What is a Compilation Film?


A compilation film, or compilation movie is a film edited from previously released or archive footage, but compiled in a new order of appearance.

How Does it Work?

The video footage can be combined with new commentary and new footage, but most of the footage of a compilation film consists of archive or stock footage that has been used in earlier, different movies.

Sometimes it can also be older material shot again, but with a higher budget.

The quality of these types of films is variable. Sometimes the archive footage is just edited behind each other, without adding anything new.

Because of running time limits some footage can be shortened or expanded with short, new footage in an effort to make everything seamlessly flow together into each other. These transitions are not always unnoticeable.

Compilation Films and Propaganda

Some of the earliest compilation movies were propaganda films.

A famous example is the German Nazi propaganda film Der ewige Jude (1940), where only a small part consisted of new footage, namely the scenes with Jews in a Polish ghetto and the animated maps.

The lion’s share of the film was filled with old newsreel footage showing Albert Einstein, Anna Stern, Rosa Luxemburg and Adolf Hitler and clips from movies with and by Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang.

Other countries, including the US and UK, also made propaganda films with archive footage to present themselves in the style of a documentary.

Popular Film and Television Series

In the years before the invention of video stores film companies released compilation films in which the best episodes of a film serial were put into one movie. One of the earliest examples were Walt Disney’s ‘package films’, based on his popular short animated films.

Film serials shown during a matinée were also sometimes edited into one long movie and re-released again. Today, most of these serials are only available in this form. A well known example is The Phantom Creeps (1939).

Between the 1950’s and 1970’s many old film serials were re-edited and compiled into one film, for instance the slapstick movie compilation films 4 Clowns and The Golden Age of Comedy. Since in those days the general public had no other way to see these old movies (once again) these compilation movies were very successful and guaranteed theatres full of spectators.

After television became popular during the 1950’s some television series were compiled and edited into one film. Even people who had already seen everything on TV enjoyed experiencing the entire series again in one go. A famous example was the 1955 TV series Davy Crockett, which was released as the cinematic feature Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956).

When television started to repeat several old films and TV series on a regular basis compilation films became less popular. Films consisting of almost or nothing more than previously released footage, like Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) and Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) left the audience with the feeling that they had been tricked into seeing the same material again, while expecting a fully original film with new, authentic material.

The arrival of video and DVD, where several episodes or seasons of a series could be entirely collected, also took the need for compilation films away.

Musical Compilation Films

Another popular form is the musical compilation film, where clips from film musicals, concerts or music videos could be brought together into one format.

Famous examples are the movies That’s Entertainment! (1974), That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976) and That’s Entertainment! III (1994), all documentaries about Hollywoodmusicals, in which the narration is frequently interrupted to show full scenes from these musical films.

Another example is the movie Moonwalker (1988) with pop singer Michael Jackson which mostly consists of older footage from his music videos and concerts, and some newer footage to give some resemblance of a story.

Compilation Films with New Footage

A special kind of compilation films are movies where old footage is simply filmed again, but on a higher budget.

A famous example is the first Monty Python movie And Now For Something Completely Different (1973), where most of the scenes are recreations of the most popular sketches from the first two seasons of the TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

So although the footage is new, the content is mostly not.

Compilation Films and Anime

In Japanese anime, a compilation movie is a feature film that is mostly composed of footage from a television serial.

These typically compress the plot of a story arc from about eight to thirteen broadcast hours to a bit more than two hours without commercials.

Additional animation may be added that is either of a superior quality to that made for television or which changes story details, often making the ending lead to a sequel not suggested in the original show. Such films may be published in video or DVD format, without being shown theatrically.

A compilation movie is often the most available source for the content of the TV series for persons outside the range of broadcasting. Release rights to other countries are often given for compilation movies well before the entire serial is similarly released. A compilation movie does not contain the characterisation developed through the series, but it does not have filler material or extraneous plot.


Examples of compilation films include:

  • The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex films.
  • The Laughing Man.
  • Individual Eleven.
  • Space Battleship Yamato (1977).
  • The first three Mobile Suit Gundam films.

The series Maison Ikkoku also derived a compilation film. Most of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series were made into compilation movies during the 1980’s by ITC Entertainment under the package title of Super Space Theatre.

Compilation Film vs Anthology Film

An anthology film looks stylistically like a compilation film and some anthology films are compilation films, but certainly not all of them.

What distinguishes an anthology film from a compilation movie is the fact that a compilation film by definition shows archive or stock footage shown before, while the short segments in an anthology film are new material.

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