Camera, action, lights! Lights being turned on and off in movies?
February 24, 2014 12:15 PM   Subscribe

A bizarre question, I know, but I'm looking for as many examples as I can find of lights being turned on and off in movies.

I'm looking for shots of lights being turned on and off in movies. This can include lightswitches on walls, table lamps, standing lamps, flashlights, etc., or entire neighborhoods or cities losing or gaining power, but lights should be electric-powered; candles or gaslights don't count. TV is OK too but I'm mostly focused on movies, and movies can be from any era.

posted by Ms. Toad to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Field of dreams
Pretty much every musical/theatre/stage based movie ever made (spotlights)
Coyote Ugly (and the end when she finally sings. Also the "1-2-3" thing)
Pretty much every horror movie ever made. (Light turned on, killer behind them)
The Dark Night (when they leave the fake bunker batcave and turn off the lights)
The Panic Room (they use a flashlight to signal for help)

The TV show Supernatural has a whole thing where lights flicker when ghosties are about.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:19 PM on February 24

Do they have to be TURNED off, or would things like the lightbulbs being broken somehow also work?

Oh, that elevator movie call "Devil". The lights go out, bad things happen, lights come back on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:24 PM on February 24

Are you looking for shots of the light switch, or of the effect on the environment of the lights being turned off/on?
posted by janey47 at 12:24 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]

In Waking Life the main character is constantly turning the lights on and off in various places to see if he is in a dream or not.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:25 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]

Diva (towards the end, Gorodish dramatically grabs the garage light switch)

Silence of the Lambs
posted by Melismata at 12:30 PM on February 24

Clue! A gloved hand (I think) switches off the main breaker.
posted by mochapickle at 12:30 PM on February 24

There's that scene in Fatal Attraction, where Glenn Close sits there obsessively switching the light on and off.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:31 PM on February 24

Oh, man, you've gotta check out Wait Until Dark.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:31 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the responses so far. I'm open to examples of broken lightbulbs, sure! I'm also looking for the act of the lights going on or off - the transition - moreso than the effect. But I'll take examples of either.
posted by Ms. Toad at 12:31 PM on February 24

(Oh hooray! I found video for Clue -- a gloved hand, and the house goes dark. See the very first few seconds here.)
posted by mochapickle at 12:32 PM on February 24

Mary Poppins - the scene where she puts them to bed and sings "Stay Awake"
posted by radioamy at 12:33 PM on February 24

"Wait until dark" - the plot revolves around light, dark, and the ability to see. Very good movie.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:34 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]

In Batman begins, when Morgan Freeman first shows Bruce Wayne the R&D area of Wayne Enterprises - he turns on the lights in the warehouse, revealing how big the warehouse really is
posted by Flood at 12:40 PM on February 24

There's a scene in a Michael Showalter film called The Baxter where the main character turns off a light by clapping (the "joke" is that he does it while standing right next to the light switch).
posted by a.steele at 12:41 PM on February 24

I'm pretty sure there are a number of lights being turned on and off in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. There are also lights going on and off in Mulholland Drive (I remember some stage lights in the audition scenes, and also some stage lights in the Silencio scene).
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:43 PM on February 24

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has a sequence in which the light switch in a room is repeatedly used to turn off both that light and (unwittingly) external lighting on the house. Eventually, the overdone external lighting causes a brief citywide blackout.
posted by kewb at 12:43 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]

Big, where Elizabeth Perkins turns off the light for sex, and Tom Hanks turns it back on again.
posted by Melismata at 12:45 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]

There's an episode of Bill Cosby when he's dreaming about being visited by Shakespeare. At one point Shakespeare discovers a light switch, begins flicking it on and off, and says, "This would be a great way to end a scene."
posted by lharmon at 12:45 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]

Just because I just watched this: Season 3, episode 7 of Numb3rs, "Blackout," features several long shots of neighborhoods and then all of LA going dark.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:45 PM on February 24

The Prestige when The Great Danton goes to visit Nikola Tesla. Skip to 1:43.
posted by mochapickle at 12:55 PM on February 24

Vaguely related TVTropes: Lights Off, Somebody Dies

Even more tenuous relationship to the question at hand: TVTropes: eye lights out
posted by filthy light thief at 12:56 PM on February 24

My favorite, from Airplane!
posted by Mchelly at 1:19 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]

There's that great melodramatic scene from Sherlock season 1 episode 3 where the parking garage lights turn off in a wave as Sherlock and John exit into the distance.
posted by mekily at 1:47 PM on February 24

Ghostbusters is fresh on my mind today (RIP, Harold Ramis). When Venkman and Dana Barrett walk into the kitchen to investigate the refrigerator, she flips on the light switch [1:35-ish].
posted by feistycakes at 2:03 PM on February 24

A bit left-field, perhaps - model animation, 7 minutes long: Darkness, Light, Darkness by Jan Svankmajer. Gruesome and NSFW at all, at all.
posted by glasseyes at 2:13 PM on February 24

Casablanca does amazing things with light and dark, used metaphorically, but there is a classic moment went Rick goes upstairs to his rooms at about 1:20, walks in to the gloom and throws the switch to discover Ilsa there to offer herself if he will just give up the transit papers for Victor.

There are a bunch of lights going on and off in that movie. The immediately preceding scene where Victor comforts Ilsa on the bed before going out (setting up her visit to Rick) happens in reverse, with Victor shutting off the lights first.

I think I'll go watch it again.
posted by spitbull at 2:38 PM on February 24

Also, just checked, the scene I mean shows Bogart's hand on the switch in a lingering shot.
posted by spitbull at 2:40 PM on February 24

If flashlights (which use batteries for power) are okay, are you okay with camera flashbulbs (they also rely on batteries for power)?

There's a tense scene near the end of Rear Window when Jimmy Stewart is trying to defend himself against Raymond Burr by temporarily blinding him with repeated camera flashes at close range.
posted by marsha56 at 3:33 PM on February 24

The church members turn off the lights in Sullivan's Travels (1941) to watch a cartoon.
posted by 1smartcookie at 4:10 PM on February 24

Shaun of the Dead, at the Winchester. Flickering starts around 1:15.
posted by mochapickle at 4:43 PM on February 24

In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, at least twice all the lights aboard the Belafonte go out due to an electrical system failure; after a brief delay the backup generator kicks in and lights come back on.
posted by Snerd at 5:52 PM on February 24

City of Ember
posted by nicebookrack at 8:35 PM on February 24

In Kenneth Branagh's Henry V the Chorus (Derek Jacobi) flips a huge light switch during the prologue, revealing a prop-filled storage area.
posted by rjs at 8:44 PM on February 24

There's this clip from and old movie in The Secret Life of Machines, but I don't know what movie it is.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:01 PM on February 24

Ernst Lubitch's One Hour With You (1932) has a lights on / lights off gag toward the beginning of the film. It immediately follows this scene (the song "What A Little Thing Like A Wedding Ring Can Do"), which ends with a long zoom onto the light fixture above Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald's bed, leading into the gag that sadly isn't in the clip.
posted by bubukaba at 9:15 PM on February 24

In Rear Window Grace Kelly introduces herself to Jimmy Stewert by turning on a different light as she says each part of her name. It's in a clip just after the well known kiss.

As marsha56 mentions, later in the movie Jimmy Stewert slows an attacker by blinding him by setting off camera flashbulbs. What I didn't realize until seeing Rear Window in a theater was that by the time the scene happens the audience's eyes have adjusted to the dark so they are blinded just as the murderer is. In case you're looking for interesting effects involving lighting.
posted by rip at 3:08 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]

I always like the Game Closet bit from The Royal Tenenbaums.
posted by daisystomper at 10:37 AM on February 25

This is fantastic, thanks to all!
posted by Ms. Toad at 5:02 PM on February 25

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