Ranking The Films Of Edgar Wright On The 15th Anniversary Of 'Shaun Of The Dead'

A mashup of zombie horror and romantic comedy, a video-game-style depiction of millennial culture before it was called millennial culture, a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller seen through the eyes of some Gen-X'ers, and more. These concepts all sprung from the mind of filmmaker Edgar Wright, whose features over the last 15 years have managed to all feel daring and strikingly original even as he wears his references on his metaphorical sleeves.Wright's first major feature film, Shaun of the Dead, wasn't released in the United States until the fall of 2004, but its wide release in the United Kingdom was 15 years ago today. So with that milestone in mind (and with the caveat that Wright's debut film, A Fistful of Fingers, isn't available on Blu-ray yet, so this writer hasn't seen it), let's rank Wright's films.

5. Baby Driver

Let's Boo-Boo: OverviewLet's make something clear at the outset: Edgar Wright hasn't made a bad movie. That Baby Driver is lowest-ranked on this list just proves how great his other films are. Baby Driver was one of the best surprises of the 2017 summer movie season. It was that rarest of things: an original, mid-budget studio film that was not only a thrilling experience, but ended up being a very solid hit for Sony. Baby Driver is also notable in Wright's filmography as being the first fully American film he's made so far.The blend of incredible, practical car-chase stunts, 50s-style romance between the eponymous getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) and a winsome waitress (Lily James), and modern rock music made for a distinctive hybrid between old-fashioned musical and stripped-down action movie. Baby Driver, eschewing some of Wright's past comedic work, is the kind of movie that studios should keep green-lighting, even if it's not his very best.A Slice of Fried Gold: Signature MomentBaby Driver's primarily American cast reflects its sensibility and its pop-culture references. The frustrated back-and-forth between a few criminals Baby is driving to and from a robbery, though, feels very much in line with the humor in Wright's past work. To wit: when one of the criminals reveals his Michael Myers mask is a mask of actor Mike Myers as Austin Power, and the ensuing banter suggests that they're unable to clarify which Myers is which. It's the funniest moment in a film full of thrills.It's Pointless Arguing With You: Best Quote"Who doesn't like hats?" This line comes courtesy of the criminal JD, who's not in as much of Baby Driver as many of the characters. But when Baby inquires about JD's tattoo, which was originally the word "HATE", the rejoinder comes out of nowhere. Even though Wright moves quickly to get to the next part of the story, this goofy question is the kind of response that's hard to forget.By The Power of Greyskull: Most Memorable ReferenceAs it's an Edgar Wright film, it's hard to decide which reference works best. But let's highlight an unexpected corporate crossover, as this Sony release directly references Disney in a particularly shrewd way. Monsters, Inc. shows up in the background of one scene before Baby then quotes the lines he hears from the film to his boss Doc (Kevin Spacey). When he tries the gambit a second time late in the film, Doc calls him on it — "Don't feed me any more lines from Monsters, Inc. It pisses me off." The tie-in is especially funny considering Spacey's own Pixar connection, having voiced the villain in A Bug's Life.Skip to the EndBaby Driver isn't Wright's best film, but as an example of how car-chase sequences can be executed with maximal intensity and practicality, you can't go wrong.

4. Shaun of the Dead

Let's Boo-Boo: OverviewThough it's not Wright's first film, the now-15-year old Shaun of the Dead set the template for his inimitable style throughout the rest of his career. Part of the film is the kind of buddy comedy that has now become an overused cliche, in which two friends realize they've become codependent on each other and at least one of them has to grow up. (See most of the Apatow-style comedies of the last 15 years.) Shaun of the Dead couples that character arc for the eponymous lead (Simon Pegg) with, y'know, your average, run-of-the-mill zombie apocalypse.Once the zombies go on the attack, Shaun of the Dead kicks into an even higher gear. Wright, his editor and his cinematographer balance the real-world struggles that Shaun has with his buddy Ed (Nick Frost), his girlfriend, and their mutual friends, alongside the blood-spattered melees in which they fend off hordes of zombies. The visual style of the film is high-octane, balancing quick cuts with a surprising and welcome sense of coherency throughout. The film excels most at being a truly visceral comedy, equally incisive at depicting a shiftless lead character who has to get his shit together, as it is as showcasing various ways in which zombies get offed. The start of the Cornetto Trilogy is technically the weakest chapter, but it's still a rip-roaring good time.A Slice of Fried Gold: Signature MomentThere's a Pythonesque current of humor in the screenplay, written by Wright and Pegg, no more so than when Shaun and his crew are horrified to realize that his stepfather (Bill Nighy) has been bitten and is turning into a zombie. Nighy's character tries to shrug it off — "I ran [the wound] under a cold tap" — and the subsequent back-and-forth between him and Shaun's mother (Penelope Wilton), two people who don't fully grasp the severity of the apocalypse, is exceptionally funny before it becomes very sad.It's Pointless Arguing With You: Best QuoteThe winner here is "Fuck-a-doodle-doo!", a quirky phrasing first heard by Shaun and Ed's smug housemate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz). It comes up again once Pete, naturally, is turned into a zombie and Shaun uses it as a way to close out their frenemy-style relationship. There's almost too many good choices here, but the mere sound of "Fuck-a-doodle-doo" is just delightful.By The Power of Greyskull: Most Memorable ReferenceThis time, it's a musical reference in a key moment. When Shaun and Ed first encounter a zombie, they're a) drunk and b) not aware they've encountered a zombie until it's almost too late. They do so while carousing and singing the Grandmaster Flash song "White Lines (Don't Do It)", the kind of old-school song choice that reflects Wright's distinctive musical choices. Add to that the way the script balances the scatting chorus with the moans of a bloodthirsty zombie, and it's unforgettable.Skip to the EndShaun of the Dead portended a whole subgenre of American comedy, and served as a best-case scenario of what happens when you mash together two seemingly disparate genres.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Let's Boo-Boo: OverviewJust as Baby Driver was Edgar Wright's first fully American film, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World represented a truly unique element in his filmography: to date, it's his only straight-up adaptation. Based on the Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic-novel series, Scott Pilgrim is a shiftless twentysomething (Michael Cera) in Toronto who ends up in epic-style video-game-like fights with a series of seven Evil Exes of the young woman he's fallen for (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The ennui of being in your twenties is balanced with some truly outrageous battles, as Scott battles to the (video-game) death to simply go on a date with a girl without getting challenged.Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was Edgar Wright's first stab at working with a major studio (Universal Pictures), and the ensemble cast was full of recognizable faces from other big-name fare. Cera came from both Arrested Development and Superbad, and the ensemble also included recent Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation, and more.  The cast, buzz at the San Diego Comic-Con, and Wright's presence as an online favorite didn't help, and the moderate-budget film only grossed $60 million worldwide. Financial stumble aside, Scott Pilgrim is a clever, intensely fast-paced, and goofy look at the kind of character Wright's films excel at: lovable weirdos who just need a shove or two out the door into adulthood.A Slice of Fried Gold: Signature MomentThe Vegan Police, as played by Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr., are straight out of the graphic-novel series. But their presence in Wright's adaptation feels very much in line with his sensibilities. They're mostly on hand to help Scott defeat one of the Evil Exes, calling to mind both the Andys in Hot Fuzz, as well as Pegg and Frost themselves. Their meta-presence would have only heightened the distinctiveness of this fourth-wall-breaking scene.It's Pointless Arguing With You: Best QuoteSometimes in life, you learn things the hard way. That's what happens when Scott, after opining about his favorite garlic bread, is informed by Ramona that bread makes you fat. "Bread makes you fat?!?" is Scott's response; as much as Cera's a reed-thin actor, his bewildered reaction sells the line all the more.By The Power of Greyskull: Most Memorable ReferenceThere are, of course, video-game references aplenty in Scott Pilgrim, many of them representative of O'Malley's graphic novel. But one reference that stands out isn't about a video game at all, just an unsuccessful romantic/superhero comedy. When Scott refers to "my stupid ex-girlfriend" and someone asks him if he's referring to "the Uma Thurman movie," that person means My Super Ex-Girlfriend. This reference stands out because it feels like the kind of delightful pop-culture throwaway that Wright places just for his own entertainment; it works for those of us with encyclopedic memories about goofy comedies too.Skip to the EndScott Pilgrim vs. The World is yet another hybrid in Edgar Wright's filmography, and one of his more charming and intelligent films to date.

2. Hot Fuzz

Let's Boo-Boo: OverviewAfter the success of Shaun of the Dead, it might have been easy for Edgar Wright to just go back to the same well over again. On the surface, his follow-up film Hot Fuzz seems to do just that: both films are centered on a core relationship between characters played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and both films balance comedy with a more familiar, more prone-to-violence genre. But Hot Fuzz, taking loving aim at action movies of the 1980s and 1990s, is instead as good if not better than many entries of the genre it's skewering. Pegg's character, Sergeant Nicholas Angel (so named after the music supervisor of the film), is such a good cop that he's made his superiors in London look bad. Once they demote him to a seemingly peaceful English village, he's surprised to uncover a vast and despicable conspiracy. Only his new friend and partner Danny Butterman (Frost) can help him take down the conspiracy.One way in which Hot Fuzz excels is in the eventual reveal that this is as much an action-comedy as it is a spoof of horror-movie cults like in The Wicker Man. Pegg and Frost remain a dynamite duo, and there's even more distinctive humor here (Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall as the aforementioned Andys are a highlight). While this film isn't spoofing an automatically gory subgenre, there's blood aplenty — as when a friendly journalist is offed in a particularly gruesome manner, in broad daylight. And Wright's ability to reflect and refract action-movie filmmaking without feeling like a carbon copy is genuinely remarkable.A Slice of Fried Gold: Signature MomentThe final section of Hot Fuzz encompasses more than a single moment, but it's the high point of a film building up to a crazy level of action. Once Nicholas Angel embraces his inner action-hero badass, letting leash mayhem in the sunny town of Sandford, the movie reaches its apex. Within that sequence, the bit where Nicholas goes head to head with the local priest (Paul Freeman) who first pleads for peace before revealing his own personal arsenal is truly memorable. How else can you upend social mores than by having a cop shoot down a gun-toting priest?It's Pointless Arguing With You: Best QuoteMy pick for the film's best quote is one courtesy of Nicholas when he's play-acting, at a very desperate moment, as the large and monosyllabic henchman Michael "Lurch" Armstrong (Rory McCann of Game of Thrones). As Lurch, he has to answer the nefarious Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) over walkie-talkie, but do so with a glorified grunt for "yes" or "no". Or, as Lurch would say, "Yarp" or "...Narp?" "...Narp?" is just brilliant.By The Power of Greyskull: Most Memorable ReferenceWith a movie like Hot Fuzz, it would basically be a crime to not call out one of the film's many references to action films. And while the movie it's referencing is (to this writer) quite bad, the way this one calls back to Michael Bay's Bad Boys II is pretty great. After Danny introduces Nicholas to the film, the Bay film's signature camera-spinning gets quoted when the two men are separated by local affairs. Wright's clearly not parodying this moment as much as he is quoting it out of love. (But it works better in Hot Fuzz.)Skip to the EndHot Fuzz is almost, but not quite, the pinnacle of the Wright/Pegg/Frost films; with Pegg getting to stretch from his work as Shaun, it's a sign of things to come.

1. The World's End

Let's Boo-Boo: OverviewI've written about The World's End before, and at this very website. The culmination of the Cornetto Trilogy is darker and more adult than its premise might suggest. The basic setup, in which a group of old friends meet up in their hometown only to find that it's being taken over by aliens, allows for more of the hallmarks of Wright's films. There's a bevy of references to 90s culture, a great soundtrack, fast-paced dialogue, extreme violence, speedy pacing, and more. But there's a distinct current of sadness running through The World's End, directly ending with its lead character, Gary King (Pegg, in what is arguably his best performance to date).In the early going, The World's End is the funniest, wittiest film of the bunch here. The script by Wright and Pegg gives each of the core five friends — played by Pegg, Frost, Martin Freeman, Considine, and Eddie Marsan — a distinctive personality and a flair for wordplay. It's not exactly disappointing once the story kicks into a sci-fi gear after about 40 minutes, but it's to the film's credit that it could've stayed entirely in the real world and worked. But Wright brings his signature flair to the fight scenes, and the character study of Gary King, who Pegg makes alternately likable and awful, is one of the sharpest parts of any Wright film.A Slice of Fried Gold: Signature MomentSomething that should be highlighted here is how often Edgar Wright's films include deliberate visual echoes, whether it's in Shaun of the Dead, tracking Shaun walk into a convenience store, both before and after zombies descend on London; or here, as the whip-fast prologue foreshadows the way that the fabled pub crawl the Golden Mile will eventually play out over the course of the film. By hinting at the fates of the characters (and the world itself), Wright manages to tip his hand without being too aggressive about it. It's hard to make such visual echoes without doing it obnoxiously, but Wright's figured it out.It's Pointless Arguing With You: Best Quote"It's all I've got!" This is the standout quote of The World's End in spite of not being, y'know, funny. It's the painful reveal from Gary, as he and Andrew (Frost) make their way to the final pub in the Golden Mile, the eponymous World's End. Gary tries to be charming, but it's obvious that his glory days died in high school, and his desperate need to redo the Golden Mile suggests the shaky tether he has on life. Though this comes in the middle of an alien invasion, it's part of a great, emotional moment between Pegg and Frost, the capper to an emotional catharsis.By The Power of Greyskull: Most Memorable ReferenceThe notion of an alien invasion causing the end of the world, in which copies of humans take over for the real McCoy, is a staple of science-fiction horror. The best possible example is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which gets called out by Wright when we see this film's "blanks" (AKA the aliens taking over human bodies) screeching just the way the aliens in Body Snatchers do when identifying humans who need to be assimilated. It's a perfectly fitting and apt tie-in.Skip to the EndThe World's End is an uncompromising finale to the Cornetto Trilogy, and its willingness to stick with an anti-heroic character to the bitter (or lager) end is a smart choice in the long run.