There are few directors in the history of cinema with a style so uniquely their own. Wes Anderson’s meticulous eye for detail and visual aesthetic has seen him quickly become one of the most beloved filmmakers around.
In celebration of Anderson’s 51st birthday, we thought we would take a look back through his 10 films and rank them in order of greatness. When you have a director as wholly idiosyncratic as Anderson, it can be a very challenging thing to do.
While we wait for the director’s new film The French Dispatch, which has been shelved amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing’s for sure; we have enough films to satisfy us until that picture finally is finally released.
Anderson’s time at the big leagues may be relatively short in comparison to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, but across 24 years the director has produced 10 fantastic flicks.
Whether it’s stop motion or live-action, Anderson is capable of enacting a singular vision that not many directors are capable of. One of the few directors in history to have a complete picture ready to go before filming begins, more so than any other director, these films are a true reflection of Anderson.
Below we rank Wes Anderson’s films from worst to best.
Ranking Wes Anderson’s films from worst to best:
10. Bottle Rocket (1996)
You only get one debut film and Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket has all the hallmarks of both those first tentative footsteps into the world of cinema and his future archetypal style. A lot more rough and ready than its successors the film is unburdened by a lack of budget and instead finds joy in the looser elemnets of his vision.
The film, which sees three petty criminals become tripped up by their own lack of competency, it was also the debut of Texan brothers Luke and Owen Wilson. A landmark beginning all around.
Official Film Synopsis: “In Wes Anderson’s first feature film, Anthony (Luke Wilson) has just been released from a mental hospital, only to find his wacky friend Dignan (Owen C. Wilson) determined to begin an outrageous crime spree.
“After recruiting their neighbor, Bob (Robert Musgrave), the team embarks on a road trip in search of Dignan’s previous boss, Mr. Henry (James Caan). But the more they learn, the more they realize that they do not know the first thing about crime.”
9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Any film which stars Bill Murray on the search for a partner-eating “jaguar shark” you know will always have its merits. The 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou sees a crew of famous faces join Murray on the adventure in a overtly-stylised picture.
The sumptuous cut-away ship set may well be the tip of the iceberg but alongside Henry Selick’s sea creature design, Murray’s iconic style in the film will be forever remembered by the pop culture archivists—he did have custom made Adidas after all. Pay special attention to Seu Jorge’s covers of David Bowie in Portuguese as a particular highlight.
Official Film Synopsis: “Renowned oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) has sworn vengeance upon the rare shark that devoured a member of his crew. In addition to his regular team, he is joined on his boat by Ned (Owen Wilson), a man who believes Zissou to be his father, and Jane (Cate Blanchett), a journalist pregnant by a married man. They travel the sea, all too often running into pirates and, perhaps more traumatically, various figures from Zissou’s past, including his estranged wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston).”
8. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Despite many misgivings surrounding privilege in this film set in India, The Darjeeling Limited sees three brothers trek across the sub-continent in search of closure regarding their father’s recent death and, typically, it is visually enthralling. Colourful and perfectly aligned to Anderson’s aesthetic, the cinematography of the film is second to none.
The film did, however, offer up a distasteful viewpoint of Anderson that he had so far managed to escape. The cultural clumsiness of three white males travelling across a poverty-stricken country without so much of whiff of hardship is a little aggravating today. But as a spectacle, it is hard to deny the film’s power.
Official Film Synopsis: “Estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) reunite for a train trip across India. The siblings have not spoken in over a year, ever since their father passed away.
“Francis is recovering from a motorcycle accident, Peter cannot cope with his wife’s pregnancy, and Jack cannot get over his ex-lover. The brothers fall into old patterns of behaviour as Francis reveals the real reason for the reunion: to visit their mother in a Himalayan convent.”
7. Hotel Chevalier (2007)
The shortest entry on our list, Wes Anderson’s 13 minute flick Hotel Chevalier acted as a warm-up to the aforementioned Darjeeling Limited but somehow stole the show. The short revolves around Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman who are sahring one last night together.
As Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go (To My Lovely)?’ plays on the iPod, the pair tell a timeless story with no real beginning or end. All that we are sure of is that arguably this is one of Anderson’s most subtly shared moments and he does it using the most stunning engaging visuals.
Official Film Synopsis: “Ambiguity in a Paris hotel room. Jack Whitman lies on a bed, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich from room service. His phone rings; it’s a woman on her way to see him, a surprise. He readies the room, moving without affect, drawing a bath, changing his clothes.”
6. Isle of Dogs (2018)
Anderson is famed for his attention to detail, no hair out of place and no cake left un-perfectly dusted by fresh icing sugar. You get the point. But on Isle of Dogs even he might admit he took his obsession with detail to new heights. Another stop-motion film allowed Anderson to not only exhaustively enact his vision but tell a touching story.
The director’s adoration of Japanese culture is no secret but on Isle of Dogs Anderson borrows directly from it and also pays homage. Naturally, as with most all of these films, Anderson can call on an all-star cast to fill the voice roles. Perhaps it’s us or perhaps it is the perfectly curated dog’s but we think it may be his most natural ensemble to date.
Official Film Synopsis: “When, by executive decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.”
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
For most children across Britain the story of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is one burned into your memory from a very young age. If you’re expecting Anderson to provide a true-to-word adaptation of the book you will be sorely mistaken. But what he does provide that Dahl would certainly approve of, is bucketloads of imagination.
It may well be the best children’s film for adults you will ever see. George Clooney in the title role of the suave and skillful Fox is a match made in heaven and the story unfolds with a similar symbiotic relationship. The two sides of the Atlantic combine to offer a touch of Dahl’s whimsy and Anderson’s unwavering eyes. They all meet for a good old game of “whack bat”.
Official Film Synopsis: “After 12 years of bucolic bliss, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) breaks a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) and raids the farms of their human neighbors, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Giving in to his animal instincts endangers not only his marriage but also the lives of his family and their animal friends.
“When the farmers force Mr. Fox and company deep underground, he has to resort to his natural craftiness to rise above the opposition.”
4. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
We’re going to say it upfront, this is no Citizen Kane. If you’re looking for a film deeply laden with heavy allegory and philosophical wonder, then honestly, why are you here? Anderson has never been shy about championing style over substance on occasion and Moonrise Kingdom is another film to have been flecked with idosyncracies.
Anderson’s seventh film saw him employ some of his usual techniques. While for some the pattern had become too repetitive for others the film acts as another stamp of commendation. The setting is gorgeous and the stylised views are typical of the director, the fact that there is a naive and innocent love story at the heart of the film means it rises up the ranks as one of his best.
Official Film Synopsis: “The year is 1965, and the residents of New Penzance, an island off the coast of New England, inhabit a community that seems untouched by some of the bad things going on in the rest of the world.
“Twelve-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) have fallen in love and decide to run away. But a violent storm is approaching the island, forcing a group of quirky adults (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray) to mobilize a search party and find the youths before calamity strikes.”
3. Rushmore (1998)
Rushmore acts as not only Anderson’s most determined story but also his darkest. Its protagonist is the ambitious to the point of annoying man-boy is expertly played by Jason Schwartzman and he acts as one of Anderson’s greatest characters. Certainly his most complete.
While there may be suggestions of an autobiographical tone, what Anderson does with Rushmore is attack the dangerous and darker themes of modern life head-on. Much of Anderson’s output is a pleasing and engaging trip through a beautiful post-modern gallery of sumptuous visuals. Rushmore demands your attention and insists you read the accompanying booklet.
Official Film Synopsis: “When a beautiful first-grade teacher (Olivia Williams) arrives at a prep school, she soon attracts the attention of an ambitious teenager named Max (Jason Schwartzman), who quickly falls in love with her.
“Max turns to the father (Bill Murray) of two of his schoolmates for advice on how to woo the teacher. However, the situation soon gets complicated when Max’s new friend becomes involved with her, setting the two pals against one another in a war for her attention.”
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Arguably Anderson’s most complete vision, The Grand Budapest Hotel should act as the gateway to the auteur for anybody who has neglected to catch up with this pop culture behemoth. It has all of the tropes of his previous films but backed up with some perfect performances and a heartwarming storyline. There isn’t much here to dislike.
Visually it is as perfect as Anderson has ever produced, packaged as beautifully as a cake from Mendl’s bakery—but most importantly it is rich with story and nuance. Much of that can be attributed to perhaps the best performance under Anderson from Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave.
Every single detail in this quite astoundingly detailed film has been meticulously designed and crafted. Every room key or patisseries, every raised eyebrow and perfectly symmetrical setting. All of it has been handpicked and quality checked. The real magic of The Grand Budapest Hotel is that thanks to the story you hardly pay attention to it at all, aside from being swept up by this pastel-toned cinematic great.
Official Film Synopsis: “In the 1930s, the Grand Budapest Hotel is a popular European ski resort, presided over by concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Zero, a junior lobby boy, becomes Gustave’s friend and protege. Gustave prides himself on providing first-class service to the hotel’s guests, including satisfying the sexual needs of the many elderly women who stay there.
“When one of Gustave’s lovers dies mysteriously, Gustave finds himself the recipient of a priceless painting and the chief suspect in her murder.”
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Of course, it had to be The Royal Tenenbaums. The film is the archetypal Anderson flick and has gone on to influence modern culture far more than it may take credit for. It may seem like a simple story about an eccentric family, but Anderson’s vision is so complete and so well enacted it’s no wonder that the film would mark out the director as a great of cinema.
Not many people could handle the all-star cast of Tenenbaums so early in their career but Anderson not only did so with aplomb but seemingly while doing it he made friends of them all too. When you add to this command his ability to not only produce dialogue dripping with dry wit but have the complete vision of the film already in his head before filming even begins.
As ever, the soundtrack plays a big part in the film and not only acted as a indication of Anderson’s indie hipster status but expertly framed the romance between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow, arguably Anderson’s most adult relationship.
With that we can see why The Royal Tenenbaums is so widely loved. It is the perfect combination of Anderson’s impeccable style, enchanting wit and unstoppable eye for detail. What’s more, it had a hefty dollop of substance to add to the style too.
Official Film Synopsis: “Royal Tenenbaum and his wife Etheline had three children and then they separated. All three children are extraordinary —all geniuses. Virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums was subsequently erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster. Most of this was generally considered to be their father’s fault. ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ is the story of the family’s sudden, unexpected reunion one recent winter.”