The 10 Best Performances in a Wes Anderson Film

5. Owen Wilson in Bottle Rocket (1996)

Owen Wilson in Bottle Rocket (1996)

Owen Wilson is Wes Anderson’s longest standing collaborator, both as a screenwriting companion and contributing actor, initially attending Texas University together, the pair’s careers as filmmakers began at the same time during the partnership formed on 1996’s “Bottle Rocket”.

A feature length adaption of the two friends previously well received thirteen minute short film of the same name, which proved to be quite divisive when converted to feature length. Primarily scoring horrendously during test screenings, being refused by Sundance Film Festival and bombing at the box office, nearly resulting in Owen Wilson giving up acting, seeing it as a fruitless career venture.

Stated as one of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films of the 90’s, who has since become an avid follower of Anderson’s work. The quietly understated “Bottle Rocket” tells the simple and amusing tale of three friends as they attempt a fairly straight forward robbery prior to going on the run.

Wilson, at this stage had nothing to lose, committing himself fully to his personally written script, throwing himself into the wild role of Dignan, a manic optimist with a lot of energy and alleged fool proof ideas running around his disputably empty yet enthusiastic head, from busting his friend out of a mental hospital his ill-fated attempt at robbery, a highlight of the piece, to his 75 year plan once he’s on the run.

Despite not particularly wanting an acting role in the film, Owen Wilson gives a star making performance as Dignan, as though having acted for years, he is a desperate man with a lot of passion and desire to be good at something, his constant need to achieve and feel successful comes from constantly feeling overshadowed by his best friend Anthony, played by his real life brother Luke Wilson, thus, away from the character’s comedy aspects, expertly imbuing sheer tragedy that he ends up chasing a life of crime in a hope to achieve something.

Memorable Quote: “They’ll never catch me… because I’m fucking innocent!”


4. Billy Murray in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)


Undoubtedly one of Wes Anderson’s most quotable creations, the iconic comedy legend Bill Murray, who rarely missteps, portrays the titular Steve Zissou, an icon in himself, an oceanographer with the a self-assigned mission of hunting down and destroying a mythical Jaguar Shark that killed his partner, equipped with a team of trusty interns and his instantly recognisable blue shirt and red beanie hat combination, a nod to the underwater filmmaker and inventor Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who the film is dedicated to.

Written with the actor specifically in mind, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” served as the third collaboration between Bill Murray and Wes Anderson, an impeccable collaboration that has continued uninterruptedly since “Rushmore”, with the actor returning in every one of the directors films in one form or another.

As stated by the director, the role could not have gone to anyone else. During filming, Murray’s commitment to the role of Zissou saw him become a certified diver, in turn racking up over 40 hours during his preparation for the role.

Filming took place during the critical acclaim Bill Murray was receiving for his outstanding work in “Lost in Translation”, resulting in him missing a number of awards acceptances due to being on set in Italy. His character, a calculating and impatient Zissou, making a documentary as he pursues the creature in which he seeks revenge upon, is compelling throughout.

A typical Anderson universe protagonist, as an aging cynical man looking back on his life and struggling to relate to his empty past and wasted opportunities, whilst finding it difficult to connect to his current surroundings, only finding a late purpose in life thanks to his assigned mission of revenge, and the appearance of his alleged son, Ned, fantastically played by Owen Wilson.

Memorable Quote: “Don’t point that gun at him, he’s an unpaid intern.”


3. Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore (1998)


Another frequent contributor to Anderson’s cinematic world is the aforementioned Jason Schwartzman, showcased in the majority of the director’s catalogue of films, his involvement dates back to his original role in 1998’s “Rushmore”, where he fronted the piece as Max Fischer in what is considered one of the greatest silver screen debuts of all time.

Following an arduous bout of lengthy casting auditions, Schwartzman was eventually awarded the job out of apparently 2000 potential candidates for the role of Max Fischer.

A condescending and smarmy character construction, Schwartzman has to be applauded for the arrogant attributes he faultlessly personifies in Max. Smart beyond his years, a persona that Wes Anderson loves to depict in his characters, Max is undoubtedly a genius, and he knows it, yet despite his overly confident ability in the classroom and during extracurricular activities, crumbles under the weighty pressure of having to communicate with girls, a problematic quality to a number of teenage boys, as we see him become an emotional wreck who can’t control himself around the object of his desire, the much older teacher Rosemary.

It’s this very human emotion that is highly relatable to within the often nauseating Max Fischer, an overwhelming personality trait which we watch the protagonist try to control and overcome as the movie progresses.

A significantly applicable feeling that a number of adolescents have trouble managing during the emotional battle ground that is high school, sexual attraction can have a detrimental impact on every one of a person’s bodily mechanisms, and its Schwartzman’s raw, convincingly boyish talent that makes this plausible, making it easy to see how he eventually landed the role following the demanding casting procedures.

Memorable Quote: “I’m sorry. I just came by to thank you for WRECKING MY LIFE!”


2. Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)


Despite the role being specifically written with Gene Hackman in mind, he initially had his reservations about undertaking the lead as Royal Tenenbaum, most notably because ironically he didn’t like accepting specifically written roles, stating that his every move would be under the spotlight, giving him little movement on how he approached the role.

On top of this his hesitancy came from the fact that throughout his life he felt that from time to time he had been cruelly insensitive towards his own family, and was tentative about portraying an absent father figure in this vein. This said, after deliberating and discussing with his own family, as well as script writers Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson, adding scenes to enrich his and Anjelica Huston’s characters and their relationship, he went on to accept the part.

Upon doing so, Gene Hackman went on to win a Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy thanks to his captivating and hilarious portrayal of Royal Tenenbaum, a narcissist and self-proclaimed unlikeable guy, the head of the family is one of the main reasons behind his children’s own misfortunes in life. As all of his offspring peak early and show prospects of success in later life, only to all fall apart at the hands of misfortune following his disbandment and departure from the family home.

Despite apparently being a nightmare to work with, as Anderson consulted long term collaborators Anjelica Huston and Bill Murray to assist with controlling with him during filming, Hackman’s depiction is flawless, an abrasive and lurid, Royal cheats and steals his way through life, manipulating his family at every turn, giving one of his best enactments of his long and impressive career.

Royal Tenenbaum is arguably Anderson’s finest character when it comes to his striking ability to craft likeable men who are entirely bad people, and its Hackman’s hysterical and showy turn that brings the extravagant father and husband to life, like nothing seen before in the director’s universe.

Memorable Quote: “I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember.”


1. Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Unlike the majority of Wes Anderson’s films “The Grand Budapest Hotel” solely relied on one man’s performance at the heart of the film rather than the usual ensemble of leads, that man being first time collaborator Ralph Fiennes, who starred as Monsieur Gustave H. an enigmatic and charming concierge at the titular hotel, as the entire world and every other character bends and moulds around his story, which would simply not have worked as faultlessly or effectively without such an enticing and magnetic lead.

Ralph Fiennes has time and time again provided masterclasses in flawless acting, showing his diverse ability to work in countless genres to any required tone necessary. Providing a pitch perfect performance as Gustave H. that delivers the obligatory depth, warmth, conviction and laughs throughout all the dynamics and escapades that the piece has to offer, Fiennes never fails to be mesmerising, delivering each line with the required gusto and alluring wit.

Never has an Anderson movie character been more compelling or flawlessly fascinating, Ralph Fiennes charismatic ability to capture an audience’s attention from start to finish has never been more apparent than in this mesmerising turn, not only one of the actor’s finest performances, but arguably the greatest creation in Wes Anderson’s cinematic universe.

As described by an aging Zero Moustafa reflecting on his past friendship with the flamboyant concierge, “There are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity… he was one of them. What more is there to say?”

Memorable Quote: “Keep your hands off my lobby boy!”

Author Bio: Dan Carmody, born and raised in Doncaster, England. When not working full time as a Civil Engineer, his one true passion is cinema, relating back to the early 1990’s when his mum showed him a lot of horror films way before he should have been allowed, an avid follower of all film genres, both classical and modern.  Also enthusiastic about video games, travelling, making lists and cheese.