The 10 Best Edward Zwick Movies, According to IMDb


Throughout a cinematic career which has spanned across five decades, covering everything from historical epics to romantic comedies, Edward Zwick has cemented himself as one of the most versatile and underrated filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. After making his directorial debut with the 1986 rom-com About Last Night… (which ranked 12th on IMDb’s list), Zwick’s following four movies included two war dramas, a feminist road-trip dramedy, and a sweeping Western epic, thus highlighting his flexibility as a filmmaker.

While Zwick has never been nominated for an Academy Award for his film direction, his 15 films thus far have earned a total of four Oscars from 18 nominations, while Zwick himself has won for his production efforts on Shakespeare in Love. The evaluation of his pictures in the eyes of IMDb users provides an interesting analysis of his sprawling and impressive filmography.

10 ‘Leaving Normal’ (1992)

IMDb Rating: 6.5/10

Image via Universal Pictures

Despite receiving mostly negative reviews from critics upon release, Leaving Normal has come to be viewed as a bittersweet treat as a female-focused road trip dramedy with poignant punch and solid characters. It focuses on a waitress with a bleak past who decides to drive to Alaska to come to terms with her history and, on the way, befriends an impulsive young woman fleeing an abusive relationship.

Many critics who berated the film took aim at its wafting story which lacked urgency, but glossed over the exceptional character work that permeates throughout the movie with its two captivating core characters. With Zwick’s deft direction, the film has come to be better accepted in retrospect as a unique, feminine road film which juggles comedy and drama with great skill and delicate touch.

9 ‘Courage Under Fire’ (1996)

IMDb Rating: 6.6/10

A decorated solider wears a blank expression as he stands in a cemetery for soldiers.
Image via 20th Century Fox

The total opposite to Leaving Normal, Zwick’s 1996 military drama Courage Under Fire was one of the best reviewed movies of its summer but struggled to make an immediate impact with audiences. The film follows a U.S. Army Officer as he examines a female helicopter commander’s worthiness for the Medal of Honor, an investigation which sees him struggle with his own deadly past mistake which was covered up.

Meticulous in its structuring and progression, Zwick exhibits a care and precision for the story and the development of its characters which stood the film in good stead as it mixed warmth, intelligence, and an intriguing commentary on concepts of heroism. A powerhouse lead performance from Denzel Washington and a typically breathtaking display from cinematographer Roger Deakins, Courage Under Fire was a resounding success in visual storytelling.

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8 ‘Love & Other Drugs’ (2010)

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10

A young couple in love smile at each other as they sit on the floor while eating Chinese takeaway.
Image via 20th Century Fox

An amalgamation of adult humor, romantic drama, and contemporary satire aimed at pharmaceutical companies, Love & Other Drugs juggled plenty of ideas while operating as a relatively familiar rom-com. Set in the 1990s, it follows a womanizing medicine salesman who sparks a sexual relationship with a free-spirited woman, but her being a Parkinson’s patient forces him to make a decision between his work and making a serious commitment to someone.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway both shine in their starring roles, and give the film a charm and charisma which allows its rom-com formula to function as a serviceable platform for its loftier ideas and ambitious sex appeal. While not a masterpiece by any standard, the end result was a fresh and ferocious picture which saw Zwick in fine form as director, co-writer, and co-producer.

Love and Other Drugs

Release Date
November 22, 2010



Rent on Amazon Prime

7 ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ (2014)

IMDb Rating: 7.0/10

Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire as Boris Spassky and Bobby Fisher playing chess in Pawn Sacrifice
Image via Lionsgate

Edward Zwick has sometimes been prone to stylistic flourishes, but Pawn Sacrifice proved to be a work of impressive restraint from the director. A biographical drama, it focuses on the 1972 World Chess Championship as American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) readies himself to play Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in a captivating strategic contest sure to have political repercussions around a world in the thralls of the Cold War.

The film hinges on Maguire’s performance, one of surprising sensitivity, as he portrayed a paranoid and demanding celebrity figure who would later become known for his political troubles as well as his extreme views and erratic behavior. While some chess aficionados took issue with the film’s accuracy, the general public responded well to it as an engrossing thriller laced with plenty of historical and political intrigue.

Pawn Sacrifice

Release Date
September 16, 2015



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6 ‘Trial by Fire’ (2018)

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

An inmate in white overalls talks on the phone in the meeting room to a playwright.
Image via Roadside Attractions

A 2018 release, Trial by Fire stands as Zwick’s most recent film and as one of his most powerful. Based on David Grann’s article of the same name which ran in The New Yorker, the biographical crime drama focuses on Cameron Willingham (Jack O’Connell), an auto mechanic with a criminal record who is sentenced to death for the horrific murder of his three children, with playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) his only ally as she looks into discrepancies in the case while Willingham sits on death row proclaiming his innocence.

Wielding prevalent injustice as a powerful emotional catalyst, the film hits hard to be a rousing and, at times, rage-inducing critique of the justice system. While some did hold its heavy-handed and somewhat manipulative approach against it, the film finds a heartfelt core in O’Connell and Dern’s powerhouse performances, which center around their characters’ shared anxieties and heartache about parenthood.

trial by fire

Release Date
May 17, 2019



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5 ‘Defiance’ (2008)

IMDb Rating: 7.1/10

Daniel Craig and Liev Schieber in Defiance looking at eachother
Image via Paramount Pictures

Focusing on an unbelievable true story of survival during World War II, Defiance mixed technically excellent film-making with its fascinating source material to be a gripping war drama. Set in 1941 as the Nazis murder European Jews en masse, the Bielski brothers manage to escape into the Naliboki forest where, while plotting revenge for their killed loved ones, they find other survivors and become leaders of a community as the legend of their resistance grows.

The movie treads a purposefully careful line on the heroism it bestows upon its lead characters, with Zus (Liev Schreiber) a volatile bull with a desire for Nazi blood while Tuvia (Daniel Craig) is as ruthless as he is calculating and desperate as the community’s leader. While it received mixed reviews upon release and struggled financially, Defiance’s respectable IMDb score is a testament to its historical intrigue and its immersive tone and presentation.


Release Date
December 31, 2008



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4 ‘Legends of the Fall’ (1994)

IMDb Rating: 7.5/10

Three brothers and the fiance to one of them sit outside enjoying a picnic by a stream on a perfect day.
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

A sweeping dramatic epic which was pivotal in making Brad Pitt a Hollywood star, Legends of the Fall used its awe-inspiring setting and its weighted story to entertain audiences. Based on Jim Harrison’s novella of the same name, the Western centers on two surviving brothers from the First World War who, upon returning home to their father in rural Montana, both fall in love with their dead brother’s fiancé, which stirs a rivalry which threatens to dismantle the family.

Perfectly cast and gorgeously shot, the film uses all of its resources to ensure the mounting, melodramatic intensity delivers devastating blows which rise and fall across the 134-minute runtime. While Pitt and Anthony Hopkins were snubbed at the Oscars, Legends of the Fall received three nominations in total and won Best Cinematography.

Legends of the Fall

Release Date
December 16, 1994



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3 ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)

IMDb Rating: 7.8/10

Tom Cruise as Nathan Algren and Ken Watanabe as Mortisugu Katsumoto ride together in The Last Samurai
Image via Warner Bros.

Despite his underrated standing in modern Hollywood, Edward Zwick’s enduring legacy may prove to be his mastery of thrilling and thought-provoking epics, with 2003’s The Last Samurai a highlight of his career in this regard. Set in the 1870s, the historical epic follows an American solider hired by the Japanese government to train the military in modern combat to eradicate the last of the Samurai, but the military advisor finds himself conflicted when he is taken prisoner by the samurai and starts to learn their values.

The intriguing culture clash of a modernized Japan and the ancient way of the samurai is beautifully brought to the screen with incredible production design, stunning imagery, and a rousing epic story to boot. In addition to being just the second film Zwick directed, wrote, and produced, The Last Samurai also went on to receive four Oscar nominations and was met with critical praise in Japan, even more so than in America.

The Last Samurai Film Poster

The Last Samurai

Release Date
December 5, 2003


154 minutes

Rent on Apple TV+

2 ‘Glory’ (1989)

IMDb Rating: 7.8/10

A group of soldiers firing guns in Glory
Image via Tri-Star Pictures

Undoubtedly the film which established Edward Zwick as a bona fide Hollywood director, Glory was just his second picture, which made the Civil War epic an even more impressive feat of filmmaking which, in the eyes of many, stands as Zwick’s best picture. Based on the exploits of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, it focuses on Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) as he takes command of one of the Union Army’s first African-American regiments.

Its inspiring story has achieved an enduring brilliance with its powerful humanity, its spectacular cinematography, and its stern dedication to historical accuracy. The end result is one of the greatest movies about the American Civil War ever made, with Glory going on to win three Oscars from five nominations, including Denzel Washington receiving his first ever Academy Award for his portrayal of Trip, a defiant ex-slave who becomes a leader within the regiment.


Release Date
December 15, 1989



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1 ‘Blood Diamond’ (2006)

IMDb Rating: 8.0/10

Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond (1)
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

A profound achievement, Blood Diamond is the perfect example of Edward Zwick operating at his very best, with the film using a sturdy yet formulaic story structure as a launchpad to explore a socially significant issue with technical perfection and commanding performances. Set in civil war-ravaged Sergio Leone in 1999, it follows a Zimbabwean mercenary and an enslaved Mende fisherman forced to harvest diamonds who work together, with help from an American journalist, to find a rare gem that could change their lives.

Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou were astounding in their starring roles, with both actors recognized at the Academy Awards among five nominations the film received. The violence on display throughout the movie is unforgettably striking as well, refusing to shirk away from the atrocities committed during the conflict in a manner which is both confronting and commendable. As such, Blood Diamond is a worthy selection as the greatest movie of Zwick’s career thus far.


Blood Diamond

Release Date
January 26, 2006



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