With Isle of Dogs hitting theaters this weekend, we rank Wes Anderson’s films from worst to best.
Wes Anderson remains one of the most distinctive directors working today, having developed and refined a unique storytelling and visual style that audiences know and love. With the release of his newest film Isle of Dogs, take a look back at Anderson’s career with this rank of his films.
9. ‘Bottle Rocket’
Anderson’s debut film Bottle Rocket remains his weakest film to date. More than twenty years after its release, Bottle Rocket feels tenderly amateurish. It functions successfully as an introduction to Anderson’s style and sensibilities, but it feels strained, limited in both scope and skill. This is not to say that a film cannot be both good and amateurish – plenty are – but given Anderson’s entire filmography, it’s difficult to deny that Bottle Rocket ranks at the bottom.
Starring real life brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, the film begins with a man “rescuing” his friend from a voluntary stay at a psychiatry facility in order to enlist his help in a series of heists. Like so many of Anderson’s movies, Bottle Rocket is a story that contains violence, stunted emotional growth, and tenuous relationships. It may be placed last on this list, but it remains a fine depiction of Anderson’s peculiarities and shows the immense growth he has made over the last twenty years.
8. ‘The Darjeeling Limited’
The bonds of brotherhood are tested on a long train ride through India’s countryside. In his 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson expanded his vision and ambition, setting his story of three estranged brothers and their “spiritual quest” against a rich cultural backdrop. These brothers, having not seen one another in the year since their father’s funeral, all face their own personal crises and are forced – by a matter of circumstance – to depend on one another again.
The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps Anderson’s most didactic film to date, using specific visual metaphors and narrative symbolism to communicate lessons to the audience. It’s a strong entry in Anderson’s filmography, but it lacks the polished skill, momentum, and sharpness of his other films.
7. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’
Moonrise Kingdom is both an adventure story and a coming-of-age tale, one that often feels like a whimsical Romeo and Juliet set in coastal New England. Released in 2012, Moonrise Kingdom earned Anderson an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Anderson’s whimsical style feels right at home in a story centered on a romance between two preteens trying to escape their world and forge a new path. Like The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom is another solid installment in Anderson’s career, but ultimately feels too weak to rank higher.
Rushmore helped elevate Anderson’s status within popular cinema, earning him a win for Best Director at the Independent Spirit Awards. The tale of the friendship between a precocious student and a rich business man, both of whom are in love with the same woman, remains an entertaining and unique coming-of-age story. The film sees Anderson flexing his skill as a director, using a variety of different techniques including montages with rapid editing, the presence of stage performance, and the use of voice over narration.
Unlike Bottle Rocket where the attempts at humor feel strained, Rushmore is a genuinely comedic film that finds comedy in the earnestness of its protagonist – Max Fisher. Rushmore remains one of Anderson’s most popular films, but for all that it does right, it’s difficult to ignore how the film feels more like a hodge-podge of different ideas and styles as opposed to one singular vision.
5. ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
Anderson’s first foray into animation delivered a bold vision that challenged what we thought we knew about him. At a point in his career when it seemed we knew what to expect from Anderson, he delivered a stop-motion film about a family of foxes in a fight against local farmers. Anderson took two of the biggest names in Hollywood – George Clooney and Meryl Streep – and made them voice actors. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fascinating story of identity – depicting the struggle between who we want to be and who we must be.
That Anderson layered such an emotionally resonant story atop a premise that could have easily been written off as silly is a testament to his strength as a storyteller. While much of Anderson’s early work struggles between the blend of eccentricity and profundity, Fantastic Mr. Fox captures it with grace.
4. ‘Isle of Dogs’
Anderson’s newest film is a fitting follow up to his 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel for no other reason than they are very, very different. Rather than attempt to recreate the success of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson pivoted, delivering his second stop motion film. What’s so rewarding about Anderson’s ventures into the world of stop motion is that he does things he wouldn’t be able to do in a live action film.
In Isle of Dogs, he tells the story of a 12-year-old boy risking his life to find his dog after all of the dogs in his city are exiled to a garbage-dump island. With Isle of Dogs, Anderson continues to test his own limits and skills, delivering an ambitious film that marks a new standard in his career. Sure, we’re familiar with his penchant for working with large ensembles, his miniaturist visual style, and combination of adventure and whimsy. However, Isle of Dogs demonstrates Anderson’s skill for finding genuine and moving pathos within a world that is entirely artificial.
3. ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’
Of all of West Anderson’s family dramas, The Royal Tenenbaums stands as the best – one that finds beauty in its oddities, brilliance in its idiosyncrasies. The film follows three adult children who move back into their childhood home with their mother and estranged father – who just happens to be lying to them all about having cancer. The Royal Tenenbaums is a deeply felt story of connection – an interrogation of familial bonds, loneliness, the pressure of expectations, and the lasting impact of unresolved conflict.
In any other film, just one character from The Royal Tenenbaums would be enough to sustain a film, but Anderson makes each of his characters more peculiar than the next and derives a unique and rewarding tale from how these characters clash and connect with one another. Anderson is a master of hyperbole, pushing the limits what is “real” while still harnessing an energy that is deeply human. The Royal Tenenbaums is one of his best examples of that skill.
2. ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’
Perhaps Anderson’s most underrated film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a remarkable feat of filmmaking that perfectly combines Anderson’s compelling composite of comedic adventure, eccentric characters, and moving portrayal of fraught relationships. The movie follows Steve Zissou, played by the brilliant Bill Murray, as he grapples with the death of his best friend (eaten by a shark), the unexpected arrival of an adult son into his life, his struggling marriage, and his career challenges.
Anderson successfully juggles all these different elements, crafting a film that feels like Moby Dick crossed with The Magnificent Ambersons. The film inhabits a curious world that matches the characters’ peculiarities and befits Anderson’s unique talent for deriving moving sentiment in the midst of charming whimsy.
1. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’
Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel remains the crown jewel of his filmography thus far. It’s a film with a very special energy and attitude with a vigorous momentum that pushes the story forward in exciting and unexpected ways. It’s a sublime creation, one that perfectly embodies Anderson’s skills and idiosyncrasies in equal measure.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, a fictional hotel in a fictional country, is the perfect backdrop for Anderson’s off-beat humor, unusual characters, and deceptively profound storytelling. The film is rich with deep emotional arcs, a subtle political message, and a sublime manipulation of the form itself that functions as an ode to the medium. Anchored by an incredible performance from Ralph Fiennes, the film showcases breathtaking and inventive cinematography and an incredible score by Alexandre Desplat.
The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be Anderson’s most discernibly personal film, but it is the creation that feels more personally refined, a testament to his evolving prowess as one of the foremost directors of our time.