The 10 Best Movies About Struggling Artists, Ranked

Whether they are actively attempting to make it to the top or to stop their inevitable downfall, the struggling artist has always been quite a common trope in the film industry. Some of the most celebrated motion pictures, like Martin Scorsese‘s The King of Comedy, feature narratives illustrating the arduous quest for stardom, shedding light on all the hard work and strife behind achieving great accomplishments. Naturally, some movies stand out more than others.


From entertaining tragicomedies about faded movie stars to haunting psychological horror films that explore the price of stardom with perfectionistic ballerinas at their center, these are the best movies about struggling artists.


10 ‘TÁR’ (2022)

Director: Todd Field

Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) impassioned as she conducts her orchestra in 'Tár'.
Image via Focus Features

Featuring a remarkable lead performance by Cate Blanchett, Todd Field‘s psychological drama TÁR is set in the world of Western classical music and follows Lydia Tár, who is widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors of all time, as well as the first female director of a major German orchestra.

Field’s Oscar-nominated film does not follow the typical struggling artist trope where the protagonist is fighting to reach the top. Instead, it portrays Lydia as someone who is struggling to cope with her downfall. Through its egotistical fictional composer, TÁR provides audiences with a compelling meditation on flawed musicians and tackles the concept of separating art from the artist in the music sphere specifically. Slow-paced but never dull, with a gorgeous score and cinematography that elevate it even further, Field’s movie is a sharp dark comedy and biting satire that questions cancel culture. At times, TÁR even feels like a horror movie.

Watch on Amazon Prime

9 ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ (2013)

Directors: The Coen Brothers

Oscar Isaac smoking a cigarette in 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Image via StudioCanal

Told entirely from Llewyn’s point of view, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ most empathetic; while a tad overlooked, it is certainly one worth checking. The movie follows a week in the life of a young singer (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene in the year 1961.

Wonderfully written with a sympathetic protagonist at its center, Inside Llewyn Davis is a moving watch with a great atmosphere and fantastic performances, namely from Oscar Isaac, who delivers one of his career best. Centering around a musician who lacks direction, this captivating drama — equal parts funny but dark and melancholic — questions the place of art in the entertainment industry and the endless search for meaning, particularly as an artist. It highlights that while creative success takes talent, it is also a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

inside llewyn davis

Release Date
October 13, 2013

Runtime
105

Genres
Drama , Documentary

Watch on SHOWTIME

8 ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ (2014)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Michael Keaton in 'Birdman'
Image via Searchlight Pictures

Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s film sheds light on the way artists often sacrifice their mental health for the sake of their art. The story centers around a tormented, faded actor (Michael Keaton) best known for his portrayal of a popular superhero. Seeking validation and relevance, and in hopes of rebuilding his career and reconnecting with friends and family, the protagonist attempts to mount a comeback by appearing in a Broadway play.

Often regarded as a modern-day masterpiece, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an engaging character study that features as much drama and comedy (in fact, the film counts on some hilariously memorable lines). While it can be exhausting and overwhelming to sit through at times, the incredibly self-aware Birdman is an absorbing movie that everyone who is into the subgenre should see at least once.

Birdman

Release Date
October 17, 2014

Runtime
119

Genres
Comedy , Documentary

Watch on Max

7 ‘Ed Wood’ (1994)

Director: Tim Burton

Johnny Depp as Ed Wood making a movement with his hands while smiling
Image via Touchstone Pictures

Despite his lack of talent and success, Hollywood outcast Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) attempts to fulfill his dreams in this black-and-white 1994 comedy biopic by Tim Burton, based on the life and art of the real-life titular filmmaker.

The R-rated Academy Award winner Ed Wood (Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup) illustrates the frustrating struggle that it can be to pursue stardom with no good chance of actually achieving it. Fun and entertaining, Burton’s movie, which almost feels like a love letter to old Hollywood at times, is possibly one of his finest; on top of being a well-acted feature, it is also life-affirming, sending out a positive message about authenticity. It is guaranteed to entertain even those not familiar with Wood’s story.

Ed Wood

Release Date
September 27, 1994

Runtime
127

Genres
Biography , Comedy , Documentary , Drama , History

Rent on Amazon

6 ‘La La Land’ (2016)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing together in 'La La Land'
Image via Lionsgate

Damien Chazelle‘s delightful musical combines comedy and drama as it follows a struggling jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone). Mia and Sebastian cross paths in Los Angeles. They eventually fall in love and attempt to reconcile their aspirations for the future. However, their relationship is put to the test when each tries to pursue their ambitions.

As visually stunning and beautifully scored as it is truly captivating, La La Land sees Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in one of their best partnerships — one that beams with chemistry and light, showcasing the stars’ true talents. While the ending is nothing short of heartbreaking, Chazelle’s movie still makes the ride worthwhile, sending out a poignant message about following one’s dreams.

La La Land

Release Date
November 29, 2016

Runtime
126

Watch on Netflix

5 ‘The King of Comedy’ (1982)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Robert DeNiro as Rupert bowing for an audience in 'The King of Comedy.'
Image via 20th Century Studios

With excellent commentary on celebrity culture and the pursuit of fame, The King of Comedy is one of the most well-known, acclaimed, and overall influential movies in the subgenre, having inspired films like Joker. Martin Scorsese’s film follows Robert De Niro’s terrifying aspiring comedian, who hosts a talk show in his mother’s basement. After meeting talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), Rupert is utterly convinced that his big break is near. This doesn’t happen, as Langford is not interested. Rupert’s next move? Kidnapping the star and offering his release in exchange for a guest spot.

Despite being a satirical black comedy, Scorsese’s film is well-crafted enough to also work as a psychological drama; it is a compelling character-driven story that invites viewers inside the psyche of its struggling lead character and provides them with a fun time throughout. Its message about obsession and celebrity worship is poignant and remains relevant even today.

The King of Comedy

Release Date
December 18, 1982

Runtime
109

Genres
Comedy , Documentary , Drama

Watch on DIRECTV

Director: Darius Marder

Riz Ahmed drumming in Sound of Metal
Image via Amazon Studios

Starring Riz Ahmed in one of his most intriguing roles, Sound of Metal illustrates a metal drummer who slowly begins to lose his hearing. When he’s told that his condition will worsen, Ruben is forced to confront his long-buried demons and challenging future, which includes joining a small deaf community.

Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Darius Marder’s empowering story is certainly a must-see. Starting loudly and ending on a quieter note, the heartbreaking drama perfectly depicts the struggles of adjusting and adapting to new life circumstances that one has been forced to undergo and experience. It also highlights how incredibly painful it is to lose something so vital to our humanity. All in all, Sound of Metal is a devastating but truly entertaining movie that deserved all the flowers it got.

Sound of Metal

Release Date
November 20, 2020

Runtime
130

Genres
Drama

Watch on Amazon Prime

3 ‘Black Swan’ (2010)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Nina, staring into a mirror at herself with blood red eyes in Black Swan.
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

Natalie Portman is one of the most talented actors of her generation. With Black Swan, though, she subverted expectations and rightfully earned her deserved Oscar. The haunting Darren Aronofsky tale follows a perfectionist, hardworking ballerina who descends into a spiraling nightmare after landing a starring role in one of the most celebrated ballet plays of all time.

No doubt, this haunting character study serves as an incredible example of the “obsession destroys the artist” trope, depicting the price of perfection, while also shedding light on sexuality and womanhood — it is a nice blend of beauty and horror, where the two walk hand in hand throughout the film’s entirety. With an intense final act, the haunting, moving, and terrifying Black Swan arguably cements itself as Aronofsky’s finest and most complex feature. With that being said, it is worth noting that no one is the same person before and after watching Black Swan.

Black Swan

Release Date
December 3, 2010

Runtime
110

Watch on Netflix

2 ‘Whiplash’ (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Andrew tries to impress Fletcher with his drumming skills in Whiplash.
Image via Sony Pictures Classics
 

The second Damien Chazelle movie to make it to the list is the anxiety-inducing fan favorite, Whiplash. It centers around a promising young drummer, played by Miles Teller, who enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory. When his path crosses a rigid instructor’s (J. K. Simmons), Andrew’s dreams of greatness are severely put to the test.

Whiplash is arguably Chazelle’s strongest effort to date; not only is it really well-paced, but it also features outstanding music and intriguing characters. It’s impossible to be unmoved by Whiplash‘s greatness as it builds tension and suspense, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. What is so remarkable about Chazelle’s film, though, is how it sheds light on the psychological and physical abuse artists are put through by even more perfectionistic mentors, questioning the power of ambition, resilience, and whether it is all worth it.

Whiplash

Release Date
October 10, 2014

Runtime
105

Genres
Drama , Documentary

Watch on Netflix

1 ‘8½’ (1963)

Director: Federico Fellini

Marcello Mastroianni looking mischievous in 8½
Image via Avco Embassy Pictures

Considered one of the best films of all time, sees Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), a film director, attempting to relax after his last movie. With the people who have worked with him constantly reaching out and looking for more work, Guido struggles to get a moment’s peace. However, the filmmaker decides to pick up his latest project, which he has little faith in.

Perfectly highlighting the struggles during the creative process, Federico Fellini‘s masterpiece can be a comforting watch for those who find themselves in a similar situation. Not only does it deal with the technical, but also the personal problems artists often face. Masterfully executed, Fellini’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language movie is among the best avant-garde features and endures as a highly influential classic today.

Watch on Max

NEXT: Best Examples of The Obsessed Artist Trope in Film

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