How Many Films are Still Shot on Film: The 2015 Edition

How many theatrical features are still shot on old-fashioned film? More than you might expect. According to my very casual survey, about 29 percent of this year’s films that could reasonably have been shot on film were shot on film. That’s actually more than the last time I did this survey, back in March.

When I first surveyed film vs. digital production late in 2012, 48 percent of the films that could reasonably have been shot on film were shot on film. A year later, in 2013, the ratio dropped to 40 percent. I forgot to do the survey in 2014, and I didn’t get to it until March. Many of the films I surveyed last spring actually came out in 2014, so I’ll consider it the 2014-15 edition. Maybe it was the difference between December and March, but the drop that time was huge–only 18 percent of the movies were shot on film. It bounced back up to 29 percent this year.

Shot digitally

Shot on film

% on film

2012

14

13

43%

2013

15

10

40%

2014/15

27

6

18%

2015

20

8

29%

How do I survey a selection of current films? I use the Internet Movie Database‘s Showtimes and Tickets feature, which lists all of the movies showing in my area. When I did the survey Sunday afternoon, 48 movies were listed.

But I didn’t include all of them. I skipped animated movies and documentaries, because I could not reasonably expect them to be shot on film. I would have disqualified mockumentaries for the same reason, except that there were no mockumentaries to disqualify.

In the past, I also disqualified 3D movies, since today’s Hollywood considers it impossible to shoot a 3D movie on film–a common practice in 1953. But these days, movies shot in 2D can be converted to 3D after the fact, so I decided to count 3D movies.

For what it’s worth, only two 3D movies turned up on the list, and one of them was shot on film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The other, shot digitally, is The Martian.

Since this is a survey of 2015 movies, I skipped anything from a previous year, such as The King and I.

To find out how a film was shot, I visited its Technical Specs page on IMDB. A few films didn’t give me enough information. I disqualified those, as well.

Three films were shot partially on film and partially digitally. One of these, Spectre, I counted as being shot on film; I had read elsewhere that it was shot almost entirely on film. I disqualified the other two, Steve Jobs and Suffragette, because I just couldn’t be sure.

And so the list of 48 films got whittled down to 28. The others were either too old, too unlikely to be shot on film, or didn’t give me enough information. And out of those 28, only 8 were shot on film.

I don’t have any strong feelings about how a motion picture should be shot–unless it’s shot in something special like Ultra Panavision 70. Shooting on 35mm film provides only a slight visual advantage over digital photography, and I can’t blame anyone for choosing the clearly more practical modern alternative. Digital cameras keep getting better, and I don’t think it will be long before digital photography will look better than film. When it comes to image quality in projection, digital surpassed 35mm years ago.

My favorite new film of this year, Tangerine, was shot on iPhones. Shooting it on film would probably not have been possible.