Here at RLC, we are big fans of a good film. From action to romance, horror to comedy – we can’t get enough!

There’s a special place in our hearts though for films that really stand out for their great use of lighting.

So for a bit of fun we thought we’d share a few of our favourites. 

Citizen Kane

Oscar-winning film Citizen Kane (1941) follows news reporters that are trying to discover the meaning behind the very last words of a publishing tycoon before he died.

The reason that this film is so often cited for its fantastic use of lighting is because it shares subtle information about the characters and locations to the audience.

For example, the two cities that play a part in the film (Colorado and New York City) are both lit very differently to create a contrast. Colorado is lit brightly, reflecting on Kane’s happy childhood whilst NYC is much darker and shadowy to share key moments of his adult life.


Moving on to a very different film, Alien (1979) is a classic science fiction horror that is so popular that they are still making films about the terrifying xenomorph aliens today!

Lighting is used throughout Alien to create deep contrast in light versus darkness. The shadows are very deep, whereas any light is much brighter in comparison.

So why do they use this technique? Low-key lighting is often used in horror to create intense scenes. It makes the aliens more sinister and scary and also allows you as the audience to feel that same sense of unknown that the characters are feeling as they fight for survival.

La La Land

And now for something very different! 2016’s La La Land was a huge hit with audiences in its portrayal of a modern musical. But what doesn’t get talked about as much as the catchy opening number and award-winning performances is how the film is deliberately lit to portray the romance and magic of LA and also to replicate the Technicolor of classical Hollywood musicals from the past.

Many scenes are lit to create a dream-like feeling for the audience, and in addition to using artificial lighting to create this look; many of the outdoor scenes in the film are shot after sunset.

As well as creating a fairytale-like atmosphere, La La Land also uses lighting to support the story between the two leads and their romance.

A favourite example of ours is the scene near to the end of the film when Mia (Emma Stone) visits the jazz club where Ryan Gosling’s character Sebastian is playing. There is a faint spotlight on Sebastian as he plays, and the background around Mia as she watches is entirely shadow.

Just by using lighting in this way, the audience understands the intensity of that moment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know exactly what we mean! If you haven’t, do go and check it out.

We hope you enjoyed our selection of films with great lighting, and we’d love to know your favourites, too!