A Big Pile of Good Graphic Design Related Movies

You will find no shortage of offerings if you Google “graphic design movies.” There is much overlap on these lists and a canon of sorts has developed. Below is an aggregation of the most frequently mentioned films on the aforementioned lists. They are all fine films and deserve their respective places on such a list, but I think an opportunity exists to push a little further and find other films that can be just as useful but are less frequently offered. So a bit farther below I offer my own list. Unfortunately, only a handful films are actually about graphic design itself, so both lists wander into other adjacent subjects.

Design Cannon Film List


Objectified—Directed by Gary Hustwit
Why Man Creates—Directed by Saul Bass
Design and Thinking—Directed by Mu-Ming Tsai
PressPausePlay—Directed by David Dworsky and Victor Köhler
Helvetica—Directed by Gary Hustwit
Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth Century—Directed by Frank Whitford
Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight—Directed by Wendy Keys
Eames: The Architect and the Painter—Directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey
Art and Copy—Directed by Doug Pray
Design is One—Directed by Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra
Exit Through the Gift Shop—Directed by Banksy


Design One Thing Film List


Why do you watch a film related to graphic design? History, inspiration, aspiration, or to explore alternative ways of thinking and seeing? I think the last is the most compelling. What many of the following films have in common is a unique perspective. Sometimes extreme, sometimes prosaic, but always specific. The perspective may be that of the director or the characters. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes creates empathy and connections, but it also creates space for possibilities. What more valuable skill can a designer have than seeing the world full of possibilities?

Design can be terribly homogenous sometimes, I tried to include some non-white and/or non-western choices. Notions of race, gender and culture can be politically charged. Surveying multiple perspectives is not about being politically correct, it is about being as intellectually and creatively thorough as possible. In the words of Will Rogers “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” Film is a powerful way to overcome ignorance.

As per our motto, this list is in no way comprehensive. It is more of a guide, a jumping off point to seeing films in new ways. You could easily find a dozen films that could replace any of these choices. Enjoy the movie!

Gerhard Richter: Painting—Directed by Corinna Belz

I find this film mesmerizing. Watching an expert craftsman and painter execute their process is the attraction here. Extrapolating a larger theme is unnecessary, sometimes skill and craft are enough.

The Lobster and/or Dogtooth—Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Mr. Lanthimos creates worlds that look familiar, but that behave in unexpected ways. The manipulation of expectations and context is fun, surprising, and sometimes unsettling. The Lobster may be a bit more accessible than Dogtooth.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry—Directed by Alison Klayman

“If you don’t act the dangers become stronger.” Everything is relative. In context, Never Sorry makes many of the other films on this list seem less substantial, but there is value in a range, in a continuum of experiences. What responsibilities to your community, to society, do have when a channel of communication is available? If people are listening should you be saying something useful? “It doesn’t just have to do with art. It has to do with life.”

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World—Directed by Edgar Wright

The plot in Mr. Wright’s films are fine. It is his genius with visual storytelling where I find the real treasure. I selected Scott Pilgrim, but you could substitute any of his other films and have a similar experience. Every Frame a Painting offers an excellent essay that expounds on Mr. Wrights unique skillset: Every Frame a Painting

Colored Frames—Directed by Lerone D. Wilson

“Democracy is a beautiful concept, but it’s not a destination, it is a journey.” Because our society is better today doesn’t mean it is right and doesn’t mean we are allowed to forget how it was. This documentary covers familiar material, the civil rights movement, from a fine arts perspective. The paintings are beautiful.

Play Time—Directed by Jacques Tati

Jaques Tati physically construction the entire world you see on the screen. Challenging to watch in that there is no plot, dialogue or close-ups and action occurs in simultaneously in the fore, middle and background. Much like the film itself, your interpretation depends on when and how you look. It is certainly about modern life, but it is cynical or hopeful?

Sign Painters—Directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon

This documentary is engaging as it follows a craft closely related to graphic design, but also foreign. How many graphic designers hang 100 ft. in the air off the side of a building? The film is full of ideas about craft and apprenticeships and the encroachment of technology.

Everything is a Remix—Directed by Kirby Ferguson

This is a must see. It’s thoughtful, concise, hopeful and unsettling. As the saying goes, if you only watch one of these movies make it this one. It is fundamental to everyone, but especially those invested in creativity. For further and ongoing exploration of this topic: Maria Popova is a long time champion of the nature of creativity at brainpickings.com.

Paprika—Directed by Satoshi Kon

I think animation is often a better analog to graphic design than traditional film due to the tabla rasa nature of the medium. Paprika is visually inventive while operating within a traditional structure. It is a good example of pushing creative boundaries while respecting constraints.

Battleship Potempkin—Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein

This film is perhaps the most direct one to one lesson, so much of graphic design is creating new meaning by combing images. Mr. Eiensteins mastery of montage is on full display here. As a film, this may not be everyone’s taste, but his juxtapositions are worth watching in fits and starts if a single sitting is not desirable.

Linotype: The Film—Directed by Douglas Wilson

Part history lesson part love letter to the craftsman who operated these machines for almost a hundred years, this film is an illustration of the close integration of graphic design, handcraft and technology.

Tim’s Vermeer—Directed by Teller

This film is about obsession and tenacity and ingenuity. More curious or aspirational than pragmatic; designers seldom have the time or resources to solve problems the way Tim does. Every problem or mystery has a solution if you look long and hard enough.

Honorable Mention

Beginners—Directed by Mike Mills

An autobiographical film made by a graphic designer about a graphic designer whose father comes out of the closet at age 75. Watch it for the graphic design flourishes and sweet story.