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It is my impression that movies from around the 90s look more noisy than from other eras (in terms of picture quality, sorry I probably lack the proper terminology here). In particular, unlike what you probably would expect, earlier movies (e.g. from the 50s/60s) seem to not show this so much.

To give an example: Watching a Blu-Ray of Psycho and a Blu-Ray of Scream, the latter seems to be more noisy. I would have expected this to be due to differences in the film format, but according to IMDb Scream and Psycho are both recorded on 35mm film.

Of course this might seem subjective, but maybe someone can shed a light on where this impression might come from.

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    In the examples you're comparing two completely different shots... even the screenshots resolutions are different. There's much more than just film differences. Plus not all 90's films were noisy. But that's all subjective indeed. – Luciano Jun 10 at 7:33
  • yes, it was just for illustration, but it probably was not a good idea to add them, I will remove them. But I hope a lot of people will still know the grainy look that very much represents 90s movies for me. – BlackWolf Jun 10 at 7:37
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    At a guess, Psycho has been remastered recently, Scream hasn't. Just because it's on BluRay doesn't mean it came from the highest quality master. – Tetsujin Jun 10 at 8:45
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    Although this seems like the premise of an objective question (comparing image quality between films of specific era's), the question would need a lot more research to be properly answerable, I think. – Joachim Jun 10 at 8:56
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    Fail to see how this can be closed. There is likely to be a very good explanation. – cmp Jun 11 at 22:38
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For the Blu-ray versions they might have applied various amounts of blur effects (smoothing out of grain) or sophisticated noise removal algorithms on the scan results.

Moreover it is likely that they put more effort in digitizing movies which promised (in their eyes) higher revenue. So that's why decades-long classics might be prioritized over more recent movies. I also wonder if older movies might only be selected for digitization if their quality is sufficient while they weren't that picky with later movies? I wouldn't rule out a certain bias, however this is speculative.

And of course, grain depends on source material. A format like 16mm is smaller than 35mm and to get to HD you have to magnify the 16mm more than 35mm and thereby grain is more visible. And there are naturally differences between film stocks of the same format if prodcued by different manufacturers.

But we are not done yet. The ISO speed and exposure when filming plays a role too. Higher ISO means larger grains. Low light means the grain is more easily visible (esp. in shadows). Also prolonging time during film development (called pushing) makes grain more noticable. There are long-term trends regarding lighting. Earlier, esp. in Hollywood, movies were generously lit, so on average such movies show less low light issues. Horror movies on the other hand tend to show a lot of dark, sparsely lit scenes in recent times.

Psycho is in black and white. Scream is in colour. The film stock is quite different, the develop process is different, the chemicals are different. Generally speaking colour film is more difficult to handle making it more likely that grain is more pronounced here.

Most of those factors work not so much in favour of the 90s movies on average. Maybe that's why you see noise/grain more pronounced in digitized 90s movies. However with a different movie selection the result might be another. It depends how much influence all those factors have on the movies you select. Plus a more recent digitization will enable taking advantage of recent and better noise removal technologies.

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  • Some high-profile movies get the full 5-star treatment to preserve them for future generations. I'm thinking of such as Cristopher Nolan's serious dedication to the restoration of 2001, for example - variety.com/2018/artisans/production/… Mid-90's schlock-horror… hmm… not so much ;-) – Tetsujin Jun 10 at 15:36
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Short Answer - Moviecam compact. This camera debuted in 1990 and was small, handy camera.

Film (on which movie are recorded) have different grain. Usually bigger grain (noise) is cheaper and it's later smoothed out (mostly seen in TV productions). Smoothed, for example, using different lenses. But the new camera wasn't so acomodated in lenses like a Mitchell BNC used by Hollywood for almost 30 years and Hitchcock. So that dictated look for the whole movie.

Trivia: There is a rumour that Jackie Gleason insisted on using "movie" film for The Honeymooners as the grain was much more finer and made audience think they're watching movie and not TV production.

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    The Moviecam could explain the lens choice, but not the amount of grain, unless the lens choice was only towards higher T-stops, forcing higher ISO film use. – Tetsujin Jun 10 at 8:44
  • @Tetsujin It's a combination. The film grain is inherited part of the film that couldn't be countered by use of different lenses. But Moviecam had more mobility and was more handy in use so the ombined effect it had when used with cheaper film was kind of "90's estethics". Especially visible in 90's commercials and music videos. – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 10 at 11:58
  • Cheap film may explain things, the lens choice doesn't at all, unless they were forced by slower lenses to use higher ISO, which is inherently more grainy. Lenses don't make [or resolve] film grain in any way. The [now removed] picture link of Scream doesn't hint at a very slow lens, though it might be 85mm or so to get that background bokeh. – Tetsujin Jun 10 at 12:13

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