Features and Columns · Movies

Why Most Movies are Shot with Two Dominant Colors

Remember the orange and teal plague of the 2010s? Good times.
Mad Max Movie Two Colors
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on January 20th, 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 why most movies favor two colors.

You can date a film based on its use of black and white film stock. You can date a film based on its use of Technicolor. And mark my words, orange and teal contrast is going to be inseparable from the early 21st century.

Did this phenomenon pass you by? Here’s the gist: over the last decade or so, orange and teal color grading became wildly popular. It’s in our movie posters. And it’s on our screens. Heck, the trend is even a joke in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And yet, despite the ire that the color combo has accumulated in recent years, its prevalence and purpose are more than just Hollywood laziness or a passing visual trend.

Why is the use of orange and teal so persistent on-screen? Well, in part because of color theory. Colors from opposite sides of the color wheel are, in fact, harmonious. They accentuate each other in a way that looks visually striking. Contrast is, after all, the great boon of shooting in black and white, and designing a film’s “look” around colors from opposite ends of the color wheel serves a similar technical purpose. It adds definition, depth, and in a word: drama.

As the video essay below explains, this kind of color coordination is deeper than the infamy of orange and teal. Because in the end, two-toned art design isn’t just technically advantageous. In the right hands, it’s a significant part of how films tell their color story.

Watch “Why are Films Shot in Two Colors?“:

Who made this?

Wolfcrow is an online film school. Their YouTube channel is dedicated to educating their audience on the ins and outs of cinematography. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. And you can check out their website here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.