Which of the following verbs is most commonly used with movie? Or are they both used, but the connotations are different?

I watched a good movie yesterday.

I saw a good movie yesterday.

  • 3
    I remember my grandmother saying "look at", as in "I don't look at television very much". Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 12:29

6 Answers 6


Generally, 'see' has the connotation of having gone to the movie theater and watched the movie there whereas 'watch' tends to mean to watch it in a home environment on DVD or TV.

In the cases where 'watch' is used to mean doing so at a theater, it is often accompanied with a construction like "go and", e.g. "We're going to go and watch X." In the absence of other context, this implies the sentence, "We're going to go to the theater and watch X" as opposed to "We're going to go to Bill's house and watch X."

This is just my experience of course.

Also, the distinction doesn't seem to apply to past tense. I mostly hear 'seen' used in this context but sometimes hear "watch"

  • Have you seen X?
  • Did you watch X?

The first one is much more common in my experience.

Either way, the primary distinction between watching a movie in a home environment and watching it at a theater is probably constructions involving the use of the verb "go".


To "go see something" applies to more than just movies. One can go see a play, an art exhibition, or what's happening somewhere. It's the act of going out somewhere and looking at something. Saying "Let's go see a movie" means that that you will go to the movie theater and watch a movie. When you are actually sitting in the movie theater, you are watching the movie.


I have two theories on the use of watch and see:

  1. To 'watch' is the deliberate act of seeing. Like the difference between: I saw the sun set (happened to see) and I watched the sun set (deliberately saw the action of the sun setting)

  2. I also think it has got to do with the object of the verb 'see' or to 'watch'. You 'watch' an action, something moving - while you 'see' a thing or a static object.

Like Did you see the stuff displayed in the museum? v/s. You should watch the way he batted.

Well, just from my experience of language and words :)


'See' is used when one tells of the intention.

Eg. 1. I will go to the movies to see the much talked about film. 2. I will be going out to see a movie soon. 3. We went to see a movie together last weekend.

On the other hand, 'watched' is used when actually the film is rolling or rolled and it's being appreciated or was appreciated respectively.

Eg. 1. Please I am watching a movie at the hall. 2. We watched a movie last night.


Technically, one watches a film (movie). One can also see a film - this is acceptable in colloquial speech, but stems from a misuse I would posit. It also has the connotation that you're going somewhere to watch it (e.g. the cinema).

Other European languages (including French and Spanish) use the verb to see in this situation, I believe (even though they have verbs for "to watch")... so it's probably quite a common mistake.

  • Are you saying it is definitely not correct to use see with regards to a film in English or in French/Spanish
    – Dusty
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 21:33
  • In French/Spanish. In English it's alright, but only really in colloquial speech.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 21:52
  • I'm not sure it's incorrect in formal English, either. All the dictionaries I've checked include "watch" as one of the definitions of "see", and they don't mark it as informal or colloquial.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 23:14
  • Do you have any citation for the claim that it isn't correct to use "to see"? I've never heard of such a rule.
    – Henry
    Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 6:54
  • @Martha: It's more of an observation. Historically, evidence shows that watch was the correct verb to use. Through misuse they have perhaps both become appropriate. If you take the definitions of the two verbs very strictly, then watch is clearly the more appropriate.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Dec 4, 2010 at 15:40

Consider saying "I watched a movie" or "I watched a photograph." Or rather consider saying "I saw a movie" or I saw a photograph (picture.)" Obviously, watched makes more sense in the case of a movie and saw in the case of a photograph.