70 common (non-technical) film terminologies and their meanings

Here is a compilation of common film terminologies (mostly non-technical terms). Definitions are adapted from entries on filmsite.org and psu.edu. Readers who are interested in the nittier-gritty terminologies are requested to also visit these or other suitable resources as this compilation is aimed more at non-technical movie lovers. Are we missing any terms? Please let us know in the comment section below.

  1. Actor (Actress) – A male (female) performer, who plays a character role in an on-screen film.
  2. Adaptation – The presentation of one art form through another medium; e.g. a film adapted from a book, comic strip, etc.
  3. Ad-lip – A line of dialogue improvised (i.e. invented or created) by an actor during a performance. Ad lip can be either unscripted or deliberate.
  4. Animation – The process of photographing drawings or objects a frame at a time; by changing a drawing or moving an object slightly before each frame is taken, the illusion of motion is realized.
  5. Antagonist – The main character, person, group, society, nature, force, spirit world, bad guy, or villain of a film or script who is in adversarial conflict with the film’s hero, lead character or protagonist.
  6. Background Music  Music accompanying an action on the screen, but coming from no discernible source within the film.
  7. Blockbuster – originally referred to a large bomb that would destroy an entire city block during World War II; now in common usage, an impactful movie that is a huge financial success. (In Hollywood, a blockbuster usually gross more than $200 million in box office).
  8. Blockbuster may also refer to a costly film that must be exceptionally popular in order to recoup its expenses and make a profit. The opposite of a blockbuster is a bomb, flop, or turkey.
  9. Bollywood – The film industry of India, the world’s biggest film industry, centred in Bombay (now Mumbai); The word is coined from Bo(mbay) + (Ho)llywood. Unlike Hollywood, however, Bollywood is a non-existent place.


Common film genres with examples


  1. Bootleg – Also known as pirated, it is an illegally copied, unauthorized, and/or distributed version of a copyrighted film/video/DVD.
  2. Box-office – The measure of the total amount of money or box-office receipts paid by movie-goers to view a movie. It is usually divided into domestic grosses (unadjusted and adjusted for inflation), and worldwide grosses. Films with great box-office results or a strong and outstanding performance are often termed ‘boff’, ‘boffo’, ‘boffola’, ‘whammo’, ‘hotsy’, or ‘socko’.



  1. Child actor – Technically, any actor under the age of 18; aka moppet
  2. Cinematic – Relating to or suggestive of motion pictures; having the qualities of a film.
  3. Cinematographer (camera man or director of photography) – The person who supervises all aspects of photography from the operation of cameras to lighting.
  4. Climax – The highest point of anxiety or tension in a story or film in which the central character/protagonist faces, confronts, and deals with the consequence(s) of all his/her actions, or faces the antagonist in a climactic battle or final engagement; a crisis often leads to a climax; also called the film’s high point, zenith, apex, or crescendo; a climax may be followed by an anti-climax or denouement.
  5. Clip – A brief segment excerpted from a film.
  6. comic relief – A humorous or farcical interlude in a dramatic film, usually provided by a buffoonish character, intended to relieve the dramatic, built-up tension or heighten the emotional impact by means of contrast.
  7. Commentator – A voice (the person speaking may be either seen or unseen) commenting on the action of a film. A commentator, unlike a narrator, provides supposedly unbiased information, maintaining apparent perspective and distance from what occurs on the screen.
  8. Continuity – The narrative growth of a film created through a combination of visuals and sound (resembling the “story” in print literature).
  9. Cut – An individual strip of film consisting of a single shot; the separation of two pieces of action as a “transition” (used when one says “cut from the shot of the boy to the shot of the girl”); a verb meaning to join shots together in the editing process; or an order to end a take (“cut!”).
  10. Dark horse – In film terms, a little-known, unlikely movie (often a sleeper, a low-budget film, indie, or a foreign film) that is, surprisingly, nominated for a major award (i.e., Academy Award or Golden Globe).        Examples: The Accidental Tourist (1988), The Full Monty (1997), and The Pianist (2002).
  11. Director – The person responsible for overseeing all aspects of the making of a film.
  12. Dubbing (lip sync)  The process of matching the voice with the lip movements of an actor on the screen; dubbing also refers to any aspect of adding or combining sounds to create a film’s final soundtrack.


  1. Editing (continuity editing, narrative montage) – The process of splicing individual shots together into a complete film. Editing puts shots together to create a smoothly flowing narrative in an order making obvious sense in terms of time and place.
  2. Editor (cutter) – The person responsible for assembling the various visual and audial components of a film into a coherent and effective whole.
  3. Epic – A film that often portrays a spectacle with historic, ancient world, or biblical significance.
  4. Epilogue – A short, concluding scene in a film in which characters (sometimes older) reflect on the preceding events; contrast to prologue.
  5. Executive Producer – The person who is responsible for overseeing a film’s financing, or for arranging the film’s production elements (stars, screenwriter, budgeting/financing, etc.).
  6. Extra – A person who appears in a movie in a non-specific, non-speaking, unnoticed, or unrecognised character role, such as part of a crowd or background, e.g., a patron in a restaurant; without any screen credit; also termed atmosphere people.

MTV scraps gender-specific award categories


  1. Fine Cut – The final assembling of all the various audial and visual components of a film.
  2. Flashback – A segment of a film that breaks normal chronological order by shifting directly to time past. Flashback may be:
  • Subjective (showing the thoughts and memory of a character); or
  • Objective (returning to earlier events to show their relationship to the present).
  1. Flash Forward – A segment of a film that breaks normal chronological order by shifting directly to a future time.
  • Flash forward, like flashback, may be subjective (showing precognition or fears of what might happen) or
  • Objective (suggesting what will eventually happen and thus setting up relationships for an audience to perceive).
  1. Hollywood – The US film industry named after a community within the city of Los Angeles because of historic location of film studios that were established within the community.
  2. Local Music  Music originating within a scene and audible to both the characters in the film and the audience.
  3. Location – A place outside-the-studio where shooting occurs.
  4. Mix – The process of combining all sounds at their proper levels from several tracks and placing them onto a master track.
  5. Nollywood – The film industry of Nigeria. Like Bollywood, it is a non-existent place and was coined from N(igeria) + (H)ollywood.
  6. Out-Take – A take that is not included in the final version of a film.
  7.  Parody – A comedy that imitates or makes fun of an existing work(s) in an absurd, nonsensical way, and exaggerates its characteristics.
  8. Plot – A series of dramatic events or actions that make up a film’s narrative.
  9. Plot plant – The technique of ‘planting’ an apparently trivial piece of information early in a story – that becomes more important later on.
  10. Plot point – A key turning point or moment in a film’s story that significantly advances the action. plot points either set the story further into motion or disrupt and complicate the plot. Contrast to a subplot, i.e. a secondary plot in a film.

  1. Post-production – The final stage in a film’s production after principal photography or shooting, involving picture editing, the addition of sound/visual effects, musical scoring, mixing, dubbing, distribution, etc.; in digital post-production, can also include changing facial expressions, removing flaws or obtrusive objects (microphone, boom, etc.), enhancing the visual image, etc.; aka post; contrast to pre-production.
  2. Premiere – The first official public screening of a movie, marking the kick-off, opening or opening night; a ‘red carpet’ premiere is one with greater publicity, hype and hoopla (sensational promotion).
  3. Pre-production – The planning stage in a film’s production after the project is finally greenlighted, and before principal photography or actual shooting commences, involving script treatment and editing/rewriting, scheduling, set design and construction, casting, budgeting and financial planning, and scouting/selection of locations; contrast to post-production
  4. Prequel – The second or third film in a series of films that presents characters and/or events that are chronologically set before the timeframe of the original movie; contrast to a sequel.
  5. Pre-screen – To view/watch/see a movie before it is released to the public (at the premiere)
  6. Preview –  A short film, usually with excerpts from a future film, intended as an advertisement; a sneak preview refers to an unadvertised, often surprise showing of an entire film before its general release or announced premiere, often to gauge audience reaction; aka trailer
  7. Principal photography – The filming of major and significant portions of a film production that involves the main/lead actors/actresses.
  8. Producer – One or more of the chiefs of a movie production, involved in various logistical matters (i.e., scheduling, financing, budgeting); raises funding and financing, acquires or develops a story, finalizes the script, hires key personnel for cast, crew, and director, and arranges for distributors of the film to theaters; serves as the liaison between the financiers and the film-makers, while managing the production from start to finish (post-production).
  9. Producer – The person who is responsible for all of the business aspects of making and releasing a film.
  10. Production – The general process of putting a film together, including casting, set construction, costuming, rehearsals, and shooting; also refers to the middle stage of production which is preceded by pre-production and followed by post-production.
  11. Production design – Refers to a film’s overall design, continuity, visual look and composition (colours, sets, costumes, scenery, props, locations, etc.) that are the responsibility of the production designer.
  12. Prologue – A speech, preface, introduction, or brief scene preceding the main action or plot of a film; contrast to epilogue.
  13. Protagonist – The lead or main character in a film; also known as hero/heroine; contrast to the antagonist.
  14. Punchline – A funny, witty line that culminates a story, joke or scene; contrast with payoff and one-liner
  15. Red carpet – Literally, to “roll out” a welcoming ‘red carpet’, laid down for major ceremonies (film premieres, awards ceremonies) to signify an important, honorary event with dignitaries and esteemed guests attending; often the locale for live interviews and photo opportunities.
  16. Scenario (See Script.) –  A series of Shots taken at one basic time and place. A scene is one of the basic structural units of a film, with each scene contributing to the next largest unit of film, the sequence.
  17. Score – The musical component of a movie’s soundtrack, usually composed specifically for the film by a film composer.
  18. Screenplay – A script or text for a film production written by a scripter or screenwriter(s) (or scribe), with all the dialogue provided and the essential actions and character movements described.
  19. Screenwriter – The scripter who writes an original film screenplay or adapts another work into a film.
  20. Script (scenario, shooting script) – A written description of the action, dialogue, and camera placements for a film.
  21. Sequel – A cinematic work that presents the continuation of characters, settings, and/or events of a story in a previously-made or preceding movie; contrast to a prequel, follow-up, serial, series, spin-off or remake.
  22. Shoot – The process of filming or photographing any aspect of a motion picture with a camera; the plan for a shoot is termed a shooting schedule.
  23. Slow Motion – Movements on the screen appearing slower than they would in actual life. For example, a diver will seem to float in the water gently rather than fall at the speed dictated by gravity. A filmmaker achieves slow motion by running film through his camera at a speed faster than the standard 24 frames per second; subsequent projection at 24 frames per second slows down the action.




  1. Still  A photograph that was taken with a still (versus motion) camera.
  2. Take – A single uninterrupted action of a camera as seen by a filmmaker. A take is an unedited footage as taken from the camera, while a shot is an uninterrupted action left after editing.
  3. Title role – The lead part in a movie or other production for an actor or actress, that is named after the title of the film, example Harrison Ford in the title role in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.
  4. Trailer – A short segment of a film that theatres use to advertise a feature film.
  5. Voice-Over – Any spoken language not seeming to come from images on the
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