Superhero Filmmaking: Ryan Coogler and the Rotating Camera shot


Ryan Coogler had a new iconic shot in Black Panther.

Welcome to Superhero Filmmaking, which breaks down cinematic techniques in your favorite superhero movies. One of the hottest new directors in the business today has to be Ryan Coogler, who directed the incredibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther. That film is full of great action scenes, terrific performances, and instantly a magnificent addition to the franchise. The movie also shows off a unique camera trick we’ll call the rotation shot.

So what is the rotation shot exactly? Well, similar to how a camera can spin in a circle, a camera can also turn or rotate to alter the effect of the shot. By flipping the camera upside down, we see objects and images the wrong way.

For example, the sky is on the bottom frame, or trees hang up top. When you turn a camera at an angle that is not parallel to the ground, you get plenty of interesting visuals to play with. It is a trick that isn’t very common, but is used perfectly in a pivotal scene of Black Panther.

In the movie, Killmonger challenges T’Challa for the throne of Wakanda. Killmonger wins, throws T’Challa off a cliff, and becomes the new ruler. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison developed an authentic shot to portray this beat in the story.

At 1:10, you can see the shot of Killmonger walking over to the throne and taking his seat for the very first time. This is the scene where we learn of Killmonger’s goal, to arm wardogs all over the planet with Wakanda weapons to overthrow their oppressors. So what is the significance of this shot?

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When I first saw it, I read it as the changing of the status quo. A new ruler has taken over, an outsider who overthrew King T’Challa and claimed the right to be king. You could say he was someone of very low status now rising to the top. The turning camera represents the altered norm of Wakanda while simultaneously representing Killmonger’s arc. He started as a young kid in Oakland who’s parents were taking from him, learning how to fight for himself and become a warrior. Under Klaw’s guidance, he became even more deadly, and used his mentor as a gateway into his secret home, where he became their new ruler. He started from the bottom, and now he’s reached his peak.

A brilliant camera technique used by the director and cinematographer as a way to convey all of this story and emotion in one shot by just simply turning the camera upside down then right side up. Not too mention, it looks very stylish too.

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What I love most about this shot is how unique it is. It is a simple concept that works so very well. You won’t see a camera move like that in many mainstream films, especially a big budget superhero blockbuster. Coogler is one of those directors that knows how to think outside the box. When telling a story like Black Panther, his imagination certainly was one of a kind. It’s one of the best movies Marvel has ever made, and with a shot like that, it deserves to be.