How to Write a Movie Review (5 Top Tips)
  • 5-minute read
  • 1st July 2019

How to Write a Movie Review (5 Top Tips)

Fancy being the next Roger Ebert? Then check out the latest blockbuster or arthouse flick, and let the world know what you think! But what goes into a good movie review? We have a few review writing tips to share:

  1. Watch the movie carefully (more than once if possible) and take notes.
  2. Tailor your writing style and the focus of your review to your audience.
  3. Look at every aspect of the movie, including its story, acting, and technical qualities (e.g., direction, visual design, costumes, sound).
  4. Justify your opinions (i.e., give reasons for why you think a movie is good or bad, rather than just saying that you enjoyed or disliked it).
  5. Try to avoid spoilers, especially for new releases.

Read on to find out how to put these tips into practice in your next review.

1. Watch the Movie and Take Notes

When we say you should watch the movie you’re planning to review, we mean you need to really watch it. No popcorn. No whispering to friends. Just eyes on the screen. Ideally, you should even try to see the film more than once before reviewing it (although this isn’t always possible).

You may also want to take notes so you can use them when writing a review. Do this on paper, though; no illuminated screens! And it is usually better to save note taking for a second viewing, as you might miss something first time round if you’re busy scribbling in a notebook.

2. Think About Your Audience

Who you are writing for will have a big influence on how you write. Most importantly, you need to think about how much your target audience already knows about cinematic techniques and history.

For example, saying that a scene “evokes memories of Eisenstein’s approach to montage, manipulating the viewer by juxtaposing images of hope and fear” would be fine if you were writing for an audience familiar with cinematic theory (e.g., film students or professionals).

Sergei Eisenstein at work.
Sergei Eisenstein at work.

But such remarks may be lost on a general audience, who might just want to know whether it’s worth paying to catch the new Mission Impossible at the theater. As such, you should think about what your readers might want to know and tailor your review accordingly.

3. Look at the Whole Movie

A movie works on multiple levels, all of which should factor into your review. Questions you might want to ask yourself include:

  • Story – How does the movie tells its story? Are the characters believable? Is the ending satisfying? Does it feel too long or short at all?
  • Acting – Who are the actors? Do they suit the roles? Do any performances stand out? Does it feature any big stars or any upcoming talents?
  • Technical Qualities – Is the film well made, including the direction, visual design, costumes, sound, music, and any visual or special effects used?

This isn’t to say you can’t write about whether you enjoyed the movie, too! Most people are happy to overlook, e.g., some dodgy acting if they’re enjoying the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster. So how much you focus on each of the above may depend on what you’re watching.

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Watching a movie more than once can be very helpful in this respect. The first time, you can watch it as a regular “viewer,” thinking about the film overall and how much you enjoyed it. And if you see it again, you can focus on specific elements in more detail, taking notes as you watch.

4. Back Up Your Opinions

Letting your reader know whether you liked a movie is, of course, a big part of reviewing it. You can even use a score or star rating, offering a simple summary of your overall opinion of the movie.

Five-star advice!
Five-star advice!

However, you should also explain why you like or dislike it. Is it the story? The performances? Something else? The amount you write to back up your opinions will vary depending on the type of review. A 200-word summary will have less detail than a longer review essay, for instance. But you should always try to offer some insight on why the film succeeds or fails.

You can even refer to specific scenes to explain yourself. However, if you do plan to go into detail about a movie you are reviewing, you may want to check out our next tip first…

5. Be Careful About Spoilers

Following on from the last point, if you mention particular scenes or details from a film, try not to give away story spoilers. Obviously, this is more important for new movies than old classics. And if you’re writing an in-depth critique, you will almost certainly enter spoiler territory. This is fine.

However, if you do mention anything that could spoil the story for new viewers, make sure to provide a spoiler warning before you give it away! Your reader can then decide whether to read on.

We hope this post has helped you with your movie review. And if you need someone to proofread your writing, we’re always here to help!

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