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Coen brothers
Ethan (left) and Joel Coen, at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival
Joel Daniel Coen
(1954-11-29) November 29, 1954 (age 69)
Ethan Jesse Coen
(1957-09-21) September 21, 1957 (age 66)

Other names
  • Coen brothers
  • Roderick Jaynes
  • Reginald Jaynes
  • Mike Zoss
EducationSt. Louis Park High School
Alma materJoel: New York University (BFA)
Bard College at Simon's Rock (AA)
Ethan: Princeton University (BA)
Bard College at Simon's Rock (AA)
  • Film directors
  • producers
  • screenwriters
  • editors
Years active1984–present
Spouse(s)Joel: Frances McDormand (m. 1984)
Ethan: Tricia Cooke (m. 1990)
ChildrenJoel: 1
Ethan: 2

Joel Daniel Coen (born November 29, 1954)[1] and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957),[2] together known as the Coen brothers (/ˈkən/ KOH-ən), are an American filmmaking duo. Their films span many genres and styles, which they frequently subvert or parody.[3] Their most acclaimed works include Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), No Country for Old Men (2007), A Serious Man (2009), True Grit (2010) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). Many of their films are distinctly American, often examining the culture of the American South and American West in both modern and historical contexts.

The brothers generally write, direct and produce their films jointly, although due to DGA regulations, Joel received sole directing credit while Ethan received sole production credit until The Ladykillers (2004), from which point on they would be credited together as directors and producers; they also shared editing credits under the alias Roderick Jaynes. The duo started directing separately in the 2020s, resulting in Joel's The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) and Ethan's Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind (2022) and Drive-Away Dolls (2024). They have been nominated for 13 Academy Awards together, plus one individual nomination for each; both won Best Original Screenplay for Fargo, and Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country for Old Men. The duo also won the Palme d'Or for Barton Fink at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.

The Coens have written a number of films they did not direct, including Angelina Jolie's biographical war drama Unbroken (2014), Steven Spielberg's historical Cold War film Bridge of Spies (2015), and lesser-known, commercially unsuccessful comedies such as Crimewave (1985), The Naked Man (1998), and Gambit (2012). Ethan is also a writer of short stories, theater, and poetry.

They are known for their distinctive stylistic trademarks including genre hybridity.[4] No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis have been ranked in the BBC's 2016 poll of the greatest motion pictures since 2000.[5] In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked Fargo among the 100 greatest American movies ever made.[6]


Early life[edit]

Joel Daniel Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Jesse Coen (born September 21, 1957) were born and raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.[7] Their mother, Rena (née Neumann; 1925–2001), was an art historian at St. Cloud State University,[8] and their father, Edward Coen (1919–2012), was a Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota.[9] The brothers have an older sister, Deborah, who is a psychiatrist in Israel.[10][11]

In regards to whether our background influences our film making ... who knows? We don't think about it ... There's no doubt that our Jewish heritage affects how we see things.

—Joel Coen, on the Coens' Jewish heritage.[12]

Both sides of the Coen family were Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews.[10] Their paternal grandfather, Victor Coen, was a barrister in the Inns of Court in London before retiring to Hove with their grandmother.[13] Edward Coen was an American citizen born in the United States,[13] but grew up in Croydon, London and studied at the London School of Economics.[10] Afterwards he moved to the United States, where he met the Coens' mother, and served in the United States Army during World War II.[10][13]

The Coens developed an early interest in cinema through television. They grew up watching Italian films (ranging from the works of Federico Fellini to the Sons of Hercules films) aired on a Minneapolis station, the Tarzan films, and comedies (Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Doris Day).[14]

In the mid-1960s, Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivitar Super 8 camera.[15] Together, the brothers remade movies they saw on television, with their neighborhood friend Mark Zimering ("Zeimers") as the star.[16] Cornel Wilde's 1965 film The Naked Prey became their Zeimers in Zambezi, which featured Ethan as a native with a spear. The 1943 film Lassie Come Home was reinterpreted as their Ed... A Dog, with Ethan playing the mother role in his sister's tutu. They also made original films like Henry Kissinger, Man on the Go, Lumberjacks of the North and The Banana Film.[17]


Joel and Ethan graduated from St. Louis Park High School[18] in 1973 and 1976, respectively, and from Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.[19]

After Simon's Rock, Joel spent four years in the undergraduate film program at New York University, where he made a 30-minute thesis film called Soundings.[20] In 1979, he briefly enrolled in the graduate film program at the University of Texas at Austin, following a woman he had married who was in the graduate linguistics program. The marriage soon ended in divorce and Joel left UT Austin after nine months.[21]

Ethan went on to Princeton University and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1979.[19] His senior thesis was a 41-page essay, "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy", which was supervised by Raymond Geuss.[22]

Personal lives[edit]

Joel has been married to actress Frances McDormand since 1984. In 1995, they adopted a son, Pedro McDormand Coen, from Paraguay when he was six months old.[23][24] McDormand has acted in several Coen Brothers films: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar! For her performance in Fargo, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Ethan married film editor Tricia Cooke in 1993.[25] They have two children: daughter Dusty and son Buster Jacob.[26] The two describe their relationship as “nontraditional”; Cooke identifies as both queer and a lesbian[25] and Ethan as straight, and the two have separate partners.[27][28] They co-wrote the film Drive-Away Dolls, which Ethan directed and Tricia edited.

Ethan Coen and family live in New York, while Joel Coen and Frances McDormand live in Marin County, California.[29][30]



After graduating from New York University, Joel worked as a production assistant on a variety of industrial films and music videos. He developed a talent for film editing and met Sam Raimi while assisting Edna Ruth Paul in editing Raimi's first feature film, The Evil Dead (1981).[31]

In 1984, the brothers wrote and directed Blood Simple, their first commercial film together. Set in Texas, the film tells the tale of a shifty, sleazy bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife and her lover. The film contains elements that point to their future direction: distinctive homages to genre movies (in this case noir and horror), plot twists layered over a simple story, dark humor, and mise-en-scène. The film starred Frances McDormand, who went on to feature in many of the Coen brothers' films (and marry Joel). Upon release the film received much praise and won awards for Joel's direction at both the Sundance and Independent Spirit awards.[32]

Their next project was Crimewave (1985), directed by Sam Raimi and written by the Coens and Raimi. Joel and Raimi also made cameo appearances in Spies Like Us (1985).

The brothers' next film was Raising Arizona (1987), the story of an unlikely married couple: ex-convict H.I. (Nicolas Cage) and police officer Ed (Holly Hunter), who long for a baby but are unable to conceive. When a local furniture tycoon (Trey Wilson) appears on television with his newly born quintuplets and jokes that they "are more than we can handle", H.I. steals one of the quintuplets to bring up as their own. The film featured Frances McDormand, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, and Randall "Tex" Cobb.


Miller's Crossing, released in 1990, starred Albert Finney, Gabriel Byrne, and John Turturro. The film is about feuding gangsters in the Prohibition era, inspired by Dashiell Hammett's novels Red Harvest (1929) and The Glass Key (serialized in 1930).

The following year, they released Barton Fink (1991); set in 1941, in which a New York playwright, the eponymous Barton Fink (played by John Turturro), moves to Los Angeles to write a B-movie. He settles down in his hotel room to commence writing but suffers writer's block until his room is invaded by the man next door (John Goodman). Barton Fink was a critical success, earning Oscar nominations and winning three major awards at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d'Or.[33] It was their first film with cinematographer Roger Deakins, a key collaborator for the next 25 years.

The Hudsucker Proxy (co-written with Raimi) was released in 1994. In it, the board of a large corporation in 1958 New York City appoints a naive schmo as president (Tim Robbins) for underhanded reasons. The film bombed at the box office ($30 million budget, $3 million gross in the US), even though it featured Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Frances McDormand appears in a brief uncredited role.

The Coens wrote and directed the crime thriller Fargo (1996), set in their home state of Minnesota. In the film, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who has serious financial problems, has his wife kidnapped so that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the ransom. His plan goes wrong when the kidnappers deviate from the plan and local cop Marge Gunderson (McDormand) starts to investigate. Produced on a small budget of $7 million, Fargo was a critical and commercial success, with particular praise for its dialogue and McDormand's performance. The film received several awards, including a BAFTA award and Cannes award for direction, and two Oscars: a Best Original Screenplay and a Best Actress Oscar for McDormand.[34][35]

In the Coens' next film, the black comedy The Big Lebowski (1998), "The Dude" (Jeff Bridges), a Los Angeles slacker,[36] is used as an unwitting pawn in a kidnapping plot with his bowling buddies (Steve Buscemi and John Goodman). Despite initially receiving mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office, it is now well received by critics,[37] and is regarded as a classic cult film.[38] An annual festival, Lebowski Fest, began in 2002, and many adhere to the philosophy of "Dudeism".[39] Entertainment Weekly ranked it 8th on their Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years list in 2008.[40]

Gates of Eden, a collection of short stories written by Ethan Coen, was published in 1998.[41][42] The same year, Ethan co-wrote the comedy The Naked Man, directed by their storyboard artist J. Todd Anderson.[43]


Ethan and Joel at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival

The Coen brothers' next film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), was another critical and commercial success. The title was borrowed from the Preston Sturges film Sullivan's Travels (1941), whose lead character, movie director John Sullivan, had planned to make a film with that title.[44] Based loosely on Homer's Odyssey (complete with a Cyclops, sirens, et al.), the story is set in Mississippi in the 1930s and follows a trio of escaped convicts who, after absconding from a chain gang, journey home to recover bank-heist loot the leader has buried—but they have no clear perception of where they are going. The film highlighted the comic abilities of George Clooney as the oddball lead character Ulysses Everett McGill, and of Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro, his sidekicks. The film's bluegrass and old-time soundtrack, offbeat humor and digitally desaturated cinematography made it a critical and commercial hit.[45][46] It was the first feature film to use all-digital color grading.[47] The film's soundtrack CD was also successful, spawning a concert and concert/documentary DVD, Down from the Mountain.

The Coens next produced another noirish thriller, The Man Who Wasn't There (2001).

The Coens directed the 2003 film Intolerable Cruelty, starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, a throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1940s. It focuses on hotshot divorce lawyer Miles Massey and a beautiful divorcée whom Massey managed to prevent from receiving any money in her divorce. She vows to get even with him while, at the same time, he becomes smitten with her. Intolerable Cruelty received generally positive reviews, although it is considered one of the duo's weaker films.[48] Also that year, they executive produced and did an uncredited rewrite of the Christmas black comedy Bad Santa, which garnered positive reviews.[49]

In 2004, the Coens made The Ladykillers, a remake of the British classic by Ealing Studios.[50] A professor, played by Tom Hanks, assembles a team to rob a casino. They rent a room in an elderly woman's home to plan the heist. When the woman discovers the plot, the gang decides to murder her to ensure her silence. The Coens received some of the most lukewarm reviews of their careers in response to this film.[51][52]

They directed two short films for two separate anthology filmsParis, je t'aime (Tuileries, 2006) starring Steve Buscemi,[53] and To Each His Own Cinema (World Cinema, 2007) starring Josh Brolin.[54] Both films received highly positive reviews.[55][56]

With Javier Bardem at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival

No Country for Old Men, released in November 2007, closely follows the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), living near the Texas/Mexico border, stumbles upon, and decides to take, two million dollars in drug money. He must then go on the run to avoid those trying to recover the money, including sociopathic killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who confounds both Llewelyn and local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). The plotline is a return to noir themes, but in some respects it was a departure for the Coens; with the exception of Stephen Root, none of the stable of regular actors appears in the film. No Country received nearly universal critical praise, garnering a 94% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[57] It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, all of which were received by the Coens, as well as Best Supporting Actor received by Bardem. The Coens, as "Roderick Jaynes", were also nominated for Best Editing, but lost. It was the first time since 1961 (when Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise won for West Side Story) that two directors received the Academy Award for Best Director at the same time.[58]

In January 2008, Ethan Coen's play Almost an Evening premiered off-broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2, opening to mostly enthusiastic reviews. The initial run closed on February 10, 2008, but the same production was moved to a new theatre for a commercial off-Broadway run at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York City. Produced by The Atlantic Theater Company, it ran there from March 2008 through June 1, 2008.[59] and Art Meets Commerce.[60] In May 2009, the Atlantic Theater Company produced Coen's Offices, as part of their mainstage season at the Linda Gross Theater.[61]

Burn After Reading, a comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney, was released September 12, 2008, and portrays a collision course between two gym instructors, spies and Internet dating.[62] Released to positive reviews, it debuted at No. 1 in North America.[63]

In 2009, the Coens directed a television commercial titled "Air Freshener" for the Reality Coalition.[64][65]

They next directed A Serious Man, released October 2, 2009, a "gentle but dark" period comedy (set in 1967) with a low budget.[66] The film is based loosely on the Coens' childhoods in an academic family in the largely Jewish suburb of Saint Louis Park, Minnesota;[66] it also drew comparisons to the Book of Job.[67][68] Filming took place late in the summer of 2008, in the neighborhoods of Roseville and Bloomington, Minnesota, at Normandale Community College, and at St. Olaf College.[69][70] The film was nominated for the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.[71]


True Grit (2010) is based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis.[72] Filming was done in Texas and New Mexico. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Mattie Ross along with Jeff Bridges as Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon and Josh Brolin also appear in the movie.[73] True Grit was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture.[74][75]

The Coens, presidents of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival jury

Ethan Coen wrote the one-act comedy Talking Cure, which was produced on Broadway in 2011 as part of Relatively Speaking, an anthology of three one-act plays by Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen.[76]

In 2011, the Coen brothers won the $1 million Dan David Prize for their contribution to cinema and society.[77][78]

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) is a treatise on the 1960s folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village, and very loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk.[79] The film stars Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan.[80] It won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it was highly praised by critics.[81] They received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for "Please Mr. Kennedy", which is heard in the film.[82]

Fargo, a television series inspired by their film of the same name, premiered in April 2014 on the FX network. It is created by Noah Hawley and executive produced by the brothers.[83]

The Coens also contributed to the screenplay for Unbroken, along with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. The film is directed by Angelina Jolie and based on Laura Hillenbrand's non-fiction book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) which itself was based on the life of Louis Zamperini. It was released on December 25, 2014, to average reviews.[84]

The Coens co-wrote, with playwright Matt Charman, the screenplay for the dramatic historical thriller Bridge of Spies, about the 1960 U-2 Incident. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and released on October 4, 2015, to critical acclaim.[85] They were nominated for the Best Original Screenplay at the 88th Academy Awards.[86]

The Coens directed the film Hail, Caesar!, about a "fixer" in 1950s Hollywood trying to discover what happened to a cast member who vanishes during filming. It stars Coen regulars George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, as well as Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, and Alden Ehrenreich.[87] The film was released on February 5, 2016.

In 2016, the Coens gave to their longtime friend and collaborator John Turturro the right to use his character of Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski in his own spin-off, The Jesus Rolls, which he would also write and direct. The Coens have no involvement in the production. In August 2016, the film began principal photography.[88][89]

The Coens first wrote the script for Suburbicon in 1986. The film was eventually directed by George Clooney and began filming in October 2016. It was released by Paramount Pictures in the fall of 2017.[90]

The Coens directed The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western anthology starring Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, and James Franco. It began streaming on Netflix on November 16, 2018, after a brief theatrical run.[91][92][93]


It was announced in March 2019 that Joel Coen would be directing an adaptation of Macbeth starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand.[94] The film, titled The Tragedy of Macbeth, was Joel's first directorial effort without his brother, who was taking a break from films to focus on theater.[95] The film premiered at the 2021 New York Film Festival.[96] The 2022 Cannes Film Festival had a special screening of Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind, an archival documentary film directed solely by Ethan Coen and edited by his wife Tricia Cooke.[97] In 2022, it was announced that Ethan Coen would be directing Drive-Away Dolls for Focus Features and Working Title from a script he co-wrote with Cooke. It would be Ethan's first narrative film without his brother. The film was released in February 2024.[98]

Planned and uncompleted projects[edit]

Production company[edit]

The Coen brothers' own film production company, Mike Zoss Productions located in New York City, has been credited on their films from O Brother, Where Art Thou? onwards.[99] It was named after Mike Zoss Drug, an independent pharmacy in St. Louis Park since 1950 that was the brothers' beloved hangout when they were growing up in the Twin Cities. The name was also used for the pharmacy in No Country for Old Men.[100] The Mike Zoss logo consists of a crayon drawing of a horse, standing in a field of grass with its head turned around as it looks back over its hindquarters.

Directing distinctions[edit]

Up to 2003, Joel received sole credit for directing and Ethan for producing, due to guild rules that disallowed multiple director credits to prevent dilution of the position's significance. The only exception to this rule is if the co-directors are an "established duo". Since 2004 they have been able to share the director credit and the Coen brothers have become only the third duo to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.

With four Academy Award nominations for No Country for Old Men for the duo (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing as Roderick Jaynes), the Coen brothers have tied the record for the most nominations by a single nominee (counting an "established duo" as one nominee) for the same film. Orson Welles set the record in 1941 with Citizen Kane being nominated for Best Picture (though at the time, individual producers were not named as nominees), Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. Warren Beatty received the same nominations, first for Heaven Can Wait in 1978 and again in 1981 with Reds. Alan Menken also then achieved the same feat when he was nominated for Best Score and triple-nominated for Best Song for Beauty and the Beast in 1991. Most recently Chloé Zhao matched this record in 2021 when she was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing for Nomadland (which also starred McDormand in her third Oscar-winning role).


Directed features
Year Title Distribution
1984 Blood Simple Circle Films
1987 Raising Arizona 20th Century Fox
1990 Miller's Crossing
1991 Barton Fink
1994 The Hudsucker Proxy Warner Bros. Pictures / Universal Pictures
1996 Fargo Gramercy Pictures
1998 The Big Lebowski
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? Buena Vista Pictures / Universal Pictures
2001 The Man Who Wasn't There USA Films
2003 Intolerable Cruelty Universal Pictures
2004 The Ladykillers Buena Vista Pictures
2007 No Country for Old Men Miramax / Paramount Vantage
2008 Burn After Reading Focus Features
2009 A Serious Man
2010 True Grit Paramount Pictures
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis CBS Films
2016 Hail, Caesar! Universal Pictures
2018 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Netflix
Joel only
Year Title Distribution
2021 The Tragedy of Macbeth A24 / Apple TV+
Ethan only
Year Title Distribution
2022 Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind A24
2024 Drive-Away Dolls Focus Features
TBA Honey Don't!



Year Title Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1991 Barton Fink 3 1
1996 Fargo 7 2 6 1 4
2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2 4 2 1
2001 The Man Who Wasn't There 1 1 1 3
2007 No Country for Old Men 8 4 9 3 4 2
2008 Burn After Reading 3 2
2009 A Serious Man 2 1 1
2010 True Grit 10 8 1
2013 Inside Llewyn Davis 2 3 3
2016 Hail, Caesar! 1 1
2018 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 3 1
2021 The Tragedy of Macbeth[a] 3 1 1
Total 42 6 38 6 21 3
Year Performer Film Result
Academy Award for Best Actor
2010 Jeff Bridges True Grit Nominated
2021 Denzel Washington The Tragedy of Macbeth[a] Nominated
Academy Award for Best Actress
1996 Frances McDormand Fargo Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1991 Michael Lerner Barton Fink Nominated
1996 William H. Macy Fargo Nominated
2007 Javier Bardem No Country for Old Men Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit Nominated


  1. ^ a b Written and directed by Joel only


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  • Cheshire, Ellen; Ashbrook, John (2005). Joel and Ethan Coen (3rd revised ed.). The Pocket Essential. ISBN 9781904048398. (Includes all films up to The Ladykillers and some subsidiary works [Crimewave, Down from the Mountain, Bad Santa].)
  • King, Lynnea Chapman (2014). The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780810885769.
  • Levine, Josh; Fagan, Cary (2000). The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers. ECW Press. ISBN 9781550224245.

External links[edit]