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What is a Slow Burn Movie: The Best Examples of the Genre

by Clarke Scott | Last Updated: August 31, 2021

What is a slow burn movie? The term was first coined by film critics in the 1930s, and it refers to a type of storytelling.

A slow burn movie tells its story over a long period of time, often without any major plot twists or scenes with high intensity. The best examples of this genre are movies like Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now. These films are great for demonstrating how the story is told in a slow burn movie.

In this article, we will talk about what is a slow burn movie, and we will also suggest some great examples of this genre.

What is a Slow Burn Movie

Slow Burn movies are films in which the story unfolds gradually over time with little emphasis on action or violence. Some common characteristics that define these types of projects include lengthy dialogue scenes, long takes without interruption by cuts to different camera angles and more.

The best example for defining what is a slow burn film could be Citizen Kane. The 1941 drama by Orson Welles tells the story of Charles Foster Kane using several different narrators who speak directly into the camera about their experiences with the late media mogul.

On another hand, a great example for demonstrating slow burn movies is an American war movie called Apocalypse Now which was released in 1979 by director Francis Ford Coppola. The project tells the story of Captain Benjamin Willard (played by Martin Sheen), who must travel upriver through South Vietnam to find and kill Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has gone rogue and set himself up as a god among a tribe of natives in the Cambodian jungle.

And as I add the above trailer for Citizen Kane, I’m reminded of David Fincher’s Mank. Perhaps another example of slow burn?

Both films are great examples for defining what is a slow burn movie, so if you want to know more about this genre we suggest that without any further due you check them out.

What is a Slow Burn Movie?

Some common characteristics that define these types of films include lengthy dialogue scenes, long takes without interruption by cuts to different camera angles – known as a oner.

A “slow burn,” for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a filmmaking approach, often used in narrative films, in which plot, action, and scenes unfold gradually, albeit methodically. The slow burn film has become a popular (and feasible) choice for modern, digital filmmakers working on low budgets.

The slow burn film has evolved into a popular (and practical) choice for both thematically powerful and resource-strapped production.

Many European films such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2006 film, Climates opening and the opening scene of Gerry use a similar slow burn trope to draw you into the world of the film.

The crime thriller is a sub-genre of the action genre that focuses on intrigue and suspense. The Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men or Michael Mann’s Heat (or similar elements in its popular protege The Dark Knight) are examples of well-known films in this category, as is recent sensation Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin.

The History of Slow Burn Movies

Slow burn films have been in existence since the early days of cinema, but they became more defined as directors like Andrei Tarkovsky began to experiment with film pacing. For instance, in his 1979 film Stalker, Tarkovsky slowly reveals the Zone through a series of long takes and dialogue-driven scenes.

Records from movie studios indicate that some directors used to hold “notes sessions,” in which they would rewatch edited sequences with their crew members or even test audiences before locking down final cuts. In fact, one such note session for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho resulted in the infamous shower scene, which was originally about half as long.

Slow burn films became popular during the 1970s and 1980s due to a variety of factors, including changing distribution models (such as VHS and cable) that allowed for additional creative freedom from studios. These slow burn movies were often character-driven, with narratives that required viewers to pay attention from the beginning or risk missing key information.

Some great examples of slow burn movies are: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates, The Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Michael Mann’s Heat.

The Importance of Slow Burn for Cinema

The thrill of slow burn films is the difficulty they present for viewers to figure out what’s going on. Slow-burn pictures, like their characters and adversaries, are seldom much for talking. As such, things like exposition are often left to the bare minimum. The motivation of the characters is generally vague and uncertain, so you don’t have to waste time or effort on complicated plot devices or scenes to set everything up nicely.

As such, slow burn movies require viewers to be engaged and alert. The thrill of the slow burn movie is that they make it difficult for people to figure out what’s going on. They are rarely a fan of exposition with their characters or adversaries not being open about things either so you have to deal with minimum information at times as well.

The motivation of the characters is usually vague and unclear leaving viewers to deal with things like that themselves. In this way, slow burn movies require people to be alert as well as engaged throughout. It’s easy for some modern filmmakers to forget the importance of good character development in movies from time-to-time and directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Andrey Tarkovskiy show us that doing it well is possible.

In this way, slow burn movies are important for cinema as they have developed some of the basic techniques that we still use today.

In addition, while they may not be the only way to make a film good – character development can sometimes be entirely ignored in favour of special effects and action sequences; however it’s hard to deny how much more satisfying something like No Country for Old Men is as a result of the slow burn approach to narrative filmmaking.

Indeed as Notes from a Screenplay say at the beginning of the video essay on this movie, don’t underestimate your audience.

By not putting things together for the audience, you are in effect forcing them to engage with the narrative in order to work it out for themselves. Slow burn films are essential to film history since they have established some of the fundamental principles that we still use today.

As well as this, we’re seeing many cases of films being made where they don’t really care about the character development and just put things together with special effects in order to keep people interested.

However it’s hard to deny how much more rewarding something like No Country for Old Men is due to its slow burn approach which forces us into engaging with it all on our own accord rather than having things handed over on a plate for us.

In fact one of the key points that Notes from a Screenplay say at the beginning of their video essay on this movie (No Country For Old Men) is not to underestimate your audience. This same principle can be applied here too since directors who do attempt these kinds of movies are frequently rewarded by

In Conclusion

As you can see from the examples of slow burn movies, they are a great way for filmmakers to develop their skills and keep audiences engaged. They require viewers to pay attention throughout in order to figure out what’s going on but when done well it is very rewarding.

As we’ve seen with some of the many examples that exist, those who attempt these kinds of films tend to be rewarded by doing so since they force people into engaging with them rather than spoon feeding information over which makes things much easier at times. This same principle applies here too since directors like Alfred Hitchcock have shown us how effective good character development can be while Andrey Tarkovskiy does this wonderfully through his film Stalker where he time building up everything as opposed to rushing it.

These skills are essential for modern filmmakers to learn since they have developed some of the basic principles that we still use today and in many ways slow burn movies are important too since they require viewers to be alert as well as engaged throughout if they want to figure out what’s going on.

In addition, while not every movie can do this (and sometimes there is nothing wrong with action or special effects) when done right films like No Country For Old Men show how rewarding a good slow burn film can really be; especially nowadays where information tends to get spoon fed over rather than having people work things out themselves which makes them much more effective at times. This same principle applies here too: directors who make these kinds of movies tend to be rewarded by doing so since it forces people into engaging with them rather than having things handed over on a plate for them in order to spare their time.

On top of this, it’s worth noting that slow burn movies are not the only way to do things when it comes to narrative films but they have established some of the fundamental principles which we still use today and show filmmakers how effective good character development can be while Tarkovskiy does this wonderfully through his film Stalker where he builds things up more as opposed to rushing anything. All these skills are essential for modern filmmaking since they help us see what has been done before as well as establish new ways of working that keep audiences engaged throughout if executed properly. Indeed one such director who did this wonderfully was Alfred Hitchcock who showed us how effective good character development can be.

In conclusion, slow burn movies are a great way for filmmakers to develop their skills and keep audiences engaged throughout if executed properly. They require viewers to pay attention in order to figure out what’s going on but when done well it is rewarding which makes them much more effective at times than other types of films where information tends to get spoon fed over rather than having people work things out themselves which gives modern filmmakers many opportunities that they should take advantage of as part of learning this essential skill. Slow burn movies have established some fundamental principles we still use today while directors like Andrey Tarkovskiy show how rewarding such films can really be through his film Stalker by building

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