Liman's career where his commitment to innovation turned out to be an actual game changer for the entire industry.
1. 'Edge of Tomorrow' (2014)
This frantic, outrageously funny science fiction epic was the most unexpected delight of the summer 2014 movie season. It, of course, bombed. But "Edge of Tomorrow," true to its nifty time travel concept, has lived on thanks to home video and word-of-mouth, proof of how easily re-watchable it is. In the film, Tom Cruise plays a cowardly PR man whose task is promoting an endless, unwinnable war with an invading alien force. After he finds himself on the front line and doused in alien blood, he begins reliving the day of the battle over and over again. It could have been dopey, but Liman goes all in; it's as exciting as it is funny. And the peerless visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic do much to both ground and stabilize Liman's constantly roving camerawork.