A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images due to the phi phenomenon. This optical illusion causes the audience to perceive continuous motion between separate objects viewed rapidly in succession. A film is created by photographing actual scenes with a motion picture camera; by photographing drawings or miniature models using traditional animation techniques; by means of CGI and computer animation; or by a combination of some or all of these techniques and other visual effects. The contemporary definition of cinema is the art of simulating experiences, that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty or atmosphere by the means of recorded or programmed moving images along with other sensory stimulations.
The process of filmmaking is both an art and an industry. Films were originally recorded onto plastic film which was shown through a movie projector onto a large screen (in other words, an analog recording process). The adoption of CGI-based special effects led to the use of digital intermediates. Most contemporary films are now fully digital through the entire process of production, distribution, and exhibition from start to finish.
Films recorded in analog form traditionally included an optical soundtrack, which is a graphic recording of the spoken words, music and other sounds that are to accompany the images. It runs along a portion of the film exclusively reserved for it and is not projected.
Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures. They reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment, and a powerful medium for educating—or indoctrinating—citizens. The visual basis of film gives it a universal power of communication. Some films have become popular worldwide attractions by using dubbing or subtitles to translate the dialog into the language of the viewer. Some have criticized the film industry's glorification of violence and its sexist treatment of women.
The individual images that make up a film are called frames. During projection of traditional films, a rotating shutter causes intervals of darkness as each frame in turn is moved into position to be projected, but the viewer does not notice the interruptions because of an effect known as persistence of vision, whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. The perception of motion is due to a psychological effect called phi phenomenon.
A preview performance refers to a showing of a movie to a select audience, usually for the purposes of corporate promotions, before the public film premiere itself. Previews are sometimes used to judge audience reaction, which if unexpectedly negative, may result in recutting or even refilming certain sections (Audience response).
Usually in the 2010s, an admission is for one feature film. Sometimes two feature films are sold as one admission (double feature), with a break in between. Separate admission for a short subject is rare; it is either an extra before a feature film or part of a series of short films sold as one admission (this mainly occurs at film festivals). (See also anthology film.) In the early decades of "talkie" films, many movie theaters presented a number of shorter items in addition to the feature film. This might include a newsreel, live-action comedy short films, documentary short films, musical short films, or cartoon shorts (many classic cartoons series such as the Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse shorts were created for this purpose). Examples of this kind of programming are available on certain DVD releases of two of the most famous films starring Errol Flynn as a special feature arrangement designed to recreate that kind of filmgoing experience while the PBS series, Matinee at the Bijou, presented the equivalent content. Some theaters ran on continuous showings, where the same items would repeat throughout the day, with patrons arriving and departing at any time rather than having distinct entrance and exit cycles. Newsreels gradually became obsolete by the 1960s with the rise of television news, and most material now shown prior to a feature film is of a commercial or promotional nature (which usually include "trailers", which are advertisements for films and commercials for other consumer products or services).
The name "film" originates from the fact that photographic film (also called film stock) has historically been the medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist for an individual motion picture, including picture, picture show, moving picture, photoplay and flick. The most common term in the United States is movie, while in Europe film is preferred. Terms for the field in general include the big screen, the silver screen, the movies and cinema; the latter is commonly used in scholarly texts and critical essays, especially by European writers. In early years, the word sheet was sometimes used instead of screen.
Film may be combined with performance art and still be considered or referred to as a "film", for instance, when there is a live musical accompaniment to a silent film. Another example is audience participation films, as at a midnight movies screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where the audience dresses up in costume from the film and loudly does a karaoke-like reenactment along with the film. Performance art where film is incorporated as a component is usually not called film, but a film, which could stand-alone but is accompanied by a performance may still be referred to as a film.
The act of making a film can, in and of itself, be considered a work of art, on a different level from the film itself, as in the films of Werner Herzog.
Similarly, the playing of a film can be considered to fall within the realm of political protest art, as in the subtleties within the films of Tarkovsky. A "road movie" can refer to a film put together from footage from a long road trip or vacation.
Film is considered to have its own language. James Monaco wrote a classic text on film theory titled "How to Read a Film". Director Ingmar Bergman famously said, "Andrei Tarkovsky for me is the greatest director, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream." Examples of the language are a sequence of back and forth images of one actor's left profile speaking, followed by another actor's right profile speaking, then a repetition of this, which is a language understood by the audience to indicate a conversation. Another example is zooming in on the forehead of an actor with an expression of silent reflection, then changing to a scene of a younger actor who vaguely resembles the first actor, indicating the first actor is having a memory of their own past.