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Why Most Movies are Shot with Two Dominant Colors

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

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