5 Ways You Know You're Watching a Wes Anderson Movie

Love it or hate it, the auteur certainly has a signature style.

Grand Budapest Hotel Screencap

Love it or hate it, the auteur certainly has a signature style.

“I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets,” Wes Anderson once told NPR.  “It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”

Anderson’s directorial penmanship is certainly distinctive. Over the course of more than 20 years, the beloved auteur has crafted and honed a style all his own. Anderson’s films share a unique visual, thematic, and rhythmic continuity, resulting in a cohesive and unmistakable body of work. With some help from WatchMojo’s video essay, “Top 5 Signs You’re Watching A Wes Anderson Movie,” let’s break down just what it is that makes a Wes Anderson film a Wes Anderson film:

1. Symmetrical framing

Anderson’s proclivity for centered shots is his most identifiable visual quirk. Parodied by everyone from SNL to Family Guy, perfectly symmetrical framing isn’t only a testament to Anderson’s directorial precision, but also a technique that creates a cinematic world removed from reality, turning establishing shots into stylized portraits and dialogue sequences into stunning set pieces.

2. Judicious violence

Most Wes Anderson movies are categorically charming, but that doesn’t mean they don’t brush up against the more violent aspects of human nature. Violence often lurks beneath his films’ pastel exteriors, but it is never presented to shock or disturb; rather, violence is a narrative and visual tool that raises the stakes, humanizes characters, can add a little physical comedy.

3. Captivating convolution

Anderson’s plots are often deceptively complex and fast-paced, despite their storybook presentation. But instead of confusing or frustrating you, these multi-layered stories rope us in further, develop characters, and allow for some of Anderson’s signature zaniness to radiate through the plot.

4. Lots of nostalgia

Most Wes Anderson movies take place in an affectionate version of the past. The retro lens through which they are filtered enables a simplicity that feels simultaneously familiar and otherworldly. They often inhabit the fondness of recollection, the warmth of distant memories, or the whimsy of childhood, making them perfectly nostalgic and escapist.

5. Oddball characters in quirky locales

As a writer, Anderson has a penchant for idiosyncrasy. Whether it be his characters, stories, or settings, you count on any Anderson-penned movie to be perfectly quirky. His worlds, filled with weirdos living amidst beautiful backdrops, are unfamiliar enough that we long for them and recognizable enough that we relate.

For a deeper exploration of the signatures of Anderson’s impressive oeuvre, check out the video essay below:

Writer, college student, television connoisseur.