POV (point-of-view) shots are a bold choice in camera angles, taking you out of the narrative and placing you directly in the eyes of a character.
They're used infrequently but with great intention—never to simply cut between standard mid-shots—and they're really good at getting viewers involved in a movie. But only if they're done well.
Done poorly, POV shots do nothing more than disrupt the flow of a film and can even snap the viewer out of the experience.
Here are some of the best movies that don't just use one POV shot but are pretty much made up entirely of them! Their stories are told through the eyes of their characters, effectively turning us into the lens.
8. Maniac (2012)
After the startling success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy that changed cinematic history forever, lead star Elijah Wood took a step back in the film world. Nowadays, the actor can usually be found in offbeat indie flicks that won't be busting any blocks.
They're the kinds of films that are made for the pure fun of it rather than in search of extreme profit, meaning they're able to venture into much weirder territories than Hollywood is willing to go.
One such oddball movie is Maniac, starring Wood as—wait for it—a maniac. Frank Khalfoun's remake of the 1980 exploitation slasher might not have garnered as much of a cult following (the original being a famous video nasty), but it was impressively shot entirely in POV.
The only time we see Wood while he's murdering women and attaching their scalps to mannequins is through mirrors and windows.
7. Lady in the Lake (1947)
Robert Montgomery was an Academy Award nominee for Best Actor, but he also spent his fair share of time in the director's chair.
Adapted from Raymond Chandler's 1943 novel, Lady in the Lake follows a cynical detective who, despite his plans to leave the racket, gets roped into a new case. The POV is only broken a handful of times when Montgomery addresses the audience directly.
His directorial debut was ambitious, to say the least, using his beginner time behind the camera to make the first entirely POV movie (or so the promotional team claimed). On top of that, Lady in the Lake didn't have a normal soundtrack—it was a capella.
Luckily for Montgomery, his film noir was a success. Critics commended his use of a Christmas setting to contrast its dark themes, which wasn't even in the original script.
6. Cloverfield (2008)
Cloverfield is, like, the biggest found footage movie of all time next to The Blair Witch Project. And being a found footage movie means that it's entirely shot from the point-of-view of whoever's recording.
In this film, the personal camcorder of Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) is recovered by the United States Department of Defense, consisting of clips of his farewell party that was disrupted by a power outage and a distant explosion in the city.
Part of the reason why Matt Reeves's monster movie is so effective is because we barely see the actual monster. Instead of a crystal-clear, CGI creature looming over us, we catch glimpses of the gangly monster in scraps of blurry footage—as we would in real-life.
5. Enter the Void (2009)
Most of the films on this list are artsy, indie, experimental, or somewhere in between. Enter the Void is all of the above—a psychological fantasy drama set in Tokyo.
Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has an out-of-body experience after he's shot by the police. He then proceeds to hover over the bustling city in a sort of purgatory-limbo, and we get to see everything Oscar sees and hear all of his internal monologue and thoughts.
Director Gaspar Noé described it as a "psychedelic melodrama" that vividly depicts DMT hallucinations. The trippy imagery is achieved through lots of neon lights and complex crane shots, all taken from the protagonist's POV of life after death.
Despite delayed release and poor box office figures, Enter the Void is now marveled for its innovation and creativity.
4. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Being John Malkovich is a beginner's guide to cinematic surrealism, like Salvador Dali meets Hollywood. Seriously, it's really weird.
But Spike Jonze's fantastical comedy uses a coherent narrative and famous faces to keep mainstream audiences in the loop, most prolifically in the form of actor John Malkovich himself. The film is shot from the A-lister's perceptive, but in an unusual way.
When failing puppeteer Craig (John Cusack) finds a portal that leads into the mind and body of John Malkovich, he discovers that you can only stay there for 15 minutes before being ejected onto the New Jersey Turnpike.
Pretty random, huh? The maddest bit is when Malkovich himself enters the tunnel and ends up in some bizarre Malkovich doppelgänger nightmare that you won't soon forget.
3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Jean-Dominique Bauby was given a fate worse than death when a stroke left him with locked-in syndrome: when you're completely paralyzed and basically in a coma, except you're fully awake and aware.
But that didn't stop him from publishing his memoirs in 1997, which was the basis for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) is unable to speak or move a muscle, but still has complete awareness. He can also only see out of one eye.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly opens to Bauby in the hospital where his paralysis feels, to him, like sinking underwater in a diving bell. Director Julian Schnabel employs the POV filming method to accentuate Bauby's feelings of entrapment.
Over time, Bauby painstakingly learns to communicate—and as he learns to view himself as others do, Schnabel pulls out of the claustrophobic POV into more traditional outside shots.
2. Russian Ark (2002)
Historical films are rarely experimental, but it works really well in Alexander Sokurov's 2002 drama Russian Ark. This film isn't just shot entirely in POV, but it's also one continuous take! No wonder it's considered one of the greatest films in Russian cinema.
Russian Ark has us meandering through Saint Petersburg in the implied ghost of the unnamed narrator, who we suppose died in the palace. Marquis de Custine—a real 19th century French traveler, played by Sergey Dreyden—accompanies us on this journey.
We meet a bunch of famous historical people along the way, some real and some fictional. Not only does Sokurov astound us with his continuous Steadicam technique, but there are tons of fourth wall breaks, too!
1. Rear Window (1954)
Rear Window actually uses quite a few external shots, but it's such a famous classic that leans so heavily into its POV themes that we're making it number one. The whole premise centers on a photographer who spends his days gazing out the window with his telescope.
Alfred Hitchcock was a lover of voyeurism, so having his protagonist window-watch people for nearly two hours is no surprise. Like Jeff (Stewart), we watch his neighbors go about their days through the POV of his telescope.
Using this technique, Hitchcock manipulates us into only witnessing what Jeff sees as he grows suspicious of a murder across the street.