Wes Anderson is one of the most unique filmmakers working today due to his perfectly centered shots and unusual tone that’s simultaneously funny and melancholy. He also has a great track record of films. Here’s my ranking of all 10 Wes Anderson movies!
10. Isle of Dogs
“Isle of Dogs” is the only Wes Anderson film where he lost control over the film’s tone. The movie goes from being sad to joyful to dreary to hopeful over and over again, and it’s never able to decide what it wants to be. It’s not a family-friendly film like the far superior “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but it’s not targeted toward adults either. It feels like Anderson wanted to make a PG movie, but since he put some blood and gore into it the MPAA had to give it a PG-13 rating. Besides the massive tonal issue, the film is mean-spirited and sometimes hard to watch, at least for anyone who likes dogs. The central concept here is that dogs all get a disease and are dumped onto an island where they have to fend for themselves and all they have to eat is garbage. Now, this is by no means a horrible film. The performances are terrific, the animation is breathtaking, the score is very memorable, and the dog Chief, played by Bryan Cranston, was compelling. Overall, this is a somewhat mediocre film, and I expect much better from a filmmaker as talented as Wes Anderson.
9. Bottle Rocket
“Bottle Rocket” is a feature-length version of the short film Wes Anderson and co-writer/star Owen Wilson made together in 1994, two years prior to the release of this 1996 film. I’ve only seen the feature-film, but it’s clear to me that the premise would work far better in a shorter, more constricting runtime. This film follows Anthony, a man who just got released from a mental institution and is now on the run with Dignan, his best friend who has delusional aspirations of being a criminal mastermind. The point that the film clearly wants to make is that crime, in reality, isn’t all that exciting or epic, but rather just creates divisions in people. That’s a great concept, but when you have a 90-minute movie, it ends up getting stretched out very thin in order to accommodate the runtime. The entire middle section of the film is meandering and almost pointless, consisting of a forgettable romance and not much else. No tension, no truly emotional moments, and nothing memorable at all for that matter. In the end, “Bottle Rocket” is a film with Wes Anderson’s unique sense of humor, great performances, genuine heart, and an original message. However, it doesn’t know how to justify its length and ends up forcing what should be a 45-minute story into being 90 minutes. It’s not great, it’s not terrible — it’s just average.
8 Moonrise Kingdom
The problem with “Moonrise Kingdom” is that its second and third acts are infinitely better than its first. The first 25-30 minutes of the film are generally boring; there’s very little character development, drama, or comedy. However, once the two main characters start to bond, the movie really picks up speed. For its remaining hour of runtime, “Moonrise Kingdom” transforms into a touching romantic dramedy about two dysfunctional children falling in love. The movie often feels like it was made from a child’s perspective, which must have been Anderson’s intention. Also, this is one of Wes Anderson’s most stunning movies, as the scenery of the island New Penzance is gorgeous. I enjoy most of this film, but it would have been better if Anderson cut to the meat of the story sooner.
7. The Darjeeling Limited
There isn’t much to say about “The Darjeeling Limited.” It’s a well acted, gorgeous, and heartfelt film about three brothers trying to reconnect. It follows an extremely similar premise to “The Royal Tenenbaums” and also has most of the same beats, but I can overlook that for the most part. This is a solid Wes Anderson film that’s delightfully simplistic, but it’s easily his most formulaic movie.
6. The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson went full Wes Anderson for “The French Dispatch.” The film has Anderson’s most enormous star-studded cast yet, alternates between black-and-white and color, and has multiple different aspect ratios — and that’s what makes it fun. The movie is a collection of several small stories, and they differ in quality. For example, the story about the incarcerated painter Moses Rosenthaler (played by Benicio Del Toro) is phenomenal while the story about Roebuck Wright (played by Jeffrey Wright) reporting on food is bland. Overall, this is a quality Wes Anderson film which ranked #10 in my Top 10 Movies of 2021.
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
This is certainly the saddest Wes Anderson movie and it contains Bill Murray’s best performance as the ocean explorer/documentarian Steve Zissou, who’s probably my favorite Wes Anderson character. While he has Bill Murray’s iconic wit, sarcasm, and charisma, Zissou is also an extremely flawed individual who is his own worst enemy. Despite his success, he always seems to make things worse for himself and those around him, ending in tragedy. He’s both the hero and the villain of his own story. This movie isn’t for everybody; it’s slow-moving, somewhat campy, and a little depressing — but I really enjoy it.
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
This is likely Wes Anderson’s most iconic movie, and I can see why. It’s really Anderson’s first film in which he let his unique visual style loose and had a massive cast of characters which we now have come to expect from him. In many ways, this film invented the tone, style, and formula of Wes Anderson. And for the most part, they all work well here. The film is gorgeous, the actors clearly had a ton of fun on screen, and it hits hard with the emotions. Royal Tenenbaum, played by Gene Hackman, and Richie Tenenbaum, played by Luke Wilson, were both terrific characters and the heart of the film. Unfortunately, the movie’s main issue is that it markets itself as an ensemble film although it’s most interesting when focused on those 2 characters. Royal is charismatic and easy to root for, and Richie is an extremely likable, tragic character. All the best scenes center around them, so when they’re not on screen, the film isn’t as compelling. The other characters are still decent enough (except for Chas, who lacked any personality and was poorly played by Ben Stiller), but I think the story would’ve benefited from a smaller cast.
“Rushmore” is a smartly executed film with a tight 90-minute runtime that makes great use of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. The film defies the conventional trope of a love triangle between a woman and two friends who become enemies through its unique setting, terrific performances, self-awareness, and snappy dialogue. The movie has very few flaws and is a classic for good reason, but it didn’t impact me as much as the two films higher on this list.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whereas most of his movies which are melancholy films about family and relationships with a comedic shell surrounding them, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the film where Wes Anderson completely leans into the comedy. This is easily his most hilarious film, and while this doesn’t have Anderson’s usually melancholy undertones, it still packs plenty of emotion. The quirky father-son relationship between M. Gustave and Zero is strangely endearing and relatable, and M. Gustave is simply one of Wes Anderson’s best characters. Ralph Fiennes gave his best performance since “Schindler’s List” here, somehow making a narcissistic hotel concierge who’s attracted to 80-year-old women incredibly charming and laugh-out-loud funny. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a highly rewatchable comedy full of excitement, great characters, memorable scenes, and one of the best comedic lead performances in recent memory.
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a cinematic accomplishment. The stop-motion animation is gorgeous and intricate, the method of recording the actors’ voices in real-life locations produced some of the best voice acting performances ever, and the hilarious usage of the word “cussing” to replace actual swear words (“Are you cussing with me?” is one of the funniest lines in movie history) all make this film immensely entertaining. On top of all those aspects, the film brilliantly joins the family-friendly aesthetic with adult themes, emotions, and a realistic story that has a bittersweet ending. Everyone can see themselves in Mr. Fox and Ash, two ambitious people trying to prove themselves in different ways. In just 87 minutes, Anderson made a touching, thematically rich film with terrific characters and timelessness. This is not only the greatest Wes Anderson movie — it’s the greatest animated movie ever made.