This has always made me wonder, what is they key thing that makes a movie look like a film. To explain better, if you watch some camera footage and then compare to how something similar looks in a movie - there is always the feeling that you are watching a movie and you know it right away.

Is it some kind of screen filtering, camera angles or what exactly is it?

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    Unfortunately, without being a bit more specific it is really hard to pin down what impression you are actually after here.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Nov 26, 2015 at 16:24
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    Well, I don't, that's the point.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Nov 26, 2015 at 16:26
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    The biggest element would probably be the quality and placement/movement of the cameras (unless you're watching true shaky/handheld cam stuff. If you Google images of different movie camera rigs, you'll see why it's pretty unlikely why the sort of cameras the average Joe has would match. Too, most good cinematographers are geared toward making a cinematic shot, they think in the language of film, not the language of Uncle Marty taking holiday movies at the beach with a little all-in-one $200 video camera.
    – user27684
    Nov 26, 2015 at 17:32
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    It's a good question although it seems a bit broad and personal.
    – user7812
    Nov 26, 2015 at 17:42
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    I think it comes down to any combination of a number of things: extra effects and editing, filming techniques, unfamiliarity with the people and places, quality of film and cameras. For example, I've had times where I watched a movie that had someone I knew in it and when they were on the screen it felt like I was watching a home movie with a normal hand held camera, the rest of the time it felt like a "movie".
    – sanpaco
    Nov 26, 2015 at 20:00

3 Answers 3


I think what you might be driving at is something called "The Film Look", something that is instantly recognisable due to a combination of high-intensity lighting, fully focused camera shots and, most importantly, the frame and shutter speeds.

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    No one has used the word yet so i will: Movies are expected to be produced using cinematography. Scripts, sets, scoring and editing are intended to enhance the overall experience as well.
    – Beo
    Nov 27, 2015 at 18:08
  • @Beo - That's certainly true, but I think the OP is aiming to describe the way in which a movie is instantly recognisable as such.
    – user7812
    Nov 27, 2015 at 18:13
  • And yeah, I already used the word.
    – user27684
    Nov 27, 2015 at 18:59

I believe the following all contribute to a "movie" feeling:

  • The sound! It is well known that you can get away with a bad image, but not with a bad sound. It immediately sets apart a movie from a professional apart from one made by an amateur (unless that amateur has professional level of sound editing).
  • The Music also helps a lot and is carefully chosen and used (like the usual "music attached to a character" used in many movies, it gives an immediate context to a scene, and can help make subttle hints (using the music of someone or something in scenes where it is not directly seen, for example)
  • For the image itself, which is really what you asked about:
    • Smooth scrollings
    • Little depth of field when they want to focus your attention on one of the characters or a particular place in the image (a little depth of field makes the focused thing sharp and the other ones nicely blurred. Heavily used in portrait photography, and also in movies)
    • Careful use of different angles, sometimes wide, and sometimes very narrow (for example: face close-ups).
    • The quality of the light is also important (look at any commentaries about stanley kubrick, or most other movies as well)

I hope that a professional or enlightened amateur will step in and provide further things (or better examples of the ones above)...


Like some comments above said - this is very broad and has changed greatly in time (b&w movies?). But current trend, seems to be, in addition to those items above described here. In case language wasn't comprehensible for You let me summarize:

  • time slowdowns
  • screen aspect ratio ("(in)famous black bars")
  • proper color palette
  • music
  • grain

  • 24 frames/second (frequent, but by no means standard), selected cause it was easy to synchronize sound and pictures

  • shutter - usually 180 degrees and its impact on sharpness during scenes with fast movement

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