This essay traces the history of the idea of world cinema, cataloguing its key meanings within film studies before going on to provide an overview of its uses within the critical discipline of Shakespeare on film. The innocuousness of the term ‘world cinema’ belies the plethora of potential meanings which it has accrued; such is the term’s fluidity, in fact, that it has courted allegations of being, at best, indistinct or simplistic, and, at worst, specious and neo-colonial. Arguing against assumptions that the term is too indistinct to be of value, or that it is, in a post-national age, obsolete, various critics have shown that world cinema is a concept whose very malleability renders it indispensable in contemplating how the films of various international directors can be seen, to lesser or greater degrees, to relate to Shakespeare, to the industrial, political and cultural specificities of nation or region (and the cinematic traditions therein) and to global networks of demographic exchange, cinematic intertextuality and monetary and/or aesthetic collaboration. Surveying the key ideas currently provoking debate within film studies and Shakespeare on screen criticism, this article endeavours to reveal how theoretical templates of world cinema have been deployed to consider how a globally circulating Shakespeareanism interacts with the representational practices of diverse localities. The article’s conclusion tentatively suggests some new paths yet to be explored within the field.