Cinema is something that should constantly be evolving. With that said, it’s rare to see movies that break free from the typical structure of filmmaking that we know. In 1980, a horrifying film entitled Cannibal Holocaust came on the market and shocked critics and audiences alike. Many consider this movie to be the first found footage film in history. It introduced us to a new type of movie where even though the plot is fiction, the film is made in such a way that it feels as if you’re watching real footage. The underground film paved the way for classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. Since then, filmmakers have been utilizing the found footage technique to span across all genres of filmmaking.
Even if you know what you’re seeing isn’t real, found footage filmmaking still creates an atmosphere that is special and original in comparison to regular narrative films. It also gives filmmakers new possibilities and has resulted in even more ways to make a film in the modern age. Unfriended utilized Skype technology to create a film that takes place entirely over a webcam. Project X showed us that found footage filmmaking can be used in the comedy genre as well. It is a new technique that is constantly evolving and hopefully, it will inspire other filmmakers to create new methods of filmmaking to even further the art form. And with that, here are our top 15 found footage movies of all time.
The 2012 mockumentary horror film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Barry Levinson. The film follows a parasitic infection that ravages a seaside town in Maryland. The Bay uses surveillance, news, and police footage to tell the story, giving us a solid pandemic thriller.
The 2014 horror film Unfriend utilizes Skype technology to tell its story, showing us that there are always new ways to make a movie. The entire film takes place via webcam as we watch a supernatural user named “billie227” terrorize a group of high school students.
Project X used the found footage technique to make an effective teen comedy. The story follows three friends as they throw an epic, and destructive, house party that gets out of hand. The film is a nonstop ride filled with action, laughs, and a rocking soundtrack.
This 2020 British horror film follows a group of friends who decide to remain connected via Zoom technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to Unfriended, the entire film takes place on a computer screen. After taking part in a séance, a supernatural force terrorizes the characters. Host released by the well-known horror production company, Shudder, and it is a perfect example of incorporating current global events into a movie.
The box office success, Grave Encounters, has gained a cult following despite earning mixed reviews from critics. The story follows a group of reality TV ghost hunters who lock themselves in a mental asylum overnight while documenting their experience. This terrifying ghost story was very well done and utilized the mockumentary shooting style quite effectively.
The 2008 Australian horror film Lake Mungo uses docufiction techniques to tell the story of the supernatural events that a family experienced after their daughter drowned in a lake. The film utilizes interviewees to tell the story, making it feel as if you are watching a real documentary.
The Visit marked a refreshing return of the provocative filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. He delivers a scary story about a brother and sister who meet their estranged grandparents for the first time, soon realizing that there is something very wrong with Grandma and Grandpa. The camera movements, performances, and light comedy all make for an effective film.
The talented Mark Duplass wrote and stars in this creepy thriller about a man who terrorizes a filmmaker whom he hired off craigslist. Creep uses jump scares, scenery, and uncomfortable scenes and dialogue to make a chilling thriller. The film is carried by Duplass’s brilliant performance.
The 2007 Spanish found footage film [Rec] follows a news reporter as she joins firefighters into an apartment complex to find out that there is an infection turning the tenants into violent zombies. This blood-thirsty take on zombie infection hits all the marks of a classic thriller.
V/H/S is a series of found-footage shorts from different filmmakers. Each tale was filmed to resemble grainy VHS tape, hence the title. The shorts are original, scary, and tackle a lot of different topics. The film was quite successful and has spawned a series of sequels.
The 2018 film Searching, starring John Cho showed how the found footage technique can effectively tell a mystery thriller story. The film follows a father searching for his sixteen-year-old daughter and the entire movie is shown through computer and cell phone screens. Cho gives a fantastic performance as the desperate father and the film was a box office success.
Josh Trank’s 2012 science fiction film Chronicle tells the story of three friends who discover an object, possibly from another world, that gives them all telekinetic powers. The visuals in this film are fantastic and the cast, including Dan Dehaan and Michael B. Jordan, delivers fine performances.
J.J. Abram’s long-awaited, and secretive, Cloverfield used found footage cinema to create a big-budget monster film. The film follows a group of friends as they try to outrun a giant monster destroying New York City. The special effects in this film are astonishing and the camera work makes the movie that much more scary and suspenseful.
Having the hook of “what you are about to see is real” is an effective method to genuinely frighten audiences, even if the movie is in fact fake. Oren Peli scared audiences around the globe with his low-budget film about a couple terrorized by a supernatural presence. The film uses suspense and practical effects to build tension and scare its audience. Paranormal Activity was made on a shoestring budget and went on to create one of the most successful horror franchises in history.
1The Blair Witch Project
In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released and many viewers were under the impression that what they were seeing was real. The film was marketed as the “footage” discovered after three filmmakers disappeared into a Maryland forest to find the urban legend known as the Blair Witch. This movie could be considered the OG of found footage cinema and its creepy setting and camera work, as well as it’s convincing performances, made this film a horror classic.