Total Recall

Owen Wilson's 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the No Escape star.

by | August 26, 2015 | Comments

Indie classics, animated hits, well-reviewed dramas, and blockbuster comedies: Owen Wilson has done it all. This week, he makes a rare foray into action thriller territory opposite Pierce Brosnan in No Escape, so we knew this would be the perfect occasion to take a fond look back at some of the many critical highlights from a very prolific — and impressively varied —filmography. It’s time to pay tribute to the man who brought Marmaduke to life, Total Recall style!


 10. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) 69%


Reuniting after the six-year layoff that followed The Royal Tenenbaums, frequent collaborators Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson paired up for 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, a typically quirky dramedy about three eccentric brothers (played by Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who struggle — not always entirely successfully — to reconnect by taking a train ride across India in order to reunite with their mother (Anjelica Huston). While a troubling number of critics felt Darjeeling found Anderson settling into a rut, the majority felt that even if he was treading somewhat familiar ground, he managed to do it with style. Calling it “Arguably Wes Anderson’s most compassionate, mature film,” Nick Rogers of Suite101 credited the film with “[dancing] around disconcerting what-ifs: If they weren’t your brothers and sisters, would you voluntarily befriend them, or do you tolerate quirks and annoyances because blood links you?”

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9. Inherent Vice (2015) 73%


It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say Wilson’s had an easy time of it with critics lately — his recent duds include Are You Here and She’s Funny That Way — but he’s also made his mark in a few well-reviewed releases, including a brief appearance in The Grand Budapest Hotel and a more substantial supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s star-studded adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. Here, Wilson appears as Coy Harlingen, a man whose disappearance prompts his wife (Jena Malone) to hire the film’s P.I. protagonist (Joaquin Phoenix) to mount a search. The plot’s a whole lot messier than that — and critics seemed admittedly divided over just how successfully Anderson managed to wrestle it onto the screen — but even if they weren’t quite sure what to make of it, most enjoyed what they saw. “It is no exaggeration to say that this could become the new Big Lebowski,” wrote Helen O’Hara for GQ. “Something that will not just stand up to repeat viewings but positively reward every single rewatch of its twisted, lunatic glory.”

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8. Cars (2006) 74%


At a comparatively paltry 74 percent on the Tomatometer, 2006’s Cars represented something of a critical setback for PIxar — but while the reviews that greeted this John Lasseter-directed tale of a young racecar (Owen Wilson) and his quest to wrest the Piston Cup from a pair of challengers (Michael Keaton and Richard Petty) weren’t up to the usual Pixar standard, audiences didn’t mind; it grossed over $460 million on its way to spawning a sequel (and a spinoff), and even if it didn’t measure up to Pixar’s previous, it was still good enough to earn praise from scribes like Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News, who wrote, “no other outfit can match Pixar’s knack for plucking heartstrings without tearing them off the frets.”

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7. Wedding Crashers (2005) 76%

Wedding Crashers

Part of the R-rated comedy renaissance of the aughts, Wedding Crashers may not have given Wilson the opportunity to do anything new — here, he appears as John Beckwith, a soft-spoken lech with a heart of gold — but it played squarely to Wilson’s comedic gifts, had a solid Steve Faber/Bob Fisher script, and surrounded Wilson and his co-star, Vince Vaughn, with some terrific supporting talent, including Christopher Walken, Rachel McAdams, and Isla Fisher. Though some critics had problems with Crashers‘ uneven tone — and the scads of gratuitous flesh on display in the movie’s opening montage — most found it too much fun to resist. “The likes of the sneakily subversive Wilson and Vaughn deserve better,” wrote MaryAnn Johnson of Flick Filosopher, “but this is darn close to a perfect showcase for what they can do, and how much better they do it together.”

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6. Shanghai Noon (2000) 79%

Shanghai Noon

Westerns and kung fu movies have enjoyed a close relationship for years, and that rich shared tradition is given a tongue-in-cheek salute with Shanghai Noon, an action-comedy that transcends its goofier elements (Lucy Liu plays the female lead, a character named Princess Pei-Pei) and delivers a well-rounded blend of humor, adventure, and — of course — jaw-dropping stunts. Jackie Chan stars as Chon Wang (say it out loud with a drawl), a Chinese imperial guard who is sent to Nevada to rescue the princess, kidnapped by agents of the villainous Lo Fong (Roger Yuan). Of course, no sooner has he arrived in Nevada than he gets tangled up with Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson), a rather inept outlaw who starts out hijacking Wang’s train and ends up becoming an invaluable ally in his quest. For some fans, Shanghai seemed at first like just another Americanized buddy project for Chan, who had already done this sort of thing with Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. Chan and Wilson proved a duo worth watching, though; on their way to a $99 million gross (and an eventual sequel), they earned praise from critics like the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who wrote, “Shanghai Noon is, in classic western tradition, a celebration of male bonding, unabashedly juvenile, boyishly risqué and disarmingly sweet.”

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5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002) 80%


A year after breaking the box-office bank in Meet the Parents, Wilson and his frequent castmate reunited for a far less mainstream excursion into the oddball end of the comedy spectrum: Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Co-writing the screenplay (about a mind-bendingly eccentric family whose overbearing, insensitive patriarch turns the lives of his children upside down) and appearing amidst an eyebrow-raising ensemble cast that also included Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, and his brothers Andrew and Luke, Wilson was at his quirkiest and most neurotic — in other words, at his best. While it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, Tenenbaums fared well with most critics, including Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, who called it “An eloquent, eccentric and surprisingly touching tribute to the comic dignity of failure.”

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4. Meet the Parents (2000) 84%

Meet the Parents

Ben Stiller is one of the kings of uncomfortable comedy, and few films have taken advantage of his gift for squirm-inducing laughs as brilliantly as Meet the Parents, the 2000 smash hit Jay Roach comedy about male nurse Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) and his painfully awkward (and/or just plain painful) attempts to make a good first impression on his girlfriend’s parents while dealing with the unexpected presence of her annoyingly perfect ex-boyfriend (Wilson). Featuring plenty of guffaw-worthy physical comedy and splendidly antagonistic chemistry between Stiller and Robert De Niro, Parents grossed over $500 million, spawning a franchise and earning the applause of critics like Time’s Richard Schickel, who chuckled, “Alas, poor Focker. He can’t help himself. And we can’t help ourselves from falling about, equally helpless, at this superbly antic movie.”

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3. Bottle Rocket (1996) 85%

Bottle Rocket

Wilson cut his cinematic teeth in style with 1996’s Bottle Rocket, an indie darling that not only kicked off his big-screen acting career, but found him co-writing the first of three highly regarded screenplays (followed by Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums) with director Wes Anderson. Although it was a blip on the commercial radar, this cheerful crime comedy about a trio of Texans (Wilson, his brother Luke, and Robert Musgrave) whose rather inept first foray into armed robbery leads them into the path of an older, wiser thief (James Caan) was a favorite of critics like the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, who called it “A hilarious, inventive and goofy breath of fresh air.”

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2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) 93%

Fantastic Fox

These days, it’s a rare animated film that doesn’t boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don’t attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, is stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it “A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children.”

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1. Midnight in Paris (2011) 93%

Midnight in Paris

Following a fairly dire year that saw him surfacing in Little Fockers and providing the voice of Marmaduke, Wilson enjoyed a huge critical rebound with his starring performance in Midnight in Paris — a late-period smash hit for writer/director Woody Allen, who enjoyed some of the warmest reviews (and the highest grosses) of his career with the fantasy-infused comedic tale of an ennui-addled screenwriter who heads out for a melancholic walk on the streets of Paris and ends up taking much more of a journey than he bargained for. “Woody Allen seemed to have lost his fizz as a filmmaker of late,” observed Jason Best for Movie Talk, “and then he uncorked the sparkling Midnight in Paris, a comic fantasy with all the effervescence of vintage champagne.”

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Finally, here’s Tom Hiddleston imagining what it might have sounded like if Owen Wilson had played Loki:

  • BoJack Horseman

    Armageddon and Anaconda are his two best films… If you’re drunk and stoned.

  • Life Aquatic!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

  • mimran

    Midnight in paris characters were cheap and one-dimensional caricatures (if well-acted). Nothing is explained or resolved, and in the end, I felt like the whole thing was constructed to make college freshmen english majors feel good about themselves

    • Tom Ace

      Everything except how the magic happened is resolved, and that’s not something that needed to be explained. It doesn’t matter how it happened. I don’t think the characters were cheap. Maybe one-dimensional to a degree, but still realistic. It worked as a charming film with a good message.

  • William Lawless

    I was moved by his performance in Bottle Rocket and when he looked back at his friends in the end, OI!
    Maybe Bottle Rocket isn’t the highest rated, but what a film I tell ya”

  • Daniel Mawson

    Can’t believe you put fantastic Mr Fox as his second best film. He is in one scene! I understand that these lists are about the best films they appeared in but Owen Wilson adds absolutely nothing to that film. It should be rated more on his performances in films as opposed to the quality of the film overall. Or at least it should only include films where he had a major part.

  • Clark

    I thought he was hilarious in Zoolander.

  • TomNewYorker

    my 10 favorite Owen Wilson Movies are
    1-Wedding Crashers
    2-Starsky & Hutch
    3-Drillbit Taylor
    4-Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
    5-The Royal Tenenbaums
    7-Marley & Me
    8-Meet The Parents
    10-Hall Pass

  • nzmike

    IMHO The Royal Tenenbaums is his best film – with all the other Wes Anderson masterpieces following closely behind… but I just thought Owen was masterful in this. Wes Anderson just knows how to get the best out of him (as he did with his (tragically) deceased brother) but then he literally can’t make a bad film. He’s got to be the best “mainstream indie” director in the USA – with Joel and Ethan not far behind of course. I rarely go to the cinema due to the amount of utter trash being shown but I *never* miss seeing a Wes Anderson film on the big screen…. movie magic in it’s truest sense. One of my top 5 favourite directors of all time.

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