Film Thought: Classic vs. Classical

A while back I had an enlightening Twitter conversation wherein I realized that filmic terminology typically conflates the word classic with classical.

The first definition of classic as an adjective is what many of us think when we hear the term with regard to film:

of the first or highest quality, class, or rank:

When trying to classify something as a classic, inasmuch as it attains that highest I tend to want to give it some time. I use the automobile aficionado’s rule of thumb wherein a film needs to be 25 years old to be considered a classic in that regard.


By the 25-year standard The Silence of the Lambs can now be considered a classic.

Thus it also adheres to definition seven of classic as an adjective:

of enduring interest, quality, or style:

Whereas classical film can and should—as opposed to pertaining to Greek and Roman origins of Western Civilization— pertain to filmmaking techniques of a bygone era. Thus, one does not assume all films of a certain vintage are outstanding but recognize they all were created with different societal mores, aesthetic and industrial realities than today.

Classical filmmaking can be defined broadly as starting with the dawn of film and ending in 1960 with the end of the studio system. Other subdivisions can be found therein. The business as well as the art changed from thereon as Hollywood sought a new way in which to function and the world, caused aesthetic revolutions, spearheaded by France, that would change the game anew.


From 1960 on can be considered in cinematic terms as the Modern Era. Clearly the advances in this age are coming fast and furious in technological terms: widescreen became the norm, computer effects were created, home video was born, non-linear editing systems developed, the advent of digital photography, and so on, but for now that’s a good catch-all with inherent advances and stylistic markers attributed to each decade

So for my own personal edification, and also to inform readers of my site, I will try and refrain from calling anything made after 1991 as classic, and when talking about how things were done in 1960 and before I will try and always use to term classical to avoid confusion.