How to Write a Good Film Review for Students  


Whether you need to write a film review for a class, for your school newspaper, or as a way to try and solidify a future career in the industry, there are ways you can go about making sure that what you write is effective and engaging. Whether you are writing this because it’s based on your own opinions, or because you were assigned to write a critical commentary for a class, the following tips will undoubtedly be useful for you in this endeavor.


What do I include in a film review?

There are a couple of components you need to include in every film review. For most people, what to have in a film review is not common knowledge. We have all written English papers, but we have not all written a critical film review. Here are the basic pieces.

  1. The title, date, and filmmaker. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to make sure you include all three of these elements in the very beginning of your paper. While most students may remember to include the title, it’s easy to forget the date and sometimes even the filmmaker. These are all crucial components to contextualizing the film you are going to discuss. The date can indicate what was happening upon the film’s release, and giving the filmmaker the credit is important for a number of reasons.
  2. Summary. The point of your paper is not to reiterate what happened in the film, but giving a brief synopsis is crucial towards your reader’s understanding. Even if you’re writing this for a class and you know that your professor has seen the film, including a brief synopsis in your own words, shows that you actually watched it too.
  3. A context-dependent on the class (or publication) you’re writing the review for. How you examine the film will depend largely on why you’re writing the essay or review. If it’s for a history class, you will approach it differently than if it is for a film arts class. History will require a focus on the specific context in time and less on the cinematic elements present (see point number 4 below).
  4. The cinematic side of the film. Especially if you are writing this review for a film class or for a publication, you will need to at least mention the cinematic side of the film. How do certain directorial and editing choices illuminate the film’s themes?
  5. Proper formatting. Although a film review does not take the same format as an English paper might, formatting is still important. You still need an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. You need to be critical and include other sources when necessary.

How to make your film review stand out:

Now that you know what to include in your film review, there are certain steps you can take to make sure your review stands above the rest. This will be especially important if you are studying film specifically or if you are writing about the film independently.

  1. Read other critics. Use other critics as examples. There is no better way to learn the trade than to consistently read what the experts produce. There are a number of film magazines you can consult, such as Film Comment.  Also, The Criterion Collection provides a host of wonderful essays, interviews, and films to buy. There is also a list of famous film critics. You can sort through them, determine who you like, and read their work. Learn from them, noting what you like and don’t like about each.
  2. Watch the film you’re reviewing several times. It’s not enough to watch the film once. You actually need to watch it once through to get a general idea, and then watch it again with certain elements in mind. One time pay complete attention to the setting and another to the cinematography. Your analysis cannot be complete after just one viewing.
  3. Read about the film (but not too much about the film). You will need a way to contextualize the film, so it is important to read about the factors that went into its creation; however, be careful not to read so much about it that it sways your own opinion and analysis. When first starting out though, it’s a good idea to have other sources that back your idea. Be original, but learn from the experts.
  4. Learn about the historical and cultural context in which the film was made. This is especially crucial if the film is foreign. You will need to understand under which conditions the filmmaker is making the film, and the points he or she may be trying to make. For example, if you’re writing about a Brazilian film from the 1960s, you need to contextualize Brazil in the 1960s. The point of the film is lost without this.

You will likely have to write a custom film review at least once in your college career. This is an excellent assignment for teaching students how to think critically and analyze a piece both visually and thematically. Learning to write a good film review could improve your grade, and it could also lead to a passion that may eventually lead to a career in the industry. These steps provide you with the basic framework for the essential components that must go into a review, as well as the more advanced steps you need to take in order to make your review stand out. 


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