Every Tom Ripley Movie, Ranked


With theaters and streaming platforms ripe with content to consume, it is sometimes hard to find the time to revisit – or discover for the very first time – some beloved and iconic movies and characters that once established themselves as indelible. If you’re among the lot that’s still unfamiliar with the slick yet deeply troubled character of Tom Ripley, then you’re definitely in for a treat because this list gives you a sneak peek into every Tom Ripley movie while also ranking them from worst to best.




Inspired by Patricia Hagsmith’s series of novels, Tom Ripley first emerged on screen in the 1960s. He was brought to life by actors who understood the mercurial nature of the character, his darkness, and his ambiguous psyche. Over the decades, Hollywood has seen several leading men slip inside Ripley’s skin and interpret his possessiveness and passions through different lenses. Each of these actors has brought nuance to the character – a man who adopts another’s identity yet remains a mystery to himself.

Ripley

Release Date
April 4, 2024

Seasons
1


In less than a week’s time, we will be treated to another vision of Tom Ripley when Netflix debuts its newest production – a limited series led by Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning. Scott is known for having played darker roles before, such as Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock. There is no doubt in his potential to transport us to the stylish setting and atmospheric world where Hagsmith’s character resides.

Taking a look back, it is the most fitting time to appreciate the five movies that have brought intrigue and excitement to the minds of moviegoers. The list ranks all the past Ripley portrayals, analyzes every depiction, and adds fuel to your anticipation for Netflix’s upcoming take on Hagsmith’s appalling anti-hero.


5 Ripley Under Ground (2005)


In Ripley Under Ground, Tom Ripley settles into a quiet retirement as a disguise to take up the fake identity of Philip Derwatt, a successful artist who recently died. He teams up with Derwatt’s gallerist, girlfriend, and another artist to forge his paintings and make a great deal of money out of it. However, when one of Derwatt’s paintings turns out to be a fake, Ripley and the gang are trapped in a game that is more twisted than they bargained for.

An Unsettling Plunge into One Man’s Psyche

The weakest Tom Ripley film to date, Ripley Under Ground does nothing to ramp up the psychological suspense. Despite trying to craft a delicious and complicated narrative, the movie ends up being obscure and ambiguous. Barry Pepper is decent as a man stripped out of his control, but his rendition of Hagsmith’s character is unserious and somewhat chucklesome, which makes the otherwise ominous setting redundant.


Still worth watching for fans of the anti-hero, the movie is more of a slow-burn than an action thriller. It even stars Ian Hart, Willem Dafoe, and Alan Cummings to retain the magnetism. Based on Hagsmith’s second book in the series, Ripley Under Ground is considered by critics as a movie that is “too fidgety and unsure to settle on a sustained tone.”

4 Ripley’s Game (2002)

Adapted from the third book in Patricia Highsmith’s series of novels about the murderous anti-hero, Ripley’s Game begins with Ripley’s former art forgery partner Reeves scheming him. Years later, when Reeves resurfaces, Tom Ripley enlists an acquaintance and sets in motion a plan to assassinate someone.


In return, he offers Jonathan Trevanny a big payoff. Little does the man know, Ripley’s true motives will leave a deeper cut. Step by step, the art farmer is drawn out from his small town in Germany to a sinister web where he spirals out of control.

A Twisted Game of Chess

Ripley’s Game is directed by Liliana Cavani. The film is a taut thriller that brings out Ripley’s twisted manipulations at an increasingly compelling pace, almost like a game of chess. From the opening credits to the escalating danger, every scene is crafted with care. The titular character is brought to life by John Malkovich. He sinks into the role and oozes charm, while also ruthlessly toying with the lives of those around him. Newcomer Dougray Scott also delivers an incredible performance.


While Ripley’s Game found appreciation among fans for being faithful to Highsmith’s mind-bending source material, the movie was also criticized for being less psychological than its predecessors. Some critics, like Roger Ebert, praised the casting choice and his unsettling embodiment of a man who only sees people as pawns. Ebert even went on to say that Malkovich was “precisely the Tom Ripley [he] imagined when [he] read the novels.” Filmed on a relatively lower budget, Ripley’s Game still manages to make clever use of its diabolical premise. Stream on Hoopla.

Related: 10 Movies Where the Villain Wasn’t the Most Evil Character

3 The American Friend (Der amerikanische Freund) (1977)


Set in Hamburg, Germany, The American Friend sees Tom Ripley comfortably living his life while also indulging in an art forgery scheme where he deliberately increases the price of paintings of a successful artist who has faked his own death. But when Jonathan Zimmermann, a picture framer, comes knocking with a proposition, Ripley’s easy life takes a sharp turn. In a matter of minutes, Ripley is forced to reassess the situation and take control of the dangerous game.

Fleshes Out Demons from the Past

Wim Wenders’ neon-tinged thriller is a moody and immersive experience. He connects Ripley’s past and present deeds and infuses the narrative with grit, on-location realism, and a morally gray take on the human condition. In The American Friend, Dennis Hopper plays Ripley by adding new layers to the character’s psyche and elevating tension with every glance and spoken word. The movie also has stunning cinematography and gorgeous production design. In a way, it finds fresh depth by turning Ripley into an assassin himself.


Considered among the best Tom Ripley films and ahead of its time, The American Friend found a cult following that went berserk after witnessing such an intimate and introspective character study. Hopper was undoubtedly amazing, but critics also admired Bruno Ganz’s “subtle [and] thoroughly compelling performance.” The only reason the movie finds a center spot is because of its final half hour, which immediately leads viewers to dissociate with the director’s vision and once-familiar characters. Stream on The Criterion Channel.

2 Purple Noon (Plein soleil) (1960)


The first movie to adapt Patricia Hagsmith’s beloved 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Purple Noon, or Plein soleil, is a foreign-language crime thriller starring Alain Delon in his first major movie role. He plays the charming and mysterious Tom Ripley, who takes a job from a wealthy businessman – to travel to Italy and persuade his son, Philippe Greenleaf, to return to San Francisco. Ripley, however, becomes obsessed with Philippe’s lavish and ill-defined lifestyle, as well as his fiancée, Marge, and decides to kill him instead.

Paves the Way for Future Ripley Adaptations

René Clément has a suave direction technique, which he uses to bring the clinical detachment of Hagsmith’s character out in dazzling fashion. Against the backdrop of real Mediterranean locations, and vibrant set designs help unravel the story’s suspense. He establishes a claustrophobic tension and a jarring physicality between the characters, who are played by Delon, Marie Laforêt, and Maurice Ronet. They adapt the archetypal roles and set standards for future actors and movies.


As for the reception, Purple Noon was considered a pioneering Ripley film. It had great attention to detail and was entirely accurate to the source material. While the viewers were immediately mesmerized by the story, it was the critics who found precision in the direction, with one describing the overall film as “very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect.” Stream on The Criterion Channel.

Related: 15 Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time, Ranked

1 The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)


The movie that made a piercing commentary on toxic masculinity and solidified Tom Ripley as a compelling anti-hero, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley arrived at the turn of the century. Because it is based on Hagsmith’s first novel in what would become a series, the premise of the movie is a lot like Purple Noon. Tom Ripley is sent to fetch Dickie, who is having the time of his life in post-war Italy. But events take a darker turn when Ripley becomes increasingly obsessed with his friendship with Dickie and gets embroiled in murder.

A Masterpiece in Filmmaking and Damon’s Best Work

Minghella’s psychological thriller is set in the 1950s, and thus features lush Italian landscapes of the era. Under his direction, every motif and visual reflection doubles to highlight Ripley and his fractured morality. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow share a great chemistry as Dickie and Marge, but it is Matt Damon in his career-making turn as the titular anti-hero that steals the spotlight. He creeps in as an awkward outsider and settles as a cold-blooded killer, and the revelation is both exquisite and unforgettable.


Audiences and critics were equally fascinated by Damon’s work in the movie, with many praising his “gleaming smile” and “calm gaze” as a “facade [that] works surprisingly well.” The cast elevates the story to new artistic heights and introduces depth, grace, and subtle hints of something sinister to Ripley’s character. The Talented Mr. Ripley earned dozens of nominations at the annual award season, and even took home some memorable trophies. Stream on Showtime.



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