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Ranking all of Wes Anderson's films by their soundtracks

“I always want to use music to tell the story and give the movie a certain kind of mood. That’s always essential to me.” – Wes Anderson

In the eclectic world of Wes Anderson, cinema and music are intricately linked, used to propel his stories forward and extract the charming essence from the film’s core.

Centrally framed and fueled by a blatant artificial quaintness, the films of Wes Anderon tell frequently endearing stories, fueled by a creative visual identity and a fondness for quirky humour. The music of Wes Anderson serves to feed into this self-composed image, encouraging a chugging narrative whilst managing to accentuate a certain truth to each scene it’s present in. 

“Some of the ideas are kind of inspired by the songs, and I always want to use music to tell the story and give the movie a certain kind of mood,” Anderson once commented. “That’s always essential to me,” he added.

As The French Dispatch, Anderson’s latest love letter to the past, approaches cinema’s after a lengthy delay we take a look back at the auteurs previous scores and determine the very best…

Ranking all of Wes Anderson’s films by their soundtracks:

9. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Wes Anderson’s very first feature film following a short film of the same name three years prior, Bottle Rocket was the director’s earliest attempt to establish a unique style of filmmaking. 

Certainly capturing his idiosyncratic sense of humour and stunning photography style, Bottle Rocket was no doubt Anderson’s first dance, as he would go on to learn much from his later career. Following three plans who plan to pull off a robbery, then go on the run, it remains an endearing watch about the enduring value of friendship highlighted when Owen Wilson’s Dignan goes back for ‘Applejack’ and no man gets left behind.

Best Song: The Rolling Stones – ‘2000 Man’.

8. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Venturing worldwide as Anderson finds much enjoyment doing, The Darjeeling Limited takes the director’s colourful style to India, following the story of three brothers trying to reconnect with each other following the death of their father. 

A charming film elevated by the performances of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, The Darjeeling Limited adds to the directors continuing filmography that concerns itself with stories of troubled families and rekindled relationships. Capturing a strange nostalgia for the spirit of travelling, as well as those that we leave behind in our wake, one particular moment in which Brody’s character jumps aboard a moving train is our personal favourite.

Best Song: The Kinks – ‘This Time Tomorrow’.

7. Isle of Dogs (2018)

In Anderson’s second animated adventure, Isle of Dogs, a boy travels to a Japanese island of abandoned dogs in search of his own lost pet, unravelling a government conspiracy in the process. 

Successfully pulling you into the fictitious world of Megasaki, Alexandre Desplat’s playful soundtrack uses Asain-inspired symphonies and war-like beats to heighten the imminent danger the protagonist finds himself in. This is well contrasted with moments of downtime, particularly when the young boy, Atari, and his newfound feline friends, travel across the island to find his lost dog. Coupled with staggeringly beautiful animation from Anderson and the work of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, it makes for the film’s greatest scene.

Best Song: The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – ‘I Won’t Hurt You’.

6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

“I wonder if it remembers me”

Disliked upon its initial release, Anderson’s fourth feature film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has since claimed a lively cult following with the iconic red beanie donned by the main cast becoming a mark of cultural status among an eclectic youth.

The perhaps overly comprehensive story follows an Oceanographer, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) who plans to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, rallying a peculiar crew to help him do his bidding. Though a little messy, The Life Aquatic is delightfully adorable, particularly when the beautiful beast is found underwater and the team comfort a broken Steve Zissou.

Best Song: Sigur Ros – ‘Staralfur’.

5. Rushmore (1998)

One of Wes Anderson’s most accomplished films followed his filmmaking debut, tracking the activity of an enthusiastic student put on academic probation to seek a life outside of school in 1998’s Rushmore.

In what should be a sincerely irritating role, Jason Schwartzman as the lead character Max Fischer is instead totally loveable as the absorbing lead character, bouncing off his mentor Herman Blume, played by the consistently delightful Bill Murray.

It all culminates in a magical final scene well summated by fellow filmmaking royalty Martin Scorsese: “Anderson has a fine sense of how music works against an image. There’s the beautiful ending of Rushmore, when Miss Cross removes Max Fischer’s glasses and gazes into the boy’s eyes—really the eyes of her dead husband—as the Faces’ “Ooh La La” plays on the soundtrack.”

Best Song: The Faces – ‘Ooh La La’.

4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The third film of his illustrious career was the first to boast the kind of famed ensemble casts that he would later be famous for, starring Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston among many others. 

Following in the trend of Anderson’s narrative interests, the film follows an eccentric family and its many members who all reunite under different circumstances. It’s one of the director’s most eclectic and sprawling films that lovingly recounts the story of a loving if broken family. In one heart-wrenching scene, son and brother Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) sees her sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) after much time apart, and the two embrace to the yearning tones of Nico’s ‘These Days’.

Best Song: Nico – ‘These Days’.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

There isn’t exactly a bevvy of fantastic Roald Dahl adaptations, but Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is certainly one of the very best, perhaps even the directors finest work altogether. 

Smart, sophisticated and wonderfully traditional, Wes Anderson’s tale perfectly captures the warm magic of the original Roald Dahl novel whilst adding the director’s own quirky garnish. For the amalgamation of original music from Alexandre Desplat, and the perfectly selected songs from The Mellomen and The Beach Boys, the film’s opening scene is a masterpiece of filmmaking. 

Best Song: Alexandre Desplat – ‘Mr.Fox in the Fields’.

2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

In Anderson’s ode to the playful DIY nature of the American boy scouts, he tells the story of a pair of lovers who flee their New England town for the wilderness, causing a local search party to pursue. 

A loving tale richly brought to life by a tight script and two terrific lead performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom is among the directors greatest films, perfectly amalgamating comedy and romance to create a vivid portrayal of young love. This love story is accentuated by long-time collaborator Alexandre Desplat’s terrific score, as well as a diegetic focus on the work of Benjamin Britten played throughout the film. The film’s sweet conclusion uses Britten’s ‘Friday Afternoon’ to melodically cherry-top the young couple’s relationship.

Best Song: Benjamin Britten – ‘Friday Afternoons (Cuckoo)’

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!”

Though many of the films on this list have original scores, they are each a jigsaw made up of pop compilations too, this is not the case for The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, which features an entirely original score from Alexandre Desplat.

The only Wes Anderson film of which Desplat has won an Academy Award, the directors latest film follows the lobby boy of an illustrious hotel perched atop a mountain and his own wild encounters with the concierge. Featuring a spellbinding performance from Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whacky story of murder, theft and espionage heightened by a mysterious European-inspired musical score from Desplat. The jumping staccato strings of the track ‘Moonshine’ illustrates the fierce sense of fun that fuels Anderson’s film.

Best Song: Alexandre Desplat – ‘Moonshine’.