Music in the movies: Wes Anderson

Glen salutes the musical majesty of Wes Anderson movies, and highlights his favourite tracks from them...

Here’s the piece that I’ve wanted to write since I started contributing to the site and one that has been written, scrapped and re-written a number of times. This is also what lead to me starting this column.

I count Wes Anderson amongst my favourite filmmakers and I think what makes his movies so enjoyable for me is his use of music to capture the emotion of a scene. Obviously, there are a number of filmmakers who also excel at this, but Anderson’s choices are most in tune with my personal tastes. I’ve rediscovered songs I had forgot about and discovered songs and artists that have become favourites of mine as a result of watching his films.

Below is a film by film look at each of his films as well as the Anderson related playlist that I’m currently enjoying.

Bottle Rocket

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Wes Anderson’s 1996 debut feature is a flawed film, but one with plenty of charm. Owen Wilson stars alongside his brother Luke as part of a trio of friends who set out to go on a crime spree.  

Music for the film is provided by former Devo front man Mark Mothersbaugh. Mothersbaugh has since gone on to provide the score for most of Anderson’s films. His work here provides a fantastic compliment to the movie. The use of Voluntary Hospital Escape early in the movie sets the template for what’s to come.

The songs by The Rolling Stones (2000 Man) and Love (7 and 7 Is & Alone Again Or) don’t feature on the official soundtrack, but Mothersbaugh’s score alone makes this a worthy purchase.

My favourite use of music in the film is, without doubt, Love’s Alone Again Or accompanying the scene where Anthony races to meet Inez at the motel. I won’t go in to too much detail to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say that this scene has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I watch the film and is a great example of the considered use of music that features in all of Anderson’s films.


Anderson’s impressive follow up to Bottle Rocket is widely regarded as his finest film. It focuses on, teenager Max Fischer’s (Jason Schwartzman) competition with successful businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray) to win the affection of school teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams).

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The score to the film was, again, provided by Mark Mothersbaugh. However, Anderson originally intended the soundtrack to consist entirely of Kinks songs. In the end, only one Kinks song appeared on in the film (Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’bout That Girl).  

My favourite use of music here is Ooh La La by The Faces. The song accompanies the scene showing the wrap party for Max’s play. The film has many strengths, but the brilliant finale is undoubtedly its greatest strength. The lyric: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger” is absolutely perfect for the film.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Anderson’s 2001 movie about a talented and dysfunctional family is my favourite of all his movies and also boasts an amazing ensemble cast. Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson (as with the previous two films), the film has a dark, sometimes absurd, sense of humour running through it as well as moments that are incredibly bleak.

The score was again provided by Mark Mothersbaugh, but as is the case with Rushmore, it focuses more on recorded material from a number of major recording artists. The film is packed with excellent musical cues and there are a number of amazing scenes that are enhanced as a result.

When I first saw this at the cinema I could tell that I was going to love the movie, based solely on the title sequence with The Mutato Muzika Orchestra’s version of Hey Jude.

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It’s been tricky to pick one standout musical moment from the film, and I’ve rewritten this section a number of times, scrapping Elliott Smith’s Needle In The Hay accompanying Richie’s (Luke Wilson) attempted suicide and the combo of She Smiled Sweetly and Ruby Tuesday by The Rolling Stones when Richie and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) escape together. Instead I have opted for Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Paul Simon accompanying the montage where Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) takes his grandchildren Ari and Uzi on a day out they’ll never forget. It never fails to raise a smile.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

In Anderson’s fourth feature, Bill Murray stars as the eponymous aquatic adventurer whose best years are behind him, on a mission to kill the ‘Jaguar shark’ that killed his friend.

The soundtrack for this movie has been the last time, to date, Anderson and Mothersbaugh have collaborated. One of Motherbaugh’s contributions, Let Me Tell You About My boat,is a reworking of Scrapping And Yelling, which he wrote for the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums. This was the first time that a song from Mothersbaugh’s band Devo accompanies an Anderson soundtrack. The track in question is their excellent song Gut Feeling.

The soundtrack to the movie is, perhaps, most famous for the recordings from Seu Jorge, who contributed a number of acoustic covers of classic David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese. A number of these recordings feature on the official soundtrack, but an entire album by Jorge entitled The Life Aquatic Sessions is available.

The soundtrack has a number of musical highlights from artists that I love such as Scott Walker, The Zombies and Iggy and the Stooges. But the standout moment has to be Staralfur by Sigur Rós. It’s an incredibly beautiful track (like the majority of Sigur Rós’ tracks are) and accompanies the scene where Steve and the gang finally encounter the Tiger shark.

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Hotel Chevalier & The Darjeeling Limited

Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody play three brothers who reunite after not seeing each other for a year following the funeral of their father and embark on a train trip across India.

Hotel Chevalier is the short film that acts as the prologue and finds Jason Schwartzman’s character unexpectedly visited by his ex-girlfriend played by Natalie Portman. This short film works well both as a standalone short and as an accompaniment to the main feature.

The majority of the film’s music is provided by Indian composers Satyajit Ray, Shankar Jaikishan and Jyotitindra Moitra. The songs featured all appeared in various other films that the artists provided music for previously. In terms of western music, the soundtrack also features The Rolling Stones and three songs from the Kinks.

My musical highlight here is Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely),which plays such a pivotal role in Hotel Chevalier.

Fantastic Mr Fox

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For his most recent film, Anderson did an excellent job of adapting Roald Dahl’s children’s classic. Adopting a stop motion animation style and drawing in the vocal talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and a number of stars of his previous movies, Anderson has made a film that will appeal to adults and children alike. Perhaps not the most faithful adaptation, but one that has a lot of charm and one that provides an interesting twist on the source material.

As with all Anderson films, Fantastic Mr. Fox boasts a great soundtrack. Alexandre Desplat received an academy award nomination for his work here (as mentioned in my Oscar’s special) and Jarvis Cocker provides a song that was one of my favourite soundtrack inclusions of last year. The soundtrack also features additions from The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones (as you’d expect) and Burl Ives.

I was torn on what to have as my musical highlight. Having written about Jarvis Cocker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (AKA Petey’s Song) previously, I thought it best to avoid that. I’ve opted for The Beach Boys’ Heroes And Villains. The song has been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember and it was great to hear it put to use in this film.

Please add your Wes Anderson favourites in the comments!