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Do You Underline or Italicize Movie Titles?

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  • 0:03 Formatting in the Past
  • 1:54 Examples
  • 2:27 Style Guides
  • 3:24 Exceptions
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
If you've ever wondered how to correctly format movie titles in a written work, then this lesson is for you. In this lesson, you'll learn how to format movie and television titles, as well as the exceptions to the rules.

Formatting in the Past

Once upon a time, underlining and italics used to be equally acceptable when formatting movie titles in written works. As long as you were consistent, no one cared that much. We once used these things called typewriters (remember those?), which typically didn't include italicized letters.

With the birth of the computer, creating italics became as easy as highlighting some text and hitting a button. Now, nearly everyone puts movie titles in italics. Italicized text, in case you're wondering, is a slightly slanted version of the words, as in this sentence.

Almost no one uses underlining anymore for anything, including articles, books, essays, poems, short stories, songs, or movies. Handwritten information is the exception. In this case, underlining a movie title is acceptable.

This doesn't mean you that can't use underlining, however most modern citation, literature, and style guides agree that the use of italics is the correct way to go when deciding how to format movie titles. The general rule for long works, like movies, or even collections of short movies, like Pixar's Short Films, is to put the title in italics. Movies, as well as a television series as a whole, like Friends, are considered long works, and are therefore italicized.

If a movie is in a series, like Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, it's considered a long work, so put the title in italics. However, only The Godfather would be in italics in The Godfather trilogy, as trilogy is not an official part of the movie title.

Examples

Let's look at a few sample sentences:

  • When you compare Star Wars to Star Trek, there are few similarities but many very noticeable differences.
  • Historically, movies like A Clockwork Orange have been considered cult films and inappropriate for small children.
  • My favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz.
  • 9 to 5 was a breakout movie for Dolly Parton.
  • The Lord of the Rings movie series is based on a trilogy of books.

Style Guides

Different style guides have different rules for formatting movie titles. What's important is to be consistent and to follow the rules of the style guide you are using. Whether for an academic, professional, or informational document, always stick with the same formatting. If, for some reason you decide to go with underlining, stick with it, and don't switch to italicizing in the same work, and vice-versa.

Let's see what some major style guides recommend:

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