86th Academy Awards: The Top 5 Manufacturing Movies

Posted by scapozzola on 02/28/2014

As we embark on another Academy Awards weekend, we thought it would be good to look at some of the great movies in cinema history that have documented and/or celebrated manufacturing work. So without further ado ...


The Deer Hunter (1978, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep). Described by Roger Ebert as "one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made,” The Deer Hunter is best remembered for its brutal scenes of torture during the Vietnam War.  But its focus on the troubled lives of steelworkers in Clairton, a small town on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, offers a stark, understated depiction of the factory work that keeps American industry in motion. The Deer Hunter won five Oscars at the 51st Academy Awards in 1979: Best Picture; Best Director (Michael Cimino); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken); Best Film Editing; and Best Sound.

8 Mile (2002, Eminem, Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger). What is it about Detroit?  Long a hub of American manufacturing, the Motor City appears twice in this list.  Like Blue Collar (see below) and The Deer Hunter (see above), 8 Mile offers an unvarnished depiction of how manufacturing work provides the one steady, reliable paycheck in an often bleak economic landscape. In the case of Rabbit Smith, the character convincingly portrayed by Eminem, factory works offers the money and means to pursue music and a better life. Eminem’s gritty performance drew praise from Siskel and Ebert, and Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song (Lose Yourself) at the 75th Academy Awards. 8 Mile was named to various year-end and all-time top lists, including: Billboard’s Top 10 Best Hip-Hop Movies Ever; Time’s Top 10 Movies of 2002; and Rolling Stone’s The Best Movies of 2002.

Blue Collar (1978, Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto). Neither a glamorization of factory work, nor a critique, Blue Collar brings an almost suffocating scrutiny to the daily lives of three Detroit auto workers. Like The Deer Hunter, the movie accurately depicts the local factory as the economic and social lifeblood of a community. Richard Pryor received top billing for the film, which proved problematic because Blue Collar is far more of a drama than a comedy, shot with an unvarnished lens by director Paul Schrader at a factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Other locations in Detroit were also used, including the Ford River Rouge Complex on the city's southwest side and the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. In a critically acclaimed 2013 biography of Pryor, authors David Henry and Joe Henry describe Blue Collar as “far and away Richard’s finest performance as an actor and the purest Pryor to be found onscreen, in one of the most overlooked films of the seventies.”

Silkwood (1983, Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, Cher). Based on the story of Karen Silkwood, who reported radioactive contamination at a plutonium processing plant, this film gathered five nominations at the 56th Academy Awards, including: Best Actress (Streep); Best Supporting Actress (Cher); Best Director (Mike Nichols); Best Original Screenplay; and Best Film Editing. Streep’s portrayal of titular character was ranked as the 47th greatest hero in the American Film Institute’s ‘100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains’ list.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson). An endearing adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic 1964 children’s book, the big screen Wonka fable provides a joyous, technicolor romp through the industrial world of chocolate-making. Filmed in Munich but cleverly set in a hybrid European-American "anytown," the movie features Wonka’s confectionary inventing rooms, a team of dedicated Oompah Loompah candy makers, and music that garnered an Academy Award nomination in 1972 for Best Original Score. Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance, and in 2003, Entertainment Weekly ranked ‘Willy Wonka’ as number 25 in the "Top 50 Cult Movies" of all time.

Image by flickr user Pop Culture Geek/photo credit: Doug Kline, used following Creative Commons guidelines.

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