I'm a native Vietnamese speaker. In Vietnamese we used the word "phim" (which is taken from French or English "film") to refer to just about any type of recorded cinematic video. I've tried to look in Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries but haven't got the satisfying definition. For example, movie:

"a series of moving pictures, often telling a story, usually shown in a theater or on television; film" (Cambridge Dict.)

So my question is: What does "movie/film" actually mean? Can shows like Charmed, CSI, The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones ever ever be referred to as "movies/films"? Can "movie/film" ever ever be a cover term for everything that is filmed and released in theaters or on TV, such as drama TV shows, documentaries, etc.?

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    Are you asking about the distinction between "a movie" and "a film", or the distinction between movies and films and other forms of video media? To answer one of your questions: no, TV shows like "Charmed" are never referred to as "movies" or "films" by native speakers.
    – Dan Bron
    May 4, 2015 at 13:58
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    Movie and film are both legacy terms today, vestiges of the past with various meanings depending on context and usage. 1. For the contemporary meaning and usage of these two terms, please see a more specialized glossary rather than a general English dictionary. 2. As for whether the Vietnamese word phim translates to English movie or film, yes, both words do have that meaning in contemporary usage. See also: simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movie en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film
    – Kris
    May 4, 2015 at 14:04
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    I'm puzzled. You want a single umbrella term for movies and TV shows, in the way that "footwear" can cover hiking boots, sandals and stilettos? I don't think there is one. English is like that: an amazing number of words for styles of walking, but some thumping great holes.
    – David Pugh
    May 4, 2015 at 14:11
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    Amazon has a section like that. It is called "Movies & TV".
    – GEdgar
    May 4, 2015 at 14:21
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    @Josh: But it would have to cover Lena Dunham's "Girls" as well as "Game of Thrones". Also, ghod help us, the Jerry Springer Show. Motion pictures? I don't think so.
    – David Pugh
    May 4, 2015 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


Motion pictures are a comparatively recent invention. Here's how these words evolved:

Film meant a thin coat of something (still does)...

extended by 1845 to the coating of chemical gel on photographic plates. By 1895 this also meant the coating plus the paper or celluloid. Hence "a motion picture" (1905); sense of "film-making as a craft or art" is from 1920.

Movie is a shortened form of 'moving picture'.

By etymology, it looks like these terms are applicable to any video, but conventionally they are reserved for productions released theatrically.

Apart from that you have documentaries, direct-to-video features, TV shows (formally, series) and so on.

Can "movie/film" ever ever be a cover term for everything that is filmed and released in theaters or on TV?

No, it can't.

EDIT: Since people have shown interest in the comments, here are my thoughts on Made-for-TV and Direct-to-DVD features (We're digressing here, as this is not part of English language and usage):

I must say I don't consider them the same as movies.

To back this up, I present a short summary of relevant criteria a production must meet to be called a movie according to the Oscars:

a. feature length (defined as over 40 minutes),

b. publicly exhibited by specified film formats.

c. for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County, (for our purposes, let's call it any city)

d. for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days,

e. advertised ... in a manner customary to industry practice, and

f. within the Awards year deadlines specified in Rule Three. (not relevant here)

Films that, in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category.

Nontheatrical public exhibition or distribution includes but is not limited to:

  • Broadcast and cable television


  • DVD distribution

  • Internet transmission

These features may be equally great in quality, and eligible for some other prestigious awards, but they are not movies in the classical sense.

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    What about "made for TV" movies?
    – jamesqf
    May 4, 2015 at 17:36
  • @jamesqf: They fall under ...and so on.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 4, 2015 at 18:02
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    I think a "made for TV movie" is a real thing to talk about, and "straight to DVD" releases can also be called movies. May 4, 2015 at 18:02

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