Let’s be honest, some of the best architectural inspirations come from films.
Just think about it, film directors and set designers go to all lengths to create a world that’s believable to moviegoers. On top of that, often whole films are created using sets, and we aren’t even aware of it.
However, for architects and architecture lovers, one of the best experiences is catching movies that resonate with the idea of design. It’s a bonus if the theme revolves around the theme of architecture or an architect.
Having said that, it can be quite hard to sift through the thousands of movies accessible at any given point in time. Hence, we thought of compiling a list containing some of the best movies for architects. And, we are pretty sure any of our choices wouldn’t let you down.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Best Movies For Architects
1. The Architect (2016)
Let’s start on a lighter note with a film about an architect who gets a job building the dream house of a married couple. However, everything takes a whacky turn when the modernist eccentric architect decides to create his dream house instead of theirs. The film is directed by Jonathan Parker and stars the English actor James Frain as the architect, Miles Moss.
Even though exaggerated in many instances, the film reflects the stereotypes revolving around architects. At the same time, the film sheds light on the ambitious couple who can’t fathom what building a house really takes and is often bogged down by their peers. On top of that, get ready to catch brilliant shots of the University of Washington School of Architecture studio that’s presented as the architect’s office.
2. Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is one of the movies every architect should watch at least once. In fact, any dystopian science fiction movie notes how architecture plays an important role in setting the mood of a world. We suggest you watch Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, to catch a dark, twisted Los Angeles of 2019.
As a side note, let’s point out that Denis Villeneuve reimagined the film and created Blade Runner 2049, which was released in 2017. It’s also a great film, but the original Blade Runner is hailed as a classic.
The story revolves around Replicants, cyborgs created by humans for entertainment, but these engineered lifeforms are hunting for shelter to survive. At the center of this film, you will find the blade runner, Rick Deckard, portrayed by actor Harrison Ford, who hunts Replicants.
Even though the imagined Los Angeles didn’t come true, Blade Runner still paints a picture of a society that isn’t dreamy or superfluous. Instead, the director focuses on a raw dystopian city quite similar to the 1980s.
3. The Fountainhead (1949)
When it comes to discovering movies for architects, it can’t be long before you find out about The Fountainhead. Based on Ayn Rand’s novel, this film tries to explore the theme of the creative freedom of a young architect who fights the rules set by traditional architecture.
As a black-and-white film, it quickly pulls you into the world of Howard Roark, a modern architect who doesn’t want to compromise with his visions.
Directed by King Vidor, this film stars renowned actors like Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey in major roles. Having architecture as the main theme, the film reflects the tug-of-war between individualism and collectivism. It’s also said that the protagonist was somewhat based on Frank Lloyd Wright.
Along with the question of occupation and individual creative license, you will find a rather relatable love triangle at the center of this film. Hence, even after being several decades old, The Fountainhead remains a classic to be admired, especially by independent architects.
4. 24 City (2008)
This time, we have a Mandarin-language documentary film directed and co-written by the Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke. The film explores the lives of three generations who are based in Chengdu. The focus of this film lies in the closing of a state-owned factory that would be turned into a modern apartment complex.
By dealing with the personal life of the eight characters, the director tries to trace the history of China and the restless sociopolitical changes. Along with the usual documentary-style storytelling, this film has a fictive tone, so it’s often categorized as a docudrama.
One of the reasons this one stands out among other architecture movies is because it traces the plight of modern architecture. You enter the story tracing the footsteps of those workers who are an indispensable part of the factory. And, in the end, you’ll be left feeling the emptiness that the workers might have faced as 24 City closed down.
5. The Belly Of An Architect (1987)
If there’s one film that truly inspires architects, it has to be this one. Nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, The Belly of an Architect is written and directed by Peter Greenaway. It stars Brian Dennehy and Chloe Webb, who are remembered for their brilliant performances.
Now, coming to the story, it’s about an American architect, Stourley Kracklite. He has been commissioned to direct an exhibition in Rome commemorating the 18th-century French neoclassical architect, Étienne-Louis Boullée. As you can guess, architecture forms the central theme of this movie, and it sheds light on various movements of architecture and art.
However, at the same time, the film sheds light on the life of the main character, and we are led to a truly tragic ending. And, do watch the film to find out the significance of its odd title. Apart from the stunning visuals, this film comes to life with the music created by Glenn Branca and Wim Mertens.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
When it comes to grandeur and visual aesthetics, very few people can beat Wes Anderson. The story of this film revolves around the Grand Budapest Hotel, a European Ski resort taken care of by the concierge M. Gustave.
Along with the epic building, the film is jam-packed with an ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, and Saoirse Ronan, to name a few. There’s everything in the movie, from a murder mystery to a well-paced comedy. Even though the story begins in the 1960s, you are soon taken on a ride to the 1930s to the glory days of the hotel.
The whole movie comes together with the brilliant music of Alexandre Desplat, and he won an Academy Award for the original score. Leaving aside the story, what truly brings the movie alive is the set design. Interestingly, the lobby and interior of the hotel was shot in a vacant Görlitzer Warenhaus. Adam Stockhausen was behind the production, and he also bagged an Academy Award for it.
7. My Architect: A Son’s Journey (2003)
This is one of the architecture movies that’s deeply rooted in the profession that every aspiring architect should watch at least once. The documentary explores architect Louis Kahn through the lenses of his son, director Nathaniel Kahn. In the film, he interviews legendary architects like B. V. Doshi, Philip Johnson, and Shamsul Wares, among others who worked with his father.
At the same time, the director makes sure to dive deep into the life led by Louis Kahn, especially when it comes to having three families. Moreover, it’s quite sad to know that Louis Kahn ended by passing away in 1974 as a penniless loner after all his accomplishments.
Our favorite parts of the film have to be the glimpses of the several iconic buildings designed by Louis Khan. Their creative, unconventional work done by him, especially in India and Bangladesh, can inspire architects interested in modern designs.
8. Visual Acoustics (2008)
Taking a break from the architects, let’s watch a film based on the life of a great architecture photographer, Julius Shulman. Along with being a proponent of modern American architecture, he has helped set the careers of many famous architects.
One of the best parts about Visual Acoustics has to be the narration of Dustin Hoffman that takes you on a ride through the career of Julius. Through visuals, the documentary explores the works of the photographer who worked relentlessly till his death in 2009.
Architecture students will especially love the bits highlighting Southern California Modernism, a key area with which Julius worked. To get a closer look at the pictures, you can visit the website for the film as it has a pretty elaborate gallery.
9. Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance (1982)
When we think of modern society, we think of high-rise buildings and urban life. This movie, directed by Godfrey Reggio, helps us take a backseat and explore the horrors of environmental dangers caused by this rapid growth.
It’s an experimental, non-narrative film, so you might take some time to get into the storytelling fully. However, it maps the self-centered attitude of human beings. The majority of this film is composed of time-lapse as well as slow-motion footage of New York, Los Angeles, and other parts of the US.
What’s more, as there’s no narration, the original score of Philip Glass transcends the film to deliver the message. If you’re wondering about the title, it’s derived from the Hopi language and stands for “life of moral corruption and turmoil” or “life out of balance”.
10. Dark City (1998)
Even though it may seem out of the blue, this neo-noir film is truly a visual treat due to the architecture of the future city and the premise of urbanism. It’s directed by Alex Proya, and any sci-fi fan will get pulled into it instantly.
This film revolves around the experiences of the protagonist John Murdoch who awakes in a hotel bathtub with amnesia. He is soon caught up in a mystery and chased as everyone thinks he is a murderer. Not originally from the dark city, Murdoch has to face the weird experiments of the Strangers.
Besides, the architecture in this film gets highlighted due to the use of tone and lighting to bring out the interiors even in such a monotonous setting.
11. Inception (2010)
We couldn’t possibly make a list without mentioning a film by Christopher Nolan. Our obvious pick would be the Leonardo DiCaprio starter Inception which kept everyone thinking about dreams.
It’s on the surface level an espionage action, where the protagonist, Dom Cobb, works as a thief who steals people’s secrets from their dreams. And, the movie traces his mission to get back whatever he loves. At the same time, it’s also about architects who can build a different reality. Hence, if it’s your dream to design buildings, maybe start by watching this film.
12. Rear Window (1954)
Last but not least, we will suggest all architecture lovers watch the film Rear Window directed by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock. Apart from literally having a design component in its name, this mystery thriller revolves around a man, L. B. Jefferies, who can’t leave his apartment.
This leads him to keep an eye on the other apartments and the courtyard visible through his rear window. One night he hears something, and soon the mystery unfolds. Along with being considered one of Hitchcock’s best, this American film urges you to think about our inherent curiosities.
That’s all the architecture movies that we had in store for you. But, we could only manage to give you a limited list. There are several other great films that architecture lovers would surely enjoy. So, it’s best to have an open mind about films that might be inspiring.
On that note, we would like to say that you may want to savor a film like admiring any other piece of art. Hence, especially in the case of the more dated films, try to get immersed into them and look at the impressive visual portrayal of architecture.
With that, we have to end. In the comment section, do let us know about any other picks you may have for movies every architect should watch.
Till then, goodbye, and enjoy the visual treat!