In the United States, a "short film" usually means a movie between 20 and 40 minutes, while anything shorter than 20 minutes is supposedly called "short subject". The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, though, and either can get shortened to just "shorts". The universal maximum length is 40 minutes; anything longer is a "feature film". Minimum lengths vary by region and organization.
Live-action shorts were very common in the days when cinemas ran all day and people came and left pretty much at will at any point. The types could be included in a regular program were Newsreels
, comedy shorts like The Three Stooges
and Laurel and Hardy
, musicals that are a de facto Concert Film
focusing on some particular music act and cartoons such as Walt Disney
's primary output until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
was shorts. In certain home video editions of vintage Disney
and Warner Bros.
-owned films, you can watch a bonus feature collection of film shorts that are assembled like a typical theatrical short film line up of the appropriate decade.
Unfortunately, shorts were paid with a set fee regardless of the audience response and were of course overshadowed by the feature films, which got the advertising. That's why Walt Disney
took a chance with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
as a feature, which could allow him to see real profits as well as to pay for the high production standards he strove for. With the rise of the double feature the shorts were gradually squeezed out, leaving only the cartoons and newsreels until TV killed them off.
Short films nowadays tend to be student, independent projects or from public institutions like the National Film Board of Canada
, often short in time and budget. It's a challenging medium in which to work, given the constraints, but like all media, it has its perks. Short films are great training projects for beginners since they are easier to make than a feature film, and can be very personally rewarding, considering the filmmakers can go wild with crazy ideas that they don't have to sustain for a feature film or a series. Major studios like Walt Disney Pictures in the past with their Silly Symphonies
now also use them as a good way to try out new film techniques before using them in features. Most Web Original
projects could easily be called short films; so could some entries in Le Film Artistique
Most films made specifically for novelty/large-screen formats such as IMAX — nature and science documentaries, performance art showcases, animated shorts/compilations, etc. — and screened in museums or amusement/theme parks, rather than given mainstream theatrical releases, are short films. With IMAX, this was partially due to the logistics of changing the giant reels of film it required until digital filmmaking/projection came along and made it much easier for mainstream films to be released in the format, but the short film format persists for other productions.
However, the short film has had a bit of a semi-revival as mainstream fare, such as the aforementioned Web Original
films on sites like YouTube
. In addition, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation
and Warner Bros.
have regularly produced animated shorts for both theatrical release, as TV special material and as DVD Bonus Content
. In Canada, there is Moviola, a cable TV channel that features only
The term comes from the number of reels it took to play the film on a projector. Shorts were typically two reels (hence 20-40 minutes), and features were usually four to six reels (when these terms were coined, features were usually 60-90 minutes).
See also Short Anime Movie
Live Action Shorts
Shorts that were later made into feature films
- 9: This was a short before it was a feature.
- Battle for Terra: This was a short before it was a feature.
- Cashback: 2004 short extended into 2006 feature.
- District 9: As Alive in Johannesburg
- Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB: 1967 George Lucas student film, later adapted into feature THX 1138
- Frankenweenie: A live-action short from 1984 before being remade as a 2012 stop-motion animated feature.
- Obvious Child: The 2014 feature film was expanded from a 2009 short which also had Jenny Slate in the lead.
- Saw: This series began as a short film, with the Reverse Bear Trap that was later incorporated into the first Saw feature.