Writer/director Kevin Smith burst onto the scene in a big way in 1994 with the low-budget comedy Clerks. Smith introduced the world to the characters Jay and Silent Bob (the latter of whom Smith plays). Those characters appear in several of Smith’s films including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and, of course, the Jay and Silent Bob films.
His films are primarily set in his home state of New Jersey, taking the geographically-specific page from Richard Linklater, who sets his films primarily in Texas. In fact, when Smith saw Linklater’s Slacker on his 21st birthday in 1990, it inspired him to become a director and set his films where he lived. In the book The Film That Changed My Life by Richard Elder, Smith said, “It was the movie that got me off my ass; it was the movie that lit a fire under me, the movie that made me think, ‘Hey, I could be a filmmaker.’ And I had never seen a movie like that before ever in my life.”
Most of Smith’s films take place in the fictional universe called the View Askewniverse made up of recurring characters who appear in a number of his films. Additionally, Smith is known for casting the same actors for more than one character in the universe and even sometimes in the same film. It’s not just Smith’s impressive slate of hits and casts that audiences have him to thank for. Smith was also integral in getting another hit from the 1990s made – Good Will Hunting. After Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote the future Academy Award-winning screenplay, they were having a hard time getting anyone to make it. Affleck showed the script to Smith, with whom he’d worked on Mallrats (and eventually on Dogma, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, and the Jay and Silent Bob movies). Smith showed the script to Harvey Weinstein and the rest, as they say, is history.
Next up for Smith is Clerks III and the sequel to Mallrats, Twilight of the Mallrats, but before those films hit theaters, let’s take a look at Smith’s best previous films, ranked.
6 Jay and Silent Bob Films
Jay and Silent Bob are fixtures in Kevin Smith’s Askewniverse, and made their debut in Clerks as slackers selling marijuana in front of a convenience store. Played Jason Mewes (as Jay) and Kevin Smith (as the appropriately named Silent Bob), the two met in front of Quick Stop Groceries when they were babies while their moms were shopping inside the record store (according to Askewniverse legend).
Jay and Silent Bob have appeared in all the Askewniverse films and have also been in two films dedicated to their story and three television specials. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back debuted in 2001 and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot came out in 2019. The second film, especially, plays like one long inside joke/love letter to Smith’s Askewniverse fans.
In 1995, Smith unleashed Mallrats, another Askewniverse film. Starring Ben Affleck, Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, and Joey Lauren Adams, the film revolves around Brodie (Lee) and TS (London), who were both were dumped by their girlfriends on the same day and decide to head to the mall to try and get over them. Along the way, they interact with Jay and Silent Bob and a number of the Askewniverse characters. The film was a disappointment to some but remains beloved by many Smith fans (similar to any sophomore release), andMallrats is getting the sequel treatment; Twilight of the Mallrats is in pre-production as of this writing and hasn’t been given a release date.
Dogma was released in 1999 and had an incredible cast, featuring Janeane Garofalo, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Alanis Morissette, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, Jason Lee, and the late, great Alan Rickman. In the film, two rogue angels are prevented from re-entering heaven by an employee at an abortion clinic, which is fortunate; if the angels were to re-enter heaven, the fabric of the universe would come undone. Jay and Silent Bob play a kind of prophets in this Askewniverse film which lovingly satirizes religion. Fun fact, when Kevin Smith approached Rickman about playing Metatron, he had two questions. He wanted to know if Smith planned to stay faithful to the script and if his wings were real or CGI.
3 Zack & Miri Make a Porno
In 2008, Kevin Smith released the comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the titular Zack and Miri, two Platonic friends who are broke and looking for a way to make money to pay their rent. Turning to pornography, the pair realize that they have deeper feelings for each other than they’d once thought. This is one of Smith’s films that is not set in the Askewniverse, but still grossed $42,784,344 worldwide. Zack and Miri Make a Porno came out at the beginning of the last global financial crisis, making it resonate more deeply with the legions of people facing financial uncertainty. During the pandemic and its resulting shutdowns and job losses, this delightful film became relevant yet again
2 Chasing Amy
In 1997, Kevin Smith released Chasing Amy, a different sort of romantic comedy (at the time) starring Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams. Affleck’s character, Holden McNeil, is a comic book artist who falls hard for Alyssa Jones (Adams). There’s only one problem– Alyssa is a lesbian.
Chasing Amy is the most critically acclaimed part of Smith’s Askewniverse, and features a rather long speech by none other than Silent Bob in which he explains what the film’s title means and accuses Holden of dragging Alyssa down for her sexuality because it doesn’t work with what he wants from her. Fun fact: At the time this film was made Smith and Adams were dating and reportedly, much of the storyline about Alyssa is about their relationship, and perhaps the authenticity helped make this film a bona fide rom-com masterpiece.
Clerks hit theaters in 1994 and forever changed the way indie movies got made. Kevin Smith famously sold off a large portion of his comic book collection (that he’s since been able to mostly buy back) in order to finance the $27,000 he needed to make the film about a disgruntled convenience store clerk who is called into work on his day off. Smith wrote, directed, produced, and acted in Clerks as Silent Bob, and just as Richard Linklater’s films inspired Smith, Clerks inspired Jason Reitman to become a filmmaker. Smith was able to keep the budget for Clerks down due in large part to the fact that he actually worked in the store in which he shot the film. He worked 6 am to 11 pm and then shot Clerks until 4 am for 21 consecutive nights, but his hard work made Clerks one of the landmark films in American independent cinema.
Kevin Smith takes us back to the Quick Stop next year to conclude the story of Dante and Randal.
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