How to Write a Film Review
The film review is a popular way for critics to assess a film’s overall quality and determine
whether or not they think the film is worth recommending. Film reviews differ from scholarly
film articles in that they encompass personal and idiosyncratic reactions to and evaluations of a
film, as well as objective analyses of the film’s formal techniques and thematic content.
Preparing to Write the Review
While film reviews tend to be fairly short (approximately 600 to 1200 words), they require a lot
of preparation before you begin writing. Prior to viewing the film, you may want to get a sense
of the bodies of work by the director, writer, or individual actor. For instance, you may watch
other films by the same director or writer in order to get a sense of each individual style. This
will enable you to contextualize the film and determine whether it works as a continuation and/or
disruption within the broad trends of the director’s or writer’s work.
Writing a film review often requires multiple viewings of the film. Plan to watch the film two or
even three times. During the first viewing, surrender yourself to the cinematic experience; in
other words, get lost in the narrative and enjoy the film without worrying about the argument you
will eventually cultivate. During your second viewing, try distancing yourself from the plot and
instead focus on interesting elements of the film that you can highlight in the review. You may
separate these elements into two broad categories: 1) formal techniques such as cinematography,
editing, mise-en-scene, lighting, diegetic and non-diegetic sound, genre, or narratology, and 2)
thematic content that resonates with issues such as history, race, gender, sexuality, class, or the
After watching the film a second time, take careful notes on the formal and thematic elements of
the film. Then attempt to create a central idea for your review that brings together the film’s
formal and thematic elements. If your second viewing does not yield a strong central claim for
the review or if you need to take more notes, you may have to watch the film or parts of the film
a third time.
Writing the Film Review
Although there is not a set formula to follow when writing a film review, the genre does have
certain common elements that most film reviews include.
- In the opening of your review, provide some basic information about the film. You
may include film’s name, year, director, screenwriter, and major actors.
- Your introduction, which may be longer than one paragraph, should also begin to
evaluate the film, and it should allude to the central concept of the review. A film
review does not have to contain a thesis or main claim, but it should focus on a
central analysis and assessment.
2) Plot Summary
- Remember that many readers of film reviews have not yet seen the film. While you
want to provide some plot summary, keep this brief and avoid specific details that
would spoil the viewing for others.
- While the plot summary will give the reader a general sense of what the film is about,
also include a more detailed description of your particular cinematic experience
watching the film. This may include your personal impression of what the film looks,
feels, and sounds like. In other words, what stands out in your mind when you think
about this particular film?
- In order to explain your impression of the film, consider how well the film utilizes
formal techniques and thematic content. How do the film’s formal techniques (such
as cinematography, editing, mise-en-scène, lighting, diegetic and non-diegetic sound,
genre, or narrative) affect the way the film looks, feels, and sounds to you? How
does the thematic content (such as history, race, gender, sexuality, class, or the
environment) affect your experience and interpretation? Also, do the formal
techniques work to forward the thematic content?
- The closing of your film review should remind the reader of your general thoughts
and impressions of the film. You may also implicitly or explicitly state whether or
not you recommend the film. Make sure to remind the reader of why the film is or is
not worth seeing.
Examples of Film Reviews
One of the best ways to learn how to write a film review is simply by reading good film reviews.
You can find examples in most major newspapers and magazines. Check out the arts and
entertainment sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New
Yorker, The Atlantic, or Rolling Stone.