4. Baby Driver (2017)
If there’s a common thread that runs through all of Wright’s movies is the killer soundtrack that anchors them. Whether it is to heighten emotion or overtaking a scene—both dramatic and comedic—the British director is second to none when it comes to choosing a perfectly cued needle drop. Who can forget the iconic scene in Shaun of the Dead where a jukebox starts blaring Queen’s Can’t Stop Me Now just as Shaun, Liz and Ed battle out the first swarm of zombies at the Winchester pub? Same goes to ‘Black Sheep’ in Scott Pilgrim and ’20 Seconds to Comply’ in The World’s End.
Baby Driver perfectly married music and narrative by putting us in the shoes of a tinnitus-afflicted getaway driver who permanently listens to music through his headphones. Right from the opening scene, the movie lets you know you’re in for a treat with a captivating car chase unfolding to the tunes of Jon Spencer’s ‘Bellbottoms’. Every big set piece that follows is flawlessly synchronized to the same beats our stoic lead character shuffles in his stolen iPods.
In terms of mainstream appeal and commercial success, Baby Driver is by far the biggest slam dunk in Wright’s career, grossing over $225 million in the box office while being critically acclaimed. Granted, the paper-thin characters and problematic cast haven’t done it any favors, but the sheer entertainment value of the movie makes it easy to brush off any gripes you may be left with.
3. Hot Fuzz (2007)
By now we’ve reached the cream of the crop. With that considered, take the following rankings with a grain of salt—simply put, there’s no weak link in Edgar Wright’s trifecta of genre-subverting parodies. Faced with this embarrassment of riches, the only way to narrow it down is by going with personal preference.
Bursting with blink-it-and-you-miss-it wordplay, pop culture references, witty foreshadowing and deadpan humor, the Cornetto Trilogy was such a breath of fresh air in comedy that took the world by storm by upending every generic convention in the book. In each entry, Wright cherry picked a particular genre and proceeded to masterfully flip on its head every overused trope and cliché we’ve grown to expect. If Shaun of the Dead marked the arrival of a generational talent, this buddy-cop spoof officially established Wright as a can’t-miss director and one of the hottest commodities in the business.
Hot Fuzz sees Simon Pegg join forces with Nick Frost once again as an ill-fitting duo of police officers who are tasked with cracking down on a deliberately labyrinthine conspiracy taking place in a seemingly benign rural town. Even though the film feels its running time—which is the longest of not only the trilogy but in all his career—the story never loses a step and keeps throwing curveballs at the audience at every turn. Hot Fuzz wears its inspirations on its sleeve—shamelessly name-dropping genre tentpoles like Lethal Weapon and Point Break—and perfectly picks apart the common trappings of precisely those types of testosterone-heavy affairs.
2. The World’s End (2013)
Ever since his debut, Edgar Wright has weaponized our familiarity with pop culture and entertainment, particularly regarding certain music and films, and used it against us. After all, what is his career if not a string of nostalgia-infused adventures where grown-ups try to relive their glory days to no avail? The World’s End seems like the director’s honest attempt at reckoning with his own hubris and a self-examination of his whole body of work.
For ages, this film has been widely dismissed as the most insipid flavor in the Cornetto Trilogy—one that carried on its shoulders the daunting challenge of giving a proper sendoff to two beloved classics. Granted, The World’s End might not reach the comedic highs of Shaun of the Dead—or Hot Fuzz for that matter. But it opens up a whole new dimension by never losing sight of the emotional backbone gluing all these films together—that is, camaraderie, love and friendship.
This third installment follows a 40-year-old alcoholic who rounds up his high school buddies for one last rodeo together. Whether it’s by chugging down pints at pubs or endlessly rewatching films at your basement—the biggest takeaway from this film is that no matter how enticing it is to take refuge in the past, everyone should be able to move on from it and confront their present.
The good ole days are, after all, both good and gone.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Bookending this list, we turn to Edgar Wright’s true coming-out party—the film that immediately put him on the map as one of the most intriguing voices in cinema and launched him into stardom.
To this day, Shaun of the Dead remains a perfect distillation of all the personal trademarks he’d iron out later in his career. Razor-sharp editing, hilarious gags, infinitely charming characters and an iconic soundtrack… By every metric, this feels like the product of a seasoned director in full command of his craft rather than the unofficial debut of an unproven one. It’s not every day we see a young filmmaker firing on all cylinders and operating at such a high level of confidence right from the get-go—let alone pulling it off as triumphantly as Wright did.
A sign of good comedy is that not only it stands the test of time but also rewards repeated viewings. Both more than check out with Shaun of the Dead—after all, there’s a reason that we still revisit it religiously and recite its dialogue like gospel. By putting his own spin on George Romero’s classic trilogy and taking a cue from Sam Raimi’s unapologetic campiness in the Evil Dead series, Wright managed to single-handedly breathe new life into arguably the most oversaturated film genre ever—zombie slashers.
For all the glossy spectacles that followed, Shaun of the Dead remains his crowning jewel—a film made with the love and care of a passionate movie-buff and the craft and precision of a master at the very top of his game.