Errol Morris is an American filmmaker known for his distinctive style of documentary filmmaking.
His films are often characterized by their use of unconventional storytelling techniques, including reenactments, non-linear narratives, and stylized visual elements. Here are some of the best Errol Morris films:
“The Thin Blue Line” (1988): This film is a landmark in the history of documentary filmmaking, and helped to popularize the “true crime” genre.
The film investigates the case of a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Texas, and features interviews with key witnesses and reenactments of the crime.
Morris’s meticulous research and creative storytelling helped to exonerate the man and led to his release from prison.
“Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” (1997):
This film weaves together the stories of four unique individuals, including a topiary gardener, a lion tamer, a roboticist, and an expert on naked mole rats.
Morris uses non-linear storytelling and a creative visual style to explore the connections between these seemingly disparate subjects and to ask deeper questions about life, death, and the human experience.
Best Errol Morris Movies
Errol Morris’s films are renowned for their creative storytelling, unique visual style, and thought-provoking subject matter.
His documentaries challenge traditional notions of what documentary filmmaking can be, and offer a fresh and engaging approach to exploring the world around us.
1. Gates of Heaven (1978)
“Gates of Heaven” is a 1978 documentary film directed by Errol Morris. The film explores the phenomenon of pet cemeteries, and the people who run and patronize them.
The title of the film comes from a comment made by one of the interviewees, who says that pet cemeteries are like “the gates of heaven.”
The film is structured around interviews with the owners and clients of two pet cemeteries in California, and their emotional connections to their deceased pets.
The film is notable for its unflinching and honest portrayal of the people involved, and its exploration of themes such as love, death, and the human-animal bond.
Upon its release, “Gates of Heaven” received critical acclaim and is now regarded as a classic of documentary filmmaking.
The film’s unique subject matter and Errol Morris’s distinctive approach to storytelling helped to establish him as one of the most important documentary filmmakers of his generation.
2. Vernon, Florida (1981 TV Movie)
“Vernon, Florida” is a 1981 documentary film directed by Errol Morris. The film is a fascinating and intimate portrait of the people and culture of a small town in rural Florida.
One of the most notable things about “Vernon, Florida” is the way that it captures the everyday lives and experiences of the town’s inhabitants.
Through a series of interviews and observational footage, the film presents a rich and varied tapestry of voices and perspectives.
We meet a range of characters, from a turkey hunter to a pet preacher, and each one has a unique and compelling story to tell.
Despite its focus on a small and specific place, “Vernon, Florida” also touches on broader themes and ideas about human experience.
The film explores issues of faith, mortality, and the relationship between people and the natural world. It also celebrates the power of community and connection, and the way that people can find meaning and purpose in the most unexpected places.
Overall, “Vernon, Florida” is a masterful and engaging documentary that captures the essence of a place and its people.
It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates documentary film and the power of storytelling to illuminate and enrich our understanding of the world around us.
3. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
“The Thin Blue Line” is a documentary film released in 1988, directed by Errol Morris. The film investigates the case of Randall Adams, a man who was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Texas in 1976.
Morris’s film examines the case in detail, using interviews with the witnesses, police officers, and other individuals involved in the investigation and trial.
Throughout the film, Morris raises questions about the reliability of the witnesses’ testimony and the police investigation.
He also presents evidence that suggests that the police may have coerced confessions from the suspects and manipulated the evidence to support their case.
“The Thin Blue Line” is notable for its innovative approach to documentary filmmaking. Morris used reenactments and stylized visual sequences to create a cinematic experience that was more akin to a fictional film than a traditional documentary.
The film also used a haunting score by composer Philip Glass, which helped to create an eerie and unsettling mood throughout.
Overall, “The Thin Blue Line” is considered a landmark of documentary filmmaking and is often cited as one of the most important and influential films of its kind.
4. The Dark Wind (1991)
“The Dark Wind” is a 1991 crime drama film directed by Errol Morris, based on a novel of the same name by Tony Hillerman.
The film follows Jim Chee, a young Navajo police officer, as he investigates a series of murders that may be connected to a drug trafficking ring.
The film is set in the American Southwest, and features stunning landscapes and an exploration of Navajo culture and traditions.
The story is intricate and full of twists and turns, as Chee follows a trail of clues that lead him deeper into a complex web of crime and corruption.
The film features a talented cast, including Lou Diamond Phillips as Jim Chee, and Fred Ward as his partner, Joe Leaphorn.
The film is notable for its portrayal of Native American characters and culture, and for its exploration of the clash between traditional ways of life and modern society.
While the film received mixed reviews upon its release, it has gained a following over the years, and is considered a cult classic by some.
Its unique setting, strong performances, and exploration of complex themes make it a film worth checking out, especially for fans of crime dramas or stories that delve into the intersection of different cultures and ways of life.
5. A Brief History of Time (1991)
“A Brief History of Time” is a 1991 documentary film directed by Errol Morris and based on the book of the same name by physicist Stephen Hawking.
The film explores Hawking’s ideas about the origins of the universe, the nature of time and space, and the possibility of time travel.
The film features interviews with Hawking, as well as his friends, family, and colleagues.
Through these interviews and a mix of archival footage and visual effects, the film provides an accessible and engaging overview of some of the most complex and abstract ideas in modern physics.
Upon its release, “A Brief History of Time” was a critical and commercial success, and has since become a classic of popular science communication.
The film’s innovative approach to visualizing complex ideas, its use of Hawking’s personal story to illustrate larger concepts, and its accessible and engaging presentation of cutting-edge scientific ideas helped to make it a landmark in the field of science communication.
6. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997)
“Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” is a 1997 documentary film directed by Errol Morris. The film is a unique and unconventional exploration of four men who are each pursuing very different careers, but who all share a deep passion for their work.
One of the most notable things about “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” is the way that it weaves together the stories of its four subjects.
The film seamlessly blends footage of a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a robotics expert, and a mole-rat specialist, drawing parallels between their seemingly disparate pursuits.
Through their stories, the film explores themes of obsession, creativity, and the ways that people can find meaning and purpose in their work.
Another notable aspect of the film is the way that it uses inventive and experimental techniques to tell its story.
Morris uses a range of techniques, including animation, archival footage, and split-screen, to create a dynamic and visually stunning film that is both thought-provoking and engaging.
Overall, “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control” is a masterful and innovative documentary that challenges our assumptions about work, creativity, and the human experience.
It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates documentary film and the power of storytelling to illuminate and enrich our understanding of the world around us.
7. Mr. Death (1999)
“Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.” is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris, released in 1999.
The film tells the story of Fred Leuchter, an engineer who became infamous for designing and building execution equipment, including gas chambers, for several U.S. prisons.
The film explores Leuchter’s life and career, and his role in the capital punishment industry.
Morris interviews Leuchter, as well as people who knew him and worked with him, to examine the ethics and morality of the death penalty and Leuchter’s involvement in it.
Throughout the film, Morris presents conflicting opinions about Leuchter’s work and his motives.
On the one hand, Leuchter argues that he was merely providing a service to the state, and that his work was essential to ensuring that executions were carried out in a humane and efficient manner.
On the other hand, some of the people interviewed in the film argue that Leuchter’s work was morally reprehensible, and that he was motivated more by a desire for money and attention than any genuine concern for human life.
“Mr. Death” is a thought-provoking and controversial documentary that challenges viewers to consider their own beliefs about capital punishment and the morality of state-sanctioned killing.
8. The Fog of War (2003)
The Fog of War” is a 2003 documentary film directed by Errol Morris, and it features an extended interview with Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The film explores McNamara’s role in the Vietnam War and his views on war and international relations more broadly.
The film is structured around eleven lessons that McNamara learned during his long career in government, and these lessons provide a framework for exploring his experiences and insights.
Morris uses a variety of techniques to illustrate McNamara’s points, including archival footage, photographs, and reenactments.
Through McNamara’s personal reflections and Morris’s insightful questioning, the film offers a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of war and the responsibilities of leaders.
McNamara grapples with difficult questions about morality, ethics, and the use of force, and the film provides a nuanced and complex portrait of a man who played a major role in shaping US policy during a critical time in history.
“The Fog of War” was critically acclaimed upon its release, and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2004.
The film is a must-watch for anyone interested in history, politics, or the complexities of human decision-making.
9. Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
“Standard Operating Procedure” is a 2008 documentary film directed by Errol Morris that examines the events at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, where American soldiers were found to have committed acts of torture and abuse against Iraqi prisoners.
The film uses interviews with the soldiers involved in the events, as well as photographs and videos taken by the soldiers themselves, to explore the question of how and why such abuses occurred.
Morris also delves into the broader political and military context in which these events took place, and examines the role of the media in shaping public perception of the scandal.
“Standard Operating Procedure” was praised for its in-depth analysis of a complex and controversial topic, and for its skillful use of interviews and archival material to tell a powerful and deeply affecting story.
The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for several awards, cementing Errol Morris’s reputation as one of the most important and influential documentary filmmakers of his time.
10. Tabloid (2010)
“Tabloid” is a 2010 documentary film directed by Errol Morris. The film tells the story of Joyce McKinney, a former beauty queen who made headlines in the 1970s for allegedly kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary in England.
One of the most notable things about “Tabloid” is the way that it explores the bizarre and often contradictory nature of McKinney’s story.
The film uses a combination of interviews, archival footage, and reenactments to piece together the events surrounding McKinney’s alleged crime and the media frenzy that followed.
Through this approach, the film raises provocative questions about truth, identity, and the ways that people construct and perform their own narratives.
Another notable aspect of the film is the way that it blends elements of true crime, tabloid journalism, and social commentary.
“Tabloid” explores the ways that the media can manipulate and distort the truth, and the role that sensationalism and voyeurism play in shaping our perceptions of the world around us.
At the same time, the film is also a character study of McKinney herself, and a poignant meditation on the human desire for love and connection.
Despite its controversial subject matter, “Tabloid” is a film that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Morris has a unique talent for crafting compelling and engaging documentaries, and “Tabloid” is no exception. It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates the power of storytelling to challenge our assumptions and broaden our understanding of the world around us.
11. The Unknown Known (2013)
“The Unknown Known” is a documentary film directed by Errol Morris and released in 2013. The film is a portrait of Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and focuses on his career and his role in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era.
The film consists mainly of interviews with Rumsfeld, who reflects on his career and his experiences as a public figure.
Morris also incorporates archival footage, news clips, and other media to provide context for Rumsfeld’s career and the political events that shaped his time in office.
Throughout the film, Morris presents Rumsfeld with a series of questions and asks him to reflect on his decisions and actions during his time in office.
Rumsfeld responds in a calm and measured manner, often using a rhetorical style that Morris dubs “Rumsfeldian,” which involves the use of convoluted phrases and statements that can be difficult to decipher.
“The Unknown Known” is a thought-provoking and at times controversial film that challenges viewers to consider their own beliefs about U.S.
foreign policy and the role of the government in shaping international affairs. The film raises questions about the ethics of U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about the role of leaders like Rumsfeld in shaping those policies.
12. The B-Side (2016)
“The B-Side” is a 2016 documentary film directed by Errol Morris. The film explores the life and work of photographer Elsa Dorfman, who is known for her use of large-format Polaroid cameras.
The film is structured around a series of interviews with Dorfman, as well as with friends and colleagues from throughout her career.
Morris also includes footage of Dorfman at work in her studio, as she creates large-scale portraits of her subjects.
“The B-Side” is a meditation on the nature of photography, memory, and the passing of time.
Morris uses Dorfman’s unique approach to portraiture to explore the role of the photographer in capturing a moment in time, and the importance of preserving these moments for future generations.
The film is also a celebration of Dorfman’s life and work, as Morris delves into her personal history and her relationships with some of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century.
The film is a moving tribute to an artist whose work has touched the lives of countless people.
Overall, “The B-Side” is a thought-provoking and engaging documentary that offers insight into the creative process of a unique and talented artist.
It is a must-watch for anyone interested in photography, art, and the power of human memory.
3 Characteristics of Errol Morris Films
Errol Morris is a highly regarded documentary filmmaker known for his distinct style and approach to storytelling.
Here are three characteristics that are often associated with his films:
Use of Interviews: Morris’s films are known for their extensive use of interviews. He often uses long takes and unconventional camera angles to create an intimate and engaging connection between the subject and the audience.
Morris’s approach to interviews has been described as a “direct cinema” style, which seeks to capture the reality of the subject without interference from the filmmaker.
Innovative Visual Techniques: Morris is also known for his innovative use of visual techniques. He often employs reenactments, archival footage, and other visual aids to illustrate the themes and ideas he is exploring in his films.
Morris is also known for his use of the “Interrotron,” a device he invented that allows the subject to look directly into the camera while also maintaining eye contact with the interviewer.
Exploration of Complex Themes: Morris’s films often explore complex and controversial themes, such as the nature of truth, the reliability of memory, and the relationship between power and truth.
He is known for his willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and to offer a nuanced and multifaceted view of his subjects.
Morris’s films are often deeply thought-provoking and invite the viewer to engage with difficult questions and ideas.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Errol Morris Films
Innovative storytelling: Errol Morris is known for his unconventional and innovative approach to documentary filmmaking.
He has pioneered many techniques that have become common in the genre, such as the use of reenactments, the intercutting of interviews with archival footage, and the use of experimental editing and visual effects.
His films are often a
Provocative subject matter: Morris’s films often explore provocative and complex subjects that challenge our assumptions and broaden our understanding of the world.
He has tackled a range of topics, from true crime and tabloid journalism to war crimes and the nature of truth itself.
His films are not afraid to ask difficult questions or challenge conventional wisdom, and they often leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
Overall, Errol Morris’s films are a must-see for anyone who appreciates documentary filmmaking and the power of storytelling to challenge our assumptions and broaden our understanding of the world around us.
With their innovative techniques, provocative subject matter, and compelling characters, Morris’s films are a testament to the art and craft of documentary filmmaking.
Best Errol Morris Films – Wrapping Up
Errol Morris is a highly regarded documentary filmmaker who has made numerous influential films over the years. Here are some of his best-known and most highly-regarded films:
“The Thin Blue Line” (1988): This groundbreaking film helped to overturn a man’s wrongful conviction for murder and set a new standard for investigative documentary filmmaking.
“Gates of Heaven” (1978): Morris’s first documentary is a wry and poignant look at pet cemeteries and the people who operate them.
“The Fog of War” (2003): In this film, Morris interviews former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara about his role in the Vietnam War and other conflicts.
“Standard Operating Procedure” (2008): This film examines the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and raises questions about the culpability of the U.S. military and the government.
“A Brief History of Time” (1991): This film is an exploration of the life and work of physicist Stephen Hawking, and provides a compelling introduction to some of the most complex ideas in modern science.
Each of these films showcases Morris’s distinctive style, which combines in-depth interviews with stylized visuals and innovative storytelling techniques.
Morris is a master of creating thought-provoking films that challenge viewers to reconsider their assumptions about the world around them.