Films cover a multitude of genres, and they often evoke much emotion in their viewers. A film review should effectively convey to its audience the reviewer’s opinion of the film, and this opinion should be supported by evidence.
WCU student Esther Godfrey provides guidelines on how to write a strong film review. Use the links below to learn more.
Before You Begin
View the film critically. Analyze the film as you watch it. Take notes on the film, listing major scenes, personal reactions, and common themes. Also write comments about any questions or criticism that may arise.
If possible, view the film once or twice again.
Focus the purpose and position of your review. Most reviews assume that the reader has not seen the film. Decide whether or not you wish to recommend the film. Support your stance with evidence from the film.
Organize Your Review
General information about the film is essential at the beginning of a review. Try to incorporate several facts that the reader needs to know into clear, concise statements. The first paragraph should include information about the name of the movie, the genre (horror, science fiction, action, drama, etc.), the main actors, the director, the setting, or any other elements of the film that are notable (the public reaction to The Last Temptation of Christ, the literary history of A Room with a View, the MTV origins of Beavis and Butthead). By including brief descriptive words or phrases like "revolutionary," "depressing," or "politically incorrect" in your introductory paragraph, you give the reader a preview of your opinion of the film. Also, try to strengthen your role as reviewer by establishing as much evidence of your expertise as possible. For example, refer to other works by the same director or other works in the same genre. Provide the reader a short plot summary.
Limit the summary to less than one-fourth of your paper. Keep in mind that you only wish to reveal enough basic knowledge concerning the film so that your criticism will have a foundation. The plot summary is a minor element of the review upon which the main purpose builds its case. The plot summary is not the main purpose of your review.
Begin the critical portion of your review. Support your opinion of the film with facts. For example, "In the fourth scene, Kevin Costner acts like a wet handkerchief flapping in the breeze." If certain segments of the film worked and others did not, explain why. If you believe that the film will appeal to a certain audience, state that audience and explain why. If you believe that the film has social, philosophical, emotional, political, or religious implications, state those implications and explain why. This section of the review is the most important, and it is also where you have the most freedom as a critic.
Treat the film as a work of art. Underline its title or put it in italics. Like action in a novel or a painting, the material within the art remains in an eternal present. For example, you would write, "Luke Skywalker looks into the distance and plans his attack on Darth Vader," not "Luke looked into the distance and planned his attack on Darth Vader."
Don't reveal the ending unless you believe that your audience has already seen the film. If you need to applaud or criticize the ending, express your ideas without specifically referring to facts (this is the only place where not using facts is a good idea). To state that "the conclusion dissolves into sentimental drivel" or that "ultimately the director loses focus and lapses into the predictable" gives the reader the idea of why the ending was not successful without compromising the element of the unknown.
- What was the film trying to convey? Was it successful?
- What did you like or dislike?
- What are the film's strengths and weaknesses?
- How do the characters develop in the film?
- Was the dialogue believable?
- What did you think of the film's acting/directing/special effects?
- When, if ever, does the film drag?
- What scenes were unnecessary or problematic?
- What more could/should have been done in the film?