How Many Films are Still Shot on Film: The 2013 Edition

For the second year in a row, I’ve done a survey of current films to determine how many are digitally shot and how many are still captured on film. In 2012, I was surprised to discover that just over half of the films that might have been shot on film (I explain that distinction below) were shot digitally. This time, three fifths of the titles were captured as pixels rather than grain.

I generally prefer a Digital Cinema Package (DCP) to 35mm film in the projection booth (there are exceptions). But I’m nowhere near as enamored with the look of digital in the camera. No matter what the projection technology, an image captured in the photochemical realm has a depth and warmth that digital cameras still can’t get quite right.

But they’re close and getting closer. For my mind, the additional cost of shooting on film only makes sense if you want beautiful photography. Not every film needs beautiful photography. So it’s not surprising that most films made today are shot digitally.

And please, don’t tell me it’s not a film unless it’s shot on film. Or, if you do tell me that, swear that you will never claim to dial a phone number.

On with the survey:

To find out how many theatrical features are now shot digitally, I visited IMBD’s Showtimes and Tickets page. Since my goal was to find out about new movies, I disqualified any film released in a year other than 2013. For obvious reasons, I also skipped titles with an incomplete Technical Specs page.

I separated everything else into two categories:

Docs, Moc Docs, Animation, & 3D: It’s pretty much unthinkable these days to shoot a documentary, a fake documentary (AKA, a mockumentary), or an animated picture on film. And although a lot of 3D movies were shot on film 60 years ago, it’s considered impossible today.

I found six films in this category–or perhaps I should say in these four categories. As I expected, all were shot digitally.

Everything Else: If you’re shooting live actors in 2D, and aren’t trying to make your movie look like a documentary, shooting on film is still a practical option. These I expected to find movies in this category shot both ways.

And I found them–ten live-action 2D non-docs were shot on real film. On the other hand, I also found 15 such movies shot digitally. That’s half again as much as were shot on film.

Shooting on film is on the way of becoming something special, like three-strip Technicolor in the 1940s, or Super Panavision 70 in the 1960s. Those formats eventually went away, replaced by more practical, less expensive technologies.

On the other hand, digital cameras will eventually outpace film in image quality, so we won’t be losing anything in the long run.