The story of Kevin Smith making his first movie starts out like the story of most indie filmmakers following a dream in the ’80s and ’90s: Maxing out credit cards, risking financial ruin all in sheer tyranny of belief that the majorly groundbreaking screenplay you wrote is your ticket into the business. Smith’s story ends differently than most: He actually made it.
‘Twas the right time, right place (unlike all those contractors on the Death Star) for Smith’s Clerks. Audiences and studios alike were hungry for outsider voices, and the guy from New Jersey holding a scuzzy black-and-white comedy was as outsidery as you can get. Released the same October week in 1994 as Pulp Fiction, Clerks set a new high for those aiming low, and thus the American independent movement of the ’90s was born.
Smith’s next movie, Mallrats, showed he was serious about giving voice to pop culture nerds, slackers, and stoners, throwing more references to movies and more reverence to comic books, to the point of roping in Stan Lee as a sage, secondary character. Smith had his most promising leap forward in writing and direction with Chasing Amy, and then took on a more aggressive front against the status quo with the iconoclastic Dogma. The organized religion send-up featured a growing cadre of stars willing to yuk it up in Smith’s unified Askewniverse (like Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, and Chris Rock), with Jason Mewes and Smith himself as Jay and Silent Bob a consistent, comedy presence. (Check out our oral history of Jay and Silent bob with Smith.)
The two characters were upgraded to lead status with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, before Smith returned to his roots in Jersey Girl and Clerks II. With the Judd Apatow style changing the comedy landscape, Smith stuck his own thumb into the pie, mixing extreme raunchiness and sweet sincerity in Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
The 2010s began with Cop Out, a failed stab at Hollywood big-budget action filmmaking, and an experience Smith now openly derides. Red State just edged by with enough critics for a Fresh rating, and would begin a 3-movie string operating in horror. Tusk has its defenders. Yoga Hosers definitely does not. For his latest, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Smith hit the streets, doing roadshow screenings with Q&As city by city. Not only did that bring together his fans in community, but also played up Smith’s strengths as a world-class raconteur, whose gift of gab has helped him create an empire of podcasts and review shows, overshadowing his directing career in recent years. The long-awaited, deeply personal Clerks III released in September 2022. Now, take a look back on all Kevin Smith movies ranked by Tomatometer! —Alex Vo
Critics Consensus: Although Chasing Amy's depiction of queer sexuality is frustratingly clumsy, it handles an array of thorny themes with a mixture of sensitivity, raw honesty, and writer-director Kevin Smith's signature raunchy humor.
Synopsis: Holden and Banky are best friends and authors of a popular comic book. Holden falls in love with Alyssa, who... [More]
Critics Consensus: Fans can expect a good laugh as the cast from Smith's previous films reunite for Jay and Silent Bob's last bow. The loose plotting and crude language may be too much for others though.
Synopsis: When Jay and Silent Bob learn that a "Bluntman and Chronic" movie is being made featuring their comic book counterparts,... [More]