Top 10 Movies with a Curated Art Collection

Photograph of Batman film set. Man spreading out his arms with his leg up in the air in an art gallery. Image © IMDb / Jack Nicholson in Batman © 1989
Joe Syer

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Cinematic art placement is more than just decoration; it is a fundamental element that enhances and deepens the narrative experience. Films that skillfully integrate art transcend conventional storytelling, allowing art to become a dynamic, integral component of their story. Art in film holds a profound significance, enriching themes and characters, and creating memorable impressions on audiences. The seamless fusion where art meets cinema not only elevates the visual experience but also resonates with viewers, long after the credits roll.

Black Panther - Museum Scene

10. Black Panther 2018, Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler's Black Panther stormed onto the big screen in 2018, leaving an indelible mark on cinematic history. The groundbreaking Marvel film not only shattered box office records and captivated audiences worldwide, but it also redefined the boundaries of representation and artistic storytelling.

With its visually stunning portrayal of a hidden African utopia, Wakanda, Black Panther curated an unprecedented Afrofuturistic experience, elevating the standards of culturally sound production design in Hollywood. Set designer Hannah Beachler discussed the significance of her work in an interview with Okayplayer, mentioning:

I think the biggest expectation I have, and hopefully I've done it successfully, is basically giving the world a perspective they haven't seen of African / black folks' world. That there is a history beyond slavery that we don't know, and that history is really rich and diverse on its own, you know?
Hannah Beachler
Photograph of the Black Panther film set. Man stands in front African art installationImage © Artnet / A screenshot of a scene from Black Panther where Killmonger prepares to steal back a looted Vibranium artefact made in Wakanda from the Museum of Great Britain © Marvel 2018

Transporting viewers into a thought-provoking moment, Black Panther delivers a memorable art-related scene within the walls of the "Museum of Great Britain." Here, the character Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) confronts a curator about the display of stolen African artefacts, igniting a powerful exploration of cultural identity, colonialism, provenance, and the importance of preserving heritage. The scene was filmed in part on location at renowned Atlanta's High Museum of Art. As viewers are immersed in the dialogue between Killmonger and the curator, the surroundings of the High Museum of Art serve as a backdrop, enriching the scene with a tangible connection to the art world, enhancing the film’s authenticity and inviting the audience to consider the complex relationship between art, history, and heritage

Photograph of a film production of Mona Lisa Smile. A woman and her students viewing a painting.  Image © Artulate / Julia Roberts and her castmates in Mona Lisa Smile © 2017
Do yourselves a favour, stop talking and look.
Katherine Watson

Set in the 1950s, Mona Lisa Smile explores gender roles and societal expectations within an esteemed New England collegiate society, infamous for its conservative values. The story follows art history professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) as she challenges her students to question traditional gender roles and societal expectations. The film explores themes of female empowerment, the pursuit of personal fulfilment, and the transformative power of education.

The film progresses to deliver an exceptional scene dedicated to the beloved artist Jackson Pollock. In this critical moment, art history professor Katherine Watson takes her students on a field trip to a contemporary art exhibition. As they enter a gallery, they encounter one of Pollock's iconic paintings, Number 1(Lavender Mist). The cinematographer exposes the raw and expressive nature of Pollock's works, mirroring the spirit of the young women and their yearning for personal freedom. The scene serves as a catalyst for introspection and self-discovery as Pollock's art becomes a metaphor for breaking free from the confines of tradition.

Bean - Mr. Bean Destroys America's Greatest Painting

8. Bean 1997, Mel Smith

Among the noteworthy films that beautifully incorporate art into their narratives is the 1997 comedy classic, Bean, starring the incomparable Rowan Atkinson. The film follows Atkinson's character, Mr. Bean, as finds himself in a series of misfortunes when he is tasked with protecting James Abbott McNeill Whistler's Whistler's Mother.

Photograph from the film production, Bean. A man closely staring at a fine art portrait.Image © Scotch Whiskey / Mr. Bean in Bean © 1997

While in charge of safekeeping the artwork, Mr. Bean accidentally sneezes on the painting, causing a mishap where he tries to remedy his mistake through a series of Bean-level restoration attempts–like rubbing the painting with lacquer thinner. This comedic sequence cleverly showcases the delicate relationship between art and its preservation, highlighting the extreme lengths, even someone like Mr. Bean, will go to protect and restore precious works of art. The painting itself is an icon of American art, and by showcasing the masterpiece, filmmakers establish a connection between the world of art and the comedic chaos surrounding Mr. Bean, creating a juxtaposition that adds intrigue (and a little more laughs) to the storyline.

Photograph from film production of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Portrait of a boy holding a green apple.Image © Motion Pictures / Boy with Apple in The Grand Budapest Hotel © 2014

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel 2014, Wes Anderson

Directed by visionary Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical tale revolving around the legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his young protégé, Zero Moustafa (played by Tony Revolori). Together, they become entangled in a series of adventures surrounding a priceless fictional Renaissance painting, Boy with Apple. The film's unique colour palette further enhances the artistic atmosphere. Anderson's attention to detail is evident in his meticulous recreation of artworks and their placement within the film. Each scene is carefully composed, immersing viewers in a visually stunning world.

Learn more about Anderson’s cinematic vision with a visual analysis of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Skyfall - Bond Meets Q

6. Skyfall 2012, Sam Mendes

Art becomes an element that heightens the film's atmosphere of elegance and intrigue in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall. The film displayed an art collection that served as a backdrop for several key scenes, paralleling the complex nature of the characters and the world they live in.

At the National Gallery in London, Bond (Daniel Craig), meets with Q (Ben Whishaw) among the grandeur of the gallery's classical artworks. The gallery not only adds a layer of sophistication to their encounter but also suggests a clash between tradition and modernity, echoing themes explored throughout the film.

Photograph from the film Skyfall. Man sitting on a bench inside an art gallery.Image © People / Daniel Craig in Skyfall © Eon Productions 2012

The scene opens with J.M.W. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire front and centre behind the gallery’s green velvet ropes, in front of Bond and Q’s gaze. Before their banter takes place, you can also see two works behind the pair. To the left, we can see Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, and Thomas Gainsborough's The Morning Walk on the right.

Does the artwork represent a contrast to the darker themes of the film? Does its subjects serve as a metaphor for any of the characters in the movie? These curated artworks contribute to the film's visual impact and present additional layers of symbolism for viewers to unravel for a truly immersive experience.

Batman - Partyman Museum Scene

5. Batman 1989, Tim Burton

Gothic aesthetics, iconic performances, and a gripping narrative take the lead in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Burton’s interpretation of the Superhero movie allowed for a more eerie, maniacal portrayal of The Joker (Jack Nicholson).

The Joker and his crew enter the Gotham Museum, wreaking havoc on an entire collection of art, all to the delightful sounds of Prince. They provided their own contemporary spin to the artworks, vandalising everything in sight they could get their hands on. Well, almost everything.

Only one work was saved, and it’s likely because of The Joker’s kinship to macabre.

Photograph of Batman film set. Man spreading out his arms with his leg up in the air in an art gallery. Image © IMDb / Jack Nicholson in Batman © 1989
Whoa! I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it.
The Joker

Both Francis Bacon’s Figure With Meat and The Joker embody a sense of distorted reality and inner turmoil. Bacon's unsettling imagery reflects the villain’s chaotic and twisted mindset, highlighting their shared themes of madness, existential angst, and a desire for pushing boundaries. The emotive nature of Bacon's work reflects The Joker's own descent into darkness and serves as a visual representation of his fractured psyche. Tim Burton’s inclusion of Bacon's art effectively amplified the psychological depth of Jack Nicholson’s character, creating a striking and thematically rich portrayal.

Frida Kahlo’s Frieda and Diego Rivera. A man and woman holding hands. Image © San Francisco Museum of Modern Art / Frieda and Diego Rivera © Frida Kahlo 1931

Frida 2002, Julie Taymor

In the 2002 biopic Frida, Salma Hayek delivers a captivating performance as the iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Directed by Julie Taymor, the film provides a deeply personal and intimate portrayal of Kahlo's life, as it is seen through her own perspective. Throughout the movie, viewers witness Kahlo's journey as she confronts societal expectations related to gender, grapples with the limitations imposed by her physical health, and navigates the complexities of her passionate yet volatile relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera.

Frida - The Two Fridas

The movie showcases a collection of her most profound masterpieces, with each painting serving as a visual representation of a specific phase in her life. The audience has the opportunity to witness Kahlo painting these works, or they are integrated into scenes to reveal the events and emotions that influenced each piece, an approach that allows viewers to connect deeply with the film's narrative and gain a deeper understanding of the significance and symbolism behind Kahlo's art. Frieda and Diego Rivera is brought to life in the movie appearing as a still image of the artwork with the scene smoothly transitioning into a live reenactment. This technique bridges the gap between Kahlo's artistic expression and her lived experiences, providing a captivating visual representation of the interplay between her art and her personal life.

3. The Devil Wears Prada 2006, David Frankel

The fashion frenzy film gives us a glimpse into Andrea Sachs’ (Anne Hathaway) journey as an aspiring journalist navigating her new demanding, yet exciting job as an assistant to her high-powered boss Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the editor-in-chief of a preeminent fashion magazine.

Photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada. Woman looking up with a painting and floral arrangements on a table behind her. Image © Spotern / Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada © 2006

It’s Andy’s turn to deliver “the book” to Miranda’s house. While her co-worker graciously gives her a play-by-play on how to get the job done, Andy’s introduction into Miranda’s home places her in. When struggling to decide which closet to place the dry cleaning in and which table to set “the book” on, we can spot Alex Katz’s Harbor #3 only a few feet away from the entryway.

It’s curious that a work of art known for its tranquility is positioned almost immediately upon entrance into the Priestly house. Throughout the film, viewers can see the fast-paced, glamorous lifestyle Miranda lives even if it is at the cost of her own intrapersonal relationships. As the scene moves forward, Miranda’s daughters mischievously guide Andy up the stairs resulting in her overhearing a lover’s quarrel between Streep’s character and her husband. The inclusion of Harbor #3 may reflect Miranda’s desire for escapism and inner-peace among the chaotic whirlwind of the fashion industry.

Photograph from the film The Accountant. Man sits at a table with his laptop open. There is a fine art painting behind him. Image © Daily Art Magazine / Ben Affleck in The Accountant © 2016

2. The Accountant 2016, Gavin O'Connor

The Accountant is a thought-provoking action film that examines the blurred lines between the hero and the villain through the story of Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a seemingly normal accountant of high intelligence who happens to possess lethal combat skills. While he’s certainly an asset in the criminal underworld, Christian is able to live an otherwise normal life where he navigates being neurodivergent due to a highly disciplined upbringing.

The Accountant - Why Are You Prepared For This?

Eventually, Affleck’s character finds himself on the move to avoid dangerous run-ins with adversaries and the authorities. As he is always prepared for these scenarios given the true nature of his work, he visits his trailer to retrieve weapons and a comic book among his essentials. Clearly, when he wasn’t uncooking the books for major cartels, Christian Wolff collected passion assets in his spare time. Once inside the trailer, viewers may notice Renoir’s Woman With Parasol And Child On A Sunlit Hillside on the wall beside Anna Kendrick’s character Dana Cummings as she tries to figure out exactly who she’s dealing with. As the scene progresses, and pans a shot in Wolff’s bedroom, you can see Jackson Pollock’s Free Form on the ceiling above the bed.

The fine art in this film is just as unexpected as the turn of events that take place, but offers the audience a layer of refinement and elegance against the gritty plot. The movie also features Cassiuss Coolidge’s A Friend In Need (Dogs Playing Poker), representing an ode of sorts to the friendship developed between Dana and Christian throughout the film. These visuals helped create a balanced composition highlighting the division between brute criminality and the sophistication of the art world.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Museum Scene

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1986, John Hughes

Beloved 80s comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off follows Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a charismatic high senior, who skips school to embark on an epic adventure in the city of Chicago. As Ferris and his friends roam the city, they find themselves crashing a school field trip at an art museum. This standout moment beautifully illustrates the relationship between art and cinema within the walls of the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum scene here is a pivotal point that creates a moment that allows viewers to experience the emotional impact of the artwork through the eyes of the characters. Audiences are also invited into sharing their experience of how art can influence introspection and how you perceive the world.

Photograph from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Three students with their arms folded, staring at art.Image © Smithsonian Magazine / Still shot of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off © 1986

The film’s museum sequence features an impressive array of artists, including Georges Seurat, Grant Wood, Jackson Pollock, and Alberto Giacometti. However, it is the trio of Picasso paintings that truly steals the spotlight in front of Ferris and his friends. These three unique iterations of Picasso's vision captivate the interest of the lighthearted teens and the viewers invested in their experience.

Build Your Cinematic Collection

If you're captivated by the enchanting blend of art and film and have a desire to curate your own personal cinematic art collection, check out MyPortfolio. Whether you seek to adorn your walls with iconic masterpieces or discover hidden gems that mirror the emotions of your favourite films, our platform will help you bring your cinematic vision to life. Unlock your opportunity to build a collection that captures the magic of the silver screen with the help of MyPortfolio.