Arts & Entertainment

Color symbolism in films

What colors represent in films and how we perceive them.

We all enjoy a good movie, especially ones that make us feel something. We know that actors showing emotion can trigger something in us, but what about everything else on the screen? If you stopped a film at any given moment, there is usually some sort of trait on the screen trying to trigger a reaction within us. Colors in an image or on a screen utilize techniques to trigger emotions or feelings. Here is a list of films and the ways in which they have demonstrated this. 

Star Wars

Lightsabers, man. While they are all lethal weapons regardless of who is holding them, colors mean different things for the Jedi. Red signifies anger and violent instincts so naturally, that is a common color for villains to don. The other common color for lightsabers is blue which, in general, is known for calmness or loyalty. Watching films like this, we quickly form the skill to tell the difference between good and evil purely based on colors. 


Flashback! While this film may not be as popular as the previous one, “Divergent,” both in book and film, use colors to portray different factions and what they stand for. The faction system places characters in a designated place based on their characteristics. Dauntless and its inhabitants are known for being fearless and badass. They are seen as the warriors of this world. With all of this being said, they are mostly the color black. Black can represent fierce and tough people. 

It also can represent the fear that some hold surrounding those in Dauntless due to their rowdy nature and unpredictability. Erudite, on the other hand, stands for knowledge and curiosity. The ‘team color’ for this faction is blue, which can represent wisdom and intelligence. 

Wizard of Oz

This all time classic uses many colors to describe things from the ruby slippers to the yellow brick road. Like many films, these colors were strategically placed. The yellow and red brick roads start in the same place but trail off in different directions. The yellow brick road leads to a good place and the red brick road leads to a bad one. 

The yellow brick road is the one the characters are encouraged to take to get to the emerald city. The emerald city is all green, representing the good luck and prosperity the great wizard promises. The wicked witch of the west was also green, but instead of luck and prosperity, indicates jealousy on the other side of the spectrum. 

Inside Out

This is a breakthrough film that psychologists have found helps children understand how to process emotions and guess what? They use colors. The characters that reside in our heads are each in charge of a specific emotion: Joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. They live and work in their ‘owner’s’ mind to help sort memories that their host experiences.

Riley, their owner, begins her story at birth and like the rest of us, emotions get more complicated over time and growth. When Riley was young, all of her memories were stored as a colored marble, relating to the emotion that is triggered. A joyful memory is a sunshine yellow marble and a scary memory is a deep purple. 

This movie also shows how as you grow up, memories can start to trigger more than one emotion. A memory of something like moving to a new place can become a marble that triggers fear, sadness, and anger all at once, making it a blend of purple, blue and red. 

Harry Potter

These films consist of all sorts of color symbolism. From the house colors to the opening title, the technique that is being used is to show the lives of the characters progressing from innocent eleven year olds to fighting the ultimate battle. The house colors are red, green, blue, and yellow. Gryffindor is red as it stands for bravery. Ravenclaw is blue as it stands for wisdom. Slytherin is green with cleverness and hufflepuff is yellow for being bright. A less obvious symbolic method throughout the films is the Warner Bros. title screen. From the beautiful golden logo before the first film to a rusting, dark logo preceding the seventh and final Harry Potter films, you can see that the trio’s lives are getting increasingly darker and more challenging.

Films like these can help us learn more about our emotions and/or how we can represent them through color. Colors are a great way to describe your emotions as well. The fact that these are all stories for kids and young adults is beneficial, especially at a time like this. These kinds of portrayals can help children and young adults cope with difficulties and understand their lives better.