Top 10 Films About Homelessness in America

“Cinema is truth at 24 frames per second.” – Jean-Luc Godard.

Movies have become that proverbial campfire we gather around to hear stories. With film, you can experience a myriad of emotions, such as love, amazement, anger and fear. Movies help us move through time while also freezing time by taking hold of the senses that tell us what is and isn’t real.

While literature always enlightens us, film provides us with a strong, visual alternative. Film not only offers a narrative similar to literature, it also provides a feast for the senses, which most closely mirrors real life. When we sit down to watch a movie, the sensual experience is familiar, but the story itself can take us anywhere. Thus, movies are both an old friend and a brand new adventure

By watching movies that take place in different regions of the world, we are given insight into what makes people so different in addition to what makes us the same. Through this, we are able to develop a better understanding of each other, one that avoids stereotypes and acknowledges the diversity in humanity.

Having said all of that, one genre that’s important to address is film that depicts homelessness in America. An interesting topic, homelessness is something that often gets overlooked. However, it’s important to understand homelessness in America with the hopes that it will bring us closer to the real epidemic.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 films about homelessness that have taken American film by storm over the years.

#1 – It Was A Wonderful Life (1993)
Director: Michèle Ohayon (as Michele Ohayon)
Stars: Jodie Foster, Lou Hall, Reena Sands

Feature-length documentary deals with homeless women, once secure in their middle-class status, who through divorce, misfortune, or circumstances were reduced to living on the street.

#2 – The Soloist (2009)
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener

A newspaper journalist discovers a homeless musical genius and tries to improve his situation.

#3 – The Homestretch (2014)
Directors: Anne de Mare, Kirsten Kelly
Writers: Kirsten Kelly, Leslie Simmer

Three homeless teenagers brave Chicago winters, the pressures of high school, and life alone on the streets to build a brighter future.

#4 – Dark Days (2000)
Director: Marc Singer
Star: Marc Singer

A cinematic portrait of the homeless population who live permanently in the underground tunnels of New York City.

#5 – The Fisher King (1991)
Director: Terry Gilliam Stars: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Adam Bryant

A former radio DJ, suicidally despondent because of a terrible mistake he made, finds redemption in helping a deranged homeless man who was an unwitting victim of that mistake.

#6 – Sugar (2013)

Director: Rotimi Rainwater
Stars: Shenae Grimes-Beech, Marshall Allman, Austin Williams

Executive producer Elliott Broidy presents a movie based on true events: A 20-year-old homeless girl is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome on the streets of Hollywood and Venice beach.

#7 – The Saint of Fort Washington (1993)

Director: Tim Hunter
Stars: Danny Glover, Matt Dillon, Rick Aviles

A homeless schizophrenic seeks the help of a streetwise combat veteran as they attempt to overcome cruel life on the streets.

#8 – Ironweed (1987)
Director: Hector Babenco
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Carroll Baker

An alcoholic drifter spends Halloween in his hometown of Albany, New York after returning there for the first time in decades.

#9 – When I Came Home (2006)
Director: Dan Lohaus
Stars: Nicole Goodwin, Anthony Manto, Herold Noel Jr.

Iraq War veteran Herold Noel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and lives out of his car in Brooklyn. Using Noel’s story as a fulcrum, this doc examines the wider issue of homeless U.S. military veterans-from Vietnam to Iraq-who have to fight tooth-and-nail to receive the benefits promised to them by their government.

#10 – The American Hobo (2003)
Director: Bobb Hopkins
Stars: Ernest Borgnine, Merle Haggard, Bobb Hopkins

Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine, star of the classic train movie “Emperor of the North”, hosts this remarkable examination of the uniquely America Hobo. Hear compelling tales of life as a migratory worker from these notable former Hobos, such as Pulitzer Prize winner, James A Michener, country music legend Merle Haggard, and many other adventurous free spirits.


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