A skewed perspective
|Average User Score||7.7|
Thanks in part to a down-to-earth personality and a devoted fan base with whom he communicates regularly -- not to mention a fearless penchant for speaking truth to Hollywood power -- Kevin Smith's fame is outsized in proportion to his actual success as a director. Over a career spanning 16 years, Smith has helmed nine films, but not one has earned more than $32 million at the box office.
The director's success with critics has been equally modest: While a few of his films have earned generally positive reviews, it's hard to assign the "critically-acclaimed" label to any of them. And the quality of his films appears to be slipping: only one of his past five releases was liked by critics.
Yet thanks to a handful of cult hits, Smith will always have a place in the history of independent cinema. Few directors have consistently done more with small budgets, and fewer still have cultivated such strong relationships with their fans. Smith is also instrumental in reviving the raunchy, R-rated youth comedy at a time when the genre had all but disappeared. And even though fans may have soured on his recent cinematic output, they still embrace him in other media, such as his popular weekly podcast, SModcast.
Smith's latest film, Cop Out, finds him embarking on a new path as a “director for hire.” Just his third film not to feature the core group of slacker characters that compose his "View Askewniverse" (named after his View Askew production company), Cop Out is also the first of his films written by someone other than Smith. At this crucial turning point in his career, we take a look at how Smith's movies have performed, from his first -- 1994's Clerks -- to his newest.
Metascores of Movies Directed by Kevin Smith
Let's examine each of these movies in more detail. The pie charts indicate the percentage of critics giving positive (green), mixed (yellow) and negative (red) reviews.
|Est. Prod. Budget: <$0.1M
||Domestic Gross: $3.2M|
|"Within the limitations of his bare-bones production, Smith shows great invention, a natural feel for human comedy, and a knack for writing weird, sometimes brilliant, dialogue."
--Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Made for a paltry $27,575 -- famously financed in part on Smith's own credit cards -- the first film in Smith’s New Jersey trilogy was filmed by night in the same mini-mart where the director worked the day shift. Clerks leveraged honors earned at both Cannes and Sundance -- and the publicity from a successful appeal to overturn its original NC-17 rating -- to earn a multi-million-dollar return for Miramax despite its no-name cast and very limited release (the film never played on more than 96 screens at once). The comedy remains one of the more successful low-budget films of all time, and still serves as the best showcase for Smith's View Askewniverse thanks to dialogue and characters that managed to be both raunchy and real.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $6.1M
||Domestic Gross: $2.1M|
|"As an 'Animal House' romp about consumer slackers in a New Jersey mall, it's harmless enough--just don't expect any sort of edge. Smith has left the working class to become just as boring as everybody else."
--Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Despite a much larger budget and an actual semi-star ("Beverly Hills 90210's" Shannen Doherty), Smith's follow-up to Clerks was a box office and critical failure, although Mallrats eventually emerged as a minor cult hit on the home video market. The best that can be said for the director's sophomore effort is that it allowed Smith to discover actors Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, and Joey Lauren Adams, who would each appear in several more of his films.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $0.3M
||Domestic Gross: $12.0M|
|"What Smith does best in Chasing Amy is write clever, raunchy and emotionally true-to-life dialogue."
--Sean Means, Film.com
Widely considered his best film to date, the romantic comedy Chasing Amy allowed Smith to save his career after Mallrats nearly derailed it, while also demonstrating for a second time what the director could accomplish with a miniscule budget. A deeply personal film, Amy also helped put Affleck on Hollywood’s radar as a viable leading man. But perhaps the biggest measure of its success comes in the form of a compliment given by another director: Quentin Tarantino named it as his favorite film of 1997.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $10M
||Domestic Gross: $30.6M|
|"As funny as a lot of the film is, Dogma remains as frustratingly uneven as the rest of Smith's work."
--Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald
Smith's fourth film set in the View Askewniverse is a satirical and controversial exploration of the Catholic faith. Thanks to one hell of an ensemble cast -- including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, George Carlin and Alanis Morissette (as God) -- Dogma easily became the director's highest-grossing release in spite of organized protests by religious activists. The raunchy but reverential comedy also collected decent reviews from critics, although some reviewers found the story too much of a mess and the comedy too lowbrow.
|Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back||2001||51||8.2|
|Est. Prod. Budget: $22M
||Domestic Gross: $30.1M|
|"This may be the greatest picture ever made for 14-year-old boys. Mr. Smith may have hit his target, but he aimed very low."
--A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Intended to be the final look inside the View Askewniverse (it wasn't), Jay and Silent Bob found the director himself in a starring role after appearing briefly as Silent Bob in each of his previous films. Smith was once again forced to battle the MPAA to reduce an NC-17 rating to an R, but that wasn't the director's only problem. Smith received flack from another prominent group: GLAAD, which denounced the comedy for moving away from the opened-minded perspective of Chasing Amy to perpetuate anti-gay sentiment. By the time Jay and Silent Bob’s road trip rolled onto screens, critics were no longer on board (the film received decidedly mixed reviews), and even the characters of the View Askewniverse -- many of whom appear at the end -- didn't know what to make of it.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $35M
||Domestic Gross: $25.3M|
|"Smith used to make movies to make fun of movies like Jersey Girl; now he's just another guy working the assembly line, which won't make you a sell-out if no one buys it."
--Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer
For his sixth film, Smith tried his hand at a more dramatic film free of his directorial trademarks, raunchy humor, and View Askew characters. But a big (for Smith) budget and a big (well, Ben Affleck) star failed to translate into box office or critical success, although the film may have been doomed by the disastrous performance of the previous film pairing Affleck and real-life girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, Gigli. The director's only PG-13 film to date, Jersey Girl may have represented a more mature Smith, but critics weren't buying it: they mostly hated the performances he got out of his leads, and found the movie bland, cheesy, or both.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $5M
||Domestic Gross: $24.1M|
|"By this point, the rhythms of Smith's dialogue are as predictable and mannered as haikus, and like sitcoms, Clerks II is mostly appealing in its familiarity, from the rat-a-tat cussing to the cameos from Smith's repertory company to the extended riffing on 'Star Wars' and geek culture."
--Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club
After the detour that was Jersey Girl, Smith returned to the world and characters he created a dozen years earlier with this direct sequel to Clerks. In some ways more mellow, in other ways more gross, Clerks II managed to get followers excited about Smith’s films once again (although some fans -- and some critics -- didn't approve of the film), and the comedy even received an eight-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Critic Joel Siegel may have walked out of the film during the cross-species sex scene, but the French dug it.
|Zack and Miri Make a Porno||2008||56||6.8|
|Est. Prod. Budget: $24M
||Domestic Gross: $31.5M|
|"This movie could have been an effervescent neo-screwball romance, 'Bringing Up Baby' with nut-sack jokes. So there's no blaming the subject matter for the fact that Zack and Miri feels so dispiritingly graceless."
--Dana Stevens, Slate
While Zack and Miri featured an entirely new set of characters (and new actors, including Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks), it retained Smith's askew sense of humor -- as well as his problems securing an R rating (which it eventually did). The movie is considered by critics and fans to be among the director's worst releases, yet it stands today as his highest-grossing film to date -- at least until it is surpassed by Cop Out.
|Est. Prod. Budget: $40M
||Domestic Gross: TBD|
|"Desperation oozes from every frame of Cop Out, which front-loads its best joke -- then spends the rest of its running time endlessly spinning its wheels."
--Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
Cop Out marks the first film Smith has directed from somebody else's script, and also finds him with the biggest budget he's ever had to work with. Seen by Smith as an homage to all of the great buddy-cop films of his youth as well as a chance to stretch himself creatively, this Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan vehicle is earning the director the worst reviews of his career.