Skip to main content

Film Studies

A Guide to Film Studies at Dalhousie

The Film Review

A standard film review is between 500 and 750 words in length, or between two and three and a half pages. Good film reviews do not simply summarize a movie's plot. They will instead provide a critical analysis that examines why and how a film works and whether it succeeds as a piece of art. When writing a review, make sure you have a central thesis and a set of supporting arguments. Note with specificity where the movie succeeds and where it fails, and discuss what you believe are the successful and unsuccessful elements. Be prepared to express an opinion and back it up with concrete examples. The most useful and persuasive film reviews are those that refer to scenes and dialogue from the movie to support an argument and illustrate points. 

Remember that good movies allow for and encourage multiple interpretations. In addition, if you assume that the reader of your review hasn't seen the movie, it will prevent you from revealing the content of climactic scenes.

Include basic information about the film (director, main players, if the movie is a sequel or part of a series) at the beginning of your review to provide context.

Place the film within the tradition in which it belongs. Try to compare this movie with other recent or older movies your reader might have seen. Later movies often borrow from the style, dialogue, and structure of earlier movies. Comparisons are useful points of reference. Ask if the film you are reviewing affects you in a manner reminiscent of another film. Does the film simply mimic a previous film or does it interpret it and expand on its ideas?

There are a number of approaches to writing a review: 1) plot-focused, 2) thematic or idea-focused, or 3) director- or actor-focused. It is quite valid for a film review to combine elements of these three approaches.

Finally, a reviewer will normally discuss how a movie functions on a variety of levels: psychological, technical, emotional, intellectual, maybe even spiritual. 

Ask yourself if the film lingers in your mind after you've watched it. Does it provoke you to question your assumptions? Does it make you look at society and the world differently? As a critic, it is no use for you to simply be angered or delighted by a film and leave it at that. You must be prepared to analyze and justify your response.

The best film reviewers respect film as art and want to share their passion for and insight into movies. They understand that the power of a great movie can be life-altering and they want their readers to share in this experience. The tricky part is conveying enthusiasm within an intellectual context, to be passionate and analytical at the same time. 

Based on:


Use these databases to find reviews of recent and older films. Some reviews will refer to the DVD release.

Print Resources

Not all film reviews can be found online. These print resources are located in the Reference Collection on the ground floor of the Killam Library.

Canadian Film and Video (2 vol.) PN 1993.5 C2 L47 1997 REF
Film Review Index 1882-1985 (2 vol.) PN 1995 F513 1986 REF DESK
A Guide to Critical Reviews (part 4) PN 2266 S342 REF
Media Review Digest (1970+) Z 5784 M9 M85 INDEX
New York Times Film Reviews 1913-1976 (10 vol.) PN 1995 N4 REF DESK
Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (1900+) AI 3 R28 INDEX
Retrospective Index to Film Periodicals, 1930-1971 PN 1993 B39 REF
Selected Film Criticism (1896-1950) PN 1995 S426 1982 vol 1-6 REF

Film News

Loading ...

Roger Ebert: Film Critic