Graffiti is one of the fastest growing art movements the modern world has ever seen.
And since graffiti’s early beginnings in Philadelphia and New York during the 1970s, a wide range of movies and documentaries across the globe have been produced to capture the essence of graffiti culture.
So from big budget movies to independent documentaries, here are 12 must-watch graffiti movies and documentaries.
1. Wild Style (1982)
Directed by Charlie Ahearn and released in 1982, Wild Style is one of the most influential hip hop and graffiti movies of all time.
As the first movie of its kind to be released, Wild Style follows up-and-coming graffiti writer Zoro on a mission to be the best writer in the Bronx (and the struggles that come with it).
Wild Style also features some major hip hop influencers at the time such as the Rock Steady Crew, Grandmaster Flash and graffiti writer Zephyr. Expect graffiti, breakdancing, rapping and every other corner of early hip hop culture.
Wild Style is a must-see graffiti movie for anyone interested in the origins of graffiti and its birthplace within hip hop culture.
2. Style Wars (1983)
Directed by Tony Silver & co-produced by Henry Chalfant (who also co-authored Subway Art), Style Wars is a must-watch graffiti documentary for anyone interested in early NY graffiti culture.
These guys have gone on to become legends in the graffiti scene, having inspired artists around the world to paint their local subway systems.
Although Style Wars features other elements of hip hop culture like rapping and breakdancing, the film’s main focus is on graffiti culture told by the graffiti writers themselves.
This makes it different to films like Wild Style that instead look at wider hip hop culture in a movie-style format – unlike Style Wars’ documentary film approach.
Overall, Style Wars is a must-see for understanding modern graffiti culture and its early roots in NYC.
3. Infamy (2005)
Infamy is a documentary-style graffiti film that follows 6 graffiti writers in some of the US’s major cities including New York, LA and San Francisco.
Expect in-depth interviews and graffiti bombing footage from writers like Earsnot, Claw, Saber and Jase. Plus, interviews with friends and family to see how graffiti has a wider effect on their relationships.
Infamy also documents how around this era (2005), European spray paints like Montana began to make their way to the US.
It’s interesting to see how this changed the tradition of racking (or stealing) paint like Rust-Oleum, to instead racking other items to sell and pay for premium spray paint designed for graffiti.
Infamy comes in as one of the best graffiti movies for anyone interested in US graffiti culture.
4. Kings & Toys (1997)
Kings & Toys is a short home-style graffiti film that looks at graffiti culture in the US, UK and Europe.
The film is split into 4 chapters: Tagging, Fame, Trains and Consequences. Each chapter interviews a number of high-profile graffiti writers who share their experiences on each topic.
Kings & Toys encapsulates the 90s graffiti scene well and should be on the watch list of anyone interested in this era of graffiti.
5. Jisoe (2004)
Jisoe is a cult classic documentary-style graffiti movie that should be near the top of everyone’s watch list.
The film follows Melbourne-based graffiti writer Jisoe whose commitment to painting Melbourne’s train system keeps getting him in trouble and putting a strain on his relationships.
Jisoe shows the reality of what life is like as an active train writer and the consequences that come with it. It doesn’t aim to romanticise graffiti writing, but instead shows exactly what it was like to be active in Melbourne during that era.
Another classic graffiti documentary that everyone needs to watch.
6. Graffiti Wars (2011)
If you’ve never heard of the legendary rivalry between King Robbo vs Banksy, Graffiti Wars is the perfect documentary to bring you up to speed.
Robbo was one of London’s most infamous graffiti writers and among the founding few to paint London’s underground system in the 80s.
When Banksy painted over one of Robbo’s early graffiti pieces located beneath Camden, London, a graffiti war erupted between both artists.
Graffiti Wars documents the iconic feud along with interviews and perspectives from friends and other artists watching it unfold at the time.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop is an original film directed by world-famous graffiti and street artist Banksy.
Although the film is based on street art and not traditional name-based graffiti (see graffiti vs street art), it had to be on this list because of Banksy’s high profile in street culture.
Plus, the film includes mainly illegal street art, which is much more interesting to watch than legal street art.
The film follows various street artists including Banksy who are videotaped on their pursuits by Thierry Guetta. Expect footage from street artists like Sweet Toof and famous sticker bomber Shepard Fairey.
For a closer look into the mysterious mind of Banksy along with the motives of other street artists, try watching Exit Through the Gift Shop.
8. Bomb It (2008)
If you’re looking for a graffiti documentary that explores global graffiti culture, Bomb It is the one to watch.
Bomb It goes around the world to showcase graffiti culture in major cities. From graffiti’s birthplace in Philadelphia to European cities like London and Amsterdam, Bomb It shares the stories of real writers on their graffiti journey.
Bomb It also shows perspectives from authorities against graffiti culture and the consequences it can have on those involved – showing us the reality of being a graffiti writer.
If you want a global perspective on graffiti culture and to see a wide range of graffiti styles, Bomb It is the film to watch.
9. Stations of the Elevated (1981)
Stations of the Elevated is one of the first graffiti films to document modern-day graffiti culture, which took off in New York City when subway trains were getting painted every night.
It’s not a typical graffiti documentary, however. Stations of the Elevated features very little dialogue – instead opting for a jazz soundtrack with video footage of painted subway trains traversing New York City. Real atmospheric and relaxing to watch.
Stations of the Elevated is a gem in graffiti history. And for anyone trying to find their graffiti style, this is the perfect film to be inspired by.
10. Bomb The System (2002)
Bomb The System revolves around a crew of active New York graffiti artists out to make their mark on the city, much to the anger of NYPD’s Vandal Squad.
On release, the movie received mixed reviews from critics, with some comparing it to Wild Style as a much-needed insight into modern graffiti culture (given Wild Style was made in the 80s).
Some find Bomb The System preachy, however, showing off graffiti as a heroic act that demands public attention and understanding.
Love it or hate it, as Bomb The City is one of the highest-budget graffiti movies to ever be released, I think it’s worth watching. Although maybe make your way through the classics first.
11. Piece by Piece (2005)
Piece by Piece is a graffiti documentary all about San Francisco graffiti culture from the early 1980s to 2005 when the film was released.
The film is split up into three chapters that look at the history and fundamentals of San Francisco graffiti, the unique style the city holds and public opinions from authorities and citizens of the city.
Expect interviews and stories from San Francisco’s most respected graffiti writers, plus guest features from other global writers.
If you want to brush up on your San Francisco graffiti knowledge, Piece by Piece is the best graffiti documentary for it.
12. Against The Wall (2004)
Against The Wall: Quality of Life follows the lives of two San Francisco-based graffiti writers known as Vain and Heir.
But as encounters with the authorities become more frequent and long-term goals begin to change, the graffiti writers come to a crossroads in their relationship.
Despite being a low-budget indie movie, it’s received a critical reception for accurately showing the reality of life as an active graffiti writer.
Do you have a favourite graffiti movie or documentary that’s missing in this article? Drop a comment and let me know.