If you hear that delicate tinkling in the air, it can only mean one thing: A new Wes Anderson movie is imminent. The finicky auteur is due to release the pooch-centric Isle of Dogs in a matter of weeks (its world premiere, opening the Berlin Film Festival, is February 15). Obsessive fans of Fantastic Mr. Fox will thrill to the director’s return to the realm of stop-motion animation. In the meantime, all of Anderson’s 22 years of movies are worth revisiting, and if some grow in estimation while others recede, they all bear the distinctive signature of a bona-fide artist. We’ve done the hard work of ranking the features below; he’s made some great short films, too, if you want to take a taste.
Best and worst Wes Anderson movies
Anderson’s quirky sensibility arrived fully formed in his amiable debut feature, with the comedy deriving as much from the editing and compositions as from the dialogue and performances. Ultimately, though, it will be remembered for introducing the world to the thickheaded but charming Dignan—more or less the same character Owen Wilson would play in every subsequent movie.
The director heads to India—and the life-in-miniature territory of filmmaker Satyajit Ray, a longtime Anderson idol—with this tale of three brothers (Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson) on a quest to find themselves. The movie never shakes free of feeling like a feature-length navel gaze, but it still contains some poignant moments (and a trio of killer Kinks tunes).
This oceanic opus stars Bill Murray as a glum scientist in pursuit of a mysterious tiger shark. Of course the movie’s got laughs (of the brittle, finicky variety, Anderson’s wheelhouse), but it works even better in its latter stretch as loneliness takes a starring role. In short, it goes from dry to wet. Still, after the evolution of The Royal Tenenbaums, it feels like the slightest retrenchment.
The breakout that put 29-year-old Wesley on the map, this semiautobiographical second feature finds the filmmaker refining his quirky, hermetic worldview (albeit one that would sometimes prove to be claustrophobic). Jason Schwartzman was a real find, but it’s Murray, delivering the most soulful performance of his career, who gives the movie its underlying sense of gravitas.
Anderson’s stop-motion-animated comedy could never be mistaken for the work of anybody else. Vulpine newspaper columnist–cum–chicken stealer Mr. Fox (George Clooney) dresses like his director, drives his family bonkers à la Royal Tenenbaums and even has a Steve Zissou–esque epiphany courtesy of a fist-raising wolf. The overall sensation is of an artist repeating himself, fondly.
A magical coming-of-age tale that draws the same breath as François Truffaut’s Small Change, Anderson’s 1965-set scouting adventure is bold for foregrounding an adolescent romance with real heat (and a mutual love of Françoise Hardy yé-yé records). For all of his visionary gifts, Anderson may be underrated as a screenwriter; this script, co-developed with Roman Coppola, is a perfect thing.
Ever wonder if Wes has read J.D. Salinger’s Glass-family stories? After seeing this heartbreaker about a dysfunctional clan of geniuses, you’ll pretty much have your answer. Anderson’s follow-up to the cutesy Rushmore (not aging well) is superior by leaps and bounds, mostly for its fine performances—especially Anjelica Huston’s cool matriarch, sparring with wayward husband Gene Hackman.
All of Anderson’s movies feel like beautifully lacquered gift boxes—sometimes to the detriment of the treats inside. But with this pink-tinted leap into artistic maturity, the director suddenly had politics, a forlorn sense of dying civility and a top-flight comic performance from Ralph Fiennes. Everything made sense; Anderson had never before been this thoughtful, self-mocking or impressive.