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What are Symbols in Film?

The use of symbolism in filmmaking is incredibly common. Oftentimes, symbols that are used in film are not even recognized immediately by the “average” moviegoer. Throughout cinema, the use of symbols and elements of symbolic meaning has been incredibly profound. We’ve seen symbols in everything. From the colors and objects included in a film. To the camera angles and transitions that are used. But what are symbols in film?

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What are Symbols in Film?

Symbolism in film is a technique that involves the use of various approaches. To add or create something that stands for or represents something else. Keyword, “something.” Symbols in cinema can be a variety of different things.

Certain colors might have symbolic meaning. A particular object might be a symbol in the film. Or various sounds and special effects may be symbolic of something in particular.

When we talk about the use of symbols in film we’re basically stating that a film is representing something, in symbolism, to be or to mean or to denote something else. Kind of like an idea.

Symbols can be abstract. They are often subtle and may or may not be immediately recognized to those watching the film.

Types of Symbols in Film

Different symbols can signify different meanings, sort of like a metaphor. In which we make subconscious connections between a particular element and something entirely different. For example, we know that the smiley face symbol stands for happiness and that a heart stands for love.

In marketing, and sometimes in commercial videos, colors are symbolic of various things. Like yellow for tranquility. And green for nature. Or a blue for trust. Symbols can take many forms in film.

It makes most sense to address the different types of symbols used in filmmaking such as:

  • The use of birds to symbolize freedom.
  • Use of roses to symbolize romance.
  • The use of a particular narrative style, such as a nonlinear narrative, to signify a circle or a loop, or a connection.
  • Use of red, white and blue to symbolize the US, freedom or power.
  • The use of music, such as ‘The Imperial March’ in Star Wars to signify Darth Vader’s entrance.
  • The Joker in Batman as a symbol of terrorism and chaos.
  • Owl to symbolize paranormal wisdom, intelligence, or impending death.
  • The use of various “stones” to signify different things.


Words, phrases, objects, colors, scenes, camera angles, movements. All of these can become symbols in a film if they are meant to symbolize something in particular without directly stating so.

Both small scale, and large scale symbolism exists throughout film and cinema, offering a subtle or potentially semi-direct connection. So, what are symbols in film? They’re the use of something to stand for something else in a film.

Are you more of a visual learner that could use a video guide? Chris Constantine uses great film examples!