When it comes to movies, we all have our favorites. Those particular ones that we love so much often mean something to us in some manner, either it is because it was made by a certain director, it is included in one of your favorite film genres, or it has a recognizable style that you admire. For some people, they love a specific film to the point they want to know everything about it from its conception to its execution, usually asking the question “how did they come up with that?”
We do not think about it but artists rub off each other. One person may be a filmmaker but he or she may adore the work of a photographer or painter, giving them the inspiration they need for a film they are currently working on. And when this happens, they give homages to the original artist like a thank you note. We can sometimes see these little notes in their films. They can come in the form of a character design, a line in a script, or having the original piece inserted in the movie.
Some of you may be familiar with art history. Others not so much. Whether you do or don’t, it’s always pretty cool to see what inspired hollywood’s best directors and their creative teams to create (or recreate) concepts or even a costume based off another work of art. Here is a list of films that were inspired by the world’s greatest artworks.
10. Pacific Rim
Guillermo Del Toro is on this list again but this time for his sci-fi flick, Pacific Rim. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, he inserted another obvious piece of art history that maybe some of you may know. The robots Kaiju and Jaegers were inspired by a piece called Colossus. It is believed that this piece was created by Francisco Goya. The painting is what you probably expect, a giant roaming over vast acres of land. In the film you get exactly that, except these are giant robots battling out in the middle of a city.
9. Django Unchained
Costumes in Quentin Tarantino’s movies are just as original as his screenplays. In Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx’s character Django wears the outlandish blue outfit in the beginning of the movie. The costume is a nod to an oil painting made by Thomas Gainsborough in 1777 entitled The Blue Boy. The film’s costume designer Sharen Davis was the one who showed Quentin Tarantino the image. Originally, the outfit was going to have a more vintage 70s polyester look that would not compliment the tone of the film. She slipped the image in a book and the director saw it, telling her “make him look like Blue Boy”
Christopher Nolan’s mind-boggling movie, Inception, was inspired by artist M.C Escher. Escher was a graphic designer known for his surrealist themes and they often have a unique geometric design. His work is the inspiration for the scene when Ariadne, an architect student played by Ellen Page, takes to the streets of Paris and turns them into a cube. In the script, the structure was described as having six planes, perpendicular to each other. The character Maurice Fischer, played by late British actor Pete Postlethwaite, is named after the artist.
7. Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola is known for her unique, often dreamy, visual quality in her films that compliment the characters in her story. Her Oscar-nominated flick Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, opens with a shot of Johansson lying down wearing only a t-shirt and very sheer pink underwear. Coppola got the idea from photorealist John Kacere’s painting of a woman in black lingerie. It’s also believed that she was also referencing the 1963 film Contempt with Brigitte Bardot in a similar fashion. You can see the actual piece in the film, hanging in the Japanese hotel Johansson and Murray’s characters stay in.
Fans of the expressionist movement, Dystopian films or of Fritz Lang may be familiar with this film from the 1920s. The futuristic German silent film centers around the Tower of Babel but it differs from the biblical story. Lang purposely modeled his tower after the painting, done by Pieter Bruegel The Elder. The Tower of Babel is the home of the main character Freder, who resides in the top of the tower with a group of Bourgeoisie-types known as the “intellectuals”, whereas the machine workers live on the bottom of the sky-rise. In the film, the character Maria delivers a sermon where she tells the story of the tower and how it was both a blessing and curse as it caused a discourse between the two groups.
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
If you are familiar with any art history or Greek/Roman mythology, this one may have been obvious to you. Director Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy/live action flick Pan’s Labyrinth derived some of art’s greatest works to help create some of the film’s terrifying, magical creatures that all come from a little girl’s head. Del Toro, a lover of art and literature, was inspired by Spanish painter Francisco Goya’s grim Saturn Devouring His Son, which is a depiction of the Greek mythical god, Cronus. In a 2006 interview, Del Toro says that the pale man was an obvious reference when he bites off the heads of two fairies.
4. The Exorcist
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is called one of the most scariest films ever made. One of the iconic images of the movie was inspired by René Magritte’s painting The Empire of Lights. The piece has muted tones, featuring a lone house surrounded by trees, dark shadows and has an overall eerie mood. The house’s light shines through a window, reflecting onto a body of water. If this reminds you of anything, that is because the shot of Father Merrin, played by Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, arriving at Regan’s home for the exorcism was based off upon it. The tones are similar to the painting, using predominantly blue and black colors. The light from Reagan’s bedroom that pierces through the window adds mystery and tension to the scene like it did in the original artwork.
3. The Shining
Still to this day, Stanley Kubrick’s horror film freaks audiences out with its suspense and violent, gruesome imagery. Of course, the creepiest and most recognizable of them are the bloody Grady ghost twins that pop up. It is believed that Kubrick was inspired by Diane Arbus’ photograph entitled Identical Twins, shot in late 1960’s. However, there is some controversy around that claim. In 1940, Kubrick was studying photography and Arbus was one whose works he came across. However, she didn’t take the photo of the twins until two decades later. Kubrick’s widow claims that the image in the film was a coincidence.
One of the most well known pieces of art on this list would come from one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular films – Psycho. The infamous home of Norman Bates that stands behind the Bates motel was inspired by 20th century painter Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad. Created in 1925, the painting is of a gothic farmhouse in the middle of a plain. Hitchcock took the gothic details of the house. Hopper felt honored to be Hitchcock’s inspiration, having once stated that he was very glad to have contributed to such an influential film.
It is simply impossible to have this list and not include Alien. It is known that H.R. Giger is the creator of the Xenomorph, which is based off his own dark surrealist paintings. However, he was inspired by another painting called Francis Baceon’s study of Pope Innocent X, which is a disturbing piece of the pontiff’s melted face. That piece, in turn, was based off another similar painting done by Master Diego Velazquez who made his piece on the exact same pontiff. Basically, the Xenomorph is a wonderful frightening blend of 17th and 20th century artists and their distinct styles.