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15 Visually Striking Movies With Amazing Color Palettes

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

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


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 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 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


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


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?


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


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!!

  • 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..



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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. 🙂

    • Hans

      Absolutely Greenaway. Why is not one of his movies in the list?

  • 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!

      • Daniel Cardona

        yes my thoughts extactly! loved the fall

  • 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).


      or Red Desert!

  • Mariit

    Kieślowski!! <3 Viva Polonia!!

  • Jon Hironimus

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

    • Kasumi

      Yes, they are the definition of visually striking.

  • 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.


  • 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’

  • Kubrick is missing.!!

  • Dali Roos

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

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  • dyingofpoetry

    Mulholland Dr. needed to be on this list somewhere. There are few films that use color as powerfully and effectively as it does.

  • Lydia

    The Grand Budapest Hotel is a must for this list.

  • Abhishek Mishra

    I am sure the writer has not seen any of Zhang Yimou films.

  • Ozz Wald

    Enter the Void – Gaspár Noe

  • Guest

    What about Only God Forgives. A lot of people hated it but I really enjoyed it, and it had stunning visuals.

  • Ben Smith

    Only God Forgives. A lot of people hated it but it had stunning visuals.

  • Inés

    Otro grandioso conocedor de las paletas de color es Roy Andersson. Podemos ver el gran uso que hace de la misma en películas cómo “Du levande” y “Songs for the second floor” / Another great knower of color palettes is Roy Andersson. Whe can see the great use He does on films like “Du levande” and “Songs for the second floor”.

  • Ricardo Filipe Matos

    I was hoping to see Kinoshita’s Ballad of Narayama and Kitano’s Dolls

  • tjipetir
  • Kyle Sergei Bumanglag

    I’m kinda sad The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t in this list.

  • Nomaan Agha

    how can you not mention Hugo?

  • cristina willigs

    also the age of innocense

  • Iulia

    Laurence Anyways by Xavier Dolan.

  • Javierdavila Wedparafernalia

    What about Alfonso Cuaron´s “Great Expectations”, 1998 or Alfonso Cuaron´s “A Little Princess”,1995…

  • Joe Trudnak

    Moulin Rouge?

  • Sandra Angulo Hernández

    Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” is all about colour. It should be essential in this list.

  • Ian Jones II

    I think “Suspiria” and “The Thin Red Line” should be included.


    Where the hell is “Sombre” by Philippe Grandrieux or “Blue” by Derek Jarman???!.. nah just jokes. But seriously the glaring omission is surely Red Desert- Antonioni’s first colour feature!

  • Daniel Koehnen

    Mario Bavas Movies, the older Flicks of Dario Argento and Valerie and her Week of Wonders are truly missing on this list !!

  • Susan F

    No South Pacific??? No Written in the Wind? Douglas Sirk, the king of color and mood not even mentioned. How can you call yourselves experts??? No Kurosawa Dreams!!!???? A masterpiece known for its use of colors as symbols of dreams. Have you no training in cinema history???

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  • Christopher Bellis

    No mention of Suspiria!!

  • The Shining, Hero, and also Grand Budapest Hotel which hasn’t been made at that time.

  • Agustin Salazar

    Kurosawa’s Ran?

  • Cygnifier

    What Dreams May Come

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  • Vane C

    Helter Skelter 2012 , la estética es genial !! En toda la película !

    • FlyteBro

      Jeg kan også svare på norsk, men jeg har nok vett til å skjønne at det ville vært ganske dumt.

  • paul blanchfield

    Curse Of The Golden Flower

  • dirkmcquickly

    No mention of Blow Up. Weak.

  • FilippoMB

    “Black Swan” by DA. Always black orwhite colours, except the turning point scene: the green and red discotheque.

  • Sasha Kozak

    Good list but I would add Mulholland Dr, Susperia and Takahi Miiike’s Yakuza flicks, he has some amazing color used in those (to many to name)

  • Petr Svestka
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  • Diego Arteaga

    Kwaidan (1964)
    The Assassin (2015)
    Enter the void (timeless)

  • Mick Swinnen

    Fucking people always whining about what should be in the list. Thanks for including Amarcord, haven’t seen this in a list yet, though it is very deserving of a mention.