The best film books about movie making and more
Behind-the-scenes stories, film-making techniques, screenplay advice and other movie goodness.
Looking for the best books about movies? Since the early days of cinema, industry professionals and movie lovers have written about the craft of film-making, experiences behind-the-scenes and how the best films ever made were received when they came out.
We’ve selected a range of the best books about movies that we hope will be insightful and interesting whether you’re a film fan, a film-maker or hoping to break into the industry soon.
From the experiences on the set of epic sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and epic Hollywood failure Bonfire of the Vanities through to lessons and insights into how to direct and shoot the perfect-looking movie, there’s something here for everyone.
You’ll find a lot of information about films online, but the best books about movies provide you with a deep dive into the entertainment industry instead, which we think is incredibly valuable. Plus, if you’re reading a book rather than finding information online, you’re less likely to get distracted.
With that in mind, here are our picks of the best books about movies. If your favourite is here, upvote it. If not, add it in the box.
The best books about movies and film-making
1. Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System by Sharon Waxman
Back in the 1990s, some big name directors really made their mark on the film industry. This book by New York Times journalist and author Sharon Waxman explores how they made it big. Rebels on the Backlot takes a deep dive into the lives of directors Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Spike Jonze. Waxman explores their lives, careers and how they pushed the boundaries of filmmaking with their game-changing movies.
2. The Devil's Candy: "Bonfire of the Vanities" Goes to Hollywood by Julie Salamon
Never heard of the movie Bonfire of the Vanities? You’re not alone. It was a 1990 black comedy directed and produced by Brain de Palma with an all star cast, including Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. But it was also a huge box office flop, taking in $15 million against its $47 million budget. This is one of the greatest behind-the-scenes books, which asks why it was such a failure. Author Julie Salamon had complete access to every aspect of the production, which is rare and makes the details all the more juicy and the book a fascinating insight into how movies are made.
3. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
If you’re interested in writing a movie, this is one of the best books out there to teach you the basics of screenwriting. It is an entirely different beast to penning a novel, or another other kind of writing for that matter. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting tells you everything you need to know about each step of the screenplay process, from generating ideas, getting the format right and nailing the dialogue through to completing your finished script and finding an agent. Be sure to find the most recent version of this book, as it’s often updated to take into account new practices and case studies to ensure all of the advice is fresh and relevant.
4. In the Blink of an Eye, 2nd Edition: A PerspectIve on Film Editing by Walter Murch
Although directors are praised for making great movies, it’s a film editor that often gets to decide what the audience will see on the screen. In the Blink of an Eye is an essay written by highly-acclaimed film editor Walter Murch. It deals with broader questions of aesthetics as well as taking the reader on a journey through the practical steps of editing a film. Expect topics like continuity, framing, reading the emotions of a scene, insights into the mechanics of blinking and how it should inform movie making, and much more. There’s an earlier version of this book, but make sure you get the most recent one as it includes Murch’s latest thoughts on digital editing.
5. Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson
2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most popular and accomplished movies ever made. But have you ever wondered how such an ambitious movie was made way back in the late 1960s?
This book is the definitive story of how director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke worked together to bring this truly epic film to the screen. Author, artist, and award-winning filmmaker Michael Benson combed through Kubrick’s and Clarke’s archives and interviewed the people still alive who worked on the film in order to write this fascinating book about its conception and its legacy. There are stories in here even the most die-hard of Kubrick fans won’t have heard before, as well as many behind-the-scenes photos sure to delight fans.
6. On Directing Film by David Mamet
David Mamet is a creative powerhouse, having worked as a playwright, screenwriter and movie director throughout his life. In this book he shares how he makes a movie, exploring every step of the directing process, including script editing at the start through to making the right decision in the cutting room once filming is over. Mamet draws from his own experiences, as well as the work of others, to really dig into the nitty-gritty of his process, sharing insights and practical steps for budding film-makers to take themselves.
7. The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition by Gustavo Mercado
The Filmmaker's Eye is essential reading if you’d like to get stuck into the nitty-gritty of filmmaking. It’s focused on composition, which is essentially how characters, props and points of interest are arranged within the camera frame. It explores the skills and visual approach you need to create the best-looking images that serve the story.
The best part is it’s filled with more than a hundred case studies. Whether you’re a budding director, editor or learning about film-making and aesthetics, you’ll get a lot from this book. This is a revised and updated version, taking into account modern film-making techniques, like drone cinematography and the latest film image resolutions.
8. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
Award-winning director Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies is a fantastic read if you want to dive deep into the film-making process, whether you’re just interested in the craft or want to follow in his footsteps. The book includes many of Lumet’s personal experiences crafting critically acclaimed movies, covering all steps of the process, like working with actors, establishing the perfect shot, understanding lighting techniques and so much more. Despite being so deeply ingrained in the industry, Lumet’s lessons and anecdotes are clear and accessible, making this book ideal for all levels of understanding and experience.
9. Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet
Shepperton Babylon lifts the lid on the British film industry, from the 1920s onwards – which is rare when so many similar books focus solely on Hollywood's history. It’s packed with research about making films but the real focus is on the stories of the stars throughout the decades, with salacious tales about all kinds of antics. Although it is worth mentioning this book can be a heavy read in places, with stories of death, failed careers and exploitation.
10. The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael by Pauline Kael (Author), Sanford Schwartz (Editor)
Pauline Kael is a renowned film critic, having written for The New Yorker for decades, and this book is a collection of her best work. Her observations and insights are truly illuminating and honest. You’ll find her thoughts on Breathless, Bonnie and Clyde, The Leopard, The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris and Nashville, among others in this anthology. If you’re interested in film criticism specifically, then this is a masterclass in that specific, challenging style of writing. However, all movie lovers will get a lot of delight from reading Kael’s most well-loved reviews.
- Looking for fiction instead? Take a look at our list of the coolest books of all time.
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