Wes Anderson's films are as rich as complicated novels and as difficult to rank. Should his debut feature, "Bottle Rocket," rate high for being so characteristically weird right out of the box? Does "Moonrise Kingdom" receive bonus points for its heartfelt performance from the often lazy Bruce Willis? Does Anderson's scruffy take on Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" deserve special credit for its deliciously herky-jerky stop-motion animation?
Here, with their intangibles scientifically correlated, are Anderson's earliest films, from my least to most favorite. Please remember, though, that Anderson's worst is more interesting than most filmmakers' best. Some are less good, but none are bad. COLIN COVERT
"The Darjeeling Limited"
Pros: Sweet Indian scenery, and an honest effort to grapple with pathos. Cons: A second-act slowdown that makes the trip feel longer than its 91 minutes.
"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"
Pros: The pinnacle of Anderson's lunatic set design, and Bill Murray in a gun battle (finally!) Cons: Doesn't build to an especially sharp punch line.
Pros: A wicked parody of film-school tropes from caper to cross-cultural romance. Cons: This low-budget effort lacks the fussy visual precision that became Anderson's signature.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
Pros: A seamless melding of Dahl's narrative and Anderson's familiar neurotic family themes. Cons: If you were expecting "Chicken Run," you were disappointed.
Pros: Repurposed Bill Murray from 1980s comic star to soulful character actor. Makes disillusionment funny. Cons: Jason Schwartzman never becomes as endearing as he ought to be.
Pros: Willis drops the action-man shtick and acts for a change. Adorable kids' romance. Disaster-movie finale. Cons: The soundtrack. Hank Williams and Françoise Hardy, seriously?
"The Royal Tenenbaums"
Pros: Gene Hackman's brilliance as the worst parent ever, in an emotionally resonant tragicomedy. Cons: Too much Gwyneth Paltrow pouting.