Ranking Edgar Wright’s Films
By Ryan O’Toole
Photo: Empire - Source
Edgar Wright is the master of visual comedy. Across his five narrative films, Wright has shown a skill for stylistic staging, editing, and performance of gags that give his films an unmatched kinetic energy and allows him to stand out against the rest of the comedic world. Just watch any scene from one of his movies to notice his presence and the tone he can create. He has many director trademarks like his rapid fire mini-montages, his use of music, and his clever transitions from scene to scene.
Wright is also a master of genre, often taking different kinds of movies to infuse into his own comedies, whether it be zombies, buddy cop action, or science fiction. He is a sponge that can take the elements of that genre and expertly match it to create a love letter to that genre while also mixing it perfectly with his own brand of comedy. It is a juggling act far harder than he makes it seem. His films are often described as parodies because of its direct inspiration, but parody has a connotation of superiority over its subject. It is a creator looking down on something and spoofing it, whereas Wright so clearly loves everything he takes from. He is a lover of film before he is a filmmaker and that love always comes across on screen.
Edgar Wright has a new movie coming out, The Last Night in Soho. Before its release, I wanted to rank all of Wright’s films. For this list, I wanted to stick only to narrative features, so his documentary The Sparks Brothers isn’t on here, but if you want, you can imagine it taking an honorary 6th place.
5. Baby Driver
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It pains me to put Baby Driver at the bottom spot on this list, but it says a lot about Edgar Wright that this is his “worst” film. Any director would be proud to have this in their catalogue and the fact that he has 4 films better than this is frankly insane.
It’s impossible to talk about this movie and not mention the synchronized editing. Whenever there is music in the movie, the actions and editing perfectly sync up to the beat of the song, creating a rhythmic and propulsive momentum unlike any other film. The opening car chase set to “Bellbottoms,” the shootout set to “Tequila” or the “Hocus Pocus” tracked foot chase. Baby Driver feels like a music video for a lot of its runtime, an experiment in an excess of style oozing out of the edge of every frame.
Edgar Wright often pulls from genres and films to create his own work. In Baby Driver, he is pulling the crime structure from Walter Hill (The Warriors, The Driver) and mixing that with the artifice of golden era Hollywood musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, creating a one-of-a-kind mixture in style and tone. It is a purely joyous experience, a lyrical movie that exists only for its own sake.
The only complaint I can really leverage against Baby Driver is that its highs outshine its lulls. It’s a problem that a lot of musicals have; when there’s music and people are singing and dancing, everything is perfect, but when the music stops and the characters are just talking to each other, you’re just kind of waiting to get to the next show-stopping number. Baby Driver can feel like this a little bit. The movie starts with one of the best car chases in film history and so it can really only go down from there. But it’s great moments and brilliant editing are what makes this movie stand out and it is still a great entry in Wright’s filmography.
4. Shaun of the Dead
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Shaun of the Dead is Edgar Wright’s directorial debut, a send-up of zombie movies and the first of his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wright is already a fully formed filmmaker out of the gate. He had made Spaced, a british sitcom also starring Pegg and had built his style there, so by the time he gets around to making his first feature, Wright already has the chops of a director with several films under their belt. This does not have the same growing pains of other directors’ early works. He has the confidence and visual style that instantly put him on the map, and along with Wes Anderson, the only comedy filmmaker still concerned with visual storytelling.
Here, he is using his trademarks that would later define him, his use of music and synchronizing action to it like when they beat up a zombie with pool cues to the beat of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the quick cut morning routine montages and his use of repetition in both of Pegg’s long take walks through the city. It is such a fun movie filled with great moments and great characters, especially in its two leads Pegg and Frost, but also in its supporting cast, particularly the excellent performances from Bill Nighy and Peter Serafinowicz.
And while Shaun of the Dead is an inventive comedy, it also manages to be a great entry in the genre it is taking from. It is an open letter to zombie movies, particularly the Romero films, and it uses the horror elements really effectively. It comes out the same year as Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, and manages to be a better zombie movie than that while also being one of the best comedies of the year. It’s a tonal balance that shouldn’t work, yet Wright finds a way to mix comedy and horror into the perfect cocktail.
3. The World’s End
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The third entry in the Cornetto trilogy, Wright’s collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, The World’s End, is also the least celebrated. The black sheep of the family, The World’s End is the only film in the trilogy that attempts to transcend its pastiche and create something with far more heart. Wright puts the characters and story first, creating his deepest characters in Simon Pegg’s deadbeat Gary King and Nick Frost’s against type straight-laced Andy Knightley.
The fun Edgar Wright is still here, with his great editing with the pouring of 4 beers and one water and frantic explanation of the pub crawl to follow. It’s also got some incredible fights. Wright is taking inspiration from sci-fi invasion movies and stages some stellar fights that rival some of the best action films.
There is a sadness that permeates The World’s End that is absent from his other works, exploring humanity in a rather philosophical way. It is a movie about growing up, with three collaborators that have worked on some of the best comedies of the last 20 years. They are growing up and moving on. The World’s End works as a perfect capstone to the Cornetto trilogy and as a transition point for Edgar Wright as he steps away from straight comedy and into a new era in his career.
2. Hot Fuzz
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Hot Fuzz sees Simon Pegg graduate from the slacker everyman he played in Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, this time playing no nonsense supercop Nicolas Angel. This time around, Edgar Wright sets his sights largely on action movies like Bad Boys II and Point Break, both of which are referenced directly in the movie, as well as conspiracy horror films like The Wicker Man that take root in the town’s hidden underbelly.
Wright continues his incredible knack for inventive storytelling with its great montages showing Angel’s police experience or gearing up for a fight, an incredible final showdown, and the greatest one word punchline in film history. Pegg and Frost are both great as the two policemen solving this town’s mystery, with Pegg showcasing an entirely different side to him than his character in Shaun of the Dead. And the ensemble is trying their best to steal every scene, from the Andy’s to Academy award winning Olivia Colman’s raunchy cop, to Timothy Dalton’s sinister Simon Skinner. Everyone is top-notch in this, creating an incredibly funny movie that expertly brings in action and horror elements to create a movie only Wright could make.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a masterpiece. There is not a wasted second, missed joke, or flat moment in its runtime. It is a masterclass in visual storytelling, brilliantly adapting the comic book medium onto the screen. Along with the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, Scott Pilgrim is the best example of how to adapt an animated story into live action, creating something unlike any other movie. They are an exercise in visual maximalism, creating gags whenever possible, like the multiple graphic overlays like Scott’s pee bar or combo meters, brilliantly staged slapstick moments like Scott diving out a window to avoid Knives, and Wright’s genius use of transitions.
The cast is full of great actors that would continue to be some of the stars or character actors of the following decade, featuring Michael Cera in his run of dominance, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who, although never hit as much as I would love her to, has continued to be great in 10 Cloverfield Lane and Gemini Man, Kieran Culkin before he was on Succession, Chris Evans pre-Captain America, Anna Kendrick before Pitch Perfect, Brie Larson before her Oscar and Captain Marvel, and Aubrey Plaza before Parks and Rec. And they all have their moments to shine, filling their scenes with great character moments like Young Neil mouthing the words wrong to the song or Comeau instantly recognizing Ramona in Scott’s crude sketch.
It is an endlessly watchable movie that is a blast to watch. No other movie is as happy to be itself than Scott Pilgrim. It is an album with no skips, a musical where even the sections in between songs are joyous to watch. It’s a perfect film that capitalizes on everything Wright can do and creates something truly magical.