Ranked: Wes Anderson Films From Worst to Best

With Moonrise Kingdom out this week, we reassess the filmography that birthed a thousand imitators.

By Jake Savage

Wes Anderson's new film, Moonrise Kingdom, comes out this week. Will it play like a YouTube parody, or does Anderson still have the capacity to surprise us? For clues, we went back through the Anderson filmography and ranked his work from worst to best.


6. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Thirty seconds into The Darjeeling Limited, the action on screen is passing by in slow motion, and The Kinks begin to play over the title card while a despondent looking Bill Murray looks out at the audience. So much here feels borrowed from Anderson's earlier films that he might as well have been following a checklist. (Dialogue delivered like a doctor giving a patient bad news? Check. Jason Schwartzman, Angelica Houston, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson all making appearances? Check.) Anderson's always had his tropes, but his earlier films — even The Life Aquatic — all try to bring some new elements to the table. Unfortunately, The Darjeeling Limited is where his style starts to feel like a schtick.


5. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Exceedingly frustrating to watch, The Life Aquatic has many of the things we love about Wes Anderson movies — exceedingly dry humor, beautiful shots, a killer soundtrack, and of course, Bill Murray — and it still falls flat. Liking Steve Zissou is tough, because he's a selfish jackass. Which is fine. Not every film needs to have a likeable protagonist. But the film goes for an emotional payoff that would require you to have some sympathy for Zissou to work, and you don't, so it doesn't. Still, there are flashes of brilliance throughout the film; the final confrontation is eerily beautiful, and the soundtrack (consisting almost entirely of Brazilian David Bowie covers) is inspired.


4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Story-wise, The Royal Tenenbaums is the director's most ambitious effort, covering the complicated relationships of a large ensemble cast. Add to this the fact that almost all of the characters are played by veteran, big-name actors, and Tenenbaums instantly seems much grander in scale than Anderson's earlier efforts. Gene Hackman's Royal is equal parts conman and curmudgeon, but Hackman makes you root for him despite all his transgressions. Owen Wilson also shines as the drugged-out novelist desperate to be a member of the Tenenbaum family. Sadly, Anderson newcomers Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow seem out of place. Almost affectless, Paltrow looks like a child whose parents are forcing her to do something she doesn't want to do. That actually suits the character, but she never shows us more than that, so Margot never feels like more than a well-dressed cipher. Beloved though it is by those who saw it at the right age, Tenenbaums also lent ammunition to critics arguing that Anderson had more style than soul.


3. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Sure, it doesn't have stop-motion animals, cutaway facades, or fancy panning shots, but that doesn't stop Bottle Rocket from being both thoroughly entertaining and really good. The dialogue is razor-sharp; with Owen Wilson, Anderson really brought his A-game to the script. While it's obvious that Anderson was severely limited budget-wise, he still does a great job of establishing what would be come his trademark visual style. Even at this early stage of his career, you really got the feeling that he was going to go on to do some really special things behind the camera. But Bottle Rocket also has a lightness that Anderson's later films sometimes bury in production design.


2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Speaking of production design, Fantastic Mr. Fox is almost all production design. Luckily, that production design is breathtaking. There is so much detail packed into every frame and into every deliberate fox footstep that you can't help but feel the immense love Anderson and crew must have had for the source material. Animation aside, this is basically the same Wes Anderson you've grown to love (or hate), and it's doubtful that watching Fantastic Mr. Fox would change your opinion of his work one way or the other. But there's just nothing out there that looks or feels quite like this film; everyone should see it at least once. (Oh, and Bill Murray plays a badger. So that's cool.)


1. Rushmore (1998)

"What's his name again?" "Max Fischer." "Sharp little guy." "He's one of the worst students we've got." With that, we are introduced to the gloriously preoccupied protagonist of Rushmore, and to Anderson's best film. Everything here clicks. Jason Schwartzman plays his role perfectly, such that you want to give Max Fischer a hug as much as you want to punch him in the face — but actually, the characters are all written so well, there's something to enjoy about each of them. You can identify with Mr. Blume's anomie as much as with Max's desperation, and the love interest, Rosemary Cross, feels more like a real person with her own needs than the obscure objects of desire in other Anderson productions. But beyond the central triad, you get some of Anderson's most memorable supporting players, including the ginger twins, who look like they're out of some kind of South Park/Stanley Kubrick hybrid, and the oddly violent Scotsman with an arsenal of weapons tucked up his sleeve. This is the film that best ties together Anderson's meticulous whimsy and his sympathetic understanding of human foibles.

Want to meet someone who thinks The Royal Tenenbaums should be number one? Meet them on Nerve.

Commentarium (25 Comments)

May 24 12 - 12:54am
Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket will always be number one in my book!

May 24 12 - 1:10am

The Lawn Wranglers!

May 24 12 - 1:10am

I would trade spots between Mr. Fox and Tenenbaums-- I thought Mr. Fox ended up meandering around and lost the plot. Also, the scale between the animals and the humans keeps changing.

Ben Stiller so rarely plays someone angry/sad that I was glad to see Chas Tenenbaum--so often his self-hatred is played for goofs, aka Zoolander. Which is also incredible but I thought the character of Chas Tenenbaum gave his tightly wound anger a heart.

May 24 12 - 10:40am

agreed--Mr Fox was pure gimmick that lasted way too long.

May 25 12 - 10:16am

Also, that part when Chas (Ben Stiller) tells Royal that the last year has been hard (or something like that) makes me tear up every time. I think The Royal Tenenbaums has more heart than any of the other movies. I may have seen it at the "right" age, but it does still do it for me, gotta say.

And I like Gweneth Paltrow's lack of affect. I think it's spot on.

May 24 12 - 2:06am

For once, this is a list I have no major issue with. You're maybe a little too hard on The Life Aquatic, but other than that, this is totally a cool list.

On a strictly personal level though, I would have to agree with the above. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is great, but once the novelty wears off, I feel it ranks a bit beneath The Royal Tenenbaums, which continues to surprise with every revisit. Though of course it should be said that second-tier Wes Anderson is still excellent (The Darjeeling Limited is his only film I don't love, and even that one I'm warming up to; cinema can never have enough Satyajit Ray homages!). I've defended Anderson here before and what I said before still stands: imitators be damned, this is a man with skill and heart, and American cinema would be worse without him. Can't wait for Moonrise!

May 24 12 - 11:36am

Looks as though you're just getting tired of watching Wes Anderson films. There's no way you could justify bashing Rushmore, and the last three are in chronological order...

May 24 12 - 3:26pm

Switch Rushmore and Dejarleeng Limited and maybe you got a list. Rushmore just didn't do it for me. My son was obsessed with Mr. Fox for a while, so I've seen it about a million times and I still find I can tolerate it. Thumbs up for that.

May 24 12 - 4:53pm

Life Aquatic is my personal favorite.

May 29 12 - 12:33pm

I'd have to agree. It's pretty great.

May 24 12 - 8:29pm

I would personally place The Royal Tenenbaums on top of the list. I don't think that The Darjeeling Limited should be last either.

May 24 12 - 10:21pm

"Rushmore" is his only good movie.

May 25 12 - 1:21am

"But the film goes for an emotional payoff that would require you to have some sympathy for Zissou to work, and you don't, so it doesn't."

Seriously? Please tell me the lady that is pegging you in your ass, as I want a turn. It must be really good. As Steve Zissou was a character I could relate to and found his redemption even with his clear character flaws.

Fantastic Mr. Fox ranked #2 A film he didn't even write the basis of the story? Really. Again so is this dildo I will be taking up my ass what does one need to know? As I have my v-card with that. Seriously, I might start smoking the grass you have Mister Rankster, as FMF does not deserve to be number 2.

May 25 12 - 4:36pm
this is

the gayest response ever. and i'm typing this with a cock in my mouth.

May 25 12 - 7:51pm

My response was tongue and cheek, idiot.

Way to be a homophobe and no I'm not bi or gay.

Congrats on being a cunt.

May 25 12 - 10:40pm
Hey James

Your response; Tonge in cheek moar like cock in cheek amirite?

Jun 14 12 - 11:54pm


May 25 12 - 2:38am

This list is completely wrong in my opinion. Fox movie at 6th (only the first half was good), Tenenbaums at first. Darjeeling is a great film. I would put it at 2nd and Zissou at third. Rocket at 5th. I do like Rushmore, but for me it's only 4th.
I like Wes Anderson films, but only from a stylistic, simplistic point of view.

May 26 12 - 8:32pm

I was recently watching "A Clockwork Orange", and Kubrick did a lot of locking down the camera in front of a set and let the actors act in front of it. If I didn't know better, I would have mistaken it for a Wes Anderson film. I bet it influenced Anderson's style.

May 30 12 - 11:14pm

These sorts of lists are always disagreable. Though, I am unsure how it is not glaringly obvious that The Life Aquatic is his canon. It is by far the best Wes Anderson film.

May 31 12 - 9:49am
Jeffrey Pisp

Royal Tenenbaums no soul? Please...it is possibly Anderson's most heart warming film!

May 31 12 - 2:32pm

Bottle Rocket sucks. Easily his worst. I'd probably put Royal Tenenbaums number one, but Rushmore could take it depending on how I'm feeling that day. But Bottle Rocket and Darjeeling are easily the worst.

Jun 06 12 - 10:49am
Movie fan

For me it looks to be more like an added treat/expansion to an already solid film, rather than something a bit more standalone. Either way, more Anderson and animated to boot? We're stoked. My money and medicine essay review.

Jun 30 12 - 12:11pm

I love how polarized people's rankings of his films are. I think Rushmore his his worst, and life aquatic is third. Moonrise kingdom is easily his best

Jul 02 12 - 1:09pm
His best film is...