15 Famous Movies You Didn’t Know Were Inspired by Works of Art

8. Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) – Relativity (M. C. Escher, 1953)


Neglected by her parents and forced to babysit her baby brother, Sarah (played by a teen Jennifer Connolly) day dreams about escaping to a fairy tail. One night her wish is fulfilled when she is transported to a different universe in which she has to pass through a dangerous labyrinth into the Goblin King’s (David Bowie) castle to save her brother from transforming into a goblin.

The Relativity illustration by Escher has a big importance to the movie’s plot. It is first seen as a poster in Sarah’s room and, later, as a life size version in the film’s climax. There, Sarah must figure it out the complex staircase in order to escape from a singing David Bowie and to save her little brother from his hands.


9. Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002) – New York Movie (Edward Hopper, 1939)


During the Great Depression, Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is a hitman working for the crime boss John Rooney (Paul Giamatti). When Sullivan’s son witnesses a killing committed by him, his family is put at risk, with the help of Rooney’s jealous son Connor (Daniel Craig). Sullivan runs away from his past life and avenges the ones who wronged him.

New York Movie is perhaps the painting that sets the most vivid similarities with the movie but Road To Perdition works as a love letter to Hopper, with the lights of the city incandescing the camera and the perpetuating silence starling the screen. Conrad L. Hall’s stunning cinematography got him a posthumous Oscar, following his other win for American Beauty also directed by Sam Mendes.


10. Lost In Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) – Jutta (John Kacere, 1973)


A newly wed young woman (Scarlett Johansson) meets a tired aged movie star (Bill Murray) in an hotel in Tokyo. Disconnected with the world and unsure what to do with their lives, the two characters form an uncommon bond and discover not only the city they are so estranged with but also themselves.

Lost In Translation’s opening shot is a shot of Johanssons back in pink underwear. The sweet yet provocative image was admittedly influenced by Kacere’s work, mainly his painting titled Jutta. Having no relation to the actual story, it’s a very beautiful moment that sets the tone for the rest of the film.


11. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) – Saturn Devouring His Son (Francisco de Goya, 1819-1823)

Saturn Devouring His Son

In 1944 post civil war Spain, a girl moves with her pregnant mother to the house of her new stepfather, a war captain. During the night, she is sent to a whole another world in which she is a princess, the catch is she must pass three very difficult tasks in order to prove her worth in the dark fantastic world.

The most famous frame of Pan’s Labyrinth is, undeniably, the moment when the Pale Man puts his face palms with eyes over his eyeless face. The physical appearance of the character was inspired by Spanish painter Goya take on the greek myth of the Titan Cronus. The painting is truly scary and disturbing, fitting right in the mood of the film.


12. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) – Ascending and Descending (M. C. Escher, 1960)


Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) is an extraordinary thief, specialised in stealing valuable secrets from the subconscious during people’s sleep. He is offered an opportunity to leave the world of crime behind if he completes one near impossible last mission: instead of removing an idea from someone’s mind, he must plant one. With the help of his team, Cobb must surpass the real and imaginary obstacles and complete the plan, which becomes hard when his own demons interfere in the the process.

Inception’s parallels with the M. C. Escher work can be taken in a literal and figurative way. The staircase is seen in a section of the film (in which Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shows Ariadne (Ellen Page) the dream world), but one can also say the whole film works as an interpretation of Ascending and Descending. The intellectual game between dream and reality are very much in synch with the intention of the illustration and much of Escher’s symbolism is present in Nolan’s work throughout his career.


13. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011) – Ophelia (John Everett Millais, 1851-1852)

John Everett Millais

Melancholia starts with scenes from the marriage of Justine (Kristen Dunst), a depressed young woman who although is loved by her husband can’t seem to be happy about the most important day of her life. The second part of the film happens later, when Justine is living with her older sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and they find about the existence of a planet called Melancholia, which can possibly collide with the planet Earth.

The dramatic opening scene of Lars Von Trier’s second instalment of his depression trilogy (which starts with Antichrist and finishes with Nymphomaniac), accompanied by the Tristan and Isolde: Prelude song, is a true test to the audience’s perception of the movie’s events, as it gives the ending even before the story starts. In one of the opening shots you can see the reinterpretation of the Ophelia painting by Millais, with the Dunst character in Ophelia’s place, and the painting is seen later in the first act of the film, symbolising the lead characters depression.


14. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012) – The Blue Boy (Thomas Gainsborough, 1770)

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s western epic is centred on a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), who is bought by a former dentist turned criminal, Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), and set free. They team up to hunt men and, later, go on a quest to find and set free Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is owned by a not only dangerous but very unpredictable man (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The Blue Boy is no strange to the screen, a film about the painting was made by F. W. Murnau, which invented an important camera technique called Unchained, in 1924, but is now lost. Coincidence or not, Tarantino also sought inspiration in the same painting, this time less literally, by giving Django a very similar blue suit in a particular scene of the film.


15. Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) – Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog (Casper David Friedrich, 1818)

Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog

Loosely based on the Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name, the movie narrates a series of events on Glasgow, Scotland, by the time an alien in the body of a woman (Scarlet Johansson) seduces men and captures them. Dazzled by the human way of living, the alien tries to be like one but the result is not the one she intended.

Filled with visually stunning moments throughout, Under The Skin uses images to show certain emotions to the audience, instead of words or actions. This particular shot has no obvious connection to the narrative but offers another delightful device to the overall visual experience.

Author Bio: João Miguel is a Portuguese film student. After seeing 8 1/2’s final scene and Persona’s mirror moment he knew there was a grand mystery about this thing they call cinema.