With his latest movie The French Dispatch out now, I thought it was the best time to rank director Wes Anderson’s filmography.
No one makes movies like Wes Anderson, very few directors’ works are as instantly recognisable as his. From the symmetrical framing, colour palette, eccentric sense of humour, blending melancholy and humour, and large casts full of A list acting talents, he is undeniably distinct as a filmmaker, and one of the most compelling working today. Even in his weakest efforts, there’s something to love in each of them.
Here’s a ranking of his 10 feature films, from worst to best.
10. Bottle Rocket
I think I’m confident in saying that most people who’ve seen Bottle Rocket would consider it one of if not the weakest movie from Wes Anderson, and I’m in this group of people. It is his first movie and feels the least like his other movies. With that said, I do think that it is worth watching, it’s interesting to see how it started, and it’s a good movie in itself.
Much of the movie isn’t what you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film (the dialogue for instance). However, if you’ve seen any of his other movies you can pick up on certain elements that would evolve into his trademarks, with the comedy, quirky characters, and even the use of colour. The character driven story is decent for what it is and is mostly paced well, but the plot probably the weakest part of the movie as it’s only mildly interesting. Despite some of the flaws, like the slower second act, there’s good stuff here. The movie is reasonably entertaining and funny throughout, and the cast are good, especially Luke and Owen Wilson. Wes Anderson hadn’t figured out his style at this point, but from this movie it still clear that he’s talented, and his work here is pretty solid for a first time filmmaker. Really good directorial debut overall.
9. The Darjeeling Limited
The Darjeeling Limited is likely Wes Anderson’s simplest movie, it was okay, but by the end I felt like it was really missing something from it. While it does contain some of the familiar Anderson aspects including the quirky dialogue and the comedy, they don’t work quite as well in this movie. I do appreciate the smaller and more personal scale that the movie takes, but it does feel a bit bland in portions. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was outright bored while watching, but I was close to it. The writing and story were the weakest parts for me, which is quite unfortunate really since its usually pretty strong in Anderson’s movies. I was paying attention to what was happening with the story and characters, but I didn’t feel particularly engaged or invested.
Not to say that this movie is bad by any means. The movie is about three brothers with grief travelling with baggage (both physical and emotional), it was heartwarming in parts and there are some moments that are strong. The acting is also great from Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, all delivering on their parts. The direction is also pretty good from Wes, even though it is definitely more scaled back compared to his other movies. The cinematography and use of colour particularly makes it a stunning movie to watch. I think The Darjeeling Limited is still decent enough, and it has some solid moments. However, I still think it’s one of his worst movies, and it’s not one that I’m particularly inclined to revisit.
8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of Wes Anderson’s more unusual movies, one which initially was a box office flop and gathered a mixed response, but now is viewed more positively by critics and audiences. I do feel mixed on some parts of the movie, there was something that prevented me from being fully invested in what was happening. The script could’ve been tighter, the plot being loose isn’t a problem but it really only works if I’m invested in what was happening. Unfortunately I just wasn’t, and it wasn’t helped by the slow pacing. I also felt that something felt quite empty to the characters and story, at least on this first viewing. There are definitely some moments of the story which worked greatly but I wouldn’t say that it worked on the whole.
Despite all that, I really do admire the ambition on display. Wes Anderson went wild with the budget and put it to great use, especially with the production design. It does have Anderson’s familiar style and strengths, it was eccentric, quirky and visually pleasing, and the dialogue is good. The cast is massive, and while some of them aren’t seen as much as you’d like, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe stand out as being particularly great at the very least. There are some entertaining moments and again some character and story moments which genuinely work. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a bit of a mess at times, but when it’s great, it’s really great. I don’t feel inclined to watch it again, but I get the feeling that I might ease into the movie more upon repeat viewings.
7. Moonrise Kingdom
While it wasn’t the first Wes Anderson movie I watched, Moonrise Kingdom was the first movie I watched from him when I was aware of him as a director. It’s pretty good, even if I do have some issues with it. It is a straightforward and simplistic coming of age story, and I was generally entertained, though I wouldn’t say I was invested with the story or characters. Tonally its inconsistent (not in a good way), and the pacing is all over the place. I find that I’m really only invested with the story and characters in half of Anderson’s filmography, and I just couldn’t get into them with Moonrise Kingdom.
As expected, it has all the Wes Anderson aspects, quirky, funny, and deadpan dialogue, and unusual characters. Clearly though, there was a lot of passion put into it, even if I didn’t care much for the story or characters. The large cast are all great, including the child actors who do a good job in their parts. The highlights of the cast for me were Edward Norton and Bruce Willis, both unexpected yet fantastic fits for a Wes Anderson movie. The movie is shot well and is visually stunning, with vibrant colours, and familiar shot compositions for the director. The lower budget adds a lot to the feeling of being a relatively smaller movie. I do think Moonrise Kingdom is worth watching, it is pretty good. I just don’t have much to say about it, and I don’t love it as much as other people. I will say that if you’re looking to get into Wes Anderson as a filmmaker, I wouldn’t recommend watching this first.
6. Isle of Dogs
The second of Wes Anderson’s animated movies is Isle of Dogs released in 2018, which was really good. There were some slight issues I had, there were an overuse of flashbacks, and a lot of the side storylines and supporting characters, which the movie occasionally focused on, weren’t nearly as interesting as the main storyline and characters. On the whole though, I enjoyed watching it.
Once again, Isle of Dogs is an original and unique story from Wes Anderson, filled with quirky characters and deadpan humour and dialogue. The story itself surprisingly gets dark at some points, despite being a kids animated movie, and one involving dogs. There’s a great voice cast in Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murry, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and more. Of course another highlight of the movie is that of the animation, which manages to be even better than Anderson’s work on Fantastic Mr. Fox. Like that other movie, despite being an animated film, it still felt like something made by Wes Anderson, even just looking at the direction from the framing, editing, shot composition and the like. Overall, a very good time.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
It’s rare that live action filmmakers who make the shift to an animated movie make said animated movies with the exact same style. Anderson pulls it off however, and in fact delivers one of his best movies.
A common theme amongst most of these movies in this list is that they are distinctly Wes Anderson movie, and Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. There’s a great cast involved (including George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Willem Dafoe), who give their respective characters distinct personalities and traits with their perfect voice performances and comedic timing. The story is fast paced and full of energy, it’s witty, charming, funny and all-around entertaining. And of course, the movie is incredibly well animated, with Anderson’s style perfectly translating into stop motion animation. Even though Isle of Dogs from an animation standpoint is better, FMF’s animation still holds up pretty well over a decade later. Fantastic Mr. Fox is also a movie that both children and adults can like but honestly, I think that adults would like it more and get more out of it. I might be stretching a bit, but I think this might be among my favourite animated movies.
Rushmore is Wes Anderson’s second movie, and it put him on the map as someone to pay attention to. While he’s still forming his own style with this coming-of-age movie, he is more confident in his direction over his last movie. As someone who never saw it until somewhat recently, I really liked it.
The script is finely tuned to near perfection. It is funny and entertaining yet deeper than it initially appears. It jumps between being comedic, pessimistic, hopeful, sad and more, and it is all balanced out well. The characters are eccentric and quirky, yet endearing and memorable. Jason Schwartzman shines in the lead role, and Bill Murray is also great in his supporting role. Anderson’s directing style is still finding itself, but you can definitely recognise some of the elements which would go on to evolve to that point, very well made. As far as coming of age movies go, Rushmore is probably among my favourites in that subgenre.
3. The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson’s latest film made it into the top 3 of this list. This is quite possibly the most Wes Anderson movie ever and that’s saying a lot. While it might be on the more divisive end of his filmography, I honestly think he delivers some of his finest work here.
An anthology movie made up of shorter stories, I found all of them compelling to watch. It is messy and disjointed especially in tone, but that’s to be expected of an anthology movie. The French Dispatch is very delightful to watch with some great humour. Not only that but it feels very passionate, and it’s also very tender and heartfelt across all these stories. The movie also has by far Anderson’s largest cast yet, and while some of the actors like Christoph Waltz and Saoirse Ronan are regulated to mere cameos, they are all welcome additions. All the actors (especially Benicio del Toro and Jeffrey Wright) are great, with not a single weak link. The direction from Anderson is so much his style that it almost borders on self parody. He even does things that he hasn’t done before playing around with looks and filmmaking styles (including aspect ratio changes and switching between animation and live action). All in all, The French Dispatch is firmly one of my favourite Wes Anderson films, and was even better than I was expecting.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums has often been called one of Anderson’s best movies, and for very good reason. This family drama was one that hooked me as soon as it started, and I was consistently entertained and invested in it from beginning to end.
The Royal Tenenbaums has one of Wes Anderson’s best scripts, and it features a lot of his trademarks. It is quite entertaining and funny at times, however it is more of a drama than a comedy, and in fact was sadder than expected. The most surprising aspect was that it works really well on an emotional level, with there being an underlying feeling of sadness amongst most of the characters, and it even touches on some serious themes and topics. There is a great tonal balance between comedy and drama. You are engaged with what’s going on with the plot, as well as with the very well realised characters. The ensemble cast as expected are all great, from Gwyneth Paltrow to Luke Wilson and especially Gene Hackman. Wes Anderson directed the movie excellently with his distinct style, it’s aesthetically pleasing and with a lot of attention to detail. I thoroughly loved The Royal Tenenbaums, and I can see myself loving it more the more I come back to it.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of the earliest movies I’ve seen from Wes Anderson, I really liked it when I got to watch it in cinemas in 2014. While I was catching up with watching Anderson’s other movies, it still seemed to remain my favourite of his. A rewatch confirmed it as being not only firmly my favourite of his films, but also one of my favourite movies of all time.
As expected, the movie feels quite original, the story is heartfelt, charming and endearing, and it features quirky and entertaining characters. It had me invested from beginning to end and was endlessly entertaining. It really gave a sense of adventure and escapism, while having melancholic and darker qualities and themes that you don’t expect at first. There is also a large and talented cast as expected from Wes Anderson, with the likes of Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and more delivering on their parts. The standout among them however is the pitch perfect acting from Ralph Fiennes, who gives one of the best performances in an Anderson movie. The direction and style are instantly recognisable and are some of Wes’s best work. It is visually stunning from the top-notch cinematography, to the beautiful and vibrant and production design, the great costume designs, and the many well filmed sequences. Wes Anderson took the best from his past movies and put it all into this one movie, I think this is his magnum opus. It honestly is a great place to start if you haven’t watched any of his past movies yet.
What do you think of Wes Anderson? How would you rank his films?