The movie helped launch the careers of Anderson and Schwartzman while establishing a "second career" for Murray as a respected actor in independent cinema. At the 1999 Independent Spirit Awards, Anderson won Best Director award and Murray won Best Supporting Male award. Murray also earned a nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture.
Max Fischer (Schwartzman), an eccentric 15-year-old, is a scholarship student at Rushmore Academy, a private school in Houston. He is both Rushmore's most extracurricularly active and least scholarly student. He spends nearly all of his time on elaborate extracurricular activities, dramatically affecting his grades. He also has a feud with the school's headmaster, Dr. Guggenheim.
At a school assembly, Max meets Herman Blume (Murray), a disillusioned industrialist who finds his operation of a multimillion-dollar company to be tedious. He is upset that his marriage is failing and the two sons he's putting through Rushmore are impolite and obnoxious brats spoiled by their mother. Herman comes to like Max, and the two become good friends. Max is impressed by Herman's success, while Herman is interested in Max's confident persona.
Max also develops an obsession with Rosemary Cross (Williams), a widowed teacher who arrives at Rushmore as a new first grade instructor. She joined Rushmore after the death of her husband, who was a former student. While she initially tolerates Max and his attempts to pursue her, Rosemary becomes increasingly worried by his obvious infatuation. Along the way, Blume attempts to convince Max that Rosemary is not worth the trouble, only to fall for Rosemary himself. The two begin dating without Max's knowledge.
After Max attempts to break ground on an aquarium without the school's approval, he is expelled from Rushmore. He is then forced to enroll in his first public school, Grover Cleveland High. Max's attempts to engage in outside activities at his new school have mixed results. A fellow student, Margaret Yang, tries to befriend Max, but he acts hostile towards her. Rosemary and Blume attempt to support him in his new school.
Eventually, Max's friend Dirk discovers the relationship between Rosemary and Blume and informs Max as payback for a rumor Max started about his mother. Max and Blume go from being friends to mortal enemies, and they engage in back-and-forth acts of revenge. Max informs Blume's wife of her husband's affair, thus ending their marriage. Max then puts bees in Blume's hotel room, leading to Blume breaking Max's bicycle with his car. Max is eventually arrested for cutting the brakes on Blume's car.
Max eventually gives up and meets Blume at his mother's grave. He explains that revenge no longer matters because even if he wins, Rosemary would still love Blume. Max becomes depressed and stops attending school. He becomes reclusive and works as an apprentice at his father's barber shop. One day, Dirk stops by the shop to apologize to Max and bring him a Christmas present. Dirk suggests Max see his old headmaster in the hospital, knowing Blume will be there. Max and Blume meet and are courteous. Blume tells Max that Rosemary broke up with him due to her still being in love with her dead husband. Max begins to apply himself in school again, and he also develops a friendship with Margaret, whom he casts in one of his plays.
Max takes his final shot at Rosemary by pretending to be injured in a car accident, soliciting her affection. When she discovers that Max's injuries are fake, he is rebuffed again. Max makes it his new mission to win Rosemary back for Blume. His first attempt is unsuccessful, but then he invites both Herman and Rosemary to the performance of a play he wrote, making sure they will be sitting together. In the end, she and Blume appear to reconcile. Max and Margaret also become a couple.Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer
Bill Murray as Herman Blume
Olivia Williams as Rosemary Cross
Seymour Cassel as Bert Fischer
Brian Cox as Dr. Nelson Guggenheim
Mason Gamble as Dirk Calloway
Sara Tanaka as Margaret Yang
Connie Nielsen as Mrs. Calloway
Luke Wilson as Dr. Peter Flynn
Stephen McCole as Magnus Buchan
Kumar Pallana as Mr. Littlejeans
Alexis Bledel as Student
With Rushmore, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson wanted to create their own "slightly heightened reality, like a Roald Dahl children's book". Like Max Fischer, Wilson was expelled from his prep school, St. Mark's School of Texas, in the tenth grade, while Anderson shared Max's ambition, lack of academic motivation, and had a crush on an older woman. Anderson and Wilson began writing the screenplay for Rushmore years before they made Bottle Rocket. They knew that they wanted to make a film set in an elite prep school, much like St. Mark's, which Owen had attended along with his two brothers, Andrew and Luke (Luke being the sole graduate), and St. John's School in Houston, Texas which Anderson had attended. The film also featured M. B. Lamar High School. According to the director, "One of the things that was most appealing to us was the initial idea of a 15-year-old kid and a 50-year-old man becoming friends and equals". Rushmore was originally going to be made for New Line Cinema but when they could not agree on a budget, Anderson, Wilson and producer Barry Mendel held an auction for the film rights in mid-1997 and struck a deal with Joe Roth, then-chair of Walt Disney Studios. He offered them a $10 million budget.
Anderson and Wilson wrote the role of Mr. Blume with Bill Murray in mind but doubted they could get the script to him. Murray's agent was a fan of Anderson's first film, Bottle Rocket, and urged the actor to read the script for Rushmore. Murray liked it so much that he agreed to work for scale, which Anderson estimated to be around $9,000. The actor was drawn to Anderson and Wilson's "precise" writing and felt that a lot of the film was about "the struggle to retain civility and kindness in the face of extraordinary pain. And I've felt a lot of that in my life". Anderson created detailed storyboards for each scene but was open to Murray's knack for improvisation.
Cast directors considered 1,800 teenagers from the United States, Canada, and Britain for the role of Max Fischer before finding Jason Schwartzman. In October 1997, approximately a month before principal photography was to begin, a casting director for the film met the 17-year-old actor at a party thanks to his cousin and filmmaker Sofia Coppola. He came to his audition wearing a prep-school blazer and a Rushmore patch he had made himself. Anderson almost did not make the film when he could not find an actor to play Max but felt that Schwartzman "could retain audience loyalty despite doing all the crummy things Max had to do". Anderson originally pictured Max, physically, as Mick Jagger at age 15, to be played by an actor like Noah Taylor in the Australian film Flirting - "a pale, skinny kid". When Anderson met Schwartzman, he reminded Anderson much more of Dustin Hoffman and decided to go that way with the character. Anderson and the actor spent weeks together talking about the character, working on hand gestures and body language.
Filming began in November 1997. On the first day of principal photography, Anderson delivered his directions to Murray in a whisper so that he would not be embarrassed if the actor shot him down. However, the actor publicly deferred to Anderson, hauled equipment, and when Disney denied the director a $75,000 shot of Max and Mr. Blume riding in a helicopter, Murray gave Anderson a blank check to cover the cost, although ultimately the scene was never shot.
At one point, Anderson toyed with the idea of shooting the private school scenes in England and the public school scenes in Detroit in order to "get the most extreme variation possible," according to the director. Instead, the film was shot in and around Houston, Texas where Anderson grew up. His high school alma mater, St. John's School, was used for the picturesque setting of Rushmore Academy. Lamar High School in Houston was used to depict Grover Cleveland High School, the public school. In real life, the two schools are across the street from each other. Richard Connelly of the Houston Press said that the Lamar building "was ghetto'd up to look like a dilapidated inner-city school." Many scenes were also filmed at North Shore High School. The film's widescreen, slightly theatrical look was influenced by Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Anderson also cites The Graduate and Harold and Maude as cinematic influences on Rushmore.
Rushmore uses the unique style of cinematography that Wes Anderson has become well known for. The film has a singular sense of colour, focusing mainly on blues, greens, and reds in order to create a heightened reality. The montage sequence in the beginning of the film is strongly influenced by the rapid transitions used by French New Wave filmmakers. The shot of Max in the go-cart also resembles a photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue. This montage sequence was almost cancelled by Disney executives as it was not believed that these short singular shots were required in regard to the budget and time frame the film was restricted by. Therefore, the sequence was shot quickly whenever the crew were at a suitable location.
Anderson has come to be known as an auteur for this distinct style and frequent collaborations with the same actors and production members. Devin Orgeron claims that Anderson’s auteurship is interesting in his consistent “cinematic and extracinematic confrontation with the very question of auteurship”. In Anderson’s films, and especially Rushmore, the protagonist is a “flawed but ultimately redeemable” auteur. However, in both the protagonists’ and Anderson’s ties to their communities, an idea of “collective auteurship” is proffered.
In the film, Anderson frequently employs the visual device of a stage, or stage curtains, to present the action. Rachel Joseph speculates that there is a link between these “screened stages” and the theme of mourning, for this “framed theatricality […] parallels the grieving process of reenacting and repeating the traumatic”. She also draws a connection between this style of presentation and the “cinema of attractions” that Tom Gunning theorised.
Wes Anderson originally intended for the film's soundtrack to be entirely made up of songs by The Kinks, feeling the music suited Max's loud and angry nature, and because Max was initially envisioned to be a British exchange student. However, while Anderson listened to a compilation of other British Invasion songs on the set, the soundtrack gradually evolved until only one song by the Kinks remained in the film ("Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl"). According to Anderson, "Max always wears a blazer and the British Invasion sounds like music made by guys in blazers, but still rock 'n' roll". In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Rob Brunner gave the soundtrack record an "A-" rating and wrote, "this collection won't make much sense if you haven't seen the movie. But for anyone who left the theater singing along to the Faces' "Ooh La La", it's an essential soundtrack".
Rushmore had its world premiere at the 25th Telluride Film Festival in 1998 where it was one of the few studio films to be screened and be well received by critics and audiences. The film was also screened at the 1998 New York Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival where it was a hit with critics. The film opened in New York City and Los Angeles for one week in December in order to be eligible for the Academy Awards.
Rushmore opened for a week at single theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on December 11, 1998. In one weekend, it earned a combined US$43,666, selling out 18 of 31 showings. The film opened in wide release in 764 theaters on February 19, 1999, grossing $2.8 million in its first weekend and went on to make $17.1 million.
The film received an 89% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 102 reviews with an average rating of 8.1 out of 10 with the consensus "This cult favorite is a quirky coming of age story, with fine, off-kilter performances from Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray." The film also has a score of 86 on Metacritic based on 31 reviews.
In his review for the Daily News, film critic Dave Kehr praised Rushmore as "a magnificent work: the best and most beautiful movie of 1998". USA Today gave the film three out of four stars and wrote that Bill Murray was "at his off-kilter best". Todd McCarthy, in his review for Variety, wrote, "The deep-focus widescreen compositions possess an unusual clarity that adds details and endows the action and humor with exceptional vividness". In his review for Time, Richard Schickel praised Rushmore as "an often deft, frequently droll little movie turns into an increasingly desperate juggling act, first trying to keep too many dark and weighty emotional objects aloft, then trying to bring them back to hand in a graceful and satisfying way".
In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "It's a particular treat for its skewed, hilarious memories of a cutthroat boyhood". In his review for The Independent, Anthony Quinn said of Schwartzman that "he perfectly captures the poignancy of a character who understands his failings but hasn't yet the emotional resources to conquer them". In her review for The Washington Post, Rita Kempley praised Schwartzman's performance for winning "sympathy and a great deal of affection for Max, never mind that he could grow into Sidney Blumenthal". Entertainment Weekly gave Rushmore an "A" rating and wrote, "Anderson concentrates on beautifully disciplined filmmaking, employing 1960s British Invasion hits . . . to further define Max's adolescent dislocation". Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his review for the Chicago Reader, wrote, "To their credit, Anderson and Wilson share none of the class snobbery that subtly infuses much of Salinger's work ... But like Salinger they harbor a protective gallantry toward their characters that becomes the film's greatest strength and its greatest weakness".
In Time Out New York, Andrew Johnston wrote: "A breezy comedy about the grey area between adolescence and adulthood, Rushmore makes good on the promise of Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket — and then some. Thanks to stellar performances and the director's original comic vision, it's easily one of the year's finest films. ... Rushmore is somewhat indebted to Harold and Maude and similar comedies of that era, but the complexity of Max and the audacity of the film's set pieces place it in a league of its own."
However, some critics did not review the film so positively. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan criticized Max’s overtly “snooty” personality as “too off-putting to tolerate” which could potentially discourage audiences when identifying with the film. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four citing an issue with the film’s shift in tone in the final act, stating “the air goes out of the movie” in regards to “stage-setting and character development”. He further wrote, “Anderson and Wilson are good offbeat filmmakers … But their film seems torn between conflicting possibilities: it’s structured like a comedy, but there are undertones of darker themes, and I almost wish they’d allowed the plot to lead them into those shadows”.
A lifelong fan of film critic Pauline Kael, Anderson arranged a private screening of Rushmore for the retired writer. Afterwards, she told him, "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie". It was a nerve-wracking experience for Anderson but Kael did like the film and told others to see it. Anderson and Jason Schwartzman traveled from Los Angeles to New York City and back on a touring bus to promote the film. The tour started on January 21, 1999 and went through 11 cities in the United States.
Rushmore was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards - Wes Anderson for Best Director and Bill Murray for Best Supporting Actor with the actor winning. Murray was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for the Golden Globes.
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association named Bill Murray Best Supporting Actor of the year for his performance in Rushmore. Wes Anderson was named the New Generation honoree. The National Society of Film Critics also named Murray as Best Supporting Actor of the year as did the New York Film Critics. Film critic David Ansen ranked Rushmore the 10th best film of 1998. Spin hailed the film as "the best comedy of the year".
Rushmore is #34 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". The film was also ranked #20 on Entertainment Weekly magazine's "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" list and ranked it #10 on their Top 25 Modern Romances list.
Rushmore was one of the 400 nominated films for the American Film Institute list AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Empire also named it the 175th greatest film of all time in 2008. Four years later, Slant Magazine ranked Rushmore #22 on its list of the 100 Best Films of the 1990s, and it was ranked the decade's ninth best film in two polls – one for The A.V. Club and the other for Paste. According to ShortList, it is one of the 30 coolest films ever. Ryan Gilbey of The Guardian listed it as the eighth best comedy film ever made.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment released an edition of the film on June 29, 1999, with no supplemental material. This was followed by a special edition on January 18, 2000, by The Criterion Collection with remastered picture and sound, along with various bonus features, including an audio commentary by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, a behind-the-scenes documentary by Eric Chase Anderson, Anderson and Murray being interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show, and theatrical "adaptations" of Armageddon, The Truman Show and Out of Sight, staged specially for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards by the Max Fischer Players.
A Criterion Collection Blu-ray was released on November 22, 2011.