As a writer, you should focus on reading books. Reading well helps you to become a better writer. But sometimes we need to change up the medium. And what better way to recharge from the page than with an engaging film. There are so many great movies that all writers should watch.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching films, having worked in the entertainment industry for a few years and simply being a fan of the screen. But not every movie leaves you thinking, wondering, motivated to go out and create your own art. It takes a special film to do that.
Now, there are plenty of film adaptations of great books—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Shawshank Redemption, to name a few—but that’s not what I was looking for with this list. That could be an entirely separate list altogether. No, these are movies, all fairly recent, that left me thinking, simply, “I need to sit down at my computer and write.”
I know it’s about journalists and not novelists, but writing is writing. There’s a reason this film won Best Picture—it’s powerful and shows the vital importance of investigating a story and telling it accurately.
This biopic explores the life of Thomas Wolfe and his relationship with famed Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins. It takes you back into the 1920’s and 30’s publishing world of New York, and it makes you appreciative of the value a good editor brings to the table.
A story inside a story inside a story. This is just a plain good writing movie. When the world rejects your work, what are you willing to do to make your dreams a reality?
This 2011 film feels like a classic from the get-go. Owen Wilson is a screenwriter who is trying to make the leap into the world of literature with a new novel. While on vacation in Paris, he meanders the streets late at night and in a strange twist of magic, he ends up alongside literary icons such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.
To put it simply, no film has inspired me more to be a writer. First of all, J.D. Salinger as a man is an incredibly interesting story. The trauma he faced in his younger years, his perseverance in the literary world, and then the instant phenomenon with The Catcher in the Rye—and then to virtually disappear.
Salinger is unlike the other movies on this short list. It is not fiction and it’s not a biopic. This is a two-hour documentary that makes you think how unbelievably brilliant—and a little nuts—you have to be to write something like Catcher. But it leaves you understanding that, aside from the fame and the book signings and the royalty checks, the most important aspect of being a writer is staying true to the work.
For a biopic version of this movie, check out the 2017 movie The Rebel in the Rye.