Bottle Rocket's Reception Made Wes Anderson Doubt He Could Get Rushmore Made

Wes Anderson is one of the most distinguished working directors today, but he thought his career might be over after his very first film. The young director was incredibly excited for the world to see "Bottle Rocket" when his Sundance short got picked up by a major Hollywood producer. Sadly, he faced a seriously crushing reality check when the film was poorly received. It was a miracle that he got his second film made, especially since it was an even more expensive venture. Luckily, "Bottle Rocket" gained Anderson a few fans in the movie business that stepped in to fund his sophomore film — the ultimate quirky coming-of-age comedy, "Rushmore."

"Bottle Rocket" follows a group of three novice criminals on a haphazard spree. It was also the acting and co-writing debut of Owen Wilson, Anderson's college friend. Polly Platt, who produced hugely popular '80s rom-coms like "Say Anything" and "Terms of Endearment," decided to make the short into a feature. The film also caught the attention of Hollywood legend James Caan, whose credits included "The Godfather" and "El Dorado." "Once we got accepted to Sundance I always thought we'd get picked up," actor Robert Musgraves told ICTN. "But I always thought we'd raise $500,000 to do it on an independent scheme instead of major Hollywood stepping in."

The promising crime-comedy completely flopped at the box office. "I was never more confident in my life than when we made that film and never less confident than when we screened it," Anderson confessed at a Q&A (via "We screened in Santa Monica at the AMC 17 for an audience of 400 people and as the reels unspooled... I began to see people leaving," he recalled. "They were leaving in groups — people don't go to the bathroom in groups. They're not coming back."

The reaction to Bottle Rocket didn't change Anderson's approach

After the poor response that "Bottle Rocket" got, Anderson did not have high hopes for his future as a director. "Looking back, I don't even know how we managed to get 'Rushmore' made, or why," he admitted to Film4. "We'd spent many years making ['Bottle Rocket'] — well, virtually no one saw it." Anderson's debut feature did impress a few people, though, most notably a producer at Touchstone Pictures. "It sort of built up a little cult following eventually but it had a few fans that were in the movie business, like Ross, who sort of set us up with Disney," Anderson explained to Charlie Rose.

The director's sophomore film was an even riskier endeavor. "'Rushmore' was more expensive and maybe even a bit stranger," he told Film4. "And yet it seemed to just happen. So I think it was just lucky." It wasn't all luck though — his first film taught him a lesson. "Once we showed ['Bottle Rocket'] publicly and I saw that people could reject this completely... that changed my perspective permanently about what it's like to bring a movie to an audience and what you can expect," he explained.

Even still, Anderson would not allow the hostile reception from "Bottle Rocket" to cloud his creative judgment. "It didn't make me change how I went about doing 'Rushmore,'" he asserted. "Once 'Bottle Rocket' was finished and suddenly somebody said we'll do another one, then that was what I was really focused on."

"Rushmore" was a roaring success, featuring an unforgettable debut performance from Jason Schwartzman and a supporting role played by the incomparable Bill Murray. The two actors would go on to star in nearly every one of Anderson's subsequent films, forming an unstoppable cinematic force.