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Architectural Styles in Cinema: From Gothic to Modernist

Written by:
Kathy Spencer
Manuele Sangalli

Explore the deep connection between film and architecture, two powerful cultural expressions that share a common goal of capturing the human experience through space and time. Both architects and directors work to bring imaginary worlds to life, shaping our reality and inspiring our imagination. In anticipation of the upcoming Oscars, let's take a look at some amazing architectural marvels featured in films, showcasing modernist and gothic designs that push boundaries beyond our wildest dreams.

What is Gothic architecture?

Discover the origins of Gothic architecture, which began in France in the mid-12th century and was known as "French Work." Advancements in structural engineering allowed builders to create massive structures with key features like stained glass windows and vaulted arches. Despite their size and height, these elements allowed natural light to flood in. Gothic architecture continued to dominate European architecture, especially structures built by the Roman Catholic church, until the 16th century. The style evolved over time through different phases, such as the High Gothic period, which lasted from 1250 to 1300 and was first introduced by Chartres Cathedral in France.

Movies featuring Gothic architecture?

#1 The Addams Family

The Addams Family mansion embodies the quintessential horror aesthetic with its imposing Gothic structure, foreboding attics, shadowy basements, and ticking clocks counting down to imminent danger. But contemporary horror films have deviated from this traditional architecture, opting for open-concept spaces with glass walls and occasional modern Gothic influences.

#2 Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Experience the breathtaking beauty of Gaudì's neo-gothic designs brought to life on the big screen! In this love triangle film, the stunning architecture is skillfully captured with expert camera movements and cinematography. As you watch, you'll be transported to a world where man's desire to ascend to the heavens is both awe-inspiring and humbling. Marvel at the intricate details and audacious curves of these storied structures as the camera lovingly pans up toward the heavens, silently acknowledging man's quest for the divine.

#3 The Shining

Discover the eerie allure of the grand Gothic Revival architecture at The Overlook Hotel, featured in the film "The Shining." With intricate stonework, imposing towers, and pointed arches, the building is truly unique. Hidden rooms and secret passages contribute to the hotel's foreboding atmosphere. Take in the ornate guest rooms and maze-like hedge garden, all drawing inspiration from both classic Gothic Revival structures like the Westminster Palace and American Colonial architecture. The Overlook's unforgettable architecture is integral to the film's haunting and claustrophobic vibes.

What architectural style came after Gothic?

The Renaissance movement sparked a revival of Classical ideas in Italy, France, and England. Architects and builders drew inspiration from the well-proportioned structures of ancient Greece and Rome, resulting in a period of architectural awakening. One notable figure, Andrea Palladio, designed beautiful and symmetrical villas like the Villa Rotonda outside of Venice, Italy, igniting a passion for Classical architecture. Centuries later, in 1563, Giacomo da Vignola published The Five Orders of Architecture, a guide that influenced builders across Western Europe. Palladio used the newly developed movable type technology in 1570 to publish I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura or The Four Books of Architecture.

How has Gothic architecture influenced modern architecture?

The Neo-Gothic movement, although less utilized today, still holds a significant impact on modern architecture. While modern architecture prioritizes simplicity and symmetry, the influence of Gothic architecture remains prevalent in today's buildings. From modern churches to residential homes, intricate ornaments inspired by the Gothic style are a common feature. The impact of this architectural form is far-reaching and continues to shape the designs we see today.

For over forty years, the Gothic style has been a defining force in the music world and cinematography. While this architectural style is highly coveted, it is not often seen in parliamentary or universities due to its cost of buildings. Despite its extravagant and sophisticated appearance, achieving Gothic style is a labor-intensive and pricey endeavor. Therefore, it is mostly reserved for high-end residential mansions. Many people view the modern Gothic style as a status symbol, making it a popular choice for private mansions.

Iconic films with modern architecture

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#1 Equilibrium

Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, takes place in an oppressive, emotionless society where citizens must obey without question. The film's dystopian setting is a fortress-like city, filmed primarily in Berlin to utilize it's decaying East German buildings and old Fascist architecture leftover from the Nazi era. These structures, designed for oppressive symmetry and lacking ornament, add to the inhuman scale of the society portrayed in the film.

#2 Dredd

Mega-City One's urban landscape is dominated by towering housing projects, reflecting the negative perception of Brutalist architecture. The style is often associated with low-cost construction and urban decay, which is seen in the movie Dredd. The protagonist is a law enforcement agent fighting crime in a dystopian society, and most of the film takes place in the Peach Trees housing complex. This massive tower of apartments is intentionally constructed to feel oppressive, reminiscent of impoverished social housing in the Brutalist style.

#3 Tron: Legacy

"Tron: Legacy" is a visually stunning film that not only showcases real-world parametric design but also explores deeper questions of design philosophy. The film incorporates digital/parametric architecture, which is a technique used by architects to craft their creative process into a digital model. Directed by someone with architectural training, the movie delves into issues of design and perfection in a fluid electronic universe. With its sleek surfaces and organic shapes, the aesthetic of "Tron: Legacy" captures the imagination and challenges viewers to consider the role of design in our world.


The Gothic style of architecture has had a lasting impact on modern architecture, film, and music. Architects continue to draw inspiration from this iconic style in order to create works of art that evoke emotion and awe. While the cost of achieving true Gothic designs can be prohibitive, its influence lives on films like Equilibrium, Dredd, and others.

By Liliana Alvarez

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