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The best movies shot on phones

It is possible to make a good movie with nothing but a phone and there are plenty of examples to show it.
By
January 15, 2023
iPhone 12 Pro Max neon camera macro 6
David Imel / Android Authority

As our smartphone camera hardware and software have improved, more creative opportunities have been made accessible for aspiring filmmakers. Sure, Hollywood still has the budget for things you can’t do with a phone, like extravagant CGI effects and animation. But if you have a relatively simple story to tell, pretty much all you need nowadays is a good phone camera and location to shoot your movie.

Even before smartphones could shoot in 4K, professional filmmakers have been experimenting with using phones for cinematography to prove what is possible with the device in your pocket. Here’s our list of the best movies shot on phones to date. The list includes feature-length and short films shot on iOS and Android devices, but they are all part of the same filmmaking revolution.

The best movies shot on phones

Snow Steam Iron

If there were one film on this list you would least suspect to have been filmed on a phone, it’s Snow Steam Iron. Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Justice League, filmed this four-minute short in just one weekend using the iPhone 7 Plus. Of course, he did utilize a few relatively affordable accessories like the Beastgrip Pro and DJI Osmo mobile gimbal to enhance the look.

Snow Steam Iron is visual storytelling at its finest. Not one character utters a single word of dialogue. Instead, we are left to contemplate the stunning, surrealist imagery depicting scenes of corruption and revenge. The short film was released exclusively on Vero, which you can watch here.

I Play with the Phrase of Each Other

I Play with the Phrase of Each Other is another film that may not look like it was shot on a phone at first glance. The entire movie is in black and white, which was a clever tactic to help mask some of the smartphone’s camera limitations. Director Jay Alvarez made this feature film using an iPhone 6, and its entire plot centers around cellphone conversations. That means you’ll have a pretty meta experience watching people talk on the phone through a phone camera. Check out the trailer above.

And Uneasy Lies the Mind

And Uneasy Lies the Mind by Ricky Fosheim is a feature film shot on one of the older phones on this list, the iPhone 5. Although, the director did have the help of a Turtle Jacket Penta Eye lens wheel and a Nikon Cinema Prime lens to achieve some of the shots.

See also: The best Android mobile camera lens add-ons

The movie features a cabin-in-the-woods setting with creatively-edited dream-like sequences and covert filming. Overall, this paranoia-filled thriller relies on a small cast and a small budget to tell a big story. While not every beat might land with the intended impact, the film certainly leaves you with enough food for thought long after the credits roll.

Unsane

Perhaps an even more disturbing psychological thriller shot on a phone is Unsane by Steven Soderbergh. The movie was shot in under ten days using the iPhone 7 Plus. As a motion picture, this movie looks a little rough around the edges, but thankfully, the story more than makes up for appearances. The film follows a young woman who involuntarily finds herself administered into a psychiatric hospital and begins questioning her sanity.

High Flying Bird

Soderbergh’s follow-up to Unsane was another movie shot on a phone, this time using the iPhone 8 Plus, and Netflix produced the project. Not only does High Flying Bird feature a more light-hearted story, but the difference in visual quality is night and day, in part due to the help of Moondog Labs’ anamorphic lens.

The film follows a sports agent who must pull off a risky plan in 72 hours. With a runtime of only 90 minutes, the movie is as fast-paced as a heist film without overstaying its welcome. If you are an NBA fan, or just intrigued by the behind-the-scenes politics of sports, definitely check this one out.

Détour

Director Michel Gondry is best known for his blockbuster independent films, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But few have heard of his smaller projects. This 11-minute comedy was shot on an iPhone 7 and funded by Apple. It follows a lost tricycle through the countryside, eventually to be reunited with its young rider. It’s a charming story entirely in French, suitable for the whole family. The film is available on Apple’s UK and France Youtube Channels. Check out the trailer on Vimeo here.

9 Rides

Michael A. Cherry is probably best known for executive-producing the Oscar-nominated hit movie BlacKkKlansman. But did you know he directed a movie shot entirely with a phone? 9 Rides was shot using the iPhone 6 and was the first feature-length film to employ its then-new 4K video resolution.

The film follows an Uber driver working on a busy New Year’s Eve as he deals with some life-changing news. As the clock ticks closer to midnight, he meets nine passengers who offer a different perspective on life. The raw look of the video compliments the setting as you feel like you’re right there in the car with them the whole time.

Moments

Visual artist Harald Haraldsson’s Moments was one of the first commercials filmed entirely on a smartphone. He only used the Samsung Galaxy SIII, along with two robot arms. One arm holds the camera phone and the other a mirror, and the way they reflect makes for some beautiful imagery. Not every movie or short is filmed iPhone, after all!

Missed Call

Director Victoria Mapplebeck won a BAFTA award for this short film shot on the iPhone X. The story explores how we increasingly rely on phones to capture moments in our lives to save as memories. Specifically, it focuses on the relationship between the filmmaker, her teenage son, and his absent father. The short film has been made available on Youtube, which you can watch above. Be warned; this one is a bit of a tear-jerker, so have some tissues ready.

Night Fishing

You might know director Park Chan-Wook for his renowned film Newboy. But before that, he co-directed this atmospheric short with his brother Park Chan-Kyong. It was filmed on a now antique iPhone 4 in 2011, which is why the fantasy-horror flick lacks polish by today’s standards. Nevertheless, the short showcases some impressive videography for its time and demonstrates what a skilled filmmaker can accomplish on a tight budget.


Honorable mentions

That’s it for our list of the best movies shot on phones, but we also wanted to give a shoutout to some close runner-ups.

  • Searching for Sugar Man by Malik Bendjelloul. A 2012 documentary film about the South African cultural phenomenon and musician Sixto Rodriguez. When the filmmakers ran out of budget, they resorted to filming the ending of this documentary on an iPhone. The fact that it fits with the rest of the film so seamlessly is impressive, mainly due to the Vintage Camera app to achieve the 8mm effect.

  • Tangerine by Sean Baker. Shot on nothing but an iPhone 5S, with an anamorphic lens attachment and an $8 app, Baker debuted this film at the 2015 Sundance film fest. The story follows a transgender woman who discovers that she’s been conned by her partner and pimp. It received critical acclaim for its performances and portrayal of transgender individuals.

  • Paris by Rian Johnson. The acclaimed director put together this short film using an iPhone 11 Pro. It’s mainly a montage of stunning shots of the French capital. However, it does show what a professional filmmaker can do with a newer phone. You can watch the short film on Vimeo.

  • Olive by Hooman Khalili. This was the first feature-length movie shot on a smartphone and arguably paved the way for everything on this list. It was shot entirely on the Nokia N8 in 2011, although the director did hack it to adjust its auto-focus. The film didn’t have the best critical reception, and the visual quality hasn’t aged well, but the heart and story of the filmmakers shine through.

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