Art Law Films
Last updated: June 9, 2021
Looking for a good Saturday night movie? From documentaries to historical drama and fiction, below is a selection of art law films, organized by release date. We also have a filtrable resource:
Center for Art Law Team Top Picks
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) expresses his passion for art by forging masterpieces — and selling them at a hefty profit. The trouble starts when his reproduction of a prized sculpture winds up in a famous Paris museum. If experts determine that it is inauthentic, Bonnet’s reputation will be tarnished. That’s why his fetching daughter, Nicole (Audrey Hepburn), hires cat burglar Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) to steal the sculpture back before it’s too late.
Topic(s): art forgery; authentication
F for Fake (1973)
Orson Welles’ final film documents the lives of infamous fakers Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving. De Hory, who later committed suicide to avoid more prison time, made his name by selling forged works of art by painters like Picasso and Matisse. Irving was infamous for writing a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. Welles moves between documentary and fiction as he examines the fundamental elements of fraud and the people who commit fraud at the expense of others.
Topic(s): fakes and forgeries
Portrait of a Master Forger (1991)
“A documentary featuring an interview with Eric Hebborn at his home in Italy. Eric Hebborn (1934-1996) was a British painter and art forger and later an author. On January 8, 1996, Eric Hebborn was found lying in a street in Rome, his skull crushed with a blunt instrument. He died three days later in the hospital on January 11, 1996.” In this documentary, Hebborn speaks about his life and his personal opinions about forgery. Eric Hebborn wrote multiple books in his life, one of which is called The Art Forger’s Handbook.
Topic(s): Interview with art forger Eric Hebborn in his home
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Bored billionaire Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) decides to entertain himself by stealing a Monet from a reputed museum. When Catherine Banning (Rene Russo), an investigator for the museum’s insurance company, takes an interest in Crown, a complicated back-and-forth game with romantic undertones begins between them. In an attempt to find out where Banning’s loyalties lie, Crown returns the painting and essentially turns himself in, hoping that Banning’s feelings for him will lead to an escape.
Topic(s): art theft
Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006)
Teri Horton, a former truck driver, buys a painting at a thrift shop for $5. Learning that the piece may have been painted by Jackson Pollock and may be worth about $50 million, she tries to have it authenticated. When some experts declare the painting worthless, she enlists the aid of a forensic scientist and others to establish its credentials. In this documentary, veteran filmmaker Harry Moses exposes the controversy in the world of high priced artwork. He paints a vivid picture of how art is bought and sold in America.
Topic(s): art authentication; art market
The Rape of Europa (2006)
In addition to being some of the worst war criminals in history, Hitler and the Nazi regime were also among the most prolific art thieves. During World War II, the Third Reich ordered the destruction of thousands of pieces of art from “inferior” cultures and the theft of thousands more. This documentary explores the effects of the cultural destruction perpetrated by the Nazis across Europe, and examines the ongoing struggle to recover and return the stolen art
Topic(s): Nazi looted art and restitution
Bomb It (2007)
Tells the story of contemporary graffiti, tracing its roots in ancient rock paintings through Picasso to its place in hip-hop culture in 1970’s New York City.
Topic(s): graffiti art
Art & Copy (2009)
ART & COPY is a powerful new film about advertising and inspiration. Directed by Doug Pray (SURFWISE, SCRATCH, HYPE!), it reveals the work and wisdom of some of the most influential advertising creatives of our time — people who’ve profoundly impacted our culture, yet are virtually unknown outside their industry. Exploding forth from advertising’s “creative revolution” of the 1960s, these artists and writers all brought a surprisingly rebellious spirit to their work in a business more often associated with mediocrity or manipulation: George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Hal Riney and others featured in ART & COPY were responsible for “Just Do It,” “I Love NY,” “Where’s the Beef?,” “Got Milk,” “Think Different,” and brilliant campaigns for everything from cars to presidents. They managed to grab the attention of millions and truly move them. Visually interwoven with their stories, TV satellites are launched, billboards are erected, and the social and cultural impact of their ads are brought to light in this dynamic exploration of art, commerce, and human emotion.
Topic(s): advertising creatives
The Art of the Steal (2009)
This film looks at the controversy surrounding the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a millionaire who amassed a remarkable selection of significant works during the early 20th century. Barnes sought to keep his priceless pieces together as part of his foundation even after his death, but the involvement of numerous parties led to the scattering of his collection. This documentary sheds light on how his wishes were violated by a handful of opportunistic individuals.
Topic(s): art collections
The $50m Art Swindle (2009)
Remarkable story of art dealer who swindled over $50 million from the art establishment before going on the run.
Topic(s): art market commentary
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The infamous, shadowy British graffiti street artist Banksy has literally left his mark on cities throughout the world. He comes in contact with Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles-based Frenchman who videotapes various underground art escapades, and later is transformed into an art phenomenon dubbed “Mr. Brainwash.” Rhys Ifans narrates an overlapping documentary where the line between what is real and what might be fake blurs, as modern art and celebrity are put under the microscope.
Topic(s): Street Art; art world commentary
The Desert of Forbidden Art (2010)
The incredible story of how a treasure trove of banned Soviet art worth millions of dollars was found in the desert of Uzbekistan develops into a larger exploration of how art survives in times of oppression.
Topic(s): museum creation; artist repression
Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2011)
Director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend in this definitive documentary but also delves into Basquiat as an iconoclast. His dense, bebop-influenced neoexpressionist work emerged while minimalist, conceptual art was the fad; as a successful black artist, he was constantly confronted by racism and misconceptions. Much can be gleaned from insider interviews and archival footage, but it is Basquiat’s own words and work that powerfully convey the mystique and allure of both the artist and the man.
Topic(s): diversity and racism in the arts; NYC artist
Portrait of Wally (2012)
“Portrait of Wally”, Egon Schiele’s tender picture of his mistress, Walburga (“Wally”) Neuzil, is the pride of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. But for 13 years the painting was locked up in New York, caught in a legal battle between the Austrian museum and the Jewish family from whom the Nazis seized the painting in 1939.
Topic(s): Nazi looted art; art restitution
Gerhard Richter Painting (2012)
Filmmaker Corinna Blz observes the artist at work in his studio and discusses his career with members of the pres and the art world.
Topic(s): artist process
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the first feature-length film about the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist. From 2008 to 2010, Beijing-based journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to Ai Weiwei. Klayman documented Ai’s artistic process in preparation for major museum exhibitions, his intimate exchanges with family members and his increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government. Klayman’s detailed portrait of the artist provides a nuanced exploration of contemporary China and one of its most compelling public figures.
Topic(s): art and social activism; Chinese contemporary artist
How to Sell a Banksy (2012)
Filmmaker Christopher Thompson chronicles his own efforts to restore and sell a piece of Banksy’s street art lifted from an East London bridge.
Topic(s): art market commentary; commentary
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
Finding Vivian Maier is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who secretly took over 100,000 photographs that were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later, is now among the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her.
Topic(s): uncovering new artists
Herb & Dorothy 50×50 (2013)
Longtime art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel refuse to sell their vast collection, choosing instead to donate 50 works of art to each state.
Topic(s): art collectors; art donation
Two young filmmakers discover a 70-year-old, hard-of-hearing artist named Fritz and they turn his world up side down. Fritz faces his past and rediscovers happiness as the group stumbles upon just how to “make it,” in the art world.
Topic(s): art world commentary; artist stories
The Art of the Steal (2013)
Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell), a third rate motorcycle daredevil and semi-reformed art thief, agrees to get back into the con game and pull off one final lucrative art theft with his untrustworthy brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon). Reassembling the old team, Crunch comes up with a plan to steal a priceless historical book, but the successful heist leads to another far riskier plan devised by Nicky. They fail to realize each other’s separate agendas when their plan goes awry in this con movie about honor, revenge and the bonds of brotherhood.
Topic(s): art theft
Big Eyes (2014)
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, artist Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) achieves unbelievable fame and success with portraits of saucer-eyed waifs. However, no one realizes that his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), is the real painter behind the brush. Although Margaret is horrified to learn that Walter is passing off her work as his own, she is too meek to protest too loudly. It isn’t until the Keanes’ marriage comes to an end and a lawsuit follows that the truth finally comes to light.
Topic(s): art fraud; domestic violence
The Monuments Men (2014)
During World War II, the Nazis steal countless pieces of art and hide them away. Some over-the-hill art scholars, historians, architects and other experts form a unit to retrieve as many of the stolen masterpieces as possible. The mission becomes even more urgent when the team learns about Hitler’s “Nero Decree,” which orders destruction of the artworks if the Third Reich falls. Caught in a race against time, the men risk their lives to protect some of mankind’s greatest achievements.
Topic(s): Nazi looted art; WWII
Art and Craft (2014)
Mark Landis uses his incredible forgery skills to duplicate masterpieces of art and donate them to assorted museums and galleries.
Topic(s): art fakes and forgeries
Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery (2014)
A mesmerizing, thought-provoking yet surprisingly amusing documentary on the life and times of Wolfgang Beltracchi, who tricked the international art world for nearly 40 years by forging and selling paintings of early 20th-century masters. A larger-than-life personality who was responsible for the biggest art forgery scandal of the postwar era.
Topic(s): forgeries and fakes
National Gallery (2014)
Documentary going inside and examining one of the great museums of the modern world, The National Gallery in London.
Saving Banksy (2014)
Banksy, a graffiti artist, leaves his mark on San Francisco in April of 2010 and goes on to become internationally known.
Topic(s): graffiti artist
Woman in Gold (2015)
Sixty years after fleeing Vienna, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an elderly Jewish woman, attempts to reclaim family possessions that were seized by the Nazis. Among them is a famous portrait of Maria’s beloved Aunt Adele: Gustave Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” With the help of young lawyer Randy Schoeberg (Ryan Reynolds), Maria embarks upon a lengthy legal battle to recover this painting and several others, but it will not be easy, for Austria considers them national treasures.
Type: Biographical Drama
Topic(s): Nazi looted art; art restitution
The Art Dealer (L’antiquaire) (2015)
A young woman is searching, today, in Paris, for the collection of paintings stolen from her Jewish family during WWII.
Topic(s): WWII era looted art
Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson (2015)
PACKED IN A TRUNK is the story of artist Edith Lake Wilkinson, committed to an asylum in 1924 and never heard from again. All her worldly possessions were packed into trunks and shipped to a relative in West Virginia where they sat in an attic for 40 years. Edith’s great-niece, Emmy Award winning writer and director Jane Anderson, grew up surrounded by Edith’s paintings, thanks to her mother who had gone poking through that dusty attic and rescued Edith’s work. The film follows Jane in her decades-long journey to find the answers to the mystery of Edith’s buried life, return the work to Provincetown and have Edith’s contributions recognized by the larger art world.
Topic(s): artist’s life and legacy
The Liberators (2016)
Medieval art treasures seized by the Nazis go missing at the end of World War II. Were they destroyed in the chaos of the final battles? Or were these thousand-year-old masterpieces stolen by advancing American troops? For over forty years, the mystery remained unsolved. A true detective story, “The Liberators” follows a dogged German art detective through the New York art world and military archives to the unlikeliest of destinations: a small town on the Texas prairie. Featuring interviews with Willi Korte (Portrait of Wally) and Texas attorney Dick DeGuerin, the film raises intriguing questions as to the motivations of the art thief and the whereabouts of the items that, to this day
Topic(s): WWII looted art; art restitution
The Destruction of Memory (2016)
Over the past century, cultural destruction has wrought catastrophic results across the globe. This war against culture is not over – it’s been steadily increasing. Legislation and policy have played a role, but heroic individuals have fought back, risking and losing their lives to protect not just other human beings, but our cultural identity – to save the record of who we are.
Topic(s): cultural heritage preservation
Legs: A Big Issue in a Small Town (2016)
When a big pair of legs comes to a small town, there is heightened conflict and an array of idiosyncratic characters who reveal their true selves.
Topic(s): public art controversy; public sculpture
Art Bastard (2016)
What is art and how does it relate to society? Is its value determined by its popularity or originality? Is the goal profit or expressing one’s personal vision? These are some of the questions raised as we follow fiercely independent New York artist Robert Cenedella in his artistic journey through decades of struggling for creative expression. A student, protégé and friend of German artist George Grosz, Cenedella is now passing on the legacy of Grosz’s approach to art, in the very same room where Grosz taught. In portraying Cenedella’s determination to buck the system of what’s popular while critiquing that popularity in his attempt to turn the art world upside down, ART BASTARD is a funny, touching, and insightful look inside the maverick mind of a true original.
Topic(s): art world commentary
Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World (2017)
An overview of the major players in the contemporary art market and of the economic factors that motivate those individuals and institutions.
Topic(s): contemporary art market
Loving Vincent (2017)
A young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating presicely what occured in the artist’s final days.
Type: Painted Animation/Drama
Topic(s): Artist’s life
Real Fake: The Art, Life and Crimes of Elmyr de Hory (2017)
The foundation of today’s multi-billion dollar art market still reverberates with the beautiful lies of one of the most prolific art forgers of the last century.
Topic(s): fakes and forgeries
The Price of Everything (2018)
With unprecedented access to pivotal artists and the white-hot market surrounding them, The Price of Everything dives deep into the labyrinth of the contemporary art world. It examines the role of art and artistic passion in today’s money-driven, consumer-based society — where everything can be bought and sold. Featuring collectors, dealers, auctioneers and a rich range of artists, including current market darlings Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and one-time art star Larry Poons, the film exposes deep contradictions as it holds a mirror up to contemporary values and times, coaxing out the dynamics at play in pricing the priceless.
Topic(s): art market commentary
Struggle, The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (2018)
Archival footage and interviews offer insight into the life and career of Polish painter and sculptor Stanis?aw Szukalski.
Topic(s): artist’s life
Chasing Portraits (2019)
A woman seeks to track down the paintings created by her great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), who perished in a Polish concentration camp.
Topic(s): WWII looted art; art collectors; memoir
The Goldfinch (2019)
Theodore Decker was 13 years old when his mother was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, and even love. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day — a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch.
Topic(s): stolen art
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2020)
An exploration into the psyche of a former gallery director, Ann Freedman, who was won over by a supposed art dealer. The demise of the esteemed Knoedler gallery stemmed from the sale of $80 million worth of fraudulent Abstract Expressionist works, and shocked collectors, dealers, and art historians alike.
Topic(s): fakes and forgeries; art market
Driven to Abstraction (2020)
Documentary that explores the events leading up to the demise of the Knoedler Gallery, featuring interviews with journalists and the Center for Art Law’s own Irina Tarsis.
Topic(s): fakes and forgeries; art market
Black Art: In The Absence of Light (2021)
Inspired by the late David Driskell’s landmark 1976 exhibition, “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” the documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light offers an illuminating introduction to the work of some of the foremost Black visual artists working today.
Topic(s): diversity and racism in the arts
The Dig (2021)
In the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground.
Topic(s): cultural heritage; archaeology
This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (2021)
In 1990, two men dressed as cops con their way into a Boston museum and steal a fortune in art.