Cinema and Media Studies Greek Cinema
Dan Georgakas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0035


Greek film studies have followed in the wake of the erratic history of Greek cinema. From 1900 through the end of World War II, Greek cinema was, at best, a cottage industry, and at times it all but ceased to exist. The first Greek-language sound films were made in the United States, and during the 1930s, most Greek films had to have final production done in other nations, often Egypt. Film commentary during this period was largely limited to tabloids. At the conclusion of World War II, Greece entered into the fertile studio period in which some two thousand films were made over two decades. Film criticism was again mainly limited to the popular press. Following the fall of the Greek junta in 1974, Greece entered a new period of filmmaking. State funding was established and scholarly works began to appear. Although the rising tide of Greek film studies has remained spotty in many ways, its discourse increasingly parallels that of other nations. Greek film studies are enhanced by the contributions of numerous scholars in the Greek diaspora, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States. Although scholarly momentum has been building and is taken seriously by scholars in other disciplines, Greece still has only one university film program, and that program is mainly oriented to production. Among the issues surrounding Greek film scholarship is the question of what specifically constitutes Greek cinema. This concern arises because the boundaries of the Greek state have shifted dramatically since the early 20th century, and because numerous filmmakers of Greek origin work in various nations. Generally speaking, Greek-language films are considered Greek films, while films made by Greeks in the diaspora are not so considered unless there is some continuing connection with Greek-language cinema. Expatriates who make films in Greece, such as Jules Dassin, and individuals who make films in more than one language, such as Nikos Papatakis and Michael Cacoyannis, are seen as special cases and treated accordingly. More so than film scholarship in other nations, scholars of Greek film often seek to relate cinema to the dynamics of Greek culture. Nevertheless, they increasingly blend such considerations with the wider issues in film criticism and the relationship of Greek cinema to international and regional filmmaking.

Historical Background

Greek cinema may be divided into three major periods: 1900–1942, 1942–1974, and 1974–present. During the first period, Greek film production was anemic and almost came to a complete halt during the Metaxas dictatorship of 1936–1941. The period that followed was the most prolific and popular era of Greek cinema, with a studio system similar to that of Hollywood. That system, which produced some two hundred films annually, waned in the late 1960s, and following the fall of the dictatorship of 1967–1974, a new auteurist cinema emerged. During the first period the most-important persons in filmmaking were directors and comedy stars. In the studio system, stars, especially musical stars, were as important as directors. There was also a strong musical component to many of the better films, as well as in musicals and romantic comedies. As the director became paramount following the fall of the junta, a period in which ten to twenty features appeared annually, the centrality of stars—which was a characteristic shared by both earlier periods—declined. Music created for film continued to have importance, but not on the scale seen in the studio period. Throughout all three periods, scriptwriters have gotten little attention, and the quality of Greek scripting is frequently cited as the Greek cinema’s weakest component. Film criticism in Greece is often marked by its focus on one of the major three periods and on keystone individual filmmakers or films of that particular period. The works discussed in General Histories take on the whole scope of the history of Greek cinema, while the works in Period Studies focus on a specific period. Most scholarship deals with post-1974 cinema. A considerable body of work has emerged on early Greek cinema as well, but the prolific studio system has gotten only concentrated attention since the beginning of the 21st century.

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