Over the weekend I finally got to see "Zero Dark Thirty," a blockbuster film in theaters and a favorite at the Academy Awards. When I finished watching, I thought it was a great piece of work, but I couldn't articulate exactly what I wanted to call it. What was it, a movie or a film?
That brings me to this question: What is the difference between a movie and a film?
Analyzing the words themselves has not helped me figure out the answer to my query. A movie, derived from moving pictures, is essentially the product of a piece of cinematic work. Film is the material that those moving pictures are produced on. It is what is put into a machine, or nowadays what is transcribed into digital media, that shows the moving pictures. The two terms, film and movie, certainly don't mean the same thing — they're two different words with two different meanings. Yet people use them interchangeably to describe a video longer than 90 minutes. Is this confusion just a by-product of the current dialect we practice, or is the real difference between the two muddled because one can really ascertain between them?
When I watch a piece of cinematic work, there are a few things that I either notice immediately or don't notice at all. These include characters, storyline, cinematography and the score or soundtrack. Based off how well these things are done in a cinematic piece is how I personally determine whether it is a movie or a film.
If a piece's cinematography is done intricately and its score only elevates that quality throughout, I lean more toward calling that particular piece a film. Film is the more ostentatious of the two words. It has an air of fanciness when one uses it in regular speak. Film is probably the more commonly used term to describe works that are critically acclaimed, such as Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" or the more recent "Argo," directed by Ben Affleck.
A movie, on the other hand, is the regular, most basic term for a piece of work. Movies like "Anchorman" and "Step Brothers" are loved and adored by millions of people, but in my book they're classified as movies and not films. Yes, they're quality pieces and they without a doubt entertained tons of people, but they don't have that compelling, sophisticated quality to them that really requires the viewer to think and submerge themselves in the story.
Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can't even pick between a film and a movie. The last award of every year's show goes to Best Picture. Not Best Movie or Best Film, but Best Picture. Not that I wish the Academy could make answering this question easier for me, but it would at least maybe lead me on the right track.
In the end, choosing between calling it a movie and a film is personal preference. While on the topic briefly in Introduction to Cinema Studies explaining auteur theory, Professor Clint Stivers said, "You just know."
Reflecting on "Zero Dark Thirty" now leads me to the conclusion that it was a film. To me, it had all the qualities of a film — the characters are fascinating, the story was imperative, and ultimately, it made me feel like I wasn't watching a movie but watching the events unfold in front of me.
— Melodi Erdogan is a freshman in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.