A celebration of the work of Wes Anderson, from Bottle Rocket to the upcoming The French Dispatch – it’s been quite a 25 years.
25 years ago, moviegoers were in cinemas watching Will Smith vs. aliens, twisty weather films with Helen Hunt, and Tom Cruise doing allegedly impossible missions. Yet 1996 was a pretty unremarkable year (aside from Fargo and Trainspotting) for some popcorn munchers.
But in Texas (the US state, not the now defunct British DIY outlet) there was a quirky young 26-year-old director who had released his full-length directorial debut, Bottle Rocket. The movie from a youthful Wes Anderson, starring his equally youthful University of Texas friend Owen Wilson, came out on 22nd February 1996. And despite Bottle Rocket failing to ignite (it was a box office flop), the influential powers that be in tinsel town took note of this quirky filmmaker. Wes had quietly arrived…and was here, thankfully, to stay!
A quarter of a century on, the houndstooth fanatic is now heralded as one the most iconic auteurs of modern cinema, kinda like a neutered Tarantino mixed with a modern day Ernst Lubitsch. Wes Anderson films are the Hollywood version of Marmite, passionately loved by fans, hated by cynics (due to the slightly peculiar taste). His films, of course, come with those signature Andersonian motifs – an ensemble cast, vintage clobber, slow motion shots, distinctive pastel-hues, kick ass songs from the 60s and 70s, etc, etc. Again, these Wes Anderson-isms either delight or vex audiences. And long may it continue.
Discussing his uniquely ingenious/infuriating style with NPR back in 2012 , Anderson said “I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”
Here we take a chronological look at the first 25 years of Wes Anderson’s beautiful penmanship…
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Martin Scorsese (yes, Martin Scorsese) named Bottle Rocket in the number 7 position in his top 10 favourite movies of the 1990s. But sorry Mr Scorsese, Bottle Rocket is a decent debut, but for me it’s arguably the least pleasing offering in the Wes Anderson filmography. Co-written with Owen Wilson, the film – which was shown as a black & white short film at the 1994 Sundance festival and received rave reviews – sees Dignan (Wilson) taking his friend Anthony (Luke Wilson), who has just been discharged from a mental hospital, on an inept crime spree.
Bottle Rocket was made for an estimated budget of $7 million and achieved an underwhelming $560,069 worldwide at the box office (Owen Wilson even almost quit the industry to join the Marines due to the movie being a dismal commercial failure). In short, it’s evident that the young Wes Anderson hadn’t embraced his own handwriting yet, probably due to budgetary limitations and/or lacking the confidence and experience to go at full tilt. It’s definitely worth a watch though.
IMDb: 7/10, Metascore: 66%, Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Soundtrack Pick: Oliver Onions – Zorro Is Back
A firm favourite amongst Anderson fans, Rushmore is a film about a snobby 15-year-old private school student called Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). The coming-of-age comedy-drama shows Max’s friendship with rich businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and the duo’s hilarious battle to win the heart of elementary school teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). FYI: Bill Murray, who pretty much launched his late-career renaissance off the back of this role, has since appeared in every subsequent Wes Anderson film, like a slightly off-kilter version of Groundhog Day.
Rushmore thankfully performed much better than Bottle Rocket at the box office, making $17,196,359 from an estimated budget of $9 million. The movie, again co-written with Wilson, earned great reviews and has since gained a cult following. In 2016, Rushmore was even picked for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”! Hear, hear. This one is definitely a contender for being Anderson’s best work – indie film fans at the time were certainly in a rush for more.
IMDb: 7.7/10, Metascore: 86%, Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Soundtrack Pick: The Creation – Making Time
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The offbeat comedy The Royal Tenenbaums was the perfect follow-up to Rushmore. The story revolves around the Tenenbaum family, a family of child geniuses who have since fallen on less successful times. The family are brought back together under the same roof by Royal Tenenbaum (a brilliant Gene Hackman) after he claims that he’s dying. He isn’t. The impressive cast also boasts Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray (obviously), Gwyneth Paltrow (in her pre-candle days), and Alec Baldwin on narration duties. Anderson’s ensemble shtick is born.
Taking an impressive $71.443,994 million worldwide at the box office (it was made for an estimated $21 million), the surprise hit proved that Wes Anderson could get bums on seats. Cha-ching! Furthermore, Anderson and Wilson were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the movie was later included in BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century. Agreed. It’s royally brilliant.
IMDb: 7.6/10, Metascore: 76%, Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Soundtrack Pick: Nico – These Days
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
In 2004, Owen Wilson was now a certified Hollywood A-lister, and was now subsequently concentrating on acting, so Anderson collaborated with Noah Baumbach (who wrote, produced, and directed Marriage Story in 2019) on this movie about fictional oceanographer Steve Zissou. Zissou (Bill Murray) is joined by his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston), a reporter (Cate Blanchett), and a man who may or may not be his son (Wilson) to seek revenge on the (possibly non-existent) shark that killed his sea-exploring partner.
The budget here was a sizable (estimated) $50 million following the triumphant success of The Royal Tenenbaums. The world was seemingly now Anderson’s oyster! However, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou failed to recoup this cash at the box office, making $34.809,248. Plus some film critics were now getting a little bit sniffy towards Wes Anderson – largely due to his signature style now being unapologetically front and centre. Still, it is a fun movie with Bill Murray doing his best Bill Murray-ing that certainly didn’t deserve the wet-ish reception and poor-ish box office that it received.
IMDb: 7.3/10, Metascore: 62%, Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Soundtrack Pick: David Bowie – Queen Bitch
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Three depressed brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) meet-up in India for a reunion/bonding session/’spiritual journey’ on a luxury train in Wes Anderson’s love letter to India – featuring Indian film score music composed by legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Interestingly, due to metaphorically sinking last time out, Anderson was keen to go anti-big budget movie here: no trailers, no blocking off streets for filming, limited hair and make-up for actors etc, etc. Low key.
The Darjeeling Limited achieved $35,309,107 worldwide from a $16 million budget. It’s a decent offering that arguably runs out of steam (train pun #1) in the final section of the film. Many critics actually preferred the film’s 13 minute prologue Hotel Chevalier – which featured Schwartzman and Natalie Portman in a Paris hotel room. But after a couple of films with lukewarm responses from critics, Wes Anderson was in need of a new project to get himself back on track (train pun #2) making critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers. Thankfully, Anderson is as wily as a fox.
IMDb: 7.2/10, Metascore: 67%, Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Soundtrack Pick: The Kinks – This Time Tomorrow
Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
The classic omnivorous mammal-themed book from Roald Dahl gets the full Wes Anderson treatment in this stop-motion animation. And as you might expert, Anderson went a bit leftfield (this isn’t Pixar!) – getting the actors to record their dialogue outside in fields, etc, rather than in a soulless studio. In the movie, nocturnal chicken plunderer Mr. Fox (George Clooney) plans one final raid on the farms of three horrible farmers – Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and Franklin Bean (Sir Michael Gambon) – before retiring from his poultry-slaying lifestyle to settle down with Mrs. Fox (Meryl flippin’ Streep). However, the farmers have other ideas.
Fantastic Mr Fox was made for an estimated $40 million and got $46,473,345 back into the coffers. Fantastic Mr Fox was critically acclaimed, received a Best Animated Feature nomination at the 2010 Oscars (it lost out to Up), and was profitable – but it wasn’t quite the box office smash that it perhaps warranted. For fox sake, surely a director who’s this talented will get a runaway success with his next movie?
IMDb: 7.9/10, Metascore: 83%, Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Soundtrack Pick: The Beach Boys – Heroes And Villians (sic)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
If you need further proof of Wes Anderson’s ability to get a big-name packed ensemble cast together, check out the supporting cast in Moonrise Kingdom. Bruce Willis (playing a police officer, definitely not John McClane-esque), Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray (obviously), Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel are all there in the fictional New England island of New Penzance. Anyway, this acclaimed coming-of-age movie (with Roman Coppola again on co-writing duties) is about two young pen pals running away together – and the subsequent search to find them.
An impressive worldwide total of $68,263,166 was achieved at the box office for this $16 million (estimated) movie. Not too shabby. Moonrise Kingdom was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, plus Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes (although they don’t really count). And just like The Royal Tenenbaums, the BBC included Moonrise Kingdom in their list of greatest films of the twenty-first century in 2016. A favourite amongst fans.
IMDb: 7.8/10, Metascore: 84%, Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Soundtrack Pick: Françoise Hardy – Le temps de l’amour
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the hotel’s concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and lobby boy Zero in the fictional country Zubrowka during the 1930s. In this ensemble comedy romp, one of Gustave’s elderly guests/lovers (Tilda Swinton) dies, resulting him him inheriting a priceless artwork, and our hotel-running hero subsequently finds himself the prime suspect in her potentially dubious murder during the outbreak of a World War II-like war.
Wes Anderson’s most successful movie, this was a surprise box office smash, taking an impressive $172.944,526 (it was the 46th-highest-grossing film of 2014). The budget was $25 million. The Grand Budapest Hotel absolutely trounced his previous PB of $71.4 million for The Royal Tenenbaums.
The movie – arguably Anderson’s best – won four Oscars at the 87th Academy Awards, picking up Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Anderson also deserved a special award for unveiling the fine comic acting talents of Ralph Fiennes. Who knew?! Outstanding casting.
Isle Of Dogs (2018)
Similarly to Fantastic Mr Fox, this is a stop-motion animation about animals featuring the dulcet tones of various famous humans – including Anderson newbies Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono (yes, Yoko Ono). Interestingly, this film idea was inspired by Wes Anderson seeing a road sign for the Isle of Dogs while in East London for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anyhoo, in Anderson’s second animated film there’s an outbreak of canine flu in Megasaki that could be contagious to humans – resulting in “a wave of anti-dog hysteria” and the fictional city’s mayor banishing all dogs to a rubbish dump called Trash Island. A 12-year-old boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), subsequently crash lands on the dump to retrieve his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber).
The ultimutt dog-themed animation? Yep, the critics and audience loved it. Tails wagged. The acclaimed film also picked up nominations at the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score. Although we don’t know how much was spent making it, Isle Of Dogs received a respectable worldwide box office total of $64.299,545 – not bad for a film about a group of diseased dogs.
IMDb: 7.9/10, Metascore: 82%, Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Soundtrack Pick: The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – I Won’t Hurt You
And there we have it, that was the full list of feature films that the brilliant 51-year-old has made during his 25 year career thus far. Impressive. Not a turkey in sight (Mr Fox?)!
TOP TIP: The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel are probably the best places to start for any Wes Anderson novices out there. Rushmore, Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, or Isle Of Dogs are also essential Anderson-related viewing during lockdown if you’re after the crème de la crème of the director’s work.
Excitingly, Wes Anderson will be releasing his 10th movie, The French Dispatch, later this year. Très bien! The film, which follows journalists at the (fictional) Kansas newspaper in France, is pencilled in for May. But whenever this newbie is released, film buffs and Fan-dersons across the world will be hoping for another 25 years of offbeat Wes Anderson movies. Why? Well, in an industry currently dominated by increasingly genetic superhero movies and franchise reboots, cinema needs its outré auteurs such as Wes Anderson more than ever.
“I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then… do it for the rest of your life.” (Max Fischer)
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