Popular Movies Still Shot Using Film, Surprise!

In this present day, movies are of epic proportions. Multimillion dollar ventures include explosions, high technology, the most skilled actors and actresses and only the newest and greatest camera gear. Right? Let’s not forget James Cameron’s billion dollar venture of Avatar.

Sometimes, the best way isn’t always the newest way. Popular films such as Dark Knight Rises, Snow White and the Huntsmen, Djano Unchained, and Inception were all shot on FILM, as in, negatives and prints. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now but didn’t really know how to go about speaking about it until today, when I came across a rather striking image that I found both impressive and inspiring.


Kodak's ode to film

Kodak’s ode to film

These are all of the movies that were major hits this year and what do they have in common other than being awesome? They’re all shot on film.

Kodak says

“With so many winners and nominees on KODAK Film, we’re already looking forward to next year. Thank you for choosing to bring your stories to life on film, a medium that isn’t going anywhere.”

In a time when digital is glorified through technology and the latest updates, it’s really refreshing to see that film can still hold its own. Right now, 35mm is being pushed out by Hollywood and directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan are on a mission to keep it around forever.

The reasoning behind that push is primarily pricing. In an article from LA Weekly, writer Gendy Alimurung says

“Today, the driving force isn’t so much a single movie as it is the studios’ bottom line — they no longer want to pay to physically print and ship movies. It costs about $1,500 to print one copy of a movie on 35 mm film and ship it to theaters in its heavy metal canister. Multiply that by 4,000 copies — one for each movie on each screen in each multiplex around the country — and the numbers start to get ugly. By comparison, putting out a digital copy costs a mere $150.”

So why do filmmakers prefer film over digital? Christopher Nolan, as found on The Hollywood Reporter, discusses why he prefers film.

“There’s a huge danger in all of this,” Nolan said while being interviewed at the annual Produced By Conference, presented by the Producer’s Guild of America. “If you are looking strictly at production cost, then you would use digital. But for the best image, it is still film.”

“The problem with the push to digital is its has been given a consumer aspect,” says Nolan,” who suggests it confuses the camera with an Ipad. “It’s not what is best for the film,” he insists.

Nolan said he thinks film is still best because it provides the filmmaker the most range, captures the most depth of image and works best as a tool to tell a story. Nolan said that moving to digital creates a risk of “devaluing what we do as filmmakers.”

I agree. I mean, they’re called FILMmakers. I don’t hate digital, in fact I think digital has offered a whole new world of opportunity to filmmakers but I just don’t think it’s quite on par with what film has to offer just yet.

Les Miserables was shot in film

Les Miserables was shot in film

Django Unchained was shot in film

Django Unchained was shot in film

Batman Rises was shot in film

Batman Rises was shot in film

So last question; if these movies were shot in film, then how do they add special effects? Most film goes through a digital intermediate process. That means the processed negative is uploaded on to a series of hard drives and then cut using an AVID or similar system to edit. This also allows effects shots to be dropped in seamlessly to the required frame. Similar to how I could Photoshop my scanned negatives once they were uploaded onto my computer.

I think that digital and film work well together, like cookies and milk. Pitting them against each other makes the piece suffer when it could be something beautiful. What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Popular Movies Still Shot Using Film, Surprise!

  1. Absolutely wonderful article! The photos are really beautiful, sharp, and gives the feeling of being there. I will always prefer film, but, will continue to use my little digital camera because it is so inexpensive for me 🙂 As I am not a professional photographer I just take random pictures of family get togethers…..so my digital works for me…. I admire the photographer that knows what they are doing…in my opinion you need a great eye to capture photographs on film. You have a great eye and insight to photography. I applaud you! Keep these interesting articles coming.

    • “Sharp”? Actually, when compared to video, film is *not* that sharp. It’s normally *softer* than video–especially old-school video from before the days of film-look cameras and editing filters. But that’s one of the qualities that the film proponents prefer. It actually *takes away* some of the realism like you’re right there, and, rather, makes the movie or show look more like a fictional story.

      But as they keep adjusting the qualities of video to look more like film, you might not notice much, if any, difference.

      However, if movies like The Hobbit, shot on 48-frame-per-second video to aid in 3D viewing–which is actually *faster* and *smoother* than even old-school video is– keep being made and audiences keep liking them, makers may not have to care about having the film look as much as they used to; or ever care, after a while.

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  2. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. I really surprised me that the Dark Knight was shot on film since it’s such a crazy movie and had so many special effects. Nice to see digital and film working together so well.

    • What ever happened to the good old word “video”? All this talk about film vs. “digital” makes it seem like what digital moving pictures are made of is VIDEO. Of course there was analog video before digital video, but why are we now so adamant to say “digital” instead of just use the term “video” that it is like we used to?

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  3. I think that it’s not an argument of what makes a better image, but more about what image is suitable for the type of scene that you are shooting. Some people are very firm on either supporting digital or film. I think a more practical method would be to study the conditions, then from there discuss possible recording mediums. Digital excels in editing visual effects shots, and in low light dynamic range; while film excels in resolution, and preserving highlights. In the end a good colorist can cut the two together seamlessly. It’s not really a battle but a bigger toolbelt.

  4. Something else. I think that images that are manipulated, altered, corrected on film, are mare convincing than when the same is done to a digital image.

  5. Personally, I always really loved what the movie Collateral did. It split the two formats, using each for what they did best. It gives the movie a really unique feel, shifting atmospheres between different locations.

    When you compare it to Michael Mann’s follow up movie Miami Vice (which went all digital), Miami Vice ends up looking cheap and boring.

    • Never saw Collateral but I can definitely agree that mixing the two stands to create a unique feel. As for Miami Vice…I got through about twenty minutes of that movie and threw in the towel. 😛

  6. A key point of distinction: although these movies were shot on film, most (if not all) of them were distributed digitally. Film distribution has all but disappeared, but I don’t think there will ever be a time when there aren’t movies still shot on film.

  7. Pingback: First Attempt With Cinestill | 120 Pearls

  8. Once they have digitally edited the film and added special effects do they then put it back onto film reels? As Nolan says the cost of transport is so high, but surely it’s in a digital form?

    • Yeah, most theaters have moved over to showing movies on video now, so yeah, instead of making prints for most places, they just transfer the finished film to video and wire it out! I guess there are still a few places around that a set of film reels gets shipped to, though.

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