The Multitude in Movies

Parties, battles, boardrooms, concerts, Superman saving a loaded bus during an earthquake. Share your choice of unforgettable crowd in a flick.

The world of John Ford invariably wins to these eyes. Men and women socializing, dancing, smiling, and soldiering through embarrassment to live life to the fullest. The aborted marriage gathering midway into The Searchers (1956) is probably mine. Vera Miles settles on a receptive suitor and her true love returns that day and sparks fly. Add to that John Wayne chewing the scenery and Ward Bond matching him and you have fireworks.

As I just rewatched it, I’ve always dug the crowd scene in India in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The chanting of the five notes and the response when they are asked where the sound had come from really resonates with me.


It didn’t even feel like a movie. Were I paying less attention it could pass for a documentary.

1 Like

As I mentioned in another thread, I just rewatched Shin Godzilla (2016). Large crowd shots continuously reinforce its themes as a case study of Godzilla as political and logistical crisis. Throughout the film, people are shown in large groups, often in uniforms or identical-looking suits, dwarfed by oppressive architecture. Even civilian evacuation sequences focus on the mob rather than individual stories. The central cast is a large ensemble executing a variety of tasks in changing locations, and we’re fed a constant barrage of captions to help us keep up. We don’t really get to know anyone.

Besides creating an awesome (in the literal sense), documentary-style sense of grandeur, the crowd scenes carry both positive and negative connotations. There’s an emphasis on collective action, that everyone is a cog in a machine but an important cog with something to contribute. But, they’re also cogs in a machine, individual voices overwhelmed by the scope of it all. Breakdowns in communication and mutual understanding fuel much of the dramatic tension.


I miss overlapping dialog. It was a surefire way to create a sense of tension and scope, exemplified by early Spielberg such as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as earlier works like The Thing from Another World. Do you think this fell victim to requirements about accessibility regarding closed captioning or a more conventional wisdom about how cinema should be done?