Found footage, a unique and immersive cinema style, has become an increasingly popular genre in the film industry. This style of filmmaking presents a distinctive viewing experience by giving the illusion that the events on screen are not a work of fiction, but rather a real event that was accidentally captured. In this article, we will explore the history and evolution of found footage filmmaking, its defining characteristics, and some noteworthy films in the genre. 

What is a Found Footage Film?

First, let’s define found footage

Found footage is a genre that has piqued our curiosity and sparked countless debates. But what is it? What makes it tick? 


What is found footage filmmaking?

Found footage filmmaking is a subgenre in which all or a substantial part of the film is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists. This genre of filmmaking aims to give the audience a sense of authenticity and immediacy, often blurring the line between fiction and reality. While primarily associated with horror, this style can also be applied to other genres like action or sci-fi.

Characteristics of Found Footage Filmmaking:

  • Amateur Video Footage
  • Shaky Visuals and Realism
  • Absence of Musical Score

Origin of Found Footage Filmmaking

History of found footage filmmaking

The term “found footage” was first used by film critic Roger Ebert in 1975 to describe a type of horror movie made up of mostly fake archival footage spliced together for maximum suspense. 

The origins of found footage can be traced back to the late 1990s, with the release of the cult classic The Blair Witch Project. This low-budget horror film was a commercial success, largely due to its innovative use of found footage style. Watch our video on the amazing way they shot this landmark film.

The Blair Witch Project  •  What Was the First Found Footage Film?

Since then, the genre has significantly expanded, giving rise to a diverse range of films that cater to various tastes and preferences. 

From bone-chilling horror flicks like Paranormal Activity, which keeps you on the edge of your seat, to mind-bending science fiction thrillers like Cloverfield, which takes you on an exhilarating journey through uncharted territories. 

Cloverfield reinvigorated found footage filmmaking

The expansion of the genre has brought forth a multitude of captivating narratives and imaginative storytelling that continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

What is a Found Footage Film Defined By?

Characteristics of found footage

Found footage movies are captivating due to their unique characteristics that distinguish them from other genres. In the next section, we'll explore these defining traits, enhancing our understanding of how they contribute to the authentic and immersive viewing experience.

Amateur Video Footage

Typically, found footage films revolve around amateur video footage, often filmed by the characters themselves. This technique allows the viewer to experience the story through a first-person perspective, thereby heightening the sense of realism. 

Shaky Visuals and Realism

The use of hand-held cameras often results in shaky visuals, further contributing to the film's authenticity. This intentional stylistic choice immerses the audience in the raw and unpolished nature of the footage.

A great example of this can be found in the film End of Watch and the use of a police bodycam.

End of Watch  •  Film Found Footage Example

Absence of Musical Score

In line with the conceit that the found footage is unedited, these films often lack a musical score. This deliberate omission enhances the sense of authenticity and creates a more organic viewing experience.

This can be seen in the final scene of the bone chilling Paranormal Activity. The impact of no score lies in its feeling of authenticity and realness. 

Paranormal Activity

By combining these elements, found footage films offer a unique and captivating storytelling approach that blurs the line between fiction and reality.

What is Found Footage FIlm Used For?

Function in storytelling

The use of found footage in storytelling serves multiple functions, each contributing to an immersive viewer experience.


Found footage techniques transport viewers into the narrative, creating a sense of participation in the unfolding events. By blurring the line between reality and fiction, it engrosses the audience in a unique way.

The Fourth Kind  •  Alien Contact Scenes

Heightened Emotions 

This intimate connection between the viewer and the film's characters amplifies emotions. In horror films, the palpable suspense and fear intensify, making the audience feel as if they are part of the terrifying events.

Action films become more thrilling, as the sense of adventure is magnified. Emotional scenes in dramas resonate deeply, evoking a more poignant response.

Project X

Narrative Exploration 

Found footage empowers filmmakers to experiment with unique narrative structures. It allows for the exploration of unconventional storytelling techniques, enabling diverse perspectives and innovative approaches to storytelling.

Found Footage Genre Examples

Found footage film examples

While we mentioned a few iconic examples of found footage films and ones that have blazed the way for the genre, let’s look at a few more. Below are five examples of found footage films that have effectively used found footage storytelling.

District 9

District 9 is a captivating sci-fi film that takes a unique approach, chronicling the story of extraterrestrial refugees stranded in South Africa. The movie combines documentary-style footage with thrilling action sequences, providing a thought-provoking exploration of prejudice and humanity's capacity for change.

District 9


Diverging from the common horror and thriller themes, Chronicle uses a found footage format to tell a story of power and corruption. It follows three high school friends who gain superpowers and document their experiences, showcasing the disastrous consequences of power unchecked.



A Spanish horror film, [REC] is a terrifying blend of suspense and horror. It tells the story of a TV reporter and her cameraman who follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying. The found footage technique heightens the sense of claustrophobic horror, making [REC] a masterclass in tension-building.


In the world of cinema, found footage has carved a niche of its own. It's not merely a method of storytelling; it's an innovative approach to filmmaking that draws viewers in and keeps them on the edge of their seats. 

This genre, with its unique traits, has transformed from a mere novelty to a recognized category in cinema — much like a supporting actor emerging as the lead. But it's not all about the thrill; it's about engaging narratives and pushing boundaries, minus the cliches and over-the-top enthusiasm. 

Up Next

How They Shot The Blair Witch Project

Found footage films have had a significant impact on modern cinema, particularly in the horror genre. In our next article, we explore behind the scenes of one of the landmark films in this style — The Blair Witch Project. You won't believe the simple yet revolutionary way they shot it.

Up Next: Making The Blair Witch →
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