Best Movies About Homelessness
May 10, 2014 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite movies about homelessness? I am trying to compile a "watch these" list of movies that have a homelessness theme. Lists that I've seen so far have incorporated those movies that may have a homeless character, or mention homelessness, but I'm looking only for homeless themed movies, such as "The Fisher King", "Being Flynn", "With Honors" etc. Also, if you know of more than one homeless movie, could you tell me which one was your favorite and why? I appreciate your time and interest.
posted by thehomelessguy to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Cathy Come Home
posted by Catseye at 9:42 AM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

My Man Godfrey (IMDB)
posted by carsonb at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tokyo Godfathers
posted by dortmunder at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2014

The Pursuit of Happyness
posted by kbar1 at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

If we're including documentaries - 'The Cats of Mirikitani' is one of my favorites.
posted by rdnnyc at 9:53 AM on May 10, 2014

Vagabond (1985) by Agnes Varda
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2014

The Soloist, which highlights the all-too-common intersection with schizophrenia.
posted by supercres at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, any film really, Documentaries included.
posted by thehomelessguy at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2014

Wendy and Lucy, perhaps.
posted by bcwinters at 9:59 AM on May 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Caveman's Valentine (2001)

Samuel L. Jackson plays a homeless man living in a cave in NYC, and discovers a fellow homeless person dead, and is compelled to solve the mystery. He was a successful musician who developed schizophrenia, and now he lives in fear of the man who lives at the top of the Chrysler Building, which sends searchbeams out for him. It's basically a murder mystery with a homeless, mentally ill detective.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:05 AM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I recall rather liking Dark Days, documentary about people living in an abandoned rail tunnel in New York. Not entirely homeless, but dealing with all the same issues.
posted by opsin at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about the NFB doc about Vancouver men who are homeless and have developed an "extreme sport" of shopping cart racing.

Carts of Darkness
posted by chapps at 10:12 AM on May 10, 2014

Lost Angels: Skid Row is my Home , a docu which grew out of The Soloist movie.
posted by inevitability at 10:13 AM on May 10, 2014

The Lovers on the Bridge, which contains some bleaker scenes than the poster and trailer would have you believe.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:16 AM on May 10, 2014

Seconding The Soloist.
And, probably not what you're looking for, but there's Down and Out in Beverly Hills, also.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:17 AM on May 10, 2014

Ach, you beat me to Down and Out in Beverly Hills!

Emperor of the North (sometimes Emperor of the North Pole) (1973) set among hobos in 1930s western America. Something of an adventure movie, with an terrific cast.

Hancock, a superhero spoof that lost its away and tried to be a superhero movie, is about a homeless superman. Meh.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:21 AM on May 10, 2014

Man's Castle, a 1933 Great Depression romance (one of the most romantic romances ever?) It's on YouTube, though it's not a great quality video.
posted by bubukaba at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2014

Trading Places. It's a Prince-and-the-Pauper story where a rich man becomes homeless, homeless man becomes rich.
posted by jsturgill at 10:33 AM on May 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

There was a 1985 made-for-TV movie called Stone Pillow that starred Lucille Ball playing an elderly homeless woman. I don't know how well it would stand up to a viewing now, but I remember Ball being damn good in it.
posted by orange swan at 10:42 AM on May 10, 2014

Wild Boys of the Road (1933); don't mind the lurid title. Here's a good article on it.
posted by gudrun at 10:55 AM on May 10, 2014

The Saint of Fort Washington. I haven't seen it since it was new so I don't know how well it stands up.
posted by octothorpe at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2014

My Own Private Idaho.
Of Mice and Men.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 AM on May 10, 2014

Your list should definitely include Streep and Nicholson's Ironweed.
Also Gardens of the Night and Waiting for Tomorrow.
posted by drlith at 11:27 AM on May 10, 2014

Dark Days is an absolutely brilliant documentary about a group of people who made their homes in a section of unused tunnels of the NYC subway system... until Amtrak evicts them. It's simultaneously inspiring & heartbreaking -- can't recommend it enough. You can watch it online at the link above, though it's probably worth seeing at decent resolution. The backstory is fascinating, too: the documentarian wasn't a filmmaker; he decided to make the film after living with these folks for a while, and the eviction just happened to be served mid-filming.

(On failure-to-preview: seconding opsin, above!)
posted by Westringia F. at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, several on this list I've not heard of, let alone seen. It may be time to renew my netflix account. Yes, Ironweed just blew me away when I first saw it. I absolutely hated Down and Out in Beverly Hills when I first saw it, but I've warmed up to it, if for nothing more than the very last scene. Cart of Darkness is now on my MUST SEE list :) Please keep your suggestions coming.
posted by thehomelessguy at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2014

"The Visitor" 2007 The overall theme is more about immigration than homelessness, but the main characters are illegal Aliens from Africa who have no place to live. Eventually they are scammed into taking an apartment that turns out to belong to some guy who was on vacation. When he returns from vacation and finds people living there they beg him not to call the police and they leave and end up sitting on a street corner with all their stuff. The guy who kicked them out feels sorry for them and lets them stay with him for a while... It's a very good movie. I recommend it.

Also "Curley Sue" 1991 A man and his daughter are homeless on the streets of NYC when a caring woman takes them both in. Curley Sue is the daughter and she tries to get her dad to hook up with the woman so she can have a mom.
posted by manderin at 12:46 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sullivan's Travels
posted by rhizome at 1:08 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

God Bless the Child, with a great performance by Mare Winningham.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2014

Streetwise (1981) - documentary.
American Heart (1992) - same location & director, but fiction.
posted by Pudhoho at 1:26 PM on May 10, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath
You'd probably have to find a specialty rental place but The Best Hotel on Skid Row is a documentary about LA's skid row.
posted by brookeb at 1:43 PM on May 10, 2014

I’m not sure how it’s aged but I remember really liking Where the Day Takes You (1992).
posted by Petersondub at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2014

Midnight Cowboy, surely? Don't they squat in an abandoned building?

Hummingbird, called Redemption in the states, with Jason Statham (2013). A film which is much better than it might be.
posted by glasseyes at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2014

My Man Godfrey is my favorite.
posted by patheral at 3:08 PM on May 10, 2014

I was also going to suggest Where the Day Takes You. I saw it again recently and still think it's pretty good.
posted by Blitz at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2014

If squatting counts, then both The Outsiders (1983) and Fight Club (1999) qualify. There are probably better, squatting-centric movies, but those are ones I dismissed without posting to this thread. There must be a number of teen-runaway movies.

Back to homeless, there's the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal (2004), about the stateless man who lives in the international terminal of a major American airport.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:41 PM on May 10, 2014

The tall blond titular character of Jack Reacher (2012), played short and brun by Tom Cruise, is a drifter or more hobo or wanderer than homeless. He lives in the fashion of Kwai Chang Caine from "Kung Fu," moving from place to place, dispensing justice. The movie in particular doesn't really example this except in Reacher's motel-living lifestyle, and the way he buys new clothes and throws out the old ones in the same trip. (He lives on an Army pension.)

Del Griffith (John Candy) and Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) and Up in the Air (2009) respectively, are also in this category; they are constant travellers. They're employed, but unmoored, so probably not what you're looking for. That's a spoiler for PT&A, I'm afraid; it appears throughout the movie that Griffith is heading home in the same direction as Steve Martin's character, but at the end you find out that he has nowhere to go.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:57 PM on May 10, 2014

Homeless in Los Angeles (2011) (trailer).
Documentary. It is on Hulu and should be viewable with a free account, but no promises.
Review at

Gimme Shelter (2013) (trailer) - Vanessa Hudgens, Brendan Fraser
Movie. Based on a true story. Available on NetFlix.
Review at RogerEbert.Com
"A pregnant teenager flees her abusive mother in search of her father, only to be rejected by her dad and forced to survive on the streets until a compassionate stranger offers a hopeful alternative.
posted by lampshade at 5:40 PM on May 10, 2014

2nding Trading Places for fiction.

For documentaries, I was really blown away by Reversal of Fortune
posted by Mchelly at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2014

Surprised that no one has yet mentioned Lost in Woosocket.
posted by thehomelessguy at 8:23 AM on May 11, 2014

No Place Like Home starring Christine Lahti and Jeff Daniels. It's a made-for-TVer but very well made and thought-provoking. Jeff Daniels is an apartment building super who loses his home and job when the apartment building where he lives with his wife and two kids burns down. They lost everything, have no insurance, and go from living in a campground to with his relatives to a shelter....and worse.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:41 PM on May 11, 2014

Perhaps not exactly defined on the question, but you won't regret watching The Man Without a Past.
posted by ovvl at 3:06 PM on May 11, 2014

Will Smith plays a character who is essentially homeless in Six Degrees of Separation.
posted by marsha56 at 5:30 PM on May 11, 2014

The protagonist's entire planet is destroyed in the first fifteen minutes of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That pretty much makes him homeless, though not exactly in the sense I think you were asking about.
posted by carsonb at 6:46 PM on May 11, 2014

Maybe I'll Come Home In The Spring was a made-for-TV movie starring Sally Field from 1971. We also called it "Gidget Goes Rotten."
posted by Rash at 3:05 PM on May 12, 2014

Another (not actually a favorite -- in fact, so depressing, I walked out with about twenty minutes to go) -- It Was a Wonderful Life.
posted by Rash at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2014

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