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Feature Films

In the film industry, a feature film is a film made for initial distribution in theaters and being the “main attraction” of the screening (as opposed to short films which may be screened before it).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Film Institute, and the British Film Institute all define a feature as a film running 40 minutes or longer.

Today, a feature film is usually between 90 and 210 minutes; a children’s film is usually between 60 and 120 minutes. An anthology film is a fixed sequence of short subjects with a common theme, combined in a feature film.

The term evolved from the days when the cinema-goer would watch a series of short subjects before the main film. The shorts would typically include newsreels, serials, animated cartoons and live-action comedies and documentaries. These types of short films would lead up to what came to be called the “featured presentation”: the film given the most prominent billing and running multiple reels.

Early proto-features had been produced in America and France, but were released in individual scenes, leaving the exhibitor the option of running them together; or they were full-length records of a boxing match.

Based on length, the first feature film was the 70-minute film The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) from Australia. The first European feature was the 90-minute film L’Enfant Prodigue (France, 1907), although that was basically an unmodified record of a stage play; Europe’s first feature adapted directly for the screen, Les Misérables, came from France in 1909.

The first American features were a different production of Oliver Twist (1912), From the Manger to the Cross (1912), and Richard III (1912), the latter starring actor Frederick Warde. The first Asian feature was Japan’s The Life Story of Tasuke Shiobara (1912).

By 1915 over 600 features were produced annually in America. The most prolific year of U.S. feature production was 1921, with 854 releases. Between 1922 and 1970, the U.S. and Japan alternated as leaders in the quantity of feature film production. Since 1971, the country with the highest feature output has been India.


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