There is no denying the popularity of movies written and directed by Wes Anderson. He is well known for his distinctive style, which is often described as quirky and eccentric. His films are noted for their pastel colors, very specifically detailed characters, and exploratory themes. His creative artistry has earned him five total Academy Award nominations and a BAFTA award for Best Original Screenplay for his film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fans are fond of his oddball characters, unique directing style, and bizarre storylines.
Although Wes Anderson has established an accomplished portfolio, it is finite; fans will need to discover other movies as outlets to satisfy their eccentric film cravings. Because Anderson’s style is so special in films with unique direction and such unusual storylines, it can be challenging to find comparable, worthy substitutes. Here are six films that bear some resemblance to Wes Anderson’s style and themes that might just satisfy that craving.
Updated on September 19th, 2023, by Soniya Hinduja: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
10 What’s Up Doc? (1972)
A quintessential screwball comedy from the ‘70s that has Anderson written all over it? Take my money. From director Peter Bogdanovich, What’s Up, Doc? follows Howard Bannister traveling to San Francisco with his fiancee hoping to win a grant worth $20,000 for research purposes. However, as soon as he reaches the city, he bumps into a carefree but wicked interloper, Judy Maxwell, a college dropout who insists she had a prior relationship with Bannister.
What begins as a simple mistaken identity turns into a wacky and riotous film with clashes that will be remembered for the ages. Even though the film predates Anderson, there are certain intricacies – like the ensemble casts, the colors, the deadpan humor, and the funny characters – that make it purely adorable for fans of the director’s style. Moreover, Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal’s romance hit off pretty quickly.
9 Submarine (2010)
Coming-of-age is a genre Anderson usually dabbles in. As for Submarine, director Richard Ayoage brings this amusing directorial vision to a story that has been seen before. It follows 15-year-old Oliver Tate, an odd loner determined to lose his virginity before his 16th birthday. To do so, he begins awkwardly striking conversations with and hanging out with his classmate Jordana Bevan.
On the other hand, his father Llyod finds himself incompetent and depressed while his mother is drawn to this spiritual guru played by Paddy Considine. While meticulously directed, the film’s dry narration and combination of quirky misfits remind you of Anderson’s overall aesthetic. Think The Royal Tenenbaums. Besides, Noah Taylor and Craig Roberts often indulge in the kind of humor that is sure to delight fans.
8 Frances Ha (2013)
Noah Baumbach channels his muse, Greta Gerwig, in this black-and-white tale of a young woman trying to find meaning in life while navigating the not-so-easy life in New York City. Frances is a 27-year-old dancer between jobs living with her best friend Sophie. When Sophie declares that she’s moving in with her boyfriend, Frances is left to find an apartment, find a job, and find new friends.
With many parallels to Anderson’s style seen through Baumbach’s lens, Frances Ha offers profound glimpses into how life works after the “quarter-life crisis” phase. Without ever glorifying it, the film instead uses subtle but heartfelt exchanges between the characters that are both humorous and thought-provoking.
7 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Ricky Baker is a little kid who impulsively runs away from home and into the New Zealand bushes after his foster mother passes away. However, he is followed by his grumpy guardian and uncle with the man hoping he can get to know Rickey better and build a relationship with him.
Heartwarming and whimsical in every way, this film from Taika Waititi is proof of how wide an influence Anderson has on filmmaking. With its oddball characters and cute one-liners, picturesque visuals, and charming narrative, the movie nails Wes’s formula of creating that makes you laugh through your tears.
6 Garden State
Garden State is a poignant, cerebral film written and directed by Zach Braff, who also plays the lead as Andrew Largeman. Andrew, also known as “Large,” is a small-time television actor who has returned to his hometown in New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. He returns to the place where he was raised by his manipulative psychiatrist father and disabled mother. Growing up, his father led him to believe that he was responsible for his mother’s condition.
After returning as an adult and dropping his drug dependency, Andrew experiences pain and sorrow for what feels like the first time, but it is a strangely welcome form of clarity. He discovers love in a bipolar woman named Sam (Natalie Portman), a refreshingly non-romanticized version of the manic pixie dream girl. The film’s awkward characters and approach to challenging yet humorous topics are reminiscent of themes in Wes Anderson’s films. The film also has one of the great indie rom-com soundtracks, rivaling that of Anderson.
5 Little Miss Sunshine
Two-time Academy Award winner Little Miss Sunshine is a great offbeat film for anyone who enjoys Anderson’s body of work. The film boasts a prominent pastel-yellow color palette, clever quips, and above all, a cast of zany characters. There is the vulgar, addict grandfather; the uncle (Steve Carell) who has just been released from the psych ward after a failed suicide attempt; the loser dad who compensates for his incompetence with his get-successful-quick “business model;” and the neurotic mother (Toni Collette) who projects her insecurity onto her daughter.
Best of all are the children: there is the angst-ridden teen brother who does not speak, reads Nietzsche like the Bible, and whose only ambition is to be an Air Force pilot. Then, of course, there is Little Miss Sunshine herself; Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a slightly chubby, glasses-wearing, adorable little girl who wants nothing more than her mother to let her eat ice cream. The plot itself is ‘Andersonian,’ following the whole family’s painful yet hilarious cross-country misadventure to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, this is a movie about family love that also addresses a toxic family dynamic. It is a darkly comedic film about familial dysfunction and connection.
Juno is a quirky Oscar-winning masterpiece; the titular protagonist, played by Elliot Page, is unlike her peers, and the quick-witted dialogue will certainly appeal to Anderson fans. The soundtrack is also amazing, featuring alternative artist Kimya Dawson along with songs from The Kinks, Courtney Love, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and more, with enough music to rival even the best Wes Anderson soundtrack.
Juno follows the unusual journey of a self-described dork teenager who decides to keep her baby after accidentally getting pregnant with her goofy pal and bandmate, Paulie (Michael Cera). Juno is navigating teenage life, still trying to figure out who she is while facing the massive responsibility (and burden) of her impulsive decisions. Juno is a charismatic, genuine girl with rock and roll style and attention problems — any Wes Anderson fan is bound to fall in love with her.
3 Napoleon Dynamite
This 2004 cult classic has won the hearts of many for its offbeat qualities and eccentric characters. Based on the imagery and awkwardness factor alone, one could easily mistake Napoleon Dynamite as one of Wes Anderson’s movies. The protagonist’s comical name, “Napoleon Dynamite,” even echoes the unusual names of some of Anderson’s characters: Etheline Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou, and Rosemary Cross, to name a few.
The plot is almost a reversal of that of Rushmore; Napoleon (Jon Heder) is a geeky, apathetic high school student with mediocre artistic skills. He is the small Idaho town’s resident weirdo who is perfectly content with merely existing, so long as people don’t bother him. When he meets his new best buddy, Pedro, he goes out of his way to ensure that Pedro derails mean girl Summer Wheatley’s class president campaign. The film’s visual aesthetic and unusual characters give it the charm people love about Wes Anderson films.
2 Lady Bird
Lady Bird is directed by Greta Gerwig, who has more than once been referred to as a contemporary of Wes Anderson, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The film, starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, is a woman’s coming-of-age story about an adventurous, strong-willed girl frustrated by the confines of her boring Catholic high school life and strained relationship with her stern mother.
When Lady Bird pushes the tight boundaries of her world, growth (and hilarity) ensue. This film is a depiction of growing pains, bearing some similarity to Moonrise Kingdom in that adolescent relationships are, well, uncomfortable, and the ironic distance many characters engage in (and downright precociousness) is very reminiscent of Anderson, especially Rushmore.
1 Everything is Illuminated
The film Everything is Illuminated is based on the novel of the same name written by Jewish-American author Jonathan Safran Foer, who also serves as his own fictionalized protagonist. The film is about writer and family memorabilia collector Jonathan (Elijah Wood) and his journey to a small village in Ukraine to track down the woman who saved his grandfather after the town was ransacked by Nazis. Feeling guilty after taking his grandfather’s grasshopper pendant from his deathbed, Jonathan is determined to deliver the oddity to this mysterious woman.
In his hunt for clues, Jonathan stumbles across some wacky characters, including a blind old cab driver and a crude young man obsessed with tracksuits. Everything is Illuminated is a beautiful, eccentric film of self-discovery and reconciling one’s past. The art direction, character design, and unconventional storyline will appeal to diehard Wes Anderson fans. Sometimes, movie lovers have a hankering for a specific style, but they still want to try something new. For an aesthetic as niche as Wes Anderson’s, it can be challenging to find a suitable surrogate. All of these films share elements that are prominently featured in Anderson’s films.