The Six Best Books on the Philosophy of Film

Lennox Johnson Books

From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of film, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best book on the philosophy of film. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.

It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.

Here are the best books on the philosophy of film in no particular order.

The Philosophy of Motion Pictures  – Noël Carroll

Category: Introduction | Length: 256 pages | Published: 2007

Publisher description:
Philosophy of Motion Pictures is a first-of-its-kind, bottom-up introduction to this bourgeoning field of study. Topics include film as art, medium specificity, defining motion pictures, representation, editing, narrative, emotion and evaluation.

  • Clearly written and supported with a wealth of examples
  • Explores characterizations of key elements of motion pictures –the shot, the sequence, the erotetic narrative, and its modes of affective address

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Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An AnthologyNoël Carroll & Jinhee Choi

Category: Anthology | Length: 442 pages | Published: 2005

Publisher description: Designed for classroom use, this authoritative anthology presents key selections from the best contemporary work in philosophy of film.

  • The featured essays have been specially chosen for their clarity, philosophical depth, and consonance with the current move towards cognitive film theory
  • Eight sections with introductions cover topics such as the nature of film, film as art, documentary cinema, narration and emotion in film, film criticism, and film’s relation to knowledge and morality
  • Issues addressed include the objectivity of documentary films, fear of movie monsters, and moral questions surrounding the viewing of pornography
  • Replete with examples and discussion of moving pictures throughout

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The Palgrave Handbook of the Philosophy of Film and Motion and Motion Pictures – Carroll, Summa, & Loht

Category: Handbook | Length: 1087 pages | Published: 2019

Publisher description: This handbook brings together essays in the philosophy of film and motion pictures from authorities across the spectrum. It boasts contributions from philosophers and film theorists alike, with many essays employing pluralist approaches to this interdisciplinary subject. Core areas treated include film ontology, film structure, psychology, authorship, narrative, and viewer emotion. Emerging areas of interest, including virtual reality, video games, and nonfictional and autobiographical film also have dedicated chapters. Other areas of focus include the film medium’s intersection with contemporary social issues, film’s kinship to other art forms, and the influence of historically seminal schools of thought in the philosophy of film. Of emphasis in many of the essays is the relationship and overlap of analytic and continental perspectives in this subject.

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Current Controversies in Philosophy of Film – Kathleen Thomas Jones

Category: Contemporary | Length: 222 pages | Published: 2019

Publisher description: This volume advances the contemporary debate on five central issues in the philosophy of film. These issues concern the relation between the art and technology of film, the nature of film realism, how narrative fiction films narrate, how we engage emotionally with films, and whether films can philosophize. Two new essays by leading figures in the field present different views on each issue. The paired essays contain significant points of both agreement and disagreement; new theories and frameworks are proposed at the same time as authors review the current state of debate. Given their combination of richness and clarity, the essays in this volume can effectively engage both students, undergraduate or graduate, and academic researchers.

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What is Cinema? Vol. 1 – Andre Bazin

Category: Classic | Length: 207 pages

Publisher description: André Bazin’s What Is Cinema? (volumes I and II) have been classics of film studies for as long as they’ve been available and are considered the gold standard in the field of film criticism. Although Bazin made no films, his name has been one of the most important in French cinema since World War II. He was co-founder of the influential Cahiers du Cinéma, which under his leadership became one of the world’s most distinguished publications. Championing the films of Jean Renoir (who contributed a short foreword to Volume I), Orson Welles, and Roberto Rossellini, he became the protégé of François Truffaut, who honors him touchingly in his forword to Volume II. This new edition includes graceful forewords to each volume by Bazin scholar and biographer Dudley Andrew, who reconsiders Bazin and his place in contemporary film study. The essays themselves are erudite but always accessible, intellectual, and stimulating. As Renoir puts it, the essays of Bazin “will survive even if the cinema does not.”

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The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film – Stanley Cavell

Category: Classic | Length: 280 pages

Publisher description: Stanley Cavell looks closely at America’s most popular art and our perceptions of it. His explorations of Hollywood’s stars, directors, and most famous films―as well as his fresh look at Godard, Bergman, and other great European directors―will be of lasting interest to movie-viewers and intelligent people everywhere.

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The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in the following reading lists:

Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy readings lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.


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