9 most visually stunning movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar and more

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Whether it is through complex computer-generated effects or sweepingly shot natural landscapes, movies can be a powerful medium of visual storytelling. With these films, you will be forgiven for constantly hitting pause, just so you can appreciate the beauty of the frame and the colour palette. It could be an epic adventure through space, or a whimsical tale of a murder mystery at a fictional hotel—but will keep you hooked with its breathtaking cinematography and make you long to be a part of that universe.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Director Guillermo del Toro created an utterly terrifying and incredibly beautiful world of fantasy and realism with Pan’s Labyrinth. The story revolves around Ofelia, a girl who moves into her stepfather’s house with her mother. She is then introduced to a second, magical dimension inhabited by strange and mystical creatures that are as dangerous as the real world she lives in. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro manages to create a surrealistically dark and fantastical world that becomes extremely easy to immerse into. The movie creates an intricate puzzle through its visuals that prop up a story that is essentially about self-discovery and exploration. The unique visual style also keeps things open for the viewer’s interpretation, something that continues to make this movie highly watchable.

Streaming on Netflix

Avatar (2009)

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James Cameron’s epic interstellar adventure became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, owing to its stunning visuals. The impressive CGI and effects became a phenomenon, so much so that people reportedly clamoured to the theatre just to see what the hype was about. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez, the story was set many years into the future. Humans have discovered the far-off planet Pandora, where humanoid creatures called Na’avi live. Jake (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic soldier who takes the place of his twin brother in a unique space program that’s aim is to colonise Pandora. Director James Cameron invented a new camera and developed special motion capture technology to get the right effect for the Na’avi people. He successfully created a new world that was detailed and changed the course of filmmaking and visual effects. The movie won several awards including three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction.

Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

There couldn’t be a list of visually appealing films without a mention of Wes Anderson. The director has become associated with a unique aesthetic that involves a lot of symmetrical shots and pastels. One of his best-known movies, and perhaps the most beautifully shot one, is The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film featured a star-studded cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Jude Law and Tilda Swinton. The story is simple: the head concierge of the titular hotel has been framed for the murder of a guest and now he must prove his innocence. This has been elevated with incredibly meticulous cinematography by Anderson’s frequent collaborator Robert Yeoman. According to Yeoman, this was Anderson’s homage to the old school, vintage cinema. Every shot of the movie is symmetrical, the colour palette is tasteful, and there are several characteristic one-point perspective shots that focus on a character’s viewpoint.

Streaming on YouTube

Life of Pi (2012)

Based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, Life of Pi follows the story of a young Indian boy who manages to survive a shipwreck by taking refuge in a small lifeboat with only a Bengal tiger for company. It’s easily one of the most beautiful movies to watch, with each scene painstakingly crafted to complement the story. The character spends most of the movie stranded in the middle of the sea. Needless to say, the film required copious amounts of CGI and visual effects to create the illusion of Pi’s despair and the scale of his loneliness. The movie also features one of the most stunning film sequences of all time, where Pi watches a whale, entranced by the phytoplankton that is making the sea and the massive creature glow. The whale jumps out of the water and then dives back in, toppling Pi and his precious few supplies into the water. It’s no surprise that it swept the awards for cinematography and visual effects that season.

Streaming on YouTube

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The movie revolves around a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the titular Max joins rebel warrior Imperator Furiosa on the quest to overthrow a tyrant who is the sole controller of the land’s water supply, and requires a fair bit of suspension of disbelief. The same is aided by incredible cinematography and visual effects that make it one of the best action movies in the history of action movies. Starring Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, the film transforms the deserts of Namibia into a desolate land where sand storms are frequent and life is scarce. The high-octane chase sequences have been shot on custom-built rigs and manage to capture the adrenaline rush of the moment, as an albino man—suspended mid-air—plays a flaming electric guitar.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Moonlight (2016)

This movie is widely known for the shocking mistake at the Oscars stage, where the Best Picture award presenters accidentally announced La La Land instead of Moonlight, leading to a meme-worthy moment for years to come. But aside from that infamous slip-up, Moonlight is also known for being the first film with an all-black cast and LGBTQ+ themes to have won acclaim during the awards season. The film eschews realism in favour of vibrant scenes and heightened contrasts that amplify the emotional states of the characters. Each shot is striking and filled with layers that you can peel back to appreciate with each viewing.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Roma (2018)

Director Alfonso Cuarón donned the hat of a cinematographer for his 2018 semi-autobiographical movie. The film has been entirely shot in black-and-white, representing the director looking back into his past, as it has been inspired by his real-life upbringing in the Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. The story unfolds through long, exquisitely tracked shots that capture the realism Cuarón wanted to convey through the world and characters he had built. It earned him several awards and nominations, including a Best Director and Best Cinematography win at the Academy Awards that year.

Streaming on Netflix

Interstellar (2014)

Another space adventure, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is one of the most visually resplendent movies of recent times. Set in the (not so) distant future, the Earth is slowly becoming uninhabitable. Farmer and ex-NASA pilot, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), is contacted by the space research organisation to pilot an interstellar mission to look for new planets where life can survive. The movie takes us on a journey through a wormhole to a new galaxy, where Cooper and his team explore new planets, including one that is made entirely out of water. Even though the movie has been shot in real-life locations around the world, you won’t be faulted for believing that you’re actually in outer space with the characters. The stunning visuals do not take away from the emotional core of the story.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Spirited Away (2001)

This animated feature from the iconic Japanese film studio, Studio Ghibli, is widely recognised as one of the best animated movies of all time. The film, by director Hayao Miyakazi, tells the story of 10-year-old Chihiro who stumbles upon another dimension where the spirits reside. An evil witch captures her parents and transforms them into pigs. It is now up to Chihiro to find a way to escape this world and save them. Each frame of the film brims with life, as the movie begins to set up this otherworldly realm and introduce its characters. The characteristic Studio Ghibli animation style manages to convey each and every emotion that Chihiro goes through during her journey. Unsurprisingly, it captured the imagination of the world at the time of its release and even won the Best Animated Feature award at the Oscars that year.

Streaming on Netflix

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