Movie or Film?


by Benjamin Blue

Having been in the filmmaking industry for a few years (and especially being one of those poor fools who actually went to film school), I’m well acquainted with the debate between the words “MOVIE” and “FILM.” I’d like to propose my own definition, one I’ve found has held up in some fairly critical circles.

Let’s get that first annoying, overly literal issue out of the way. “Film” does not, and has not for years (in this context), referred to the actual cellulose or polyester medium on which the images are actually recorded. When the word “film” is used in this context, we’re talking about the actual motion picture itself. So, no, not all motion pictures are “films” just because they were shot on film; and no, just because a motion picture is shot digitally doesn’t mean it’s NOT a “film.” Got it? Good. Moving on!

When we get into the debate of “movie” versus “film,” inevitably you get into the artistic merits of the motion picture, often in contrast to its entertainment value. For instance, people widely consider the French New Wave icon The 400 Blows a “film” due to its artistic merit (as opposed to the fact that it’s boring as grass). By contrast, pretty much everyone would consider Back to the Future a “movie” because it’s clearly meant as entertainment, not art.

But this is where subjectivity really gets in the way. My favorite movie of all time is the original Japanese Shall We Dansu? I find it both beautifully artistic AND immensely entertaining. Do I consider it a “film” or a “movie?” Honestly, I’m still debating that, based on the criteria above. But others, those that may simply not like foreign cinema, might immediately label it a “film.” They can’t debate the artistic merit of the piece, but they are not entertained by it at all. That is their subjective opinion.

So, in an effort to eliminate the subjectivity from the debate, I propose a new standard by which to measure whether a motion picture is a “movie” or a “film,” and that is:

The Creator’s Original Intent

Instead of looking at the audience’s subjective perception of the Artistic Merit or Entertainment Value of a motion picture, let’s look at the Creator’s Original Intent for the piece. Namely, did he/she:

A. Create the motion picture to please a wide audience and Entertain?


B. Create the motion picture to please critics and other “filmmakers” and emphasize his/her Artistic Ability?

THIS is the question. Is it meant for the masses? Or is it meant for others in their own industry? I think you would be hard-pressed to make the case that Bergman’s Persona is meant for anyone but film critics and filmmakers (or in that rare case, complete masochists) who are more interested in discussing the relevance of this or that editing style rather than simply enjoying a story. At the same time, it would be similarly difficult to make a case that She’s The Man is concerned with the deep philosophy of cinematography more than making the audience laugh (which it does, repeatedly; both in the movie itself and when I watch it back-to-back in the same night because it’s so awesome…don’t judge me!).

Of course, we could just throw out both terms and find something neutral. You know, like…MoPic. But no, let’s not do that.


  1. Nicholas SuddarthNovember 8th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I think this is a good way to determine Movie from Film. But what do you call MoPic’s that do neither? That do not entertain and are not works of art?

  2. Benjamin BlueNovember 8th, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Personally, I don’t call them anything. I deny their existence and move on. Healthier for my sanity that way.

  3. Kelli WNovember 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve always kind of used them interchangeably, or at least I never really thought about it, but that’s a good point. You can take a Film Studies class, but not Movie Studies, and the films you study are usually more art than entertainment (something I always found annoying, btw). But when you’re out with your friends you want to go to the movies. And movies CAN have a lot of artistic merit and still be entertaining. Hmm…

  4. AndrewNovember 10th, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I have always found generally these two terms are interchangeable. Coming from the uk, It is much more common to hear film than movie. This is generally so as movie is considered a more american term, like chips/crisps or fries/chips it is not a difference of classification at all more an american synonym.

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