Wes Anderson spent the last 30-plus years developing a signature style. It’s easy to recognize a Wes Anderson movie by the color schemes, costumes, and tone. His recent movies all feel like fables and storybooks come to life. The French Dispatch might be the most Wes Anderson movie of them all.
With The French Dispatch, Anderson ambitiously employs a huge cast of all-stars, most of whom he has worked with in the past, and writes a collection of short stories. Because Wes Anderson is a filmmaker that brings an indie spirit to Hollywood, even before his team released details about this film, it was one of the most anticipated movies of 2020. The French Dispatch fits right into Wes Anderson’s cinematic universe and has the potential to become his best film.
We’ll have to wait to see where time ends up ranking The French Dispatch among Wes Anderson’s other magnificent movies. In the meantime, here's where I've ranked his previously released feature films.
9. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody play estranged brothers who reunite on The Darjeeling Limited train. Their father died about a year ago but his baggage and belongings remain with them. Secretly, Francis (Owen Wilson) plots to force a reunion between them and their mother (Anjelica Huston).
The Darjeeling Limited deals with a grieving family who can’t let the past go. The movie contains most of Wes Anderson’s trademark themes, cinematography, and cast. The film is entertaining, imaginative, and beautifully designed, as expected from a Wes Anderson movie, but it just doesn’t have the same inventive, dreamlike quality as some of his other films. The Darjeeling Limited is available to stream on Hulu.
8. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The film gives tribute to French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau while also respectfully parodying him. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou features an all-star cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, and Jeff Goldblum. Wes Anderson co-wrote this one with Noah Baumbach. Steve Zissou plans to document his hunt for a jaguar shark that ate his friend. The crew along for Zissou’s journey includes a man claiming to be Zissou’s son, Ned (Owen Wilson), and a pregnant reporter, Jane (Cate Blanchett).
Often, Wes Anderson blurs the line between fable and reality. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou fits right into that fantastic realm. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is outlandish, fun, and bizarre—which is kind of expected with a movie about an oceanographer and his crew. The only issue I have with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is that it doesn’t pack a big emotional punch like some of Anderson’s other films. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is available to rent or buy on most major streaming services.
7. Isle Of Dogs (2018)
Isle of Dogs is a stop motion animated film featuring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, and Greta Gerwig, with Courtney B. Vance acting as the narrator. In a futuristic Japan, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) and his followers have had a long hatred for dogs. Therefore, when a canine disease infects dogs, he jumps at the opportunity to isolate them on a trash-filled island. The first one sent there is Spot (Liev Schreiber), the dog of Kobayashi’s ward and nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin). Six months later, Atari hijacks a plane and goes to this trash island, now called Isle of Dogs, to find Spot. He’s joined on his search by Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton) and their crew.
This is Wes Anderson’s second animated production; his first was with Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson and crew create an insanely inventive world, both through visuals and storytelling. Bryan Cranston’s ability to add an edge with his voice made him the perfect choice for a tough, stray dog. Isle of Dog is wonderful, and it might have ranked higher on the list if it had a more exciting resolution. Everything got resolved a little too quickly without much build up or explanation. Isle of Dog is available to stream to Cinemax subscribers.
6. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Bottle Rocket is Wes Anderson’s first feature film, based on his short film of the same name. This movie started his lifelong collaboration partnership with Owen and Luke Wilson. Anthony (Luke Wilson) has just checked himself out of a voluntary mental hospital, and his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) wants them to go on a crime spree. However, they don’t know much about being real criminals.
This is Wes Anderson’s first film, so of course it’s far from perfect. However, it highlights Wes Anderson’s film evolution, especially in terms of his visual and writing style. Bottle Rocket very much has some signature Wes Anderson elements, but in a different package from his current aesthetic, and without a Bill Murray cameo. The movie is available to view free on Crackle.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
In The Royal Tenenbaums, Richie (Luke Wilson), Chas (Ben Stiller), and Margot (Gwyneth Patrow) are genius siblings raised by equally extraordinary parents, Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston). Royal has created disdain and distance between him, his children, and his ex-wife through being a generally bad father and husband. After Royal learns that Etheline plans to remarry her accountant Henry (Danny Glover), he hatches a plan to get back in her and the children’s lives.
The Royal Tenenbaums includes Wes Anderson’s usual collaborators: Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Billy Murray, and more, but with the added star power of Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, and Gene Hackman. The new blood takes Wes Anderson’s usual dysfunctional family, whimsicalness, cinematography, and colorful costumes to the next level. The Royal Tenenbaum is a superbly written and acted movie. The film is available to stream on Hulu..
4.The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel involves the adventures of concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero (Tony Revolori), Zero’s girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and an inherited painting. Throughout their adventures, the three try to escape one of M. Gustavo’s dead former lover’s family, controlled by Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and hired assassin Jopling (Willem Dafoe).
Ralph Fiennes is the perfect choice for quick witted, charming, and bit of an opportunist M. Gustavo. Tony Revolori is equally delightful as his sidekick and protégé, and Saoirse Ronan adds her natural talent for playing brave and resourceful women. Wes Anderson and team clearly had a lot of fun making The Grand Budapest Hotel and it comes across in the humor and tone of this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is available to purchase or rent on most major streaming platforms.
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animation with voice work by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Willem Dafoe. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) makes a vow to his wife (Meryl Streep) that, to ensure a safe life for them and their child, he will stop stealing from humans. Twelve fox years later, Mr. Fox has been living a reformed life but he’s unhappy. The temptation of going back to his wild fox ways are too much to deny.
George Clooney’s smooth voice adds the perfect slyness to Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson and crew excel in giving their own spin to Roald Dahl’s classic. The film feels authentic to Wes Anderson, but with the unique addition of stop-motion animation. The animated details are fascinating to watch, made only better by the enjoyable adventures of Mr. Fox, his family and friends. Fantastic Mr. Fox is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.
2. Rushmore (1998)
Jason Schwartzman made his film debut in Rushmore. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson co-wrote this film, and it marked the first collaboration between Anderson and Bill Murray. In Rushmore, Max (Jason Schwartzman) is an eccentric teen who participates in many extracurricular activities, instead of actually working on his grades. He forms a tight bond and friendship with multimillionaire Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Eventually, both of them fall for elementary school teacher Rosemary (Olivia Williams). Herman begins secretly dating Rosemary, and when Max finds out, the two engage in petty revenge battles.
Rushmore is by far Wes Anderson’s funniest film. It is hilarious to watch Max and Herman go head-to-head in very extreme, very funny ways. The whole dynamic between Max and Herman is comical, but also endearing. It’s clear why these two have bonded and value their relationship. Rushmore is Anderson’s second film and it does a great job of introducing the world to his distinct voice, which gets stronger with each film. Rushmore is available to buy or rent on most major streaming services, including Prime Video and FandangoNow.
1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Moonrise Kingdom follows children Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) as they runaway together. Meanwhile, the adults are hot on pursuit as they deal with their own love stories that are falling apart. Moonrise Kingdom’s cast includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand.
All Wes Anderson’s films have a whimsical quality to them, and there isn’t anything much more whimsical than running away with the person you love. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward bring a maturity to Sam and Suzy that makes their romance and love story feel just as compelling as any on-screen romance. Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson at his best: a bit wacky, surreal, bold, witty, and aesthetically pleasing. Moonrise Kingdom is available to stream through a Starz channel subscription.
Let us know what your favorite Wes Anderson movies are in the comment section. Make sure to catch The French Dispatch when it hits theaters on July 24, 2020.