In the past decade of cinema history, it’s become a common critical refrain that film is dead.

Whether it’s being replaced by television, video games or the internet is another debate, but the fact is that movies are no longer the dominant art form they once were.

Some people think this is a bad thing. Others think it will have a positive effect on movies — “killing” movies means they no longer have to be what they used to be, and can become something new, unbound by arbitrary conventions and expectations.

In the early 21st century, a new style of filmmaking, led by a strong editing style, emerged. Led by the ideas inherent in the ‘hyperlinking’ aspect of the World Wide Web, hyperlink cinema is a film movement that has flown largely under the radar of the film-going public.

So what is hyperlink cinema?

What Is Hyperlink Cinema

What Is Hyperlink Cinema?

Hyperlink cinema is a film genre where the narrative is presented to the viewer by a non-linear series of events that have been linked together.

Hyperlink cinema is a narrative film structure that features multiple plotlines, which may interweave, intersect or diverge.

These plotlines usually follow two different characters or groups of characters in separate storylines.

The storylines are often (but not always) related to each other in some way (i.e., the characters may be friends, family members or coworkers), and sometimes their separate paths will merge together later in the film.

The term was coined by film critic David Bordwell in his book Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment to describe films that are linked by shared characters, settings, and themes.

However, the term has been applied more broadly to films that simply feature multiple plots and narrative threads.



What Is Hyperlink Cinema?

The hyperlink narrative structure is about more than just multiple characters and locations which most films.

Hyperlink cinema is about weaving those characters and locales together in a seamless and often surprising way.

Most importantly, these connections need to occur during the action of the film rather than during exposition after the fact.

The result is a film that takes on new meanings when watched again. After the first watch, you understand how everything fits together and have a greater appreciation of how the different storylines impacted one another.

In short, hyperlink cinema is a film that structure that relies on the use of connections or ‘hyperlinks’ to transition between scenes.

This technique might have a godfather in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994), in which Tom Hanks’s character is followed through different periods of his life by way of hyperlinks.

This technique has been used by filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Charlie Kaufman, who have both utilized hyperlink cinema in their films.


The technique has become increasingly more popular with modern filmmakers, particularly those who work with digital media.

Though not set in stone, there are some general rules that are commonly followed when writing a screenplay for hyperlink cinema.

One such rule dictates that each scene should end with a link or clue that will lead into the next scene, much like an actual hyperlink on a website would lead users to another page.

Another rule is that no scene can be longer than one page so that audiences do not lose interest or become distracted.

The most famous example of hyperlink cinema may be the opening sequence of the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. In it, the Dude (Jeff Bridges) takes a seemingly innocent journey from his bathtub to his front door which sets off a series of actions that become more meaningful as the film goes on.

The Origin Of Hyperlink Cinema

Hyperlink cinema is a term coined by film theorist David Bordwell in order to describe a new type of narrative structure that has emerged in recent years, often used with ensemble casts and spanning multiple locations.

Hyperlink cinema is the cinematic equivalent of postmodern novels, which have been around since the 1960s.

The term refers to any film that has multiple storylines, with characters crossing paths or one storyline affecting another.

Many critics compare hyperlink cinema to Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), but hyperlink cinema was not an intentional filmmaking style until the late ’90s when it was popularized by writers like Steven Soderbergh and directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu.

This new style of storytelling can be traced back to Robert Altman’s film Nashville, where he followed 24 different characters over the course of three days, weaving their storylines together without ever fully connecting them.

However, there were no subsequent films that followed this same style until writer-director Kevin Smith released Clerks in 1994.

Smith’s black-and-white comedy was filmed entirely in a convenience store, with two clerks behind the counter interacting with customers throughout the day while telling raunchy jokes and generally not getting much done.

It’s not simply a question of there being several different story arcs or characters; rather, these arcs are all presented as equally important and equally connected to one another (or at least as equally connected as they possibly can be). This isn’t just one story happening alongside another; it’s every story happening at once.

Directors Associated With Hyperlink Cinema

Hyperlink cinema is a distinct filmmaking style that characterizes the films of the Wachowski siblings and writer-director James McTeigue. It is characterized by its distinctive visual style, which often incorporates highly elaborate action sequences. 

There are also highly ambitious and densely interconnected storylines.

A movie like Pulp Fiction could be considered hyperlink cinema because you can watch it linearly, or out of order.

You could start at the beginning and watch till the end, or skip around and just watch some parts that interest you more than others.


Movies which are not a part of hyperlink cinema are ones that are told through one continuous story and don’t give the audience choices in viewing order.

History Of Hyperlink Cinema

The most important factor in hyperlink cinema is the concept of a “world” that exists outside of the screen, which is not unlike the idea of a “universe” created by a novel. 

This is where hyperlink cinema differs from other films that have interlinking plotlines like Memento and Run Lola Run.

In those films, each plotline occupies its own universe, and the plotlines only cross over in the way they intersect with each other on-screen.

But in hyperlink cinema, they also intersect with their real-world counterparts in the minds of the viewers.

Tristram Shandy (a comic novel published in installments starting in 1759) features some elements of hypertext, but it isn’t exactly like a hyperlink films. It does, however, presage several ideas that would later appear in such films. 

For example, Tristram’s narrative digressions are at times reminiscent of the non-linear storytelling technique later made famous by Pulp Fiction and similar films.

And before cinema was invented, there were still ways to tell stories using multiple text sources. One notable example is Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (1962), a novel written in sixty-four chapters.

Essential Films Of Hyperlink Cinema

The movement of hyperlink cinema is about more than just the film, it’s about an experience that involves the audience. The first step to understanding hyperlink cinema is to explore the idea of interactivity.

The idea of interactivity is one that has been present in filmmaking for years but has only recently been implemented into film and new media. Interactive cinema is a fairly new genre.

It has been growing since its conception in the late 1980s due to a number of technological advancements. 

For example, The Last Action Hero (1993), follows a boy named Danny who finds himself transported into a fictional action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger named Jack Slater IV (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger).

As Danny interacts with characters and objects in the film he begins to alter both worlds and create new realities. This movie uses action figures to interact with the film, which enables the spectator to change the course of events within the movie.

The effect this has on audiences is that it allows them to physically enter into the world of cinema and become a part of it.

Hyperlink Cinema Theory

One of the most influential cinematographers of the last half-century, Gordon Willis ended his career with a series of films that he shot in a hyperlink style. 

His use of color and shadow was so distinctive that it was almost possible to identify his work solely by the visuals.

The hyperlink cinema theory is an idea developed by film critic David Bordwell, who writes: “The films of Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wong Kar Wai, and others create a ‘hyperlink cinema’ in which individual scenes do not work as self-contained units, but rather plug into each other like parts in a machine.”

Hyperlink films can be recognized by their distinctive visual style.

They use multiple cameras, which produce crisp images in shallow focus. The films are edited in a nonlinear fashion — often to the point where individual shots cannot be identified as the beginning, middle, or end,

The soundtracks often feature voiceover narration or dialogue that is frequently drowned out by background noise. 

The films favor long takes and minimal cutting. 

A hyperlink film usually has several parallel storylines that don’t converge until the climax.

The End Of Hyperlink Cinema

The death of hyperlink cinema is an idea that’s been making the rounds recently. 

In a nutshell, it holds that we’ve all decided collectively to abandon the complex narratives of earlier eras – where stories were told in multiple fixed spatial and temporal dimensions – in favor of more streamlined, linear narratives.

It’s not a hard idea to support empirically: one need only look at the contemporary film landscape with its focus on franchises, reboots, sequels, adaptations, and remakes to see that we’re much more interested in telling stories by going back to the well than we are in trying new things. 

And yet there’s something about the ideas of hyperlink cinema and its death that feels like a premature eulogy.

Hyperlink Cinema – Wrapping Up

Essentially, hyperlink cinema is the idea that films don’t contain a plotline as much as they contain a plot web.

These webs are formed by the connections between characters and the connections between action and reaction, sometimes across long periods of time. 

For one thing, there’s no one way to go about structuring a hyperlink film. There are as many ways to do it as there are hyperlink films.

Secondly, I’ve realized that my notion of hyperlink cinema is really more of an umbrella term than the specific kind of cinema I was initially looking for. 

Rather than simply being a specific structural approach to filmmaking, it seems that many different kinds of narrative structures can be called “hyperlink.”

And even “narrative” isn’t really accurate, since hyperlink cinema isn’t strictly limited to narratives: documentaries and experimental films can also be hyperlink films (and in fact, many hyperlink filmmakers produce non-fiction pieces as well).