visually inspiring movies cinematography

Visually Inspiring Movies

Feast your eyes and feed your imagination with these visually inspiring movies from some of the greatest directors and cinematographers in the world.

There’s no doubt cinematography and photography have a lot in common: lighting the scene, composing the elements in it, choosing the right angle and working with colours.

All of these create the perfect atmosphere so that the viewer can be fully submerged in the visuals.

But sometimes making all the decisions can get overwhelming – especially if you find yourself lacking inspiration.

Fear not! The list below is made to keep the wheels of creativity turning, and will sweep you off your feet with some amazing imagery by the greatest directors and cinematographers of our time.

They’re not movies about photography, but rather movies you should be watching to get inspired for your own photography.

8 Visually Inspiring Movies

1. Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak screenshot

Crimson Peak is known as one of the most visually striking films of 2016 for a reason. It’s a dark fairy-tale featuring breathtaking costume and set design where imagination spreads beyond limits.

The story is about a young girl who gets married to a mysterious gentleman and moves to a remote mansion in the English hills to live with her new husband and his sister.

Although the events that follow from that moment on are kind of predictable for the genre, the movie is an exceptional visual tale and it’s definitely worth checking out for inspiration and some well-recited photography quotes.

Director Guillermo del Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen are both renowned names when it comes to quality cinema. The look that they create together in Crimson Peak is an impressive personal interpretation of the traditional gothic style. 

2. To The Wonder

To The Wonder screenshot

To the Wonder is created by another iconic figure in the present-day movie scene: director Terrence Malick. 

The film is a poetic examination of the romantic relationship between an American travelling in Europe and a Ukrainian divorcee who’s raising her daughter in Paris.

After relocating to Oklahoma so that they can live together, problems start to arise and their relationship falls to pieces little by little. 

The Director of Photography here is Emmanuel Lubezki (the same cinematographer who was behind the camera in The Revenant).

What is unique about this film is that it breaks away from traditional storytelling where the narrative is most important and instead dives into a purely visual abstract world of imagery. 

3. Roma

Roma screenshot

Roma, a contemporary black-and-white cinematic masterpiece, was released in 2018. It was directed, written and shot by the same person – Alfonso Cuaron – and it has already received numerous awards and acclaims.

The story is set in the early 1970s in Mexico City and it brings back to life the childhood memories of the director.

Roma follows key events in the life of the main character, Cleo, who is at that time a domestic worker. She takes care of a middle-class family with four children that is slowly falling apart.

The simplicity of the plot combined with the stunning black-and-white imagery really add up to a remarkable cinematic experience. When asked why he preferred to shoot digital instead of film, the author explains:

I didn’t want this to be a vintage black-and-white — a black-and-white that would look like something done during the ’60s or the ’50s. I wanted a digital black-and-white that would embrace digital — not try to hide the digital quality of it — with amazing resolution and amazing dynamic range and amazing definition.

You may also be interested in this guide: How do I get the cinematic look?

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel has been praised as the best movie of director Wes Anderson so far.

Like many of his other films (Moonrise Kingdom, The Darjeeling Limited) this one is pure pleasure to look at with all its fantastic symmetrical compositions and rich colour palette.  

The plot focuses on a popular European ski resort in the 1930s and its inhabitants, especially the main caretaker Gustave and his protégé, a junior lobby boy called Zero.

When one of Gustave’s lovers dies unexpectedly, he finds himself being the main suspect of her murder and also the recipient of a very expensive painting. 

The man behind the camera is Robert Yeoman with whom Wes Anderson has worked for nearly 20 years. The Grand Budapest Hotel has been the most successful project for the fabulous duo up to now.

5. Mother!

Mother! Screenshot

Mother! Is one of those movies which split audiences in half – you’ll either absolutely love it or you’ll probably think you’ve wasted your time watching it. 

It’s really challenging to describe the plot of this film as it’s strongly metaphorical and it also based on the Bible to a great extent.

What we see is a girl living with her husband in the countryside. She’s renovating the Victorian mansion they live in while her partner is struggling with creative block. One day an unexpected guest knocks on the door and from there on things go horribly wrong amazingly fast.

When shooting Mother!, director Darren Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique opted for a brave decision of using Kodak Super 16mm.

Shot on film in a digital era, this movie builds a distinctive atmosphere for the viewers by embracing the unique look of the film grain and texture.

6. Drive

Drive screenshot

Drive was released in 2011 and 8 years later it still has to offer one of the best cinematic experiences in the movie world. Its director Nicolas Winding Refn literally doesn’t waste a frame. 

The story is about a very skilled Hollywood stuntman who gets himself in trouble by moonlighting as a getaway driver for criminals. He’s definitely not much of a talker, but the film is so visually powerful that’s it feels natural to step into the character’s shoes.

Cinematography is not all about creating beautiful frames, it’s also about being able to tell the story in a captivating way with those moving images. T

he DP of the film, Newton Sigel, has done a remarkable job when it comes to putting this cinematography rule into practice.

The unique atmosphere he creates and the psychological framing are sure to stick into your head long after you’ve watched Drive.

7. The Revenant

The Revenant Screenshot

The Revenant is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican filmmaker, producer and screenwriter who has already won worldwide acclaim with his work.

The film tells the dramatic story of a frontiersman who travels on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s when he is attacked by a bear. He faces death but manages to survive – only to discover he has been left for dead by his own companions.

What’s remarkable about this movie is that it was shot entirely relying on natural light, and the results are stunning.

Cinematographer Emmanuel  Lubezki had to endure freezing weather conditions, but that didn’t turn out to be an obstacle for him. 

8. Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is a visual tale created by one of the best contemporary movie directors: Denis Villeneuve.

It’s a neo-noir sci-fi film that follows the story of Officer K, a bioengineered human, and it also reveals what happens after the events in the original movie from 1982.

Blade Runner 2049 is far from being a crowdpleaser, but it’s a true gem to people who are into visual arts.

The colour design and the camera movements combined together leave a signature look that’s just hard to forget.

Because of his work on this mesmerizing sci-fi sequel, Roger Deakins won an Oscar for Best Cinematography in 2018, after being nominated 14 times in the past!

What are your favourite visually inspiring films? If you’ve got some to add to the list, leave a comment below.

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Hi there! I’m Polina, a freelance photographer, always on the look out for creating simple images with powerful impact.

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