15 Striking Films to Use As Color Palette Inspo for Your Next Design Project

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From House Beautiful

Some movies are beautiful enough to watch even without sound, and those also happen to be the ones that inspire us to redecorate our homes—or, at the very least, switch up our color palettes. With that in mind, we decided to round up some our favorite films for color and interior inspiration, from super saturated, lush palettes to soft, muted, and ambient ones (which means we excluded some of the best black and white films—nothing personal to The Lighthouse, Un Chien Andelou, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night).

Keep reading for a visual treat and get your pinning finger ready.

Paris, Texas (1984)

The film opens with a man named Travis, who finds himself aimlessly wandering around the desert in a fugue state until a doctor on a remote settlement is finally able to track down the man’s brother and son. Paris, Texas focuses on Travis’s reunion with his son as they then embark on a road trip to locate their wife and mother, who has been missing for some years. It’s a classic “road movie,” (think On the Road, Nocturnal Animals, and Thelma and Louise) where the protagonist leaves his life behind in search of answers to his existential questions in the barren vastness of the open road—usually in the form of an American Southwest desertscape. And given that backdrop, it’s a breathtaking blend of neon lights shedding an unexpectedly beautiful glow in seedy motel rooms and then wide open desert shots with serpentining freeways. It would be remiss to mention that Nastassja Kinski adds to the beauty of the film, too.

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Director: Wim Wenders; Cinematographer: Robby Müller


A Single Man (2009)

Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, A Single Man life up to the hype of its director and then some—Ford knows to delight the eye with his keen attention to aesthetics. The film takes place within a single day in mid 20th-century Los Angeles, following an aging professor as he navigates daily life after the tragic and abrupt loss of his younger partner. It’s a bit like Mrs. Dalloway, in that you get a glimpse into both the universe of one’s inner consciousness as well as an anthropomorphized city (in this case, L.A. instead of London) and the whole thing feels meditative and day-dreamy, like you’re lost in the trance with the protagonist.

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Director: Tom Ford; Cinematographer: Eduard Grau; Production Designer: Dan Bishop


Todo Sobre Mi Madre (1999)

As a prominent figure in the La Movida Madrileña (also sometimes referred to as “el destape,” or, the explosion/uncovering) a cultural movement in Spain that unfolded after the fall of Franco’s dictatorship, Pedro Almodovar makes movies full of counter culture statements and resistance, but he also often uses humor and beauty to explore notions of oppression and hardship. Todo Sobre Mi Madre is no exception. Our protagonist, Manuela, loses her teenage son in a tragic accident at the onset of the film, and then spends the rest of the movie looking for her son’s transgender mother to inform her of the loss. She befriends and reconnects with various women along the way, each helping her explore her grief, heal, and learn. With layers of fiction throughout, like nods to All About Eve and tributes to the inimitable Spanish poet Frederíco Garcia Lorca, the film is decidedly rich, both thematically and visually.

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Director: Pedro Almodóvar; Cinematographer: Affonso Beato; Production Designer: Antxón Gómez


Her (2013)

Her focuses on the love life of a sensitive, solitary man, Theodore, as he navigates divorce while unexpectedly falling in love with his personalized AI, Samantha (Scarlet Johansen), who he’s constantly engaging with through his bluetooth headphones. It’s wild to think that the notion of little ear buds whispering sweet nothings to us in public as we drone through the trenches of daily life seemed so futuristic just a few years ago when this movie was released—who knew wire headphones would be considered a relic of the past so soon? Their love connection is creepy-sounding at first, sure, but when a human-like companion is designed to meet your every need, it easy to imagine how that’d be the ideal romantic partner. The film begs some complex questions, like the meaning of connection and personhood. That, and it inevitably creates a relationship reliant on an owner/object dynamics. The plot thickens when Samantha matures beyond the imagination of the programmers and she develops a desire to exist outside Theodore’s needs, at which point the relationship has some growing pains. Though physical touch is minimal in Her, the physical world Spike Jonze creates is as magical as it gets.

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Director: Spike Jonze; Cinematographer: Hoyte van H
oytema; Production Designer: K. K. Barrett


In the Mood For Love (2000)

In the Mood for Love is a quiet heart breaker and thought provoker of a film. It follows two lonely neighbors, a young man and woman, living in British Hong Kong in the early 1960s. The two find solace in one another’s company as they simultaneously begin to drift away from their respective partners, who they also grow increasingly suspicious of but remain loyal to. It’s brilliantly shot, with strong visual cues that drive the story. From the suffocatingly cramped apartment brimming with floral prints, mirrors on every wall, and other stifling domestic symbols to the tense moments of desperate attempts from the protagonists as they resist their magnetic connection, it’s a pensive and irresistible story of the simultaneous claustrophobia and distance in marriage.

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Director: Wong Kar-wai; Cinematographer: Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin; Production Designer: William Chang


Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild is beautiful and unique, proof that Magical Realism—a blend of whimsical fantasy and gritty realism—dazzles beyond the pages of a book and on screen, too. Set in a Delta bayou community separated from the rest of the area by a levee, the viewer takes on the perspective of 6-year-old Hushpuppy, who is being trained by her father to survive the end of the world when he suddenly becomes ill, and the apocalypse she’s been preparing for arrives. As the waters rise and an impending storm threatens to wash away her community, she flees, and along her journey of escape she begins encountering huge prehistoric animals. Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest person to be nominated for best actress at the academy awards for her role as Hushpuppy, and her performance alone makes it worth watching. But be warned: You can’t sit through this one with dry eyes.

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Director: Benh Zeitlin; Cinematographer: Ben Richardson; Production Designer: Eliza Zeitlin and Alex DiGerlando


La Piscine (1969)

Perhaps one of the most effortlessly chic films ever made, in true French fashion, La Piscine will have you wanting to emulate everything you see in it. Set in a glorious villa on the Côte d’Azur, it’s about a couple, Jean-Paul and Marianne, who go to vacation at their friend’s holiday home when another surprising duo shows up: Marianne’s ex lover and his beautiful 18-year-old daughter. Plenty of sexual and romantic tension and jealousy unfolds, most taking place by the pool or in the sea. It’s a fun watch, from the the laissez faire, lust-fueled, summertime lifestyle to the midcentury design, and, of course, Jane Birkin at her most striking. If you want more, watch Luca Guadagnino’s 2016 remake (he’s the director behind Call Me By Your name), A Bigger Splash, not-so-coincidentally named after David Hockney’s influential painting.

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Director: Jacques Deray; Cinematographer: Jean-Jacques Tarbès; Production Designer: Paul Laffargue


Neon Demon (2016)

We weren’t kidding when we said you could watch some of these movies on mute and not miss a beat. In Neon Demon, the entire story is told pretty much exclusively through visual symbolism, from the mountain lion that ravages a beguiling Hollywood motel to the blaring strobe lights at a nightclub to the city lights bloating in the distance while an ethereal and precocious yet vulnerable teen dances above the L.A. skyline. Somewhat campy and over-the-top, Neon Demon is a satirical horror move, but also reads as a fashion industry critique. As such, there’s color palette inspiration in every single shot.

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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn; Cinematographer: Natasha Braier; Production Designer: Elliott Hostetter


Paris Is Burning (1990)

Not all the most beautiful movies are fictitious—take, for example, Paris Is Burning. In this 1990 documentary about New York City nightlife and counterculture, you’ll explore the world of cross-dressing balls where voguing was invented and celebrated. It gives a voice to disenfranchised communities and challenges our notions of authenticity and identity formation by highlighting the many subcultures that mainstream culture has since appropriated and decontextualized. And for this one, we take back what we said about watching these on mute—the interviews and soundtrack are unmatched.

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Director: Jennie Livingston; Cinematographer: Paul Gibson


Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Ah, the Winona years. This movie is the perfect blend of things we wouldn’t necessarily pair: Gothic architecture, emo style, and moody, monochrome, pastel-soaked suburbia. This early ’90s classic follows a kind-hearted teen (Ryder’s character, of course), as she befriends the town outcast, a sort of Frankenstein creation with giant scissors for hands, and there’s sartorial and color palette inspiration on tap.

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Director: Tim Burton; Cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky; Production Designer: Bo Welch


Contempt (1963)

What would a beautiful film roundup be without a Godard mention? While Contempt is his biggest commercial hit, it’s still just as visually impactful and enchanting. Plus, it stars Brigette Bardot, so even more reason to put it in the spotlight. Contempt is a movie about the movie industry itself, following a big shot Hollywood producer who c
lashes with his director of an adaptation of The Odyssey. He then hires a playwright married to Camille (Bardot) to work on the script and from there, things get heated. Tense romantic trysts, professional conflicts, and gorgeous backdrops abound in this classic Hollywood flick.

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Director: Jean-Luc Godard; Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard


Moonlight (2016)

This is one of those films that you never forget, with its painfully beautiful images, brilliantly moving performances, and well-communicated storylines. Moonlight captures a sense of place unlike any other, too, presenting Miami’s stifling heat in a way taht aptly mimics the oppression the protagonist, Chiron, a gay Black boy. Grappling with issues of identity formation and belonging amidst adversity, the film follows Chiron as he grows up and navigates his sexuality and discovers support and love from unconventional figures. Moonlight also provides the audience with new representations of love, romantic and sexual, parental and platonic, along with the search for self-love when we may not be able to find it in our external environment.

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Director: Barry Jenkins; Cinematographer: James Laxton; Production Designer: Hannah Beachler


Dogtooth (2009)

Dogtooth isn’t exactly an upbeat or comfortable film to watch, but it did put the inimitable Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos on the map to bring us other irreverent and brilliant gems like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Favourite. Dogtooth poses an interesting, albeit disturbing, thought experiment: What would a family of teenagers be like if they were raised in complete isolation, shaped only by their parents in a “normal” home with plenty of yard space but no access to the outside world? They’d be pretty twisted, it turns out, in Lanthimos’s vision: Language has no meaning beyond what we assign it: Is an airplane an airplane if we don’t call it one? Budding sexual desire will find a way to release itself, even if that involves incest. And the urge to leave one’s small, isolated universe and explore the unknown is worth any cost. Freaky, yes. But oh, the color palette it inspires.

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Director: Yorgos Lanthimos; Cinematographer: Thimios Bakatakis; Production Designer: Elli Papageorgakopoulou


A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

Remember this childhood classic? Ava DuVernay’s fantastical interpretation of Madeleine L’Engle’s book is gloriously lush. She brings it to life with whimsy, vibrance, and plenty of imagination. A Wrinkle in Time follows young Meg and her little brother Charles as they embark on a quest to find their scientist father after he’s been gone for five years, off discovering a new planet (where he arrived via tesseract, which, if you ask me, is too complicated to explain to adults let alone children, but put simply, creates a literal wrinkle in time and space, hence the story’s title). The siblings are guided by three wise astral travelers (portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling—wise indeed) on the adventure of a lifetime. It’s a fun watch that the whole family can enjoy together.

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Director: Ava Duvernay; Cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler; Production Designer: Naomi Shohan


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

If you’re a sucker for a steamy romantic period piece, buckle up. Portrait of Lady on Fire takes us to 1770 coastal France, where a painter, Marianne is commissioned to do the portrait of bride in waiting, Héloïse—but she has to do so without her knowing, as Héloïse refuses to sit for a portrait because she doesn’t actually want to get married. So Marianne must observe her throughout the day and complete the portrait secretly (So many stolen glances! We said it was steamy…). As the story develops, their bond deepens and the plot intensifies, but beyond that, the film subverts the male gaze, instead experimenting with a female one on all levels: thematically, but also at the production level with women behind the camera.

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Director: Céline Sciamma; Cinematographer: Claire Mathon; Production Designer: Thomas Grézaud


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