Cinematic Flair: A Connoisseur’s Ranking of Wes Anderson’s Filmography


One of the most prominent examples of a modern-day auteur is the award-winning writer/director Wes Anderson, known for his unique filmmaking and storytelling.

Each of Wes Anderson’s ten feature films holds a place in any aspiring filmmaker’s heart. Especially mine.

Here is my list of the best Wes Anderson movies, ranked from worst to awesome.

11. Asteroid City (2023)

“Asteroid City is not just a place, but a state of mind where the stars align and the impossible seems merely improbable.”

Conrad Earp
  • Genre: Comedy-Drama, Science Fiction
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson
  • Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Margot Robbie, Tony Revolori, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Jarvis Cocker, Timothée Chalamet

Description: Set against the backdrop of a retro-futuristic 1950s, ‘Asteroid City’ is a whimsical Wes Anderson film that explores the convergence of a youth astronomy convention and unexpected extraterrestrial events in the fictional desert locale of the same name.

The film is woven around an imaginary play titled ‘Asteroid City,’ penned by the character Conrad Earp, which becomes the center of the narrative. War photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) arrives at the convention with his children, only to find romance with the jaded actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson).

Chaos ensues when a UFO sighting and subsequent alien antics lead to a military quarantine of the town, orchestrated by General Grif Gibson (Tom Hanks).

The ensemble cast brings to life a story of love, revolt, and cosmic wonder, all hallmarked by Anderson’s distinctive style.

Although not my favorite, Asteroid City showcases Wes Anderson’s unique style and continued prowess in filmmaking.

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10. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.”

Jack Whitman
  • Genre: Comedy Drama on a Train
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, 
  • Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Irrfan Khan, Barbet Schroeder, Camilla Rutherford, Bill Murray

Description: Aboard the luxury train “The Darjeeling Limited,” three estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) meet in India the year following their father’s funeral for a “spiritual awakening.”

Unbeknownst to his brothers, the eldest, Francis, searches for their mother (Anjelica Huston), whom they haven’t seen in several years. Each brother carries their father’s actual luggage, along with the emotional baggage of their past and peculiar characteristics that drive them closer together and farther apart with each click of the train tracks.

The Darjeeling Limited is an excellent example of Wes Anderson’s attention to detail in a small setting.

Most of the film takes place in India on a train. Every boxcar and character involved is a colorful addition to a visually symmetrical and linear storyline.

It includes all the usual heavyweights of Anderson’s films, but the backdrop of Indian culture overshadows the characters and story.

9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

“I’m going to find it, and I’m going to destroy it. I don’t know how yet. Possibly with dynamite.”

Steve Zissou
  • Genre: Comedy Drama at Sea
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
  • Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort, Noah Taylor, Seu Jorge, Robyn Cohen

Description: Eccentric oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) sets out on an extravagant expedition to exact revenge on the “jaguar shark” that ate his partner Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel).

Aboard the research vessel, Belafonte, is his estranged wife and chief strategist Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), his German first mate Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe), safety expert and musician Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge), his cameraman, and other documentary filmmaking crew members.

Everything appears to be ready to go, and vengeance is on the horizon until two more crewmembers enter the fray: Zissou’s long-lost son, Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), and a pregnant reporter, Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett).

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou marks the first film to embody the Wes Anderson aesthetic we know today fully.

Anderson had established strong relationships with actors like Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston through this film’s production. He mastered the synergy of a unique soundtrack of original scores and classical music.

For instance, the film’s character, Seu Jorge, plays music throughout, serving as a background for the setting and device to drive the film’s narrative.

Life Aquatic is also the first film to include stop-motion characters with sea creatures and animals involved. 

8. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

“I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.”

  • Genre: Coming-of-Age Comedy Drama on an Island
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
  • Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward

Description: On the fictional New England island of New Penzance, young orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) escapes his Boy Scout camp to reunite with his rebellious pen pal and love interest Suzy (Kara Hayward).

The kids feel neglected by their families and friends and find a hideaway on a secret beach. A ragtag group of clueless adults leads the search for the children, including the island’s police, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and the Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton).

Moonrise Kingdom is a playful entry to the Wes Anderson catalog featuring his usual players with two lesser-known child actors as the primary focus.

Unlike other Anderson films that use the kids as secondary characters, this film focuses on their story of young love, mental health, and sexuality alongside the backdrop of an impending natural disaster.

Throughout the film, the characters’ personalities swap, with the children acting with maturity and the adults acting juvenile. This characteristic is an aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking.

7. The French Dispatch (2021)

“Please turn away. I feel shy about my new muscles.”

  • Genre: Romantic Comedy-Drama at a Newspaper Outpost
  • Cinematographer: Robert D. Yeoman
  • Screenwriter: Wes Anderson
  • Starring: Benicio del Toro, Adiren Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson

Description: The French Dispatch is a collection of three different storylines following the employees of the fictional French town of Ennui at the foreign bureau of the fictional Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, creating their final newspaper before they close forever.

The newspaper editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), dies of a heart attack and asks for one last issue of republications, including his obituary, to be issued posthumously. The ragtag group of reporters includes characters like Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and her relationship with young revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) or Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) attending the private dinner prepared by a legendary police officer and chef Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park). 

The French Dispatch is one of Wes Anderson’s most ambitious undertakings. It adopts the styles of previous films, using a precise location and fictional town as the backdrop for the slew of eccentric characters.

The first Anderson film to venture to one of his biggest influences pays strict homage to French cinema’s artistic influences.

Unfortunately, the anthology disconnects from any substantial investment in the characters and leaves the entire body of work incomplete.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

“I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m going to ignore your advice.”

Mr. Fox
  • Genre: Stop Motion Animated Comedy with Woodland Creatures
  • Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
  • Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, Wallace Wolodarsky

Description: Based on a Roald Dahl novel of the same name, the Fantastic Mr. Fox follows the former thief, Mr. Foxy Fox (George Clooney), and his wife Felicity’s (Meryl Streep) attempt to start a new life when he is pulled back into the dangerous world of robbing farms and stealing produce.

Now a father, he puts his entire family and community in jeopardy as the angry Franklin “Frank” Bean (Michale Gambon) and his team of farmers vow to kill Mr. Fox once and for all. One by one, different animals of his community come together with Mr. Fox and his family with their quirky skills to avoid being killed and fight against the evil farmers.

The first entirely stop-motion Wes Anderson film is jam-packed with an all-star voiceover cast. The Academy Award-nominated film fully interprets Anderson’s vision without human limitation and instead of a permanent focus on visual storytelling and character development.

It’s a children’s film with a dark element like Roald Dahl’s other written work (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, etc.).

This isn’t the first time he experimented with this style. You can almost miss the stop-motion sea animals in a previous movie, a predecessor to this film.

Surprisingly, Wes Anderson could emulate all his usual filmmaking techniques in a story that was originally his own. 

5. Bottle Rocket (1996)

“I really want to be a part of this team.. and I’m the only one with a car.”

Bob Mapplethorpe
  • Genre: 90’s Crime Comedy
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson
  • Starring: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, James Caan, Ned Dowd

Description: In Arizona, Dignan (Owen Wilson) rescues his friend Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) from his voluntary psychiatric stay for exhaustion. The elaborate breakout plan is only the beginning of his mischievous plans. He plans to pull off a series of heists, starting with Anthony’s family as the practice round.

To get started, they recruit Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave), the only man they know with a car, as the getaway driver. Their adventures are not as successful as they plan, which leads to conflict, comedy, and involvement with a shifty landscaper and part-time criminal named Mr. Abe Henry (James Caan).

Bottle Rocket is Wes Anderson’s first feature film and an adaptation of his short film of the same name. The film put Anderson on the map along with frequent collaborator Owen Wilson.

There’s an apparent lack of his signature visual style since that wasn’t fully realized until films like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Instead, the film is reminiscent of the classic 90s era of American indie movies like Pulp Fiction.

The promise of Wes Anderson’s career was evident as this film received the attention of Martin Scorsese and other notable filmmakers.

4. Isle of Dogs (2018)

“I’m not doing this because you commanded me to. I’m doing it- because I feel sorry for you.”

  • Genre: Stop Motion Animated Science Fiction Comedy on a Trash Island with Dogs
  • Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver
  • Screenwriter: Wes Anderson 
  • Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Akira Ito, Greta Gerwig, Akira Takayama, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Fisher Stevens, Mari Natsuki, Nijiro Murakami, Yoko Ono, Harvey Keitel, Frank Wood

Description:  Twenty years in the future, a canine flu outbreak in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki risks becoming infectious to humans, leading to authoritarian mayor Kenji Kobayashi’s (Kunichi Nomura) exile of all dogs to the isolated Trash Island against the protest of Professor Watanabe (Ken Watanabe) on the verge of a cure.

In search of his dog, Spots Kobayashi (Liev Schreiber), the first deported canine, a young 12-year-old orphan and distant relative of the mayor, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), crash lands on Trash Island to find his dog. He teams up with the canine leader, Chief (Bryan Cranston), and his ragtag team of banished dogs to find and rescue Spots and uncover the corruption surrounding the dog flu and the canine exile.

3. Rushmore (1998)

“With Friends Like You, Who Needs Friends?”

Dirk Calloway
  • Genre: Coming of Age Comedy at a Private School
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
  • Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Brian Cox, Seymour Cassel, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Connie Nielsen, Luke Wilson, Stephen McCole

Description: At the prestigious private institution Rushmore Academy in Houston, Texas, an eccentric 15-year-old scholarship student, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), with obsessive participation in extra-curricular activities, finds a mentor in a disillusioned businessman, Herman Blume (Bill Murray).

When Max falls for a 1st-grade teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), his friendship with Blume becomes complicated when he takes things too far and gets removed from Rushmore. 

Wes Anderson’s second feature film helped launch his and Jason Schwartzman’s careers and revitalized the career of famous comedic actor Bill Murray in independent cinema.

This film was the start of Murray and Anderson’s strict partnership, with collaborations in every single movie following.

The movie became a cult classic after a modest reception in theaters. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for its cultural and aesthetic significance. It’s a cult classic, for sure.

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

“I didn’t think so much of him at first. But now I get it, he’s everything that I’m not.”

Royal Tenenbaum
  • Genre: Comedy Drama about a Dysfunctional Family
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
  • Starring: Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Kumar Pallana, Seymour Cassel

Description: Based on a fictional novel with the influences of J.D., Salinger follows the lives of three gifted siblings who lose their sparkle and shine in adulthood. When he returns with a mysterious terminal illness, the Tenenbaum kids confront the abandonment and neglect of their peculiar father, Royal Tennenbaum (Gene Hackman).

The adult children, Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson), and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), each battle with their insecurities and their father’s presence in the setting of an upscale New York neighborhood.

As the first Wes Anderson film I ever watched, The Royal Tenenbaums will always be considered my favorite. An introduction to Anderson’s attention to detail with each character’s backstory, aesthetic, and dialogue delivery indicates his whimsical precision.

The film shows how Anderson can take quirky yet dysfunctional influence from classic films like Orsen Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Louis Malle’s The Fire Within (1963) and transform it into a modern allegory.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

“Did He Just Throw My Cat Out Of The Window?”

Deputy Vilmos Kovacs
  • Genre: Comedy Drama in a Hotel
  • Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman
  • Screenwriters: Wes Anderson
  • 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, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

Description: The film follows the story of a young author (Jude Law) who visits the once-famed Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional countryside of Zubrowka. He meets its precarious old owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), and learns his journey from a simple lobby boy to the hotel’s caretaker. Years before, young Zero (Tony Revolori) arrived at the hotel under the management of the concierge, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

Zero becomes entangled in a nefarious plot of wealth, betrayal, and a looming fascist takeover involving Monsieur Gustave’s affair with the death of the elderly dowager Madame D (Tilda Swinton), her evil son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), and the pursuit of the hair-brained police investigator Albert Henckels (Edward Norton).

Closing thoughts

Everyone has a particular taste. You might be hearing about these movies for the first time, or you might be a lifelong fan or critic.

Wes Anderson’s films rely on the stories of romance, family dynamics, childhood, or hidden emotions. Anderson’s cinematic influences include classic French filmmakers and American notables like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese.

Anderson’s method of storytelling includes his attention to fast-paced comedic stories with melancholic undertones. The visual style incorporates symmetrical compositions, strict camera movement, models, and a carefully calculated color palette.

He sometimes uses stop motion animations and miniatures for specific animals or entire movies featuring these characters in his later films.

What parts of his style resonate most with you? Which film would you consider the best or worst Wes Anderson movie?

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