I read and write about plot holes, here and on reddit, and over the years I have come to feel that there are enough inconsistencies in the conventional wisdom concerning what does and doesn't constitute a legitimate plot hole that the entire concept seems unworkable. And yet, it's unquestionably a useful term that most people readily agree they understand -- so it seems there must be something there.

I want to ask the Movies.SE community to provide a formal definition of "plot hole." Not a simple dictionary definition, but the kind of rigorous, analytical definition that philosophers use. I have some acceptance criteria in mind, and some problem cases to consider, which I'd refine and then put into my question if it's on-topic.

I wouldn't be asking this question for the purpose of adjusting tagging or other practices here on Movies.SE, although I suppose something like that might seem appealing if the question yields great answers. I'm just a philosophy-of-film person who is starting to wonder if he has drawn the wrong conceptual boundaries.

1 Answer 1


I'm not too familiar with the details of M&TV's scope, so somebody please correct me if this has already been declared off-topic in some past consensus, but ...

I think this sort of question should be on-topic.

Understanding the terminology used, either by people in the film industry or by dedicated fans, is surely part of the process of learning about and appreciating films, which is part of what this site is all about. As the term "plot hole" is used so commonly among fans of many types of films and TV series, but many other fans deride its overuse, it would be good to get some clarity on whether there's a "right" or "wrong" usage of the term. This could create a very useful post and good reference point for future discussions (anywhere, not just on SE) about what plot holes really are.

Of course, the question would have to be properly defined to invite suitably objective or at least Good Subjective answers. But it seems you already have a plan to do that, as you say you "have some acceptance criteria in mind, and some problem cases to consider" - it sounds like you've put a lot of thought into how to make this question fit general SE guidelines like not just soliciting unsupported opinions.

By way of analogy, the sister site of Literature SE has a terminology tag with over 150 questions including What exactly is canon? and Can 'peripeteia' be a positive change too? and What is the meaning of 'myopia' in literature studies? and How and when did the term "spoilers" originate? (all of which I think may have some similarity to your proposed question in one way or another).

There's also a tag right here on M&TV, but again, I'm not too familiar with its usage and whether questions like your proposed one would be considered on-topic here (I think they should be, but I don't know if the M&TV community at large would agree).

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