Biography of Joel and Ethan Coen

Known to the public as the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen have spent their careers making films together, often exploring different genres with playful and satirical variations on tried and true conventions. They each write, direct, and produce the films together, and together have been nominated for 13 Academy Awards. They won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and have written a number of screenplays for other directors.

The Coen Brothers were born and raised in Minnesota to a Jewish family, a fact about which Joel once said, "There's no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things." After each studying at Bard College at Simon's Rock, Joel went to study film at NYU, and Ethan studied Philosophy at Princeton, writing his thesis on Wittgenstein. After Joel had assisted on a few movies, he and Ethan made their first film together, Blood Simple, a neo-noir set in Texas and starring Frances McDormand, a frequent collaborator and eventual wife of Joel Coen. Blood Simple includes genre play, dark humor, and a highly specific visual world, setting the stage for their future movies. Their next film was Raising Arizona, starring Holly Hunter and Nicolas Cage.

In 1990 the Coen Brothers made Miller's Crossing about gangsters during the Prohibition, and the following year, Barton Fink about a playwright in Los Angeles, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and nominations at the Oscars. 1996's Fargo won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar and Best Actress for Frances McDormand. Other films include The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men (for which they received Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay), Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis, and most recently, Hail, Caesar!


Study Guides on Works by Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers almost certainly belong to a very restricted coterie of filmmaker who could make a movie titled The Big Lebowski without that title character being the focus of the story. The Big Lebowski was the follow-up to the Coen Brothers’...

Fargo is a 1996 film from the Coen Brothers which is universally regarded as one of their best and considered their peak cinematic achievement thus far by a substantial number of fans and critics. Frances McDormand received her first Academy Award...