Film screening room at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Film studies is an academic discipline that deals with various theoretical, historical, and critical approaches to cinema as an art form and a medium. It is sometimes subsumed within media studies and is often compared to television studies.[1]

Film studies is less concerned with advancing proficiency in film production than it is with exploring the narrative, artistic, cultural, economic, and political implications of the cinema.[1] In searching for these social-ideological values, film studies takes a series of critical approaches for the analysis of production, theoretical framework, context, and creation.[2] Also, in studying film, possible careers include critic or production. Overall the study of film continues to grow, as does the industry on which it focuses.

Academic journals publishing film studies work include Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Film International, CineAction, Screen, Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Film Quarterly, Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind, and Journal of Film and Video.


Film studies as an academic discipline emerged in the twentieth century, decades after the invention of motion pictures. Not to be confused with the technical aspects of film production, film studies exists only with the creation of film theory—which approaches film critically as an art—and the writing of film historiography. Because the modern film became an invention and industry only in the late nineteenth century, a generation of film producers and directors existed significantly before the academic analysis that followed in later generations.

Early film schools focused on the production and subjective critique of film rather than on the critical approaches, history and theory used to study academically. Since the time film was created, the concept of film studies as a whole grew to analyze the formal aspects of film as they were created. Established in 1919 the Moscow Film School was the first school in the world to focus on film. In the United States the USC School of Cinematic Arts, established in 1929, was the first cinematic based school, which was created in agreement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They were also the first to offer a major in film in 1932 but without the distinctions that are assumed in film studies. Universities began to implement different forms of cinema related curriculum without, however, the division between the abstract and practical approaches.

The Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg (i.e. German Film Academy Babelsberg) was founded in the Third Reich in 1938. Among the lecturers were e.g. Willi Forst and Heinrich George. To complete the studies at the Academy a student was expected to create his own film.

A movement away from Hollywood productions in the 1950s turned cinema into a more artistic independent endeavor. It was the creation of the auteur theory, which asserted film as the director's vision and art, that prompted film studies to become truly considered academically worldwide in the 1960s. In 1965, film critic Robin Wood, in his writings on Alfred Hitchcock, declared that Hitchcock's films contained the same complexities of Shakespeare's plays.[3] Similarly, French director Jean Luc Godard, a contributor to the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, wrote: "Jerry Lewis [...] is the only one in Hollywood doing something different, the only one who isn't falling in with the established categories, the norms, the principles. [...] Lewis is the only one today who's making courageous films".[4] With stable enrollment, proper budgets and interest in all humanities numerous universities contained the ability to offer distinct film studies programs.

As the global community of filmmakers and scholars grew, the analysis of film developed into an academic discipline. This was helped in part by large donations from successful commercial filmmakers, who helped fund film studies departments in universities. An example is George Lucas' US$175 million donation to the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2006.[5]

Approaches to film studies

Main article: Film theory

Modern film studies

Today film studies exists worldwide as a discipline with specific schools dedicated to it. The aspects of film studies have grown to encompass numerous methods for teaching history, culture and society. Many liberal arts colleges and universities contain courses specifically geared toward the analysis of film.[6] Also exemplifying the increased diversity of film studies is the fact that high schools across the United States offer classes on film theory. Many programs conjoin film studies with media and television studies, taking knowledge from all parts of visual production in the approach. With the growing technologies such as 3-D film and YouTube, films are now concretely used to teach a reflection of culture and art around the world as a primary medium. Due to the ever-growing dynamic of film studies, a wide variety of curricula have emerged for analysis of critical approaches used in film.[7] Although each institution has the power to form the study material, students are usually expected to grasp a knowledge of conceptual shifts in film, a vocabulary for the analysis of film form and style, a sense of ideological dimensions of film, and an awareness of extra textual domains and possible direction of film in the future.[8] Universities offer their students a course in the field of film analysis to critically engage with the production of films which also allows the students to take part in research and seminars of specialized topics to enhance their critical abilities.[9]

Common curriculum

See also: List of film schools and List of film schools in the United States

The curriculum of tertiary level film studies programs often include but are not limited to:

  1. Attention to time period
  2. Attention to regional creation
  3. Attention to genre
  4. Attention to creators

With diverse courses that make up for film studies majors or minors come to exist within schools.[10][11][12]

United States film studies

In the United States, universities offer courses specifically toward film studies, and schools committed to minor/major programs.

Currently 144 different tertiary institutions nationwide offer a major program in film studies.[6] This number continues to grow each year with new interest in the film studies discipline. Institutions offering film degrees as part of their arts or communications curriculum differ from institutions with a dedicated film program. The curriculum is in no way limited to films made in the United States; a wide variety of films can be analyzed.

With the American film industry generating by far the highest global box office returns and second worldwide only to India in terms of number of filmgoers and number of productions, the attraction for film studies is high. To obtain a degree in the United States, a person is likely to pursue careers in the production of film, especially directing and producing films.[13] Often classes in the United States will combine new forms of media, such as television or new media, in combination with film study.[14] Those who study film want to be able to analyze the numerous films released in the United States every year in a more academic setting, or to understand the history of cinema as an art form. Films can reflect the culture of the period not only in the United States but around the world.

World film studies

Film studies programmes, at BA, MA and PhD level,[15] are offered in most of the countries in the Global North, while in the Global South, various programmes have been established too. In many cases, film studies can be found in departments of media studies, or communication studies.[16] Beyond educational institutions, film archives and museums such as the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam,[17] also run scholarly projects, alongside educational and outreach programmes. Film festivals play an important role in the study of film as well. This varies from discourses on film style, aesthetics, and representation, to film production, distribution, and social impact, to film history, archiving, and curating. Major festivals, like the Cannes Film Festival,[18] have extensive programmes with talks and panel discussions, while they also inform film historiography,[19] most actively through their retrospectives and historical sections, such as 'Cannes Classics'. There are many festivals that play such a role regionally as well. Film festival FESPACO, for example, serves as a major hub for discourse on cinema on the African continent.[20]

Prominent scholars

Academic journals

Main article: List of film journals

See also


  1. ^ a b Gibson, Pamela Church; Dyer, Richard; Kaplan, E. Ann; Willemen, Paul, eds. (2000). "Introduction". Film Studies: Critical Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–8. ISBN 0-19-874280-0. OCLC 42835361.
  2. ^ Sikov, Ed. 2010. "Introduction." Pp. 1–4 in Film Studies: An Introduction. New York: Columbia UP. Print. Google Books
  3. ^ Grant, Barry Keith. Film Study in the Undergraduate Curriculum. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1983.15. Print.
  4. ^ Jim Hillier, ed. (1987). Cahiers du Cinema 1960–1968 New Wave, New Cinema, Re-evalutating Hollywood (Godard in interview with Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni). Harvard University Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780674090651.
  5. ^ Abramowitz, Rachel (2010). "LA's Screen Gems". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 24 January 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Major:Film Studies". 2010. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  7. ^ Grieveson, Lee. "Cinema Studies." Inventing Film Studies. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. 67. Print.
  8. ^ Dix, Andrew. Beginning Film Studies. Manchester UP. 2-14. Print.Google Books
  9. ^ Amsterdam, Universiteit van (2 July 2019). "Film Studies (Media Studies) - GSH - University of Amsterdam". Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Film Studies Program". Yale University. 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  11. ^ "Film and Media Studies". Georgetown University. 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  12. ^ "USC School of Cinematic Arts". University of Southern California. 2010. Archived from the original on 18 June 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  13. ^ Polan, Dana, and Haidee Wasson. "Young Art, Old Colleges." Inventing Film Studies. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. Print.
  14. ^ "History of Film Studies in the United States and at Berkeley." Film Studies. Web. 11 Nov. 2010. <"Film Studies". Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2010.>.
  15. ^ Studyportals. "PhD Programmes in Film Studies in Europe". PhD Portal.
  16. ^ "Communication & Media Studies". Top Universities. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  17. ^ "Academic". Eye Filmmuseum. Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  18. ^ Dargis, Manohla. "Cannes International Film Festival". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Vallejo, Aida (3 May 2020). "Rethinking the canon: the role of film festivals in shaping film history". Studies in European Cinema. 17 (2): 155–169. doi:10.1080/17411548.2020.1765631. ISSN 1741-1548.
  20. ^ Aveh, M. Africanus (2020). "FESPACO—Promoting African Film Development and Scholarship". Black Camera. 12 (1): 117–128. ISSN 1947-4237.

Further reading