What is Wes Anderson's best movie? It's a very, very hard question to answer.
We often read about a director’s vision and how they put their own individual style and palette on everything they make, but, truthfully, even some of the world’s most-acclaimed directors are real chameleons. Show a cinematic newcomer The Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas, and it’s unlikely they’d come to the conclusion that they were made by the same person. The big personalities of cinema have done it all, crossing genres, going up and down in terms of budget, with only the most ardent cinephiles being able to connect the dots.
However, show anybody a Wes Anderson film, and they will immediately be able to identify his other work. There is no filmmaker working now with a more defined aesthetic in terms of look, style and casting choices, so much so that an entire book has been dedicated to real-life scenes that look precisely like stills from his movies.
Anderson’s world is one of precise symmetry, with every setting looking so immaculate it could be a dollhouse. Press pause on any of his films and you’ll find a still you could frame. His attention to detail and eye for beautiful vintage costumes and quirky soundtracks is quite something.
The director is working on his new movie right now, which is titled Asteroid City. Nobody knows what it’s about, save for some of the sets looking a bit like a Western, but the cast is gigantic. As well as Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman, Margot Robbie, Tom Hanks, Stranger Things star Maya Hawke and Bryan Cranston are all onboard. As with everything Anderson does, it’ll be charming, cutesy and stylish, and we can’t wait to see it.
Until then, we thought we’d look back through the director’s past work and rank, from worst to best, all of his movies. So here goes…
10. The Darjeeling Limited
In Anderson's back catalog, The Darjeeling Limited is a real one-off.
A three-hander starring Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody, the movie follows the three Whitman brothers, who take a journey across India together, exactly a year after their father’s funeral. It’s talky, slow and still quite moving, but it doesn’t have the same zip and spark as Anderson’s best work.
9. Bottle Rocket
Wes Anderson made his feature film debut in 1996, turning his 1994 short movie Bottle Rocket into a full-length effort, which he co-wrote with Owen Wilson.
Made for $5 million, the movie actually marks the acting debut for both Owen and Luke Wilson, who co-starred with Robert Musgrave, their older brother Andrew, Lumi Cavazos and James Caan.
The movie is a quirky crime caper where three blundering friends, one of whom has just been released from a psychiatric hospital, decide to plan a robbery, one that unravels rather spectacularly…
It's shonky, but not without charm and hints at what Anderson would quickly become.
8. Isle Of Dogs
The second of Anderson's stop-motion animation adventures, Isle Of Dogs is a gentle, if overlong entry in the director's back catalog.
With a cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton, the movie is a loving, eccentric family adventure.
In Isle Of Dogs, we find ourselves in a dystopian future Japan in which dogs have been quarantined on the remote eponymous island due to a "canine flu".
We follow five local dogs named Chief, Rex, Boss, Duke, and King. They are fed up with their isolated existence until a boy named Atari Kobayashi ventures to the island to search for his dog, Spots. Together, the group sets out to find him...
7. The French Dispatch
Eventually released in 2021 after a long Covid-19-induced delay, The French Dispatch is Anderson turned up to 11.
Consisting of a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city, the movie has a giant cast, a flair that's totally Anderson's and so much style.
It has a manic, slightly madcap feel, darting between stories and moments in history, but that lack of coherence is why it's down at number seven.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
A divisive movie among Anderson fans, some love it and would have it at the top of this list, others would have it at the bottom. We've gone for somewhere in the middle.
Bill Murray stars as Steve Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer who sets out to exact revenge on the jaguar shark that ate his partner Esteban. For this particularly personal mission, Zissou brings together a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son. Naturally, things get uncomfortable, and philosophical.
This is another movie that missed the mark at the box office, but struck a chord with many Anderson devotees, and is well worth a revisit.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anderson's take on Roald Dahl's beloved children's story was a box office failure, but a fine take on a classic tale.
Made in stop-motion, the movie's voice cast includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson. It tells the story of Mr Fox, a skilled thief living underground near three rather mean farmers (named Boggis, Bunce and Bean) whose plots he decides to raid.
But, when the trio discover what he's been up to and plot revenge, Mr. Fox will need all his wits to save his family from farmers' schemes.
Whether it's a film for children is debatable, but Fantastic Mr. Fox is a skilful, sophisticated and very funny take on Dahl's story.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson's most successful movie, taking over $170 million at the box office and scooping four Oscars, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a handcrafted crime caper.
Uniting a big ensemble cast that includes Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Willem Dafoe, the movie documents the travails of Fiennes' Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel who, along with his trainee lobby boy Zero, finds himself on the run from some of the most dangerous men in Europe.
Huge fun, well-plotted and beautifully choreographed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great adventure.
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
Anderson's most-acclaimed movie, The Royal Tenenbaums remains a riveting, if sometimes uncomfortable watch.
An eccentric, dysfunctional family, we meet each of the three Tenenbaum children in adulthood. In their youth, each one was a child prodigy: one a tennis player, one a playwright and the other a maths genius, but each is now in a bit of a slump. Still hurting from their father’s decision to walk out on them in their adolescence, they are forced to reunite with him after he informs them that he is terminally ill. Needless to say, things don’t exactly go smoothly…
Anderson's ode to J.D. Salinger, the movie is a clever dramedy, led by a pitch-perfect cast with Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover and Bill Murray all on great form.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
Most other lists of this kind would have Moonrise Kingdom somewhere in the middle, but, for us, it's Anderson's second-best movie.
Moonrise Kingdom follows Sam Shakusky, an orphan boy who escapes from a scouting camp on the fictional island of New Penzance to try and find his pen pal, whom he hopes to woo.
After leaving, Master Ward, the overzealous scout leader, tells Sam's fellow scouts to use their skills to set up a search party and track him down.
Led by newcomers Kara Howard and Jared Gilman, who play Bishop and Shakusky, the film also has a killer supporting cast of Anderson's favourites, including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman.
Rushmore is the perfect Wes Anderson movie and shows the director's ability to make a script that's funny, poetic and whimsical, but has real bite.
Written with Owen Wilson, Rushmore tells the story of Jason Schwartzman's Max Fisher, an eccentric teenager at a private school who's made himself king of extracurricular activities, but is struggling with his studies.
Suddenly, his life is turned upside down when he begins to form a friendship with Bill Murray's Herman Blume, an embittered, cynical industrialist, and Olivia Williams' Miss Cross, an English teacher who has just joined the school.
A coming-of-age drama like no other, Rushmore combines Anderson's love of eccentricity with his ability to tell a story with heart, soul and profundity.
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Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…