70mm is back! Thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, one of the oldest and grandest traditions in Hollywood is making a comeback after years of financial setbacks and near-extinction. As Nolan has said many times, shooting in 70mm proved an immersive and more textured experience than any other form of cinema (side note: The 70mm film process actually uses 65mm film stock, which is printed onto 70mm film for projection purposes).
Due to the costly nature of film and theaters’ lack of 70mm projectors, it’s been quite a challenge to get to a place where Tarantino and Nolan can make entire features using 65/70mm, but the preservation of film is turning in their favor. This month, “Dunkirk” will give audiences the chance to see what happens when Nolan makes an entire feature in 70mm film for the first time, and the results should be massive.
To celebrate the upcoming 70mm release of “Dunkirk,” we’ve gathered 15 of the most essential 70mm film releases. From Stanley Kubrick to William Wyler and David Lean, it’s clear shooting in 70mm is mandatory for any epic filmmaker.
Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of the 1943 stage musical was the first movie photographed using the Todd-AO 70mm widescreen process, resulting in an image that brought the depth and scope of the theater stage right onto the movie screen. The Todd-AO process allowed “Oklahoma!” to be shot at 30 frames-per-second, up from the standard 24, which yielded a crisper, more vibrant image. In its original theatrical release, the movie was distributed as both a cinematic roadshow (for the 70mm version) and a general release (for 35mm). In order to release the film in 35mm, every scene had to be shot twice on both formats.
“Ben-Hur” remains one of the biggest productions in film history: 200 artists were tasked with costumes, statues and props; 200 camels, 2,500 horses and 10,000 extras were used on set during production. MGM demanded Wyler and cinematographer Robert L. Surtees shoot in widescreen. The director initially opposed because he didn’t want too much of the screen to go unused, so the studio created the MGM Camera 65, which used a special 65mm film stock with an extremely large 2.76:1 aspect ratio. The format proved essential for the movie’s centerpiece: A nine-minute chariot race in which widescreen photography captures the racers in the frame all at once.
“Sleeping Beauty” (1959)
“Sleeping Beauty” is one of the hallmarks of Disney animation, but it also happens to be a history-maker in terms of production. The movie was the first animated film to be photographed using the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process. Technirama traditionally used 35mm film, but the Super 70 process allowed the film to be made on 70mm stock. The result was a bigger and more visually immersive film than Walt Disney had ever released before.