Denis Villeneuve (born October 3, 1967 in Bécancour) is a Canadian director and screenwriter from Quebec.
A multiple awards winner, he is best known for his crime-thrillers Prisoners and Sicario, and his science fiction film Arrival, which received 8 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
His films have very deliberate pacing used to build tension and unease within the audience. He is also known for his use of stunning Scenery Porn and light and dark to great effect so that every shot is beautifully framed.
He's taken on very ambitious directorial challenges since the late 2010s, with the sequel to Blade Runner and a new adaptation of Dune, and so far these have been acclaimed. He's also been announced to showrun Dune: The Sisterhood, a live action Spin-Off series set in his film's universe for HBO Max.
- August 32nd on Earth (1998)
- Maelstrom (2000)
- Next Floor (Short) (2008)
- Polytechnique (2009)
- Incendies (2010)
- Prisoners (2013)
- Enemy (2013)
- Sicario (2015)
- Arrival (2016)
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
- Dune: Part One (2021)
- Dune: Part Two (2023)
- Bene Gesserit series (TBA)
Tropes from his works
- Associated Composer: He worked with Jóhann Jóhannsson on Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival. Jóhannsson was also working on Blade Runner 2049 before being replaced by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. Jóhannsson sadly passed away in February 2018. Zimmer, who went on to score Dune, appears set to take over this role for Villeneuve.
- Auteur License: Much like Christopher Nolan, to whom he is frequently compared, the so-far unbroken critically acclaimed streak of Villeneuve's films (his worst-reviewed film, Enemy has a measly 74% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) means that he basically has a blank check to make whatever kind of movies he wants. Even after Blade Runner 2049, his biggest-budget production to date, lost money, he still got free reins to adapt Dune into another big-budget sci-fi movie aimed at adult audiences, which ended up successful enough to ensure the full adaptation of the novel into two films (the first film covers roughly the first half of the book).
- Central Theme:
- A person's individual sanity.
- Violence is destructive and dehumanizing
- Chiaroscuro: He is really good at this. Many of his films feature scenes set in extremely dark, shadowed interiors (Prisoners,, Enemy), blindingly bright, white sunlight (Sicario), or a mixture of both (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049.)
- Death of a Child: Child endangerment, child abuse and child murder happen frequently in his filmography, in part due to his obsession with the themes of loss of innocence and of parents unable to protect their children from the dangers of the world. Even Arrival features a child dying of a terminal illness.
- Non-Protagonist Resolver: In Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, the film's deuteragonist resolves the central conflict.
- One-Word Title: Maelstrom, Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival and Dune.
- Scenery Porn: His collaborations with cinematographers like Bradford Young and Roger Deakins resulted in stunning-looking films, as Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 can attest (the latter of which finally won Deakins an Oscar after thirteen previous nominations).
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: While several of his films fall on the very cynical end of the spectrum, films like Arrival can be heavily optimistic and Blade Runner 2049 ended on an happy, if slightly bittersweet, note.
- Violence Is Disturbing: Especially in Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners and Sicario. While violence is infrequent, tension lingers in almost every frame and when violence is shown, it is always ugly, brutal and dispiriting for all involved. He also uses a lot of Gory Discretion Shot to prevent the violence from ever becoming stylized and to make the audience reflect on its aftermath rather than on the violence itself. Even Blade Runner 2049, easily his most stylized and "unrealistic" film yet, contains violence that is only portrayed as painful, grotesque and impactful. And though Dune has some conventionally awe-inspiring fight scenes, this is counterbalanced by the War Is Hell themes of the movie, and its protagonist's psychological struggle with having to kill.