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"Film" vs. "Movie"


It's rare for anyone to refer to a film or movie as a motion picture, moving picture or photoplay. "Motion picture" is often reserved for filmmakers or marketing teams wanting to elevate their product (it is essentially a product) and talk about it as something distinct and somehow better than the rest. "Moving picture" and "photoplay" are hardly ever used anymore (that's if you've even heard them) and would probably seem more organic if you're wearing a top hat and a monocle. So, it mostly falls on film and movie, the two shortest words to describe this sometimes immersive form of entertainment.

The sheer number of cinematic and straight-to-video or streaming products being churned out demands some further categorisation. Let's let motion picture stay where it is. The phrase is a mouthful and is only really used in promoting a new title or during awards season when penguin suits also make sense. That leaves "film" and "movie". While these two words are considered interchangeable, there are some nuances that are worth noting. This also plays out in the arena of "movie critic" and "film critic" but has far-reaching application and should be widely accepted.

Film vs Movie

Film

The word "film" is all-encompassing. In terms of definition it refers to the end product "a story or event recorded by a camera as a set of moving images and shown in a cinema or on television" and the act of creation, to "capture on film as part of a series of moving images; make a film of (a story, event, or book)".

Film is also more closely linked to the craft. It's used in the word filmmaking, which is much more commonly used to describe the act than moviemaking.

Film is deemed to be more sophisticated. Being 'in the know' and part of some tap-your-nose and wink-wink secret society, it's a word that's used to elevate the whole process of telling stories for a living. "I'm a filmmaker" sounds much more elevated than "I make movies", unless of course the person uttering these words is doing this to downplay their tremendous abilities.

Film makes you think arthouse more than blockbuster. No one's going to look at you funny if you use either word to refer to the latest superhero extravaganza but they may give you a sideways glance if you refer to The Tree of Life or The Seventh Seal as a movie.

Movie

The word "movie" is definite. It refers to "a cinema film", so there's very little bend and mystique to this term. Our guess is that it probably also travels quite well, meaning you'll be hard pressed to find someone in another country who doesn't know what you mean. Add the charades hand gesture if you need to give them another clue... although based on the origins, don't be surprised if they say "oh, film".

Movie is more colloquial. "Let's go to the movies" or "what movies are showing?" are the kinds of easy-going phrases that are likely to crop up on the get-along gang WhatsApp group. It's also easier to switch between and say "movie" and "movies", much easier than "film" and "films". Films just seems like an extra hurdle.

Movie comes across as more commercial. Seeing movies on the big screen and watching blockbusters at the local cineplex just seems more in tune with the word and have possibly been more closely linked to the word "movie" over time.

We could have gone into a breakdown of the words with "movie" conjoining the noise a cow makes with a derogatory hand gesture but that seems a bit much. Especially since the contrast would be a hands down victory for "film", which is a conglomeration of fill and mmm - a word and sound that are far more gratifying.

When it comes to reviewing, this critic has actually started to differentiate. During the Talking Movies show I like to give audiences an idea of how to receive the critique by pre-empting each spoken review with "A film now showing..." or "A movie now showing...". If you're expecting a film, then you're anticipating the work of an auteur or a production aiming for something more artful and substantial. Whereas movie signals that this title isn't as serious about the finesse of the craft but rather geared towards maximum popcorn entertainment value. So there's a difference. It hasn't forced a switch from movie review to film review or "Talking Movies" to "Talking Films" but it's still worth noting the nuances and the aura of meaning they carry.