A short film is defined as a film of less than 40 minutes in length.

A short film is defined as a film of less than 40 minutes in length.

Besides the obvious titular implications, there are certain common qualities that define a ?short film.?  The term, which is used interchangeably with ?short subject? or simply ?short?, is used in North America to define a film with length of 20 to 40 minutes. Feature film trailers are often referred to as shorts, but this is incorrect, as these are not technically short films.

Originally coined in the North American film industry, early short films were typically intended to precede feature subjects, and were often comedic in nature. One prominent example of early shorts would be the Three Stooges shorts.  

More recently, a short film has expanded into a genre of its own. Though there is no definite length cutoff for classification as a short film the American Motion Picture Academy defines any film less than forty minutes as a short film. The Internet Movie Database sets the length at forty five minutes.

Short films are often documentaries on subjects that may be controversial or politically sensitive. Social and environmental themes are popular topics in short films. Older films, or nostalgia film, often fall in the realm of “short film” by virtue of their length.

North American short films are often character-driven in nature, and focus on topics that more commercially viable feature-length films will tend to avoid. They can be thought of as derived from the longer feature film format, in the same way that a short story might be considered a condensed relative of the novel. They typically require much smaller budgets, and are released to festivals and art house theater audiences. Because of the smaller budgets and limited risk in short film release, they are often used as a showcase for young directing talent.


Many DVDs now include shorts as bonus features. Many animated feature films will now be shown with a short film from the same production crew, often with the same characters as the main feature.  

As camera and film-editing technology becomes more affordable, the short film is growing in popularity, as many amateur filmmakers can now easily produce a short.  Further, internet release and marketing makes dissemination of amateur short films free and easy, and in some cases even more effective than a theater release. 

Many new online film clubs specialize in distributing otherwise lesser known short films and documentaries. These films might not be available to the general public without a film club or other distributor of specialty cinema.

Outside of North America, the term short film often encompasses projects much shorter than the typical American short.  In some cases European shorts will last for only a few minutes.  As such, they often lack the focus on character and story typical of American short films, and will instead be used to showcase unique directorial styles or cinematography.

Short Film Central
Manhattan Short Film Festival