There are so many movies about so many different things. Comedies, dramas, period pieces — the number of genres in film today are endless. There are even plenty of movies about what it’s like to make a movie. What’s more meta than that?! The inside look at what it takes to make the movies we love — whether realistically or satirically — is always fascinating. Some films take a look at the making of real, beloved films. Others take the fictional route and make us wish the movies being made were actually watchable IRL!
The ups and downs of making movies are well-known. From news articles about issues on the biggest movies to insider leaks about on-set strife, there is no shortage of info about the movie industry. But getting an inside look at how to the drama, and successes, go down? There’s nothing better. And that’s where these great movies about making movies come in. Here are some of the greatest of all time for when you want an inside glimpse at the inner workings of the movie biz!
16. Inglorious Basterds
While the entire film isn’t about movie making — it’s mostly about killing Nazis — a well-made movie is a thing upon which the entire point of the movie hangs. Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent), a young woman whose family is killed by Nazis, plans an attack to wipe some of those evil men out. Her plan is to make a Nazi propaganda film, invite prominent Nazi men to the premiere, and kill them all by burning down the theater. The film, Stolz der Nation, is made throughout the film before the final climax in which Shoshanna exacts her revenge on the Nazis. Sometimes making a movie isn’t for pure entertainment, it’s for a taking down a fascist regime!
15. Shadow of the Vampire
This one is an interesting account of making a movie. The movie being made is real — 1921’s Nosferatu, the first on-screen telling of the Dracula story. But the circumstances are highly fictionalized. Mostly the fact that in this movie, the lead actor, Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), is reimagined as an actual vampire. I guess that’s one way to make your movie authentic! The film really delves into the lengths that a director will go to make sure his vision is realized on screen. Even if that means casting a real vampire in your film to potentially disastrous results!
What do you do when you’re making a film and you’re on a budget? That’s the question Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) answers in this hilarious look at filmmaking on the cheap. Bobby has saved enough money to make a low, low, low budget film. He has a script, a cast, a crew, and just needs a studio to release his film. When a studio finally says yes, there’s a stipulation — get hot action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) in the film. Well, the hot star is not so into being in a no-budget dinky film so Bobby does the next best thing — secretly records him and tries to get usable footage for the film! While it’s a little immoral, it’s also some super resourceful movie-making!
13. Be Kind Rewind
Remember the good old fashioned days of video rental stores? No, because you’ve only ever known the joys of Netflix? Okay, well trust us, they existed. This film depicts a VHS rental store that’s coming close to extinction, mostly due to the owner’s insistence they not rent out DVDs. When the owner’s away, Mike (Mos Def) is left in charge and much to his dismay, his weird friend Jerry (Jack Black) almost destroys the entire store. After trying to sabotage an electrical plant, because why not, Jerry becomes magnetized and upon entering the store destroys all the VHS tapes. So what do they do? Recreate the movies themselves! The hilarious and ridiculous recreations actually become popular with customers! They start using locals to film the movies, casting new people in starring roles in popular films. That’s one way to fix your mistakes!
12. Ed Wood
This film gives the account of cult filmmaker Ed Wood‘s time making some of his most well-known science fiction, sexploitation, crime and horror films of his career. Johnny Depp takes on the role of Wood as he tries to get his filmmaking off the ground and how his closeted cross-dressing lifestyle influenced his style of making movies. His style was unlike any other, as he scrapped movies together with anything and everything just to get them made. The film gives a great glimpse into one of the most manic filmmakers in Hollywood history, with a proclivity for campiness. He’s known to some as the worst director of all time and to others the best. His divisive nature is a great commentary on movies themselves: sometimes you love them, and sometimes you loathe them.
11. State and Main
Sometimes making a movie is full of problems. And problems are all Walt (William H. Macy) runs into when he tries to make a film named The Old Mill. First, the leading man’s behavior gets them ousted from where they’re shooting in New Hampshire so they have to relocate to Vermont. Well, turns out the town they go to doesn’t have a mill anymore — something the plot of the movie hinges on. Next, the writer gets writer’s block and the leading actress demands more money. It’s everything but smooth sailing for this production. The lesson here: making movies can be a real pain in the butt!
10. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
In an homage to Jacques Cousteau Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, an eccentric oceanographer. While filming a project his partner is eaten by a “jaguar shark,” which may or may not be a real thing. For his next documentary, he decides to avenge his partner’s death and film the elusive, destructive, possibly-real shark. Over the course of making the documentary, he must work with his estranged wife, deal with paternity issues, and decide what he’s going to do if the shark turns out to be real. It’s a fitting ode to the incredible oceanic films Cousteau made during his long and storied career. But it’s also pretty silly and fun at the same time!
9. For Your Consideration
This is a fascinating look at what it must feel like when your role starts generating Oscar buzz before it’s even released! And this case, before it’s even finished filming. That’s the case for three relatively unknown actors working on a low-budget film. When an off-hand remark turns into full-blown awards buzz, they all begin imagining themselves winning an Oscar. Meanwhile, the film is still in production and the studio soon demands changes to match up with people’s expectations. In the end, the three do some moderately embarrassing press for the film in their hopes for consideration for an awards nom and don’t even get nominated! Here’s a hard lesson in doing things for the accolades and not for the joy of doing them.
It doesn’t get more meta than this film about the making of a film that began as an adaptation of a book but then turned into a film about adapting the book. Got all that? Charlie Kauffman, played by Nicolas Cage, was set to write a screenplay for a movie version of the book The Orchid Thief. But that soon turned into him writing a movie about his issues adapting the strange little book. He wrote himself into the movie and threw a twin brother and some highly fictionalized elements into the metafilm. The film tells Kauffman’s story of him trying to adapt an unadaptable book to the big screen while his brother messes up his life and gets a script sold with ease. This is a deep dive down the rabbit hole of adapting literature for the big-screen, and it’s definitely one of those movies you’ll never forget.
7. Hail, Caesar!
This movie tells the story of someone integral in filmmaking that never really gets talked about: the fixer. Set in the 1950s, Hollywood fixer and studio head Eddie (Josh Brolin) has to field the many problems that arise during the making of Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ. When his star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped, he must find him and get his production back in gear. While highly comedic, the film does give a good look at the big-studio days of Hollywood past when gossip columnists were rabid and making movies had to be portrayed as absolutely perfect.
6. Boogie Nights
Porn movies are still movies! This movie is an inside look at the porn industry as a young ingenue comes up in explicit films in the ’70s. While most movies depict the rise of young starlets from waitress to Hollywood star, this one takes a sharp turn. Nightclub worker Eddie (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself ensconced in the world of pornographic videos after a filmmaker finds out he’s quite ~talented~. The film displays the porn industry as less a sexual free-for-all and more of what it really is: a movie-making business. The behind-the-scenes doldrums of making porn are very much like making any other movie, from the scene partners who have to have chemistry to the bad decisions the actors tend to make!
5. The Artist
This film really shot for authenticity. The movie focuses on an aging silent film star and an up-and-comer as “talkies” started to take hold of the film industry in the late 1920s. In keeping with the subject matter, the film is entirely in black-and-white and silent with subtitles for the dialogue. The movie captures the era in which film was really taking shape to what it would become today. The upheaval in the industry because of sound coming to film (something many thought was “a fad”) shook through Hollywood and left many who were unable to change with the times jobless. The Artist truly nails a very specific type of movie-making.
4. Singin’ in the Rain
Another film that focuses on the movie industry’s transition to “talkies” is this 1952 film was quite close to its subject matter. When a studio accustomed to the old way of doing things finds they have to adapt, they decide to turn their next film into a musical. It’s rife with disasters, as they have no clue how to translate music and singing to film. Plus, the lead actress can’t even sing. Microphone and dubbing issues abound! The film is ultimately a success and the stars learn to transcend their fame to new realms of Hollywood. Films about Old World Hollywood never get old!
3. Saving Mr. Banks
This mildly-fictionalized film tells the story of the events that led to the making of Mary Poppins. The film obviously takes some creative liberties, but the main strokes tell the real story of Walt Disney adapting P.L. Travers popular children’s book. As a consultant on the film, Travers has a lot to say about her vision being realized. Her criticisms are often seen as annoyances despite often being helpful. The movie’s ending is a bit more romanticized than what happened in real life, though. While movie-Travers is emotional watching the film and seems to enjoy it, the real Travers was disgusted by the film and refused to let any of her other works be adapted by Americans again. That’s the magic of movies based on real life: you can change the ending!
2. The Disaster Artist
The Room is known as one of the most ridiculous cult films of all time. So naturally, this look at how the movie was made promised to be equally as intriguing as the bizarre film itself. James Franco adapted and starred in this film version of The Room star Greg Sestero‘s book chronicling his time making the film. The film zeroes in on the director, writer, financer, and all around ring-leader Tommy Wiseau. The man with the mysterious past does all he can to realize his and Sestero’s American dream of being movie stars. It’s truly a love letter to the film industry, despite how strange the film turns out to be. Wiseau and Sestero are just two best friends trying to make it big, and if that’s not admirable, then we don’t know what is.
1. Tropic Thunder
Tropic Thunder is about a group of actors who decide to do a Vietnam War film to recoup their careers and hopefully generate awards buzz. But things quickly go wrong. Their director, sick of their behavior, drops them in the jungle and attempts to shoot them with hidden cameras. He soon learns about the dangers of the jungle and dies from a land mine. The actors are convinced it’s a ploy to encourage their performances, continue on thinking it’s all part of the plan. Soon they realize this is no movie set. They’re in gang territory and find themselves having to survive more than just working together. It’s a silly lampoon of actors trying to do a “serious film” to further their career. Unfortunately, it’s been a flick covered in controversy by the decision to show Robert Downey Jr. in blackface.