James Cameron was/is the director of Titanic? (Which should I use, was/is?)
Leonardo plays/played the role of a Basketball player in that movie. (plays/played?)

For telling the story of a movie, always Present Tense is used. So for describing about the cast and crew, would Present be used or past?

  • to act in a movie; to play a part or role in a movie. No of
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 15:47
  • @Lambie Which "of" do you think is incorrect and how would you rephrase that part? I can't see any mistakes with "of".
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 7:49

2 Answers 2


The tense used depends on the context. In your examples, because I don't have the film in front of ma and I am not about to watch it:

James Cameron was the director of Titanic.

Leonardo played the role of a Basketball player in that movie.

However, if I have the film in font of me and I am about to watch it with a group of friends (doesn't have to be with a group of friends) then:

James Cameron is the director of Titanic.

Leonardo plays the role of a Basketball player in that movie.

  • If we are introducing an actor, we say 'He is the actor of the movie XYZ. Can we use was for his introduction?
    – Vee Ess
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 17:12
  • In most cases, we'd use the past tense when introducing the actor, because what's happening now is that he's appearing on the stage (or whatever) and his acting in the movie was in the past. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 17:19
  • What if I am telling the story of a movie to my friends, then would I use past tense to inform them about the actors and directors?
    – Vee Ess
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 17:19
  • Yes this is correct. You would use the past tense in that case.
    – T54
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:34
  • I'd use the present tense to tell the story of the movie including cast and director: "Leonardo diCaprio plays a poor Irishman, and Kate Winslet is a rich heiress about to be married. They are both on the boat and meet each other..." On the other hand, if you were giving the history of the making you might say "Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet played the two lovers, and they were forced to float in icy water for hours by James Cameron, who wrote and directed the movie."
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 12:13

For this, if feels better to instead say

James Cameron directed Titanic.

The past tense of the action.

If the production has been release, the past tense is still generally used

James Cameron was the Director of Titanic.

Because the position/job of Director of Titanic no longer exists.

You would normally only use the present tense for projects currently in Production

J.J. Abrams is the Director of Star Wars IX (written in FEB 19)

One caveat, when people ask "Who is the Director?" of a released production, the question really is "Who is the [credited] Director?"

Performers do not have a specific job title so

Leo played the role of Howard Hughes.

But you can say

Leo plays Howard Hughes.

If you are referring to a movie that you are watching or are about to watch right now.


Leo plays Simba in the new Broadway version of The Lion King.

if the show is current playing on stage.

  • I don't think this is true at all. See for example variety.com/2023/film/global/… This is common use.
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 21:19
  • 1
    @BadZen Nope, 100% correct, sorry. The article says she is directing the movie, which is correct since it is in production now. I hope you didn't downvote because this answer is correct.
    – DTRT
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 22:51
  • I'm pointing you to the use of the present tense in the page / article title, if that wasn't clear.
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 23:09
  • 1
    @BadZen Headlines are written for brevity. And you wouldn't use that tense for a movie because it's a finite duration. "Ana is directing Alix." But "Michel Laprise directs Drawn to Life" because DtL is a continuous production.
    – DTRT
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 23:20
  • This use is literally everywhere. warnerbros.com/movies/departed - an example with a movie and not appearing in a headline. (do you think it is common to just discard grammar rules "for brevity" in article headlines?) You may very strongly feel "100% correct", but if you are arguing that a particular language use is incorrect and yet see dozens of examples before you from an easy search, perhaps consider that your very strong feelings are not being confirmed by reality.
    – BadZen
    Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 23:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .