Where Is The Found Footage Movie Genre Heading?

Andrew Murphy

blairwitchIn the past few years of the movie industry found footage movies have been alive and well, but now they are quickly declining. What started off as a new and unique way to shoot movies has now become a quick cash-in and boring way of shooting them. Are we now starting to see the death of this sub-genre already?

Before Paranormal Activity and its twenty rip-off counterparts came on the scene of found footage movies, it was a new and innovative to shoot a movie with a handheld camera. What was the best part of found footage movies? It was the chance of what you were actually watching being real. That is what scared people, and the fact that it seemed so real.

The majority of movies that are found footage are generally set around environments that the everyday person is familiar with. Like your home, the countryside, and the woods. Of course some movies like Apollo 18 which is set in space and on the moon broke away from the normal generic settings, but it didn’t do nearly as well as other found footage movies because not everyone was actually on the moon and experienced being there. But movies like Paranormal Activity, Home Movie, and The Poughkeepise Tapes which are all set at around a suburban house, who hasn’t experienced being in a house alone for a night? Or heard noises that made them scared? These movies thrive on fears that everyone has had before. Either it is ghosts in your house, or a serial killer hiding in your closest.

Many people would consider 2007’s Paranormal Activity to be one of the breakthrough found footage movies, but the sub-genre goes way back before that. 1999’s The Blair Witch Project is one of, if not the best important movie to the sub-genre. The movie followed three college students as they went into the woods to make a documentary about the myth of the Blair Witch.

When building up to the movies release it was stated numerous times by the people behind the film that the actual movie was real, and that it was found in the woods and that it was being released unedited. This made The Blair Witch Project that much scarier because people actually believed what they were seeing was real. It wasn’t some big blockbuster movie from Hollywood, it was a movie directed by unknown people, starred nobodies and was shot on a handheld camera that anyone could purchase. To add to the scariness, before the film was released the three main actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead” on IMDB (Internet Movie Database). Everyone that was behind this movie knew that if people actually believed it was real, it would do better. And that’s what happened. Some fans to this day even believe that it is real.

But since The Blair Witch Project was released, the found footage sub-genre has seen a lot of quick cash-ins and rip-offs. The next biggest thing to The Blair Witch Project was Paranormal Activity, again the people behind it focused on everything The Blair Witch Project did but never went to the extremes they did. They never portrayed the movie as ‘real’, but they never said it wasn’t either. And people would have thought that it indeed was real.

But since then many more found footage movies have came out and brought little to no innovation along. Paranormal Activity has spawned three sequels now with a fourth coming out later this month, and since back in 2007 the series hasn’t done anything new at all. It’s just a rehash of the original movie with new characters and better special effects. Although the series does continue to make millions every time a new one comes out, people and reviewers are starting to realise how little innovation is there.


But not only has Paranormal Activity spawned sequels, it has given people companies the idea that big money can be made from investing little into the actual product (Paranormal Activity was filmed for $15,000 and ended up making 9.1 million in the first week of releasing). This has given the companies the idea that if they shoot a found footage movie that seemed real enough and it was shot for very little money, it is the ideal investment.

But since then the market has become flooded with movie after movie of the same thing with no innovation and living off predecessors ideas, people are getting tired of seeing the same old thing with the same old clichés and camera tricks.

Though there have been some good found footage movies over the past couple of years, like Chronicle, [REC], Grave Encounters, Troll Hunter and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon which all deserve the praise they have gotten. [REC] for instance has been one of the best and most interesting movie franchises in the last couple of years, and even broke away from the found footage scene in its latest installment [REC]: Genesis.

But what these movies do show is that found footage movies can be more than just copy and paste from one movie to another with the same old cliché characters and camera tricks. They prove that in a found footage movie it is possible to make characters we actually care about, and to write plots that are really interesting.

 When you look back at it though, it has been six years since the last real innovative found footage movie, and people are wondering when will another one be made? Because from the looks of things more companies seem to be interested in making found footage movies because of the actual profit that can be made, and not of the benefits of shooting from a handheld camera. Because if more movies and franchises like Paranormal Activity are made then the found footage sub-genre could be on its way to dying.


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      1. K Hutch (@72nivek) May 4, 2013 at 11:54 pm

        Each to their own, but I hate these movies. Shaky cameras, going in and out of focus, rubbishy dark footage and close close close ups. They sh!t me to tears.

        • Herner Klenthur May 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

          I agree completely. Very few have impressed me.

      2. bob101910 May 5, 2013 at 2:07 am

        The oldest one that I can remember is Cannibal Holocaust. It wasn’t all found footage or might not even be considered horror, but I liked it. *SPOILERS* Those kids kind of deserved what happens to them.

      3. Tiago Almeida May 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm

        If you watched The Blair Witch Project and the REC trilogy, you’ve seen it all.
        Lost of these movies are not bad, they are good efforts, but pointless, like Grave Encounters, The Bay, VHS…

      4. ambitious October 31, 2013 at 6:16 pm

        Videogames have a similar trend where retro aesthetics are used to side-step the need for expensive art and animation.

        Basically, if you do not have the talent and money needed to produce a quality production, you make the the obvious amateurishness of the production the main gimmick. A key factor is to put it out there as if it was a pure artistic choice. This gets reviewers on board.

        In movies and in games, this works on two audiences. Teenagers who’s intelligence cannot be insulted and critics who are afraid of appearing to not ‘get it’.

        We need to be more open to calling cheap trash for what it is.