Sometimes the best thing you can do when you suffer from writer’s block is to procrastinate more productively; like watching movies about writing. I don’t know why, but there’s something to losing yourself in a well-written story about writers that somehow unclogs my creative pipes, and I hope it does the same for you too.
Here are some of the best movies for writers—if you feel there’s anything missing, please share your suggestion in the comments at the end of this post.
Pro tip: Try watching any of these on a treadmill. Sometimes it helps to be physically in motion.
Wonder Boys is a comedy-drama based on the novel by Michael Chabon. The movie follows English professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) as he navigates a chaotic weekend of work, family and romance. Grady is a struggling author who has yet to finish his second novel, which his publisher has been eagerly awaiting for years. As the weekend unfolds, Grady is forced to confront his inability to finish his book, his crumbling marriage and his growing attraction to a student.
The plot of Wonder Boys is a reflection of the writing process. The story shows the challenges that can arise when a writer is unable to finish a piece of work, experiences creative blocks, and the consequences of not meeting deadlines. Grady’s struggles with his novel and personal life are a metaphor for the difficulties of writing, and the film ultimately serves as a reminder to writers of the importance of perseverance and dedication. Plus, a movie starring Douglas and Tobey Maguire can barely disappoint.
You’ve probably seen this movie already (who hasn’t?), but it’s worth remembering that Eddie Morra, the main protagonist played by Bradley Cooper, is a writer. Well, he’s also a loser: no job, his girlfriend left him, and his writing career isn’t exactly looking like it’ll ever amount to anything. A friend gives him a pill of questionable origin, and once he tries it, he essentially turns into a mental Superman.
Remember that idea that we humans only use a small percentage of our brain? Well that, pill basically enables you to tap into the dormant powers of your brain, and Eddie turns into a successful investor and starts winning in essentially all areas of life. Of course, things take a turn for the worse eventually—but we’ll get there eventually. Watch the trailer of one of the most popular movies about writing here.
Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy film written and directed by Woody Allen, released in 2011. The movie follows a disillusioned screenwriter named Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, who is on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez, played by Rachel McAdams.
One night, while walking alone through the streets of Paris, Gil discovers a mysterious portal that transports him back in time to the 1920s, the era he most admires. There, he meets several iconic writers, artists, and musicians of the time, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Salvador Dali. Here’s the scene where he encounters Hemingway:
As Gil becomes more engrossed in the glamorous lifestyle of the 1920s, he begins to question his relationship with Inez and his own aspirations as a writer. He also falls in love with a beautiful and intelligent woman named Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, who is involved with many of the famous artists of the time.
The film explores themes of nostalgia, the allure of the past, and the dissatisfaction with the present. Through Gil’s journey, the movie highlights the idea that sometimes we have to let go of what we thought we wanted in order to find true happiness.
Midnight in Paris is a charming and whimsical film that blends elements of fantasy and romantic comedy to deliver a thought-provoking and entertaining story.
Sunset Boulevard is a 1950 American film noir directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and a classic movie about writing. The film follows a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter who, after becoming involved with a faded silent film star, finds himself in a dangerous situation.
The film tells the story of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a former silent film star living in a gothic mansion, and her relationship with Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter. Joe is forced to move into Norma’s mansion after his car is repossessed, and he quickly finds himself in a dangerous situation. As Norma desperately tries to revive her career, she also tries to keep Joe in her life.
The plot of Sunset Boulevard relates to writing in the sense that it explores the themes of ambition and the struggle for success in Hollywood. It offers a cautionary tale of how ambition can lead to desperation, despair, and emotional brokeness if one is not careful. It also serves as a warning of how easy it is to get caught up in someone else’s dreams and how quickly those dreams can unravel. By showing the consequences of ambition gone wrong, Sunset Boulevard serves as a reminder for writers to stay focused on their own goals and not get caught up in someone else’s. You can watch the entire movie (legally) for free on archive.org (no signup required).
Stranger Than Fiction
Stranger Than Fiction is a 2006 comedy-drama film directed by Marc Forster. The movie follows the story of Harold Crick, an IRS agent who begins to hear a voice narrating his life as if he were a character in a novel.
As Harold tries to understand what is happening to him, he discovers that he is the protagonist in a book being written by a reclusive author named Karen Eiffel, played by Emma Thompson. Karen is struggling to finish her novel and plans to kill off Harold’s character in the end.
Harold seeks the help of a literature professor, Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman, to find a way to stop Karen from killing him. Meanwhile, Harold falls in love with a bakery owner named Ana Pascal, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Throughout the movie, writing plays a crucial role in the plot. The story explores the relationship between an author and her characters, as well as the power of storytelling. The film also raises questions about free will and the extent to which our lives are predetermined by fate or by the stories we tell ourselves.
As Harold becomes more aware of the narrative structure of his life, he begins to take control of his own story and make decisions that break away from the predetermined plot set by Karen. In doing so, he challenges the traditional boundaries between author and character and asserts his own agency in the story of his life.
Stranger Than Fiction is a clever and thought-provoking movie for writers that uses the conventions of storytelling to explore deeper themes of identity, fate, and free will.
Omwow rating: 9/10
Adaptation is a 2002 film written by Charlie Kaufman that follows the real-life struggles of a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), as he attempts to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) into a movie.
The movie starts out with a black screen and voiceover, you just hearing Charlie’s self-talk. You immediately get that this is not a man who is happy and content. This is a man who feels like failure, who wants to be all these things that he knows he could be, but somehow never is, do all these things that he could do, but somehow never does—mainly because he’s a coward, too timid, too scared. He’s essentially a collection of feelings of inadequacy.
For me, it’s a movie first and foremost about courage and honesty, but not in an obvious way. It’s hilariously smart, Charlie gets thrown into all kinds of scenes, struggles with creative blocks, wittnesses how his oblivious twin-brother sells a script for “high six to 1.5” after attending a three-day workshop with Robert McKee.
He’s the kind of guy that will drive a woman back home from a date, who will give him every signal that she wants him to come in with him that night, but he’s so plagued by self-doubts that he’ll just watch her get out of the car and go back into her room… only to then berate himself:
Why didn’t I go in? I’m such a chicken. I’m such an idiot. I should have kissed her. I’ve blown it. I should just go and knock on her door and just kiss her. It would be romantic. It would be something we could someday tell our kids. I’m gonna do that right now.Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation, right before he drives away
Here’s a great scene featuring (the actual) Robert McKee in the movie:
If you’re an artist, writer, or creative, you’ll love this movie. It is intelligently deep, makes you care while at the same time unsettling you. It’s full of sadness, truth, and beauty, at times as confusing as life itself.
There’s a beautiful scene (you can watch it on YouTube) in the movie where Charlie and his twin brother Donald are in mortal danger:
Charlie Kaufman : There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
Donald Kaufman : Oh, God. I was so in love with her.
Charlie Kaufman : I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.
Donald Kaufman : I remember that.
Charlie Kaufman : Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. And it was like they were laughing at me. You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.
Donald Kaufman : I knew. I heard them.
Charlie Kaufman : How come you looked so happy?
Donald Kaufman : I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.
Charlie Kaufman : But she thought you were pathetic.
Donald Kaufman : That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.
Adaptation is a film that speaks to the challenges of writing, particularly adapting a book into a movie that doesn’t fulfill the narrative requirements of a movie. There’s a scene were Charlie and Robert McKee have a drink together and talk about this very problem, and where McKee tells him how solve that dilemma—which is exactly what happens in the movie. Very meta, yes, but done so great, not at all smartass-ish.
The movie is about the fears that prevent us from opening up, from sharing our true feelings, and the beauty that emerges when you courageously do so. One of the best movies about writing ever made, which given the cast and Robert McKee’s participation shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Shakespeare In Love
Shakespeare in Love is a 1998 romantic comedy-drama film directed by John Madden. The movie tells the fictional story of William Shakespeare, played by Joseph Fiennes, and his love affair with a woman named Viola de Lesseps, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who aspires to be an actress at a time when women were not allowed to perform on stage.
The plot revolves around the creation of Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” as he draws inspiration from his relationship with Viola. The film depicts the struggles of a young and relatively unknown Shakespeare as he battles writer’s block and the constraints of a conservative and hierarchical Elizabethan society.
The role of writing is central to the plot of “Shakespeare in Love”. As Shakespeare writes his play, he is constantly inspired by his interactions with Viola and their love affair. His writing process is depicted as a deeply personal and emotional journey, as he draws from his own experiences and emotions to create a masterpiece.
Moreover, the film also explores the transformative power of storytelling. Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” becomes a symbol of love and passion that transcends social and cultural boundaries. The story shows how creative expression can be a vehicle for personal and societal transformation, as it challenges established norms and inspires people to look beyond their differences.
Overall, “Shakespeare in Love” is a witty and charming film that celebrates the creative process of writing and the transformative power of storytelling. The movie portrays Shakespeare not only as a literary genius but also as a human being who struggles with love, inspiration, and self-doubt, making his artistic journey all the more relatable and inspiring. Watch the trailer here
Finding Forrester is a 2000 movie about writing telling the story of Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a young African-American teenager who has a gift for writing. He meets an old, reclusive writer named William Forrester (Sean Connery) and the two form a bond. With Forrester’s guidance, Jamal develops the skills and confidence to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer.
The plot of Finding Forrester reflects the importance of writing for personal and creative growth. Through his relationship with Forrester, Jamal learns to express himself through his writing and to take pride in his own voice. Forrester also helps Jamal to understand the importance of taking risks and pushing himself to reach his full potential. By doing so, Jamal is able to overcome the obstacles in his life and become a successful writer. The film emphasizes the power of writing to unlock potential and aid in personal growth, as well as the importance of having a mentor to guide and support you.
The Shining is a classic 1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film follows the story of Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and aspiring novelist, as he takes a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel. His wife and son accompany him, but soon the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel drive Jack to madness.
The Shining is a classic example of how horror can be used to examine deeper themes. It is often seen as an exploration of the impact of alcoholism and the potential for madness in an isolated environment. As a writer, Jack is initially struggling to make progress on his novel, but the demons of the Overlook Hotel eventually take possession of his mind and lead him to write compulsively. The film serves as a cautionary tale about the power of creativity and the dangers of obsession.
Misery is a 1990 psychological horror film directed by Rob Reiner and written by William Goldman. It is based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The movie follows a novelist, Paul Sheldon, who is rescued by his “number one fan”, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), after a car accident. She forces him to write another novel featuring his popular character, Misery Chastain, and threatens to kill him if he does not comply.
The plot of Misery relates to writing in the sense that it illustrates the power of authorship and the dangers of putting too much faith in fans. It shows how an author can be held captive by their work and how an obsessive fan can become a threat to their wellbeing. Ultimately, the movie serves as a cautionary tale to writers, reminding them to be wary of the power of their own words, and James Caan delivers an awesome performance as Paul Sheldon.
“Spotlight” is a 2015 drama film that tells the story of how The Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team, known as “Spotlight,” uncovered a widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area.
The movie highlights the team’s tireless efforts to conduct interviews, gather evidence, and overcome obstacles such as legal barriers and resistance from the church hierarchy to expose the truth. As the investigation progresses, the team members also struggle with their own emotions and beliefs, as they confront the scale of the abuse and the complicity of those who enabled it.
In terms of writing, “Spotlight” is a powerful reminder of the importance of investigative journalism and the critical role it plays in holding those in power accountable. It showcases the dedication and persistence required to uncover the truth, even in the face of powerful institutions and systems that seek to hide it. The movie also demonstrates the power of storytelling, as the team’s reporting ultimately leads to widespread public awareness and reforms within the Catholic Church. Watch the trailer here.
The Hours is a 2002 drama directed by Stephen Daldry, based on the novel of the same name by Michael Cunningham. The movie follows three separate stories of women living in different eras, all connected by their struggles with mental illness and their relationships with writing.
The first story focuses on Virginia Woolf (played by Nicole Kidman) during the 1920s. Woolf is struggling with depression and writer’s block, and is attempting to write her novel Mrs Dalloway.
The second story follows Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) in the 1950s. Laura is a housewife and mother who is struggling with her identity and feels stifled by her life.
The third story follows Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) in 2001. Clarissa is a successful editor who is dealing with the impending death of a dear friend.
The stories of the three women are interwoven, showing how their lives are connected by the strength and power of writing. All three characters find solace in writing, and use it to work through their struggles. Through the movie, we see how writing can be used to cope with life’s difficulties and find meaning. Watch the trailer here.
Barton Fink (7/10)
Omwow rating: 7/10
The Coen brothers were working on another movie, Miller’s Crossing, and hit a creative dead end. To overcome their writer’s block, they started writing another screenplay: Barton Fink. It took them just three weeks to complete it. So there’s a certain beauty in it, that this movie is essentially the child of writer’s block.
The story, in a nutshell is this: Barton Fink is a New York playwright who moves to Hollywood to write for the movies. The film follows his struggles to write a script while being haunted by strange visions, and his growing paranoia that something sinister is happening in his hotel—which indeed happens to be the case. He meets his next-door neighbor Charlie, an insurance salesman played by John Goodman—whose performance is A+ in this movie. Ultimately, Barton discovers that his newfound Hollywood success has unleashed a dark force, which is consuming him and his work.
This is the kind of dark comedy that movie critics love, and that ultimately ends with many unanswered questions. You get a sense that this was written by someone who really knows the ins and outs of the movie business, and that the Coen brothers were conflicted with the part they played in it. The movie shines a light on the weirder, more twisted aspects and personalities of it. And that’s the aspect I like most about this movie: the absurd humor, and the beautifully written dialogues.
Capote is a biographical drama about the author Truman Capote and his writing of the non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. The film follows Capote (brilliantly portrait by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he travels to a small town in Kansas to investigate the murder of a family of four. His experiences during his investigation provide the basis for the novel and challenge his moral beliefs as he forms a bond with one of the murderers.
Through the film, Capote is shown to use his writing to capture his own personal experience and to tell a powerful story that reflects his own beliefs. The plot reflects Capote’s writing journey and the challenges he faced in creating the novel. Watch the trailer here.
American Splendor is a 2003 biographical comedy-drama film about Harvey Pekar, an American comic book writer. The film follows Pekar as he struggles to make a living writing autobiographical comics that reflect his everyday life. Pekar is portrayed in the film by Paul Giamatti, while Hope Davis plays his wife Joyce.
The film follows Pekar’s rise to fame as a comic book writer and his attempts to cope with his newfound celebrity. He eventually finds success but struggles to balance his personal life and his career. He is forced to confront his own mortality when he is diagnosed with cancer.
The film explores the idea of writing as a means of self-expression and transformation. It shows how Pekar’s writing helped him to make sense of his life and to make peace with himself. At the same time, it also shows how the act of writing can be a source of comfort and solace for those facing difficult times. By focusing on Pekar’s life and his writing, the film suggests that writing can be a powerful tool for personal growth and understanding. Probably one of the most underrated movies about writing ever made.
The Pillow Book
The Pillow Book is a 1996 drama film directed by Peter Greenaway. It tells the story of Nagiko, a Japanese woman whose father was a calligrapher who taught her to appreciate the beauty of words. In adulthood, she embarks on a quest to find a lover who will appreciate her love of writing and calligraphy. She eventually finds a publisher who is intrigued by her work, and the two develop a relationship which culminates in her writing a book about her life.
The Pillow Book is a meditation on the power of writing, as well as an exploration of the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life. Nagiko’s quest to find someone who will appreciate her writing reflects her longing for someone to share her love of words and writing. The film also explores the complexities of relationships, the importance of language and communication, and the ability of writing to capture the essence of life. In this way, The Pillow Book is a modern retelling of the classic Japanese tale of writing and self-expression. Watch the trailer of this movie about writing here.
An Angel at My Table
An Angel at My Table is a 1990 film based on the autobiographical trilogy by Janet Frame touching on the subject of mental health. It follows the life of Janet Frame, from her childhood in a poor family in New Zealand in the 1940s, to her time in an asylum, and finally to her rise to literary fame in the late 1950s. The film explores the power of writing and its ability to provide solace and a sense of belonging to an outsider. Janet Frame’s writing helps her to make sense of her life, and it ultimately allows her to overcome the mental illness that had kept her in an asylum for many years.
By exploring the power of writing, the film also shows how a writer can connect with people and how writing can be a form of self-expression and self-discovery. The film also highlights the importance of being true to oneself, as Janet Frame finds her true identity and place in the world through her writing. Watch the trailer here.
This is a 2022 Thai comedy about a writer who writes movie scripts that never have a happy ending. Simple, lighthearted and funny, this isn’t a deep movie about the craft of writing or the creative journey of a writer, but if you’re looking for something different and don’t mind reading subtitles, give it a shot. It’s available on Netflix in many countries.
Little Women is a coming-of-age drama about the four March sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, as they experience the joys and sorrows of growing up in Civil War-era Massachusetts. While the sisters must cope with their mother’s illness, their father’s absence as he serves in the army, and the family’s limited means, they also learn what it means to be strong, independent women. Jo, the main protagonist, is a budding writer and her story follows her journey to becoming a published author.
The plot of Little Women is infused with themes of self-discovery, ambition, and female friendship, and the movie provides an inspiring look at the power of creativity and the importance of believing in one’s dreams. Watch the trailer of the 2019 movie here.
Bright Star is a 2009 romantic drama film directed by Jane Campion. The film is based on the three-year romance between 19th-century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at the age of 25. The film follows the pair as they fall in love, and explores the power of their love and its effect on Keats’ writing. The film focuses heavily on the passionate, creative relationship between the two, as well as Keats’ struggles to succeed as a poet. It is a story of tragedy and loss, yet ultimately of hope and inspiration.
The film shows the power of Keats’ love for Fanny, and how it inspired his work. It also serves as a reminder of how love can be a source of motivation and creativity, and how one should never give up on their dreams. Watch the trailer here.
The Ghost Writer
The Ghost Writer is a 2010 drama/thriller film about a ghostwriter who is hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister. The ghostwriter discovers that the former prime minister is hiding a dark secret that could have dire consequences.
The plot of the movie is closely related to writing as the ghostwriter is forced to confront the truth of the former prime minister’s past and to decide what the truth should be revealed in the memoirs. The ghostwriter must choose between exposing the truth and protecting the former prime minister’s reputation. The film focuses on the ethical dilemma that writers often face when it comes to writing the truth. Definitely one of the more serious movies about writing in this list. Watch the trailer here.
Before Sunset is a romantic drama film released in 2004, written and directed by Richard Linklater. It stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as two characters who meet on a train nine years after their first meeting in Vienna. The two characters, Jesse and Celine, spend an afternoon together in Paris talking about their lives, their feelings for each other, and their shared longing for a connection between them.
Jesse is an American writer who is in Paris for a book-signing tour, and Celine is a French environmentalist who lives in the city. As the two wander the streets of Paris, they discuss their current lives and the choices they have made since their initial meeting. Through the course of their conversation, the two come to realize the strong feelings they still have for each other, and how their past experiences have shaped them. The movie ultimately resolves with Jesse and Celine realizing that they are meant to be together, and that they have a chance to make things work if they choose to take it.
The plot of Before Sunset is a reflection of the power of words in writing. Words can create a connection between two people, and can be used to express feelings that may not be easy to express in person. In the movie, Jesse and Celine’s conversation serves as a way for them to connect, and it allows them to tap into emotions and memories that they have been holding onto since their initial meeting in Vienna. Through their conversation, they are able to explore the possibilities of their relationship in a way that would not have been possible without writing. The power of words to create a connection between two people is ultimately what allows Jesse and Celine to realize that they are meant to be together, and this serves as an important reminder of the importance of language in writing. Watch the trailer here.
Reprise is a 2006 Norwegian drama film directed by Joachim Trier. It tells the story of two young aspiring writers, Erik and Phillip, as they journey to become published authors. While Erik’s story is immediately successful and he finds himself in the world of celebrity, Phillip’s story is met with several rejections and he struggles to keep his dreams alive. The film follows the two friends as they navigate the challenges of life, ambition, and relationships, and the film culminates in a dramatic conclusion that speaks to the power of writing and its ability to shape our lives.
Reprise is a film about the power of writing, showing how it can shape events and even determine destiny. It also speaks to the importance of friendship, and how it can help us overcome life’s challenges. Watch trailer here.
Trumbo is a 2015 biopic about the life of Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter during the mid-20th century. The film follows Trumbo’s struggles as a successful screenwriter in the face of the Hollywood blacklist and his eventual imprisonment. Despite his imprisonment, Trumbo is determined to continue writing, and his courage and perseverance eventually lead to his vindication.
The movie highlights the struggles of a creative artist in a repressive political climate, and how the artist can still find a way to persist and create. The film also serves as an inspiration for writers facing their own challenges, as Trumbo’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of writing.
Here’s a random tip: Some of these movies about writing are actually available for free online (and I’m not even talking about illegally streaming them). With a bit of research, you’ll be surprised to find plenty of good movies that won’t cost you a dime. Check out these sites where you can watch full-length movies (legally) for free that Open Culture has curated for you.