Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed graphic designers don’t have time to watch movies. I’m a designer, and I know it takes a lot of energy for me to watch a film (in theatres or streaming). I need to check the reviews, listen to movie podcasts, and if it gets enough 🍅🍅🍅maybe I’ll watch it—too much work. And do I get heated when a wretched movie has no graphic design value. 🤬But since I’ve built some solid client relationships in entertainment, I’ve taken a concerted effort to be more attentive to pop culture, including semi-regular movie watching. As a gift to my fellow designers, I’ve saved you the laborious time of looking up movies and curated a top 20 list (from the past decade) with a strong/inspiring graphic design vibe that I think you’d find creatively salubrious. 👨🏫My criteria:
- Excellent movie poster layout.
- Exhilarating visually stunning cinematography.
- Respectful/mindblowing typography used in opening/closing credits.
- Plot and character development takes a back seat to art direction.
- Focus on costuming, color palette, visual FX, smart uses of typography, world-building, fun fake logos, clever use of product placement.
- Hilarious client/artist banter with perhaps an artful life lesson.
Warning spoilers ahead…🍿
20. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Can you say delicious? I got to work on the rebrand for French Lick Resort, and OMG, I was FEELIN this movie. From the design of the aging hotel into tacky ruins to the typography of the chocolate shop packaging. I cannot get enough! Boy With Apple, HA! 🍎🖼️
19. Drive (2011)
18. La La Land (2016)
Is it okay that I have two Ryan Gosling movies in a row? I love movie musicals, and it pains me only to have one musical on my list. The music is awesome, so are the outfits and the dancing — what a joy this long-ass movie was. I think y’all designers/artists would appreciate the #artistlife theme of this movie—about two folks who put their artistic passions ahead of falling for each other. Idk is that a happy or sad ending?
17. Inception (2😴1😴)
Is this one too obvious? My favorite part was when Ellen Page’s character was like, “Check out my model of this dreamscape I’m building.” And Cobb was like, “Naw. No spoilers.” I was like, “Dayum, homegirl spent all night making that model.” The lesson for designers: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to do an all-nighter just for the sake of being extra.♟️Btw y’all know that spinning top was about to fall over.
16. Parasite (2019)
I saw this on a plane. I love how British Airways offers movies before they get to the states. Anyway, I could put a few Bong Joon Ho movies on here, but I’ll pick this one. 🇰🇷The house was dope—mid-century modern meets Terrace House 🇯🇵Y’all would get a kick out of the grifting art tutor, “It’s so metaphorical. It’s really strong.”🍑It sounds like all the critiques I’ve ever given/received in art school.
15. Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
I’ve rented this movie enough times, I should have just bought it. Y’all designers would appreciate the wayfinding signage of this hotel that is split by Nevada and that other state. 60s design at it’s tackiest—and mean that in the best way possible. For my POC fam, there’s a very satisfying moment between the white male cisgender cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) and the struggling black backup singer trying to make a name for herself (Cynthia Erivo). Sista OWNES him. Homegirl has a gun pointed at her, and she’s like, “[Side-eye] Let me guess. It’s some man, who talks a lot. He talks so much that he thinks he believes in something. And really just wants to fuck who he wants to fuck. I’ve seen it enough. I’m not even mad about it anymore. I’m just tired. I’m just bored of men like you. You think I don’t see you for who you really are? A fragile little man, preying on the weak and lost.” ✊🏿Dayum!
14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Hell yaaas we needed this visionary feminist action movie in the 2010s. Y’all would have thought this best-of-list wasn’t legit if you didn’t see this movie on here. Rightfully so. Apparently, only old muscle cars would survive an apocalypse. Kind of messed up, Australia had the highest temperature in recorded history this year. 🥵 This Mad Max climate change stuff is legit gonna happen.
13. Atomic Blonde (2017)
Now that I got Charlize Theron on my mind, Atomic Blonde does beat Fury Road. This movie is so 80s that Glamour Shots didn’t know whether to flip or fall into it.🛹 I don’t understand why this movie doesn’t get much buzz. She’s this assassin, but she is so dayum fierce! In the first 5 mins, she kills this bad guy with her stiletto. 👠Btw the soundtrack is 🔥🔥🔥
12. Black Panther (2018)
By far, the best live-action Marvel movie ever made (or will be made). Aside from the ground-breaking POC Hollywood milestones that this movie (and comic) achieved, let’s focus on the Afrofuturism of Wakanda’s outfits. Oscar award-winning Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer, says the movie “connects everything that I’ve done about slavery and about how Africans came to this country, and what happened to their culture…”
11. Arrival (2016)
The alien typography won this for me. The star of this movie is the letterform. Production Designer Patrice Vermette, “We wanted to create a language that is aesthetically interesting. But it needed to be alien to our civilization, alien to our technology, alien to everything our mind knows.” Can you imagine the calligraphy of past, present, and future—non-linear time? And it’s in your face the entire movie. 👽 Gorgeous!
10. Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I didn’t know how early 1950s Hollywood set design was just so much fun. Back in the day, without CGI, those plaster builds were epic. This movie is so full of little artistic delights like Channing Tatum in a scrumptious sailor outfit dance number, Alden Ehrenreich doing a rodeo-rope thing, Scarlett Johansson being aqua-fabulous while synchronized-swimming, and Veronica Osorio doing a samba thing with the fruit hat. 🎥🏛️
9. Argo (2012)
Please, I want to see the completed version of the Argo-Star-Wars-Rip-Off movie they were pretending to make. Based on a true story, the true story is 🦇💩crazy! Pre-Iranian Revolution, Tehran was so progressive, did you know that? Women in skinny jeans, KFC, night clubs, dancing in the streets—wow. Ex-CIA agent Tony Mendez (1940-2019) inspired this Oscar-winning film. He planned the Canadian Caper, the mission to bring six American diplomats back from Iran by posing as a Canadian film crew scouting for a desert-planet in a non-existent sci-fi movie. Mendez had a background as a graphic artist, and you can see how his power of imagination came in handy for the CIA. “I’ve always considered myself to be an artist first,” he told the Washington Post, “and for 25 years I was a pretty good spy.”
8. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)
Yup, three movie-within-a-movie movies in a row. Fargo is a great film, so I can see where Kumiko is coming from. Btw Kumiko be snatching sticky buns like dem office snacks on #foodiefriday. 🥮The solid lesson here: Follow your passions, to a degree, then reel it in.
7. Frank (2014)
I know y’all know a ‘Frank’ in your life. And if you’re still reading this list, maybe you are indeed a Frank.👀 So much here to think about—y’all artists, what does it mean to be eccentric? To be an OG? To deal with mental illness? It’s all here—with the biggest heart. BTW Maggie Gyllenhaal singing her vision of Lighthouse Keeper from Clockwork Orange was sweet. 🎩
6. The Wind Rises (2013)
Totally uplifting. 😏Stunning anime from Hayao Miyazaki—feels real and surreal at the same time. The title comes from the poet Paul Valéry: “The wind is rising, we must try to live.” All of y’all designers/artists should reflect on the theme here: Be great but be aware of the consequences of that greatness.
5. The Artist (2011)
What makes a great designer? The creative ability to do the most with the strictest limitations? For example, take this black and white silent film made in the 2010s that totally owns. Here’s what the late great Roger Ebert had to say about it, “Here is one of the most entertaining films in many a moon, a film that charms because of its story, its performances and because of the sly way it plays with being silent and black and white. “The Artist” knows you’re aware it’s silent and kids you about it. Not that it’s entirely silent, of course; like all silent films were, it’s accompanied by music. You know — like in a regular movie when nobody’s talking?”
4. Knives Out (2019)
What’s better than a classic murder-mystery who-done-it in a creepy old house? Also, can we talk physiognomy for a moment? Each character’s wardrobe tells everything about him/her/they—as if what they be wearing is a clue. 🗡️And props to Rian Johnson for letting kindness win for once—omg was that a spoiler? 🤭
3. Annihilation (2018)
👍👍 to the science power and all-girl power in this sci-fi flick. 👩🔬Gawd this movie just stays in your head, I’m still freaking out about it. 🐻I read the book first. It’s a short novella, so read it, you’ll have nightmares for days, but it’s worth it. Remarkable how Alex Garland got this graphic-rich horror to be such an enjoyable feast for the eyes—what a beautiful nightmare he paints.💀🌺Definitely one of the most underrated [vegan] films of the decade.🌿
2. Under the Skin (2013)
I love visiting Scotland, and I bet it’s because of this movie. Scarlett Johansson is 100% fabulous in this film. Designers, I’m telling you, you’d love the metaphysical themes of aesthetics vs human nature deliciously tucked in-between flesh and lip gloss and smeared all over the screen.💄It’s bloody and glamorous and artistic, and I can’t get enough. 💋
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
The whole time watching this movie, I was like, “Must keep eyes open… Can’t miss anything. So good.” It was like watching a living comic book in the most glorious way possible. In a Polygon interview with the art director Patrick O’Keefe, he explains, “It’s a film that’s complex with its visual language, and the environment itself is extremely rich in terms of its detailing. It was a challenge to keep the character in the forefront, and to keep the action moving. Robh Ruppel, early on in production, described it as ‘a master class in graphic design’.’’ The type choices, the Ben Day dots, the moving graffiti art—I was just salivating from beginning to end. 🤤
And a shout out to my graphic designy movie honorable mentions…