Wes Anderson is a painter with a camera. He is known as one of the most stylistic and visionary directors in Hollywood. His compositions combined with his affection for his characters makes for a sympathetic film that expresses intense emotions in each scene. From stop-motion animated films to live action endeavors that feature miniatures, frame-rate deconstruction, and other set pieces that challenge the conventional notion of films, his work has landed him in one of the top spots among the 90s Sundance film festival breakout stars.
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But even with his iconic imagery and references to art throughout the ages, his films still retain a cult-like following that has struggled to break through into mainstream audiences. While critically acclaimed films such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom have earned him accolades from the Academy Awards, much of his earlier films had yet to even turn a profit. So how does a director who has lost large sums of money on projects get to keep making such esoteric films? The answer may be in persistence and perseverance for as his career went on, Anderson was not only able to turn a profit, but turn the heads of mainstream audiences as well. Here are a list of the cost, or in some cases the reward, of Wes Anderson’s feature films.
9 Bottle Rocket, Loss: $4.5 million
Bottle Rocket was Wes Anderson’s feature film debut. The film was funded in part after Anderson submitted a short film rendition of the movie to Sundance which earned him additional funding for the project. He created the film with his then college roommate Owen Wilson as well as with his brother Luke. The trio went on to develop a Hollywood career together, making movies featuring similar themes and quirky storytelling. The feature film version in color was shot for $5 million and made just under $500,000 at the box office upon release. It is one of Anderson’s lowest grossing films, resulting in an overall loss of $4.5 million. But due to the stylistic nature of the film and the potential lingering behind every innovative scene (such as the used bookstore robbery and the motel scenes), the director continued to finance future projects from producers keeping a watchful eye on his career.
8 Rushmore, Gain: $9.1 million
The second film was Wes Anderson’s his first commercial success. Rushmore was shot on a budget of $10 million provided in part by Walt Disney Studios under their banner Touchstone Pictures. The film featured a young Jason Schwartzman who played a 15 year old student known for his whimsical interests and out-of-time interests. The film was also in part funded by Bill Murray. Known for his elusiveness when it comes to accepting roles and scripts, Murray offered to take a large pay cut to fund the film due to his interest in the project. The collaboration launched a career-long partnership between the two artists who continued to work together on nearly every following film.
7 The Royal Tenenbaums: Gain, $50.4 million
The Royal Tenenbaums became Wes Anderson’s first critically acclaimed film. The production was shot on a budget of $21 million, his most expensive at the time. It then went on to gross an estimated $71 million at the box office. The film also earned Wes Anderson his first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film also allowed Anderson to work with a growing cast of already-established celebrities and Hollywood icons including Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gene Hackman in one of his final performances.
6 The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou: Loss, $16.8 million
The Life Aquatic was both cursed and blessed with having a massive budget of $50 million. The film was loosely based on the life of deep sea explorer Jacques Cousteau and featured a cast of Wes Anderson collaborators that would continue throughout his career including Willem DaFoe, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. The set pieces were extravagant including the split-apart ship that was 150 feet long and 40 feet high. The film also featured an early venture of Wes Anderson into stop motion animation. Several of the underwater sequences were created using stop motion effects provided by Henry Selick, best known for his work on The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline.
5 The Darjeeling Limited, Gain: $19.3 million
With a newly adjusted production budget of just $16 million, Anderson was able to make his India-inspired spiritual film The Darjeeling Limited. The film featured an iconic soundtrack of sitar legends and took place mainly on train cars and in spiritual sanctuaries around the country. The film also mimics the story of Herman Hesse in his rendition of the buddhist legend Siddhartha. The plot centers around characters trapped within themselves all in search of an exit. It also established one of the iconic moments in Wes Anderson films, the slow motion ending scene. As the characters cast away their possessions trapped within luxury suitcases, they begin to find freedom by leaving all possessions behind. The film also seems to serve in the spiritual sequel of Rushmore.
4 Fantastic Mr. Fox, Gain: $7 million
Wes Anderson’s first animated feature film was shot in the highly expensive but always admired stop motion style. This caused the production budget to raise again to $40 million. The film featured voice performances from some of the most well-respected actors in the industry including Meryl Streep and George Clooney. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and proved that Anderson’s vision could transfer from the live action format to animation seamlessly.
3 Moonrise Kingdom, Gain: $52 million
Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson’s first commercially successful feature film. With a budget of just $16 million, Anderson found his sweet spot and the film was able to gross over $68 million worldwide. The film focused on the coming-of-age story of two oddly-intriguing individuals who learn about love, lust, and compassion through a weekend camping retreat. The film featured the iconic color schemes and symmetry of Wes Anderson films, but provided just enough humor and compassion to allow audiences of all ages to engage with the film. Earning a PG-13 rating also allowed additional fans to view the film which helped it earn its massive gross. The film also earned Anderson and his collaborator Roman Coppola another nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
2 The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gain: $132 million
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s most financially successful film to date. Adapting the same budget structure of his previous film Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson was able to shoot the film, elaborate miniatures and all, for just under $31 million. The worldwide gross of the film over quadrupled this number, allowing Anderson to make nearly $130 million on the film. The film also utilized new stylistic elements for the director including an adjusting aspect ratio to match the time periods in the film. Dialogue heavy and with multiple interweaving storylines spanning the course of three different timelines, the complexity of the film told in a coherent style earned Anderson additional acclaim from the Academy. The film won several Academy Awards including for Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Music, and Production Design.
1 Isle of Dogs, Unknown
Wes Anderson’s second venture into stop motion animation still remains a mystery in regards to its financial performance. The studio has refused to release a budget for the stop-motion endeavor, but it is estimated that it is somewhere between that of Fantastic Mr. Fox ($40 million) and his previous endeavor Grand Budapest Hotel ($30 million). With the added finances of stop-motion, the film was expected to be made around $50 million, and having earned just $64 million at the box office, it is expected that the film was less successful than his previous endeavor which almost doubled the overall gross. The decision may result in more Wes Anderson films to be made in live action as it appears to be a more financially viable method for the director, a decision confirmed by his next release The French Dispatch.
With The French Dispatch expected to be released this year in 2021, it will be a pivotal film that might establish Wes Anderson as a financially viable filmmaker. With a star studded cast including Anderson favorites such as Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Willem DaFoe, as well as rising stars like Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet, the film might bring Wes Anderson into the green once again. But even if the film fails to meet the expectations and the audience of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s style, cult following, and filmmakers-filmmaker adoration will continue to land him on the lists of the most innovative and important filmmakers of all time.
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