When film meets art: 5 movies inspired by famous paintings

What happens when film meets art?
Someone must have thought that some paintings are just so good that they look like they should be more than “just” paintings.

Discover with us 5 of the many directors who got inspired by or did homage to painters in recreating famous artworks in their movies.

1. Hopper’s atmosphere in Hitchcock’s Psycho

Did you know that Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting House by the Railroad inspired, 35 years later, the Victorian building you can admire in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho?
The American painter – whose themes concern alienation from the modern life – must have seemed like the perfect reference to the British director, who took the painting’s atmosphere and recreated it in his masterpiece Psycho.

House by the Railroad, 1925 and a scene from Psycho, 1960

2. Tarantino’s Django like Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy

One of the directors who love the most to adorn their movies with hidden references is undoubtedly Quentin Tarantino.
In one of the most intense and dramatic sequences of his Django Unchained, the director makes his leading actor, Jamie Foxx, wear an electric blue valet suit, inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s 1779 famous portrait The Blue Boy, thus bringing a very specific sartorial reference into his historic film.

The Blue Boy, Thomas Gainsborough, 1779

3. Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and Millais’ Ophelia

It’s not unusual to find more than two arts merging into one single masterpiece: sometimes film meets art and literature too, and this is what happens in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.
These artistic references are particularly evident in the scene in which the main character Justine, who is going through a deep depression crisis, floats downstream with her wedding bouquet. This image – also taken up in the film’s poster – represents a clear reference to the Shakespearian Ophelia of the homonymous portrait by John Everett Millais.

Ophelia, John Everett Millais, 1851-52

4. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Another director who loves filling his works with (not very) hidden references is the great Terry Gilliam, the American member of Monty Python whose film meets art on a regular basis.
In his 1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he chose a young Uma Thurman to reproduce a live-action version of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, an iconic scene that seems to hypnotize both spectators and the other characters in the movie.

5. M. C. Escher’s Relativity and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

How many kids (and not just them…) since 1986 have been terrified and hypnotized by Jareth the Goblin King (interpreted by an unforgettably charismatic David Bowie) jumping the impossible stairs of his castle, singing Within You to a confused Sarah? That scene is a clear reference to one of Escher’s most known lithographs, Relativity, which depicts a dystopian scenario in which regular laws of gravity do not apply.
The same work is also hinted at in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, in which dreams and reality are deliberately mixed to disorient viewers.