In an age of genre entertainment, Matthew Vaughn is one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in the field. Originally starting out as a producer for filmmaker Guy Ritchie, Vaughn quickly made a name for himself as an exciting voice in blockbuster movies, juxtaposing bright colors and 1960s aesthetics with violent, bloody R-rated action. He is a filmmaker that tends to work in adaptations, having adapted the works of writers like Neil Gaiman, Mark Millar, and Stan Lee. He tends to have frequent collaborators and has a great eye for casting, having found breakout roles for stars like Taron Egerton, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and more. When Matthew Vaughn attaches his name to a project, audiences tend to know what they are going to get and often have a great time.
Vaughn’s latest film, the spy action comedy Argylle, was recently released in cinemas and is set to find its way onto AppleTV+ at an undetermined date. He has directed eight films since 2004, each offering a unique interpretation of a classic genre; despite having the potential to become a franchise filmmaker, he has rejected sequels multiple times until recently, developing the Kingsman franchise. These are all of Matthew Vaughn’s films ranked.
Update February 3, 2024: Following the release of Argylle, this article has been updated to include it and also where you can stream all of Matthew Vaughn’s movies.
8 Argylle (2023)
- Release Date
- February 2, 2024
- 2hr 15min
The latest addition to Vaughn’s ever-expanding filmography, 2024’s Argylle sees the director returning to some familiar territory. The film is a spy action comedy, something it has in common with the three installments in the Kingsman franchise, and it features many well-known players that have appeared in some of Vaughn’s previous films, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Henry Cavill, and Sofia Boutella. The plot centers around a spy novelist named Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas-Howard) who starts to realize that the book she is currently working on and the events unfolding in her real life are exactly the same. Sam Rockwell, Dua Lipa, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Ariana DeBose, and John Cena make up the rest of the movie’s main cast. Overall, the film has been met with a mostly negative response from critics.
A Convoluted Spy Caper
With a talented ensemble cast made up of some of the biggest stars on the planet and an accomplished crew behind the camera, Argylle should’ve been a sure-fire hit. Unfortunately, the film’s messy plot and lack of originality means that it’s the latest in a string of misses for Vaughn. Part of the problem is that not only does the movie feel like it’s been done before, it actually has, in the form of 2022’s Lost City, which similarly was an action comedy revolving around an author who gets caught up in one of her own adventures. And while that film was far from perfect, it was a lot better than it has any right to be. Additionally, the film’s overly-convoluted plot, over-reliance on meta-humor, and overly long runtime mean that, despite looking good, Argylle amounts to a rather exhausting viewing experience. See Argylle in theaters now.
7 Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an oddity in Vaughn’s filmography as it is the first time he has followed up on a sequel to one of his films. He previously produced Kick-Ass 2 and left X-Men: Days of Future Past to pursue Kingsman: The Secret Service. With how much he seemed to love the Kingsman universe, there was plenty of reason to be excited about him directing a follow-up film. However, for many, Kingsman: The Golden Circle was a disappointment. The spy action comedy sees Taron Egerton return as Eggsy, as he and the rest of the Kingsman team join forces with their American counterparts, Statesmen, in order to defeat a common enemy. Despite doing well at the box office, the film garnered a mixed respose from critics.
A Disappointing Spy Sequel
In many ways, Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls into many of the pitfalls that followed similar sequels like Men in Black II and Ghostbusters II, where it repeats many of the same beats as its predecessor. The decision to bring back Colin Firth’s character also robs the first film of the emotional impact, and while there are some interesting concepts at play, it feels like everyone involved is going through the motions. A third Kingsman film is currently in the works, so thankfully, The Golden Circle didn’t do enough damage to completely kill the franchise. Stream on DirecTV
6 Layer Cake (2004)
After years of producing films for director Guy Ritchie, Vaughn made his directorial debut with 2004’s Layer Cake, a crime film that managed to stand apart from those produced by Ritchie. The film follows an unnamed cocaine dealer (played by Daniel Craig), who is keen to leave the world of crime, but first he must complete two back-to-back deadly assignments. With a supporting cast that includes Colm Meany, Sienna Miller, Tom Hardy, and Michael Gambon, among others, Layer Cake proved to be an important movie for many involved: it was the crucial film that helped Craig to clinch the role of James Bond in Casino Royale, and it provided Vaughn with many long-time collaborators for future projects.
A Decent Directorial Debut
Stylish, gritty, and quick-paced, Layer Cake established some of Vaughn’s trademark qualities as a filmmaker and immediately thrust him into the spotlight as a talent to watch. Although the film suffers slightly from being too close in style to the works of Richie, there’s enough freshness and originality to make the film stand out. With its blend of violence and humor, Layer Cake is a truly British crime film that showcased, even with a small budget, Vaught had a clear vision. Rent on AppleTV+
5 The King’s Man
Long delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The King’s Man is a prequel to the previous entries in the Kingsman franchise that explores the founding of the spy organization. Featuring an all-star ensemble cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Tom Hollander, Djimon Hounsou, and Matthew Goode, the film takes place at various key points in the first part of the 20th century, acting as a kind of history class seen through the lens of a comic book. Released at the back end of 2021, when pandemic fear was still at a high, The King’s Man proved to be a financial disappointment after only managing to make $126 million at the worldwide box office. A sequel film is supposedly in the early stages of development.
A Mixed Bag of a Prequel Film
To some extent, The King’s Man is the most Matthew Vaughn film to date, as it combines the director’s love of making historical period action films like X-Men: First Class with his love of classic James Bond found in the first two Kingsman installments, as well as the hyper-violence of Kick-Ass. Unfortunately, these qualities don’t quite mesh together in a pleasing way, and the film, on the whole, feels quite narratively and tonally confused. That being said, the prequel film offers up enough thrilling action and zany humor to make up for its shortcomings. Overall, The King’s Man is a flawed yet enjoyable historical roller coaster ride that provides a fascinating insight into Vaughn’s creative style. Rent on AppleTV+
4 Stardust (2007)
Stardust might be Vaughn’s most family-friendly film. An adaptation of a story by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a modern successor to fantasy adventure films like The Princess Bride and Labyrinth. Set predominantly in the magical kingdom of Stormhold, the film tells the story of a young man named Tristan (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox), who sets out on a quest to collect a fallen star for his beloved, only to discover that the star is actually a woman (Claire Danes) and that said woman is being hunted by witches. Stardust marked the first time Vaughn would work with writer Jane Goldman, and the two would collaborate on the scripts for Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and the sequel The Golden Circle. As well as Cox and Danes, the movie is filled with superstars such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Henry Cavill, Sienna Miller, and Vaughn’s long-time collaborator, Mark Strong.
A Fantastical Departure for the Director
Like many of Vaughn’s films, which mix multiple genres, Stardust is a romantic comedy set inside a fantasy film, and the result is a delightfully entertaining magical movie that Hollywood doesn’t make quite enough of anymore. It’s enchanting and whimsical but also retains humor in line with Vaughn’s other projects, as well as Gaiman’s own works. Essentially, it’s a film that sets out to have fun, and to that extent, it certainly succeeds. Featuring a sweet story, impressive production design, and an ensemble cast clearly having the time of their lives, Stardust proves that Vaughn is more than just a one-trick pony. Despite being a box-office disappointment, the movie has gained a cult following in recent years. Stream on Prime Video
3 Kick-Ass (2010)
An adaptation of Mark Millar’s graphic novel of the same name, Kick-Ass takes the comics’ dark, nihilistic view of the superhero genre, while embracing the optimism found in the concept of superheroes. The film follows high school student Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who decides to become a real-life superhero and soon finds himself out of his depth when he encounters a cop-turned-vigilante Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his violent sidekick daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). While the movie interrogates aspects of the superhero mythos, like the concept of raising children as weapons by calling them sidekicks or the level of real violence inflected in action, the movie still acknowledges the optimism that a hero can inspire. Kick-Ass more than tripled its $30 million budget and received mostly positive reviews from critics.
A Gloriously Violent Spectacle
With Kick-Ass, Vaughn offers his take on the “what if superheroes actually existed in the real world” trope, long before The Boys and Invincible TV shows were a thing, and does it while also capturing the bright color palette of comic books. It’s visually highly saturated, with each of the main characters having a signature color that they wear throughout. An R-rated movie, it’s full of violence, gore, and profanity, which makes it a delightfully provocative and utterly outrageous watch. Furthermore, with an ensemble of zany characters and a talented cast bringing them to life, Kick-Ass is both a hard and bloody R-rated action caper and a deeply human and wonderfully colorful comedy romp that once again demonstrates the director’s love of blending genres. Stream on DirecTV
2 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
After having collaborated with Mark Millar on Kick-Ass as a send-up of superhero stories, the two worked together on Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was a homage to the classic James Bond movies of the 1960s. However, in a clever twist, it was also a mix of the British boarding school genre stories made popular in the 21st century by the Harry Potter franchise, making Kingsman: The Secret Service wholly unique. Upon being recruited to the titular spy organization, a rebellious teenager, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), finds himself on a mission to bring down a wealthy megalomaniac who poses a threat to all of humanity. The first installment in the Kingsman franchise proved to be both a critical and commercial success when it was released back in 2014.
An Impressive First Installment
Kingsman: The Secret Service serves as a great love letter to classic spy movies while also updating them with modern R-rated brutality not seen in the genre, as well as a topical story about class. A star-making performance by Egerton, a revolutionary action turn from Colin Firth, and a great supporting cast of actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine made Kingsman: The Secret Service a great standalone action film that still holds up today. Stream on Max
1 X-Men: First Class
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Matthew Vaughn saved the X-Men film series. After two disappointing entries with X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Origins Wolverine and the emergence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seemed like the X-Men film series was past its prime. Enter Vaughn, who breathed much-needed new life into the series by bringing the franchise back to its 1960s origins with 2011’s X-Men: First Class. A prequel to the original films, First Class, depicts the conception of the superhero team and the early days of Professor Charles Xavier’s love/hate relationship with Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto.
Vaughn was originally set to direct X-Men: The Last Stand but famously dropped out close to the film’s production start date. When he took on First Class, he had even less time to prep than he did on The Last Stand (First Class was announced in May 2010 and set for release in June 2011), but with his creative teams already in place, the filmmaker managed to bring his unique vision to the X-Men universe.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Arguably the best installment in the whole X-Men franchise, First Class completely reinvigorated a film series that was on its knees. And so much of its success is down to Vaughn himself, who embraced a bright and colorful aesthetic akin to the original comics and enthused the film with an energy and style that had been missing from many of the prior outings. Additionally, the casting of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as young versions of the characters previously portrayed by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, respectively, was inspired, as was the decision to let both actors make the characters their own.
On top of that, the film’s supporting cast, which includes Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, and January Jones, as well as many future breakout stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, and Lucas Till, are all in top form. One wonders how the series might have gone had he stayed on board, but even so, X-Men: First Class is not only a high mark for the X-Men film series but a bright spot in the superhero genre and Matthew Vaughn’s best film. Stream on Hulu