Realism has become one of the most contested terms in the history of cinema. Cinematic realism is neither a genre nor a movement, and it has neither rigid formal criteria nor specific subject matter. But does this mean that realism is simply an illusion, and that, as Werner Herzog has declared: "the so called Cinéma Vérité iśrité?" Probably not, as realism has been an extremely useful concept for asking questions about the nature of cinematographic images, the relation of film to reality, the credibility of images, and the role cinema plays in the organization and understanding of the world. Realism, at the very least, has been a productive illusion.
In film history, realism has designated two distinct modes of filmmaking and two approaches to the cinematographic image. In the first instance, cinematic realism refers to the verisimilitude of a film to the believability of its characters and events. This realism is most evident in the classical Hollywood cinema. The second instance of cinematic realism takes as its starting point the camera's mechanical reproduction of reality, and often ends up challenging the rules of Hollywood movie making.