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Reasons to Major in Film Studies

Chill Clinton obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies in 2016 and has since worked as a professional writer.

Film Studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that examines the historical, aesthetic, and cultural significance of film and media arts.

Film Studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that examines the historical, aesthetic, and cultural significance of film and media arts.

An Introduction From a Film Studies Graduate

If you have stumbled on this article, you may be at that uncertain stage of your life where you are considering what field of study you will focus on during your undergraduate years. You may enjoy the film, but you might also be worried whether the choice to obtain a bachelor's degree in this uncommon area of study is a wise decision.

Will the skills you obtain through studying film be applicable to your eventual career? Will future employers balk at your decision to "watch movies" in lieu of studying a more traditional field in the Humanities and Social Sciences?

Believe me; I was in your position not too long ago.

Even as a high school student with a passion for the cinema, I found myself doubting whether my choice to enter college as a Film Studies major was a smart decision. I often found, when telling others that I would be majoring in this field, that I was met with skepticism and disapproval, with others telling me that Film Studies would be a waste of time and that no employer would ever take such a ridiculous course of study seriously. I even found myself doubting my own decision, questioning whether or not it would be more advantageous to study Literature or History instead.

Well, let me provide some reassurance. In 2016, I completed my bachelor's degree in Film Studies, and now several years after graduating, I do not regret my decision whatsoever.

The Film Studies major equipped me with a breadth of skills, knowledge, and abilities that have served me both professionally and personally. Like all other fields under the Humanities umbrella, it challenges students to examine the intellectual and artistic products of mankind, taking historical, sociological, and anthropological factors into consideration.

Even if you don't choose to use your Film Studies knowledge to pursue a career in filmmaking, you will develop critical thinking, writing, research, and rhetorical skills that will allow you to enter lucrative jobs in the areas of sales, marketing, content creation, and beyond.

But what exactly will you study by majoring in Film Studies? Though each degree will vary depending on where you attend university, I've compiled a collection of some general topics you will likely encounter on your journey through this exciting academic discipline.

Thomas Edison, the often disputed but officially recognized inventor of the modern motion picture camera, and George Eastman of the Eastman Kodak photographic film company circa 1928.

Thomas Edison, the often disputed but officially recognized inventor of the modern motion picture camera, and George Eastman of the Eastman Kodak photographic film company circa 1928.

The History of Film Making

As a Film Studies student, you will develop an intimate knowledge of film history, often starting with the development of the first modern film camera by American inventor Thomas Edison and his associates in the late 19th Century.

You will learn the aspects of how the world's earliest films were produced, distributed, and viewed by examining the technologies used to do so and how over time, incremental technological advancements permitted developments including the first modern movie theaters, feature-length film production, and sound-on-film.

Beyond the technical aspects of early filmmaking, you will learn the cultural impact of film by watching early works and reading corresponding academic and historical texts discussing the role that censorship, global politics, and economics played in the development of film as art and industry.

As you progress in your study, you may find yourself looking at the development of the modern film making industry, known as the "Studio Era", and the role that American culture and Capitalism played in the development of celebrities or the "Star System". Other students may take a step away from the exclusive study of American film, however, and look at the rich history of global film, which also progressed alongside the booming American entertainment market of the Early and Mid 20th Century.

James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood from "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955).

James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood from "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955).

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Film Aestheticism and Story Telling

While Film Studies often does not include a production aspect, students will still study the aesthetic and storytelling aspects of films to understand how films convey meaning through narrative and visual language.

Students will learn the definition and purpose of various filmmaking practices, including the names of various visual styles, shots, lighting and editing techniques, and sounds.

While examining films, students will often be expected to understand the artistic function of these diegetic (of the world within the film) and non-diegetic (independent of the world within the film) aspects and be able to synthesize compelling arguments for why particular film-making decisions were likely made.

Those within the major will also study common narrative practices to understand how the most successful films pace their events to create stories that hook audiences and compel them to continue watching. This includes topics like the Three Act Structure, exposition, characterization, and more.

Many programs will also include smaller sections that dive into the role of narrative and visual language in alternative styles of film, including documentaries and experimental films.

Film Studies students will be expected to combine their historical, literary, and artistic knowledge to synthesize meaningful critical analysis about Film.

Film Studies students will be expected to combine their historical, literary, and artistic knowledge to synthesize meaningful critical analysis about Film.

Critical Analysis

Throughout their course of study, Film Studies students will be expected to combine their understanding of storytelling, aesthetics, history, and other academic disciplines to synthesize meaningful critical analysis about topics related to film.

As with any field of study, as students ascend from 100- and 200-level courses to 300- and 400-level courses, their analyses will grow more specific and refined. While lower-level classes might focus on identifying examples of storytelling and visual techniques, higher-level courses will demand students combine the study of multiple disciplines to assert academically significant arguments about the topics which they address.

For example, in my freshman year, I wrote a three-page paper about the use of chiaroscuro, or the sharp contrast of light and darkness, to externalize James' shame for killing his young friend in the 1999 Scottish drama Ratcatcher (Pathé).

By my senior year, I submitted a 35-page paper examining the differences between 19th Century European Gothic literary depictions of monsters and the Universal Pictures monsters of the 1930s to argue for a relationship between the economic anxieties of the Great Depression and how monsters were depicted in Studio Era horror films.

By studying something you are passionate about, you will be more active and engaged in your work, helping you develop those core skills for which all employers look.

By studying something you are passionate about, you will be more active and engaged in your work, helping you develop those core skills for which all employers look.

If You Love Movies, Consider the Film Studies Major

I hope reading this article has inspired confidence that Film Studies is absolutely a valid and enriching course of study on par with all other disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

If you have a passion for film, do not allow negative opinions about this less common academic field dissuade you from pursuing your formal study. Like any Humanities major, it will build your critical thinking, writing, research, and communication skills, and these are all skills that will help you in your future regardless of what career path you choose.

In fact, I would argue that by choosing what you are most passionate about, you will only become more engaged with your academic work, helping you refine these skills far beyond where they would be if you decided to select a more traditional field that maybe doesn't interest you as much.

My classmates have gone on to work as filmmakers, actors, academics, business owners, writers, marketing and sales professionals, content creators, and more. I even know one who decided to get his JD and is now working as a lawyer!

So if you are considering a Film Studies degree, and the only thing holding you back is the worry that it isn't a worthwhile course of study, I implore you to go for it!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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