I realise this is a bit of a silly question, but I'm writing up a conference paper on a model that's named after a Hollywood movie. What is the appropriate way to cite the movie in the paper? Should it have its own entry in the references (and if so, in what format?), or should I simply say something like "...after the 1986 movie of the same name"?

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    I don't think it's a silly question at all. – scaaahu Mar 31 '14 at 10:34
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    I'm not sure that you have to cite the movie, maybe leave it up to the reader to make the connection. – Stephen Tierney Mar 31 '14 at 11:03
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    But Footloose was released in 1984. – Dave Clarke Mar 31 '14 at 11:20
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    no need to be vague. what model/movie? – vzn Mar 31 '14 at 16:29
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    @vzn it's a cellular automaton with the curious property that gliders cannot be destroyed except by colliding with other gliders. The gliders meet until only one immortal glider remains - so we call it "Highlander". – Nathaniel Mar 31 '14 at 16:34

I'm coming from a humanities background so there may be some differences in actual citation styles but I think the following would be used by most styles.

  • Name of movie
  • Director
  • Distributor
  • Year of release
  • Medium consulted (DVD, VHS etc)
  • Sometimes the main performers(depending on citation format)

In text styles of course depend on whatever citation style you are using. I know for example MLA is (Director, Movie Name) and APA is (Director, Year).

For your example of Highlander in the APA style it would be (Mulcahy, 1986) for a inline citation and your reference entry (assumed DVD) would be - Mulcahy, R. (Director). (1986). Highlander [Motion picture on DVD]. Thorn EMI.

This Link has a pdf showing examples in MLA, APA and Chicago style.

  • Thanks, that's great. The conference uses an APA-type style, so I'll use that. (I'll leave it a couple of days before accepting, just in case there are other answers.) – Nathaniel Mar 31 '14 at 11:06
  • Great, I was going to ask what style but I though I'd give the link for a few to make the answer useful to others that may have same question. – gman Mar 31 '14 at 11:10
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    +1 Since humanities papers cite movies and other works of fiction all the time, academic conventions already exist and should be adhered to unless otherwise stated by the publication venue – ThomasH Mar 31 '14 at 12:04
  • You should probably add "Edition" if applicable; was it cinema, TC, director's or extended cut? – Raphael Mar 31 '14 at 12:04
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    If in your citation style link is desired, I would add one from imdb.com. – Piotr Migdal Mar 31 '14 at 16:08

In my research area (databases/distributed systems) projects often have a name taken from something out of pop (or not-so-pop) culture. It seems that if any reference for the allusion is given, it comes in a simple footnote. Your suggestion of "after the 1986 movie of the same name" would likely be perfectly adequate.

On the other hand, if some aspect of the movie actually influenced your work and you discuss it a bit, a full-on citation might be more appropriate.


If it is just the name, I would not cite it. (Unless you really want to or the title may be otherwise strange, ambiguous or misleading (never assume that everyone gets any cultural reference, no matter how popular among your friends).)

I always though that it is up to reader's wit to catch the reference. The same as for project, grant or technique names being contrived acronyms. For example, for FROG (i.e. Frequency-Resolved Optical Gating) I would be surprised by someone citing an article on amphibians.

And from my personal experience: I published an article with title Qubism: self-similar visualization of many-body wavefunctions, but there is no citation of Cubism.

  • I dunno. I've seen a few mixups in FROG and RABBIT papers. – E.P. Apr 1 '14 at 0:53

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