Giving us some of the smartest and most colorful comedies of the 2000s and 2010s, we make our way through Edgar Wright’s quirky films, ranked from worst to best.
Nowadays, it’s hard to see filmmakers being given the chance by big Hollywood studios to keep making original films that challenge the expectations of moviegoers. If you’re a cinephile, or just enjoy watching movies for fun, then you’ve probably heard of Edgar Wright’s name at some point. Better known for his infamous Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, consisting of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Wright has constantly delivered original films that bring such a breath of fresh air to the genre of action comedies.
They don’t always bring large bags of money, but they do manage to stay relevant even years after their release. Most of his movies have several things in common, like the same actors being cast in them for different roles, themes such as the importance of friendship and growing up, and how they pay homage to preexistent movies that have inspired Wright in his career and the way he approaches film. Yet, though they have many similarities, every single one of his movies feels different from the rest.
There’s an almost magical atmosphere that comes with an Edgar Wright production, like being transported to an entirely new world where anything is possible. His characters often feel larger than life, even though they’re your average every-day guys who need to mature and find themselves through these incredible journeys they get to experience. This is probably why people keep coming back to his filmography. His movies don’t require you to take notes in order to understand the deep, hidden meaning behind his stories, but don’t treat you like you’re dumb either. On the contrary, they assume you’re smart enough to keep up with their fast paced dialogue, action set pieces and comedy.
Edgar Wright is one of my personal heroes and one who has inspired me to attempt to do what he does best: express himself through film. So, working on a “ranked from worst to best” article is sort of difficult for me because the title implies I will be talking ill about very talented artists sharing their imagination with us. That being said, I do believe some of his work is better than others, despite his entire filmography being pretty damn brilliant.
In celebration of one of the most creative filmmakers working today, let’s go back in time and take a look at Edgar Wright’s films ranked from worst to best, going from a zombie apocalypse to fighting evil ex-boyfriends.
8. A FISTFUL OF FINGERS
Starring: Graham Low, Martin Curtis, Oli van der Vijver
You don’t really see as many people discuss A Fistful of Fingers because, well, not everyone knows of its existence to begin with. Everybody just assumes Shaun of the Dead is Edgar Wright’s directorial debut, because it’s just so energetic and eager to show itself to the world that it tricks you into believing only a first time director could have pulled that off. Though true in the sense that it put him on the map, Wright’s western parody is his first feature film. We follow a cowboy, Walter Marshall (Graham Low), on his quest to find a wanted man, who goes by the name of The Squint (Oli van der Vijver) and who’s responsible for the death of Marshall’s beloved horse Easy.
There’s nothing particularly crazy about this story: it sounds like your typical western, but Wright is able to take the genre and flip it on its head. Not only does he inject lots of fast paced comedy into the film, something he’d later on be known for, but you can see the influence that old Spaghetti Westerns and classics such as Monty Python’s comedies have had throughout the making of A Fistful of Fingers. Although the ideas and the writing are definitely there, the execution isn’t, making this directorial debut feel like a student film.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, since you can see filmmaking styles Wright would eventually perfect and adapt to his future work. The comedy here is very hit or miss as well, which is strange to say about one of Wright’s movies, considering the level of praise his films usually get for their clever humor. It’s not so much about the actual writing, but the timing. Some bits go for far too long, while others are cut short.
Finding a copy of A Fistful of Fingers these days is extremely hard. After all, it never got a proper DVD/Blu-ray release, but, if somehow you manage to find a way to watch this, then I implore you to give it a chance. It’s always fascinating to see a director’s beginnings early on in their careers.
7. SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
I know what you’re thinking: how come is Shaun of the Dead so low on this ranking? It is arguably the film Edgar Wright is best known for, the one that gave him the career he has today, and the one some would even call a cult classic. It’s got the laughs, the heart and the cast to hold it as his absolute best. So, why so low? Well, it really comes down to personal preference when talking about Wright’s diverse list of movies.
Though we’ve established this isn’t his first film, it is the one that showed the director’s trademarks. From whip pans and zooms to slapstick comedy, creative transitions and his brilliant use of music, it’s all here. Shaun (Simon Pegg, Star Trek) is a 29 year-old with no real ambition in life. He doesn’t get along with his step-dad, he hates his current job and he’s putting his relationship with his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield, The Best Man), at risk by continuing to hold his lazy best friend Ed (Nick Frost, The Nevers) above everyone else. If this wasn’t bad enough, Shaun is thrown into a position of leadership and forced to make adult decisions when a zombie apocalypse breaks loose.
It’s an incredible concept for a horror comedy, and Edgar Wright goes up and beyond to explore what you can do with this genre. What stops this from being one of my favorites of his is that some of the characterizations here are just not very compelling. It’s hard to sympathize with Shaun when it’s obvious that Ed, who isn’t really likeable himself, is holding him back from becoming a better man. Shaun of the Dead still hits those emotional beats, though, making it an entertaining entry in Wright’s filmography. One that will only continue to grow in popularity in years to come.
6. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith.
Full Review: The Monsters We Create
It’s always a treat getting to see an Edgar Wright film on the big screen and his latest offering, Last Night in Soho, did not disappoint! Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, The Power of the Dog), an aspiring fashion designer, is mysteriously able to travel back to the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Northman). But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and take a far darker turn. Last Night in Soho at its core is a stylish horror-drama that explores the exploitation of women and the generational trauma that comes with that.
Everyone will be talking about Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance after watching the film, and rightfully so since she’s incredible here, but this is Thomasin McKenzie’s show. Without the amount of heart she brings to Eloise, it wouldn’t be as strong of a final product. As per usual with Wright’s work, the soundtrack is electrifying! It sets up the mood perfectly and the way the music helps transition between the most colorful sections of the film to the most serious ones is seamless.
Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, along with the editing from Paul Machliss, create some of the best cinematic moments we got to see in 2021, especially during those astonishing dance numbers transitioning between the past and present. I wish some of the ideas regarding the mysterious killer haunting Eloise in the third act had been polished a bit more, but it does deliver a relatively satisfying conclusion.
You could say this is Edgar Wright’s most mature work yet, up there with The Sparks Brothers, and seeing him explore the horror genre in a more serious manner than Shaun of the Dead is such a refreshing experience. Can’t wait to see what he does next after this!
5. HOT FUZZ
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton
If you were to have a group of people in a room, I assure you each and every single one of those individuals will have different tastes in comedy. That is why comedy is the easiest and hardest genre to pull off. They’re made for relatively small budgets, they somehow manage to find an audience no matter what, and they typically reuse the same tropes over and over again.
Once in a while, though, there will come a film that plays a fundamental role in keeping the genre fresh and reminding moviegoers what these projects could be in the hands of the right filmmaker. Hot Fuzz is one of those comedies that are presented in such a smart manner that it makes them stand out amongst everything else.
London police officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is so good at his job, with an arrest record of 400%, that he is transferred to a different department in an isolated village by his superiors in order to give other officers a chance to be just as good as him. Once established in the town of Sandford, a quiet place where nothing really happens, mysterious murders arise and only he can stop them with the help of his new partner Danny (Nick Frost).
What makes Hot Fuzz special is the way it is so in love with its own characters and story. Nothing about this movie is subtle, Edgar Wright keeps everything an open secret about who’s behind the murders, and you can tell he had so much fun exploiting the ridiculousness of it all. In addition, the film homages, here, are even better than in something like Shaun of the Dead, since they are written into the personalities of the characters rather than having them there just for nostalgia’s sake.
For example, the way Wright uses Michael Bay’s signature 360 hero shot during the third act’s town shootout scene is awesome and hilarious at the same time. Officer Angel and Danny are such charismatic protagonists as well, perfectly balancing the silliness and cleverness of their characters. It’s a buddy-cop movie through and through, and it should be up there with the action films it was inspired by, such as Point Break and Bad Boys II.
4. THE SPARKS BROTHERS
Starring: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Beck David Campbell
Full Review: The Sparks Brothers Film Review
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Queen, Pink Floyd, they’re all famous rock bands you’d most likely be able to reorganize by name. Their influence is not only seen in the music industry, but in other art forms as well. Yet, there is one band that is always left out of the conversation, one that in its five decades has been extremely influential and has found tremendous success while not being talked about enough. That band being, of course, Sparks. There’s a 50/50 chance you know who they are. Maybe you’ve listened to their insanely popular song “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” or their disco hit “The Number One Song in Heaven.” Either way, their frequently changing styles in music have kept the band relevant to this day.
With The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright begs the question: “How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time?” Considering all of these factors, it comes as a no-brainer a film would be made following the highs and lows of Ron and Russell Mael’s careers, the creative duo behind the rock band. Wright’s first ever documentary is an artistic, risky wonder that pays off. He is at his most restrained and adult behavior here, as he doesn’t have his usual toys to play with, stepping out of his comfort zone.
Though you can still see his vision realized on screen, it is nice to see what he can do in a different setting. If you’ve listened to Sparks, then you know they are not your traditional musicians who constantly deliver hits, but instead love to experiment with their wacky lyrics and creative instrumental sounds. Pair that with Edgar Wright’s filmmaking sensitivities and you get a fun, fascinating documentary that will hopefully introduce a new generation to the music of Sparks.
3. BABY DRIVER
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Jamie Foxx
For years, there’s been a much heated debate within the film industry on whether style over substance is an approach that benefits in telling a story or harms it. Some may argue it just gets in the way and ends up being distracting and gimmicky, while others enjoy this storytelling technique as it makes these movies more engaging, and it makes them have a voice of their own through the director’s lenses.
Personally, I believe style can be a filmmaker’s substance, and Edgar Wright’s filmography is a prime example of this. Baby Driver introduces us to a young getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort, West Side Story), who finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail after being forced into working for a crime boss. This electrifying, edge of your seat, coming-of-age action drama is arguably the one and only crowd-pleaser the filmmaker has made to date. The entire movie plays out almost like a “greatest hits” music video with a story, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Baby Driver’s characters are very one-note and their motivations remain about the same with little to no character arcs, but I think that’s the point. Though lacking development, our protagonists and antagonists remain likeable due to the presentation of this simple story. Instead of having heavy dialogue, like a normal movie would, telling us what Baby is thinking, Wright uses music to let us know how his characters feel in the moment.
Not only does he utilize music to further the plot, but he integrates it into the action and movement of our characters unlike anything we’ve seen in film before. If somebody starts shooting a gun, the music perfectly syncs with the bullets hitting their target. If Baby starts dancing to a particular song, the environment around him becomes almost like an instrument to him that he can interact with, and it’s just magical to see it play out on screen. Baby Driver is a lot of things, but dull and boring it is not. It’s not Wright’s most stylish film, but it is up there as his most clever one in his resume.
2. THE WORLD’S END
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike
When discussing Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead is typically the first film that comes into people’s minds. Others will bring up how well Hot Fuzz manages to poke fun at the action genre while being a hilarious buddy-cop movie itself. Unfortunately, his 2013 comedy The World’s End is often forgotten about or completely ignored.
Gary King (Simon Pegg), a 40-year old man trapped in the past, hoping for life to be as good as his teenage years, drags his reluctant childhood friends to their hometown in an attempt to complete a notorious drinking marathon called “The Golden Mile” and reach legendary pub, The World’s End. But as they begin their journey and try to right the wrongs of the past, they realize reaching The World’s End is the least of their concerns, as they discover the population of their hometown has been replaced with robots.
To say the plot of this movie is complicated would be an understatement. There’s so much going on, so many characters to focus on, it’s messy at points, and yet it is my favorite of the trilogy. Why? Well, what it lacks in simplicity, it makes it up in heart. Gary King is by far the most annoying and approachable character Wright and Pegg have crafted in their years of collaboration.
It is frustrating to see him throw his life out the window in favor of something that should be left in the past. He’s an alcoholic who uses his friends for his own benefit and believes he’s got nothing better to do than to drink himself to death. So, seeing him go through this redemptive arc of learning to love himself and others is just beautiful to the point when we get to the film’s final scene you can’t help but to smile.
Also, with Pegg usually playing the straight man and Frost being the dumb best friend, it is a welcome change to see them play opposite roles this time around. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) and the remaining cast are outstanding as well, each of them getting their shining moments throughout the movie. I know it’s an unpopular choice to place The World’s End so high on this list, but when the characters and themes are so strong, then there’s not much I can do but admire Wright’s work here.
1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman
Other than Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more influential film growing up than the movie adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. A critically acclaimed film yet a box office bomb, this weird, epic love story has stood the test of time a decade since its release.
If Wright’s previous work showcases his love for cinema, this one gives us a look into his love for video games and comic books. In the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, a young man must defeat his new girlfriend’s evil exes one by one in order to win her heart. On paper, Scott (Michael Cera, Superbad) shouldn’t be a likeable hero. He’s an unemployed 22 year-old bass guitarist who values his ego more than his friends and is cheating on his 17 year-old high school girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong, GLOW), with who he believes is the love of his life, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Birds of Prey).
Yes, he’s all of those terrible things, but Cera and Wright make us like this guy because he’s not malicious. He just doesn’t know what he wants and doesn’t have enough self-respect to respect others. So, we follow him on this fantastical yet relatable journey where he atones for the people he wronged and proves he is a good person worthy of love.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the one film with the most Edgar Wright-isms and arguably the most visually stunning and unique comic book movie ever made. I dare you to try and find another comic book movie that even gets close to this one. It’s funny, charming, incredibly rewatchable, filled with wacky characters, and it has the most fast paced comedy you’ll ever see on film. To this day, you can see me listening to Brie Larson’s “Black Sheep” in the car alongside the rest of this amazing soundtrack. This is Wright’s masterpiece!