Beauty Isn’t Everything: 10 Best Modeling Movies

The Neon Demon Elle Fanning
Breaking into and working in the modeling industry can be extremely difficult work. The constant pressures related to models’ looks and lifestyles are nothing short of overwhelming in many cases. The business is highly competitive, and getting noticed often requires a great deal of resources, both monetary and personal.

Hollywood is also a fickle beast. Woody Allen famously wrote: “Show business is not so much dog eats dog, as dog doesn’t return other dog’s phone calls.” So, it’s only natural that the world of modeling and Tinseltown would collide from time to time.

Today, we are going to be looking at the best movies about the business of looking good. Some of these films were met with critical acclaim and enthusiasm upon their release while others gained a substantial cult status that has made them duty-bound references of the topic. This is the 10 Best Modeling Movies.

10. Mahogany (1975)

Diana Ross Mahogany

Mahogany tells the story of Tracy Chambers (thee Diana Ross), an aspiring fashion designer from the slums of Chicago who finds fame and fortune, but not much in the way of happiness, as Mahogany, international supermodel. Or, as the ads proclaimed, “The woman every woman wants to be – and every man wants to have!”

Mahogany is a god-awful movie. But consider this: You’ve got to know when to take a movie seriously and when not to. This is definitely a film not to be taken seriously. You don’t watch this movie for the plot you watch it for the retro look – the over the top fashions (some designed by Diana Ross herself are hysterical and totally worth checking out). Anthony Perkins has never been better in this over-the-top performance of one very strange photographer who can’t quite decide whether to make the moves on Ross or her superstar smooth-as-hot-chocolate boyfriend Billy Dee Williams. And how about that hit single, Do You Know Where You’re Going To, being played throughout the movie? This pic plays like one long Carol Burnett show spoof. Funky and oh so fine.

9. Puzzle Of A Downfall Child (1970)

Faye Dunaway Modelling

Undoubtedly, Puzzle Of A Downfall Child’s greatest strength is its star, Faye Dunaway. Though she was well established at the time (Bonnie And Clyde and The Thomas Crown Affair) this was her first truly challenging role, and she more than lives up to it. Dunaway (at her most beautiful) plays Lou Andreas Sand, a former model who, after a nervous breakdown, has moved to an isolated beach house. A photographer and former lover, visits her with the intention of getting her story on tape as inspiration for a film he wants to make (inspired, in part, by similar recordings director Jerry Schatzberg made with model Anne Saint Marie, who also suffered a breakdown).

Besides the strong central performance, there is gorgeous cinematography, filled with interesting closeups, plenty of amazing stills, and lovely framing; and some interesting editing as the narrative randomly follows Sand’s troubled mind as she struggles to recall the true details of her life. It’s bleak but never too depressing.

8. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966)

Polly Maggoo Movie

After nearly a decade as American Vogue‘s most subversive fashion photographer, William Klein made this wild, pseudovérité incursion into the world of Parisian haute couture. Elegant, scathing humor ties together the various strands of this alternately glamorous and grotesque portrait of American in Paris Polly Maggoo, played by Dorothy MacGowan, an Alice In Wonderland supermodel who becomes the pinup plaything of media hounds and the fragmented fantasy of the prince of a small country in the Soviet bloc. Klein’s first fiction film is a daring deflation of cultural pretensions and institutions, dressed up in brilliant black and white.

Indeed, the satire comes hard and heavy, yet it’s all so stylishly delivered that it becomes contagious. Klein has a dazzling sense of composition – rigidly combining sets, costumes and b&w camerawork into an altogether unique look, which often feels like Stanley Kubrick on mushrooms. And in the end, after all these years, Polly Maggoo remains a tumultuous time capsule of an extravagant era, captured at its most deliriously excessive.

7. The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Gretchen Mol Bettie Page

The Notorious Bettie Page is a surprisingly sweet and innocent-feeling movie about what you might think is a salacious subject: The Queen of Pinups in the 1950s. The story doesn’t seem to whitewash Page’s story or make her over into something she’s not; the filmmakers actually manage to capture a bit of Bettie’s greatest appeal. Even while in incredibly risqué and erotic pinup, topless, and bondage photos and movies, Bettie Page displayed a playfulness and frankness that increased her popularity.

Gretchen Mol delivers a decent performance as the sunny dispositioned Page – capable of provocative BDSM modeling but also in love with Jesus Christ. The film isn’t really a biography. It is more a snapshot of 1950s America – where erotica is completely spurned by the powers that be yet thrives in the underground. Bettie cannot cope with this dichotomy and it drives her into the arms of religion. In her pictures she radiates good fun and a wholesomeness which is not found in other fetish models. The average porno model usually has more of a seductive ‘Make love to me’ look than Bettie’s huge grin and innocence. A very exuberant movie about a very exuberant girl.

6. Star 80 (1983)

Mariel Hemingway Star 80

The last film directed by acclaimed choreographer and director Bob Fosse, is a desolate tale of obsession, both for fame and romance, swathed in questions regarding public persona and the exploitation of women. Star 80 documents the life and tragic death of Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway) at the hands of her obsessive ex-husband, Paul Snider (Eric Roberts).

The finale of Star 80 still stands as one of the most horrific and disturbing moments ever committed to film. The genius is that, even though we know how the movie ends, Fosse still manages to wring the scene for as much subtext and suspense as humanly possible. As a director, he understands that telegraphing the inevitable allows him to further explore the blackhearted “whys” behind this gruesome ordeal. In the end, Star 80 is a meditation on the abduction of innocence by a devil whose starry-eyed gaze gives way to a fear of perpetual inferiority. Only an artist as thoroughly versed in the evils of show business as Bob Fosse could deliver such a thoroughly chilling portrait.

5. Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mannequin Horror Movie

Mario Bava’s Blood And Black Lace may not be the first Giallo film but it is certainly the most influential. It takes place in a fashion boutique which is basically a high-glamour façade that covers a multitude of sins, including drugs, cheating, and abortions. Someone begins knocking off fashion models one by one while everyone tries to get their hands on a secret diary; everyone looks guilty, and so it’s not easy to find the killer.

Decadent visualist as well as severe moralist, Bava locates the macabre beauty at the heart of his art in this fashion-world dollhouse, where the models, both human and inanimate, become the main canvases for the sensual lushness of the mise en scène; the witty opening credits already suggest the link by posing the cast in sinister tableau, and mannequins are trenchantly arranged throughout as mute witnesses to the spectacle of human malice. This gives the entire production a beautifully bizarre quality, which is broken only when the characters meet their maker.

4. The Neon Demon (2016)

Elle Fanning The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest journey into cinematic WTFery follows Jesse, played by Elle Fanning, a 16-year-old newcomer to Los Angeles who hopes to break into a career in modeling. Her youth and beauty prove irresistible to everyone she encounters – agents, photographers, fashion designers, a skeevy Keanu Reeves, a skeevy Jena Malone, and even a rogue mountain lion. She is declared an It Girl, much to the chagrin of two older former It Girls and her dopey “good guy” love interest. Soon enough, Jesse’s ruthless careerist side starts to come out, making her a target for everyone suffering in her shadow.

The Neon Demon focuses on a lot of things: The (often vapid) nature of modeling and the audience’s relationship with it; the relationships between individuals competing for a small number of positions within a niche profession; the danger lurking around every corner for the young, attractive, and naive; and what you’re willing to do to get ahead in life. Challenging, potent, weird, scary, and often impenetrable, The Neon Demon is a fascinating movie almost regardless of where you ultimately come down on it. Whether it’s a bleak black comedy, a critical horror movie, or artsy for the sake of it, you’re going to have a strong opinion on this one.

3. Gia (1998)

Gia Fence Photoshoot

For credibility’s sake, let’s acknowledge HBO’s stellar biopic Gia for its cinematic merits. The film that made Angelina Jolie a star, playwright-turned-director Michael Cristofer’s award-worthy production takes an uncompromising look at the troubled life of an oft-overlooked supermodel, Gia Carangi. With her openness toward nudity and smoking looks, Carangi ascended to the top of her industry, but a failed love affair with a nearly-as-hot agent (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) led the model into a spiral of coke, heroine, and other drugs. Jolie, in what remains her greatest performance, holds nothing back, fearlessly showing her birthday suit throughout and embodying Carangi as a tormented, fragile, and fascinating case study in showbiz tragedy.

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s add upon the “fearlessly showing her birthday suit throughout” point. Our shallow side can’t ignore the truth that Jolie has rarely looked sexier than she does in Gia; her steamy, where’s-the-rewind-button love scene with Mitchell certainly has something to do with that. Indeed, a little girl-on-girl action can effortlessly put an already superb movie over the edge of greatness.

2. Funny Face (1957)

Audrey Hepburn Funny Face Balloons

An immaculately arrayed montage of magazine covers, contact sheets, and perfectly posed models introduce viewers to Stanley Donen’s classic musical Funny Face – and the glamorous, glossy world of mid-century high fashion that serves as the film’s backdrop.

Featuring a title and theme song pilfered from an unrelated 1927 Gershwin musical of the same name, Funny Face is based on the early career of legendary fashion photographer Richard Avedon – known for his iconic portraits of the rich and famous – and his model/actress wife Doe. Written by Avedon’s friend Leonard Gershe, the film stars Audrey Hepburn as Jo Stockton, a fresh-faced model discovered by hot shot shutterbug Dick Avery, played by Fred Astaire. In short, the film is a timeless musical treat and the most fun you can have with really elegant clothes on.

1. Zoolander (2001)

zoolander blue steel

Blue Steel! Yup… you knew this was coming.

The world of fashion is quite ripe for lampooning, and this scattergun comedy from writer-director-star Ben Stiller has become a cult favorite. He plays Derek Zoolander, the miner’s son turned male model who finds there’s more to life than just being really, really ridiculously good looking.

Sure, the models-as-government-assassins plot doesn’t make any sense, but that’s not the point ( actually, it is the point come to think of it) – this send-up of the fashion industry is still the definitive movie of its kind (and if you disagree, please Derelicte our balls). Zoolander playfully pokes fun at the industry and its stereotypes, from the not-too-bright male model posse (“orange mocha Frappuccino!”) to the demanding designers (Mugatu, played by Will Ferrell). Oh, and we’re just going to pretend that Zoolander 2 doesn’t exist. M’kay? If that’s cool with everyone.

Any other movies about being ridiculously good looking that you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

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