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Did you know one of the very first movies ever made was of a galloping horse?
Not much plot-line there, but back then, it was the best movie ever!
An animated movie of sorts, it was made of a series of photographs pasted onto a drum. You cranked it by hand to watch!
Since film wouldn’t have existed without photography, we got to thinking about all the movies that pay homage to photography. Turns out there a lot of photo-related movies out there, so we’ve compiled our top 50.
Grab some popcorn, draw the curtains, and get those DVD/Blu-ray discs spinning/Netflix streaming/iTunes downloading.
We’ll start with an oldie. (which is incidentally also a goody!) You might remember a jolly Jimmy Stewart running through the streets yelling something about Christmas, but in Rear Window, he’s a total badass. Jimmy plays a photographer whose keen, observing ways get him wrapped up in a murder mystery. Dun dun DUN!
This movie makes us want to spout off every silly French phrase we know. It also makes us want to take photos! Amelie is full of all kinds of photo fun. Photobooth scrapbook (that sometimes talks)? Check. Traveling Gnome Polaroids? Check. Memories of her first camera? Check. Flirtation via photo? Check!!
One Hour Photo
WARNING: This movie is scary. We picked this up thinking it was going to be the photo-themed equivalent of Patch Adams, but oh, how we were wrong. Robin Williams plays a creepy photo lab technician that’s a little too photo-obsessed. (even more than we are!) We can’t say much more without giving it away, but if you’re into thrillers, you’ll be pleased.
Fun Fact: Some of the characters’ names, including Robin Williams’, are real photographer’s names, like James Van DerZee, Nobuyoshi Araki, Bill Owens, Ellen von Unwerth, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Outerbridge.
If you haven’t seen Memento, photo movie night is the night! Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a guy who wakes up not knowing who he is or why he has a pocket full of photos. You’ll soon notice Leonard tends to forget things…constantly. Okay, so he basically has no long term memory. He spends the entire film looking at polaroids and notes to figure out what the heck is happening. (which turns out to be a lot of crazy stuff!)
Fun Fact: Leonard uses a Polaroid 690 to keep track of his memories. Extra fun fact: Memento only took 25 days to shoot!
A young, unknown photographer finds fame after taking photos of his weirdo family and small-town folk. Don’t we all secretly wish this would happen to us? But, Pecker‘ll teach you that things aren’t so easy when you become a famous photographer. Turns out his subjects aren’t all too happy with the results. (wompwomp)
Fun Fact: Pecker’s camera is a Canonet, made mostly in the 60s and was the equivalent of a point-and-shoot. Today, it’d be worth about $20.
Blow Up is another tale of murder, but this time it’s paired up with the usual 60s shenanigans (sex, fashion, and maybe drugs). Michaelangelo Antonioni whipped up this mod mystery film in which a fashion photographer might have accidentally photographed a murder. He blow ups his photos to figure it all out.
Fun Fact: Famed 60s swingin’ photog David Bailey was considered for the main character’s role.
More Photography Movies…
We hadn’t seen some of the movies that follow, but thanks to your suggestions, they’re now on our list!
Movies with Characters as Photographers
City of God
This amazingly shot, epic movie tells the story of two friends who grow up in Rio de Janiero. One becoming a news photographer, while the other gets involved with some shady business.
Dennis Hopper plays a photojournalist who was inspired by famed Vietnam photographer Tim Page. Also an epic which stars Marlon Brando!
The Eyes of Laura Mars
A super scary flick about a commercial photographer who can see through the eyes of a murderer.
Thriller about a crazy serial killer who captures his victims terror with a moving camera.
A photojournalist travels to El Salvador to shoot the military dictatorship in place but gets into trouble with rebels!
The Year of Living Dangerously
A somewhat handsome (and less crazy) Mel Gibson plays a reporter on a hot story in the tumultuous Indonesia. His trusty sidekick is a local photographer!
Midnight Meat Train
Bradley Cooper plays a photographer who helps save a woman who’s attacked. When she ends up missing, he becomes obsessed with finding her killer. Based on a Clive Barker story!
A fashion photographer falls for a bookish Audrey Hepburn. (who wouldn’t?!) Inspired by Richard Avedon. p.s. There’s lots of singing in this, too!
A blind photographer feels he must take photos to prove that what people describe around him is the truth. Also stars a young Russell Crowe!
Steve Buscemi plays a papparazzo!
Road to Perdition
A thriller in which Jude Law plays a creepy Weegee-like character. You’ll see him frequently photographing murder scenes.
Julia Roberts is an art photographer who gets caught up in a dramatic love affair – with Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman! HAWT.
The Public Eye
Another noir-ish, Weegee-inspired movie. Joe Pesci is a crime-scene photographer who can’t help but get involved. His accent will totally flash you back to My Cousin Vinny.
Watch this if you like period pieces…and photography! 1900s Sweden, Maria wins a camera in a lottery and finds empowerment through it.
Spiderman is actually Peter Parker, a teenaged photographer who totally capitalizes on his double-identity by selling photos of Spiderman to newspapers.
Movies that feature photography
Shutter (Thanks @kenmccoypress)
Like The Ring but with photos! This is the remake based of an original Thai version.
Twilight Zone’s Most Unusual Camera (Actually a TV episode. Thanks @Woodrue)
Two robbers find a very tricky camera.
Born into Brothels (Thanks @rachaelhulme)
A moving documentary about children in Calcuttta who are given cameras.
Shooting the Past
A story about a British photographic library that is on the verge of being shut down. Highly acclaimed, mixture of comedy and drama.
Civil War- A Film By Ken Burns
Ken Burns makes historical documentaries that are heavily depict the past in photographs (think PBS). He’s made several of these, which are easy to find.
Short film made almost completely of still photographs. The characters in this attempt time-travel after a nuclear war.
The Impossible Project
Super 8 films documenting The Impossible Project, a project that is bringing back analogue instant film.
Stanley Kubrick had a F .07 lens specially made to shoot this film, as well as a 50mm lens specially made for NASA by the Carl Zeiss Company. He was able to shoot the whole film without any artificial lighting, including candle lit scenes….AMAZING!
Movies by Photographers
Ashes and Snow by Gregory Colbert
A series of beautifully shot scenes of humans with animals. Shot mainly in Africa and Asia.
David LaChapelle‘s documentary about emerging dance movements (Clowning and Krumping) in LA’s South Central. Amazing shots in this one!
Pleasure + Pain
Famed photographer to musicians, Danny Clinch directed this film about Ben Harper (also see his upcoming documentary, Dig It!)
Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance
A film by Godfrey Reggio that’s also a sequence of beautiful shots, including slow-motion and time-lapse pieces. Part of a trilogy.
Photographer Mary Ellen Mark‘s documentary about the homeless Seattle youth that she also photographed in her book, Streetwise
Documentary about the photojournalists of Gamma Agency by Magnum photographer/filmmaker Raymond Depardon
Movies about Photographers
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Nicole Kidman plays Diane Arbus in this film that tells the story of how she came to become a photographer.
James Nachtwey War Photographer (Thanks @stuegan)
Documentary about a war photographer and the complexities of being one.
A documentary about Edward Burtynsky, which follows him to China where he photographs industrial landscapes
Documentary about the photographers of Mussoorie, a station at the foot of the Himalayas in Northern India
Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light
From the American Masters Series by PBS, a retrospective on Richard Avedon’s career as an art and fashion photographer.
Spectre of Hope
Documentary about Sebastio Salgado’s massive project, Migrations. He spent 6 years traveling 40 countries documenting globalization.
People * Love * Photos
Documentary about four young, American photographers, Tanyth Berkeley, Traci Matlock, Ashley MacLean, and Elinor Carucci
Moment of Impact: Stories of Pulitzer Prize Photographs
Retells stories of famous photographs as lived by the photographer as well as the subjects
The Decisive Moment – Henri Cartier Bresson
Hear Bresson’s musings on photographing (in his own voice!)
Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
Also, from the American Masters Series, a retrospective of Annie Leibovitz career as a celebrity photographer.
An American Journey: In Robert Frank’s Footsteps
Phillipe Seclier travels to the places that Robert Frank photographed for The Americans.
William Eggleston In the Real World
Follow Eggleston on a few trips, which includes commissions to photograph and visits to his own exhibit.
What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann
Documentary that spans 5 years and delves into her work process and thoughts on her projects.
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Published on July 6, 2010 — See more Guides
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