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The best Wes Anderson movies, ranked

Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson has made nine movies in his career so far. Pic credit: ©ImageCollect/Globe-Photos

Wes Anderson is one of the top independent filmmakers coming out of the last 20 years.

He is also a very polarizing director as his style is unlike any other mainstream film director, preferring to use a unique look and design that is mostly seen as vintage pop.

He uses several vintage props and surrounds it with pop-art styled visuals to make his movies look like art-house films, but with a comic sensibility that makes it accessible to mainstream audiences.

All of Anderson’s films have that humor level, usually in absurdist situations where bizarre characters face bizarre events and usually make the worst choices possible.

Add in an amazing music selection and a list of A-level actors more than willing to play in his visual playground, and Wes Anderson movies offer something for everyone.

9. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

The Darjeeling Limited
Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman in The Darjeeling Limited. Pic credit: Fox Searchlight

Wes Anderson’s worst movie is still better than many film directors’ best movies.

In his case, it is The Darjeeling Limited, which pairs up two Anderson veterans in Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman with Oscar winner Adrien Brody.

The movie just doesn’t work as well as his others, with Anderson relying on his normal tics and traits but nowhere near as brilliantly as he did in his other films. What keeps it afloat is that there is a heart in the midst of the action.

This road trip movie follows three estranged brothers as they agree to meet in India after their father dies for a “spiritual journey” on a luxury train.

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The cast of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Pic credit: Buena Vista Pictures

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is probably Wes Anderson’s strangest movie to date, and that says a lot.

Bill Murray stars as Steve Zissou, an oceanographer who sets out to get revenge against the jaguar shark that killed his old partner, Esteban.

It is pretty much Moby Dick in the strangest ways possible. There is also the Anderson trope of a bad father forced to live up to his failures, and in this case, Owen Wilson is the estranged son.

Willem Defoe is the highlight here, part of Zissou’s crew that steals every scene in which he appears.

7. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket
Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson in Wes Anderson’s debut movie Bottle Rocket. Pic credit: Sony

Bottle Rocket is the movie that made Wes Anderson a star. It is also the movie that really introduced the world to Luke and Owen Wilson.

Anderson made a short film in 1994 and he ended up using that to make this, his feature film debut.

The movie is a comedic heist flick with the Wilson brothers starting as friends who decide to start a long-term plan where they would pull off a series of heists.

The movie was not a commercial success but gained critical acclaim and launched Anderson’s career. Martin Scorsese called the movie one of the ten best made in the ’90s.

6. Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s second animated movie, Isle of Dogs. Pic credit: Fox Searchlight

Isle of Dogs was Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated film, and while it didn’t reach the level of his first, it was still notable.

The focus on this film is how groups can end up as outcasts due to political maneuverings, and this really plays into the current ideas of immigration.

When a young Japanese boy’s dog is banished to an island, he goes searching for his companion and finds an entire pack of banished dogs who help him find his friend.

The film was criticized for using white voices to portray the roles of the characters, but the cast was amazing with so many top-flight stars lending their voices to the cast.

The animation is brilliantly done and there is no comparison.

5. Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore
Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. Pic credit: Touchstone Pictures

While Bottle Rocket was the movie that brought Wes Anderson to the public eye, it was Rushmore that made him a star.

The film stars a young Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, a prep school student who feels he is owed everything and demands to be seen as the best in all areas.

Bill Murray stars as Mr. Blume, his friend who develops a romantic relationship with Max’s teacher Mrs. Cross (Olivia Williams). However, Max also has a crush on her and he declares war on Mr. Blume.

The Library of Congress added the movie to its National Film Registry in 2016.

4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Wes Anderson animated movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. Pic credit: Fox

In 2009, Wes Anderson decided to try to bring his eccentric filmmaking style to animation and what resulted was a masterpiece.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on the Roald Dahl children’s novel about a fox who steals food at night from three mean farmers. The farmers then try to get revenge, but the animals are able to outwit them every step of the way.

Anderson was able to pull in one of his top actors for this movie, with George Clooney voicing the main role, while Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, and Willem Dafoe also voiced characters.

The movie was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wes Anderson movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. Pic credit: Fox Searchlight

The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of Wes Anderson’s most complete movies, from design and acting to storytelling and music.

The film is a hilarious tale of a resort where a man (Monsieur Gustave H, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes) is framed for the murder of a wealthy widow (Tilda Swinton).

This is clearly a Wes Anderson film, but he steps out of his comfort zone and is able to create something different than what came before, which is important since it seemed he was starting to repeat himself in later movies.

The film picked up nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won four awards – one for the score and three for the design.

2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom
The Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom. Pic credit: Focus Features

Moonrise Kingdom was a 2012 Wes Anderson film that focused on scouts on an outing.

This was a coming-of-age tale that relied on the young actors to carry the load while adding in some great eccentric performances by actors Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, and Tilda Swinton.

An orphan boy (Jared Gilman) escapes his scouting group to meet his pen pal and love interest, an aggressive girl (Kara Hayward) that gets them both in trouble.

As a tale of first love, it was something new for Anderson and he knocked it out of the park.

1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)

The Royal Tenenbaums
The cast of Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums. Pic credit: Buena Vista Pictures

In 2002, Wes Anderson created his masterpiece in The Royal Tenenbaums.

This movie is a tale of a dysfunctional family, with Gene Hackman portraying the patriarch of a group of now-adult children that all have serious problems due to his parenting.

The now-grown children are all magnificent, with Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow perfectly portraying their idiosyncrasies.

Also, high marks go to Anjelica Huston as the mother, Donald Glover as her new husband, and Bill Murray as the much older and awkward new husband for Paltrow’s character.

Shawn S. Lealos has been a freelance writer for 25 years, starting with magazines and newspapers before moving to the internet. He has been published... read more
Shawn S. Lealos

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