The Curious Case of Complementary Colors: Why There’s So Much Blue and Orange On-Screen

A fascinating lesson in color theory.
By  · Published on August 29th, 2017

A fascinating lesson in color theory.

Okay, this is a weird one in a wild way, which is good. So maybe you’ve noticed the trend in movie posters, especially action or sci-fi movie posters, over the last 20 years or so that involves a proliferation of the complementary colors blue and orange. Usually the blue is the primary of the colors, a general tint to the main images, and the orange is used for lettering and accents within the main images.

Once confined to print media, this distinctive palette has been making its way into actual films as well, a particular balance of shadow and light, coolness and heat, intrigue and action. You might be tempted to pin this on the most blatant purveyor of the palette, Michael Bay, but according to the following video from Fandor, it’s actually a trend that goes back a little further than the bombastic director, and it’s not just a pretty pairing from the color wheel, there’s some method to the colors in combination, in terms of color theory, grading, and balance against the two most common images in cinema: flesh and sky.

Though just shy of two minutes, this is a thorough and thoroughly-captivating lesson on the blaring significance of one of filmmaking’s most insidious facets. You gotta check it out.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist