There are those script heavy films that we say, “I’ll wait for it on tape.” Or streaming if you were born in this century. Then there are those films with high-intensity action, lavish settings, and costume designs that beg for you to view them on the big screen. Here is a list of the most aesthetically pleasing films of all time.

10. Russian Ark

The only feature film to be composed of a single shot it is a breathtaking apex of cinematic art direction, costume, and a technical masterpiece on many levels.

9. Manhattan

Woody Allen’s black and white film about the city he grew up in. It is essentially a love story between a director and the city he lives in. Glorifying the imagery of neon lights and art deco architecture, this is the film to see if you want to be disappointed by the real NYC.

8. Citizen Kane

Touted as the greatest film of all time, notice the play of shadows in the foreground to hide the faces. This visual element is something only filmmaking can contribute to storytelling. While this is seen as completely revolutionary filmmaking, this is also Welles’ first film and he admitted to learning on the spot and borrowing many of the techniques from previous films.

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Color plays a huge role in this film as particular scenes are extremely accentuated with a high tone of red, orange, or blue to draw the dramatic emphasis on emotions with little dialogue.

6. The Conformist

As a play against the idea of fascism, the visual elements play as a ballet of light and art direction makes the characters and values seem relative to the situation.

5. The Fall

Filmed in 28 countries over 4 years, this imaginary tale weaves the best of the planet’s natural landscapes with special effects. There is so much imagery that some of the most amazing shots are only on screen for a couple seconds but could be paintings on the wall.

4. Hero

Another film that allows color to penetrate every element of the emotional storytelling.  The colors are highly contrasted against solid backgrounds to focus on particular elements that might be relatively small on screen. This can be seen as a homage to Kurosawa’s Rashomon and continues with a consistent poetic style of cinematic framing.

3. Lawrence of Arabia

There is no doubt this is one of the grandest films ever thanks to the long shot. You can trace much of its attraction to the development of the Technicolor film process. Still, it is the most iconic desert setting in all of film history.

2. The Tree of Life

Only filmed in natural light, this was a chaotic film to shoot. Identical sets were built in multiple locations to select the light for the best angle.

1. Samsara

A film without dialogue, this is essentially a moving portrait culture in the world.  Shot in over 100 countries over 5 years all on 70mm film. Any art student can appreciate the aesthetically high value of this production.

A couple films that didn’t make even the top 50 list of aesthetically pleasing films but are worth seeing for their stunning use of natural settings during the “golden hour” are Babe and Bottle Shock. While Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a highly proclaimed cinematic masterpiece that should have been up there, lists are never something cemented in stone and the best thing is to take one of these that you may not have seen and add it to your cue, particularly when you can sit down on a large television set and forget about the world.
A couple rules to take away from all this is a consistent use of natural light (particularly shot in the early evening “golden hour”), widescreen, and sets with a strong color base. These films are a testament to filmmaking as a visual story element but most have great stories to tell that allow the visual art to seep into the content.