The Most Beautiful Face Close-up Shots in Film History

Share with friends



"I like to fill up the frame with the characters' faces. There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face.” - Irving Kershner, Director of The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

"I like to fill up the frame with the characters' faces. There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face.” - Irving Kershner - Director of The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Our last listicle was a set of perfectly composited movie stills that could stand on their own in the canon of great photography. Here we take another still journey through the history of film with a look at the best close-ups of the face.

Moving images would be little more than just that without the human element. Human faces are why we pack theaters day after day, year after year. We want to get to know people who carry on a different sort of existence, but still manage to exude a universal sense of humanity. The James Stewarts and Tom Hanks's spring to mind.

Of course, there is more than one emotion that we can attribute to the human experience and that’s where things get interesting, because it’s not a clear cut distinction. We have to turn to the face for our answers since that’s where the nuances lie. And each face is different, telling a different story, giving a different perspective on humanity. The human form and the face specifically are crucial to this cinematic experience. This creates a connection with the audience and elicits a response.

Few film techniques are more expressive than the close-up. When used sparingly it can be the dynamic tool of a director leaving a lasting impact for hours, days, and even years to come. What follows is a spread of some of the most impactful examples of close-ups from film history. Big stars and small characters alike, all are united by the uniqueness of their face.

Broken Blossom (1918) - Director D.W. Griffith - Lillian Gish




Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Director Carl Theodor Dreyer - Renee Jeanne Falconetti




City Lights (1931) Director Charlie Chaplin - Charlie Chaplin




Public Enemy (1931) - Director William A. Wellman - James Cagney


public enemy cagney.jpg


King Kong (1933) - Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack - Fay Wray




The Great Dictator (1940) - Director Charlie Chaplin - Charlie Chaplin




Casablanca (1942) - Director Michael Curtiz - Ingrid Bergman


casablanca bergman.jpg


Double Indemnity (1944) - Director Billy Wilder - Barbara Stanwyck




It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) - Director Frank Capra - James Stewart




Notorious (1946) - Director Alfred Hitchcock - Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman


notorious close up.jpg

Great Expectations (1946) - Director David Lean - Finlay Currie


great expectations.jpg


Gilda (1946) - Director Charles Vidor - Rita Hayworth




Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) - Director John Huston - Humphrey Bogart




The Third Man (1949) - Director Carol Reed - Orson Welles




Criss Cross (1949) - Director Robert Siodmak - Yvonne De Carlo


criss cross.jpg

Rear Window (1954) - Director Alfred Hitchcock - Grace Kelly




Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - Director Nicholas Ray - James Dean


rebel without a cause dean.jpg


The Searchers (1956) - Director John Ford - John Wayne


A SearchersEthan3.preview.jpg


The Seventh Seal (1957) - Director Ingmar Bergman - Bengt Ekerot




Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) - Director Alain Resnais - Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada




The 400 Blows (1959) - Director Francois Truffaut - Jean-Pierre Leaud


400 blows.png


Some Like it Hot (1959) - Director Billy Wilder - Marilyn Monroe



Psycho (1960) - Director Alfred Hitchcock - Janet Leigh




Psycho (1960) - Director Alfred Hitchcock - Anthony Perkins



Breathless (1960) - Director Jean-Luc Godard - Jean Seberg



Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - Director Blake Edwards - Audrey Hepburn




Repulsion (1965) - Director Roman Polanski - Catherine Deneuve


repulsion 2.jpg


The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966) - Director Sergio Leone - Clint Eastwood




Persona (1966) - Director Ingmar Bergman - Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson




In the Heat of the Night (1967) - Director Norman Jewison - Sidney Poitier




Bonnie and Clyde (1967) - Director Arthur Penn - Faye Dunaway


faye dunaway bonnie and clyde.jpg


Clockwork Orange (1971) - Director Stanley Kubrick - Malcolm McDowell


a clockwork orange.jpg


Serpico (1973) - Director Sidney Lumet - Al Pacino


serp 5.png


A Woman Under the Influence (1974) - Director John Cassavetes - Gena Rowlands




Network (1976) - Director Sidney Lumet - Peter Finch




Empire Strikes Back (1980) - Director Irving Kershner - Mark Hamill




The Shining (1981) - Director Stanley Kubrick - Jack Nicholson




Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - Director Steven Spielberg - Paul Freeman


indy jones.jpg


Sophie’s Choice (1982)  - Director Alan J. Pakula - Meryl Streep




Die Hard (1988) - Director John McTiernan - Bruce Willis


die hard.jpg


When Harry Met Sally (1989) - Director Rob Reiner - Meg Ryan




Home Alone (1990) - Director Chris Columbus - Macaulay Culkin


home alone.jpg


Thelma and Louise (1991) - Director Ridley Scott - Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis


thelma and louise.jpg


Silence of the Lambs (1991) - Director Jonathan Demme - Anthony Hopkins




Three Colors: Blue (1994) - Director Krzysztof Kieslowski - Juliette Binoche


three colors blue.jpg


Good Will Hunting (1997) - Director Gus Van Sant - Robin Williams and Matt Damon


good will hunting.jpg


The Sixth Sense (1999) - Director M. Night Shyamalan - Haley Joel Osment




Fight Club (1999) - Director David Fincher - Brad Pitt




Amelie (2001) - Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Audrey Tautou




The Lives of Others (2005) - Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - Ulrich Muhe


lives of others.png


No Country for Old Men (2007) - Directors Joel and Ethan Coen - Javier Bardem


The Dark Knight (2008) - Director Christopher Nolan - Heath Ledger




Lincoln (2012) - Director Steven Spielberg - Daniel Day-Lewis


lincoln 2012.jpeg

12 Years a Slave (2013) - Director Steve McQueen - Lupita Nyong'o


12 Years a Slave flogging.JPG

Birdman (2014) - Director Alejandro González Iñárritu - Emma Stone