The film was released on October 26, 2007 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics and earned $35 million on a $17.5 million budget. The film won the Best Comedy at the Movies for Grownups Awards in 2008 and the Top Films of the Year at the NYFCO Awards in 2007 and also received nominations for the Grand Prix Asturias for Best Feature and the Bodil for Best American Film (Bedste amerikanske film).
A businessman in India fails to catch his train — called "The Darjeeling Limited" — as it pulls out of a station; he is beaten to it by a younger man, Peter Whitman. Peter reunites with brothers Francis and Jack on board, the three having not seen each other since their father's funeral a year prior.
Francis has recently survived a near-fatal motorcycle accident (leaving his face and head covered in bandages), and thus wishes to reconnect with his brothers on a journey of spiritual self-discovery. With the help of his assistant, Brendan, Francis draws up a strict itinerary for the trip and takes his brothers' passports to prevent them from getting off the train too early. Each brother harbors a personal dilemma: Jack is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend and plans to leave the trip to be with her in Italy; Peter's wife Alice is seven months pregnant, and he doubts whether or not he will be a good husband; Francis, though earnest about their journey, is secretly searching for their estranged mother, whom the brothers have not seen in many years. The three also continue to grieve over their father's death; carrying bags and suitcases marked with his initials, along with other personal items that belonged to him.
The train takes the brothers through the countryside and to various Hindu temples, though animosity builds as Jack and Peter become annoyed with Francis' controlling behavior. During the trip, Jack makes calls to listen to messages left on his ex-girlfriend's answering machine, and he has a fling with the train's stewardess, Rita. Francis eventually reveals that they will be meeting with their mother, who has become a nun living in a convent in the Himalayas. Peter and Jack are upset, knowing that they wouldn't have come if Francis had told them this earlier. The tension finally comes to a head and the three fight on the train, disturbing the other passengers. The Chief Steward, whom the brothers have repeatedly annoyed, has them thrown off with all their luggage. Brendan subsequently quits and returns to the train after giving the boys a letter from their mother; its contents imply that she doesn't want to see them. The brothers thus decide to leave India, go their separate ways, and never return.
After trekking through the wilderness, the brothers see three young boys fall into a river while attempting to pull a raft across it. Jack and Francis rescue two of the boys, but Peter fails to save the third, who dies. They carry the body back to the boys' village, where they spend the night and are warmly treated. They attend the funeral the next day and experience a flashback: the three brothers (accompanied by Alice) are shown heading to their father's funeral, and then stopping to pick up his Porsche from the repair shop, even though the car is not ready. It is revealed that their father's death was a result of him being hit by a taxi, and that their mother did not attend the funeral.
Back in the present, the brothers arrive at the airport, but just as they are about to board the plane, the brothers decide to rip up their tickets and go visit their mother regardless. They then reach the convent, where their mother is surprised but happy to see them (and Francis offhandedly implies that his accident was actually a suicide attempt). That night, after the brothers confront their mother for abandoning them, the family gathers together in silence and reconcile. The brothers awake the next morning to find their mother gone, leaving them their breakfast. They decide not to wait for her to return.
On their way to the train station, Jack reads the ending of his newest short story and finally accepts that it is based on his own life; he also states that he will not be going to Italy to meet his ex-girlfriend. At the station, the three brothers run for another train called "Bengal Lancer" and gleefully discard all their father's suitcases and bags to catch it. On board, Francis offers to return Peter and Jack their passports, but is told instead to hold onto them.
Much of the film was shot in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. The Himalaya scenes were shot in Udaipur, and the opening scene of the film was also shot on the streets of Jodhpur. The International Airport shown near the end is the old terminal building of Udaipur Airport. The scenes set in New York were shot in Long Island City.
The soundtrack features three songs by The Kinks, "Powerman", "Strangers" and "This Time Tomorrow", all from the 1970 album, Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, as well as "Play With Fire" by The Rolling Stones. "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" by Peter Sarstedt is prominently featured as well, being played within the film more than once. Most of the album, however, features film score music composed by Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Merchant-Ivory films, and other artists from Indian cinema. Director Wes Anderson has said that it was Satyajit Ray's movies that made him want to come to India. The works include "Charu's Theme", from Ray's 1964 film, Charulata, film-score cues by Shankar Jaikishan and classic works by Claude Debussy and Ludwig van Beethoven. The film ends with the 1969 song "Les Champs Élysées" by French singer Joe Dassin, who was the son of blacklisted American director Jules Dassin.
The Darjeeling Limited made its world premiere on 3 September 2007 at the Venice Film Festival, where it was in competition for the Golden Lion and won the Little Golden Lion. The film's North American premiere was on 28 September 2007 at the 45th annual New York Film Festival, where it was the opening film. It then opened in a limited commercial release in North America on 5 October 2007. The film opened across North America on 26 October 2007 and in the UK on 23 November 2007, in both territories preceded in showings by Hotel Chevalier. The film grossed $134,938 in two theaters in its opening weekend for an average of $67,469 for each theater.
The film (widescreen edition) was released on DVD 26 February 2008 on Fox Searchlight, with features limited to a behind-the-scenes documentary, theatrical trailer, and the inclusion of Hotel Chevalier. The film was re-released by the Criterion Collection on 12 October 2010 on both DVD and Blu-ray, the latter being the film's first release on the format.
The film received generally favorable reviews from critics. As of April 2015, on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 68% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 188 reviews, with a consensus among critics that the film "will satisfy Wes Anderson fans." On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 67 out of 100, based on 35 reviews. The film has a rating of 7.2 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave 3.5 out of 4, calling the film's Indian context as one of its main highlights. Ebert singled out Anderson's script, which, according to Ebert, "uses India not in a touristy way, but as a backdrop that is very, very there." Chris Cabin of Filmcritic.com gave the film 4 stars out of 5 and described Anderson's film as "the auteur's best work to date." Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum gave the film a "B+" and said "This is psychological as well as stylistic familiar territory for Anderson after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. But there's a startling new maturity in Darjeeling, a compassion for the larger world that busts the confines of the filmmaker's miniaturist instincts." A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that the film "is unstintingly fussy, vain and self-regarding. But it is also a treasure: an odd, flawed, but nonetheless beautifully handmade object as apt to win affection as to provoke annoyance. You might say that it has sentimental value."
Timothy Knight of Reel.com gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and said "Although The Darjeeling Limited pales in comparison to Anderson's best film, Rushmore (1998), it's still a vast improvement over his last, and worst film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)." Nathan Lee of The Village Voice wrote "A companion piece to Tenenbaums more than a step in new directions, Darjeeling is a movie about people trapped in themselves and what it takes to get free — a movie, quite literally, about letting go of your baggage." The Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer said "Wes Anderson doesn't make movies like anybody else, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. His latest, The Darjeeling Limited, combines what's best and worst about him." New York Magazine critic David Edelstein said that the film is "hit and miss, but its tone of lyric melancholy is remarkably sustained."
Nick Schager of Slant Magazine gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and said "the ingredients that have increasingly defined Wes Anderson's films...seem, with The Darjeeling Limited, to have become something like limitations." Emanuel Levy gave the film a "C" and said "Going to India and collaborating with two new writers do little to invigorate or reenergize director Wes Anderson in The Darjeeling Limited, because he imposes the same themes, self-conscious approach, and serio-comic sensibility of his previous films on the new one, confining his three lost brothers not only within his limited world, but also within a limited space, a train compartment." Levy also said "after reaching a nadir with his last feature, the $50 million folly The Life Aquatic of Steve Zisou [sic], which was an artistic and commercial flop, Anderson could only go upward." Dana Stevens of Slate magazine wrote, "Maybe Anderson needs to shoot someone else's screenplay, to get outside his own head for a while and into another's sensibility. It's telling that his funniest and liveliest recent work was a commercial for American Express." Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave the film 1 1⁄2 stars out of 4 and said "At a stage in Anderson’s career when he should be moving on, he is instead circling back."
Glenn Kenny of Premiere named it the fifth best film of 2007, and Mike Russell of The Oregonian named it the eighth best film of 2007.