Recently, I was flipping the channel and came across The Breakfast Club, and for the first time realized that it is maybe THE signature movie to use a library as a setting. So then of course, I started thinking about other great movie library scenes. At first, I thought the list would be pretty short, but you know what? Hollywood loves a library. Some combination of ambiance, seclusion, hidden knowledge, and the sheer beauty of shelves upon shelves of books make libraries a fantastic film setting.
Here are my sixteen favorite:
“Marion the Librarian” from The Music Man
Shirley Jones as a hard-to-get librarian. Singing. Iowans. Adorable.
“I Love You” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Of course the “I Love You” scene in a movie based on a book happens in a library. Of course it does.
The Breakfast Club
The library as prison. Almost the whole movie takes place in this fairly non-descript suburban high school library. But man, those tables and that lighting are universal. (Side question: isn’t that modern-art sculpture in the center really strange? What public high school library has a budget for that?)
“Construction Complete” from The Shawshank Redemption
From library-as-prison to prison library (see what I did there?). Andy Dufresne’s decades-long library project comes together just as his own plan to escape comes together.
“Investigating at The Library of Congress” from All The President’s Men
This is probably the single coolest shot of a library in a movie, and I would love to see how they set it up. Here, Woodward and Bernstein are going through every book the Nixon White House requested by hand. Spoiler alert: they don’t find what they are looking for.
The Hogwarts Library from Every Harry Potter Movie
The library at Hogwarts always has what you are looking for, but apparently a really, really bad catalog system. If there were just Subject categories for “Nicholas Flammel,” “How to Breathe Underwater,” and “The Chamber of Secrets,” then this series could have been about half as long. Come to think of it, we never hear about any librarians. Maybe they were the victims of cutbacks. See what happens when you cut back on library staffing? You risk Voldemort taking over.
“The Fortress of Solitude” from Superman
Let’s go with another library that doesn’t exist. The Fortress of Solitude contains the sum total of the learning of the planet Krypton, in super-efficient crystal form. Labeling is a bit of a headache, as you apparently have to be able to remember the crystals by their size and cut. Is the stuff about General Zod on the flat-cut stumpy crystal or the wedge-cut fluted crystal? Damn it, Jor-El, how about throwing a label-maker in with my interstellar infant pod?
“The Jedi Archives” from Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones
A library with the sum total of a planet’s knowledge isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A library with the sum total of the whole galaxy’s knowledge. That’s cool.
“Following Joe Doe” from Se7en
You know what? There already is a great library scene involving Dante’s Inferno. Here, Freeman is looking into the books Kevin Spacey’s John Doe has been reading, and, well, let’s just say they aren’t My Little Pony boardbooks. This scene has the only genuinely creepy shots of making photocopies on film.
“Would You Be More Comfortable?” from Philadelphia
If Se7en has the eeriest library scene, Philadelphia has the most moving. When Joe Miller sits down to talk about legal precedents for Andrew Beckett’s AIDS discrimination case, he is conquering his prejudice in the name of empathy. I mean, you couldn’t set this in Starbucks, right?
“X Marks the Spot” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The globe-trotting scavenger hunt for the cup of Christ comes to a head for the Jones boys at the library of Alexandretta. Hey, it’s not exactly subtle, but if you want subtle, go watch something with subtitles.
“In the Stacks” from Ghostbusters
“Frozen” from The Day After Tomorrow
Here’s our third visit to the New York Public Library (Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Ghostbusters), and the silliest. Yes, this is a big, dumb movie. Yes they take the cringe-inducing step of burning books to stay warm. But dammit a library covered in ice is awesome.
“In the Library” from Clue
Did the trope of murders happening in the library start with the board game this movie is based on? Anyway, this movie is better than it has any right to be, which seems to be a recurring theme of movies with Tim Curry in the lead. You do know that there were different endings of this movie, right? And that depending on the print your theater had, you would see a different one? I wish Avatar was like that, but instead of different endings, I wish there were just empty film canisters.
“The Beast’s Library” from Beauty and the Beast
Here’s how you can tell if a kid is going to grow up to be a life-long book nerd: they are more interested in the library in Beauty and the Beast than they are what happens with the rose and the sentient flatware.
“Tryst in the Library” from Atonement
Alright, those are my favorites. What are yours?
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