Everyone loves a movie that makes them laugh, cry, or generally feel feelings, but a good story isn't just a matter of the words on the page or the performances in front of the lens. Film is a visual medium, after all; directors and cinematographers rely on images to deliver information, conjure an emotion, or simply to create something aesthetically pleasing.
We've compiled a list of eight of the best-looking, most visually-stunning movies ever to grace the silver screen–and, most importantly, how to watch them from the comfort of your own living room.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles's seminal feature-length debut is widely considered one of the finest American films ever made, and its images are as rich and evocative today as they were over 75 years ago. Welles and director of photography Gregg Toland pioneered several experimental techniques that are now considered commonplace, creating entirely new elements of vocabulary in the vast language of visual storytelling.
The 2011 Blu-ray release is quite possibly the best Citizen Kane has looked since those first reels were unspooled in its original theatrical run. If you haven't yet seen this movie, put it at the top of your cinematic homework list.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Note: Skip ahead to 2:10 of the video above for one of our favorite shots in Barry Lyndon.
I suppose it's a testament to Stanley Kubrick that a masterpiece like Barry Lyndon is considered one of his less-iconic pictures. This 1975 period drama about a fictional adventurer in 18th-century Europe took home Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography (among others), and it's easy to see why: its sweeping vistas and portrait-like set-ups are out-of-this-world gorgeous.
Although Barry Lyndon isn't currently available on any of the major streaming platforms, you can nevertheless pick up a copy of the Blu-ray and take in everything this film has to offer on a huge TV screen at home.
Fargo, which was written and directed by the Coen brothers, is low-key one of the best-shot movies of all time. Director of photography Roger Deakins doesn't rely much on flashy camerawork or big, colorful scenery, but rather, lets his framing and lighting do most of the work depicting the cold underbelly of a seemingly uneventful town in the middle of nowhere.
Although Fargo took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, Deakins did not see his nomination for Best Cinematography bear any fruit. It's a shame—in my humble opinion, this is still one of the best looking movies out there.
Hero is a story told in much the same fashion as Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon in the sense that the audience is shown similar events from numerous points of view in a search for the truth. Each rendition features its own visual theme, and each rendition is as colorful as any movie I can recall.
From a storytelling standpoint, there's nothing truly remarkable about Hero. From a visual standpoint, however, the movie is dazzling series of images that elevates its story far beyond what's written on the page.
Right now, Hero is available to stream on Netflix, should you happen to be searching for some thrilling eye-candy.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Note: Skip ahead to 1:00 of the video above for one of our favorite shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Dave? Are you really putting two Stanley Kubrick movies on this list?
Yes, HAL. Yes I am.
2001: A Space Odyssey was released all the way back in 1968, but for cryin' out loud, the thing looks like it was shot tomorrow. By using a number of scale models and sneaky camera tricks, Kubrick and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth crafted a vision of the future that feels just beyond our reach. 2001 is a strange, psychedelic trip to Jupiter and beyond; I can't promise you'll understand all of it, but you'll certainly feel like you've been on some kind of journey.
It's not available on any major streaming platforms at the moment, but it's a classic that will fit right into anyone's Blu-ray collection.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
My friends give me a lot of flak for this, but Princess Mononoke is my absolute favorite Hayao Miyazaki film. Set in a time of gods, demons, and whatever the hell those adorable forest spirits are supposed to be, Princess Mononoke is a classic "Hero's Journey" saga with gorgeous backdrops, incredible character designs, and animation that'll take your breath away.
Princess Mononoke is not available to stream on any of the platforms you most likely have a subscription for, but if you're willing to pay a somewhat-steep price, you can find it on Blu-ray and give it a watch at home.