Movies with the best atmospheres

Which movies do the best job of creating a mood, atmosphere?

I’m talking here less about plot, dialogue and character than the presentation or general feel of the movie or of particular scenes. For example, movies like Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner and Predator convey information in such a way that even if you didn’t speak English, you could be affected by watching them at a non-verbal or even subconscious level. In other words, what movies do the best job of doing the diametrical opposite of an exposition dump? Any insight into how?

Julie Taymor’s 2010 version of ‘The Tempest’ (the one with Helen Mirren as Prospero) used slightly futuristic costuming and set deisgn to un-anchor it in space and time. Similarly, the 1989 ‘Henry V’ (the one with Kenneth Branaugh) had a very clever start with the narrator walking through an empty theater, eventually opening a door onto the action of the play. In both these cases what they conveyed was “This is a fairy tale, don’t worry about the details, just enjoy the ride”.

I remember very little of Barry Lyndon other than its lavish feel.

The Big Sleep. The plot was obscure to begin with, and censorship of important salacious details didn’t improve its comprehensibility. It’s a great film, almost entirely because of the atmosphere it evokes.

Dark City, Road Warrior/Mad Max, Trouble in Mind, Streets of Fire.

Seven of course.

The Fifth Element is much better to watch without sound because it looks amazing.

Pan’s Labyrinth creates a world saturated with magic and with palpable dread lurking everywhere.

I’ve always liked David Lynch’s Dune (1984), I think because of what the OP is talking about. There’s a lot of emphasis on architecture, clothing, demeanor of characters, music, etc. that does a good job of establishing the atmosphere of each scene even before the dialogue itself is considered. Fans of the book(s) for the most part seem to dislike the movie because Lynch deviated so severely from the plot of the book, but I like the movie because of all of those cues; I saw the movie a few times in the 80s and early 90s, and when I finally read the book in the mid-90s I found myself visualizing the scenes using those same cues.

The Exorcist

There have been hundreds of movies involving demons at some point, yet The Exorcist is the only one that really makes me feel extremely uneasy although I’ve seen it half a dozen times, and I don’t believe in Pazuzu in the first place. It’s not the (relatively tame after all) gruesome scenes. It’s all in the pure, relentless dread of what is going to happen.

To me, atmosphere makes all the difference in a horror movie; almost as much as the plot. My favorite is The Ring, which I mention here often. One that’s more recent but lesser known is * It Follows*. The music doesn’t translate as well over the home t.v., but when I saw it in the theater it was almost too much to take. The setting is Detroit, parts of which obviously lend themselves to a general gloominess. All through the film there was something “off” that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and sure enough, somebody wrote all about it. The main character’s house is the very picture of a typical middle class home in the . . .'70s? As the article says, it has elements of different eras so you generally feel it’s present day but not necessarily. The cast are just average looking kids, except maybe for the lead, but even she just looks natural and not glammed up Hollywood.

Another one that owes much of it’s greatness to atmosphere is *Session 9 *And of course that atmosphere comes from the real life abandoned asylum Danvers State Hospital. That film still disturbs me greatly.

Black Robe (1991)

Canada in 1634. The best movie about Native Americans I’ve seen. A complex movie about clash of cultures and religions, with no sugar-coating of either culture, and no glib solutions. Historically accurate.

There’s a wonderful atmosphere of vast open spaces and rivers, and life close to nature, both beautiful and inspiring, and harsh and cruel.

3 Clips - better in HD on a large screen.

Another clip - Chomina, mortally wounded and bleeding internally after a desperate escape, sees the island he has dreamed about for years.

Anything by Wes Anderson. The very staging of each shot creates a truly unique atmosphere.

The Francis Ford Coppola version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is rich in atmosphere.

In fact, as I’ve argued in an essay on my website, virtually all screen versions of Dracula strive to cultivate an atmosphere of unreality, utterly unlike any other horror monster, In Tod Browning’s version you have all those shots of insects and armadillos (!!) among the coffins. In the original Nosferatu Some scenes are printed in negative (black for white, and vice-versa). The BBC TV version with Louis Jordan has many solarized scenes, and the John Badham/Frank Langella version has a “dream” sequence by Maurice Binder ()who was more famous for the James Bond opening titles) in the middle.

Nobody pulls this stuff with Frankenstein movies.

Mario Bava was the master of senseless plots, cool lighting and eerie atmosphere. This vid shows some examples and explains a little of how he did it.

PLEASE NOTE: This video contains a couple gruesome murders and a few seconds of nudity. I have added some spaces before the last two characters in the link to be in accordance with this site’s “2-click” policy. OM
No one made movies like Karel Zeman. Fabulous World of Jules Verne and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen are his best known films in Mystimation, but The Stolen Airship is just about as good:

Good choice. I’d say the same for Stand By Me. In addition to being one of the best King adaptations for screen, the atmosphere of the film really evokes childhood. Also The Shining is an excellent atmospheric film.

A lot of Lynch’s work scores high on mood. My favorite is Mulholland Drive. (Or Mulholland Dr. for the purists.)

Hitchcock sometimes did a great job with mood, e.g., North by Northwest and Vertigo.

Basic Instinct would have been a quite so-so film if the mood element had not been done so well.

Days of Heaven is breathtaking in evoking life and the wide open landscape on the Great Plains at the beginning of the 29th Century.

Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala is wonderful in evoking life in Siberia.

For me Das Boot really conveys a sense of claustrophobia and lack of control over your surroundings. The dialogue is also snappy and feels like people are tryng not to use up too much oxygen when they talk.

The Road - grim, nihilistic, pared back dialogue, a great sense of either menace or hopelessness behind every tree.

Days of Heaven was set in the future? Who knew? :wink:

(good choice BTW)

The Third Man (1949) is my choice for most atmospheric film ever filmed. Long shadows, high contrast, tilted horizons, and that haunting zither music…