The 30 Best Movies About The Theater

24. Stage Beauty (Richard Eyre, 2004)

Stage Beauty

In 17th century England, women were not allowed to be involved in the world of the theater so the female characters were played by men. This is the case of Edward “Ned” Kynaston (Billy Crudup), the most appreciated actor in female roles, who uses his beauty and talent to give some of the most convincing female performances of his time, making the audience forget that he is a man. IN his shadow is his female dresser Maria (Claire Danes) who longs to be on stage but can’t because of her sex.

Everything is about to change when, through a series of favorable circumstances, Maria is introduced to King Charles II who is smitten with her. After the meeting, the king decrees that women are allowed to perform on theater stages and furthermore offers the prestigious role of Desdemona in “Othello” to her. This news does not go well with Ned who sees his former dresser as unwanted competition.

Driven to despair, he questions himself and his acting abilities and even contemplates suicide. Things take a turn for the best when he realizes that no one is out to harm him and when he discovers the secret love for him that laid in Maria’s soul. “Stage Beauty” is a very emotional love story set against the background of the theater that beautifully combines fact with fiction and passion with love.


25. Mrs. Henderson Presents (Stephen Frears, 2005)

MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS, Kelly Reilly, 2005, (c) Miramax

“Mrs. Henderson Presents” belongs to that category of films based on true events but along the way take liberties with the depiction of the events in order to become a separate work of art. With Stephen Frears directing and Judy Dench and Bob Hoskins features in the cast the film could not have gone wrong…and it didn’t.

Eccentric 70-year-old widow Mrs. Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) purchases the Windmill Theater in London as a post-widowhood hobby. In 1937, they start a continuous variety revue called “Revudeville”, but after other theatres in London copy this innovation, they begin losing money. Mrs. Henderson suggests they add female nudity, similar to the Moulin Rouge in Paris, which is unprecedented in the United Kingdom.

Lord Chamberlain reluctantly allows this under the condition that the nude performers remain immobile, so the performances can be considered art, the equivalent of nude statues in museums. Of course, the ambitious Mrs. Henderson will not be satisfied with this and she will keep fighting until her way is done.

There is a scene where she flawlessly and amusingly arguments her position by saying that her theater might be the only chance for young soldiers going to war to see female nudity. Other scenes of the film depict life in the theatre during the period, with the clashes and the squabbles that go with it.


26. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

2008 saw the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, who felt ready to make the transition from screenwriter (“Being John Malkovich”, “Adaptation”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” among others) to director. “Synecdoche, New York” is a very strange, surreal film filled with dream sequences and structured as a play-within-a play-within-a play-within-a play film.

The plot follows an ailing theatre director (Hoffman) as he works on an increasingly elaborate stage production whose extreme commitment to realism begins to blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. The film’s title is a play on Schenectady, New York, where much of the film is set, and the concept of synecdoche, wherein a part of something represents the whole, or vice versa.

The strange part is that the director does not even realize that he is building a replica of New York inside a warehouse. Many years pass and his play has yet to see daylight. He does not realize this either as he is consumed by existential philosophy, the struggles of creating the perfect realism in art and the many demanding women in his life.

Towards the end of the film, paranoia and insanity take over the body and mind of the director assigns roles in his gargantuan play depending on the events in his private life. He goes so far as to casting a person to play himself as the young director that he was at the beginning of the film. With direct influences from Luis Bunuel and Franz Kafka, “Synecdoche, New York” takes the theater to a whole new level and blows the mind of the audience along the way.


27. Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater, 2008)

Me and Orson Welles (2008)

Bored with school, 17 year old Richard Samuels daydreams of a Broadway career. The year in 1937 and the place is New York. Through chance young Richard meets a young director named Orson Welles and after a brief conversation ends up with a part in the upcoming production of “Julius Caesar”, Broadway’s first Shakespearean production.

Even though he was quite young at the time, Orson Welles already had a reputation of an established director and so Richard couldn’t be happier with his position. The movie then splits into two plot lines. One plot line follows the hassle of the rehearsals and Welles’s worries that the streak of good luck he had so far with his work might end exactly now when he needs it the most.

The other follows Richard’s and Welles’s love lives as they are both in a bit of a mess; Orson is having an affair with his leading actress while Richard fears that ambitious production assistant Sonja’s attraction to him might get him fired. “Me and Orson Welles” is a small intimate film that can be seen as an amusing theater anecdote.


28. Vous N’avez Encore Rien Vu (Alain Resnais, 2012)


The great Alain Resnais will always be remembered as an innovative director associated with “Left Bank” group of authors but also with “Nouvelle Vague” movement.

Resnais began making feature films in the late 1950s and consolidated his early reputation with “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959), “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961), and “Muriel” (1963), all of which adopted unconventional narrative techniques to deal with themes of troubled memory and the imagined past. As he got older Resnais began to move away from political messages and complicated structures in his film but he never compromised his artistic integrity believing in film as an art form till the end.

“Vous N’avez Encore Rien Vu” is one of his last films and it is loosely based on two plays by Jean Anouilh. The story is rather strange but despite all this, it is not at all difficult to follow (at least not in comparison to his celebrated before mentioned masterpieces). From beyond the grave, celebrated playwright Antoine d’Anthac gathers together all his friends who have appeared over the years in his play “Eurydice.”

These actors watch a recording of the work performed by a young acting company. During the screening, Antoine’s friends are so overwhelmed by their memories of the play that they start performing it together, despite no longer being the appropriate age for their various roles.

This may not be Resnais’s greatest work but if you are a fan of his style or the theme of “Orpheus” this film is not to be missed.


29. Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski, 2013)

Venus In Fur

When it comes to the films of Roman Polanski people tend to judge the man rather than the artist. Because of his troubled past Polanski is labeled today as a monster and that label is automatically transmitted to his films. But every true movie lover knows that Polanski is a cinematic genius and that most of his films are fascinating. And so it is proven once again with his 2013’s reinterpretation of the classic story made famous by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch.

Polanski’s film “Venus in Furs” is not a direct adaptation of the novel being based on the play of the same name written by David Ives (who drew his inspirations from the original novel). The film is very intimate and minimalist in décor; just as Polanski likes it.

Thomas is a writer-director of a new play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel “Venus in Furs”. Alone in a Parisian theatre after a day of auditioning actresses for the lead character Thomas laments of the poor performances to come through. As he is preparing to leave the theatre, an actress named Vanda arrives disheveled. In a whirlwind of energy and unrestrained aggression, Vanda convinces the director to let her read for the part.

To Thomas’s amazement, Vanda shows great understanding of the character and knows every line by heart. As the audition progresses, the intensity is redoubled and the attraction of Thomas turns into obsession. Mirroring, in a way, Polanski’s infamous incident from the 70’s the film is a perfectly executed intimate thriller that does not need gore and special effects to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.


30. Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2014)


A few years ago director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had a crazy idea. To shoot a film like a stage play and make it look like the whole thing is one big continuous shot. Everyone advised him against this warning him about his idea’s failure. In spite of all this, Inarritu pressed through with his idea, turned into a film and won the Oscar for best director. Needless to say the film was a huge success.

The story of the film concerns a washed-up Hollywood actor who was once famous for starring in a popular franchise about super-hero Birdman. The actor to chose to walk away from Birdman feeling that the film world will not take him serious if he continues. So he came to New York to put on a play based on Raymond Carver’s short story “What do we talk about when we talk about Love”.

Everything is against him; his actors, who cannot take him seriously as a theater director and leading man, his daughter and ex-wife, who blame him for being a lousy parent and husband, his critics, who still see him as the meaningless super-hero, but most of all himself. The actor has big doubts whether or not he can rise up to the challenge of true acting.

The film talks about the condition of an actor and his craft, talks about the challenges of making the right career choices and the big dilemma (that every famous actor faces) between money and respect for your craft.

There are two big pluses to this film. One is the cinematography executed beautifully to look like a continuous shot. The other is the perfect casting. The lead role is played by Michael Keaton. Like the lead character, Michael Keaton became famous for playing Batman in the Tim Burton franchise and the slowly faded away from stardom in order to do more “serious” roles. This film is seen by many as Keaton’s comeback.

Another great role in the film is made by Edward Norton. He plays an actor, who is 100% committed to his craft, but is a miserable human being in the real life. Norton has a reputation of being a difficult actor to work with. Zach Galifianakis is also perfectly cast as the lead character’s stressful but loyal agent, producer and lawyer. The female characters are also perfect. Emma Stone plays Keaton’s troubled daughter and Naomi Watts plays Norton’s pissed off girlfriend.

You will never see theater filmed the way it is filmed in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.