With eleven films under his belt, Wes Anderson has carved a niche of his own and developed one of the most stylistically distinct authorial stamps in world cinema. Symmetrical compositions, immaculate production design, elaborate sets, and dysfunctional families are only some of the usual hallmarks that run through his personal film catalog. Because of his enduring mainstream popularity as a singular voice in American cinema, Anderson’s instantly recognizable style has been routinely parodied and imitated across pop-culture for the past 25 years. But contrary to what a bunch of second-rate AI-assisted TikTok pastiches may lead you to believe, the born-and-raised Houstonian defies imitation and continues to march to the beat of his own drum.
Ranking a stacked body of work like his is a challenging task: it may be easy to recognize a Wes Anderson movie when you see one, but everyone has a different title that holds the softest spot in their heart. To celebrate the release of “Asteroid City”—in theaters now—we’re offering a comprehensive ranking, from worst to best, for every Wes Anderson movie to date.
11. Asteroid City (2023)
For all its visual grandeur, “Asteroid City” is unlikely to win over any naysayers who have yet to fall for Wes Anderson. In fact, the director’s latest gambit might give credence to those who’ve wrongly accused him of being a one-trick pony who’s been running on empty for quite some time.
That’s not to say that diehard Wes-heads will not take delight in this intricately detailed slice of Americana, which zeroes in on a group of families and students from across the country who gather in a 1950s-era dusty town for the annual Junior Stargazer convention. Other viewers, however, might find its metatextual play-within-a-play framing device at once overstuffed and spreading too emotionally thin to really care for any particular character, despite solid work by Anderson’s troupe, especially Jason Schwartzman as a grieving war photographer. All in all, it’s unfortunate to see a film as painstakingly detailed and with so much talent attached as this one devolve into vacuous self-parody.
10. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Uninitiated viewers should find a more approachable introduction to the singular world of Wes Anderson in his 1996 debut, a lean and stripped-down cult classic strewn from a 13-minute short that instantly put the director on everyone’s map.
Despite what its position at the near bottom of this list may imply, this charming Sundance Festival crime caper is as good a place as any to dip your toes into Anderson’s work. Revered by highbrow legend Martin Scorsese and dorm-poster-loving film bros alike, “Bottle Rocket” gave the world a first glimpse at the Wilson brothers as two halfwit wannabe criminals who foolishly stage a number of ill-conceived robberies across Texas. There are spurts of Anderson-patented deadpan humor and ironic eccentricity, but you can sense the 26 year-old wunderkind wasn’t entirely confident yet during his first rodeo on the director’s chair. That the resulting film feels noticeably less polished than any of Anderson’s movies works both for and against it.
9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Despite bombing critically and commercially upon release, Anderson’s fourth feature film has only grown in stature with the passage of time, with a number of his devotees now going as far as to rank it among the director’s finest (with a Criterion release to boot).
We’re not willing to jump on that bandwagon just yet, but that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to like in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”; a heartfelt, undisguised tribute to the real-life French explorer Jacques Cousteau. In theory, the film’s premise seems tailormade to explore some of Wes’ trademark motifs, with Zissou’s voyage across the seven seas allowing the disenchanted oceanographer to come to terms with the loss of his partner, his dysfunctional marriage and hopefully mend his relationship with his estranged son (Owen Wilson). Yet, though it almost inched up another spot or two on this list solely on the strength of Bill Murray’s committed performance, the story swerves out of control and doesn’t come together quite as seamlessly as other Wes’ heavy-hitters. We’ll just treasure Seu Jorge’s covers of David Bowie songs and move on.
8. The French Dispatch (2021)
There’s something to treasure in every Wes Anderson movie, however, your overall appreciation for this love letter to old-fashioned journalism will probably correlate with your enjoyment of “Asteroid City”, with both films similarly letting their lavish visuals and immaculate production designs do all the heavy lifting.
It’s not an easy bar to surpass, but there’s a real argument to be made for this 2021 anthology movie as Wes’ most technically accomplished and visually innovative work to date. Though it sacrifices some beats of downtime and character development by recklessly zigzagging through a portmanteau of episodic chapters all taking place in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, every frame is drenched in detail and pops off the screen. Newcomers Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright and Benicio del Toro steal the show in their respective segments, which feature some of the most inspired moments in Anderson’s resumé, from a Godard-inspired student uprising and an extended 2D animated chase scene to a meet-cute romance between a misunderstood artist and a prison guard. It never truly feels greater than the sum of its parts, but “The French Dispatch” works more than well enough to make a case for its own existence.
7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Perhaps more than any other Anderson movie to date, this one remains a bit slept-on and underrated. Originally lambasted by pundits and audiences alike, it’d be easy to lump this brotherly road trip into the lower depths of Anderson’s back catalog and never revisit it again.
Far from resting on his laurels, in telling the story of three estranged brothers who embark on a journey of self-discovery train voyage across India one year after their father’s passing, Wes Anderson uncorked a raw, and affectionate portrait of brotherhood and the family ties that bind us all that’s also his most sincere since “Tenenbaums”. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman’s performances and a handful of needle-drops by The Kinks sure help, but what makes “The Darjeeling Limited” is that it is deeply empathetic, capturing the psychological hang-ups of its wounded characters with a light touch but heart-stopping clarity.