It’s easy to get sucked into the magical, perfectly symmetrical world of Wes Anderson. From the memorable, moving soundtracks to the perfectly whimsical costuming in his films, each detail and every shot is thoughtfully considered and deeply delightful. Whether it’s through the painstaking claymation of Fantastic Mr. Fox or the perfect bows of the pink Mendl’s Patisserie boxes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s filmmaking is always meticulous, always quirky, and always fun. And with a band of frequent-to-return seasoned actors (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Frances McDormand, included), Anderson’s films rarely miss.
With The French Dispatch finally out in the world on October 22 after months and months of Pandemic-induced delays, here’s an updated ranking of Anderson’s small but mighty filmography.
10. The French Dispatch (2021)
When we talk about why we enjoy Wes Anderson’s kooky films, we talk about the gorgeous color palettes, the thoughtful shots, the idiosyncratic characters, the perfect comedic timing, the chemistry between his crop of actors, the list goes on. His latest, The French Dispatch has all that. Which leads us to believe that all those reasons aren’t really why we like Anderson’s films after all. As it turns out, we like them for their delightful, gripping stories—the one thing that The French Dispatch is lacking. The magazine-style anthology format perhaps proves that Anderson can get just about any beloved actor to lend themself to even the smallest of roles, but does not a cohesive, engaging movie make.
9. Bottle Rocket (1996)
There’s something to be said about an auteur’s first film. Although this heist movie is the least stylistically like Anderson of any of his forthcoming movies, it’s a stunning debut—one with hints of the director he was to become.
8. Isle of Dogs (2018)
With his second animated feature, Anderson expands his scope with his own original screenplay about a young hero trying to find his exiled dog on an island outside of Megasaki City. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is much more than an animated children’s film. In fact, children might struggle with the dark tones and complex storytelling. But, kids—and everyone else—should see a movie that asks the essential question: “Who are we and who do we want to be?” Themes of crooked government and a tyrannical ruler obsessed with deportation feel prescient, plus there’s probably the best animated depictions of both kidney surgery and sushi preparation ever put on film.
7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
A truly hilarious movie about three estranged brothers who reunite after their father’s death for a train trip across India. Not Anderson’s most well-known, but delightful and heartfelt nonetheless.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
The Life Aquatic was a flop at the box office, but the film about an aging Jacque Cousteau-like figure played by Bill Murray has garnered a cult following in the years since its release (and inspired a decade of hipster squad Halloween costumes). The colorful comedy follows Team Zissou as they hunt for the “jaguar shark” that ate Zissou’s former partner Esteban.
5. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
There’s perhaps no stronger emotion than a pre-teen crush, and Moonrise Kingdom sets out to show that—playfully, but not mockingly. Anderson fully leans into his visual style in this film, where two pen-pal tweens run away together to live in the wilderness on a New England island to the dismay of their adult guardians. (Which include Edward Norton as a boy scout leader!) Sweet, artful, and endearing, Moonrise Kingdom is another one that’s inspired countless Halloween costumes over the years.
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
A truly fantastic film. Often considered an outlier because it was his first animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, based off the children’s book by Roald Dahl, deserves to be ranked among his classics. The stop-motion technique is the perfect format for Anderson’s dollhouse style, and one you can even show your kids to force good taste on them at an early age. No shame in having an animated family of foxes make you all emotional. Those farmers are mean!
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This movie about a wealthy patriarch who finds himself hopelessly broke and alone after a lifetime of failures and neglect seems even more prescient today. When it came out in 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums—which follows the Tenenbaum family and the people who orbit around them in a shabby yet magical version of New York City—put Anderson on the map. This marked the moment where he went from quirky, relatively unknown director to an auteur who would inspire a generation of filmmakers.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel marked Anderson’s first nomination for Best Director and Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and for good reason. The gorgeous, hilarious film about the misadventures of a hotel concierge and his young protege in a fictional European country between the World Wars is a masterclass in world building, in costume design, in soundtracking, and in cinematography.
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1. Rushmore (1998)
Anderson’s second film chronicles the coming of age of a sensitive and obsessive savant in the form of Max Fischer. It also marks the coming of age of Wes Anderson. Visually, Rushmore defined the tools he would hone over the next two decades, including his gift of crafting soundtracks. With Rushmore, Anderson compiled a genius playlist from the ’60s British invasion, and also introduced his muse Bill Murray. Rushmore is the movie where Wes Anderson became Wes Anderson.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
Matt Miller is a Brooklyn-based culture/lifestyle writer and music critic whose work has appeared in Esquire, Forbes, The Denver Post, and documentaries.
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