What is the difference between movie, film and motion picture? In school I learned that a movie is played in a cinema, but film is also used to describe this.

  • 1
    you left out "flick" ;)
    – JoseK
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 11:09
  • 3
    I was once queuing to buy a ticket for a film at the BFI and there was an American ahead. He asked "I'd like a ticket for the movie." The attendant replied "Here is you ticket for the film," and then, after the guy had left, added "I cannot bring myself to use such childish language." Some people can be such snobs! Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:01
  • UK'ers tend to use "film" while North Americans tend to choose Movie and Motion Picture. GO TO WATCH A MOVIE WITH ME, WILL YOU ? GO TO WATCH A FFFFILLMMM WITH ME, WILL YOU ? <sniffing> Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:09
  • In the U.S., a film is played in a cinema, and a movie is played in a movie theater. It's a matter of register — the first two words are more highbrow. (Or should that be higher brow? ;-) Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 0:33
  • 3
    Film is a medium, movie is an action. Cinema is an industry.
    – user28450
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 23:58

6 Answers 6


Movies is probably more common in AE and films more common in BE, pictures is common in a lot of BE dialects.

"Film" (singular) is often used in a more 'high-brow' sense, in the same way "literature" might be used instead of "books". So an arts student might study 'film' rather than 'movies'

  • 1
    Although it's pretty dated now, older people still sometimes speak of going to the pictures. But I don't think I've heard anyone call a film a "picture" in many decades. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 17:14
  • @FumbleFingers - what latitude?
    – mgb
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 17:14
  • Me? Southern UK, around 50°. Why? Do you think usage on this one varies according to latitude? The barbarians in Northern Britain probably went to the pictures long after us poncy Southerners had mostly switched to the cinema, but I think that was a while ago now. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 17:27
  • 1
    Ah went t'pictures when I wor a lad - even further north they watch 'filems'
    – mgb
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 17:33
  • 1
    @Fumblefingers - nowadays we go t'NAND-flash rather than a film
    – mgb
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 17:56

They are all synonyms, with different derivations.

Movie is short for moving picture (or motion picture which I have not heard too much), and can refer both to a single show and to the film industry (when in the plural form, the movies).

Film obviously derives from the fact that the images were/are impressed on a roll film (not for digital cameras of course).

From the OED:


= moving picture; also, a moving-picture show; a cinema; pl. (freq. the movies), motion pictures as an industry, an art-form, or a form of entertainment; a cinema or a cinema-show.


A cinematographic representation of a story, drama, episode, event, etc.; a cinema performance; pl. the cinema, the ‘pictures’, the movies.

motion picture

motion picture}, a ‘moving picture’; a cinema film;


Maybe a bit idiosyncratic (reminiscent of "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke"), but I must admit that whereas mostly I just think of movie as a slightly downmarket American synonym for film, I do sometimes say...

Now that's a movie!

as distinct from a "mere" film, to describe a well-made blockbuster that I fully expect to be given the maximum 4 stars in Halliwell's Film Guide. For me this usage doesn't necessarily imply that I personally liked it better than anything I'd simply call a film - just that I think it would be more highly-rated by others in general (and probably had a huge production budget).

In terms of actual usage, here's movie premiere and film premiere over the last century, showing movie only became the more common form a decade or so ago.

Zooming in on the last 50 years of American usage... ...still shows that recent shift, whereas the same period of British usage... ...suggests Brits aren't really behind this usage yet. But we'll get there, I've no doubt.

Finally, I would just say motion picture is hopelessly dated today, on both sides of the Atlantic.


What is the difference between movie, film and motion picture? In school I learned that a movie is played in a cinema, but film is also used to describe this.

The words mean the same thing. The difference, is in the use of them.

Movie/movies is an American word. Film/films is an English word, used by by British people.

However, in very recent years, the word "movie" has slowly started to be used here in the UK, as well. It is not widespread but, is used by some British people (mainly radio and TV presenters).

This thread is related and provides some more information: "Movies" vs. "Cinema" vs. "Theater" -- what's the difference?


Basically, all mean the same;

a sequence of consecutive pictures of objects photographed in motion by a specially designed camera and thrown on a screen by a projector in such rapid succession as to give the illusion of natural movement.

"Movies" is the shortening of "motion picture". "Moving picture" was the earliest name used for a sequence of images.

I think the basic difference between "movie" and "film", is "film" covers everything concerning motion-pictures("I went to see Polanski's films", including the entertainment ones) , but "movies" only deals with the entertainment side of motion-pictures.

We tend to say, going to see a "film on gems," not "going to see a "movie on gems", but "movie of a comedy-romance", not a "film on a comedy-romance".

"Motion-picture" is a little obsolete, and no longer used anymore.


When I was in film school in Los Angeles at UCLA we called it the film department though it was officially the Department of Motion Pictures. USC's was the Department of Cinema which sounded a bit pretentious - it's now the School of Cinematic Arts (maybe that was the name then). You pretty much went to see a film, it was one syllable and simple, occasionally to a movie, maybe at the notorious Movies Around Midnight series at the Cinema Theater on Western Boulevard, which showed art films that had just barely passed Supreme Court scrutiny. You got jobs working on films, like on a Roger Corman film if you were lucky. It was a neutral term.

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