Sidney Lumet movies: 20 greatest films ranked worst to best

Sidney Lumet would’ve celebrated his 96th birthday on June 25, 2020. The Oscar-nominated director proved incredibly prolific during his career, directing over 40 movies in 50 years, from his feature debut “12 Angry Men” (1957) through his cinematic farewell “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007). But how many of those titles remain classics? In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 20 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.

Born in 1924, Lumet got his start as a child actor, appearing in “One Third of a Nation” (1939) when he was 15 years old. After serving during WWII, he quickly began directing Off-Broadway plays before moving into the burgeoning medium of television, where he helmed hundreds of live teleplays. While working on episodes of “Playhouse 90,” “Kraft Theater” and many more, he honed his abilities to shoot quickly and economically.

His turned to movies with “12 Angry Men,” an adaptation of Reginald Rose‘s TV drama about a lone juror (Henry Fonda) holding out during a murder trial. The film brought Lumet his first Oscar nomination as Best Director, and it competed in Best Picture (for Fonda, who produced it) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Rose).

Lumet returned to the Oscar race four more times: three for directing (“Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975, “Network” in 1976 and “The Verdict” in 1982) and once for screenwriting (“Prince of the City” in 1981). Though he never won a competitive prize, he did receive an Honorary Award in 2005.

Most notably, the director proved to be a secret weapon for actors, guiding 17 performers to Academy Award nominations and four to victories: Ingrid Bergman for “Murder on the Orient Express” in 1974 and Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight for “Network.” Ned Beatty (“Network”), Richard Burton (“Equus”), Albert Finney (“Murder on the Orient Express”), Peter Firth (“Equus”), Jane Fonda (“The Morning After”), Katharine Hepburn (“Long Day’s Journey Into Night”), William Holden (“Network”), James Mason (“The Verdict”), Paul Newman (“The Verdict”), Al Pacino (“Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”), River Phoenix (“Running on Empty”), Chris Sarandon (“Dog Day Afternoon”) and Rod Steiger (“The Pawnbroker”) all earned bids under his direction.

Amongst his other honors, Lumet won a Golden Globe for directing “Network,” competing again for “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Prince of the City,” “The Verdict” and “Running on Empty” (1988). He earned DGA bids for “12 Angry Men,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1962), “The Pawnbroker” (1965), “Serpico” (1973), “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network.” On the TV side, he competed at the Emmys for helming “The Sacco-Vanzetti Story: Part I” for “Sunday Showcase” in 1961.

Tour our photo gallery of Lumet’s 20 greatest films, including some of the titles listed above, as well as “Fail Safe” (1964), “The Hill” (1965), “Q & A” (1990) and more.