The film industry is a visual medium. No matter how much we may talk about plot and themes, the first thing anyone notices about any movie is its visual style. It makes sense for film fans to want to seek out the most visually striking movies ever made.
When one cinephile asks their fellow film lovers about what they think the “most visually amazing” movies are, there are almost too many replies. Here I’ve curated fifteen of the best and most widely agreed upon visually stunning films I may have a soft spot for.
1. Hero (2002)
Many movie lovers agree Zhang Yimou’s Hero is one of the most memorable films ever made. The period martial arts film tells various versions of the same story in different color palettes, each awe-inspiringly beautiful.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
One of the essential movies in science fiction cinema and cinema history, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a favorite for numerous film fans. The movie begins in prehistoric times before transporting viewers to a future of space flight and exploration. It isn’t just stunning for its space imagery but also an extended psychedelic sequence.
3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I’ve told myself I’m only ever going to rewatch Lawrence of Arabia in a theater because its widescreen images are so magnificent. I’m not alone in that opinion, as several respondents say that this desert-set World War I film about the life of T.E. Lawrence is the most beautiful movie they’ve ever seen.
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4. Suspiria (1977)
While there are many visually striking horror movies, any poll of horror fans will show a significant contingent agree that 1977’s Suspiria is the most gorgeous horror movie ever made.
The fact that Suspiria makes a good showing when the question isn’t limited to horror highlights that. The film by Italian horror maestro Dario Argento follows a girl at a ballet academy where witches may just run, and that fantastical element extends to the film’s visual world.
5. Baraka (1992)
Directed by Ron Fricke, the cinematographer of the iconic experimental documentary Koyaanisqatsi (which also received several mentions), Baraka is the most widely agreed upon visually fantastic documentary in the discussion. The film examines nature, humanity, and technology through various cinematic techniques, including time-lapses, slow-motion, and tracking shots.
6. The Fall (2006)
There’s no question that the work of director Tarsem Singh belongs on a list of the most visually astounding movies ever made. But there is some disagreement about which film of his to include. Some users say The Cell, which explores psychological worlds by having characters travel into a serial killer’s mind, is his best.
But the majority agree that The Fall is his masterpiece. The Fall quotes Baraka visually while creating its own stunning images to accompany a fantastical story that a sick man tells a young girl who is his neighbor in a hospital.
7. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
Several anime movies receive mention in the thread, but one stands apart: The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Unlike Spirited Away and Akira, the film is not (yet) a stone-cold anime classic in the West.
Still, its beautifully soft color palette and stunning watercolor backgrounds ensure this story of a bamboo cutter who discovers a mystical young girl a place as one of the most visually unique movies ever made.
8. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One of the earliest color films to truly wow audiences at the time and continue to do so today, The Wizard of Oz gets a lot of love in the thread. The adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book follows a young girl on an adventure through the magical land of Oz and may well be the most beautiful example of technicolor.
9. Blade Runner
While there is some disagreement about which filmmaker Tarsem Singh’s films to include as the most visually stunning, there’s also disagreement about which film from the Blade Runner franchise belongs on this list.
Some users say the legacy sequel Blade Runner 2049 is the most stunning, but I have to give it to the original classic, without which the sequel wouldn’t exist. Blade Runner follows an ex-cop as he hunts down criminal synthetic human “replicants” in an incredibly realized futuristic Los Angeles.
10. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Often cited as the greatest film about longing, In the Mood for Love is also one of the most beautiful movies ever made. The film by Wong Kar-wai tells the story of two neighbors who fall in love after discovering that their spouses are having an affair but make a pact never to consummate their affection. Its use of slow motion, color, and purposeful framing creates a truly stunning visual experience.
11. Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The earliest film on this list, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, is still a marvel over a century after it was made. The film uses surreal sets and creative camera angles to draw viewers into an off-kilter world for a story about a potentially murderous sleepwalker that’s equally beautiful and frightening.
12. Enter the Void (2009)
Many movie lovers agree that Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void stands among the most visually amazing movies ever made, though one acknowledges that the movie requires a strong stomach.
The film follows a man who is killed and then floats over the city of Tokyo and sometimes checks in on the people in his life. While some people find the movie too long and pretentious in its philosophical dialogues, almost everyone agrees it’s a visual marvel.
13. Ran (1985)
Like Tarsem Singh, Akira Kurosawa’s filmography contains multiple visually stunning movies leading movie fans to disagree about which to pick.
But I’m going with Ran, the Japanese master’s adaptation of King Lear that transports that story to feudal Japan and contains one of the most breathtaking castle assault scenes in all of cinema.
14. Speed Racer (2008)
Sometimes not all of the elements of a movie are up to the same standard, but that doesn’t make it any less of a success in one area.
For example, several film fans agree that The Wachowski sisters’ Speed Racer doesn’t have the best acting or writing but is an incredible-looking movie. Adapted from the anime of the same name, Speed Racer is an almost overwhelming display of bright and shiny colors for nearly its entire runtime.
15. 300 (2006)
Two live-action comic adaptations occur multiple times in the discussion: Sin City and 300. Film fans cite them as comic books and paintings come to life, respectively. But 300 receives a few more mentions, and I count it among my favorite films of all time, so it’s what I include here.
The adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name tells the story of 300 Spartan soldiers who faced off against Persian invaders at the Battle of Thermopylae in a way that can’t be described as historically accurate but can undoubtedly be called visually amazing.
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This article first appeared on The Cents of Money.