Wes Anderson’s voice in cinema is undeniable. From the opening frames, you know what awaits in one of Wes’ films – perfect geometric compositions, anthology-like storytelling, gorgeous color palettes, witty humor, dark family secrets, and killer needle drops. His acting troupe follows from film to tim, carrying the likes of Owen and Luke Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and the iconic, Bill Murray. Wes imbues a sense of melancholy in his strongest work while also, pivoting to slapstick humor that lightens the violence which always finds a way into his climactic set pieces.
From his love stories, to animated tales of robbery and adventure, this is our definitive ranking of Wes Anderson’s Films, none of which, we would not recommend.
Wes’ debut feature with his first key collaborators the Wilson brothers, who also co-wrote the script with Anderson features many of the key indicators indicative of the Wes style. There’s plenty of laughs during this crime caper where the Wilson brothers rob a book store. But also, showcases a hilarious Jimmy Caan performance where he does karate (something that would make any film better). TBottle Rocket isn’t bad by any stretch but doesn’t quite reach the heights of his others work as you can tell Anderson is still refining his voice but manages to gravitate towards the quirky nature of the Wilsons as they enter the criminal world and ultimately carry the film as their relationship evolves through the tumult of criminal life.
9Isle of Dogs
The second of Wes Anderson’s animated films, though, with a far more ambitious plot about the dangers of corporate greed, propaganda, and the importance of the press. The two themes come to a cross in Isle of Dogs when a boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) loses his dog Chief (Bryan Cranston) and must rescue him to stop the evil Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) who wishes to exterminate all dogs. Funny, shockingly violent and a tribute to Japanese cinema, Isle saw Wes happily returning to a mode of filmmaking that brings out the best of his weirdness.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Wes at his most angsty. Channeling all his existential dread, Anderson funnels it through his closest collaborator Bill Murray, as a famous Jean Cocteau type, traversing the world on aquatic misadventures. Featuring a rollicking David Bowie cover soundtrack from Brazilian singer, Seu Jorge, it’s the most memorable in terms of needle drops. Even though Life Aquatic packs a stacked ensemble and vivid color tapestry, the film is solely Bill Murray’s. As he navigates the sea, and the echoes of his life resurface upon discovering he has a son (Owen Wilson), the angst of a long life lived comes tumbling in. Although the emotional resonance isn’t quite there, it is one of Wes’ most fun.
The Darjeeling Limited is underrated in the Wes canon but is still not quite up to the heights of his best work. One of the more depressing films in his filmography also makes it one of his more emotionally resonant. Coming only a few years after Owen Wilson tried taking his own life, the duo decide to work that into the script, in a tale of 3 brothers and 3 of Wes’ favorite collaborators. Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson hit the road in this off-beat tale of brotherly love and mending wounds after their father passes. The confrontations with death and morality supersede the slapstick nature of violence usually seen in Anderson’s films, but it is taken to a new place as they travel through the heart of India looking for spiritual catharsis.
A fitting, audacious ode to a particular style of long-form journalism, shown in a series of vignettes, The French Dispatch shows Wes formally at his most free. Even though it lacks a central character, the ensemble features first-time collaborator Timothee Chalamet, who plays an anarchist prophet profiled in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, and Benicio Del Toro as a visionary painter who sits on death row. There’s plenty of Wes’ signature camera movement, gorgeous black and white cinematography sprinkled with his signature sense of melancholy tableau, French Dispatch is a fitting addition to the auteur’s filmography.
5The Grand Budapest Hotel
The underlying humanity of Wes Anderson never came through quite as it did with The Grand Budapest Hotelt. A film about the crushing blow of fascism and what it can do to a country. But also, a film about memory and storytelling neatly packages itself into the Anderson mold. As a writer (Tom Wilkinson) reflects on his life to his younger self (Jude Law) about the eccentric concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and how love is the only answer to war. It’s Wes’ most decorated Oscar film to date.
4The Royal Tenenbaums
Anderson often tells stories of dysfunctional families but none got to the emotional core of its awful patriarch quite as Gene Hackman did as Royal Tenenbaum. A distant father whose years away created psychological damage that is seen across the film through his large family. None more so than Richie (Luke Wilson) in one of Anderson’s most emotional set pieces to date, in a stunning slow-motion, blue-tinted shot where Richie attempts to take his own life. Never has Wes’ antics and sly humor come to a pause in such a disturbing way as in The Royal Tenenbaums.
When the production is scaled back, Wes strikes the perfect tone between emotion and aesthetics. The first of his films to tell the story in chapters – which would go on to become his staple – but also introduced the world to a Wes favorite, Jason Schwartzman. Rushmore is a perfect movie about a genuine, overachieving sociopath. Performed by Schwartzman to its nebbish edges of tolerability, as he befriends the lonely, bitter, and rich Herman Bult (Bill Murray). A buddy comedy of sorts but also a tragic romance, Rushmore is as perfect as a 2nd feature can be, one that showed Anderson about to reach the height of his storytelling powers.
When Wes can work in family trauma and parental dysfunction with heartfelt melancholy in the middle of a love story, his films hit a crescendo. Such is the case for Moonrise Kingdom, a wonderfully silly but dark tale of young, runaway love. Featuring a largely youthful and amateur cast, Wes gets winning and layered performances from his two romantic leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. The two throw the whole island into a frenzy – including a hilarious riff on Bruce Willis’ typical hardened cop roles (his only Wes performance), and instead, Willis plays a lonely loser hoping to return the kids to their parents and bring the island madness to a halt.
1The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Stop-motion animation is the perfect vessel for Wes Anderson. All of his films are full of beautifully geometric compositions and vivid color palettes, but none of his films got the same treatment as The Fantastic Mr. Fox with Anderson in full control of the sets and character movements, it became a perfect evocation of Roald Dahl’s world. But also, a way to use George Clooney – who has a history with caper films – as Mr. Fox, to animate and conduct some of his most creative heist sequences yet. Filled with heart, stirring emotions, and Wes’ wacky sense of humor, Fantastic is a masterpiece of style and substance.