The Ten Best Found Footage Films

The found footage genre has a long and storied history.  Ever since Cannibal Holocaust was released back in 1980, filmmakers and studios have always marketed these films in the most clever of ways.  The premise of the genre is essentially that a character or characters in the movie had been filming the events and the tapes/recordings were found later.  People thought Cannibal Holocaust was real because the trope had never been used before.

Then The Blair Witch Project came in 1999.  It was the infancy of the internet and no studio had ever pulled off a marketing scheme that the indie film pulled off.  The world was nearly convinced that a camcorder was found in a the forest and the film contained footage of a few young adults encountering the supernatural.  Ever since then, the found footage film has been going strong. Though the technique is often used for horror, it has been used for action, sci-fi, and even comedy as well.  Here are ten of the best footage films.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The modern found footage film was birthed from this little cinematic experiment.  Filmed on a budget of only $60,000, the film wound up making $250,000,000 worldwide.  The Blair Witch Project proves, like Jaws did before it, that the audience’s imagination will scare them far more efficiently than anything they see on screen.  The film follows a trio of documentarians investigating a local myth of the Blair Witch.  All the film provides us is walking through the woods, arguing, distant sounds, and odd discoveries.  

But it worked.  The film terrified millions of moviegoers without giving them a good look at an antagonist, violence, or even well-focused blocking.  It is rough, dirty, and jarringly unclear, but you powerfully feel the characters’ fear. Imaginative modern audiences may find it dull and boring, bit back in 1999, it changed the way horror movies were made.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Just like The Blair Witch Project, 95% of Paranormal Activity does not involve anything scary.  It is full of a young couple living their life.  After some odd occurrences, the husband, Micah, sets up an array of security cameras to capture anything untoward in their house.  First, all that is seen is a door moving. Then, a sheet ruffles. Then things escalate into a horrifying, violent climax. It is incredibly effective.  Oren Peli was a master of framing, pacing, and editing. Few filmmakers can make watching many minutes of security footage as riveting as Peli does. Paranormal Activity scared so many people that it spawned no less than four sequel.  Albeit, they rapidly decline in quality.

Cloverfield (2008)

In 2008, director Matt Reeves and Producer J.J. Abrams pulled off the perfect viral marketing campaign.  The public knew that a big movie called Cloverfield was coming out from the guy behind Lost.  Nobody knew what it was about and hardly anyone even knew what KIND of movie it was.  Then the public was treated to a small teaser trailer that showed the Statue of Liberty’s head being flung down a NYC street.

Then the release day came, and Cloverfield was revealed to be a modern-day, found footage Godzilla-esque movie.  It can be disorienting and nauseating due to the kinetics of the camera work.  However, the filmmakers spared absolutely no expense with the special effects or the sound design.  This film is an incredibly wild ride.

The Visit (2015)

The Visit is a pretty cool, little found footage film involving kids.  A brother and sister pair go on a trip to meet their grandparents for the first time.  Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had been estranged from them the kids’ entire life, but decided that they should have a relationship with her parents.  The daughter is recording the visit as part of a school documentary project. The weekend starts of simple enough, but soon, their grandparents start acting incredibly odd.  Eventually, there is a line of dialogue by Kathryn Hahn that is so unnerving and spine-tingling, that it may be the best moment on this list. The film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  It was with The Visit that he showed a glimmer of the Shyamalan of old.  He soon thereafter brought us all Split.  Hopefully the The Sixth Sense auteur is back to form.

A Haunted House (2013)

The found footage genre can also be used for hilarious comedy as well.  As spooky and unnerving as Paranormal Activity was, Director Michael Tiddes and Marlon Wayans perfectly spoofed it in 2013.  Wayans plays Malcolm and his wife is played brilliantly by Essence Atkins. They are the couple that has moved into their new house where weird things begin to go bump in the night.  Same premise. Malcolm sets up a bunch of cameras to try and catch anything on film, and the hilarity ensues. Not since the height of Zucker films has a spoof been done so well. A Haunted House touches upon the insane psychics, the jealousy behind a particularly sexual ghost and the stereotype that African-Americans react in a much more severe way to supernatural occurrences.  Absolutely hysterical from beginning to end, but definitely avoid the sequel.

Hardcore Henry (2015)

Russian auteur director, Timur Bekmambatov, produced this absolutely insane movie in 2015.  The gimmick of Hardcore Henry is that a man, full of bionic upgrades, is awakened and his wife is soon abducted right in front of him.  The found-footage aspect is that the entire movie is exhibited as though the man’s eyes are the camera. Filmed entirely with GoPro cameras, the action unfolds as the man is searching for his wife and trying to uncover the secrets of his abilities.  It is like watching the best single person shooter you have ever seen.

There are some absurd supernatural aspects to the plot, but that doesn’t matter.  Hardcore Henry is on this list for two reasons.  First, the entire film is a huge how on Earth did they do that and not kill anyone experience.  Second, the always great Sharlto Copley plays multiple roles and does a phenomenal job with each and every one.  It is a crazy tour-de-force.

Europa Report (2013)

Science fiction is also a genre that can find use with the found footage technique.  2013’s Europa Report is a pretty nifty entry in the list.  It is as high budgeted as Trollhunter but as reserved as The Blair Witch Project.  The film involves an international crew of astronauts on Europa, Jupiter’s fourth moon.  They have been sent there by a private company to search for any trace of extraterrestrial life.  That is never goon in a sci-fi movie, and the film is presented as a compiled collection of crew journal entries and documented footage of the mission.  

Europa Report is slow and deliberate, and it takes a a lot of patience and faith from the audience.  The best thing about it is that it has the best cast of any of the films on this list. Sharlto Copley (again), Daniel Wu, Michael Nyqvist, Dan Fogler; they all add a big layer of legitimacy to the proceedings.

Trollhunter (2010)

Trollhunter is for all intents and purposes, the Norwegian The Blair Witch Project.  The premise is similar, with a documentary crew trying to confront a man they suspect is illegally hunting bears.  They quickly become involved in the man’s troll hunting responsibilities. However, Trollhunter really excels where some believe The Blair Witch Project failed.  First, the film is populated with actual Norwegian actors, and not the amateurs in Blair Witch.  So, the fear and danger can REALLY be shared.  Also, you get a few brief glimpses at some of the trolls, and that really goes a long way.  Through clever lighting, camera angles, and special effects, the viewer is treated to a few grotesque looks at everything from 10 foot trolls to ones the size of a mountain.  Trollhunter really injects a lot of mythic fantasy into the found footage genre, and the result is exhilarating.

REC (2007)/Quarantine (2008)

The Spanish language horror film and its American remake starring Jennifer Carpenter are terrifying.  The premise of Rec and Quarantine involves a reporter and a cameraman who are trapped inside a building under quarantine.  The habitants inside the building have been infected by an unknown virus. Obviously, since these are horror movies, the virus turns the victims into bloodthirsty murderers.  As with many found footage movies, the amount of filming people do in the face of danger is a bit incredulous. However, these are the most visceral among the films on this list.  It is straightforward, frightening, and grotesque. What else could you want?

Chronicle (2012)

Before Josh Trank effectively torpedoed his career with his antics on the set of 2015’s Fantastic Four, he made the wonderful Chronicle.  This film was a perfect melding of the found footage film and the superhero drama.  Imagine you and your friends come across an object, in this case a meteor, that granted you all certain powers.  In today’s day and age…what is the first thing you would do. Of course, you would film everything. As Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, and Dane Dehaan discover their new abilities, they always have the camera rolling.  How else would other people believe it?

Chronicle is a very effective film (again with a great marketing ploy using drones).  It isn’t all superhero action and cliches either. There are real issues and powerful messages about what happens when a bullied, introverted teen achieves such godlike power?  Than can be incredibly dangerous.


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