Monday, April 2, 2018

A Method for Ranking Wes Anderson Films, or What's with the Low Tomatometer for 'Life Aquatic'?

I was inspired by a recent ad for the new Wes Anderson film, "Isle of Dogs." Have you seen this ad? I love it! (Isle of It.)

The ad suggests we revisit all eight of Wes Anderson’s feature films before we head to the theaters to see his latest. The ad then goes on to cleverly describe Wes Anderson’s uniquely meticulous and quirky approach to filmmaking by illustrating the recurring themes, colors, camera shots, and actors that have inhabited Wes’s World.

I shared the video among friends with this question: “How many have you seen?” A few of my fellow Wesophiles responded. And in the comments, I shared the following links:

• Wes Anderson bio on IMDb
• Filmography and awards on Wikipedia
• Rotten Tomatoes for all of Wes Anderson's films (what's with the low tomatometer for 'Life Aquatic'?).

Shocked by Rotten Tomatoes' low tomatometer for one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, I began to wonder: If people like Wes but don’t like 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou', just how good are the films I haven’t seen? What am I missing?  My favorite is 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but I also love Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic. Darjeeling Limited was a bit over-the-top for my tastes.  How would my preferences align with those of the broader public?

I bundled all these lines of inquiry and cooked them down into a single research question: Which is the consensus best Wes Anderson film? 

I Googled "Top Ten Wes Anderson films" and began taking notes in Excel as I am wont to do. The results are shown below for your inspection and review. 

The consensus best Wes Anderson film is The Royal Tenenbaums, released in 2001 when the director was 31 years old. The film earned $52.4 M at the box office, garnered 10 award nominations and won Best Screenplay at the 2001 New York Film Critics Circle Award.

The Grand Budapest Hotel also did quite well, as expected. The Darjeeling Limited is understandably near the bottom of the list. To my dismay, Life Aquatic is in 8th place when the rankings from 10 independent sources are averaged. I guess there is no accounting for taste.

Table 1. Wes Anderson films ranked using scores from 10 independent rating sources


I posed my research question to Uncle Google and obtained an index of websites.  I followed the Google Index to each site in sequence. I noted the source, URL, date, and rankings from 1 to n. Some sites rated short films and commercials in addition to feature films, so n ranged from 8 to 24. A total of 27 items in the Wes Anderson oeuvre were identified. The sites and the numbers of items ranked are shown.

Table 2. Index to sources used

Interestingly, the sites ranked different numbers of films. Some ranked 8, some ranked 13, some included short films and commercials in addition to feature films. To control for this and allow me to calculate average scores, I normalized the rankings. A film that was ranked 1 of 8 got 0.125 points. A film that was ranked 1 of 9 got 0.111 points, and so on.

Table 3. Scores for rankings on each of the ten sources

When you look at Table 3, a couple of observations jump out.

1. Four of the ten sites (40%) chose 'The Royal Tenenbaums' as the best Wes Anderson film
2. Five different films received at least one vote for best film, indicating the lack of a clear favorite 
3. Four feature films listed in either Rotten Tomatoes or Wikipedia are not shown here. None of the ten ranking sites I used listed them, and not including them did not change the Top 3. They placed 4, 11, 12, and 13.

Figure 1. Box office and award nomination performance of Wes Anderson films over time

We'll see how well "Isle of Dogs" does in the court of Public Opinion and in the minds of the voting members of various academies. And if I am so inclined, I'll update the tables and figures. Meanwhile, enjoy the Wonderful Worlds of Wes, and feel free to leave a suggestion or question in the comments.

Links to sources cited