What is a Cinema Studies Degree?

Cinema is a global phenomenon. Its impact – artistically, culturally, and politically – is undeniable. Through their study of film history, film theory, film analysis, and film criticism, students of cinema studies develop an understanding of how films resonate in our lives. They explore film genres, authorship, ideologies, and styles. They are introduced to film production and editing. And when they complete their studies, they find that their technical knowledge and artistic and aesthetic sensibilities can be applied in a variety of creative callings.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Cinema Studies – Two Year Duration
A cinema studies associate program combines foundational courses in the major with some general education/liberal arts classes in subjects such as English literature and composition, math, and the social sciences.

Bachelor’s Degree in Cinema Studies – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, the cinema studies curriculum is a comprehensive hybrid of courses in the major and the liberal arts. Because of its longer duration, this undergraduate program engages students in a more in-depth examination and discussion of cinema studies subject matter. Most bachelor’s programs also include an experiential component, which typically allows students to create a film or present a final project research paper.

Despite the distinctions described above, cinema studies courses like the following are at the heart of both of these undergrad programs:

  • Introduction to Film Studies – an introduction to the historical, analytical, and theoretical approaches to cinema; an overview of the components of film production
  • Image and Sound – this course uses readings, screenings, lectures, discussions, and critiques to survey the fundamental forms, concepts, terminology, and techniques of filmmaking
  • Film History – a look at silent film and the transition to sound; creative and technological practices; studio, avant-garde, independent, contemporary, and digital film
  • New Media in Art – digital photography, experimental video, sound, photo book design, and blogging; presenting projects on the Internet
  • Film Theory and Criticism – the language of film, the relationship between audience and screen, the role of film as a mass and global phenomenon, genre criticism, stardom, feminist and queer film theories
  • Documentary Filmmaking – approaches to documentary filmmaking through video projects, readings, screenings, lecture, discussion, and critique
  • Masculinity in American Film – ways in which film has contributed to how masculinity has been constructed in American culture since World War II; topics will be discussed using selected films such as The Maltese Falcon, Red River, Dr. Strangelove, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Chinatown, Die Hard, and American Beauty
  • Film as History and History as Film – an examination of moments in European history – Medieval England, Nazi Germany, and the Holocaust – through films like Becket, The Triumph of the Will, and Schindler’s List
  • Principles of Editing – film, video, and new media as tools for creative expression; connecting images and sound; making editing choices
  • Topics in Russian Film – Russian film in its historical and cultural context; possible topics include the golden age of Soviet film, the cinema of Tarkovsky, film as propaganda

Master’s Degree in Cinema Studies – One to Two Year Duration
At the master’s level students take some required courses but can design their program in consultation with a faculty member, to focus on their particular area of interest. The master’s program’s culminating requirement is typically a thesis based on original research. Some schools may offer a non-thesis option.

Doctoral Degree in Cinema Studies – Five to Seven Year Duration
The master’s program involves a lot of taught courses. It emphasizes the transition from pure subject learning to independent research. On the other hand, the doctoral degree is like a very long dissertation project. Ph.D. students have a great deal of independence. They have the benefit of supervision from a faculty advisor and may complete some taught classes, but their focus is on their independent research, on contributing original – new – knowledge to the field of cinema studies. The Doctoral Degree in Cinema Studies is targeted at students who aspire to a career as a university professor or researcher.

The courses taken by individual master’s degree and Ph.D. candidates will vary, depending on the focus of their thesis or dissertation. The aim of all courses, however, is to promote excellence in research. Some schools may require that cinema studies graduate students take some compulsory core classes.

Examples of Core Graduate Level Courses

  • Film Form / Film Sense – methods and areas of study, ranging from visual analysis to archival research to political critique
  • Film History / Historiography – ways in which the history of film has been conceptualized and written; examination of the social, cultural, aesthetic, economic, ideological, and technological histories of cinema
  • Research Methodologies – the process of choosing a research focus and dealing with research problems; conducting and organizing database research; evaluating journals and websites associated with cinema and media studies; reporting on libraries, archives, and research resources; delivering a scholarly talk; composing a cinema studies blog

Examples of Elective Courses in Areas of Research / Specialization

  • Film Noir
  • Introduction to Moving Image Archiving and Preservation
  • Video Production
  • Queer Studies / Transgender Studies
  • Hollywood Cinema: Origins to 1960
  • Culture and Media
  • Documentary Traditions
  • Asian Media and Popular Culture
  • Hollywood and LA: California Film Culture
  • History of Chinese Cinema in a Global Context
  • History of German Cinema in a Global Context
  • Silent French Films
  • Script Analysis
  • Copyright, Legal Issues, and Policy
  • Film Criticism
  • Science Fiction and Horror Films

Degrees Similar to Cinema Studies

American Literature
This degree field is concerned with the literatures and literary history of the United States, from the colonial period to present. Coursework may include contemporary American literature, literary theory and criticism, the American novel, and American Jewish literature.

American Studies
As the name implies, students who major in American Studies study the United States, its history, literature, politics, economy, people, and popular culture. Increasingly, programs in this field incorporate examination of the wider Americas and the Caribbean.

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

Art History
Students of art history study the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

Comparative Literature
This field of study is dedicated to the literature and literary traditions of two or more different countries, cultures, or languages. Examples of courses in comparative literature are literature of the Americas, literature of China and Japan, romanticism, and tragedy.

Creative Writing
In creative writing programs students analyze how prose and poetry are constructed and also write their own works. Typical classes include American poetry, fiction writing, the contemporary short story, and the creative process.

Film Production
Degree programs in film production teach every stage of film production, from conception to distribution. Coursework includes securing screenplay rights, identifying financing sources, finding locations, negotiating with film distributors, hiring casts and crews, and managing production budgets.

Mass Communication
Mass communication degree programs examine the history, laws, institutions, and cultural impacts of mass media.

Theatre Arts
Theatre arts degree programs teach the performing arts and the fields that support them. Some curricula may focus on a specific area, such as acting, dance, or music. Others may address more than a single aspect of the live theatre industry, covering a range of topics including theatre history, dramatic literature, playwriting, directing, and/or self-promotion. Still others may focus on or include the technical/supportive disciplines of lighting, scenic design, costume design, and make-up.

Skills You’ll Learn

Students of cinema studies develop some highly transferable and valuable skills:

  • Ability to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Ability to work to deadlines
  • Adaptability and open mindedness
  • Appreciation of aesthetics
  • Broad historical and cultural knowledge
  • Communication / presentation / public speaking
  • Creativity and resourcefulness
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Listening and asking insightful questions
  • Planning
  • Research
  • Self-discipline
  • Storytelling / comfort adapting content for different audiences and users
  • Strong writing skills

What Can You Do with a Cinema Studies Degree?

The combination of theoretical and technical skills that cinema studies majors learn leads them to careers in a wide variety of creative industries.

Common Industries

  • Acting
  • Advertising
  • Archive Companies and Libraries
  • Artistic Management
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Broadcasting
  • Casting Agencies
  • Communication
  • Consulting
  • Education
  • Exhibit Design
  • Film Studios
  • Heritage, Cultural, and Festival Organizations
  • Media – TV, Radio, Newspaper, and Magazine Companies
  • Meetings and Events
  • Multimedia and Digital Design Firms
  • Museums / Art Galleries
  • Photo Studios and Agencies
  • Production Companies
  • Publishing Houses
  • Stage Design – Theater, Opera, and Dance Companies
  • Writing

Common Positions / Titles
Note: Some positions may require further education and/or specialized training.


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