Through tight screenplays, bombastic soundtracks, precise editing, and colorful visuals, Edgar Wright has established himself as one of pop cinema's most dazzling contemporary directors. His genre-bending works are difficult to categorize but easy to enjoy, pulling disparate elements from horror, musicals, video games, and hangout comedies to craft thoroughly entertaining projects that only he could create. But how do each of his efforts stack up against the rest? From the early days of Spaced to the recent thrills of Last Night in Soho, here are the works of Edgar Wright, ranked from worst to best.
8. <i>The Sparks Brothers</i> (2021)
The filmmaker's first and only documentary charts the ever-unpredictable half-century career of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, whose category-defying style has moved from post-British-Invasion pop rock to early synthpop to orchestral radio opera. Although its talking-heads interview approach is fairly typical by documentary standards, Wright injects some personality into the traditional doc format. He uses a variety of animation styles to illustrate the band's anecdotes — the claymation segments in particular will make you crave a full-blown animated movie from the filmmaker.
While it certainly succeeds at chronicling the history of a perpetually overlooked pop sensation, and demonstrates their importance in music history, it's undoubtedly the least-identifiably Wright-ish project to date. The Sparks Brothers is his most meandering work by far — and it's the only one on this list that feels like a lesser filmmaker could have been at the helm.
If you liked The Sparks Brothers, you might also enjoy: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016), streaming on Hulu.
7. <i>Last Night in Soho</i> (2021)
Wright's most recent effort is the furthest he's strayed from his comedic roots. The time-travel mystery-thriller follows modern fashion student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) as she uncovers the dark side of 1960s London through a metaphysical connection with aspiring dancer Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy).
Soho boasts some of Wright's most striking visuals, blending warm '60s nightclub aesthetics with unsettling horror-tinged psychedelia. Unfortunately, it suffers from his weakest screenplay to date, which weaves a bold, messy thematic web of confounding contradictions. It means well, and aspires to sympathize with victims of misogyny and abuse, but ultimately fails to contribute coherent commentary on the lofty issues at hand. Great soundtrack, though!
If you liked Last Night in Soho, you might also enjoy: Malignant (2021), streaming on HBO Max.
6. <i>Spaced</i> (1999-2001)
Wright's turn-of-the-century breakthrough was also his only major foray into television. The two-season series Spaced revolves around flatmates Daisy (Jessica Stevenson) and Tim (Simon Pegg) who must pretend to be a professional, working couple to qualify for their apartment. Though the central premise lends itself to hilarious relational hijinks, many of Spaced's funniest moments come when it deviates from its pretend-lovers conceit. The show's middle episodes play with various movie genres and tropes — there are multiple heist storylines, tons of references to Star Wars and The Matrix, and an action-movie paintball episode that predates Community's by over a decade.
Wright's kinetic, over-the-top directorial style injects the series with numerous wacky horror beats that bear substantial resemblance to Sam Raimi — a connection made all the more obvious by Tim's prominent Evil Dead II poster. Some of its mean-spirited jokes have aged quite poorly, and certain elements feel like warm-ups for future movie projects with Pegg and co-star Nick Frost, but the series has enough wit, energy, and heart to remain worthwhile regardless of your affections for Wright's later work.
If you liked Spaced, you might also enjoy: Community, streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
5. <i>Baby Driver</i> (2017)
One of the most common anti-Wright critiques is that his films value style over substance, and it's never been truer than in this music-driven crime caper — and his biggest mainstream hit to date. Baby Driver fans and detractors alike might struggle to tell you what the film is actually about because the appeal and artistry comes from its unique look, sound, and energy rather than plot, characters, or themes.
The film tracks the escapades of a stoic and aloof getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort), who falls in love with friendly waitress Debora (Lily James) and subsequently attempts to turn his back on Atlanta's criminal underworld. The characters are so thinly sketched that it's tough to buy into the film's Bonnie and Clyde-esque great American romance, and some shaky dialogue only makes matters worse. But the charming musical stylization, which the director established in his video for a 2003 Mint Royale song, yields a refreshingly unique viewing experience.
Each scene is carefully edited and choreographed around its stellar soundtrack, which makes for some of the best individual scenes in Wright's filmography. It's tough to beat the opening vehicular getaway set to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms," the long-take coffee run backed by Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle," and the breathtaking foot chase sequence soundtracked by Blur's "Intermission" and Focus's "Hocus Pocus."
If you liked Baby Driver, you might also enjoy: Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (2007), streaming on Showtime and Paramount+.
4. <i>The World's End</i> (2013)
Much of Wright's work focuses on immature, unserious men as they sort out their relationships and save the world. In the third and final installment in the so-called Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, the filmmaker intentionally interrogates the emotional complexity of his favorite character archetype. While prior installments Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz cast Nick Frost as the manchild foil to Simon Pegg's straighter-laced protagonists, The World's End flips the script by making Frost the responsible Andy, who's burdened by the baggage of Pegg's human disaster Gary as they reunite with their childhood friends for one final pub crawl.
It's Wright's most mature movie to date, grappling with alcoholism, the dangers of nostalgia, and the idea of growing up. However, it's the least funny of his comedic projects, and the down-to-Earth dramatic side of the film is so strong that its sci-fi elements feel like unnecessary afterthoughts.
If you liked The World's End, you might also enjoy: This is the End (2013), streaming on Netflix.
3. <i>Scott Pilgrim vs. The World</i> (2010)
The English filmmaker's first work across the pond — and an adaptation of the Canadian graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley — mashes up more genres in one movie than most directors dare in their entire careers.
The premise is undeniably ludicrous: as scumbag bassist Scott (Michael Cera) pursues the impossibly cool Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he must navigate Toronto's rock scene and battle her seven evil exes to win her heart. Along the way, he encounters a bizarre cast of cartoonish characters played by some of the era's most prominent rising stars, including Kieran Culkin, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Alison Pill.
It's difficult to pinpoint the movie's greatest asset because it does so much so well: punk rock musical numbers, zany physical comedy, ridiculous video-gamey fight scenes, and messy twentysomething romances. But Scott Pilgrim vs. The World's ultimate strength is its unique commitment to comic book stylization. Thanks to its animated flourishes, split-screen editing, and impeccable action choreography, watching the movie feels like flipping through a comic.
If you liked Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, you might also enjoy: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
2. <i>Shaun of the Dead</i> (2004)
Wright's first theatrical feature Shaun of the Dead refines the strengths of Spaced, establishing his unique directorial style that's prevalent in every subsequent movie. In the cult classic zom-com, Shaun (Simon Pegg) is so shell-shocked from his breakup with Liz (Kate Ashfield) that he and his irritating best friend Ed (Nick Frost) barely notice the zombie apocalypse unfolding in front of them.
The film's astoundingly long takes, repetition-based visual gags, meticulously choreographed fight scenes set to pop songs, and aggressive editing all bolster its irresistible comedic charm. Though Wright improves upon most of these elements in later films, Shaun is still a delight to behold, because whether you love or hate zombie movies, it's incredibly fun to see the genre's conventions so lovingly embraced and cheekily parodied. Eat your heart out, Zombieland.
If you liked Shaun of the Dead, you might also enjoy: Warm Bodies (2013), available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
1. <i>Hot Fuzz</i> (2007)
Wright's shining opus transposes the excess of '90s action movies into the quaint small-town intrigue of a BBC mystery series (the filmmaker colloquially refers to it as "Michael Bay's Midsomer Murders"). The action-comedy sees hotshot London police officer Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) reassigned to the unsettlingly tranquil village of Sandford. As he unravels a mysterious conspiracy, he reluctantly bonds with Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), an action movie aficionado who's far more comfortable quoting Point Break than fulfilling his duties as an actual police officer.
The film builds to a preposterous climax where Nick and Danny live out the latter's shoot-em-up buddy cop fantasy, as Wright and co-writer Pegg studied Roger Ebert's list of action movie clichés and packed as many tropes as possible into the final sequences. It's the pinnacle of Wright's abilities as a writer and director — every tossed-off line of dialogue, shot, and cut eventually builds to a reveal, a joke, or both. The supporting cast is also a who's-who of magnificent British character actors: Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Olivia Colman, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Rafe Spall, and Paddy Considine all make memorable, hilarious appearances, which together culminate into Wright's greatest work to date.
If you liked Hot Fuzz, you might also enjoy: The Nice Guys (2016), streaming on Netflix.