The author argues that in the history of film studies there are few concepts so loaded with ambiguity, confusion, contradiction and controversy as “realism”. This term refers to various phenomena: artistic stance, means of expression, the on-screen effect, and the attitude of the audience. Realism is a term that is both theoretical and an element of the language of film criticism, it is also a common word used in everyday expressions. Any reflection on realism in cinema has been based on the belief in the “natural” or “innate” realism in film art, and refers to notions of naïve or common sense realism. The author proposes that the subject of the discussion be not realism tout court, but historically different variables of the “realistic” formation. Usually it is easy to show their direct relationship with the theoretical concepts of realism, though the relationship is not always unambiguous. It is sufficient to refer to examples to demonstrate that the collective, unifying approach to the definition of “realism” is not really possible.