"You see dimensions in two, State your case with black or white"
— The Fixx, "One Thing Leads to Another"
Sometimes, the less we say, the more gets said. Despite and because of its simplicity, complexity, stark contrast and cultural cachet, Black and White movies and stand-alone TV episodes have remained popular in a few genres and story niches. Its uses vary, but these works are deliberately desaturated to help the general mood and theme of the Film.
While no genre has a lock on B&W, the likeliest to use it are Film Noir, detective stories and historical films or paying homage to historical films. The themes that can be expressed or heightened with B&W are generally moral ambiguity, Zeerust, mystery, drama and tragedy.
There are a few common variants: Desaturation, Limited Palette, and Splash of Color.
Desaturating the color of a film can also be used to mimic the look of older films, particularly colorized black-and-white films or faded prints of color films. This has led to use of Sepia tones (browns and tans that mimic faded photographs) to indicate the scene in question is a flashback. It's worth noting that combining a Desaturated picture with Splash of Color can result in a Limited Palette.
A Limited Palette is a work completely in Black and White except for one or two recurring colors, shown in full vibrancy and linked to an important character or object. It's as if someone was making a "Paint by Numbers" movie with only two colors available. The net effect of these strategic and recurring uses of color in a B&W film may help to draw the viewers attention; whether it’s to the MacGuffin, the Femme Fatale or Chekhov's Gun. The colors themselves also inform roughly what emotions or themes are present in the work. Whereas Splash of Color is usually just a visual grab, a Limited Palette with colors like red or blue means the world is violent or sad, and that the character or object is somehow more alive or real than the world they're in. This is why a common Flashback Effect is to use a limited palette of warm colors to signify happy and old memories. Until the tragedy kicks in, anyway.
A Splash of Color is much like the above, but appears only once or twice throughout the entire film as opposed to throughout.
In infomercials, Deliberately Monochrome signifies the "old-fashioned" (and usually inferior) way of doing things. The woman tangled in a mess of cling wrap or cutting her fingers off while paring potatoes with a knife will usually be in black-and-white, while the woman easily covering leftovers with a Covermate or "peeling" a potato with the Handy-Peel will be in full color.
See also Retraux, Real Is Brown. A Monochrome Past is this trope limited to a flashback.
open/close all folders
Pure Black and White
Most "comparison" shots for diets, acne medicine, and other cosmetic applications will happen to have the "before" shot in black and white, and the "after" in color.
There was an advert in the 1980s for Courage Best beer that was deliberately shot in the style of a 1930s film — they actually got a cinematographer from the '30s involved to ensure authenticity. The advert is known as "Gercha"; it's supposed to hearken back to an era where Courage Best was apparently served in every pub across the land. Or perhaps it's supposed to show that Courage Best is timeless. Either way, "Gercha" is the name of the Chaz & Dave song that plays during that advert, and in fact Chaz & Dave did do more jingles for other, similar Courage Best adverts in the 1980s.
.hack depicts the real world, as opposed to The World of the on-line VR games, in grainy black and white... except in the very final scene, where two of the players joyfully meet up in real life for the first time.
Darker Than Black has an entire arc where suitably monochrome scenes indicate the past.
Most of Sin City; taken Up to Eleven in that it's entirely black and white, i.e., no gray. Starting with "That Yellow Bastard," certain characters are highlighted in color, falling somewhere between the other two versions of this trope.
The two prequel books to The Order of the Stick webcomic — On the Origins of PCs and Start of Darkness — are in grayscale. Best explained by the author, Rich Burlew:
You may be wondering why on earth this book is in greyscale, when OOTS has always been in glorious full color. Clearly, it is to give that "nostalgic" feeling, so that you really feel like you are peering into the past. After all, these are the "home movie" of the OOTS characters, and so black-and-white seemed appropriate. I was outraged to learn that it was, in fact, less expensive and faster to produce, and insisted on paying the printer the full cost for a color book, simply to appease my conscience. That's just the kind of guy I am.
The Batman Black and White series has stories where it's in, you guessed it, black and white! Except for the last story in the last volume, which has splashes of red. One story features a villain, the Black and White Bandit, who is colorblind and whose idiosyncrazy involves things that are black and white — adding a bizarre level of meta.
The German version of Hellboy, when drawn by Mike Mignola.
Calvin and Hobbes: While Sunday strips were ordinarily in color, one used an surreal Art Shift in which Calvin saw the world in a bizarre patchwork of heavy monochrome blotches (not resembling the necessarily monochrome daily strip format). Color returns only for the last panel:
Dad: The problem is, you see everything in terms of black and white. Calvin:Sometimes that's the way things are!!
Doonesbury once published a color Sunday strip entirely in black and white. The strip had Mike and Zonker discussing their distaste for "colorized" editions of black and white movies.
Brazilian comic strip Urbano, o Aposentado (Urban, the Retiree) once featured a sunday story featured the titular character utilizing a new brand of soap flakes at his washing machine the made the whole last panel colorless.
The credits’ scene in Diamonds Cut, which makes it look cool in spite of the budget limitations.
In Deafening Silence a Muggle color photo of Harry and Snape taken during their wedding was changed to black and white for some unspecified reason.
In Turtles Forever, this is how the Turtles Prime world, a.k.a. the original Mirage Comics Turtles, is entirely black and white. The only exceptions are the characters and things from the 1980s world and the 2000s world.
In Mary and Max, Mary's world is shown in sepiatone, whilst Max's world is in black and white. There are occasionally shades of red that stand out, a la Schindler's List.
The Mamoru Oshii film The Red Spectacles pulls a reverse Wizard of Oz; the opening sequence is in color, while the next 90% of the film (which may very well take place entirely in the protagonist's head) is in black and white.
Films — Live-Action
Andrei Tarkovsky: This famous Russian director really liked black and white and usually only used color as a specific visual device. Two notable examples are Andrei Rublev where the only color sequence is the ending montage of the title character's paintings and in Stalker where the characters' home town is black and white while the Zone is in color.
Angel A": Luc Besson's film was shot in black-and-white.
The Artist: This 2011 film is not only shot in black and white, but is silent as well.
Bedazzled 1967: The rock concert sequence is in black and white, perhaps to mimic the look of mid-1960s television. Logical, since Britain's two main networks didn't get color until 1969.
Bonjour Tristesse: Has present-day scenes in black-and-white and flashbacks in color.
The Butterfly Effect: In the timeline where Evan was caught in the explosion and rendered a quadruple amputee, ironically, this ended up being the one reality where everyone else had the perfect life. Because of this, Kayleigh, Lenny and Tommy are all shown in much stronger colours, while Evan is heavily desaturated and appears almost grey.
The 2005 movie is deliberately done not only in black and white but as a silent movie.
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society also did an adaptation of The Whisperer in Darkness which was shot in black and white in homage to a 1930's talkie.
Casino Royale: The opening sequence of the 2006 film, prior to Bond receiving his 00 rating, is shot in black and white.
Casshern: Has scenes with liberal use of color, and scenes reduced entirely to black and white. The point is contrast — black and white is only used for scenes taking place in Zone 7, where the war is going on.
Clerks: While the first film used black and white film to save money, Clerks II has brief scenes shot in black and white as a Call Back to the first movie.
Computer Chess: It's filmed in grainy black and white for almost the entire film, save an acid trip sequence in which Papageorge is hunting for his drug money at his mother's house. (The narration informs us that sometimes computers get stuck in an endless cycle, which is a metaphor for Papageorge's drug addiction, hinting that 30 years later, he's still desperately looking for his drug money to buy pills.)
Comrade Stalin's Trip to Africa: This Georgian film was shot in black and white. It uses a lot of stock footage, especially of Stalin and his victory parade, and the new footage matches. (There's also a little color stock footage.)
Control: This biopic of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, was shot entirely in black-and-white to recreate the appearance of '70s band photography. Particularly those taken by the film's director, Anton Corbijn, a photographer for NME, Rolling Stone and other magazines.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid: This is a Film Noir parody-homage that contains a mixture of recycled footage from real films noir and new footage shot in black-and-white to match.
Defiance: At the beginning of this film, we see black-and-white film footage of German soldiers rounding up Jews. We cut to a scene which you swiftly realise is not contemporary footage, which then turns into color. At the end of the film, things return to black-and-white.
Ed Wood (1994): This was shot on real black and white film because it made it easier to recreate the spirit of Ed Wood's 1950s monster movies, and it made the actors look more convincing as people (Vampira, Bela Lugosi, etc.) whose iconic images were always black and white. It was also felt that it just wouldn't be right to make a movie about Ed Wood in colour.
The Elephant Man: David Lynch's next film did this as well, except instead using it to make the environment seem more old fashioned.
Flaming Lips (Christmas on Mars): This is mostly in black and white to emphasize the dreariness of life in an abandoned Mars colony, with more fantastical or just plain Mind Screw sequences in vivid color.
Following: Nolan's feature debut is filmed this way.
Frances Ha: This is filmed entirely in black-and-white.
Friday: Smokey's flashback scenes were black and white.
Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez: The opening of this French movie, set in a small village of the French Alps, is in black and white. Then it switches to color with the arrival in the much more colorful town of Saint-Tropez.
The Girl Can't Help It (1956): Starts in B&W and narrow screen, but this lasts only a few moments (which include the 20th Century-Fox sign-on). When Tom Ewell appears at the start of the opening credits to mention that the movie is in Technicolor and Cinemascope, the screen adjusts accordingly.
Godzilla: Gojira was shot in black and white, not because it couldn't be shot in color, but because it was decided that black and white would send the message better, and because although it was possible to shoot film in color, doing so would have poor quality (see Rodan), and also because it is easier.
The Good German: This film was shot in color (because this allowed the use of faster film than currently available in black-and-white, and the ability to use "green screen" techniques), but the color was then converted digitally to a grainier black and white, in order to recreate a 1940s film noir style, and blend with carefully restored period archival footage.
Good Night, and Good Luck.: This made the black and white footage of the real Senator Joe McCarthy in the film integrate very well visually.
La Haine: This French movie by Mathieu Kassovitz. The scenes shot in the inner city of Paris were originally intended to be shot in colour, to create a more stark contrast with the black and white scenes shot in les banlieues, but the budget wouldn't run to it.
Help!: The Beatles' second film, made a big deal of being in color - then, at the beginning, the scene shifts from a death-cult sacrifice being cut short to the band playing the title tune in black-and-white...turns out it's a film the cult is watching.
The Hotshots (Les Cracks): The beginning of this film with Bourvil (a 1968 movie, but set in 1901) is not only in Black & White, but filmed like a silent movie. But it switches to sound and vibrant colors at the start of the first Paris-San Remo race.
If... (1968): Some scenes are in black and white. Many people have tried to find the "pattern"; some think that the black and white scenes are fantasy or dreams, but others think that the color scenes are. Star Malcolm McDowell claims that some of the scenes would have taken too long to light properly if they had been shot in color, and then other scenes were shot black and white to add "texture". But another view is that the filmmakers ran into money troubles halfway through shooting and so had to shoot the rest of the scenes in black and white.
J Men Forever (1979): This comedy consists of clips from Republic serials from the 1940s and 50s, edited together and re-dubbed for comic effect. In order to frame the resulting incoherent story, creators Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman act in scenes as the Chief of the J-Men and his bumbling sidekick Barton. The scenes are naturally filmed in B&W to match the rest of the footage.
Kill Bill: Parts of this film. Allegedly to fudge around censorship rules, due to the sheer amount of graphic bloodletting in the infamous battle royale with the Crazy 88. The second film as well, but as an artistic choice. It was a homage to the old westerns such as High Noon as well as an emulation of their themes. They went beyond just black and white: the first reel of the film (the part that is black and white) is actually recorded and distributed on an older form of film made out of vinyl instead of plastic. A real pain for the projectionists, and vinyl film scratches about ten times easier than modern plastic films.
The Man Who Wasn't There: This is an interesting case; the film was shot in color, made monochrome for the US releases but released with the color in Europe due to the contract. The black and white is presumably an homage to old noir films.
Marathon: This 2002 film, aside from being a "Silence Is Golden" adherent, was also shot in black and white.
A Matter of Life and Death: Earth is in color and Heaven is in black and white — a deliberate inversion of expectations. At one point one of the Heavenly characters actually lampshades this by remarking, "One is so starved for Technicolor up there."
Memento: The series of scenes that occur in chronological order, as well as the flashbacks contained within them, are filmed in black and white to distinguish them from the scenes that are shown in reverse chronological order.
The Mist: The DVD has two discs: one with the film in color as theatrically released, one with the film deliberately monochrome.
Nadja (1994): This vampire movie.
Nickleodeon: Peter Bogdanovich wanted to film this 1976 homage to early movie-making in black and white but the studio insisted on a more commercial color release. The film was released in a black and white director's cut version on DVD in 2009.
Paris brűle-t-il ? (Is Paris Burning): This French movie was shot in B&W in 1966 (save for the final view of modern Paris). It allowed the Stock Footage of the actual liberation of Paris to mix more seamlessly with the film. Also, hanging red Nazi flags in Paris wasn't allowed by the French authorities, even for a movie; the flags had to be gray instead.
The Phantom of the Opera: This 2004 movie includes several black and white scenes. In this case, these are the "present day" scenes, and the past is shown in full color. There's also a Splash of Color moment at the end — the rose on Christine's grave.
π: Darren Aronofsky's first film, was notorious for combining extremely high-contrast B&W with his "hip hop montages" to show the character's distorted world.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: Released in 1945, was shot in black and white, but Dorian's title portrait is shown twice in three-strip technicolor.
Psycho: Black-and-white films were common in 1960, but seven of Alfred Hitchcock previous eight films were in color.
Revolution 1967: This short is in black and white. It had to be a deliberate choice, because colour in films had become the norm by the 1960s.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: This film was supposed to be in black and white until the first chorus of The Time Warp, signifying the entrance into the new, colorful world of the Transylvanians.
Roman Holiday: Used black and white film because director William Wyler feared that if they filmed it in color, the viewers would spend too much time admiring the Roman landmarks to focus on the story.
Schindler's List (1993): This was filmed in black and white to make it "timeless", and to fit the period, with a few exceptions: A girl's red coat is shown in full color twice in the film, and the flames of the Sabbath candles symbolically fade to black and white early in the film, returning to color later. The effect wasn't so much to fit the period, as much as it was to emphasize the four different scenes that do have color.
Some Like It Hot: Billy Wilder and Ingmar Bergman mostly directed black and white films until the 1970s. Wilder's film was shot in black and white because the make-up used to drag-up Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon looked too garish on color film.
Stanley Kubrick: In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many directors such as Kubrick choose to stick with black and white film despite the rapidly rising popularity of color film, precisely for these reasons (not to mention at the time black and white still had an edge in picture clarity and contrast, and B-movies used B&W for budget reasons). Arguable examples include Marilyn Monroe's last film The Misfits, the original 3:10 to Yuma, and Dr. Strangelove.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: There is a version of this film called Fade to Black and White in which the movie starts in full color, but the color gradually fades until the last scenes are completely monochrome. Even the regular version has a similar effect: The locations and outfits in the first few scenes make use of very bright colors, but towards the end, the bright colors are replaced by pastels, greys, and black and white. Park had planned to film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance this way, but the idea was scrapped due to budget limitations.
Task Force (1949): Has the early parts in black & white to match existing footage; once it reaches WWII, the movie switches to color to match that footage.
Thirteen Days: Done a couple of times, probably to mimic the TV coverage of the time.
The Three Stooges: Most of the 1960s films, done as an homage to their more popular 1930s and 1940s shorts.
Three to Get Ready: This 1987 Duran Duran documentary was shot in black and white to highlight the cinema verite aspect of the documentary, which chronicles the band's first attempts at managing themselves while also promoting the album Notorious and preparing for an accompanying tour.
Van Helsing: The opening scenes of this film, in homage to the old monster movies of the 30s and 40s.
The Wizard of Oz: The opening was deliberately filmed in B&W to highlight its transition to the then-new color filming. It was one of the first movies to use three-strip Technicolor. In the book, Kansas is gray, just like a black and white movie. In the movie (non-TV prints), Kansas is sepia and white. Presumably it's supposed to echo old photographs.
Young Frankenstein: In order to better parody the old Frankenstein movies. (As Mel Brooks himself puts it in the trailer, "In black and white! No offense!") According to Mel Brooks, he refused to shoot the film in color and took the project to a different studio when the first was too chicken to release a B&W movie then.
Though its absence isn't indicated until far into the book, the majority of The Giver takes place In a World where color (and music... and sex...) have been eliminated — or, rather, most people have been genetically engineered and drugged not to see it.
Moonlighting has a B&W episode. Introduced by Orson Welles, no less.
The "Interview" episode of Mash was shot in black and white to look like an authentic 1950s TV interview show. It even includes a brief voiceover from Alan Alda at the start of the episode informing the audience that the episode was deliberately filmed in black and white, presumably to keep people from thinking their TV was busted.
The Season 3 finale of Queer as Folk uses this device, contrasting a B&W police-occupied Liberty Avenue to its truer colorful and celebratory self (a rainbow flag being waved is the first item to regain color).
The episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" was black & white in homage to old Frankenstein movies and, presumably, the Deliberately Monochrome The Elephant Man. Only the very beginning and the last shot is in colour, but animated, presenting the episode as a comic book story.
"Tithonus" used a special effect to mark people who were about to die. Alfred Fellig could sense it, and he saw those people in black and white on otherwise normally coloured background. It's visually stunning, and appropriately ominous.
The TV remake for Fail Safe (the one starring George Clooney) was shot in black and white, imitating the original.
In the "Dark Wish" three-parter of Power Rangers Mystic Force this effect was used to show a world where the Mystic Rangers never existed.
The Power Rangers Zeo episode "It Came from Angel Grove", in order to pay homage to old black-and-white horror films.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: One episode featured a monster with the power to rob people and everything else out of their colors, making them black and white.
The "Rome" episode of No Reservations is deliberately shot in monochrome, as Anthony Bourdain explains how his impressions of the city were formed from old '50s Italian movies, which were generally shot in B&W.
Cold Case imitates the production values of the periods they flashback to, and anything beyond 1950 or so ends up black and white. This includes when we get flashes of the Time Shifted Actors during present day scenes, which ends up looking sort of creepy.
One episode began in full old-photo sepia and appeared to take place in the early 1800s. Then a car full of people pull up. It was 2006, in Amish country.
Also, in episode about bank robbery, flashbacks also are black and white despite being set in 2000 — to imitate security footage.
Star Trek: Voyager: The holoprogram The Adventures of Captain Proton! is black and white as it's based on 1930s/50s serials like Flash Gordon and Commando Cody. When the holographic Doctor walks onto the holodeck, Harry Kim quickly tells the computer to "adjust the Doctor's spectral frequency" whereupon the Doctor turns monochrome too, much to his annoyance.
Supernatural had "Monster Movie" filmed in B&W as an homage to 1930s monster movies.
Dean: It's about time the Winchesters got back to tackling a straightforward, black and white case.
In Tin Man, when DG meets the first Dorothy Gale, she enters a black and white landscape resembling The Wizard of Oz Kansas.
Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show (titled Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show In b/w on-screen around adbreaks) had its first run in a week shown in monochrome ("so you don't have to adjust the color on your telly") and subsequent repeats shown in color.
A wine-tasting task on Big Brother Celebrity Hijack was broadcast in black and white at the behest of that day's celebrity Big Brother, Malcolm McLaren.
In one episode of Night Court, Harry is shown the world if he'd never become a judge, which is in black and white. Harry concludes that his absence would literally drain all color from the world, but his guide, an angel in the form of Mel Torme, explains that he's just doing it for effect, knowing that Harry is a film buff.
In the episode "Pillows and Blankets", Britta's rather inept and pretentious war-photography is all in black-and-white. The narrator of the episode is not impressed:
Narrator: Unfortunately for Britta, and millions of photographers like her, just because something's in black and white doesn't mean it's good.
The season 3 episode "Curriculum Unavailable", which parodied clip shows, had flashbacks to "unseen episodes", one of which involved a Prohibition-style paintball game. Those segments were in black and white.
Angel: A reference to being in Italy in the 1950s cuts to a Federico Fellini-style flashback (lasting some three seconds) of Spike and Drusilla drinking espresso in black turtlenecks and sunglasses, saying nothing but "Ciao".
The ending credits of Young Indiana Jones uses footage from the episode in black and white, as well as slightly cranked and with the grainy quality you'd expect from start-of-the-20th-century films.
Referenced in The Goodies' episode "The Movies", where Bill believes that black and white films were made using black and white sets, costumes and makeup. This pays off in the surreal "movie" that forms the last few minutes of the episode.
Black & white videos were a huge fad in the 90s. In fact, virtually every significant musical act from the period has at least one. The most famous is undoubtedly the mega-hit "Every Breath You Take" by The Police.
This is used at the beginning and end of the Phantom of the Opera piece (here), along with artificial aging to make it look like the film is old. Color is introduced when the texture and tempo pick up as the band appears.
The entirety of "Shadows" is done this way, since it is about the shadow and color isn't needed. It adds to the surreality of that video.
In Pepe Deluxe's "Go Supersonic" video, the scenes in the real world are black and white, while the hallucination is in color. Initially, the color is somewhat washed-out, but as the dream gets trippier, the colors become more vivid.
*NSYNC's music video for their song "Gone" is filmed entirely in black and white, while inserting a 1920's silent-movie storyline filmed in sepia tones in between shots of the band singing and at a party.
Bally's Centaur is noted for its use of black and white throughout the cabinet, backglass, and playfield art. The only other color used is red, with a few small green lights and the ambient amber of the lamps.
The Twilight areas of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. According to the early trailers, the Twilight was originally supposed to be completely monochrome, but the development team decided to make it more sepia-like with lots of bloom, possibly as one of Nintendo's many Take Thats against the "realistic" graphics on competitor systems.
Also, Wind Waker, with the rerun bosses in Ganon's tower.
A level in Rainbow Resort from Kirby's Adventure for the NES has an all-B&W level, as a throwback to Kirby's Dream Land for the original Game Boy.
The "How to play" movies for the official maps in Team Fortress 2 are black and white.
The Uncharted series of games include optional black and white and sepia filters.
The vaporware Wii Gothic horror title Sadness is supposed to be presented entirely in black and white.
In Fallout 3, at one point the player is put in a Zee RustLotus-Eater Machine which shows a black and white version of a sunny 1950s suburb where the player is a child for some reason. To be exact, you're a kid, the old man in control of the thing is a little girl and your dad is a dog.
Similar to Kill Bill, The Punisher for Xbox was considered too violent, and the game turns to black & white whenever you use one of the special interrogations to kill somebody. It's generally discouraged, but c'mon, you know you want to see a drill through that guy's face... This is actually a good thing, as the game is a last gen game. The PC version doesn't have the B&W happen, and it looks pretty silly, but the console versions make the blood look like blood in B&W instead of pixels.
Shift is completely in black and white to clearly show where you can shift into. When the character shifts into the black squares, he becomes white and vice versa. Whenever you die, though, a bunch of full-color blood appears.
Being badly injured in Left 4 Dead to the point where you will die when incapacitated makes the screen go this, as a warning.
There's a neat use of this in an obscure PS2 game called Blood Will Tell from Sega. Set in medieval Japan, the player's character had most of his body parts stolen by demons as a baby (then replaced with magical substitutes by a friendly wizard), so the main quest involves tracking down those demons and defeating them to get your real body back a piece at a time. The first couple of levels are in Black and White, but after an hour or two of gameplay you get to fight and kill the demon who had taken your eyes. At that point you get your "real" eyes back, and the game switches to glorious color. It's a surprisingly effective moment.
In the bonus ending of Drakengard, the protagonist falls through a dimensional rift into an alien dimension where everything is in black and white. That realm happens to be modern-day Tokyo; the black and white is to emphasize the otherness of that dimension to Caim and his dragon.
Dragon Quest VIII has the Dark World, which despite its name doesn't really fit the trope; it's no more evil or sinister than the normal world, and it's visually and geographically identical to the island from which you enter it except that it's all in shades of gray: gray grass, gray sky, gray water, gray enemies (who are slightly harder to beat than their in-color counterparts), etc. It makes it surprisingly hard to get around and find stuff, although treasure chests are still in color, and show up even better against gray grass than green. Your party is also still in color, and the townsfolk (who are all in black and white) comment on how funny-looking you are, being in color and all.
Yin and Yang is essentially two games in one — one with everything black on a white background, and one with everything white on a black background. The two are kept separate, each with their own main character who can't directly interact with the other main character.
In Splinter Cell Conviction, hiding in shadows turns the screen black and white. This is to reduce HUD elements and has a fair bit of realism as you do see in black and white in darkness in real life, although they don't adjust that fast.
Indie title Tower Of Heaven was done in the style of an original Game Boy title, using shades of green rather than gray. The ending sequence is in color.
Limbo has a foreground that's entirely in black silhouettes except for the protagonist's Milky White Eyes, and a greyish, shadowy background.
In Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombie mode, when playing on ascension, the screen is in black and white until you turn the power on, after that it shows a momentary (about 2 seconds) sepia tint, then it goes to full on color.
World 6-3 from Super Mario Bros. However it was actually colorized in the SNES remake.
In LittleBigPlanet, you can set up a monochrome filter on your custom stage.
In L.A. Noire there is an option to play the game in black and white, for that Film Noir feel. If you choose to play in color, the screen gradually changes to black and white when you're injured — the closer you are to a Game Over, the less color there is. In addition, every case starts black and white at its title card, with color introduced shortly.
Minubeat is made up of simple, black-and-white contour graphics. Or white-and-black (you can invert the colors.)
The original version of Closure uses only black and white color. Playstation 3 version has some shades of gray in between.
1000 Amps uses grayscale graphics.
Asura's Wrath does this version on a couple of occasions. Such as when the Girl that looks like Asura's Daughter dies, and when Yasha does one final attack before Dying standing up.
World of Warcraft has the Sha, monstrous beasts of negative emotion introduced in Mists of Pandaria; their black and white figures stand in stark contrast to the colorful land of Pandaria. The Sha of Fear has some color, but it only reaches Limited Palette with a mix of purple and red.
de Blob starts out so. It's up to the player to restore the world to its vibrant state.
Parts of the epilogue of BioShock Infinite take place in a monochrome environment, particularly flashbacks to when Booker DeWitt sold his daughter Anna to Zachary Comstock to pay off a debt and then tries to get her back.
The host of The Hidden Object Show is in black and white while everything else is in full color.
Characters in Rogue Legacy can be "born" with various random traits. If they have nostalgia, the entire game world will be shown in sepia, while color-blindness means everything is in black and white.
Evoland is in black and white for the few minutes it takes to find the chest containing 16-color mode.
While rarely depicted in-game, Tesla's Tower: The Wardenclyffe Mystery took place in a world whose inhabitants had lost the ability to see color due to a sabotaged experiment.
The "Old-Timey" universe from Homestar Runner. Partially averted with the Valentine's Day episode, "in A COLOR!"
The dark and serious superhero webcomic Shades takes this further. When someone has a minor flashback, the images are "actual" photographs, including polaroids for the 70s and B&W for WWII. The WWII fighter pilot has a longer flashback entirely in B&W, while a flashback to the middle ages is drawn as if on parchment (black on dust-yellow). Sadly, the flashback to 3000 B.C. was not drawn as a cave painting.
Tally Road started in computer-generated grayscale, briefly flirted with color and crosshatched black and white, and returned to grayscale, deliberately — but this time, using ink wash. Definite noir influence, both artistically and thematically.
A comic called Flick is about a series of miniature universes, each of which has a specific set of rules that pan out to different genres. One of them is film noir, which is entirely monochrome and very 40s-esque in style.
Not only is all of Sam and Fuzzy done in black and white, but the entire website is. Whenever something with color appears on the front page, it's either a guest comic or a new print to buy.
Usually, Platypus Comix cartoonist Peter Paltridge draws his comics with a tablet PC and publishes them in color. However, he draws Free Spirit comics with just pencil and paper, and doesn't ink or color them.
The Spoony/Linkara crossover review of Warrior #4 uses this at the end, after counteracting the effects of the comic on reality by aggressively not caring, and going slightly overboard with it.
SCP Foundation: SCP-316 is a camera that induces this effect on people.
Duckman has a noir parody episode done in B&W. In another where the cast travels to a caricatured 1950s milieu, the scene turns black and white; Cornfed remarks that they do not approve of people of color.
An episode of The Powerpuff Girls features an Enemy Mime who can absorbs the colors (as well as sounds) of anything he touches, turning part of Townsville in grayscale.
The Venture Bros. has the episode "Everybody Comes to Hank's" where Dermott's mother being late to pick him up from work launches Hank into a Noir plot entirely in black and white (the other threads are done in color) where Hank picks up the clothing, lingo and mannerism of a 1930's private eye to solve the mystery of who is Dermott's dad. He even provides noir style narration for his investigation. The Alchemist, bored out of his mind, decides to tag along and help. Every other character they meet acts like a classic noir archetype until the mystery is finally solved. As it turns out, Dermott's dad is Rusty and the woman he was always told was his sister was really his mother.
The Code Lyoko episode "Sabotage" has the trope directly referenced. Damage to the Supercomputer is causing lots of bugs on Lyoko, including one that makes Ulrich's Avatar lose all colors. Playing along, he starts fighting a Tarantula Three Musketeers-style with his katana.
Ulrich: Since I am in black and white, let's do this old style. En garde!
Done in Adventure Time's "BMO Noire", as it is a parody (and homage) to mystery film noirs.
Wunschpunsch episode "Colorless Chaos" featured the evil wizards casting a spell that made the town black and white.
Many ads use Limited Palette; a good example being the Gatorade "Is it in you?" series, in B&W except for any liquid, which is in one of Gatorade's colors.
Shigurui makes use of this to great effect through the recurrence of red in an otherwise-washed out/dark palette — Irako's lips, Iku's nipples, and blood, lots of it.
The Hunter Rose issues of the Grendel comic uses a palette of black, white, and red.
One of the cornerstones of Hellboy with heavy shadows and scarce highlights. Our red hero really stands out.
Batman: The Long Halloween is printed in normal color. But whenever the Holiday Killer strikes, it switches to a Limited Palette (black, white, and blood-red) with Holiday's calling card as a non-red Splash of Color.
In Neil Gaiman's Black Orchid (painted by Dave McKean), people and everything man-made were black-and-white (or blue-and-white or brown-and-white in some scenes), while superbeings were in full color, as was nature and everything natural. So you'd have a color flower in a black-and-white room with black-and-white people, or orange firelight on a black-and-white face.
Films — Animation
The "Rhapsody in Blue" segment of Fantasia 2000 is done primarily in tones of blue, as well as bluish greens and purples, with the occasional red and yellow for emphasis. With the help of computer-controlled coloring, every pixel has some blue in it. The reds and yellows are just very red purples and very yellow greens.
Sin City even uses key bits or red and yellow... albeit, this might have something to do with being faithful to the source material. The movie has noticeably more color than the comic books. The titular character in The Yellow Bastard is yellow in both the book and the film, but the film—which is an adaptation of The Yellow Bastard, The Hard Goodbye and The Big Fat Kill— shows red blood, blue eyes, green eyes, red lips, a red bed, an orange pill bottle, red tail lights and a full color (though slightly desaturated) bar as well. The comic version of the story has no color whatsoever save for the "yellow bastard". Usually in the comics color is used to signify a character or item of importance, while the movie follows the Rule of Cool.
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital, The Saddest Music in the World) uses a mixture of black and white, film tinting, and individual scenes done in two-strip color to invoke the look of silent and early sound films.
In Erich von Stroheim's 1924 film Greed, a number of objects related to the eponymous theme were hand-painted yellow to appear golden.
The 2009 film Ink uses this. While the real world appears in normal colors, the dream/other world the Storytellers and Incubi inhabit can be told apart by how it is washed out and only one or two colors actually appear vibrantly.
The Element of Crime, notable because the movie was filmed in colors, and the reel was not altered afterward: instead, all the sets were lit only with low pressure sodium vapor lamps. Other gas discharge lamps are used sparingly to throw an occasional stain of red or blue.
In the 2009 film A Single Man, most of the sequences are filmed in color, but all the colors are flat, grey, and monochrome. The whole movie is filmed like this, except for the scenes when George experiences an emotional connection with another character or has a flashback, when the color scheme suddenly becomes brighter and tinted with red, blue, or yellow.
The 1983 film Rumble Fish is in B&W, except for the eponymous fish, which are in colour.
In TRON, the computer scenes were shot in black and white, with the only color being the glowing highlights and edges of the computer world, mostly red, blue and yellow.
House of Leaves is printed in three colors, although there are some variations between the different versions of the book. Normal text is printed in black, the word "house" appears in blue, references to mythology or struck out passages that are vaguely threatening to the reader appear in red. In addition, there are a few instances of the color purple, including the phrase A Novel on the cover, the edition number, and one instance of a struck-out purple phrase in Chapter XXI. "Minotaur" may or may not be struck out, depending on whether it's used during one of the aforementioned mythology references.
A similar colored-text method is used in The Neverending Story, to distinguish scenes in Bastian's world from those within the realm of Story. In the paperback version, italics are used instead.
Some versions of The Bible print Jesus' dialogue in red.
The various characters of Shades of Grey are blind to most colors, and have organized themselves into a hierarchy based on which colors they can see. The low-ranking protagonist can only see red.
Georgian pop group Ucnobi had the music video to their song "Vagoni miqris" shot in grayscale with red highlights. May have to do with red and white being the national colors of Georgia.
The clip for "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes uses only White, Black and Red, the colors most often worn by the group.
a-ha's The Sun Always Shines on TV is completely monochrome for most of the video, then highlights the band members' faces and parts of the scenery towards the end.
The performance scenes in Suicide Commando's "Die Motherfucker Die" video are monochrome except for the performers' red shirts.
Mariah Carey's performance in the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. Everything was in black and white, except the singer and her red dress.
In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the Pictochat stage is largely black and white (by extension, the Pictochat software on the DS is also mostly monochrome), although the characters are still colored. In addition, flashbacks in the Adventure mode cutscenes are black and white.
The Pale Realm in American McGee's Alice. Everything, beside Alice, the Meta Essence and weapons, is in black and white. After all, the place is a chess-themed palace. Guess which chess pieces live there.
When using the demon morph Super Mode in Painkiller, Daniel's vision becomes black and white, with enemies tinted red and black.
The Wii game MadWorld is in stylized black and white with red blood to emphasize the ludicrous violence. And yellow for the map icons, and blue alien blood.
The Lost Crown: A Ghosthunting Adventure falls somewhere between this and the Splash Of Color option, using black & white (or black & green, for night-vision camera views) as a base, but highlighting occasional elements of a scene with color to convey mood or make bloodstains apparent. It also lampshades itself, when Nigel remarks that Dr. Black's paintings "lack color".
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriotsplays with this. Each of the five acts has one distinct (and often thematic) color and the maps conform to a palette around that color, as if it were being used as a white balance. The Middle East in Act 1 is brown, South America in Act 2 is blue during night maps and green during day maps, Eastern Europe in Act 3 is yellow, Shadow Moses in Act 4 is a blinding white, and Outer Haven in Act 5 is grey.
Fully Nazi-controlled areas in The Saboteur are in a Limited Palette — black and white, with some reds and yellows and the occasional blue. In areas where their control has been loosened and the resistance has a foothold, it's in full-color. The border between liberated and occupied areas is Desaturated.
Environments in Mirror's Edge are predominately rendered in one color — usually light blue, but it varies a bit — with important objects highlighted in red. In the city itself everything that hasn't been highlighted is often simply just white or grey, even the trees and other vegetation.
The Skies Afire spell in Brütal Legend. The sky turns blood red, and all colour disappears except for shades of grey, red and orange.
The first half and the antepenultimate chapter of Journey have predominately orange colour scheme.
Donkey Kong Country Returns has all kinds of levels with a limited palette. You've got the obvious sunset levels where the foreground and all objects are in black barring DK's tie, the factory level in the trailer where the foreground and DK are black at the front of the screen, then become a kind of mauve colour in the background (and the objects become really faint) and a Rambi level from the same trailer where all characters and foreground objects are black bar DK's tie (and maybe Diddy Kong's hat), while the background is all vibrant orange and purple.
In the [adult swim] game Death Vegas, each character has only one item (or pair of items) with color.
One Game Mod of Marathon, RED, has a level consisting almost entirely of sandy brown textures titled "Jagermeister's Nightmare", intended as a Take That at a player named Jagermeister, who thought the game's color palette was too Real Is Brown.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution uses a strongly saturated monochrome of gold colors as both a nod to the "golden age" of its setting as well as the Film Noir genre. Other colors, such as red and greens, serve as a Splash of Color. In-universe, it's because you're looking from behind Adam's yellow sunglasses. When the camera cuts outside his POV, it's much less yellow. To a much lesser extent, the previous two games did this, the original Deus Ex using electric blue and Deus Ex: Invisible War using purple.
The Japanese adventure game Nostalgia 1907 paints its period setting in sepia tones.
Monochrome Past was part of the basis of Detective Tyrell Badd's design in Ace Attorney. Since he appeared in a flashback case, the artist decided to make him desaturated and give him a grey skin tone in addition to giving him the look and attitude of a Film Noir detective. The only bright things about him are his red handmirror and pink lollipop.
In Tsukihime, all of Shiki's flashbacks are done in a sepia tone. This is done in part to disguise a plot point, mainly the identity of which of the twins Kohaku and Hisui he met and when — the two are identical apart from eye color and the flashbacks later switch to color once this is revealed.
Every chapter of GastroPhobia is done in black, white, and a few shades of one color. This color changes with every chapter.
Count Your Sheep, starring a young girl named Katie, is usually colored in shades of blue. Flashback episodes featuring her mother Laurie as a girl are in shades of mauve. In a strip where Laurie was pregnant with Katie the strip switched from mauve to blue the moment Laurie went into labor.
In No Rest for the Wicked, only red gets coloured in. It fits in with the Darker and Edgier/Dark comedy fairy-tale style. Also lampshaded, a little girl notices Red's signature cape, and comments that it's a "funny colour".
Used in two flashback arcs, namely the two arcs that feature Jeeves and Wooster as prominent characters. While the first one technically goes under Desaturation, the more current arc fits this to a T: the comics is done in a sepia tone, and the only colors used are for Alucard's vampire eyes... and the fangirls.
Alucard: What is this thing, and why does it get to be in color?
Another comic in the same universe, The Eagle of Hermes, does this as well: the comic is in black and white, and the only color given prominence is, again, red...except for one peculiar instance on a title page where the blue of Jon's tie is highlighted.
Dissonance colors anything yellow that should be yellow, but everything else is some shade of grey.
GirlsInSpace After an explosion in the 'Greyverse', all colour is drained from the normal universe making the Colourblind story appear in Black and White.
The Colour My Series takes place in a world where almost everything is black and white. Color and emotions are forbidden. However, the protagonist, who has found love, can use color to manipulate things within the world. Clicking on certain objects will fill spots with color sometimes, too.
In the first season finale, the world goes red and then grayscale when the Moon Spirit is endangered and then killed. The only exceptions are fireblasts, the blue Avatar magic of Koizilla, and the still-blue eyes of Yue, which signify that a bit of the Moon Spirit survived in her, and can be returned.
Aang's childhood memories, of the Air Temple, are heavily yellow and glowy, to show nostalgia. To a lesser degree, the same is true of Zuko's. Sokka and Katara, not so much.
Animaniacs does this in some of the shorts set before color films (Babblin Bijou, Newsreel of the Stars, etc) — the only color found would be the Warners' noses.
In The Smurfs episode "The Color Smurfy", the world becomes black-and-white with the only color existing being Smurf blue when the Smurflings accidentally destroy Spectra's color wheel. The only place where color still exists is the Rainbow Pool, which the Smurfs must go to in order to get liquid light so they could restore Spectra.
Several US companies are doing commercials with faded color. Not really monochrome or sepia, but just faded enough to stand out. Or at least they would stand out, if every other advert wasn't doing it now.
Mai Hime not only does almost all flashbacks in sepia, but they're slightly blurred, presumably to simulate the distortion of human memory.
The first establishing shots of the first (chronological) episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are another example, presumably in the mundane/nonmundane contrast vein. Everything suddenly gets a lot more colorful once the narrator meets the titular girl.
Boogiepop Phantom, justified because almost all the series is a gigantic Flashback (just see the borders of the screen for an extra clue). The last episode features vivid colors and full-screen image.
Borderline: Monster intentionally had a low-key, brownish-grey color palette with very little use of strong colors to enhance its atmosphere as a realistic, psychological thriller.
Possibly unintentional example: the original (and international) video releases of Evangelion: Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion contained a muted color palette and a radiant "glow" effect, giving them an appropriately dreamlike atmosphere. The (Japan-only) Renewal edition contained a brighter color palette.
The first episode was very low in coloration, as it took place underground, where there was little light. As soon as they get to the surface, the rest of the series is filled with color. Episode 5 was the same way, except even moreso, to the point of being nearly black-and-white, as it took place in an underground village with even fewer resources and less light.
Gainax also made various close-up shots of characters desaturated (Often going to completely black and white), usually because they were doing something epic and/or dying.
The brawl between Simon and the Anti-Spiral at the climax of Lagann-Hen also has a desaturated palette, though some colors are added for emphasis (Red for blood, green for the glow of Simon's drill)
The Nue arc (episodes 8&9) of Mononoke uses desaturation and color in a very unique way. The arc revolves around the smell of incense; to simulate this without having to go into verbal descriptions, when the characters inhale the incense, the entire scene gains full colour momentarily before fading into monochrome once more. When the legendary incense is lit at the end, the mansion in which the story is set becomes brightly coloured and the wall murals come to life. But the smell quickly fades away, revealing that the entire building was just an uninhabited ruin under enchantment.
The first Fullmetal Alchemist anime series used either very mild desaturation or a muted color palette when depicting what lay on "the other side of the Gate." This had the end result of making the other side of the Gate seem less "fantastic" or "alive". Note, for instance, that Noah has more realistic hair colors than Rose in The Movie. This is made even more poignant when it's revealed that "the other side of the Gate" is our world and that ultimately, the Elrics become stranded in our reality, forced to see history unfold and unable to return.
The beautiful anime short Kigeki is almost completely desaturated (giving it an appropriately gothic feel) making certain vivid colours like the little girl's Green Eyes and the copious amounts of blood stand out.
The short-running Transformers comic Hearts of Steel takes place in the 1860s rather than the usual modern-day setting, and uses faded colors and a general sepia-toned color scheme to reflect the time period. Might also qualify as Real Is Brown.
Mexican film La Ley De Herodes uses sepia tones and era music for its set on the 1940s.
Producer Tim Burton likes the idea, and used it for many of his own films, creating environments that are nearly completely devoid of color to flavor his films as dark and depressing as possible, although he sometimes adds one very short scene that is full of bright color... then it's back to the sparse coloration for the rest of the film.
The film version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End was shot in slightly sepia-tinted monochrome, allegedly to imitate the look of an Ealing Comedy and not because the budget wouldn't stretch to color....
Most of Avalon, a film about a virtual reality MMORPG in a dystopian future, is deliberately shot in murky sepia. The movie switches to normal color and lighting at the end, when the protagonist arrives in the level "class real", which looks much like our world.
In Dolores Claiborne, scenes set in the present are desaturated and faintly blue-tinted to give a cold look. Flashbacks are in full color with reds and yellows emphasized.
Double Jeopardy employs mild desaturation at the beginning of the film, with the color saturation increasing through the movie, in order to subtly heighten the audience's suspense as the chase continues.
Cypher is shot predominantly in a heavily desaturated, high contrast and near-monochrome world of drudgery, suits and concrete. It's only at the end, when Sebastian has realised his true identity and is sailing with Rita, that true colour returns.
The Dolph Lundgren vehicle Missionary Man (2007) is an accidental example: the film stock was ruined during processing, so they decided to desaturate it. The effect, however, suits the film's modern-western theme well.
Saving Private Ryan desaturated almost the entire movie for a grittier feeling. This results in a very gray D-Day.
1984 (the one starring John Hurt) wasn't desaturated, but it used bleach bypass, which produces a different kind of harsh, bleak look.
Vladimir Bortko's miniseries adaptation of The Master and Margarita portrays the "Soviet" segments of the original novel in sepia and the "Yershalaim" and "Woland's party" segments in color.
MythBusters has two examples. First, they've shown (Reenacted, obviously) Civil War footage in near-monochrome. As if that wasn't silly enough, they switch to a desaturated/faded color look for their flashbacks. Apparently modern color technology was invented sometime after 2003, as their flashbacks always end up looking like 60s movies.
In the 5th season episode of House, after the characters find Kutner dead much of the rest of the episode is darkly lit and desaturated to reflect the somber mood.
In corrupted areas in Prince of Persia (2008), everything is shown in dull, faded colors — sometimes taken to the point of nearly being genuine monochrome — except for the lead characters. Healing an area makes its colors varied and vibrant.
A couple examples from the Call of Duty series: when your character is wounded, his vision will wash out to black and white (with the exception of some encroaching red mist). However, this is played straighter in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare when one character emerges from his downed chopper after being caught in a nuclear blast. The resulting reddish-brown-tinted hell you witness can verge on horrifying.
F.E.A.R. 2 does this with both its own nuclear aftermath and a few of Alma's hallucinations. It's less brown than Call of Duty's version, and it doesn't just verge on the nightmare fuel.
Left 4 Dead uses various shades of brown when playing as a special infected in VS mode to visualize on how a zombie's eyes would work. The sepia tone reverts to normal colors when the infected player is killed.
Gunnerkrigg Court has the Whole Episode Flashback chapter Ties, which is sepia-toned. There's also Zimmingham, in which the characters appear normally-colored — although the humanoid Nobodies that live there are rather desaturated — but the city itself (and the Imaginary Enemies that presumably come out of it) has a rather limited and predominantly greyish-brown palette.
The first volume of Girl Genius used to be uncolored. It was upgraded since then, though, and now makes extensive use of this trope. The first pages are in grayscale with a few colored spots (notably the heroine's Green Eyes), but once Agatha loses her locket, it gains desaturated tones. Except when she gets mad — then the colors shortly become vibrant. This reflects the Spark-suppressing properties of the locket, which are slowly fading away until the start of volume 2.
Wally and Osborne: The only colors employed are black, white, blue, orange, and mixtures thereof. Rather impressively, the strip even managed to depict a rainbow in limited colors.
Used beautifully in one episode of Recess, in which recess is canceled indefinitely. As the kids' days get less and less interesting, the color slowly drains out of the picture until it finally becomes pure black & white. Of course, when recess is inevitably restored, the color returns.
Many cities or homeowners' associations limit the colors with which houses can be painted as well as the color of objects placed in front of the house.
In one Sunday Prickly City strip, Carmen and Winslow are sitting on a butte, in grayscale. In the second panel, Winslow hugs Carmen; the background is sunshine yellow and all the panel yellow tinged. The third panel has reverted to full color, with a blue and purple and cloudy background.
The HBO TV movie The Cats Meow takes place during The Roaring Twenties and is about the Triang Relations between William Randolph Hurst, his actress mistress Marion Davies, and Charlie Chaplin who Hurst tries to kill but winds up mortally wounding another guy instead. Because all the characters are involved in the silent movie business their fancy clothes are black, white, and grey (which makes it look like a live-action Edward Gorey story) and the victim's funeral is in black and white.
In From the Earth to the Moon, the episode "1968" is filmed in black-and-white on Earth (where things are going to hell in a handbasket.) Meanwhile, Apollo 8 up in space is filmed in color, reflecting the telegram read after their successful lunar orbit which stated "You saved 1968."
Super Meat Boy likes to play with colors. Some of the levels and one chapter is entirely black and white where only your character and their stains leave color. Other levels, which are more common in Dark World levels, have limited monochrome or dischromatic color palette and sometimes only silhouette can be seen.
Archipelago is black-and-white on the whole, but uses multiple colors to accentuate magical effects. The character will be monochrome, but when they cast a spell, or when their soul is torn from their body, their colors are revealed. Also, dramatic events like flashbacks are portrayed in full color.
Derelict uses desaturation, except for the pinwheel, which is in full and brilliant color.
Question Duck: black shading to white, or red, or yellow — not invariably.
All Roses Have Thorns starts off being completely in gray tones, save for blood and eye colors. But as time goes on and it gets closer to modern day, it slowly grows more saturated with colors. To the point that by the 19th century the comic is now nearly full-color.