10 Best Movies About Perfection, Ranked

Movies


Flawlessness isn’t easy. That’s why so many great movies about obsession come about from the pursuit of perfection, or at least excellence. It takes a lot of dedication to achieve something that most people don’t even try, either from common sense or the kind of satisfaction with life that makes them feel like such a lofty goal isn’t worth it. But those who go for it do so because of a significant drive within themselves.



What is perfection, anyway? Is it marked by a Platonic ideal, or is it the individual’s relentless pursuit of an impossible goal? Maybe it’s not about one person’s actions and accomplishments but those of a team or a couple, as some lovers feel that they were meant to be together. Whatever angle one may approach it from, the attempt at perfection often says just as much about the person as it does about life itself. Perhaps perfection in art is subjective, but the following movies arguably convey the conflict better than the rest.



10 ‘Pumping Iron’ (1977)

Directors: George Butler, Robert Fiore

image via White Mountain Films

Pumping Iron was not Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s first movie, but it was his first big hit. The crew follows him on the verge of his retirement from bodybuilding and his competitors as they train and eventually compete in the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions. Among them is Lou Ferrigno before he played the Hulk, coached by his father. These guys train like it’s nobody’s business, clearly driven by the notion that anything less than perfect isn’t going to cut it.

Schwarzenegger’s recalling when he gave someone bad advice helps the viewer understand that, sometimes, these competitors play games with each other to wind up on top. But there is also talk of the excruciating pain they must endure and overcome to really get those extra muscles to pop. The music is great and adds some lightness to the documentary’s tone, but it’s clear that the chiseled bodies on display here regularly endure a level of physical stress that only the most ambitious athletes can handle.


Pumping Iron

Release Date
January 18, 1977

Runtime
85

Writers
Charles Gaines , George Butler

Watch on Tubi

9 ‘Synechdoche, New York’ (2008)

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Caden Cotard vacuuming his apartment in Synechdoche, New York
Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Charlie Kaufman is largely known for his fascinating screenplays, and Synecdoche, New York was his first directorial effort. As the perhaps overly clever title suggests, this movie portrays the idea of a single part standing in for a whole. More specifically, a theater project funded by a MacArthur Fellowship is meant to represent the life of its troubled leader, Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This man becomes so obsessed with perfectly capturing the essence of his life down to the most mundane detail that fiction and reality overlap and blur.


Although it’s much longer than it needs to be and feels a bit pretentious in the second half, it’s nevertheless a provocative work that spans decades. It shows a man who gets so bogged down in expanding and reworking his play that it’s never even shown to the public. Synecdoche, New York gets more dreamlike as it goes on, showing Caden’s impulse to control his memories, his obsession with the past, and his inherently incomplete meditation on the human condition. It’s a fascinating look into the creative process and the futility of finding absolute truth in it.

Synecdoche, New York

Release Date
October 24, 2008

Runtime
124

Writers
Charlie Kaufman

Rent on Amazon

Director: Mark Mylod

Ralph Fiennes as Chef Julian Slowik smiling softly in The Menu
Image via Searchlight Pictures


The Menu is about a very unusual fine dining experience. Wealthy foodies have booked reservations at one of the most respected restaurants in the world, and head chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) is known for his innovative and meticulous work. Like some other world-renowned chefs, he embodies perfection in the kitchen. Alas, he’s had enough of the impossible standards that his patrons and the culinary community have put on him and his team, so he decides to retire in spectacular fashion.

Directed by Mark Mylod, The Menu is a poignant takedown of perfectionism and pretension. One of the best horror comedies of the past five years, it’s cleverly structured by the numerous courses served throughout this disturbing meal. The dark satire thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, though, making for an enjoyable watch with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in a memorable standoff that reminds everyone that cooking, like eating, should be a joy in itself.


The Menu Film Poster

The Menu

Release Date
November 18, 2022

Director
Mark Mylod

Runtime
107 minutes

Watch on Hulu

7 ‘Moneyball’ (2011)

Director: Bennett Miller

Billy Beane turning around to look to the distance in Moneyball
Image via Sony Pictures Releasing

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was supposed to be the perfect player when he was drafted into the MLB, but his career didn’t pan out that way. Now he’s the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, and they have such a small budget that he decides to hear out Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who explains an algorithm that essentially calculates a player’s worth in very specific terms. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Billy and Peter ignore all their peers’ advice and decide to go by the computer to make the best team they can afford.


Experience be damned; after all, Billy was called the ideal candidate by experienced scouts who turned out to be wrong, so maybe perfection can be predicted with numbers instead. Moneyball is so well-written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian that it’s able to make mathematics look interesting. One of the best sports movies of the past few decades, Moneyball tells the story of when complete and total adherence to an incredibly complicated formula yields shockingly positive results. It’s an unconventional yet still rousing and touching story that serves as both an exploration of the true meaning of perfection and a love letter to baseball.

Moneyball

Release Date
September 22, 2011

Runtime
133

Writers
Steven Zaillian , Aaron Sorkin , Stan Chervin , Michael Lewis

Watch on Netflix


6 ‘Eyes Without a Face’ (1960)

Director: Georges Franju

A woman wears an expressionless white mask in Eyes Without A Face (1960)
Image via Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France.

Les Yeux Sans Visage (or Eyes Without a Face) begins with a woman (Alida Valli) dumping a corpse face down by the side of the road, and the viewer finds out why soon enough. A plastic surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) has been having his assistant abduct women of particular physical features so that he can cut off their faces and try to put them on his daughter (Édith Scob), who essentially lost her own in a car accident. Now she sulks, wandering around the house with a mask while he tries to flawlessly execute an incredibly difficult procedure.

This man’s despicable search for the perfect face propels one of the most haunting French films of the 60s. Watching the daughter console those caged dogs and find that poor girl on the surgical table is unnerving, as is the surprisingly graphic detail with which the movie depicts the operations. Chilling yet profoundly melancholic, Eyes Without a Face is a unique take on the pursuit of perfection rendered with striking Gothic eloquence.


Eyes Without a Face

Release Date
March 2, 1960

Director
Georges Franju

Cast
Pierre Brasseur , Alida Valli , Juliette Mayniel , Alexandre Rignault , Edith Scob

Runtime
90

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5 ‘Phantom Thread’

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis as Woodcock fixing a dress that Alma is wearing in 'Phantom Thread.'

Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis collaborate for a second time in Phantom Thread. The three-time Oscar winner plays acclaimed fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, a workaholic and the definition of a perfectionist. His sister (Lesley Manville) helps keep him together as he goes about his extremely strict routine, which can be quite anti-social. For her part, Alma used to be a waitress, but now she is Reynolds’s muse. She refuses to be as disposable as any of the other models, though, and the romantic drama takes an unexpectedly dark turn near the end.


Collider’s Matt Goldberg commends the film’s ability to show “how much art demands from an individual and what a wondrous and torturous process that can be.” Likewise, the film suggests that romance can be just as oppressive and fulfilling as an artistic calling. Quiet and stylish yet emotionally violent, Phantom Thread is as delicate and expertly crafted as Woodcock’s gowns. The film effortlessly balances pitch-black humor with psychological drama, resulting in a unique exploration of the creative mind and the chaos the artist leaves in his wake.

phantom-thread-poster-teaser

Phantom Thread

Release Date
December 25, 2017

Director
Paul Thomas Anderson

Runtime
130

Writers
Paul Thomas Anderson

Watch on Netflix

4 ‘Black Swan’ (2010)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Nina performing Swan Lake on stage in 'Black Swan'
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures


Easily one of Natalie Portman‘s best movies, Black Swan is about a ballerina named Nina, whose obsession with her work drives her to madness. She still lives with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), who still treats her like a child even though she’s a full-grown adult. Nina may dance impeccably, but she’s too much of a goody-two-shoes to be both the white and black swan. The black swan needs recklessness, a wild energy that welcomes technical imperfection in exchange for passion.

As The New York Times puts it, Black Swan depicts the dark side of perfection by “showing you the sacrifices and crushingly hard work that goes into creating beautiful dances.” All the pressure and repressed desires culminated in a performance that rightfully won Portman the Academy Award for Best Actress. Black Swan skillfully uses Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet to demonstrate how much of themselves some people are willing to give for their art.


Black Swan Poster

Black Swan

Release Date
December 3, 2010

Runtime
110

Writers
Mark Heyman , Andres Heinz , John J. McLaughlin

Watch on Max

3 ‘Whiplash’ (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Andrew talking to Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash
Image via Sony Pictures Classics

Arguably Damien Chazelle‘s best movie yet, Whiplash doesn’t shy away from letting the audience know that working as hard as possible is essential to being the best at something. Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a jazz drummer at a prestigious school of music and the kind of person who takes great pride in being compared to Buddy Rich. That’s the level of musicianship he aspires to, and he feels he has to sacrifice meaningful human relationships to get there.


It’s an exaggeration of the truth, but this is still one of the best movies about obsession destroying an artist; there’s a reason why Andrew is a drummer and not, say, a harpist. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons plays a brutal, manipulative band leader who believes that a great artist needs to be relentlessly pushed to reach their potential. Simmons won an Academy Award for his role, and boy, did he earn it. Fletcher, like perfection itself, can be terrifying. Whiplash paints a bleak portrayal of the relentless pursuit of perfection; more hauntingly, it suggests the high price is worth it for many; people just get in the way, after all.

Whiplash-poster-1

Whiplash

Release Date
October 10, 2014

Runtime
105

Writers
Damien Chazelle

Watch on Netflix

2 ‘Vertigo’ (1958)

Director: Aldred Hitchcock

Scottie Ferguson talking t o Judy Barton in Vertigo
Image via Paramount Pictures


If being consistently listed as one of the greatest movies of all time in Sight and Sound’s famous poll every decade is a sign of perfection, then Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo may be one of the few perfect movies about perfection. James Stuart plays a private investigator who eventually winds up demanding his lover (Kim Novak) to make herself look like the woman she was pretending to be when they met, down to the last detail. It’s the kind of request that makes her realize he fell in love with an idea.

This mystery thriller is yet another film about the difference between someone’s creation of an ideal and its friction with reality. The objectification of women, the psychological toll of obsession, and the dehumanizing things that people do for love are explored in emotionally wrenching detail. Hitchcock directed many outstanding works, several of them masterpieces, and this one is often cited as the best. Vertigo suggests that perfection is an illusion, and the attempt to find it will induce more than just dizziness.


vertigo-movie-poster

Vertigo

Release Date
May 28, 1958

Cast
James Stewart , Kim Novak , Barbara Bel Geddes , Tom Helmore , Henry Jones , Raymond Bailey

Runtime
128

Writers
Alec Coppel , Samuel A. Taylor , Pierre Boileau , Thomas Narcejac , Maxwell Anderson

Rent on Amazon

1 ‘Amadeus’ (1984)

Director: Miloš Forman

Mozart conducting before a large audience in Amadeus
Image via Orion Pictures 

Miloš Forman’s Amadeus is less about perfection than the torturous lack of it. Watching Mozart (Tom Hulce) gleefully frolic through life with the gift of God, fellow composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is so rotten with jealousy that he tries to sabotage the man he still cannot help but admire. Many people nowadays find classical music boring, but Mozart himself is wonderfully depicted as a man-child, running around in polite society and amusing listeners with impressions of other musicians on the spot. The man’s laugh is wild and immature, another insult to Salieri’s vastly inferior talent.


One of the best movies about music that isn’t actually a musical, Amadeus has been heralded since it premiered, winning 8 Academy Awards out of 11 nominations. It’s as masterfully rendered as Mozart’s music itself, and the movie provides some of his most beautiful pieces for its soundtrack. The viewer can’t help but feel just a touch of Salieri’s envy of this genius, this musical prophet, who can write incredible first drafts of music “as if he were just taking dictation.”

Amadeus Poster

Amadeus

Release Date
September 19, 1984

Cast
F. Murray Abraham , Tom Hulce , Elizabeth Berridge , Simon Callow , Roy Dotrice , Christine Ebersole

Runtime
160

Writers
Peter Shaffer

Rent on Amazon

NEXT: 25 Movies That Are Perfect From Start to Finish



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