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Construction in Cinema: Our Favorite Representations in Films and TV Shows

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Movie curtains open to show construction worker with arms outstretched

 

When Hollywood resources converge on the professional world, it’s usually through portrayals of “glamourous,” or at the very least ostensibly “exciting,” professions.   

In the movies, they’re international spies like James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne, or action-prone detectives like John McClane. On the small screen, meanwhile, they’re doctors and diagnosticians, like Meredith Grey and Gregory House, respectively; adman like Don Draper; or drug kingpins.  

But rest assured, construction professionals can find themselves the subjects of a wide variety of film projects, whether that’s literal TV shows about construction workers or the occasional filmic depiction of a construction-related career.  

Thus, we’ll break this blog down into two categories:  

  1. Our top picks for movies about construction  

  1. Our top picks for construction TV shows 

If you like our picks, share this blog with your friends on your preferred social network (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and if you have any shows or movies we missed, feel free to share them with us, and we’ll be sure to add them to this growing list of construction-related content!  

Our Favorite Movies about Construction  

Hollywood and construction have had an at times contradictory relationship. 

Viewer holds tub of popcorn in empty movie theater

Negative portrayals include the critically acclaimed, Academy Award-winning film Good Will Hunting, where construction work is viewed by Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck) as inferior to more cerebral pursuits, famously remarking that the best part of his day is thinking his friend won’t be there. An odd sentiment, if you ask us, to have about a friend, and one which is widely parodied. Perhaps most compellingly, is the parody in NBC’s Community (read more about this in our TV recommendations below), where the trades (notably, plumbing and HVAC) are viewed as geniuses of their craft. 

But I digress; without further preamble, here are our top picks for movie representations of construction: 

  • Multiplicity (1996). In this ‘90s Michael Keaton classic, Doug Kinney (Keaton) is a busy construction worker whose hectic work life impedes his family life. At a jobsite, the construction of a new wing at a scientific facility, is where the premise of the film begins. A scientist, who specializes in human cloning and is sympathetic of Doug’s predicament, agrees to clone him, multiple times (chaos ensuing), with the intention of giving Doug more time with his family. Despite the obvious ethical undertones of human cloning, the film’s comedic themes are universal. Work/life balance is a challenging, but important, thing to perfect, though we might recommend instead recruiting for an assistant (or an eager construction intern), who can help lessen your workload and, over time, whose career you can sculpt—in a sense creating another you without going through the trouble (and ethical concerns) of literal human cloning. 

 

Trivia: The film’s protagonist shares a namesake with National Lampoon’s cofounder (where the short story, on which the movie was based, was originally published). A biographical comedy-drama, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, was released in 2018 and can be streamed on Netflix if you’re interested in learning more about the formation of National Lampoon (which inspired the development of Saturday Night Live!) and its cofounder’s wild, meteoric life.  

  • Office Space (1999). As mentioned in our careers in construction article, construction work is painted in a positive light in this Mike Judge favorite, serving as a serene setting, and the film’s conclusion, where Peter Gibbons, a former computer programmer, chooses to escape from his monotonous 9-5 desk job. 

 

  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993) an iconic rom-com, arguably as influential now as the 1957 film—An Affair to Remember—it pays homage to. Tom Hanks plays a Seattle-based single father and architect, grieving the loss of his wife to cancer. His insightful eight-year-old son, Jonah, gets him to dial into a talk radio show, and manages to pair him up on a date with a “soulmate” for Valentine’s Day, when they are to meet at the top of the Empire State Building. A tearjerker!  

 

  • Fools Rush In (1997). In this ‘90s rom-com, Alex Whitman (Matthew Perry), an ambitious New York architect reluctantly travels to Las Vegas on assignment to supervise the construction of a night club. Here, he unexpectedly meets a free-spirited photographer, Isabel Fuentes (Selma Hayak), with whom he has a one-night stand. 3 months later, Isabel reveals to Alex that she is pregnant, and the two quickly marry and experience a whirlwind of challenges.  

 

Our Favorite TV Shows (by Network and Streaming Service)  

Construction professionals have been represented, if poorly, in television dating back as early as the 90s. Who can forget the bumbling “Tool Time” host in ABC’s Home Improvement? Or on WB’s Smart Guy, there of course was Floyd Henderson, the roofing contractor and single father whose child prodigy son inadvertently got his dad’s commercial played during the Super Bowl.  

Outside of these tangential representations of the industry, new “reality TV” content is quickly growing. The rise of streaming platforms has brought with them rapid growth of original content. Netflix, for example, has proven to be a content generation powerhouse, outpacing the TV industry since as early as 2006 as well as leaving its rival streaming platforms in the dust. 

A viewer holding remote selects streaming channel from flatscreen TV

And while “reality TV” only accounts for 3.4% of overall demand of original series genres, industry-specific networks like HGTV have brought forth a new niche where aficionados of this kind of content can find bingeworthy titles in no short supply. And what’s more, the streaming giants are following suit, developing original programming that’s worth a fair shake.  

Without further ado, here are our top picks for construction TV shows; Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming options are indicated in parentheses.  

General Construction  

There’s plenty of great content in the reno space that GCs can share alongside interior and landscape design professionals, and you can pretty much narrow it down to one network: HGTV.  

  • Property Brothers (franchise, stream on Hulu): The Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, have made names for themselves in the reno space, showing clients their wish lists and budgets are, without fail, incongruent/unrealistic, then transforming “fixer uppers” into “dream homes.” Their mammoth presence in this space has made them a household name (no pun intended) and has resulted in a wide array of offshoots, most notably: Brother vs Brother, a competition show where each property brother completes a renovation; and Buying and Selling, a show where prospective home buyers simultaneously look for their next home while renovating and selling their current home. Aside from admiring the basic premise of this media franchise, we also can appreciate their regular use of Milwaukee® products!  

  • Fixer Upper (stream on Hulu): Another media franchise related to turning houses in need of TLC into dream homes, Fixer Upper features husband and wife Joanna and Chip Gaines, who bring their “farmhouse” style and small-town charm to their awe-inspiring renovations. 

 

  • Income Property (HGTV Canada): Contractor Scott McGillivray helps homeowners tackle renovations to increase the value of their homes while being able to justifiably charge the most rent for their improved rental suites; and oftentimes, live mortgage free. 

 

Automotive  

Netflix has multiple shows about custom car builders (old favorites and new original series) that illustrate the craftsmanship involved in welding and fabrication.  

  • Rust Valley Restorers (Netflix). This Netflix Original series follows the story of car restorer Mike Hall and his team at Rust Bros Restoration in Canada, a classic car-crazed community. Having amassed some 400 project cars, Mike balances having a functioning business and saving his many passion projects from a rusted fate. 

  • Car Masters: Rust to Riches (Netflix), In this series, custom car fabricators Gotham Garage balance multiple smaller builds for a wide variety of clients in hopes of taking on a multi-figure payout project.  

  • Inside West Coast Customs: An old favorite, this show follows the day-to-day lives of Ryan Friedlinghaus (host of 2000s popular car customization show, Pimp My Ride) and his well-known California shop, West Coast Customs, as they customize vehicles.  

 

Architecture and Construction Project Management  

From innovative architecture across the world to sustainable construction, there are plenty of thought-provoking shows about architecture to binge and get your design fix.  

  • The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes (Netflix). Architect Piers Taylor and his friend, property developer and actress Caroline Quentin, explore great architecture around the world, built in challenging surroundings and commissioned by renowned architects who design them for their unique environments.  

 

  • Grand Designs (Netflix). Host Kevin McCloud presents interesting domiciles and what great lengths were taken to build them. Particularly compelling with this show is that the host guides the viewer along with the home builder through a project from start to finish, so you’ll see everything from unexpected construction cost overruns (and how they’re dealt with) to the grand final product, often quite remarkable. 

 

We recommend watching County Down (Season 15, Episode 3), where you’ll see an architect’s humble vision of transforming a “shed” into a minimalist, “open plan” family home that is situated calmly among Irish hills, farmlands, and vast foliage. Another honorable mention comes from a mechanical engineer who designs an innovative, underground oasis in Canberra, Australia that inconspicuously sits beneath a rooftop garden. 

  • Cabins in the Wild with Dick Strawbridge (Netflix). For you outdoorsy types! In this miniseries, presented by engineer Dick Strawbridge and master craftsman Will Hardie, designers across Wales are visited as they build cabins as part of a competition to be included in a “popup” hotel. 

  • Abstract: The Art of Design (Netflix Original Documentary Series). This series features innovative designers across many disciplines, from footwear product design to automotive design. We recommend watching Season 1, Episode 4 (you can stream it on Netflix or on YouTube) about Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect motivated by sustainability.  

 

  • How I Met Your Mother (CBS; stream it on Hulu). Yes, yes, a sitcom. Hear us out… Ted Mosby was an architect, and later became a construction project manager on his first building, the Goliath National Bank (GNB) headquarters, which afforded him the distinct privilege of adding a skyscraper to the New York skyline. Take a look back on his career as covered in Architect Magazine!  

Plumbers and HVAC  

  • Community (NBC; stream it on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime). This show follows the students at a local community college, Greendale Community College. Both plumbers and HVAC trades will get a kick out of Community, as well as its representation of trade school in relation to general, if outdated, notions of a “traditional” college experience. The same goes for how it pits other careers against a career in the trades, a far too common occurrence in modern society! In Community, the college’s Air Conditioner Repair School, a 2-year trade school, is a point of pride—boasting a job placement rate 5X higher than Greendale’s other programs, and its alumni endowment representing 80% of the community college’s overall budget. The show draws parallels and intertextuality with many famous films, most notably for how it lambasts Good Will Hunting’s negative portrayal of construction workers, hilariously making fun of the “the best part my day” line; or when in another scene, mechanically-inclined Troy Barnes fixes a broken sink (like Will Hunting solves an obscure equation on a board simply because it’s there) and, although reluctant to accept his inherent gift at first, is encouraged by a faculty member that he “could be a plumber!”  

 

That’s a wrap! Got any suggestions for construction-related content we should cover? Let us know (use the share survey link in the introduction of this blog)!  

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