PhD in Film Studies Programs Guide

Are you ready to find your fit?

To discover more about the nuts and bolts of film, and to accelerate your career, consider a PhD in film studies.

Whether you are drawn to classic silent films or to modern-day cinematic marvels, if you have a desire to pursue film and a passion to create, a PhD in film studies might be the right choice for you.

Pursuing a degree in film studies will prepare you to work in a variety of fields. When you’re just starting out, a bachelor’s or master’s degree will be sufficient to provide you with the necessary background skills and knowledge to break into the industry.

However, as you seek higher-ranking positions in the film industry, you will want to obtain a degree that will provide you with the most advanced level of education. A PhD is considered a terminal degree in film studies. It will allow you to focus on the most in-depth topics in cinematic production, from film criticism to film history.

What kind of film studies degree should you get?

Depending on your career goals, you should find a degree in film studies that will match your aspirations. For example, if you want to teach film, you should look for programs that develop teaching skills. If you want to work in the film industry, you should seek a program that offers a more hands-on approach to the discipline.

A PhD requires a significant amount of work and dedication. If you are pursuing a PhD, there is a great possibility that you are already working in the film industry. Therefore, you need a degree that will mesh with your other life commitments, while at the same time providing you with the high caliber of education your demanding career will require.

Still not sure that a PhD in film studies is the right choice for you? Consider our ranking of the Best Online Colleges and Universities for a detailed look at all of the programs out there.

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How much money do people make with a PhD in film studies?

A PhD in film studies is the highest level of education that you can obtain in this field. Therefore, you can expect to earn a salary that is higher than those earned by individuals who only have undergraduate degrees.

Because this degree will prepare you for work in a wide variety of fields, including those in teaching, television, and production, your average salary will also vary. Most professionals earn an average salary of $61,000, according to Payscale. The highest earners are those that are employed in higher education and have several years of experience.

The average growth rate for these degrees also varies due to the diversity of careers in the industry. If you are working as a film editor, college professor, or camera operator, you may earn a slightly lower salary, but you will always have work – these jobs are growing by a whopping 13 to 15 percent, which is much higher than the national average. If, however, you choose to work as an actor, your pay will be varied and you will experience a lower rate of growth though it still remains well above average.

What can you do with a PhD in film studies?

A PhD in film studies will expose you to a wide variety of career opportunities. You might work in academics, pursuing a scholarly or research-based career, or you could work in the fine arts or film production. Potential career options include those as a cinematographer, film archivist, actor, film producer, college professor, or script supervisor.

Typical employers are generally found in major metropolitan areas, but that’s not always the case. With a degree in film studies, you could work all over the world for major employers like cinemas, independent production companies, large broadcasters, newspapers, or market research companies. Some individuals with PhDs in film studies even go on to work in advertising, multimedia, or public relations.

What are the requirements for a PhD in film studies?

To obtain a PhD in film studies, you will be required to first possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related area. Many individuals enter with prior experience in communications, the fine arts, or teaching. Depending on the school’s admissions policy, you may be required to have a certain GPA as well as satisfactory GRE scores.

Once enrolled, you will develop subject-specific skills in filmmaking and film theory. You will take classes that focus on technical skills like sound recording and camera operation, as well as those that specialize in a certain area, like screenwriting or film journalism.

While all programs will vary in regard to the classes that are required, all programs will help you develop skills in research, critical analysis, and communication. You will learn how to work both independently as well as in a group, and you will also be required to demonstrate resourcefulness and creativity as you approach your studies.


What are the best PhDs in film studies?

Film studies is a unique discipline, and as a result, there is no one best PhD in film studies for everyone. You should find a degree that helps you tailor your studies to your career goal. Because this industry is so diverse, each degree program is equally one-of-a-kind.

However, we do our best to bring to you the most impressive list of the best schools in the country for film studies. To do this, we look for the programs that offer the best-ranked programs in film studies, as determined by academic rigor, reputation among employers, and student satisfaction. We also examine each school’s affordability and retention.

Our list represents the most detailed ranking of PhDs in film studies that you will find. However, we encourage you to learn more about the detailed process we use to determine the best schools by visiting our methodology page.

Before we finalize our list and pass it on to you to review, we make sure it includes only the top schools for film studies. These schools don’t just offer the best programs but are also well-respected in their approach to student success, overall satisfaction, and affordability.

Consider these top five PhDs as you look for the degree in film studies that will help you accelerate your career.

  • Cornell University

    Ithaca, NY




    Cornell University is a private university that was founded in 1865. With a total enrollment of fewer than 15,000 students, this university offers a hub for film studies with the idyllic backdrop of a rural campus. The joint Master of Arts/Ph.D. program in Performing and Media Arts at Cornell is highly interdisciplinary, giving students the opportunity to explore theatrical traditions, dramatic cultures, and expressive behavior in multiple settings. Located within the Department of Performing and Media Arts, the degree includes courses taught by highly distinguished faculty.

    Program Features

    The flexible format of Cornell’s graduate program means that students always benefit. Learners are supported by a generous financial aid package and can enroll in classes that are small and highly personalized. Each student’s course of study is determined strictly by consultation with a faculty advisor. In addition, students receive access to unique on-campus student organizations such as the Association of Graduates in Theater and the cinema and Media Studies Reading Group. Students may diversify their studies with selected minors and concentrations in topics such as:

    • Acting Pedagogy
    • Film Studies
    • Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
    • Directing


    Cornell is unique in that it offers students exemplary opportunities to fund their studies. Learners may apply for stipends, full tuition fellowships, and student health insurance. All Ph.D. degree candidates are guaranteed this funding via first-year non-teaching fellowships, two years of teaching assistantships, and a fourth-year non-teaching fellowship. Other outside fellowships, like the Provost’s Diversity Fellowship and the Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship, are also available to help students participate in scholarly conferences and research projects all over the world.

  • University of California, Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA




    Another major institution in the University of California system is the University of California-Berkeley. This school was founded in 1868 and overlooks the San Francisco Bay. As a hub of student activism and cutting-edge innovations, this school offers an exceptional Ph.D.. in Film and Media. This multidisciplinary program allows students to work cooperatively with other departments, such as Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. With a student-to-faculty ratio of just 18:1, students receive superior access to hands-on learning opportunities.

    Program Features

    This degree integrates several major traditions from other disciplines. In particular, students learn how to apply the new tools of Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, and more to film study. At the same time, this program does not lose sight of traditional frameworks like law, literature, religion, and history. Students will take a range of targeted interdisciplinary courses in topics such as:

    • Film Theory
    • Film Historiography
    • Special Topics: Horror Film, Film Noir, Racial Melodrama, Griffith, Italian Neo-Realism and Marxism, and more


    This hands-on program allows students to develop courses of instruction and utilize production resources to advance the study of advanced digital media. Students may work in the Digital Media Labs Consortium or may also pursue a joint FA in production in digital media. All research carried out at the University of California-Berkeley is highly interdisciplinary, requiring students to prepare for their dissertation through collaboration with faculty in other departments. As a result, this school is ranked as one of the top National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

  • University of California, Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA




    The University of California-Los Angeles is just one of the many public universities within the University of California state school system. This particular school was founded in 1919 and is just five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Close to some of the most important film and television hubs in the world, the UCLA School of Theater offers a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media that is beyond comparison. This doctoral program features an extensive array of graduate seminars in television, film, and media history, and encompasses films from multiple genres and national cinemas.

    Program Features

    This degree delves into the exploration of television, film, and digital media as forms of art and social communication. It emphasizes the study of popular culture, aesthetics, history, and production cultures, and gives students the ability to analyze film via digital media tools. Students carry high-quality original research and go on to hold research and teaching positions at the college and university level. Students will take classes such as:

    • Non-Western Film
    • Electronic Culture
    • Media Industries and the Culture of Production
    • DVD for Film History and Analysis
    • Selected Topics in American Film History


    This program provides students with exemplary resources through the UCLA Film and Television archive, nightly cinematheque programming, and 35mm classroom screenings. The program has exceptional partnership and alliances in the performing arts, including those with organizations like Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Google, Nikon, Paramount, Pixar, SONY, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and more. As a result, students receive exceptional opportunities both as Ph.D. candidates and alumni and are granted some of the most respected careers in the industry.

  • University of Pittsburgh

    Pittsburgh, PA




    The University of Pittsburgh was founded in 1787 and is located just outside downtown Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is home to multiple artistic and cultural venues, such as museums, theaters, and more. The Film and Media Studies department is located within the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. This department is home to multiple graduate degrees and certificates, including a terminal Master of Arts in Film and Media studies, an MA certificate in Film and Media Studies, and a Ph.D. in Film and Media Studies.

    Program Features

    The Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Film and Media Studies at the University of Pittsburgh is interdepartmental. Through this program, students will also be full members of one of five different associated departments, including History of Art and Architecture, Slavic, French, Hispanic, or English. This program allows students to focus on film studies via a dissertation, or as a subspecialty of another field. Several courses and a final research paper are required, including studies in topics such as:

    • New Chinese Cinema
    • Film History/Theory
    • Film Sound: History, Theory, and Aesthetics
    • Music, Culture, and Technology: Sounds of Romantic Comedy
    • Russian and Soviet Cinema 1896-1934: Lumiere to Lenin


    If paying for a Ph.D. in full is not something you will be able to afford, the University of Pittsburgh has multiple options to streamline your degree financing. The school offers multiple travel grants for conferences, as well as awards and grants that are administered directly through the Dietrich School. Students may participate in assistantships and other opportunities that blend work and learning. The university is home to over 400 different centers and institutes and makes good use of the university’s ideal location near downtown Pittsburgh. As a result, it is ranked as one of the best National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

  • Yale University

    New Haven, CT




    Yale University is a private university that was founded in 1701. Boasting a reputation as one of the country’s most elite and prestigious Ivy League schools, Yale offers excellent programs in the humanities and in the arts. The Film and Media Studies program is marked by exceptional scholarship, film programming, and teaching, and is led by outstanding faculty. Students in the Ph.D. in Film Studies program are supported by excellent archival and library collections and benefit from one of the best venues for film study in the world.

    Program Features

    The doctoral program in Film and Media Studies at Yale was founded in 2002 and has since grown to a remarkable international stature. Alumni hold positions at a range of organizations, many holding reputable jobs at major universities. While each student’s exact program of study depending on the topic of his or dissertation and career goals, most students will take classes such as:

    • Historical Methods in Film Study
    • Contemporary Art, Race, and the Philosophy of Media
    • Styles and Techniques in Recent Art Cinema
    • Opera: Explorations of a Technical Medium
    • Visual Kinship, Families, and Photography


    Students at Yale benefit from the massive resources housed within the Haas library, the Sterling Memorial Library, and the Beinecke Rare Book Library. Two of the country’s great art museums have strong connections with Yale, and the Whitney Humanities Center holds over 20,000 films on video. Students have access to hundreds of screenings per year and enjoy a bustling academic climate that fosters discussion and collaboration of all kinds. Students are encouraged to participate in research and other communications with faculty members all over the globe.

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