Features and Columns · Movies

All That Glistens: The Many Purposes of Movie Sweat

Get all hot and bothered with this look at the meaningful potential of sweat in movies.
Dog Day Afternoon movie sweat
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 17th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about the many purposes of movie sweat.


“Visual storytelling” is a term often used to describe cinema’s distinctly visual language: meaningful edits laden with symbolism, intimate details of production design, color grade, you name it. It’s a term that makes you seem fancy. And hey, for all we know you are some fancy big shot with an automatic knowledge of the ways focal length makes scenes feel different. But let’s be honest: some facets of visual storytelling are far more visceral.

Let’s talk about sweat, ba-by. More, specifically: sweat in movies. How do you show that a character is nervous, unprepared, or out of their element? You give them a little spritz of course. Let the camera capture all that shiny fluid — usually a mixture of glycerin and water, for those curious — blotting brows and clinging to philtrum. Sweat is an immediate way to let your audience know that things are getting literally, or metaphorically, heated.

From Dog Day Afternoon to Rear Window, to Do The Right Thing, sweat is more than idle, unplanned perspiration.

The video essay below unpacks the many, many purposes of sweat in movies. The essay is particularly focused on Denis Villeneuve‘s DuneOnce you’re looking for it, the absence of sweat in the movie feels like a strange choice, both for its characters and tone, but also for a story focused on water conservation.

Watch “Why Dune Needed More Sweat”:


Who made this?

This video essay on the purpose of sweat in movies comes courtesy of Now You See It. They are a YouTube channel dedicated to film analysis searching for meaning in unexpected places. You can follow Now You See It on YouTube and check out their back catalog here. Now You See It is run by Virginia-based software engineer Jack Nugent, whom you can follow on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).