Movies are a valid source of information for research papers, but you might not have heard about how to cite movies in your classes on citation practices. In this article, you will learn how to correctly reference different types of movies in all the common formatting styles.
The elements that should always be included are the movie’s title, the year of release, the director, other relevant contributors, and the production/distribution company. You can find these details on your DVD, on a movie’s website, or in online databases like IMDb.
If you want to cite a specific quote or refer to a scene from a movie, you can also include a timestamp to guide the reader to the relevant part.
Citing a Movie in a different language
When a film was produced in a language other than English, always list the original title followed by the translation in brackets. If the film is in a language that does not use the Roman alphabet, transliterate the title, as well as any names, and arrange the latter in “Western order.”
For example, the Mexican comedy-drama “No se aceptan devoluciones” would be included in your bibliography as “No se aceptan devoluciones [Instructions not included]”. Always check if there is an official English version of a movie (Wikipedia is a good source for such details) before you translate a movie title yourself.
Citing a Movie in APA Style
To cite a movie in APA style, it does not matter whether you watched it in the theater, on DVD, or on a streaming service—citations always follow the same format:
Director Last Name, F.M. (Director). (Release Year). Title of motion picture [Film]. Studio.
The bibliography of your paper on the use of mise-en-scène to convey narrative in the movie Titanic should contain the following entry:
Cameron, J. (Director). (1997). Titanic [Film]. Paramount Pictures.
Your in-text citation only lists the director’s last name, the year of release, and a timestamp if needed:
(Cameron, 1997, 0:46:12)
Citing a movie: APA 6 vs. APA 7 differences
There are no specific differences in the way movies are cited between the APA 6 and APA 7 style guidelines—but if you follow the newer rules, keep in mind that timestamps are generally recommended now to refer readers directly to a quote or scene.
Citing a Movie in MLA Style
An MLA movie citation starts with the film’s title (in italics), followed by “Directed by” and the director’s first and last name:
Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, Paramount Pictures, 1997.
If you mention specific performances in your paper or other aspects of the movie, you can add other contributors—just specify their role and separate them with commas:
Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, performances by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, music by James Horner, Paramount Pictures, 1997.
If you want to refer to a specific version of a movie, you can add that to the reference as well:
Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, performances by Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, music by James Horner, extended version, Paramount Pictures, 1997.
If you watched the movie on an app or a website, consider including specific location details (if you think it is relevant for readers). Make sure to capitalize and italicize the app or site name:
Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, Paramount Pictures, 1997. Netflix.
If you watched the movie on a DVD and want to include the specific version, add it after the release date, separate it with a comma, and end with the disc number (if applicable) and “DVD”:
Titanic. Directed by James Cameron, Paramount Pictures, 1997, disc 1. DVD.
MLA in-text movie citations list the title (or a shortened version of it) and the time range of the part you want readers to look at:
Citing a Movie: MLA 8 vs. MLA 9 differences
The rules above are taken from the new MLA 9 guidelines. According to the MLA 8 rules, a movie bibliography entry started with the name of the director (now: with the title), and URLs needed to be provided for databases and streaming services. This is no longer necessary.
Citing a Movie in Chicago Style
The Chicago style guide gives you the choice between author-date citations and footnote style.
A Chicago footnote style bibliography entry for a movie lists the director as the author (followed by “director”), specifies the length of the movie (in hours and minutes), and includes a URL at the end (if watched online) or details about the physical format:
Director last name, First name, director. Movie Title. Production Company or Distributor, Year. Movie length. URL/format.
Cameron, James, director. Titanic. Paramount Pictures, 1997. 3 hr., 14 min. https://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Leonardo-DiCaprio/dp/B008PHN6F6.
Cameron, James, director. Titanic. Paramount Pictures, 1997. 3 hr., 14 min. Blu-ray Disc, 1080p HD.
Notes start with the movie title, followed by the director’s name. You can refer to a specific moment in the film using timestamps.
1. Titanic, directed by James Cameron (Paramount Pictures, 1997), 1:12:02. https://www.amazon.com/Titanic-Leonardo-DiCaprio/dp/B008PHN6F6
Titanic, 1:12:02 to 1:14:12.
The Chicago style guidelines also allow you to include information about contributors other than the director, if they are relevant to the analysis you present or the argument you want to make:
Cameron, James, director. Titanic. Featuring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Music by James Horner. Paramount Pictures, 1997. 3 hr., 14 min. Blu-ray Disc, 1080p HD.
In Chicago author-date style, citations are in parentheses and consist of the director’s last name, the year, and a timestamp, if relevant:
(Cameron 1997, 1:12:02).
The reference list is identical to the footnote style bibliography, except that the year is listed before the movie title:
Cameron, James, director. 1997. Titanic. Paramount Pictures, 1997. 3 hr., 14 min. Blu-ray Disc, 1080p HD.
Citing a Movie in Vancouver Style
Vancouver reference style follows a number–endnote system: Sources are numbered sequentially, in brackets, corresponding to entries in the reference list at the end of the document. That means every movie you cite has its own number, and if you mention the same movie several times, you use the same number.
(Citation number) Film Title. [Film] Directed by: Name of Director. Country of Production: Production Company; year.
Our above example would appear like this in a Vancouver style reference list:
(1) Titanic. [Film] Directed by: James Cameron. USA: Paramount Pictures; 1997.
If you quote directly, include a timestamp in brackets after the endnote number. For example:
The most iconic scene of the movie is undoubtedly the moment when Jack teaches Rose to fly and declares that he is the “king of the world” (1: 00:32:17).
Remember that Vancouver-style references vary, and that square brackets, round brackets, and superscript numbers are all acceptable ways of connecting in-text citations to reference list entries. Your course material or library resources should tell you which version to follow. The most important thing is to make your citations and references complete and consistent throughout your paper.