Wes Anderson is the singularly talented filmmaker who has quickly gone from indie darling to Oscar favorite in just a little over two decades, creating a number of quirky, visually splendid classics. Let’s take a look back at all 10 of Anderson’s films, ranked worst to best.
Anderson made his directorial debut with “Bottle Rocket” (1996), released when he was just 27-years-old. He received his first Oscar nomination five years later: Best Original Screenplay for “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001). He followed that eight years later with a Best Animated Feature bid for the stop-motion film “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009). Another Best Original Screenplay nomination followed for “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012). Then he hit the Oscar jackpot with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominations for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) — well, almost hit the jackpot, since he went home empty-handed from those awards, losing all three to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “Birdman.” He returned to the animated feature race four years later with another stop-motion feature, “Isle of Dogs” (2018).
The most recent film was “The French Dispatch,” released in 2021. It featured an all-star cast including frequent collaborators Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Saoirse Ronan, Liev Schreiber, Mathieu Amalric and Toni Revolori, plus Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Stephen Park, Lyna Khoudri, Elisabeth Moss, Lois Smith, Christoph Waltz, Cecile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Rupert Friend, Henry Winkler and Hippolyte Girardot.
Take a look through our gallery of Anderson’s 10 films, and see if your favorite tops the list.
10. THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman. Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Irrfan Khan, Barbet Schroeder, Camilla Rutherford, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Natalie Portman.
With “The Darjeeling Limited,” Anderson brings his unique vision to the singular location of India. The film centers on three distant brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman) who travel through the country by train a year after their father’s funeral. Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman beautifully captures the exotic local, while production designer Mark Friedberg creates the kind of lavish locomotive one can only hope to board one day. The story, meanwhile, meanders from one scene to the next, relying on the charm of its actors to carry it along. “Darjeeling” is a minor work, but it’s also warm, quirky, and moving, and features one of Bill Murray’s best cameo appearances.
9. THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2021)
Split into three sections, this 2021 release featured an all-star cast including frequent collaborators Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Saoirse Ronan, Liev Schreiber, Mathieu Amalric and Toni Revolori, plus Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Lea Seydoux, Stephen Park, Lyna Khoudri, Elisabeth Moss, Lois Smith, Christoph Waltz, Cecile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Rupert Friend, Henry Winkler and Hippolyte Girardot.
8. ISLE OF DOGS (2018)
Written by Wes Anderson; story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura. Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood.
Anderson’s return to the world of stop motion animation is a loving ode to man’s best friend. In the not-too-distant future, Japan has quarantined dogs following an incurable strain of canine flu. A group of pups – Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – encounters a stranded boy (Koyu Rankin) who has traveled to the Isle of Dogs in search of his banished four-legged companion, Spots (Liev Schreiber). A sort of Akira Kurosawa homage produced by Rankin/Bass, the film is another sterling example of Anderson taking us to a cinematic world we’ve never seen before.
7. THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)
Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort, Seymour Cassel.
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is one of Anderson’s best looking movies, and one of his most aimless. Bill Murray stars as Steve Zissou, an oceanographer who rallies his crew to take revenge on the mythical shark who killed his partner (Seymour Cassel). (Think Jacques Cousteau as a stoner and you’ll get the idea.) Onboard are his estranged son (Owen Wilson), a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), and a touchy German seaman (Willem Dafoe), to name a few. As with all his films, Anderson creates a visually stunning world that’s a feast for the eyes, including a rustic ship with a cutaway front wall so we can see the characters traveling from one room to the next. Yet “The Life Aquatic” feels adrift, as if it’s content to simply go with the flow instead of charting a narrative course. Still, there are worse films to be lost at sea with than this idiosyncratic adventure.
6. BOTTLE ROCKET (1996)
Written by Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson. Starring Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan.
Anderson burst onto the scene at the ripe young age of 27 with this whimsical tale of small time crooks. Three lifelong friends – Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave) – stage a ludicrously complicated bookstore robbery and go on the lam. While hiding out in a budget motel, Anthony falls in love with a maid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos) and Dignan falls in with a local thief named Mr. Henry (James Caan). Like any first movie, “Bottle Rocket” is rough around the edges, yet Anderson’s trademark visual flair, flashes of wit, and killer taste in music are all present. Part of its charm comes from Owen Wilson’s performance as Dignan, the kind of lovable goofball with big dreams and wild schemes that would become a classic Anderson protagonist.
5. FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009)
Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson.
It’s not surprising that Anderson’s meticulous and colorful visual style would be a good fit for animation. With Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” he not only finds the perfect vehicle to test the waters, but creates an outstanding entry in the medium. George Clooney stars as the witty, wily, and well-dressed Mr. Fox, a chicken thief turned family man battling against three nasty farmers. Anderson uses the age-old process of stop motion to bring these cartoon characters and their world to life, aided by an all-star cast of voice actors (including Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox and Jason Schwartzman as their son Ash). The film reaped Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Score, both of which it lost to “Up.”
4. MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban.
Despite his ironic detachment and satirical wit, Anderson is a sentimentalist at heart, and that soft spot has never been so poetically expressed than in “Moonrise Kingdom.” Two twelve-year-old lovers (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) decide to run away together, which proves difficult since they live on an island in New England. Meanwhile, the adults try to track them down before a violent hurricane hits. “Moonrise Kingdom” is that rare film that captures the magic of childhood without being cloying or cutesy. Instead, Anderson views the pains of burgeoning adolescence through his trademark sardonic lens sprinkled with just the right amount of nostalgic whimsy. Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola competed at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, losing to Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”).
3. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
Written by Wes Anderson; story by Anderson and Hugo Guinness. Starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori.
If there’s one thing Anderson is known for, it’s creating visually stunning, candy-colored worlds, and perhaps none is more sumptuous than the one crafted in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Set in 1932, the story centers on Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a grand European hotel who must team up with his staff to clear his name after he’s accused of murder. Despite its glossy veneer and drawing room comedy antics, there’s a sadness at the center of the movie, a rueful nostalgia for a bygone era of elegance and charm. Anderson hit the Oscar jackpot with “Budapest,” scoring nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Despite picking up prizes for its production design, costumes, score, and makeup, Anderson lost all three of his bids to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Birdman”).
2. RUSHMORE (1998)
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble.
There’s probably no more Wes Anderson-y character than Max Fischer (Jason Schwatzman), a precocious, ambitious teenager at an exclusive prep-school who excels at extracurricular activities but is slack with his actual school work. He seeks the attentions of a wealthy steel tycoon (Bill Murray) and falls in love with a first-grade teacher (Olivia Williams), only to wage war against the tycoon once he begins pursuing the teacher himself. Filled to the brim with quirky little touches (Max’s theater company, The Max Fischer Players, stages adaptations of such films as “Serpico”), “Rushmore” is screwball comedy tinged with a cynical edge. I.E.: it’s classic Wes Anderson.
1. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Starring Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson.
The world of Wes Anderson is a delicate balancing act between the absurd and the profound, filled with moments of high comedy and harsh emotional truths, all viewed through a meticulous and precise visual lens. In “The Royal Tenenbaums,” his eccentricities, peculiarities, and fastidiousness come together to tell a hilarious and surprisingly moving story of a dysfunctional upper-class family. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised a family of prodigies – real estate tycoon Chas (Ben Stiller), playwright Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and tennis pro Richie (Luke Wilson) – who grew into damaged adults. Anderson treats each of his colorful characters with tenderness and empathy, exploring the sadness that comes from failing to live up to your potential. And the Tenenbaum home, designed by David Wasco, is one of Anderson’s most magnificent creations. The director and Owen Wilson (who costars as childhood friend Eli Cash) reaped an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, losing to Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”).