Movies about writers

I’m not trying to write a top of the best movies about writers. I’m just making a list of the ones that I really enjoyed – for various reasons of course.

Finding Forrester (2000)

In a way, I just couldn’t start with any other  movie, simply because Finding Forrester was so cute and sweet and sincere that I almost cried at the end.

Starring Sean Connery and his manly voice in the role of William Forrester, a very successful and yet reclusive writer, this movie actually has some pretty good advice on writing.

Connery’s character, loosely based on J.D. Salinger, through a string of events, ends up helping Jamal Wallace with his writing. Jamal is black and sixteen, and just about ten different characters say it’s remarkable that he’s black, sixteen, and also a good writer. The film also stars Anna Paquin will all her clothes on and Busta Rhymes.

As I said earlier, besides the melodrama and some pretty good jokes and some bad jokes and the inevitable romance and one or two cliches about writers (like all writers are notorious drunks,) this movie actually has some good advice on writing. Much like this one:

Forrester: Why is it that the words we write for ourselves are always so much better than those we write for others? Go ahead.

Jamal: Go ahead and what?

Forrester: Write.

Jamal: What are you doing?

Forrester: I’m writing. Like you’ll be when you start punching those keys. Is there a problem?

Jamal: No, I’m just thinking.

Forrester: No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!

And, of course, there’s this fabulous exchange between the remarkable black teenage writer Jamal and Sean Connery’s fantastic accent:

Jamal: Women will sleep with you if you write a book?
Forrester: Women will sleep with you if you write a bad book.

Barton Fink (1991)

Without a doubt this is one of the best movies about writers ever made. Written in three weeks by the Coen Brothers because they were suffering from writer’s block and they were struggling with the script for Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Universally acclaimed, this movie tells the story of a young New York playwright who is hired to write movies scripts for Hollywood. John Turturro, in what is maybe the best performance of his career, reminded me, in a bizarre way, of Fitzgerald’s The Pat Hobby Stories, or any other of his shorts based on Hollywood for that matter.

I’m perfectly aware that this movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Damn, it’s even difficult to categorize. It’s a film noir, surrealistic, and whenever I have to describe it, I use one word: VERTIGO. This should do the job. It’s really worth the time.

Secret Window (2004)

I have a special relationship with this movie. I first saw the movie trailer at the cinema, and since I was very young at the time, I misunderstood what it was about.

What I understood from that trailer ended up years later as the basis for my novel The Writer.

Based on Stephen King’s novella, this movie is not as much scary, as it’s thought provoking. To a certain level, the psychological side of this movie appealed to me more than the horror part. And, of course, Johnny Depp’s performance, who for the past ten years or so, has played each of his roles impeccably.

Secret Window tells the story of Mort Rainey (Depp), a very successful writer who one night follows his wife into a motel, where she was busy having extramarital sex. Of course, they divorce, and he moves to their lake house. He’s suffering from writer’s block and spends most of his time either sleeping or drinking.

Until one day, when a guy named John Shooter (John Turturro) pays him a visit and accuses him of plagiarizing one of his short stories. Of course, things get nastier and nastier, and Mort Rainey finds himself locked in this strange game, when he’s constantly outsmarted and harassed by this Shooter guy. Then there’s the inevitable, mind-blowing twist at the end, which you will discover on your own.

I liked this movie, mostly because I’m a big fan of Depp, but also because Stephen King is one of the few writers who actually manage to create writer characters that appeal to non-writers; characters that actually add a bit of insight into what it feels like to be a writer.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

What I admire about this movie is that it took a lot of courage to make. Hunter S. Thompson’s novel has a specific, hallucinatory imagery, and the story almost spirals out of control toward the end.

Those of you who’ve read the novel won’t be disappointed. A tale about addictions in its many forms, but mostly drugs, this movie stars Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio del Torro as Dr. Gonzo, who’s some sort of lawyer, as we’re constantly reminded every two pages of the novel and two minutes of the movie.

Like Barton Fink, this movie isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It gets scary at one point, and it offers the visual equivalent of spinning around and around for twenty or so minutes.

The story it’s pretty simple. Raoul Duke, a journalist, and his friend Dr. Gonzo, go to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race. The idea is that they also buy all the drugs imaginable to man. And, of course, they try them.

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

I have this odd relationship with Woody Allen’s movies. Match Point, for instance, is one of my favorite movies. I loved just about everything in that movie: the beginning, the whole metaphor for luck, the smart dialogue, the story, the soundtrack, Scarlett Johansson. I really recommend it if you haven’t seen it already. It’s really, really good.

You Will Meet a Talk Dark Stranger (this one’s about writers too) is one of the few movies I genuinely hate. If I could, I’d ask for my two hours back. It was dreadful, even though it featured great actors like Anthony Hopkings, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas and many others.

But Woody Allen really gets the whole idea of being a writer. He understands the process, the quirks, the doubts and the lack of sanity. And Deconstructing Harry, featuring himself as Harry Block, a very successful writer, is one of the best movies about what it feels like to be a writer. The story is told through a series of flashbacks that add emphasis on the central plot of the movie, which in itself is pretty simple. Harry Block’s driving to a university to receive an honorary degree, accompanied by a prostitute, a friend, and his son.

This is a great movie, worth seeing by any aspiring writer. It offers insight into the mind of the writer, a feat not accomplished by many movies.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Another one of Woody Allen’s movies, this one is a cute romantic comedy starring Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to write his first novel.

If you like Rachel McAdams, then this is the movie for you.

It was enjoyable, though not as great as to deserve three Academy Award nominations.

Basically the storyline goes like this. Gil Pender and his fiancee are vacationing in Paris. There, through a magic only Woody Allen and Harry Potter know about, Pender ends up meeting Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and many, many others.

As I said, the idea is quite cute, and, well, there’s always Rachel McAdams to look at, and it’s not the least bit boring (at least it wasn’t for me.)

The Rum Diary (2011)

As I said at the beginning of this post, this is a list of my favorite movies about writers, not that much about writers actually writing. In this one, there isn’t as much writing going on as there is drinking, but it’s worth a shot.

Based on one of Hunter S. Thompson’s novels (Johnny Depp actually stumbled upon the long forgotten manuscript of this novel during one of his visits to Thompson’s house), I gave this movie a try simply because there’s a very good female character in it.

Chenault (she doesn’t have a last name) played by Amber Heard, is a femme fatale unlike many other characters I’ve seen in movies. Well, maybe the novel version of Chenault is a bit more complex and original, but Amber Heard is simply ravishing. She’s sexual and sensual, and, sadly, that’s about it.

Oh, there are some laugh out loud scenes, there’s a lot of politics, and a lot of dialogue. And, of course, as the title suggests, rum, rum, rum.

The Libertine (2004)

This movie has it all. A controversial theme, a true artist type, the one who indulges himself in the most decadent of eccentricities, very good dialogue, and a very smart ending.

It even has character arcs, which isn’t something you don’t see too often these days. For those who love a bit of Shakespeare, a bit of The Tudors, this is the movie for you. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget about the sex. There’s lots of it, but then again, if you’re watching HBO…

the-words-posterThe Words (2012)

This one’s kind of cool, because it’s about one or two things we rarely talk about: there’s a limit to what one can do with words and paper. Sometimes what one can do with them is not enough, and this leads to depression and starvation and some other stuff.

It’s also a movie about how much you’re willing to pay for getting what you want most.

And it’s also a nice love story, and it tackles the incredibly real idea of writing about a tragic event in order to get over it, which is kind of cool.

Really worth the time, because this one’s got a great cast (Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid)

I know there are many, many more movies about writers. And there are some that are should be on the list, and maybe I’ll write a second blog to add them to the list. There are many of Stephen King’s adaptations, there’s Naked Lunch, and many others, like Capote, for instance.


58 comments on “Movies about writers

  1. Awesome. I haven’t seen all of these. Looks like I’ve got my viewing planned for the next few weeks!

  2. There are a lot of movies on this list I haven’t seen, and reading this has definitely led to further additions on my list of to-watch films.

  3. John says:

    I love Sean Connery flicks!

  4. Many Cha Cha Michelle says:

    Great list, some I’d like to check out on your recommendation. Ah Barton Fink… when the wallpaper is rolling down the walls… And even though it’s cheesy, I’d like to suggest Shakespeare in Love, for the way it shows how business concerns can affect the writing process.

  5. Finding Forrester is my favorite movie about a writer and the scene you mention is how I write. There is no such thing as writers block.

  6. feltenk says:

    “The Words,” “Finding Forrester,” and “Midnight In Paris” are a few of my favorite movies. Other ones about writers that are worth watching include: “Misery,” “The Hours,” and “Adaptation.”

  7. Isn’t it interesting that 4 of the films you listed star Johnny Depp? :)

  8. GrowlTigger says:

    An interesting post, with several movies I have enjoyed mentioned, Finding Forrester, Secret Window and the Libertine. I didn’t know either Barton Fink or The Words – I will try and find them as they sound worth seeing.

  9. I saw Midnight in Paris New Year’s Eve 2011. Loved it. That’s Woody Allen at his best.

  10. Laura Hilger says:

    I love doing lists for some reason; this one was fun to read! I haven’t seen the last 3 yet, but on my fav list, I have Finding Forrester, Barton Fink, Fear/Loathing!

  11. Thanks for all the work you did on this! I saw Finding Forester, and those lines you mentioned did inspire me–not to think so much, just to write. Hey maybe I will watch it again tonight. I’ll have to look up those other one’s–try to find them on sale somewhere.

  12. cookie5683 says:

    I’m watching Fink. Interesting

  13. Pervertically Virtuous says:

    I love Barton Fink, most Woody Allen movies (except, indeed Tall Dark Stranger), and the Hunter Thompson-based movies. (funnily, a reader of my blog yesterday sent me an email saying my ‘once-in-a-generation insights’ reminded him of Hunter Thomspon’s work. Not sure how to take that, lol.) gotta check out Libertine, Secret Window, and The Words…

  14. janipalm says:

    Good movie!

  15. Blessings, Nice work, keep it up.

  16. FINDING FORRESTER simply can’t be topped when it comes to showing a person what writing, of any kind, is all about… I recommend it to everyone.

  17. Francis says:

    Wow – great list and a great blog – now I’ve got to see ALL of them!

  18. dhwanis says:

    Wow! Interesting post! I will try to find and view each of these..and while we are on the topic of movies on writes you could check out a movie called Becoming Jane,

  19. Loved Midnight in Paris (saw it twice)!

  20. umashankar says:

    That is an amazing compilation! I loved Finding Forrester. More so as Sean Connery always reminds me of Ernest Hemingway.

  21. Mistlake says:

    I really enjoyed Secret Window, and don’t understand all the negative reactions to it from viewers and critics. Haven’t seen Barton Fink. That I need to do :)

  22. Nice selection. There are a number of others, believe me. Try “The Lost Weekend,” for example, about a writer with a major drinking problem. It is early Billy Wilder, 1945.

    And since we’re on the writer’s craft, I invite all your dear readers to consider my writing project on Kickstarter now all through May 6, A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES. I still need to raise about $1,000. Can I do it in one more day? I hope so.

    I hope that all your readers will give it a nice consideration. And please show your support with a LIKE.

  23. Of all the movies about writers you’ve mentioned, it is only “Secret Window” that I watched. I didn’t like it, though, because of the ending. Take note: just the ending. But it was good in making me feel its suspense/thriller content. I would oftentimes get annoyed with the “villain”.

    You mentioned Rachel McAdams, I like her as an actress. She’s really good.

  24. Lee Cundangan says:

    I have only watch one movie in this list but the rest you’ve listed are all pretty good. I love Finding Forrester the best :-)

  25. Stephen says:

    I loved Secret Window! It’s one of those movies you can watch multiple times as well because the ending makes you want to go back and see if there are any clues you missed.

  26. E A M Harris says:

    I didn’t know there were so many films about writers. Does this reflect the fact that the scripts are written by writers? or is being a writer a good job to give your character as he is then free to rush around having adventures?

  27. Good list – I would also include ‘Adaptation’, and ‘Aimee and Jaguar’ (a German film about the incredible true story of Felice Schragenheim, who worked as a journalist in Berlin during WWII while concealing the fact that she was 1) Jewish, 2) gay and 3) an undercover spy).

  28. Bukowski – the film on him was insight revealing but I could not find name of the movie this morning.

  29. reelgirl327 says:

    I’m stoked you mentioned Libertine – it’s such an overlooked film. I personally love the performances – it’s great watching Depp and Malkovich go at it.

  30. Some of these are my favorite movies, but there are a few I haven’t seen…Thanks!

  31. Totally agree with your Finding Forrester review – what an intelligently written script and Rob Brown’s accounting of how he actually was cast in the starring role could make a fairy tale story in itself. (Watching this movie one just knew he’d go on to star in others which he did – he stole the show in this one!) Have actually used the reminder “The first draft you write from the heart many times . . .” Thought provoking post, thank you.

  32. I love Finding Forrester; it’s one of my favorite movies.

  33. Secret Window is probably my all time favorite movie. I’ve seen it about a half dozen times. Of course, starring Johnny Depp doesn’t hurt at all. I’ve seen some of the other movies on your list and they’re good movies, but quirky with turn about endings will get me every time.

  34. edgarone2 says:

    I have seen Finding Forrester.
    I have to look for the other movies you reviewed.
    Most of the movies I see I borrow from our city library.
    Thank you.

  35. Barton Fink is a classic. What’s his name -John Goodman is excellent. The wrestling motif was hilarious and the portrayals of Hollywood types. I too am a Depp fan. While it’s not about writing, but check out Deadman by Jim Jarmusch with wonderful guitar score by Neil Young.

  36. eemoxam says:

    I loved Midnight in Paris, I thought it was a great burst of imagination.

  37. mistersoto says:

    Thanks for this list, the only one I’ve seen here is Barton Fink, many, (many), years ago. One of my favourite films recently on a writer is – A Room and a Half – a fictional account of nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky.

  38. Jeff Peters says:

    What about Adaptation? Great movie if you’re into the whole meta Charlie Kaufman experience. Barton Fink has been on my to see list for a decade. You convinced me to finally take the plunge.

  39. I absolutely adored Midnight in Paris, that’s one of my favorites. Didn’t really like McAdams’s character, but I loved Owen Wilson’s and everyone he met in the magical land of the 1920s. Another movie you should see that’s about a writer, a nonfiction writer really, is Almost Famous. It’s the semi autobiographical story of how director Cameron Crowe became a truly great music journalist for Rolling Stone in the 70s.

  40. I like your choices mostly because I’ve seen most of those movies and it’s interesting to get your perspective. By the way, thanks for following “Honey.”

  41. words4jp says:

    what a great list – I loved the movie The Secret Window.

  42. itycharles says:

    i must keep myself up to date with these movies, nice one

  43. Jevon says:

    Secret Window was an excellent movie.

  44. pixelrites says:

    Thanks. I havent seen all of the above. Reminds me of the movie Reds – am not sure who if the movie was portraying a particular writer; all I know is after watching Annie and Warren, I wanted to write, and have a white weatherboard house with a picket fence by the sea …

  45. Liz Ward says:

    Enjoyed the Libertine (great acting), and I absolutely love Midnight In Paris – I expected it to be a lukewarm romance but it surpassed my expectations and is now one of my favourite films. I found Rachel McAdams annoying in it but I guess she was meant to be considering how patronising she was with her fiance!

    I suppose I should check out some of the others – I’ve got fear and loathing but I haven’t watched it yet…

  46. Great movies, you gave me some good ideas what to watch next.

    Of the ones I’ve seen from your list, “The Words” was my favorite! Like you said, it was a really good peek into what a writer’s life can be like, writing through pain and sorrow.
    It was also really nice to be the writer who “gets it”, and at the end of the movie easily answer the boyfriend’s questions “Wait, what? Wasn’t he… I mean, what happened?” ;)

  47. Don’t forget about The World According to Garp. Better book but still a great movie.

  48. btg5885 says:

    Thanks for the summary. I have only seen a few of these, so it will be nice to check out the others. I thought “Midnight in Paris” was one of Woody Allen’s best. I love “Finding Forrester” for many reasons, but a small one is the rendition by Kevin Mahogany of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the end. Well done.

  49. StaceyRose says:

    Wonder Boys is another great one, I saw it right around the time I decided to be a writer for real.

  50. JoAnn Grasso says:

    Thanks for this excellent post. I haven’t watched one movie on this list. Johnny Depp + Writers = Must See!

  51. I skimmed but I didn’t see mention of Being Flynn: amazing movie..gonna read the memoir ASAP

  52. Forgot to say thanks for this….been wanting more movies on writers!

  53. I’ve seen about half of these movies…Johnny Depp loves acting like a writer, huh? But Finding Forrester is at the top of my list. I’m going to try to watch the movies on the list that I haven’t seen.

  54. Val says:

    Yep…Finding Forrester is one of my go to movies when I need to escape my own reality into something like my reality rended into something funny and inspiring. I have and have had several friends like William Forrester. Blessings, and thanks for the follow. :)

  55. qlaudie says:

    Joe Gould’s Secret is another goodie. Great list!

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