A List of All the Wes Anderson Films, Ranked
No one makes movies quite like Wes Anderson, so we've revisited and ranked them all.
His hotel concierges are charismatic and committed, while his lobby boys are devoted and delightful. His foxes are nothing short of fantastic, and his dogs are as resourceful as they are adorable. Every time he turns his attention to a family dynamic — be it siblings, strained parent-child relationships or friendships so close they feel like bonds of blood — dysfunction always reigns supreme. And, when all of the above occurs, it does so within immaculately symmetrical yet immensely eccentric frames.
Yes, we're talking about Wes Anderson, and the distinctive body of work the American filmmaker has splashed across cinema screens over the past 24 years. Usually chronicling some kind of caper, often featuring a retro 60s and 70s soundtrack, and styled so meticulously that each image could happily hang on anyone's wall (in fact, he's even curated museum exhibitions), his films are like no one else's. Often brought to life by a familiar cast of faces — Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Bob Balaban and Edward Norton, to name a few — they firmly resonate on their own frequency. And, understandably so, they've amassed quite a following. But, from a filmography to-date that spans from the indie charm of Bottle Rocket to the stop-motion splendour of Isle of Dogs (with his tenth movie, The French Dispatch, not due until sometime after cinemas around the world have reopened), which is the best?
As always, that's a subjective question. Like ranking Studio Ghibli movies, it's also a task made all the more difficult by a simple fact: Wes Anderson has never made a bad film. That said, while some are flat-out masterpieces that will always stand the test of time, others are entertaining but don't necessarily demand a rewatch. That's what we found when we revisited the nine films currently on his resume, and soaked in his inimitable cinematic creations. And, here are the results: our rundown of Anderson's big-screen output from worst to best.
9. MOONRISE KINGDOM
By virtue of their format, a ranked list always requires something to come in last place. Moonrise Kingdom earns that honour on Wes Anderson's filmography — not because it isn't great, which it is, but because it's the movie on his resume that sticks in the mind the least. A bittersweet story about first love and finding a home, it's also the rare Anderson film that feels as much a part of its genre as part of the director's oeuvre. In other words, it's definitely an Anderson flick, but it also charts rather recognisable coming-of-age territory. Still, watching 12-year-olds Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) set the New England island of New Penzance aflutter when they run off in the name of romance is typically charming.
8. THE DARJEELING LIMITED
In Anderson's fifth film, three brothers take a train across India in the eponymous locomotive. During their trip, Francis (Owen Wilson), Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody) work through their sibling baggage while literally carting around matching orange-hued, monogrammed baggage. It's been a year since they last crossed paths at their father's funeral, and life isn't treating any of them kindly — with Anderson and co-writers Schwartzman and Roman Coppola balancing the brothers' existential malaise with episodic antics both on the train and off. As stylish as any Anderson-directed feature, The Darjeeling Limited is served best by its performances, as well as its touching blend of sadness and humour.
7. BOTTLE ROCKET
When Anderson made his feature directorial debut back in 1996, he did so with this crime-comedy caper about three friends planning a series of heists in the absence of any other direction in their lives. Based on a short film of the same name that he helmed two years prior, and co-written with Owen Wilson, who also stars, Bottle Rocket establishes many of the filmmaker's trademarks from the outset — including his penchant for witty interactions, as well as his love of dressing his characters in coordinated outfits. Owen Wilson plays Dignan, the driving force; however, as his recently voluntarily institutionalised best friend Anthony, this is Luke Wilson's time to shine. A third Wilson, their elder brother Andrew, also pops up, because of course he does.
6. ISLE OF DOGS
A literal underdog tale about scrappy canines, a plucky orphan and a pooch-hating politician with an evil scheme, Isle of Dogs is the most Wes Anderson-esque movie the filmmaker has ever made. Filled with heart, humour and witty dialogue, this doggone delight is constructed with the tail-wagging enthusiasm of man's best friend — and, as well as sporting all the beloved Anderson traits (quirky quests, spirited characters, symmetrical compositions, a distinctive colour palette and a huge cast among them), it tells a stellar story. The setup: when his uncle, Megasaki City's mayor, bans all dogs to Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin) risks his life to follow his four-legged companion. At every moment, the director fills his narrative to the brim like an overflowing bowl of dog treats, spoiling viewers like he'd spoil his own animal companion.
5. THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou will always be Anderson's under-sung gem. It's so quintessentially Anderson and, because it's his longest film, it's guilty of sprawling — but every absurdist moment is a marvel. The premise, casting Bill Murray as a Jacques Cousteau-style oceanographer intent on getting revenge on the just-discovered jaguar shark that killed his best friend, is instantly amusing. Trapping a crew of offbeat folks at sea while Zissou pursues his quest provides plenty of comic as well as thoughtful moments, too. The soundtrack of David Bowie songs, including Portuguese-language covers by The Life Aquatic co-star Seu Jorge, sets the pitch-perfect mood. And, visually, Anderson's pans through a cross-section of the ship are always striking. Also, no one has ever watched this film and not immediately wanted a pair of Team Zissou sneakers.
In Anderson's 1998 breakout film, there's nothing that Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) loves more than Rushmore Academy. As the director conveys so engagingly, his 15-year-old protagonist has spent the bulk of his life at the exclusive private school — mainly starting extra-curricular clubs, as well as annoying both the headmaster (Brian Cox) and his classmates with his enthusiasm, all while barely caring about his grades. Then, just as he befriends a wealthy company owner (Bill Murray), Max falls for the new first-grade teacher (Olivia Williams). The best of Anderson's coming-of-age films, Rushmore deploys both Schwartzman and Murray to perfection, while weaving a smart yet also often dark comedy about learning to adjust your dreams.
3. FANTASTIC MR FOX
Combine Anderson, a magnificent Roald Dahl-penned all-ages story and stunning stop-motion animation, and you get a match made in cinematic heaven. Dahl wrote the acclaimed 1970 children's novel about the canny and cunning titular fox, of course, while Anderson brings it to vibrant life with a voice cast that includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson (and via a script co-written with Frances Ha and Marriage Story's Noah Baumbach, too). While Fantastic Mr Fox is Anderson's first animated feature, he's a natural when it comes to witty comedy paired with playfulness and a whole lot of sight gags. As for the story, it follows Mr Fox's (Clooney) efforts to outsmart a trio of mean farmers — and it's told here with energy, personality and Anderson's usual flair.
2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Many a well-known actor has graced Anderson's frames. Most have done so multiple times, with Bill Murray appearing in eight of his nine films thus far (and soon featuring in his tenth, The French Dispatch, too). But no one has put in a performance quite like Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel. As the dedicated concierge at the titular holiday spot in the Republic of Zubrowka, he's a powerhouse — as amusing as he is charming, vibrant, confident, soulful, wily and determined. Indeed, it's no wonder that Anderson lets this layered tale of friendship, war, fascism and tragedy hang off his leading man. The rest of his ensemble cast works a treat, including Saoirse Ronan and then-newcomer Tony Revolori, and this is one of Anderson's most aesthetically stunning creations. Still, without Fiennes, it would've lacked quiet a bit of its ample magic.
1. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
In his first two films, Anderson focused on characters striving for greatness, be it through pulling off heists in Bottle Rocket or tying their identity to their school in Rushmore. In The Royal Tenenbaums, the titular family's three children were all once great. In fact, they were child prodigies. But as adults, their lives have seen more disappointment and joy, a truth that stern widower and finance whiz Chas (Ben Stiller), fiercely private playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and ex-tennis star Richie (Luke Wilson) are forced to face just as their father (Gene Hackman) resurfaces and their mother (Anjelica Huston) prepares to get remarried. Although undeniably whimsical, it's the most melancholy, poignant and deeply felt of the director's features. And, in its visuals and its performances, it's also oh-so-rich with affecting detail.
Published on May 20, 2020 by Sarah Ward