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How to Format Movie Titles in Academic Writings

How to Format Movie Titles in Academic Writings

How to write a movie title in an essay?

Students, especially those in Arts, often refer to films or movie series in their papers. The formatting rules here are easy to remember. But:

They vary a bit, depending on the citation style you use.

In this post, I’ve gathered the guidelines for citing movie titles in five primary formats. Examples included, for you to compare and remember everything better.

How to Write Movie Titles in Essays

Are movie titles italicized?

It’s the most frequent question students ask when looking for this information online. Indeed, most citation formats prescribe italicizing. Other general rules include:

  • Title case
  • Uppercase for subtitles
  • Extra short movie names (like “It”) may also go in quotations
  • When using quotation marks (AP style), put punctuation inside them

Below are the details on how to format movie titles in essays and reference lists correctly.

Writing Film Titles in Different Citation Styles

APATitle Case for Main WordsFire in the Sky
MLATitle Case for Main WordsThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
ChicagoTitle Case for Main WordsDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
HarvardTitle Case for Main WordsRaiders of the Lost Ark
AP“Title Case for Main Words”“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

For APA style (1):

  1. Uppercase all four-letter words and above
  2. Uppercase the first and the last word of a movie title, even if they are short articles (a, the) or pronouns (in, at, etc.)
  3. Italicize the entire name
Bonus: APA Citation for the Bible

For MLA format (2):

  1. Uppercase movie titles and subtitles
  2. Use capital letters for both parts of hyphenated words
  3. No uppercase for articles (a, the) and short conjunctions within the movie name
  4. Italicize the entire movie title
Bonus: How to Cite Songs in MLA

For Chicago style:

  1. Uppercase all main words
  2. Lowercase short conjunctions (below four letters) within the movie title
  3. Uppercase prepositions, regardless of their length
  4. Italicize

For AP citation style:

  1. Uppercase all main words
  2. Lowercase articles (a, the) and prepositions/conjunctions that are shorter than four letters
  3. Uppercase articles and prepositions/conjunctions in the beginning/end of the title
  4. No italics; put movie names in quotation marks

For Harvard style:

  1. Uppercase all primary words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.)
  2. Lowercase articles and prepositions/conjunctions (below four letters) within the movie title
  3. Italicize the entire name

How to Capitalize Movies in Papers

When writing a film name in a sentence, capitalize every word except for:

  • Articles (a, an, the) within the movie title
  • Short (below four letters) prepositions and conjunctions within the title

If a movie name begins with the above, use uppercase. Also, write long prepositions/conjunctions (moreover, although, etc.) with a capital letter. For example:

AP citation styleChicago style
In “The Boy and the Heron,” a heartwarming tale unfolds as young Thomas befriends a majestic heron, forging an unbreakable bond.In A Nightmare on Elm Street, a chilling horror film, Freddy Krueger haunts viewers, terrorizing teenagers in their dreams.

Italics vs. Quotations vs. Underlines

Most citation styles, except AP, prescribe italicization for movies and film series titles. When writing in AP, use quotation marks.

Quotes are also possible to use if you mention super short movie names like “It” or “M.” You italicize them in APA, MLA, or Chicago.

Bonus: TED Talk Citation in MLA and APA

Underlines are for handwritten essays. When written by hand, you can’t italicize, huh? Use underlining instead to highlight a movie title somehow.

How to Format Punctuation in Movie Titles

If punctuation is a part of a film name, place it inside quotation marks or italicize it.

For example:

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Colon is a part of the title, so it goes in italics)
"That Thing You Go!" (Exclamation is a part of the title, so it's inside quotation marks)

Writing Movie Titles in Reference Lists

APADirector Last name, Initials. (Director). (Year). Movie Title [Film]. Studio.Nolan, Ch. (Director). (2023). Oppenheimer [Film]. Syncopy Inc.
MLAMovie Title. Directed by First name Last name, Performances by 3 main actors’ First name Last name, Studio, Year.Oppenheimer. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Performances by Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, and Matt Damon, Syncopy Inc., 2023.
ChicagoDirector Last name, First name, director. Movie Title. Production Company or Distributor, Year. Movie length. URL.Nolan, Christopher, director. Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures, 2023. 181 min.
HarvardMovie Title. (Year). Directed by Full name. Place of production: Production company.Oppenheimer. (2023). Directed by Christopher Nolan. USA: Syncopy Inc.

Do You Italicize Movie Titles?

Here they go, the rules on formatting movie titles in essays. Now that you know how to write a movie title in an essay properly, the only detail remains:

Check the formatting guidelines before writing. What citation style does an educator or editor ask you to follow? If none assigned, choose one and stick to it for consistency.



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