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Film Studies Research Guide: Biographies, Credits & Plots

A guide to conducting research in Film Studies at Yale University, including key resources and crucial search strategies.

Biographies, Movie Credits & Plot Summaries

What's Here

Biographies of film people and lists of their credits are obviously related. But frequently biographies and lists of film credits also contain movie plot summaries, and in some resources the plot synopsis is the main content. Consequently there's considerable overlap among these resources.

  • Biographies give an interpretation of a person's work and its background. They range from popular "life stories" to sophisticated critical analyses. Autobiographies naturally present a person's own views, with the resulting benefits and biases.
    • The short entries in biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias can only hit the highlights, so if you want fuller information and analysis, search for the person as a subject in Orbis. Directors, actors, producers, screenwriters, even cinematographers may have biographies or autobiographies.
  • Movie credits usually strive to be exhaustive, but don't offer background.  They are useful for tracing the outline of a person's work. For production crew (from assistant directors to gaffers), credits may be the only information available. Some of the resources below give credits back to 1895.
  • Plot summaries may stick strictly to the facts of the storyline, or incorporate discussions of the theme, tone or other aspects of the film.

Below you will find:

See also the resources listed unde:

Examples of Subject Headings for Searching Orbis

Subject Headings for Biographies

Subject Headings for Movie Credits

Subject Headings for Plot Synopses

See also Themes, Subjects & Characters

Main Resources for Short Biographies, Movie Credits, and Plot Summaries


The Complete Index to British Sound Film Since 1928Edited by Alan Goble. London: Bowker-Saur, 1991.

SML Reference, PN1998 G63 1991+

Contemporary theatre, film, and television.

Incorporated within the Biography in Context database.

Film Indexes Online. Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey.

Film Indexes Online is a portal that allows one to simultaneously search the American Film Institute Catalog and Film Index International, both of which contain plot summaries and extensive movie credits. For more information about the databases, please see the descriptions on the Scholarly Articles page.

The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Ed. Nicholas Thomas, James Vinson, consulting editor, 2nd ed., 5 vols. Chicago: St. James Press, 2000.

SML Reference, PN1994 I58 2000+ [and online]

This resource includes concise essays on films, directors, actors and actresses, and production staff. Each article includes a bibliography of further references.

IMDB (Internet Movie Database)

IMDb covers an enormous number of movies from around the world, starting with the earliest ones, and provides plot synopses, movie credits, and many other details about the films.  It is probably the best known such resource, in part because it's freely available on the web. However, for some information (such as exact release dates in US and the world), Film Indexes Online (above) may be the better resource.

Additional Resources for Biographies, Movie Credits and Plot Summaries


All-Movie Guide

A database of movies, actors/actressess, producers, directors and cast members. Entries include a detailed plot synopsis and short bios, as well as much other information.

British film actors' credits, 1895-1987. Scott Palmer. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, c1988.

SML Reference PN 1998.2 P3 1988

Dictionary of African filmmakers. Roy Armes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, c2008.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 .A758X 2008

Directors and their films: a comprehensive reference, 1895-1990. Brooks Bushnell. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, c1993.

SML Reference, PN1998 B85X 1993+

An encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895-1930. Denise Lowe. New York: Haworth Press, c2005.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 .L686X 2005

Film actors. Hollywood, CA: IFilm Pub.: Distributed to the trade by National Book Network, c2001-

SML Reference, PN1998.A1 F43+

Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies. John Walker. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 H354

Includes not only a large biographical dictionary, but also lists of remakes, series, studios and production companies, a dictionary of technical and critical terms, various lists of "top" movies, lists of movie awards, and more.

Historical dictionary of African American cinema. S. Torriano Berry, Venise T. Berry. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

SML Reference, PN1995.9.N4 B433X 2007 guide to film directors: baseline Hollywood film director directory. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 H645 2004

Magill's Surveys

These surveys focus on plot synopses, but also contain background and evaluations of the films, as well as a short list of credits.

  • Magill's Survey of Cinema-English Language Films. First Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1980.
    Bass Reference, PN1993.45 M3
  • Magill's Survey of Cinema-English Language Films. Second Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1981.
    Bass Reference, PN1993.45 M32
  • Magill's Survey of Cinema-Foreign Language Films. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1985.
    Bass Reference, PN1993.45 M34 1985
  • Magill's Survey of Cinema-Silent Films. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1982..
    Bass Reference, PN1993.75 M33 1982

Motion picture players' credits: worldwide performers of 1967 through 1980 with filmographies of their entire careers, 1905-1983. Jeffrey Oliviero. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, c1991.

SML Reference PN1998 +O55 1991

New biographical dictionary of film. David Thomson. 4th ed. New York: Knopf, 2002.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 .T49 2002

Screen world presents the encyclopedia of Hollywood film actors. Edited by Barry Monush. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, c2003-

SML Reference, PN1998.2 .S38X 2002+

St. James women filmmakers encyclopedia: women on the other side of the camera. Edited by Amy L. Unterburger. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, c1999.

SML Reference, PN1998.2 S683X 1999

Director, Film Study Center