With the recent release of American filmmaker Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, I thought it fitting to rank all ten (yes, ten!) of Anderson’s feature-length films that have spanned his almost three-decades-long career.
#10: Bottle Rocket (1996)
Anderson’s debut feature, Bottle Rocket, follows Anthony (Luke Wilson) who—upon his release from a mental hospital—joins his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) to go on an unspecified crime spree headed by the supposedly legendary Mr. Henry (James Caan).
Despite its intriguing premise and 90-minute runtime, the film proves slow-paced and messy, an understandable product of this being Anderson’s first dive into feature-length filmmaking. While the characters are quirky and the schemes are hair-brained, the film lacks the heart (and color) of Anderson’s later, more iconic works.
If you’re a completionist and have an affinity for the Wilson brothers (and can, somehow, tell them apart), I recommend you check out this early work of Anderson’s!
#9: Rushmore (1998)
Anderson’s sophomore feature, Rushmore, follows an ambitious teenager Max (Jason Schwartzman), who quickly falls head-over-heels in love with a new first-grade teacher at his prep school (Olivia Williams) and must compete for her attention when his friend Herman (Bill Murray) becomes romantically involved with her.
The hilarity of a 15-year-old teenager and a 50-year-old man trying to one-up and sabotage one another in an effort to woo a woman they both just met for 90 minutes straight cannot be denied. However, due to both this film’s lack of identity (Anderson is clearly still in his early filmmaking years) as well as Ms. Rosemary Cross’s lack of identity (outside her romantic pursuits, of course), Rushmore lacks staying power in the face of Anderson’s later, more impactful works.
Whether you’re a fan of this premise or are curious to witness Jason Schwartzman’s acting debut, you might (or might not) enjoy Rushmore!
#8: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited follows three American brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who set off on a train voyage across India to find themselves and bond with one another, a trip that rapidly devolves into a “spiritual quest” gone awry.
This simple premise and promise for brotherly bonds and wack-ass shenanigans made this one of my most anticipated Wes Anderson watches. However, while I enjoyed the set design, cinematography, and quirky performances, its slower moments and an ending that ultimately fell flat left me wanting a lot more.
Even though I eventually plan on re-watching this film (albeit, with my expectations sufficiently lowered), I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re into three hot white dudes taking a “spiritual quest” across India (a plot that, upon retrospect, is more than a little culturally insensitive, but I digress).
#7: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Anderson’s longest-titled film to date, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows renowned oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), who joins Ned (Owen Wilson), a man who believes himself to be Zissou’s son, and Jane (Cate Blanchett), a woman pregnant by a married man to travel the sea in an effort to smite the rare shark that devoured a beloved member of his crew.
This proves to be Anderson’s most ambitious film, with a wide cast of characters and various backdrops that packs this two-hour feature with as many character studies and heart-to-hearts as possible for a movie about killing a shark for revenge. While this was certainly a whirlwind of a film with, once again, top-notch performances, the sheer amount of characters, B-plots, and side-quests caused this story to become messy, tangled, and more than a little hard to follow.
Even though I would certainly recommend The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to anyone hungry for one of Wes Anderson’s quirky adventure stories, I can’t say it’s my favorite among his catalog of eccentric dramas.
#6: Isle of Dogs (2018)
Wes Anderson’s most recent animated film to date is set in the future when an outbreak of canine flu leads the mayor of a Japanese city (Kunichi Nomura) to banish all dogs to a garbage dump island. The mayor’s nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin) sets out on a journey to Trash Island to find his missing dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), with the help of a pack of stray dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston).
This film has everything from the gorgeous animation style to the heartfelt boy-dog relationships to the wacky voice-acting performances! While this certainly represents a grimier, darker side to Anderson with questionable portrayals of Japanese culture, I still had a blast watching this film and would recommend it for fans of Anderson’s more colorful works.
#5: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Heading into my top five Anderson favorites, The Royal Tenenbaums follows the Tenenbaums, a family of geniuses-turned-failures after the separation of their father, Royal (Gene Hackman), and their mother, Etheline (Anjelica Huston).
Filled to the brim with color, heart, and star-studded performances, this movie is everything Wes Anderson and so much more. My initial review of this film way back in March of last year (late to the party as always) was, “The gifted child to mentally ill maladjusted adult pipeline is strong in this one,” and I think that about sums up why I love this film so much (‘cause who can’t relate?)
This film discusses themes of family, societal expectations, and death with such raw honesty, yet still remains wildly entertaining and timeless. It's truly a classic Wes Anderson favorite that can be watched again and again!
#4: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom follows two twelve-year-olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who fall in love and run away together into the wilderness, where they are hunted down by the local authorities, all the while a violent storm brews in the distance.
This film is an ode to young love wrapped in a summer camp aesthetic—everything from the outstanding performances to the honest, yet gentle portrayal of childhood to the g*ddamn lightning that strikes at the end of the film (spoilers, but not really) has heart poured into it. I want to watch this film every stormy summer night, and I implore you to do so as well. Moonrise Kingdom is easily the brightest of Wes Anderson’s filmography.
#3: The French Dispatch (2021)
The newest film in this list, The French Dispatch, follows the staff of a European publication as they publish a memorial edition that highlights the three best stories from the last decade: an artist sentenced to life imprisonment (Benicio del Toro), a riot started by a young student (Timothée Chalamet), and a kidnapping resolved by a chef (Stephen Park).
While many wrote this film off as “too Wes Anderson” for the filmmaker’s own good, others (including myself) praise The French Dispatch for its tight, compelling storytelling that takes all of the best parts of Anderson’s filmography and crafts one hell of a narrative. Despite its insane number of characters and plots, the viewer never feels lost as each story is contained within its own section of the film, allowing each tale to thrive separately.
In my opinion, this film does the opposite of what many write it off as doing and focuses the story over the visuals, the substance over the style, making it Anderson’s most mature and self-aware film to date. If you were hesitant to check it out due to its lukewarm reviews the past year or two, I highly recommend you give it a watch before Asteroid City. You’re guaranteed to have a grand ‘ol time!
#2: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Arguably Wes Anderson’s most iconic film, The Grand Budapest Hotel follows legendary European hotel concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his friendship with a young employee Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), as they attempt to recover a stolen priceless Renaissance painting in the years between the two great wars.
This film is a blast from start to finish. Everything from the phenomenal performances to the elaborate set design to the down-to-the-wire ways the two main characters escape defeat at every turn is ingenious. While many believe this to be Wes Anderson’s magnum opus (and still should be watched at least once a year for clear skin), that spot has been personally relegated to the filmmaker’s other most iconic work…
#1: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
My favorite Wes Anderson film to date, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows Mr. Fox (George Clooney) who, after 12 years of rural peace, breaks a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) and raids the farms of their human neighbors, subsequently endangering the lives of Mr. Fox, his family, and the entire animal community.
This film is phenomenal, crafty, and a perfect representation of Wes Anderson’s filmography. Its short runtime, relatable cast of characters, quirky stop-motion/animation style, and heartfelt story not only makes it my personal favorite film of Wes Anderson’s, but an excellent watch for your inner child, your actual child, your eccentric grandparents…whomever you please!
If you take one recommendation away from this list, please let it be Fantastic Mr. Fox. (Bonus points if you, like Wes Anderson and the rest of us freaks, also want to f*ck the color yellow!)
Asteroid City is in theaters now.