Metaphor in Movies. Definition, Meaning, and Examples.


Definition: A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares dissimilar things, suggesting a likeness or analogy between them. Metaphors are widely used in films to deepen themes, evoke emotions, and convey complex ideas subtly through symbols, dialogue, actions, and plots.

A quick example of a metaphor could be “Time is a thief.” This metaphor suggests that time steals moments from our lives just as a thief would take away possessions, emphasizing how quickly time can pass and the value of the moments we lose.

Metaphors are closely related to subtext in film and literature and can convey deeper meanings, themes, and emotions beneath the surface level of dialogue or visual imagery.

How Metaphors appear in Film (with examples)

metaphors in film examples. Illustrative example.

Metaphors are a prevalent and powerful tool in film. They manifest in various forms, including visual symbolism, dialogue, character actions, and even through the storyline.

Here are some ways metaphors appear in movies, illustrated with examples from famous movies:

Visual Symbolism

The Green Light in “The Great Gatsby” (2013) – Directed by Baz Luhrmann, this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel uses the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock as a powerful visual metaphor.

It represents Gatsby’s unattainable dreams, the American Dream, and the longing and obsession with the past. The green light symbolizes hope and the elusive nature of happiness and fulfillment.

Read more about the meaning of symbols in movies, including examples.

Character Actions

“Forrest Gump” (1994): Forrest’s cross-country run is a metaphor for life’s journey, suggesting that the destination is not as important as the experiences and the people we meet.

You might also like the best quotes from Forrest Gump.


“The Matrix” (1999): The choice between the red and blue pill offered to Neo serves as a metaphor for awakening to reality, no matter how harsh it is, versus remaining in blissful ignorance.

Storyline and Plot

“WALL-E” (2008): The storyline of a small waste-collecting robot left alone on Earth is a metaphor for environmental neglect and the destructive nature of human consumption patterns.

WALL-E’s journey also explores themes of loneliness, hope, and the search for companionship.

Setting and Production Design

“The Truman Show” (1998): – The entire setting of Seahaven in “The Truman Show” is a metaphor for the artificiality of media and the illusion of reality television.

The meticulously controlled environment, designed to appear as an idyllic small town, symbolizes the manipulation and surveillance inherent in reality TV culture.

The production design, with its picture-perfect houses and omnipresent branding, critiques the commodification of personal life and the blurring of authenticity and performance.

The Different Types of Metaphors in Language, Literature and Script Writing

time is money metaphor illustration

There are different types of metaphors, each serving unique purposes in language and literature. Here are some common types of metaphors:

Metaphor TypeExplanationExample
Standard or Conventional MetaphorsCommonly used in everyday language and are widely understood.Time is money‘ or ‘the heart of the matter.
Extended MetaphorsAn extended metaphor continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem. It is often developed in great detail.Shakespeare’s sonnets often contain extended metaphors:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Dead MetaphorsThese metaphors are so overused that their original impact has been lost or is no longer recognized as a metaphor.Fx “Root of the problem” originally likened the cause of a problem to the root of a plant. Over time, it has become a common way to refer to the underlying cause of a problem.
Mixed MetaphorsUnlike direct metaphors that state one thing is another, implied metaphors suggest the comparison more subtly.We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it‘ – a blend of ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ and ‘don’t burn your bridges.’
Implied MetaphorsUnlike direct metaphors that state one thing is another, implied metaphors suggest the comparison in a more subtle way.The sergeant barked orders‘ implies the comparison of the sergeant to a dog without stating it directly.
Visual MetaphorsUse an image to convey an idea or message more powerfully.A light bulb above someone’s head is a visual metaphor for an idea or insight.
Root MetaphorsUnderlie and shape how we perceive the world and our experiences.The mind as a computer‘ or ‘the world as an organism‘ influences our worldview.
Complex MetaphorsThese involve a primary metaphorical term being combined with further metaphorical elements.That suggestion opened a can of worms,’ the metaphor is about dealing with unexpected consequences.
Creative or Original MetaphorsThese are unique, newly coined metaphors introduced by an author or speaker.Describing the night sky as ‘a sea of stars.’


Metaphors are powerful linguistic tools that bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete, allowing us to explore complex ideas through familiar images.

By equating one thing with another, metaphors enrich language, enhance understanding, and unlock deeper insight, making the intangible tangibly compelling.

Metaphors in movies are crucial for deep storytelling, adding layers of meaning and helping convey complex ideas easily.

Up Next: How to Create Subtext in Film (Including Examples)


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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