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Ranking the films of Wes Anderson

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Ranking the Films of Wes Anderson 

Every Wes Anderson Movie Ranked

With Asteroid City now in theaters, looking back at the career of the talked-about auteur 

Some love Wes Anderson, and others hate him. For nearly 30 years, his work has set off arguments among cinephiles, over whether his dollhouse aesthetic is repetitive, and whether it overwhelms the human elements of his film. I say no on both; the films are each unique in their own way, and Anderson has always been great at directing actors, whether they’re new faces or A-listers. 

A ranking of Anderson’s films; note that even his eighth and ninth-best movies would be first or second in the filmographies of most of his peers. 

Isle of Dogs

11. Isle of Dogs 

Anderson’s Japan-set animated film from 2018 isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s at something of a remove in a way that Anderson’s better work is not. I don’t quite buy the “cultural appropriation” charges leveled at this one, but then again, I never really found an animated version of Japan as the best fit for Anderson’s style. 

The Darjeeling Limited 
The Darjeeling Limited 

10. The Darjeeling Limited 

In 2007, six years after The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson made another movie about three siblings, this time played by Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody. This time, the three of them are on a tour of India, a year after the death of their father. It has its moments and a very different color palette for Anderson, but I always saw Darjeeling as a step down from what Anderson had done previously. 

The Fantastic Mr. Fox 
The Fantastic Mr. Fox 

9. The Fantastic Mr. Fox 

Anderson’s first animated film, and also his only literary adaptation, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox was a delightful adventure that expertly brought Anderson’s sensibility into an animated realm. The cast is led by a couple of A-listers — George Clooney and Meryl Streep — in their lone Anderson roles, although both proved a strong fit, a long list of Anderson regulars supported them. 

The French Dispatch 
The French Dispatch 

8. The French Dispatch 

Released in 2021, The French Dispatch was Anderson’s homage to The New Yorker of the 1960s, featuring a series of vignettes. They’re full of great ideas, but they don’t cohere together, and I would have loved to see more of the newsroom characters (Bill Murray, Elizabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Griffin Dunne, and Fisher Stevens.) Such is the strength of Anderson’s filmography that its 8th-best film was my 10th favorite of 2021. 

Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
Bottle Rocket 

7. Bottle Rocket 

Anderson’s feature debut, from 1996, had a much more conventional style than the films he would make for the rest of his career, but the human interplay is just as strong. The film stars brothers and Anderson regulars Owen and Luke Wilson as a couple of friends who become small-time criminals, with disastrous results. James Caan shines in a small role, as does the third Wilson brother (Andrew) as a character inexplicably known as “Futureman.”

Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
The Grand Budapest Hotel 

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel 

This live-action drama from 2014, featuring probably Anderson’s largest cast, is an impressive feat of world-building, especially involving the hotel concierge brotherhood known as the Society of the Crossed Keys. The film brings Anderson’s sensibility to the Eastern Europe of the early 1930s, featuring a memorable lead performance from Ralph Fiennes as concierge Monsieur Gustave H.

Asteroid City - Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
Asteroid City 

5. Asteroid City 

Anderson’s latest film, in theaters now, brings Anderson’s style to the American West in the 1950s, and it’s as perfect a marriage of the filmmaker’s aesthetic with a time period as we’ve seen yet. The film stars Jason Schwartzman as another Anderson sad widower, this time confirmed by his father-in-law (Tom Hanks, in his debut for the director.) There are plenty of aliens and jetpacks, as well as a Playhouse 90-style framing device, with the likes of Bryan Cranson and Adrien Brody.

Moonrise Kingdom - Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom

4. Moonrise Kingdom 

Anderson’s 2012 film, set in the mid-1960s, is full of fantastic ideas, from a Boy Scout troupe that operates with military precision to the Bud Cort-led US Department of Inclement Weather, to the way the relationships between the adults contrast with those of the kids. And it’s that youthful romance between Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), the sweetest of any Anderson movie, that really makes the movie go. 

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

3. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou 

The director’s homage to the work of Jacques Cousteau was a disappointment to some when it first arrived in 2004, but I think I’ve liked it 5 percent more every time I’ve watched it since- and I’ve watched it many times. The film stars Bill Murray as the titular oceanographer, who sets off to “find the shark who ate my friend and destroy it,” but then starts to grow once he meets the man (Owen Wilson) who may be his son. The film ends with the best use of David Bowie’s music in cinema history. 

Rushmore  - Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
Rushmore 

2. Rushmore 

This 1998 film (which opened in wide release in February of 1999) was the one that really inaugurated Anderson’s familiar style. The film starred Murray and Schwartzman, who would both become Anderson regulars, as two sometime students of the posh Rushmore Academy — Murray, a wealthy alum who’s a self-loathing alcoholic, and Schwartzman, a student who’s in every extracurricular despite not being a great student— who both fall for the same woman (teacher Olivia Williams.) Equal parts witty, sweet, and funny, with an amazing British Invasion soundtrack. 

The Royal Tenenbaums - Ranking the films of Wes Anderson
The Royal Tenenbaums

1. The Royal Tenenbaums 

Anderson’s masterpiece, released in late 2001, concerned the Tenenbaum family, consisting of three siblings (Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow) who all gained massive success as children but have flamed out as adults. Mostly responsible is their dad, Royal (Gene Hackman), one of the movies’ all-time great asshole dads, who somehow gets an earned redemption. And the “Sparkplug Minuet” scene remains the best thing Anderson has ever directed: 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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