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15 Visually Striking Films With Amazing Color Palettes

19 March 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Gavin Miller

film color palette

A film’s aesthetic and visual palette can largely determine its mood, feel and even themes. Production, costume and art design all massively contribute to a film’s look, as well as the cinematography and directorial choices. Some filmmakers use visual extravagance and excess for no real point, making their films feel emotionally vapid and pointlessly indulgent (Baz Luhrman and Tarsem Singh come to mind), but when a filmmaker can really utilize those colors and visual allure to bring out emotions, set a mood and give their work personality, it’s always a treat.

That’s not to say all great movies have to be doused in bright colors, but sometimes the visual experience a film offers has just as much to do with its quality as the characters, story or dialog. The better a film looks and the more exciting it is to the eye, the more memorable and stimulating the film is – as long as it has the other elements of a good movie to back up that atheistic. Here are fifteen films with unusually striking, beautiful color palettes.

 

15. The Act of Killing

the_act_of_killing

A documentary about Indonesian death squads is probably not the film that would first come to mind when thinking about beautiful colors. However, 2013’s one-of-a-kind The Act of Killing is full of unexpected colors, and what makes those colors so special is that they serve as a backdrop for horrific reenactments by the death-squad leaders.

This anomalous film is very hard to describe, but its intense images are one of the stand-out features of the film. A line of pink-dressed women emerging from the mouth of a giant fish is one reoccurring and unforgettable image in The Act of Killing – a rare documentary that is emotional, surreal and sickening all at once.

 

14. Spring Breakers

spring-breakers

Spring Breakers is a love-it or hate-it experience. What looks on paper like any other cliché teenagers-partying film, is actually a scathing indictment of America’s shallow society and youth depravity. One of the more unconventional films in recent memory, Spring Breakers is in part so memorable because of its neon haze of colors and skewed editing style. Photographed by Belgium cinematographer Benoit Debie, this is a film worth seeing just for the interesting visual experience, which possibly the best part of Spring Breakers.

 

13. 2046

2046

2046 is one of Wong Kar Wai’s most bizarre, mystifying and seductive films. And that’s saying a lot when talking about this director. No Wong Kar Wai film is not beautiful, and it was hard to choose between Chungking Express, In the Mood For Love and 2046 for this spot. All of his films are visually unique and experimental, but we decided to go with 2046 because it’s the director’s most ambitious and mysterious endeavor, as well as one of his least accessible.

This is a movie that looks and feels as if it takes place in both the future and the past. It’s even replete with a strange and somewhat-out-of-place sci-fi interlude/subplot.The beauty of the aesthetic though, is that nothing is visually consistent about it. 

 

12. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world-still

This is just a fun movie in every way. The colors really stand out and take a forefront in this comic-book adapted tale, but in the best way possible. Scott’s love-interest, Ramona Flowers, changes her hair color throughout the film – the hues of her head, as well as of the characters’ clothing, and later on – weapons, are vivid and delightful to look at, and the video game animations that pop up throughout are hilarious and clever. The bright and almost-primary colors of Scott Pilgrim are very important to its story, and also help it achieve its comic-inspired feel.

 

11. Her

Her-Spike-Jonze-love-story

Most future-set movies depict a drabby, grey, dump of a world that humans have left in their wake. If you’re looking for a more optimistic vision of how the world might look in the future, consider Her – instead of Children of Men or WALL-E. Not only is everything pristine and clean in the world of Spike Jonze’s latest, but there are also a lot of red.

Apparently, everyone will become very attracted to the color red in the next few decades. Luckily though, Hoyte Van Hoytema shoots these rouge hues beautifully, and creates images both haunting and hypnotic. Her not only proved that Spike Jonze can work without a Charlie Kauffman script, but also that he can be a wonderful visual director.

 

10. O Brother Where Art Thou?

o-brother-where-art-thou

Usually when you think of a beautiful color palate, bight, vivid colors come to mind. However, as demonstrated with the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou?, a sepia-tinted Southern landscape can be just as visually rewarding. Roger Deakins is one of the most artful cinematographers working today, and O Brother is one his most successful collaborations with the Coen’s – who seem to be the directorial bread to his cinematographical butter.

The landscape shots are gorgeous, and what this film’s aesthetic captures best is the time period of the 30’s – wonderfully evoking the era with the precise production design and props, but also the colors.

 

9. The Dreamers

dreamers

Bernardo Bertolucci is certainly a director of colors, and no better example of his pigmental-mastery than his 2003 sexual drama The Dreamers. The Dreamers is more of a motion painting than a motion picture. In part a valentine to Paris, this film captures the city so exquisitely, and so passionately.

What’s even more impressive though is how the camera almost seems to capture the emotion of love – with the striking shades of red, and the startling and unflinching images of an American’s sexual discoveries and awakenings in the city of love.

 

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  • Martin Cunningham

    I’d have thought Greenaway’s ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover’ was worth a mention. Each location has a different colour, and costume colours change as characters move from one location to another.

  • Chase Dorway

    Her is an incredible movie. The visual experience alone is just sublime. Same goes for Amelie. I doubt coincidentally, those two movies are the top 2 in my “most beautiful love stories I’ve seen put on film” list.

  • Sammy Tan

    Akira Kurosawa”s Dreams should have been in the list!!

    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2680332032/tt0100998?ref_=tt_ov_i

  • Nikki Espartinez

    Big Fish really was stunning- visually. Loved Burton’s palette on that one. I think Lost in Translation deserves a spot here though. I like this list and your theme.

  • Christian Kennedy

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It looks looks paintings!!!

  • sigurkarm

    Scarface was interesting due to the palette including more red as he gets richer and closer to his demise…

  • JaySin420

    Very nice list, I really wish more movies would do this.

    I would have loved to see a version of Man of Steel with colors like these.

  • Kitty

    Percy Adlon’s films..

  • PUNCH

    PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

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  • Richard Visco

    Sucker Punch should also be included here

  • BHO

    Zhang Yimou’s Hero

  • Harristarr McLennon

    What about The Cook the Thief his Wife and her Lover? or Drowning by Numbers? or any of peter greenways films?

    • mph23

      Wow, cool. I rarely hear any of those films mentioned. Good on you. :)

  • melastica

    The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! Every scene is colorful and amazing.

  • Pavel Dumitrescu

    Excuse me, but where’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona? The warmth of the colors which are present throughout the film deeply enhance the experience of watching this film.

  • mph23

    Thanks for mentioning Burton’s ‘Big Fish’. A lot of people forget that movie, and I think it’s his best.

    But you did leave out ‘Suspiria’, ‘The Fall’, and ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Lover’.

    • Richard Owen

      Yes, The Fall, must include that here!

  • Dave

    Days of Heaven?

  • Miles

    Surprised Enter the Void isn’t on here.

  • Ted Wolf

    Nice list! I’d also add Blow Up (one of my favorites).

  • Mariit

    Kieślowski!! <3 Viva Polonia!!

  • Jon Hironimus

    Hero (2002) or The Fall (2006) should be included.

  • Lark

    I reckon Drive is pretty stunning-all that blue and orange

  • Tiger Blam

    What, no mention of The Crow?

  • retrogaming

    Way too many recent films; that’s a poor man’s list.

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  • Karan Dave

    Where is Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void??? That was hell of a colorful trip

  • Alissa Arseneault-baccarat Mel

    the crow and sucker punch should’ve been there. Also,when i think of visually stunning movies i automatically think of SINCITY. It wasn’t colorful but they did a great job

  • Daniel de la Cruz

    I would have liked to see here “pan’s labyrinth”

  • Sean Cordy
  • theokos

    I would’ve chosen Delicatessen over Amelie, as well as ITMFL over 2046. Also, you’re missing Cries and Whispers. Lastly, you tended to focus on films which have bright or warm colors, not much with colder, darker colors i.e. Prisoners.

  • Thomas Kent

    I was actually very impressed by the pastel tones of the remake of The Ring. Kubrick is always great with colour: Clockwork Orange especially, where he paid huge amount for Agfa CT-21 slide film because he loved the colour.

  • Laughingirl

    Palette, not palate. Different things.

  • Joel Thottan

    You forgot ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

  • http://kanna89.blogspot.com/ Kannan

    Kubrick is missing.!!

  • Dali Roos

    I’m suprised The Grand Hotel Budapest isn’t on here!

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