Like anyone who has spent two hours waiting at the DMV can attest, emotional states are affected by the perception of time. In filmmaking terms, we want to take a moment to discuss one of the most commonly used time manipulation techniques — slow motion — and how it can be used to add deeper, emotional intensity to a scene or sequence.

Watch: The Ultimate Guide to Slow Motion in Film

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How to use slow motion in film

In our video essay on slow motion, we explain the variety of uses slow motion can have. It’s not just a tool for directors like Zack Snyder — it can be used for a wide array of emotional beats. The common thread in all of these uses is that slow motion elevates and emphasizes

But first, how does slow motion work? To achieve a slow motion shot, the camera’s frame rate is typically set at a higher setting than the baseline frame rate of the rest of the movie. Here's a breakdown of frame rate and its various applications in filmmaking.

Frame rate explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Usually, the baseline FPS of a film is 24 fps, so a slow motion frame rate is anything higher. If a shot is recorded at 48 fps and then shown at 24 fps, the motion will be moving at half speed. Voila. Slow motion FPS.

How to Use Slow Motion to Create Iconic Moments Frame rates explained Slow motion movie

Frame rates explained  •  Slow motion movie

Seeing a certain image in slow-mo indicates to a viewer that what is happening in the image is important. Take this scene from The Lord of the Rings:

Slow motion ring  •  Movies with slow motion

Peter Jackson emphasizes the importance of the ring getting lopped off of Sauron’s hand with the use of slow motion. This way, we get a good, long look at the ring (a pretty important part of The Lord of the Rings), and the consequence of Sauron’s defeat is elevated.

Now, let’s look at some other uses of slow motion.


Using slow-mo for action sequences

The best action movies and war films often heavily feature the use of slow-motion. As the epitome of chaos, battle scenes use slow-motion to redirect the viewer’s attention to important details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

The control of time is the viewing experience. Using slow-mo in action scenes allows filmmakers to "paint" within the chaos, create drama on a grandiose scale, and achieve a deeper impact.

Epic kick scene  •  Movies with slow motion

Let’s return to our slow-mo maestro Zack Snyder. 300 features some of my favorite uses of slow-motion battle sequences. Cinematic, emotional, and strangely stunning, the slow motion utilized here helps to tell the whole story of the battle while also communicating the feel of the fight.

Scenes slow down so we can relish all the details of the moment, and then speed up again to build excitement. The effect is visceral and epic.

300  •  Movies with slow motion

War movies, battle scenes, and in general, scenes with a great deal of action, utilize slow-mo frequently. While every film is not as visually poetic as 300, many will employ a unique approach to slow-motion to enhance audience immersion.


Slow motion death scenes

Die Hard  •  Movies with slow motion

Die Hard features one of the most famous slow motion deaths ever.We get to see Hans Gruber’s dramatic fall from the top of the tower he’s held hostage for hours.

This glorious use of slow motion allows for the audience to relish in Gruber’s death. He has been a menacing, powerful villain for nearly the entire runtime. Finally, we see his comeuppance.

The slow motion also allows for a quick cutaway to a line of dialogue. If this scene were presented in real time, there wouldn’t be room for the line. Slow motion suspends our disbelief. 

Dramatic Movies with Slow Motion

Slow (e)motion

Any time a filmmaker uses slow-mo, they’re choosing to drive attention to small details. In doing so, those details achieve significance. Similarly, when slow-mo is used to focus on a character’s emotional reaction to a person, place, or event, the moment becomes significant.

The opening of Melancholia stretches this use of slow motion to its logical extreme. Here, everything is presented in slow-mo. Unbeknownst to the viewer, this is positioning us inside the mind of Justine.

Melancholia  •  Movies with slow motion

This is all Justine’s dream, and the use of slow motion shows us her view of the world. She believes earth is in the midst of a slow-motion catastrophe.

Of course, this use of slow-mo also highlights Justine’s — yes — melancholia. She’s depressed, and the slow-motion makes it even the smallest movement seem difficult.


Slow mo with music

Slow motion can be great. Slow motion paired with the right song can be transcendent. Presenting an image where the action is slowed allows the audience to focus on what they’re hearing.

Perhaps the pairing of slow motion and music can be found in the opening credits of Chariots of Fire.

Chariots of Fire  •  Movies with slow motion

Try a little experiment. Watch this clip muted first. It’s an effective shot, moving from character to character as they run forward with steadfast resolve.

But now, watch it with sound on. Vangelis’s score works in concert with the slow motion to create one of the most epic and wistful shots in cinematic history. It’s the perfect marriage of sound and image.

Presented at full-speed, the running would feel out of sync with the grandiose song Vangelis had composed.

As we’ve shown you, slow motion knows no bounds. It does it a disservice to use it predictably — there’s so much it can do. So the next time you want to employ the tool, ask yourself why it’s being used and if it is adding to the scene. With great power comes great responsibility.

up next

How to Create Slow Motion in Premiere

Now that we've covered the various applications of slow motion in visual storytelling, it's time to do it yourself. Follow up with this quick guide on how to create slow motion using Premiere Pro. Make your next project epic and emotional with this simple editing technique.

Up Next: Slow Mo in Premiere Pro →
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