Sidney Lumet was a versatile filmmaker who made some of the best movies ever to be released in the 20th century.

He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director three times and won once. His films include 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network.

In addition to his work on screenplays, Lumet directed plays for the Group Theatre in New York City during World War II.

After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in drama, he started his career as an actor at the age of 17 playing the lead role in The Front Page.

His first movie was The Stranger (1946), starring Montgomery Clift and Claire Trevor, which won him his first Academy Award nomination as Best Director.

His next two films were 12 Angry Men (1957) and Serpico (1973).

Although he only directed one film after 1973 (Network), he continued to work as an actor until his death in 2011 at the age of 94.

Best Sidney Lumet Movies

Let’s take a look at Sidney Lumet’s best films.

1. 12 Angry Men (1957)

“12 Angry Men” is an absolute masterclass in tension and dialogue-driven storytelling.

Sidney Lumet’s direction is flawless, slowly building the tension as 12 jurors debate the fate of a young man accused of murder.

The film is a showcase of brilliant performances, especially from Henry Fonda as the lone juror who refuses to give in to the majority’s rush to judgment.

The film’s examination of prejudice, groupthink and the importance of evidence-based decision making remains as relevant today as it was over 60 years ago.

The claustrophobic setting of the jury room only adds to the intensity, as the audience is forced to confront their own biases and assumptions along with the jurors.

The film’s use of close-ups and camera angles are masterful, with each shot adding to the emotional weight of the story.

The black and white cinematography is stunning, highlighting the stark contrast between the jurors and the accused.

   

12 Angry Men (1957)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Reginald Rose (Writer) - Henry Fonda (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Network (1976)

“Network” is a masterpiece of filmmaking that takes an unflinching look at the television industry and the consequences of its unrelenting pursuit of ratings.

The film follows Howard Beale, a veteran news anchor who, after being fired, goes on a tirade live on air that turns him into a media sensation.

As the network exploits his breakdown for profit, the lines between reality and fiction blur, leading to a shocking and unforgettable finale.

Led by an outstanding cast, including Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden, the film’s performances are both captivating and haunting.

Finch’s portrayal of Beale is particularly stunning, as he captures the character’s descent into madness with remarkable nuance and depth.

Director Sidney Lumet’s direction is sharp and precise, creating a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that mirrors the film’s themes.

The film’s dark humor and biting commentary on the media are as relevant today as they were when the film was released over 40 years ago.

Network
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Paddy Chayefsky (Writer) - Howard Gottfried (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)     

Dog Day Afternoon is one of the most iconic crime films of all time.

Al Pacino gives a powerful and unforgettable performance as Sonny, a desperate man who attempts to rob a bank in order to pay for his lover’s sex change operation.

The film is based on a true story and is masterfully directed by Sidney Lumet, who captures the tension and chaos of the botched robbery with incredible skill.

What makes Dog Day Afternoon so compelling is its exploration of complex themes such as love, desperation, and the corrupt nature of the justice system.

The film is as relevant today as it was when it was released over 45 years ago, and its impact can be felt in countless crime films that have followed in its wake.

The supporting cast is also exceptional, with John Cazale and Charles Durning delivering standout performances.

   

The film’s script, written by Frank Pierson, is sharp and witty, with memorable lines that have become part of pop culture.

Dog Day Afternoon
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning (Actors)
  • Martin Bregman (Director) - Frank Pierson (Writer) - Martin Bregman (Producer)
  • Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish (Playback Languages)
  • Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish (Subtitles)

4. Serpico (1973)             

Serpico is a gripping crime drama that tells the true story of Frank Serpico, an honest cop who becomes disillusioned with the corruption and graft within the New York Police Department.

Directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino in the titular role, the film is a masterclass in tension and suspense, as we watch Serpico become increasingly isolated and endangered as he tries to do the right thing.

Pacino gives a career-defining performance as Serpico, portraying him as a principled and determined man who refuses to be corrupted by the system he works within.

The supporting cast is also excellent, with standout performances from John Randolph as Serpico’s sympathetic partner, and Tony Roberts as the smarmy internal affairs investigator who tries to discredit him.

Lumet’s direction is understated but effective, allowing the story and characters to take center stage.

The film’s gritty realism and attention to detail make it feel like a documentary at times, and the 1970s New York backdrop adds to the film’s authenticity.

Serpico
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Waldo Salt (Writer) - Martin Bregman (Producer)
  • (Playback Languages)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

5. Prince of the City (1981)          

Prince of the City is a gripping crime drama directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Treat Williams in one of his finest performances to date.

   

The film centers around Danny Ciello, a New York City detective who finds himself caught between his loyalty to the police force and his conscience when he is forced to confront the corrupt practices of his fellow officers.

Lumet’s direction is masterful, and the film’s intricate plot is expertly woven together to create a compelling and suspenseful narrative.

The film is shot in a gritty, realistic style that perfectly captures the underbelly of New York City in the 1980s.

Treat Williams is outstanding as Danny Ciello, delivering a nuanced and complex performance that perfectly captures the character’s conflicting emotions and motivations.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with standout performances from Jerry Orbach and Bob Balaban.

Prince of the City
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Jay Presson Allen (Writer) - Burtt Harris (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. The Verdict (1982)

The Verdict is a masterclass in legal drama, anchored by a powerhouse performance from Paul Newman.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film follows Newman’s character, a down-on-his-luck lawyer named Frank Galvin, as he takes on a seemingly unwinnable medical malpractice case.

The Verdict is a slow burn of a film, taking its time to build tension and develop its characters.

Newman is absolutely mesmerizing as Galvin, imbuing the character with a sense of world-weariness that makes his journey all the more compelling.

The supporting cast is equally strong, with standout performances from Charlotte Rampling as a mysterious woman who becomes involved in the case, and James Mason as Galvin’s opposing counsel.

What sets The Verdict apart from other courtroom dramas is its unflinching portrayal of the legal system.

The film doesn’t shy away from showing the ways in which justice can be manipulated and corrupted, and it’s all the more powerful for it.

The Verdict is a gripping, emotionally resonant film that deserves to be remembered as one of the greats of its genre.

The Verdict
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Charlotte Rampling, Edward Binns, Paul Newman (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - David Mamet (Writer) - Richard D. Zanuck (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

7. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express is a classic whodunit that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Director Sidney Lumet brings Agatha Christie’s famous novel to life with a star-studded cast including Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, and Sean Connery.

The film is set aboard the luxurious Orient Express train, where a murder occurs and detective Hercule Poirot (Finney) must solve the case before the killer strikes again.

The plot is intricate and full of twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The performances are top-notch, with Finney delivering a standout performance as the eccentric detective.

Bergman also shines in her role as a shy, religious woman who becomes a key suspect in the murder investigation.

The production design and cinematography are also noteworthy, as the film beautifully captures the glamour and luxury of train travel in the 1930s.

Murder on the Orient Express
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Paul Dehn (Writer) - John Brabourne (Producer)
  • Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

8. Fail Safe (1964)           

Fail Safe is a gripping and thought-provoking political thriller that explores the terrifying possibility of nuclear war.

Directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, the film follows the events that unfold when a technical glitch causes a U.S. bomber to receive an accidental order to drop a nuclear bomb on Moscow.

The tension and urgency of the situation are palpable throughout the film, as the President and his advisors desperately try to prevent the impending disaster.

The performances are outstanding, particularly Fonda as the President, who delivers a commanding and nuanced performance.

Fail Safe is a sobering reminder of the devastating consequences of nuclear war and the importance of clear communication and careful decision-making in times of crisis.

The film is a masterclass in suspenseful storytelling and a must-see for fans of political dramas and thrillers. Highly recommended.

Fail Safe
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Charles Tyner, Henry Fonda, Dan O'Herlihy (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Walter Bernstein (Writer) - Max E. Youngstein (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

9. The Pawnbroker (1964)           

“The Pawnbroker” is a haunting and deeply-moving film that explores the emotional turmoil of a Holocaust survivor living in New York City.

Sidney Lumet’s direction is masterful, capturing the gritty reality of city life while also delving into the painful memories and traumas of the protagonist, Sol Nazerman, played brilliantly by Rod Steiger.

The film’s nonlinear structure adds to its emotional impact, as we are shown glimpses of Sol’s past through flashbacks and dream sequences.

The cinematography is also noteworthy, with stark black and white imagery that highlights the film’s themes of darkness and despair.

While the subject matter of the film is heavy, Lumet infuses the story with moments of hope and humanity, particularly through the relationship between Sol and his assistant, Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sánchez).

Their interactions provide a glimmer of light in an otherwise bleak narrative.

The Pawnbroker (1964) ( The Pawn broker )
  • The Pawnbroker (1964) ( The Pawn broker )
  • The Pawnbroker (1964)
  • The Pawn broker
  • Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - The Pawnbroker (1964) ( The Pawn broker ) (Producer)

10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet, is a cinematic masterpiece that will leave you breathless.

This film is a hauntingly beautiful portrayal of the human condition, exploring themes of family, greed, and desperation.

The plot follows two brothers, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, who plan a robbery that goes horribly wrong.

The consequences of their actions ripple through their family, causing the unraveling of their relationships and ultimately leading to a tragic finale.

The performances in this film are outstanding, with Hoffman and Hawke delivering some of their best work.

Marisa Tomei also shines in her role as the wife caught in the middle of the chaos. Lumet’s direction is masterful, with his use of non-linear storytelling adding to the tension and suspense.

The cinematography and score are equally impressive, creating a moody and atmospheric tone that draws the viewer into the story.

The film’s ending is both shocking and poignant, staying with you long after the credits roll.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Belle Avery (Producer)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

11. The Hill (1965)          

The Hill is a gripping and intense film that is sure to leave a lasting impact on viewers. Set in a British military prison in Libya during World War II, the film follows a group of prisoners who are subjected to brutal treatment and punishment by their sadistic captors.

Sean Connery delivers a powerful performance as Joe Roberts, a rebellious prisoner who refuses to be broken by the harsh conditions of the prison.

The rest of the cast also delivers strong performances, including Harry Andrews as the ruthless and unyielding prison commandant.

Director Sidney Lumet masterfully creates a sense of claustrophobia and tension, using tight close-ups and long takes to convey the prisoners’ sense of desperation and isolation.

The film’s stark black-and-white cinematography adds to its gritty realism, making it feel like a documentary rather than a work of fiction.

The Hill (1965)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Michael Redgrave, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Ray Rigby (Writer) - Kenneth Hyman (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

12. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)              

Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a powerful portrayal of a family’s struggle with addiction and the demons that haunt them.

Director Sidney Lumet masterfully brings Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play to life on the big screen, with incredible performances from the entire cast.

The film follows the Tyrone family as they spend a day together in their summer home, with tensions rising as each member confronts their past and present struggles with alcoholism.

The standout performance comes from Katharine Hepburn as the matriarch Mary Tyrone, whose haunting portrayal of a woman lost in her addiction is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing.

The film’s som tone and slow pacing may not be for everyone, but those who appreciate great acting and a powerful story will find Long Day’s Journey Into Night to be a poignant and unforgettable experience.

Lumet’s expert direction and the exceptional performances from the cast make this film a true classic and a must-see for fans of drama and theater.

Long Day's Journey Into Night
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards Jr. (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Eugene O'Neill (Writer) - Jack J. Dreyfus Jr. (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

13. Running on Empty (1988)     

Running on Empty is a heart-wrenching drama that explores the consequences of living a life on the run.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film tells the story of the Popes, a family of political activists who have been on the run for over a decade.

The film’s standout performance comes from River Phoenix, who plays the eldest son Danny Pope.

Phoenix delivers a powerful and nuanced performance that showcases his incredible range as an actor.

The film’s themes of family, sacrifice, and the consequences of one’s actions are expertly woven into the narrative.

The Popes’ struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy while constantly looking over their shoulders is both gripping and heartbreaking.

Lumet’s direction is masterful, as he navigates the film’s emotional beats with precision and care.

The film’s score, composed by Tony Award-winning composer Bob Dylan, perfectly captures the film’s tone and adds an additional layer of depth to the story.

Running on Empty is a powerful and thought-provoking film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

It’s a must-watch for anyone who appreciates great storytelling and exceptional performances.

Running on Empty (1988)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Naomi Foner (Writer) - Amy Robinson (Producer)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

14. The Group (1966)    

“The Group” is a timeless classic that delves into the lives of eight college friends as they navigate their way through the challenges of life, love, and career in the 1930s.

Sidney Lumet’s direction brings to life the characters’ struggles and triumphs with a delicate touch, while the stunning performances by a talented ensemble cast, including Candice Bergen and Joan Hackett, leave a lasting impression.

The film’s exploration of female empowerment and the societal constraints placed upon women during that era is both poignant and relevant, making “The Group” a must-see for anyone interested in feminist cinema.

The Group
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Sidney Buchman (Writer) - Sidney Buchman (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

15. Find Me Guilty (2006)

Find Me Guilty is a courtroom drama based on the true story of the longest Mafia trial in American history.

The film stars Vin Diesel in a surprising departure from his usual action-hero roles, as he portrays Jackie DiNorscio, a mobster who chooses to represent himself in court.

The film takes a unique approach to the traditional courtroom drama, injecting humor and personality into what can often be a dry genre.

Diesel’s performance is a standout, as he brings a charismatic and comedic flair to the character of DiNorscio.

The supporting cast also delivers strong performances, particularly Peter Dinklage as DiNorscio’s lawyer, and Ron Silver as the prosecutor.

Director Sidney Lumet brings his decades of experience to the film, expertly balancing the tone between humor and drama.

The film is well-paced, keeping the audience engaged throughout the lengthy trial proceedings.

Find Me Guilty
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Alex Rocca (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Sidney Lumet (Writer) - Bob DeBrino (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

16. The Offence (1973) 

“The Offence” is a harrowing tale of a veteran detective, played brilliantly by Sean Connery, who begins to unravel under the weight of a particularly disturbing case.

As the film progresses, we see the detective’s mental state deteriorate, as his personal demons begin to take over.

Director Sidney Lumet creates a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere, with tight close-ups and a sparse, haunting score.

The pacing is deliberate and deliberate, allowing the characters and their emotions to fully simmer.

The performances are top-notch, with Connery delivering one of his most raw and powerful performances.

Ian Bannen as the suspect is equally compelling, with his own dark secrets and motivations slowly revealed.

The Offence
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - John Hopkins (Writer) - Denis O'Dell (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

17. The Fugitive Kind (1960)

The Fugitive Kind is a gripping drama that explores the complexities of human relationships and the struggles of those who are deemed as outcasts by society.

The film stars Marlon Brando as Valentine ‘Snakeskin’ Xavier, a drifter who arrives in a small southern town and becomes involved with a troubled young woman named Carol Cutrere, played by Joanne Woodward.

The film’s strong point is undoubtedly its performances, with Brando delivering a powerful performance that is both intense and nuanced.

Woodward is equally impressive, portraying Carol as a complex and troubled character, whose past traumas have left her emotionally scarred.

The cinematography of The Fugitive Kind is also noteworthy, with director Sidney Lumet capturing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the small southern town, and using contrasting light and shadow to great effect.

However, the plot of the film can be slow-moving at times, and some viewers may find it difficult to fully engage with the characters and their struggles.

18. The Morning After (1986)

“The Morning After” is a suspenseful thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Jane Fonda delivers a powerful performance as the alcoholic actress who wakes up in a stranger’s bed, only to find out that he’s been murdered.

As she tries to piece together the events of the night before, she becomes embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the killer.

The film’s tense atmosphere is expertly crafted, with director Sidney Lumet using the dark and moody Los Angeles backdrop to great effect.

Jeff Bridges is also excellent as the enigmatic ex-cop who helps Fonda navigate the dangerous world she finds herself in.

While some may find the plot twists and turns to be a bit contrived, the film’s strong performances and expert direction more than make up for any flaws.

The Morning After
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Raul Julia (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - James Hicks (Writer) - Bruce Gilbert (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

19. King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1969)  

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis is a powerful and moving documentary that chronicles the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through a compilation of newsreel footage, interviews, and speeches.

The film is a must-see for anyone interested in civil rights history or the legacy of Dr. King.

What sets this documentary apart is its raw and unflinching portrayal of the struggles and triumphs of the civil rights movement.

The footage is often graphic and difficult to watch, but it is a necessary reminder of the violence and injustice that Dr. King and his followers faced on a daily basis.

The film is also a testament to Dr. King’s incredible oratory skills.

His speeches are woven throughout the film, and they are just as powerful and relevant today as they were decades ago.

The film does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Dr. King’s message and the impact he had on the civil rights movement.

King: A Filmed Record - Montgomery to Memphis
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Ruby Dee (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Ely A. Landau (Writer) - Richard Kaplan (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

20. Stage Struck (1958) 

“Stage Struck” is a delightful musical comedy that captures the essence of Broadway in the 1950s.

Susan Strasberg shines as Eva Lovelace, a young and ambitious actress who dreams of making it big in the theater.

Her talent and determination lead her to the attention of legendary producer Lewis Easton, played by Henry Fonda, who takes her under his wing and helps her navigate the cutthroat world of show business.

The film is a love letter to the theater, with stunning musical numbers and gorgeous sets that transport us to a bygone era of glamour and romance.

Strasberg’s performance is captivating, and she brings a vulnerability and authenticity to her character that makes us root for her every step of the way. Fonda is equally impressive, delivering a nuanced portrayal of a man who is both tough and tender, and whose love for the theater is matched only by his fondness for Eva.

Director Sidney Lumet masterfully captures the energy and excitement of the stage, and the film’s witty script and catchy songs make it a joy to watch.

“Stage Struck” is a true gem of a movie, a timeless classic that celebrates the magic of the theater and the power of dreams.

Highly recommended for fans of musicals, romance, and classic cinema.

Stage Struck (1958) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.0 Import - Italy ]
  • Stage Struck (1958)
  • Stage Struck (1958)
  • Henry Fonda, Christopher Plummer, Susan Strasberg (Actors)
  • Sidney Lumet (Director) - Stage Struck (1958) (Producer)
  • Italian (Subtitle)

Characteristics of Sidney Lumet Movies

 Sidney Lumet’s movies are distinguished by their strong moral and ethical messages.

He is one of the few filmmakers who has remained true to his art.

Sidney Lumet was born on December 28, 1915 in New York City.

His father was a Russian-Jewish immigrant and his mother was an American-born Jew, who had been raised in Texas and Louisiana.

Lumet attended Public School 7, where he made friends with many future actors and filmmakers such as Marlon Brando and Eli Wallach.

He then went to Hillside School for Boys in New Jersey, where he played football for three years before being expelled for “fighting.”

After graduating from high school, Sidney Lumet enrolled at the University of Arizona (UA) where he studied architecture until his sophomore year when he decided to attend the Yale School of Drama’s graduate acting program instead.

Best Sidney Lumet Movies – Wrapping Up

Sidney Lumet has directed a number of classic films during his career. We hope you’ve found this guide to the best Sidney Lumet films useful.

 

Ready to learn about some other Film Movements or Film History?