Terrence Malick is an Oscar-winning film director, screenwriter and producer. He has directed such films as Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The Tree of Life.

Malick was born in Austin, Texas on August 29, 1941. He studied philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin and started his career as a freelance writer for publications like Time and Life magazines.

Malick began his career in Hollywood writing scripts for several low-budget movies before directing his first feature film Badlands in 1973. In 1978 he wrote and directed Days of Heaven which won him an Academy Award for Best Director.

He also earned an Oscar nomination for The Thin Red Line in 1998 which was nominated for nine additional Oscars including Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

Malick has been married three times but has no children with any of his wives or ex-wives.

Best Terrence Malick Movies

Terrence Malick is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today.

His films have a way of blending together the visual beauty of classic Hollywood cinema with a more experimental approach to filmmaking.

The result is a uniquely cinematic experience that can be both beautiful and deeply personal.

1. Days of Heaven (1978) 

Days of Heaven tells the story of a farmer and his wife (portrayed by Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) who become romantically involved with a couple of migrant workers.

The story is framed as an extended flashback, in which the farmer recalls his love affair with the woman while she is dying from cancer. The film was based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara, who wrote it as his first published novel. He began writing the book in 1967 when he was just 15 years old.

Malick’s script for Days of Heaven was initially rejected by producer Sam Spiegel due to its “overlong” length and “lack of focus”. However, after Spiegel saw it again and liked it, he bought the rights from him for $30,000.

When production began in 1978 on location in Texas, Malick decided to shoot the film using only natural light instead of artificial lighting for its interior scenes. This decision led to difficulties during filming as well as what critics called “difficulties with shooting on location”.

Days of Heaven
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Bert Schneider (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. Badlands (1973)

 Terrence Malick’s Badlands is a film that is hard to define. It’s difficult to describe the movie as a whole, but it doesn’t take long to see why it is so admired and collected. The film was largely ignored when it was first released, but it has since become a cult classic.

The film follows two friends who go on an adventure into the Badlands in South Dakota. The two men are looking for a fugitive named Kit Carruthers, who has been accused of murder. Along with his friend, Kit goes into the Badlands to find out if he was innocent or guilty of the crime.

The film is one of the most visually stunning movies ever made. The camera work in Badlands is amazing with extremely long takes and tight close ups that take your breath away.

The cinematography by Haskell Wexler uses many wide shots to capture the vastness of the landscape and sky above it; it almost feels like you are watching a movie through binoculars or an airplane window as you watch this beautiful landscape unfold before you.

Badlands also has an incredibly effective score composed by Danny Elfman along with Bernard Herrmann’s original music from Psycho (1960)

Badlands
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Terrence Malick (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)

3. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Malick’s The Thin Red Line is an epic, sweeping drama set during World War II in the Pacific theater. The film follows a company of U.S. Marines through their ordeal in the jungles of Guadalcanal, as they fight to survive against overwhelming odds and the Japanese soldiers who hold them captive.

The film opens with a narration from a character named Lt. Col. Tallis (Nick Nolte). We learn that in early 1942, the Japanese had invaded Guadalcanal and were slowly advancing inland towards Henderson Field, an American air base that protected New Georgia Island from being taken over by the enemy forces.

Tallis recounts how he was sent to lead an infantry regiment that had been drafted into service during World War I but was not sent overseas until after the war ended in 1918; however,

after seeing action on several fronts throughout Europe and Asia during World War II, he returns home without having fought in any major battles or campaigns yet still feels like he has participated in something larger than himself through his service to his country and its people.

In contrast to this sense of purposelessness among many

The Thin Red Line
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Robert Michael Geisler (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. The Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick’s adaptation of the novel by W. Somerset Maugham is a beautiful and poetic love story about a man who must face his own mortality and the meaning of life. It’s a film that seems to be about everything at once, but it’s really just about one thing: family.

In the beginning, there are three men: Jack (Brad Pitt), an American professor; Raul (Sean Penn), his Mexican student; and Mr. O’Brien (John C. Reilly), a traveling salesman.

These three men are connected through their children: Jack’s son Jake (Hunter McCracken) and Raul’s son Ramon (Viggo Mortensen). In a flashback scene, we see how they were all friends in childhood, but when they grow older they drift apart as each man finds his own path in life.

Although this is not an epic film like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, it manages to tell its story with very little dialogue just sound effects and music — which gives it an eerie quality reminiscent of silent films or early documentaries like Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922). Malick uses long takes that give us

The Tree Of Life
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Nigel Ashcroft (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

5. The New World (2005)

Terrence Malick’s third film, The New World (2005), is an epic tragedy set during the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s early days. An exploration of the relationship between two families – one Native American, one English – it was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, including Best Cinematography.

The film stars Colin Farrell as Christopher, a man from Ireland who arrives in America with his wife Anne (played by Q’orianka Kilcher). They are taken in by John and Mary Smith (both played by Christian Bale),

who live on a large estate with their children Rufus and Eleanor (both played by Q’orianka Kilcher). The Smiths are generally kind to Christopher but he finds himself at odds with them over his belief that they are neglecting their land while living off the wealth they have amassed through trade with the Native Americans.

The film is also notable for its extensive use of Native American actors and locations.

The New World (2005)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Colin Farrell (II), Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Sarah Green (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

6. A Hidden Life (2019) 

A Hidden Life is a film about love and death. It is a film about the pain of life and that which gives us strength to continue. The film starts with a young boy who is struggling with his mother’s death.

He feels he has lost her and it hurts him greatly. One day, he finds a hidden life book in his mother’s room and he begins reading it to find out what happened to his mother that made her die young, while still having children with her husband. The boy then goes on a journey to find answers to these questions.

The movie follows the boy as he grows up and finds out about his mother’s past through the book she left for him along with other things she left behind in her house.

The film also follows him as he meets other people who were close to her through the years and learn about their lives as well. The boy then becomes friends with them, gets married and has children of his own but still keeps searching for answers about his mother’s past.

The movie is extremely emotional because it deals with loss, loneliness and loneliness in general. This is evident in some scenes where people are shown crying because they miss someone

A Hidden Life
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Grant Hill (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

7. To the Wonder (2012)              

 Terrence Malick’s philosophical and spiritual journey to the Cistercian abbey of Montserrat is a meditation on faith and love, and on the nature of reality itself. It is also a grand, sprawling epic, with gorgeous cinematography and a wealth of memorable characters.

The film follows two young pilgrims as they travel to the remote island off the coast of Spain to visit the titular monument of love built by St. Bernard in honor of his mother, Blanche. Along the way they encounter many other pilgrims who have been drawn to Montserrat by the pilgrimage route.

The film takes place over four days, during which time we learn that one of our main characters has been institutionalized for a mental illness. The other character has an affair with another pilgrim who is his superior in age and experience but nonetheless turns out to be a talented writer who wants to write about their experiences on Montserrat

To the Wonder
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams (Actors)
  • Terrence Malick (Director) - Terrence Malick (Writer) - Sarah Green (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

8. Knight of Cups (2015)                               

 Knight of Cups is the second film from Terrence Malick, who has been a favorite of mine since I first saw Badlands. The film focuses on the life and work of poet Charles Bukowski (Christian Bale),

who was one of the greatest American writers. It also follows his life in California as he becomes successful, gets married and has a child, but then maintains his lifestyle even after becoming broke and divorced.

This film is different than most Malick films in that it’s not a sweeping epic like Tree of Life or The Thin Red Line, but it still has similar themes of love and loss.

The visuals are beautiful and poetic, but what really makes this film so great is how much emotion it brings out in its viewers. Knight of Cups has some of the best cinematography I’ve ever seen in any film.

The story is also incredibly touching as we see Charles’ struggles with his own demons and how they affect him emotionally: his relationship with his father, his relationship with women (both romantic and platonic),

and his relationship with alcohol (especially when he becomes an alcoholic). But through it all we see Charles rise above this adversity to become a better person (at least for himself).

Knight Of Cups
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Terrence Malick (Director)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

Characteristics of Terrence Malick Movies

The first characteristic is that the story seems to be going backwards in time. The scene that begins the film and continues for most of its length is the childhood of Holly (Sean Penn) and Ben (Nick Cave).

This scene is in a little house in Texas and the parents have just died. They are looking at their photo album with all their photographs, which includes one of them as children.

Another characteristic is that there are many long scenes without any dialogue and sometimes no music at all.

For example, we see Holly and his mother trying to collect wood from a tree that they have cut down, but they cannot because it is too heavy for them to carry back up the hill where they live.

And then we see him playing baseball with a group of other boys in an empty field, but he hits only three balls out of ten attempts!

These long scenes are often interrupted by short scenes which show two people talking or arguing about something irrelevant to what has been happening so far in the film.

For example, Holly’s father (Brad Pitt) tells Holly about his past relationship with Holly’s mother (Rachel Griffiths), who once told him she loved him

Best Terrence Malick Movies – Wrapping Up

Terrence Malick is a filmmaker who has always been fascinated with the human experience. That’s why his films are so interesting, and why they’re so hard to pin down.

Malick has been making movies since the 1970s, but he didn’t really break through until The Thin Red Line in 1998. Since then, he’s been careful to keep his name off of most of his projects, opting instead to make movies which were often very personal works with little regard for commercial success.

That doesn’t mean that Malick’s films aren’t popular — they definitely are! They just don’t have the mass appeal of other directors’ work.

 

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