Color motion pictures became the norm by the mid-1950s, but that doesn’t mean black-and-white films were no longer being made. In fact, the black-and-white horror movie “The Lighthouse” hit theaters earlier this month, making it one of many modern films made in black and white for financial, artistic or setting-related reasons over the last few decades. Considering only live-action films presented entirely or almost entirely without color, and released in or after 1970, here are the 25 best modern movies made in black and white.
“Multiple Maniacs” made only about $33,000 at the box office — but that’s nearly six times what John Waters spent making the 1970 black comedy-horror film. The film’s director, producer, screenwriter, editor, cinematographer and composer subsequently made numerous movies that have received more attention than “Multiple Maniacs,” but to this day it is still his best reviewed.
In addition to being shot in black and white (to reflect its 1930s setting), Peter Bogdanovich’s “Paper Moon” is most notable for featuring a father-daughter protagonist duo played by Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter, Tatum. She was only 9 years old when the 1973 dramedy was filmed, and the following year she became the youngest person to ever win a competitive Oscar upon nabbing the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at age 10. “Paper Moon” earned two additional nods at the event: Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay (Alvin Sargent).
Controversial comedian Lenny Bruce died way too young, at the age of 40 in 1966, but his life was brought to the big screen eight years later by now-iconic actor Dustin Hoffman. Starring in the Bob Fosse-directed biopic “Lenny” (based on the Julian Barry play of the same name) Hoffman turned out an Academy Award-nominated performance alongside Valerie Perrine, who also earned a nomination. In all, “Lenny” earned six Oscar nods (including Best Picture and Director) but failed to win any.
Mel Brooks wanted to reproduce the atmosphere of early monster flicks, so he chose to shoot 1974’s “Young Frankenstein” in black and white. The hilarious horror movie was an instant hit and raked in $86 million against a budget of less than $3 million, and it is frequently named among the funniest films ever made. Praised for its script penned by Brooks and Gene Wilder, “Young Frankenstein” also starred Wilder at his best alongside acclaimed performances by Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr.
David Lynch’s feature-length directorial debut was the 1977 surreal horror film “Eraserhead,” a movie he also wrote, produced, scored and edited. We don’t have nearly enough real estate to delve into the far-out plot centering around Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), which was initially greeted with a lukewarm reception by critics. But “Eraserhead” has since found favor and is now regarded as a disturbing yet darkly funny cult classic. In addition to selection to the National Film Registry in 2004, “Eraserhead” was also said to be Stanley Kubrick’s favorite film.
Woody Allen said his memories of his childhood in New York City are in black and white, which is why he chose eschew color when shooting the 1979 romantic comedy “Manhattan.” The cast of Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy and Meryl Streep turned out strong performances, and the film ended up nabbing two Oscar nods in addition to $40 million at the box office.
David Lynch checks back into our list just three years after “Eraserhead” with the acclaimed 1980 biopic “The Elephant Man.” Based on the life of severely deformed Englishman Joseph Merrick, the drama starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft earned eight Academy Award nominations — including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hurt) and Adapted Screenplay. The elaborate prostheses in “The Elephant Man” were so highly praised that the lack of recognition at the Oscars led to the Academy creating a new category the following year: Best Makeup.
Several other boxing films were being released around the time of “Raging Bull,” so Martin Scorsese convinced the studio to let him do the sports biopic in black and white to separate it from the pack. The director also knew audiences had grown up watching boxing matches televised in black and white and wished to match those memories. These distinctions — as well as strong performances by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty — propelled Jake LaMotta’s life story to eight Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director) and wins for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Film Editing.
Fans of Jim Jarmusch would be incensed if we didn’t include “Dead Man” (1995) or “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2003) or at least one of the director’s numerous black-and-white films in this list. However, the highest-rated film (at least according to Rotten Tomatoes) is his 1984 breakthrough comedy, “Stranger Than Paradise.” In what would become Jarmusch’s signature style, the film is loaded with long takes but was well received by critics and audiences alike and ended up becoming one of the most influential indie movies of the ‘80s, eventually earing a spot in the National Film Registry.
“Wings of Desire” won some 18 awards at various festivals, including Best Director honors at both Cannes and the European Film Festival for German filmmaker Wim Wenders, who also co-wrote and co-produced the romantic fantasy film. If a story about an angel who chooses to become mortal to experience life as a human sounds familiar, it’s because “Wings of Desire” was later remade as the 1998 Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan film, “City of Angels.”
Released in 1993 but set at the time of World War II, “Schindler’s List” was almost exclusively filmed in black and white because director Steven Spielberg wanted to give the footage a documentary feel. The notable exception to this lack of color was one little girl in the Krakow ghetto shown wearing a bright red coat among an otherwise dismal backdrop. That little girl was later shown among the bodies of the deceased, only recognizable because of her red coat. “Schindler’s List” earned a dozen Academy Award nominations and won seven honors: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Film Editing, Cinematography and Art Direction. Actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes also received Oscar nods for their performances in the historical drama, which earned $322 million worldwide.
“I’m not even supposed to be here today,” is the repeated lament of reluctant convenience store clerk Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) in the 1994 indie comedy “Clerks.” For what it’s worth, we’re certainly glad O'Halloran showed up to work on director Kevin Smith’s debut film alongside fellow unknown actors Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes and Smith himself. Smith had to max out numerous credit cards and sell part of his comic book collection to fund the film — which reportedly totaled $27,575 and had to be shot in black and white to cut costs — but it ended up earning more than $3 million at the box office and has since become a cult classic that introduced the characters of Jay and Silent Bob.
“Ed Wood” was a critical success that earned two Academy Awards, but it was a failure at the box office, bringing in less than $6 million against a budget of $18 million. We still think that’s a net win for the biopic that stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Lisa Marie, Jeffrey Jones and Bill Murray. Columbia actually dropped the film early in production over director Tim Burton’s decision to shoot it in black and white, and “Ed Wood” was instead picked up by Disney and Touchstone Pictures.
Way before “Inception,” “Interstellar” and “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan made his directorial debut with the 69-minute-long “Following.” Shot for as little as possible, Nolan filmed the crime drama in black and white on 16mm stock and managed to keep the budget to a tight $6,000. “Following” wasn’t shown in many theaters but it did the festival circuit, and the screenings were constantly followed by positive reviews.
Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, his feature debut, “Pi,” made only $3.2 million at the box office, but that was with a limited release and a budget of only $61,000. To add atmosphere to cerebral mathematics thriller, Aronofsky chose to film in harsh, grainy, high-contrast black-and-white reversal. In fact, it’s actually closer to black OR white, as the filming method all but eliminates gray tones. The result was a very different picture, which was fitting for a movie already unique in story, concepts, music and everything in between.
The Coen Brothers made a neo-noir in 2001 and enlisted Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub and Scarlett Johansson to star in it. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” didn’t get any Oscar attention and couldn’t make quite enough to cover its $20 million budget, but the crime caper earned positive reviews and a Best Director win at Cannes for the Coens.
George Clooney directed, produced, co-wrote and acted in the 2005 historical drama “Good Night, and Good Luck.” However, it was David Strathairn who portrayed longtime CBS reporter and protagonist Edward R. Murrow — a role that earned Strathairn a Best Actor Academy Award nomination, among five other nods (including Best Picture and Best Director). In addition to Clooney and Strathairn, the cast included Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella and Jeff Daniels.
“The Artist” wasn’t just notable for being a black-and-white film released in 2011 but also for the additional rarity of being a silent film. Of course to appear on this list, “The Artist” actually had to be good — and it was good to the tune of 10 Academy Award nominations and five wins: Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. In addition to being the first completely black-and-white film to win Best Picture since “The Apartment” in 1960, it was also the first silent film to win the award since 1929 (the very first Oscar event) and the first time a French-produced film ever won the category.
Earning $11.3 million isn’t generally considered a strong box office showing, but it’s not bad for a black-and-white indie dramedy that received only a limited release. “Frances Ha” is still criminally underseen, especially for a movie featuring Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver, with Noah Baumbach in the director’s chair and both Baumbach and Gerwig as co-writers. Despite many nominations at various film festivals — including a Best Actress Golden Globe nod for Gerwig — “Frances Ha” couldn’t capitalize.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a tale as old as time; or at least about 400 years old, when William Shakespeare first penned the play. However, Joss Whedon ended up making a successful adaptation of it back in 2012 that stuck quite close to the source but with an updated setting and Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond and Nathan Fillion filling the main roles. Lighthearted, humorous and smart, with a romantic element enhanced by the film’s black-and-white presentation, “Much Ado About Nothing” was well received on the film festival circuit despite a mediocre box office performance.
Not only was “Computer Chess” shot in black and white, but director Andrew Bujalski also used old-school analog cameras, employed a non-professional cast and gave the actors only a short script that encouraged improvisation. After premiering at Sundance, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan prize, the indie comedy made the rounds at festivals but didn’t receive a wide release despite overwhelmingly positive reviews. Starring Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins and Myles Paige, “Computer Chess” centers on a weekend chess tournament that pits man vs. machine in a battle for superiority.
A young woman (Agata Trzebuchowska) orphaned as a child during World War II and now on the verge of becoming a Catholic nun, discovers that her birth parents were actually Jewish and sets off with her only living relative (Agata Kulesza) to find out what happened to their family. Directed and co-written by Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowski, “Ida” won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2015 — becoming the first film from Poland to ever win the award.
Director Alexander Payne said he wanted “Nebraska” to have an “iconic, archetypal look,” and thus he chose to present the 2013 road trip dramedy in black and white. Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk, “Nebraska” earned six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay) and had a shot at the Palme d’Or at Cannes but failed to capitalize on any of these nods. There was, however, one winner at Cannes: Dern nabbed a Best Actor honor for playing the Grant family patriarch.
Loosely based on director Alfonso Cuarón’s own upbringing in Mexico City, “Roma” won three Academy Awards, and Cuarón went home with every one of them. In addition to nabbing Best Director, Alfonso was also the winner of Best Cinematography and, as a co-producer, Best Foreign Film. The engrossing drama won numerous other awards — including two Golden Globes — which is quite an accomplishment for a movie that barely received a theatrical release and instead was primarily viewed on Netflix.
After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews, Director Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” racked up dozens of award nominations, including a Best Director win at Cannes, three Academy Award nods (Best Director, Cinematography and Foreign Language Film) and one at both the Critics' Choice Movie Awards and the Satellite Awards — but there would be no Oscar gold for Pawel this time. “Cold War” was inspired by actual events in the lives of Pawlikowski’s parents and is set in France and Poland in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s.