Do Short Films Count as Movies? The Definitive Guide on How Shorts Stack Up

Short films have become increasingly popular over the past decade. With the accessibility of digital filmmaking tools and online platforms for distribution, more filmmakers are trying their hand at short film storytelling.

But there is still some debate around whether short films should be classified as “movies” or sit in their own separate category.

Looking at how short films utilize the same storytelling techniques, undergo the same filmmaking process, and meet the standard criteria for movies, it becomes clear that shorts do count as movies in their own right.


Short films have been around since the early days of cinema. The first short films were created by pioneering filmmakers like the Lumiere brothers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

As feature-length films became mainstream, shorts continued to be produced as a way for new filmmakers to hone their skills and experiment with the medium.

Over the decades, technology opened up filmmaking to more people. The accessibility of digital video and online platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and social media have caused a rapid rise in short film production.

According to data from Vimeo, there were over 7 million short films published online in 2021, more than double the amount from five years prior.

With this explosion in volume, short films are now more visible and influential than ever before. Shorts have become a pathway for aspiring directors and writers to get noticed and launch into full features.

At the same time, established filmmakers also dabble in shorts as a compact medium for their creative expression. Famous directors like Neill Blomkamp and Taika Waititi first broke out with their distinct short films.

But are these condensed gems rightly called movies when they are typically 1/10th the length of a standard feature? By examining how short films utilize the same cinematic storytelling techniques, undergo the full filmmaking process, and meet the key criteria of movies, it becomes evident they belong in the diverse realm of movies.

Short Films Tell Stories Through Moving Images Like Movies Do

While short in length, short films utilize all the same cinematic techniques and tools as features to tell engaging stories and convey messages. Like movies, short films rely on moving images sequencing together to construct narrative and metaphor.

Cinematic Storytelling Techniques

Short films manipulate the camera frame, editing, sound design, and mise-en-scene to develop stories and themes just like feature films.

Well-composed camera movement, shot framing, and sequencing of shots through editing establishes the mood, locations, and emotional undercurrents in a short film’s world.

Contrasting shot scales like wide shots and tight close-ups cut together emphasize certain story and character elements. Audio elements like music, ambient sounds, and dialogue work synergistically with the visuals to immerse the audience. Production design factors including sets, props, lighting, and wardrobe also shape the atmosphere.

Masterful use of these cinematic tools allows short films to world-build, communicate ideas, and hook viewers akin to movies despite their limited duration. Analyzing acclaimed shorts illustrates the potency of their cinematic storytelling.

For example, the sci-fi short Cargo by directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke unfolds an emotional post-apocalyptic tale in a lean 7 minutes through insightful uses of camerawork, editing, music, and acting. Every second is crafted to progress the narrative and convey the melancholic mood.

The Oscar-winning animated short The Lost Thing by directors Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan builds a surrealist alternate reality relying purely on visuals and music with no dialogue at all. These examples demonstrate shorts executing skilled cinematic storytelling on par with movies.

Distinct and Impactful Stories

Beyond utilizing movie-like techniques, short films also tell deeply resonant stories spanning genres from comedy to drama to experimental narratives not bound by conventional three-act structure.

The limited runtime demands greater precision in the story, allowing shorts to hone in on a specific character, moment, or situation.

Acclaimed shorts have explored complex themes like mortality, love, loss, and the human condition in fresh ways. Sci-fi shorts like Rosa and World of Tomorrow compress high-concept existential questions into brisk animations.

Dramas like Gregory Go Boom use visual effects to tell unique stories about disabled characters rarely shown in mainstream films. Comedic shorts like Thunder Road find endless awkward humor in a single impassioned dance number.

These shorts make a strong artistic impact by tapping into universal human truths and displaying directorial vision within tight constraints.

Short films absolutely function as storytelling vehicles like feature films when in the right directorial hands. Though condensed, shorts demonstrate moving image sequences can deliver powerful narratives and emotions when composed thoughtfully. This firmly places short films within the broader movie medium.

Short Films Go Through the Full Filmmaking Process

In addition to artistic storytelling techniques, short films undergo the same rigorous production process from scriptwriting through post-production required to craft feature movies. This demonstrates shorts warrant being counted as movies based on the work involved.

Scriptwriting and Pre-production

Like any good movie, compelling short films start on the page with an idea developed into a screenplay.

Short scripts run 15-40 pages but contain all the essential elements of a feature screenplay – storyline, characters, dialogue, and description to direct the action. Scriptwriting for shorts still involves the same skills and passes through multiple drafts and feedback.

During pre-production, short films also go through all the steps of getting a movie ready to shoot.

Tasks like securing locations, hiring cast and crew, scouting shoots, building sets, obtaining props and wardrobe, and storyboarding complex sequences prepare the short for production. While shorts often have fewer resources than studio features, they follow the same rigorous pre-production process.


When the camera rolls, shorts again adhere to the same thorough film production workflows as features. An experienced director works with the cinematographer to execute the planned shot sequences using professional motion picture cameras.

Sound is captured with dedicated recorders, boom mics, and lavaliers. Dedicated crew members like gaffers, grips, production designers, and script supervisors perform essential filmmaking roles just like on a movie set.

Short productions may have smaller crews and tighter shooting schedules than a blockbuster feature, but they undergo the same coordinated filmmaking process during production.

The director reviews takes, adjusts blocking and camera placement, and manages all departments to enact the vision. Shorts production involves as much attention to cinematic craft as movies, just condensed to essential shots and scenes to fit the runtime.


After wrapping up the intensive production process, short films go through extensive post-production-like features to finalize the viewing experience. Professional editing is crucial to give shorts narrative flow and dramatic impact.

Shorts also integrate polished sound design, visual effects, color grading, and music scores during post. Graphics like opening titles and end credits are added following film standards. Every stage of post adheres to cinematic conventions and quality to uphold short films alongside movies.

While shorts have fewer shooting days and tighter budgets than typical Hollywood releases, they undergo the same rigorous film production cycle from script to screen.

Short runtimes demand even greater planning, precision, and teamwork throughout the process. This intensity makes the short filmmaking process worthy of being associated with crafting full movies.

Short Films Meet the Key Criteria of Movies

Examining typical definitions and characteristics of movies demonstrates short films check all the same boxes, further validating counting them as movies. Some key qualifying movie criteria short films meet include:

  • Captured with motion picture cameras for exhibition
  • Tell stories and convey messages through edited sequences
  • Complete narrative and creative works with beginnings, middles, and ends
  • Intended for theater release or online distribution
  • Involve directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, and other film crew
  • It exists across established movie genres like drama, comedy, sci-fi, horror, etc.
  • Eligible for submission to major film awards like the Oscars and film festivals

Short films meet these movie criteria on every technical, creative, and distribution level. The primary variation is the abbreviated runtime which allows more experimentation with narrative conventions. Satisfying key movie qualifications substantiates designating shorts as movies based on fundamental film standards.

Differences Between Short Films and Feature Films

While short films hit all the markers of movies, their constrained length and production do create some differences from feature films. These include:


The most obvious variation is runtime. Short films typically clock in at less than 40 minutes. Common short film lengths range from 1-minute experimental films up to 30-40-minute narratives.

Features run 60 minutes on the low end, with most ranging from 90 minutes to 120 minutes. Some awards like the Oscars require features to be over 40 minutes, distinguishing them from shorts. The limited timeframe requires shorts to tell stories and make impressions efficiently.

Budget and Scale

Shorts are generally made for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, a fraction of mainstream feature budgets that can run into the millions. Their smaller scope allows shorts to be funded through the following: self-financing, crowdfunding, or grants.

Accordingly, shorts have smaller production crews, shorter shooting schedules, limited locations, minimal visual effects, and other scale differences from big features.


While streaming and websites have opened up options, short films still have a harder time getting distribution compared to features. Most short films rely on platform and film festival releases rather than theatrical ones.

Oscar-nominated and high-profile shorts achieve some theater play attached to features, but this access is limited. Full features have far more distribution and revenue channels available.

So while short films follow the form of movies, their condensed runtime and economic model create divergences in scale. However, these distribution and budget differences do not preclude them from being considered movies since they fulfill the fundamental artistic and technical criteria. If anything, the resourcefulness required for shorts strengthens their case as fully-fledged films.


When it comes to the vital question of whether short films qualify as movies, the evidence strongly supports that shorts do fit squarely into the diverse realm of movies.

Short films utilize the same cinematic storytelling tools masterfully, undergo the full filmmaking process from script to screen, and satisfy the core criteria of movies on every level.

While shorts differ from features in length, budget, and distribution reach, they demonstrate how impactful stories can be told through moving images in limited durations with constraints.

This makes shorts perhaps an even purer form of cinematic art. The rise of streaming and ease of online access has allowed these concentrated gems to find wider audiences hungry for their bold vision.

In an evolving media landscape, short films deserve recognition as movies that harness the artistic and emotional power of cinema in bite-sized packages.

Whether serving as a training ground for emerging filmmakers or a compact canvas for established directors, shorts are a vital artform that will only continue growing in the years to come.

So next time you queue up a streaming short film packed with heart and cinematic style, know you are indeed watching a movie. Just distilled down to its pure essence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is counted as a movie?

A movie is generally defined as a film intended for distribution to theaters or the public, that tells a fictional or factual story through a sequence of images, typically with a runtime of 40 minutes or longer. Key criteria include being filmed with motion picture cameras, having a narrative with defined characters, and being released for public exhibition in theaters, on television, or on online platforms.

What is the difference between a movie and a short film?

The main difference is runtime. Short films are usually under 40 minutes long while feature films or movies are over 40 minutes. Short films also typically have smaller budgets, crews, and simpler storylines than features. However, shorts utilize all the same cinematic techniques and filmmaking processes as movies, just executed within a compressed timeframe.

Can short films win Oscars?

Yes, short films can win and be nominated for Oscars in the Short Film (Animated) and Short Film (Live Action) categories. Notable Oscar-winning short films include The Lost Thing (2011), Curfew (2012), and Skin (2019). The Oscar-qualifying criteria for shorts are the same as features.

How many hours is considered a short film?

Most short films are between 1 to 40 minutes long. Very short films under 5 minutes may be called short shorts. Shorts between 5-15 minutes highlight a specific slice of action or moment. Lengths between 15-40 minutes allow for more complex storytelling while still constrained. Duration over 40 minutes starts being considered feature territory.

What defines something as a movie?

A movie is defined as being a motion picture filmed with cinematic camera equipment, exhibiting a complete narrative story with developed characters, and being distributed publicly in theaters and/or intended for public exhibition. Movies tell stories using cinematic techniques like camerawork, editing, sound, and acting.

What 3-minute movie won an Oscar?

The 3-minute short film The Neighbors’ Window won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2020. Set in NYC, it tells the story of a suburban couple secretly observing their free-spirited neighbors. It demonstrates that powerful storytelling is possible even in a condensed runtime.

Is a short film still a movie?

Yes, short films qualify as movies based on their use of cinematic storytelling techniques, undergoing the full filmmaking process from scriptwriting through post-production, meeting standard movie criteria, and being distributed via public exhibitions like longer films. The condensed runtime does not disqualify short films from being considered movies.

What are the cons of short films?

Potential downsides of short films include limited character development and worldbuilding due to the shorter runtime constraints. Shorts also have a harder time attracting big-name talent and wider distribution compared to feature films. Lower budgets can inhibit production quality. The smaller scale also offers less profit potential for filmmakers compared to full features.

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