Cinematic: Practical Meanings of an Ambiguous Adjective

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


One of the odder effects of the convergence of audiovisual media is the growth of the term ‘cinematic’ to describe images, events and aesthetic experiences outside of the movie theatre. The term is a paradox. It seems illogical that an expression that designates the specificity of one medium can be meaningful when used to describe and assess another. Yet it persists: television, videogames, books, theatre, art are routinely described as ‘cinematic’. This suggests that, despite its ambiguities, the term has a commonly understood meaning. But is this the case? To paraphrase Mills (2013), what does it mean to call anything ‘cinematic’?
Television, perhaps the medium most frequently described as ‘cinematic’, is a good starting point for a critique of the term. As Jaramillo (2013) and Newman and Levine (2012) point out, to describe television as ‘cinematic’ is usually a marker of distinction, which has the effect of maintaining undesirable media – and class - hierarchies. In our urge to (rightly) reject the latent meanings of ‘cinematic’, it is possible we are missing surface understandings which have powerful practical consequences in convergent media industries. This paper will therefore analyse critical discourse to attempt to uncover what else besides aesthetic approval resides in the description of television as ‘cinematic’. It will question if there are aesthetic properties that ‘cinematic’ shows share, analysis of which may help us move to a more satisfactory definition of the term.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2021
EventSociety of Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference - Virtual
Duration: 17 Mar 202121 Mar 2021


ConferenceSociety of Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleSCMS
Internet address


  • Cinema


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