In general (if not always), films are about some theme or topic, and fictional films involve characters and types of characters. There are several complications in researching this topic, in part because sometimes there's a distinction between how the Library describes films vs how it describes books about those films ... and sometimes there doesn't seem to be. Please read the explanations below carefully.
On this page:
Research into what films are about often overlaps with other topics in Film Studies. The following pages may also be relevant:
These three sources are very useful, but they are of course limited by their publication dates and the number of films they cover.
AFSO identifies screenplays' subject(s) and genre, and lets you search by these criteria. Note that AFSO only includes American films. See Screenplays/Filmscripts for more information.
Encyclopedia of film themes, settings and series. Richard B. Armstrong and Mary Willems Armstrong. Jefferson, N.C.; London: McFarland, 2001.
SML Reference, PN1997.8 +A75 2001
This encyclopedia is especially useful for obtaining examples of films with themes like amnesia, deafness, genies, ice skating, mirrors, photographers, sewers, tattoos, and windmills.
The Ultimate Movie Thesaurus. Christopher Case. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1996.
SML Reference, PN1998 C323X 1996
Consists of two major sections. The first is a list of films by title, providing a one-sentence synopsis, its genre(s), and its topics or themes. The second section lists the genres and topics, and the films that provide examples.
|From the Crawford Collection, Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives|
Films on a specific character, character type or group are typically in the form [Character]--Drama or [Character] films. The "--Drama" subheading is the proper one, but the reason there may be two forms is that often these are considered a genre (although sometimes the subject heading is applied by mistake). See also Genres, Styles & Categories.
Films on a theme or event usually have a subject heading taking the form [Topic]--Drama, but there are also related genres (e.g., War films).
Films that are part of a series (or implied series) may receive [Series name] films. A series is usually treated as though it's a genre.
NOTE: Catalogers are not required to apply any headings of this type to films. You may need to supplement searches for films on a particular topic by looking at filmographies and similar sources.
Characters, Character Types and Groups
Topics and Themes
Series (these are usually treated as a genre)
Two Forms (try both)
Critical works, including documentaries, about a topic as seen in motion pictures. (Sometimes these headings are also applied to fiction films. This is usually an error, but it's appropriate for a film like Hollywood Shuffle, which is in fact about African-American actors in Hollywood.)
Social Issues as Shown in Films
Sex and Gender as Shown in Films
Social Groups and Character Types as Shown in Films
Characters in Films (usually treated as a genre)
Bibliographies concerning the movies, race, ethnicity, and gender (University of California--Berkeley)
Includes bibliographies on film pertrayals of African-American, Arabs, Asians, Latinos/Chicanos, Jews, Indigenous peoples, Italian-Americans, Gay, lesbian, and transgendered People, and Immigrants and outsiders.
Be sure to look at the Bibliographies & Filmographies page for more resources on how particular social groups are portrayed!
The American Indian in film. Hilger, Michael. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986.
SML, Reference PN1995.9 I48 H54 1986
The bent lens: a world guide to gay & lesbian film. Edited by Claire Jackson and Peter Tapp. St Kilda, Vic.: Australian Catalogue Company, 1997.
SML Reference, PN1995.9 H55 B38 1997
Blacks in black and white: a source book on Black films. Sampson, Henry T. Edition: 2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, c1995.
SML, Reference PN1995.9 N4 S2 1995
The Columbia companion to American history on film: how the movies have portrayed the American past. Ed. Peter C. Rollins. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
SML Reference, PN1995.9 U64 C65 2003
The encyclopedia of ethnic groups in Hollywood. James Robert Parish. Facts on File, Inc. : New York, NY, 2003.
SML Reference, PN1995.9 M56 E63 2003
Encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895-1930. Denise Lowe. New York: Haworth Press, 2005.
SML Reference, PN1998.2 .L686X 2005
African Americans in motion pictures.
The Spielberg Archive is the world's largest collection of Jewish/Israeli documentary material. This includes extensive holdings covering Israel, both before and after the establishment of the State, the Holocaust and Jewish communities abroad throughout the century. The archive is digitizing films and making them accessible online.