Celebrity Culture

Amy
Amy

Celebrity culture may often feel like a modern invention fuelled as it has been by television, social media and other technology but the phenomenon of "celebrity" has long been apparent. Here we explore the way in which it has been represented on screen, from those who seek fame to others who wish nothing more than to escape it, highlighting both the highs and lows of the glitz and glamour lifestyle.

Money Monster

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration99 mins

Money Monster(2016)

A stock market tips television presenter is taken hostage live on air by a disgruntled viewer who has made a bad investment.

Jodie Foster directs this contemporary tale of celebrity culture, targeting television personalities who are more concerned with their own image than any responsibility owed towards their viewers. In this case, it’s a financial “expert” being skewered, with the film turning the mood of an outraged world post-financial crash of 2008 into a slick thriller.

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Network

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration116 mins

Network(1976)

Satire of the ruthlessness of TV companies from the '70s, about a newsreader having a meltdown who is sacked, then re-hired to help ratings.

A classic spin on this parable is the incredibly perceptive Network, directed by Sidney Lumet. It’s a film which, like Money Monster, managed to feel very much of the moment. And yet it’s also stood the test of time, as relevant now as it was upon its initial release, delivering a scathing critique-cum-cautionary tale of putting celebrities on a pedestal.

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The King of Comedy

CertPG

Age group16+

Duration104 mins

The King of Comedy(1982)

Painfully perceptive Scorsese film in which Robert De Niro gives an unforgettable performance as stand-up wannabe, Rupert Pupkin.

A more outwardly comedic satire, though still containing layers of complexity and richness of character, is one of Martin Scorsese’s more underappreciated gems. The King of Comedy sees Robert De Niro inhabit a character every inch as realised and disturbing as Travis Bickle and co, taking celebrity obsession to dangerous levels.

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Zoolander

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration85 mins

Zoolander(2001)

Outrageously ridiculous comedy about the fashion industry, centring on the world's most successful and stupid male model, Derek Zoolander.

More farcical still is the madcap comedy fashion industry as portrayed by Ben Stiller in Zoolander, which he also directed. Often silly on the surface, the world it presents is one of narcissism and ignorance. As well as being very funny, it knowingly mocks not just fashion icons but any business which takes itself too seriously.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration82 mins

Exit Through the Gift Shop(2010)

Documentary - or is it? - about the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary which features lots of absurd comedy but blends it with drama to create something elusive, unsettling and always intriguing. Directed by renowned [yet anonymous] graffiti artist Banksy, it continuously subverts expectations with regards to its narrative, genre and tone, leaving the viewer trying to keep up at every twist and turn.

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Amy

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration128 mins

Amy(2015)

Archive footage is used to tell the life and career of iconic soul singer Amy Winehouse.

Another documentary but a very different one, this is a biography of notorious 21st century singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. The film invokes modern fascination with celebrity and also highlights a new, heightened access to their personal lives through archival, home footage and public appearances. A tragic tale of talent and torment.

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Love & Mercy

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration121 mins

Love & Mercy(2015)

Musical biopic of The Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson, chronicling his creative genius and battles with his mental health.

From one tortured musical genius to another, as we move back into fiction film, set in the 1960s and 1980s. Love & Mercy delves into Brian Wilson’s issues with mental health and his relationships with those around him who seek to exploit his fortune. It’s a wonderful production full of great music which once more warns of fame’s perils.

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Creed

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration113 mins

Creed(2015)

Can naturally talented boxer Adonis make a career in the ring without the help of his famous father’s name?

Breathing new life into the Rocky franchise, Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and directed by Ryan Coogler, gives new voices a chance to shine. The story sees Adonis Johnson – son of former world champion Apollo Creed – attempt to forge a career and life of his own without living in his father’s footsteps. A ferocious film about self-preservation and self-worth.

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Birdman

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration114 mins

Birdman(2014)

Black comedy about an ageing actor attempting to shake-off the demons associated with his most famous role.

Attempting to escape the celebrity spotlight is a common theme in these type of films, with Birdman approaching the subject from a different viewpoint to Creed. It sees an actor – forever remembered for, and associated with, his superhero role of the distant past – doing everything he can to be taken seriously. A dazzling, desperate portrait of an identity struggle.

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Notting Hill

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration118 mins

Notting Hill(1999)

Romantic comedy about the unlikely meeting of a humble bookseller and a glamorous Hollywood star.

Notting Hill, written by Richard Curtis, looks at an actress at the peak of her career who must live a famous lifestyle regardless of her wishes. It casts a more romantic shadow on the idea of living in secret, though still has cautions of its own, with the film inviting us to experience a would-be sweet pairing whose lives are invaded and intruded at every turn.

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Sunset Boulevard

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration105 mins

Sunset Boulevard(1950)

One of the darkest portraits of Hollywood ever made, director Billy Wilder's classic film is the story of a fading screen goddess.

On the other hand, some struggle when fame deserts them, with it being the only thing they knew. One of the finest – and most iconic – representations of such obsession comes in Sunset Boulevard, one of Billy Wilder’s masterpieces. Norma Desmond is an aging actress who desperately tries to cling on to the past in this dark and disturbing film noir.

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Florence Foster Jenkins

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration110 mins

Florence Foster Jenkins(2016)

Warm-hearted comedy drama about socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, dubbed ‘the world’s worst opera singer’.

A surprisingly nuanced biopic which explores similar themes is Florence Foster Jenkins, where we ask whether the film is sympathetic to the notorious opera singer or not. Balancing comedy and drama, it asks questions of its characters – not only Florence, but those around her who claim to be protecting her interests – and opens up ethical discussions about chasing dreams.

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The Idol

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration99 mins

The Idol(2015)

The true story of Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf who, growing up in Gaza, aspired to compete on the reality TV show ‘Arab Idol’.

Reflecting the modern world, dreams are now made – or broken – via reality TV, and an increasing number of films are exploring this subject in their narratives. The Idol shows reality TV in a good light, portraying it as an opportunity for anyone in the world to thrive and fulfill their goals.

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The Truman Show

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration99 mins

The Truman Show(1998)

Jim Carrey stars in this fascinating, existential satire about a man who discovers his whole life is a reality TV show.

However, a far bleaker depiction is shown in The Truman Show, an incredibly influential and prescient film – released in 1997, largely before the reality TV craze took off – about a man whose life is manipulated at every turn. It asks whether we’re complicit as audience members in any way, and has much more to say about the dangers of stardom, desired or otherwise.

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Freaks

Cert12

Age group14+

Duration58 mins

Freaks(1932)

One of the first real horror movies, Freaks is still disturbing and provocative almost a century after it was made.

Freaks – and the prevalent attraction of freak shows in circuses it portrays – is arguably where such entertainment stems from, attracting punters from far and wide to enjoy a spectacle, regardless of its rights or wrongs. This film is a controversial all-time classic, banned for 30 years in the UK, acting as a provoking, yet necessary, social and historical document.

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