Is it just me, or have we reached peak drone?

Day Shift (2022)
(Image credit: Netflix)

Since rising to prominence in the likes of Skyfall (2012), drone shots have become a cinematic constant, flying viewers out of the story like some kind of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). But perhaps it’s time to clip their wings a little…

When used sparingly, they can be very effective: The Endless (2017) has some beautiful shots that dovetail nicely with the narrative. But in less steady hands they’re fast becoming a cliché. 

Want to show a high-rise office worker sitting bored at their desk? Drone. A car driving deeper and deeper into the woods? Drone. A character dwarfed by the vastness of the city? Drone, drone, drone. There’s even a horror film about a killer UAV called The Drone (2019). Tagline: ‘Your remote has no control.’

Well, quite. Drone shots may be a cheap way to add visual dynamism, but they often draw a disproportionate amount of attention to themselves. A chase in Day Shift (2022) is shot by a UAV taking off from inside a car and rising through the sunroof. Why? It looks cool, even though it makes absolutely no sense. 

The Gray Man (2022) features an impressive drone shot that whizzes us into the foyer of a busy hospital – a nice intro to a necessary scene – as well many superfluous ones that start to undo such good work. Michael Bay’s Ambulance (2022), meanwhile, relies on them so much that there’s even a drone shot that whizzes down a corridor, bringing to mind the old Jurassic Park adage about whether you could versus whether you should.

In narrative movies, shots are meant to do at least one of two things – ideally both – without taking us out of the story. Firstly, they’re meant to tell us something. Unless the main character is trapped down a well, about to jump off something tall, or very scared of heights, all UAV shots tell us is: ‘Hey, look, we’ve got a drone!’ Secondly, they’re meant to make us feel something, but after the vertigo fades, all that’s left is fatigue. Or is it just me?

Freelance Writer

Matt Glasby is a freelance film and TV journalist. You can find his work on Total Film - in print and online - as well as at publications like the Radio Times, Channel 4, DVD REview, Flicks, GQ, Hotdog, Little White Lies, and SFX, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including The Book of Horror: The Anatomy of Fear in Film and Britpop Cinema: From Trainspotting To This Is England.