In What Hollywood Films Does Art Play a Starring Role?
From Ferris Bueller's Day Off to RoboCop.
Going to the cinema can be as profound and pleasurable as going to see an art exhibition. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll happen on a film that prominently features a work of art. We’ve collected our favorite Hollywood movies that are not about artists or art, but have art embedded into their story lines. Our list spans from blockbuster hits to cult classics, so, as with any great museum, there should be something here for everyone to enjoy.
1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
John Hughes’s 1980s classic film stars Matthew Broderick. The coming-of-age movie follows high school senior Ferris Bueller, who decides to skip school to hang out with his girlfriend and best friend. The film features the friends visiting several Chicago landmarks, including a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Most Memorable Scene: Broderick singing “Twist and Shout” on a parade float.
2. Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic cinematic style and creative bravado have made his films instant cult classics. His latest, The Grand Budapest, stars Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H., a much-loved and loyal hotel concierge who is framed for the murder of a wealthy woman (played by Tilda Swinton). She bequeaths a valuable painting, titled Boy with Apple, to Gustave H., which in turn enrages her family, who seek to bring him to justice.
Spoiler Alert: The secret to his innocence lies in an envelope concealed in the painting.
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Starring Jude Law, Matt Damon, and Gwyneth Paltrow, this psychological thriller has all the plot characteristics of an entertaining movie: sex, intrigue, identity-theft, murder, wealth, and glamour—need we say more? There’s also an art angle. Spoiler alert: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character gets offed by Damon with a heavy marble bust. Although the film doesn’t feature any famous artworks per se, films in which artworks are used as deadly weapons are woefully rare.
Fun Fact: The book series the movie is based on has a sequel in which the title character is involved in an art forgery scheme.
4. Titanic (1997)
Not only does Leonardo Di Caprio famously sketch Kate Winslet in the nude, but Winslet’s character, Rose, and her wealthy fiancé (played by Billy Zane, who is now a successful artist), have an extensive art collection which they bring aboard the RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage, including works by Picasso and Degas.
Fun Fact: Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time until 2009, when James Cameron (its director) released Avatar.
5. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Woody Allen’s time travel comedy stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a successful but unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter who travels to Paris with his fiancé and her conservative family. One night Gil gets drunk and lost in the streets of Paris, where he is picked up by a vintage car that allows him to travel back in time to meet artists including Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas.
Fun Fact: One of the posters for Midnight in Paris shows Gil wandering along the Seine under the starlit and windswept sky from Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
6. RocknRolla (2008)
Guy Ritchie’s gangster film has a star-studded cast with Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Mark Strong, Thandie Newton, and Tom Hardy. A seemingly done deal involving a British mob boss and a billionaire Russian businessman starts to unravel as a corrupt accountant, the mob boss’s son, some small-time crooks, and the Russian billionaire’s favorite painting (one the audience never gets to see) get thrown into the mix.
Best Scene: When exchanging confidential information about a robbery, Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler have a dance off.
7. Children of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-nominated sci-fi drama starring Clive Owen, Michael Caine, and Julianne Moore is set in a dystopian future where women have become infertile. Major artworks such as Picasso’s Guernica, Michelangelo’s David, and Banksy’s British Cops Kissing all make cameos in a scene when Owen’s character visits his cousin in the city’s art conservancy and archive, “Ark of the Arts” which is the real life Tate Modern.
Fun Fact: Cuarón, will be honored at MoMA at its annual film benefit gala next month.
8. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Everyone loves a good art heist film, especially if it stars heartthrob Pierce Brosnan and leading lady, Rene Russo. A remake of the original, which stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, the 1999 film revolves around the theft of Claude Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The painting actually belongs to Wales’s National Museum Cardiff.)
Bonus: The film also very cleverly weaves a master forger and René Magritte’s famous painting The Son of Man into its plot.
9. Great Expectations (1998)
Ethan Hawke, Robert de Niro, and Gwyneth Paltrow star in the film modernization, also directed by Alfonso Cuarón, of Charles Dickens’s beloved tale of an orphan boy, his unrequited love, and his rise to fortune. Hawke’s character, Finnegan Bell, becomes a wildly successful artist in New York City, thanks to the help of an ex-convict he helped as a child (de Niro).
Fun Fact: The art that was supposedly painted by Hawke’s character in the film is actually work by Italian contemporary artist Francesco Clemente.
10. Robocop (2014)
This big-budget remake of the 1987 film about a powerful cyborg cop haunted by his memories is not very good. But it makes our list because the villain, played Michael Keaton, does have some great art in his office. The first scene set in his futuristic headquarters shows a triptych by Francis Bacon hanging on the wall. In later scenes the Bacon has been replaced by Jon Rafman’s digitally sculpted busts from his “New Age Demanded” series.
Fun Fact: Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud was sold for $142,405,000 at Christie’s in 2013, setting a new record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.
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