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How to Write a Movie (Film) Review for College?

College writing doesn’t only revolve around argumentative or other types of essays. The academic years are reserved for different types of writing equally important. Besides book reports, you’ll also have the opportunity to write movie (film) reviews. If you’re into movies and writing, you get to combine best of two worlds. Most people like movies, but still, struggle to write a high-quality review that will get them a good grade. This assignment is easier than it seems, actually. Keep reading to get some useful insight into film review writing.


Why are film reviews important anyway?

I know you’re wondering why are movie reviews important in the first place. Isn’t that a blog material? Actually, writing these reviews is quite common in college and they have become some sort of standard in educational institutions throughout the world.

Movie reviews like book reports help students develop a critical opinion. While analyzing different aspects of the movie you’re watching, you learn how to think critically, deduce everything, and find meaning even in the seemingly meaningless things. It is needless to mention movie reviews teach you to pay attention to details and improve your creativity. In fact, you get a whole new perspective of the movie itself and the cinematography in general.

The more you develop your critical opinion, the more you appreciate movie industry. At the same time, your movie preferences can shift and you get more inclined to watching something with a really great store, witty dialogues, beautiful scenes, rather than opting for a film just because it has cool special effects.

When reading your film review, professors evaluate your vocabulary skills, ability to pay attention to detail, critical thinking, and writing skills necessary to put your opinion about the movie into a well-crafted paper. Some professors choose to assign movie reviews to their students in a bid to show that everything you do, watch, read, or experience and feel can be put into words and written as an essay or report. It’s a great way to motivate students who don’t really like writing.


Movie review elements

Your professor will choose a specific documentary or movie to watch and review. Rare are the instances when a student gets to pick the movie and analyze it, but it’s not impossible. Of course, if you have the freedom to choose the movie, it should be something that relates to the material at hand in some way. The movie should bear some significance.

Your review will explain how that particular movie has enhanced the learning experience, provide the detailed analysis, but also contain an account of your personal response. However, bear in mind that your personal response should be subtle. It would be a mistake to use “I think” or “I didn’t like” or even “I thought it was great when”, reviews carry the note of unbiased reporting so always put the focus on that.

The elements and format of your movie or film analysis will depend on the course and professor’s preferences. That said, there are some standard elements that every review should contain. They are:

  • The title of the film/documentary – don’t presume that just because your headline features the name of the movie or documentary you should skip mentioning it in the text. Always name the feature you’ve watched in the introductory period. This may seem like a stupid thing to point out, but it’s one of the most common mistakes that students make
  • Summary – of course, the whole point of the review is to summarize the documentary or movie for people who haven’t watched it yet. To make this as effective as possible, always assume that your professor hasn’t seen it either. That way, you won’t leave out some important details thinking he/she watched it already so they won’t bother. As a reviewer, your job is to explain what happened in the film and express whether the filmmaker failed or succeeded. Again, saying you liked or disliked it isn’t a viable comment. Your opinion has to be supported by specific reasons and examples from the feature itself
  • Filmmaker – it’s always useful to do a little research on the person who directed the piece. Is that person a controversial figure? Is he/she known for a political stance? Does the filmmaker have a significant background? Devote a paragraph or two to the person behind the movie and his/her other works in order to establish the significance of the work you are reviewing for the filmmaker’s career
  • Significance to your class – How does the content of the documentary or film fit into your course topic? Is it important for historical accuracy? If you are watching the motion picture for history class, make note of over-dramatization. If the motion picture is based on the book you’ve analyzed in English class, you can mention similarities, differences, or some elements that film contains, but book doesn’t and so on
  • Creative elements – filmmakers work hard to include creative elements into their motion pictures. How are these elements important to the plot and movie in general? For example, costumes can either enhance the movie or betray its intent. Colors can be vivid and lift the atmosphere or mood in the movie or they can be dull and make it seem depressing. Good sound effects enrich the viewing experience while bad ones only destroy everything. Moreover, camera movements and angles also add elements to the story. Take notes of symbols in the story, if any.
  • Actors - let’s not forget the casting! Were the actors effective? Did they portray the role of a specific character successfully? Did they have good acting skills? Do you believe that some particular actor was the right fit for the role?

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IMPORTANT: The elements listed above do not appear in any specific order. The placement of these components, or their omission, depends on multiple factors such as professor’s preferences, relevance, the type of motion picture or documentary, course topic, and so on. One of the parts of movie review writing process is to arrange the basic components in the best way to create a coherent, informative, and functional paper. Basically, just make sure your work has a logical and natural flow.


How to format a movie review

If your review is for the literature class then you’ll highly likely have to adhere to MLA formatting guidelines. The general outline should be as follows:

  • Introduction (with title, release date, background information)
  • Summary of the story
  • Analysis of the plot elements (rising action, climax)
  • Creative elements (dialogues, characters, use of colors, camera techniques, mood, tone, symbols, costumes or anything that contributes or takes away from the overall plot)
  • Opinion (supported with examples and facts from the story)
  • Conclusion (announcing whether the filmmaker was successful in his/her purpose, re-state your evidence, explain how the motion picture was helpful for providing a deeper understand of course topic)

On the other hand, if you’re writing a review for documentary feature, you’ll have to follow this outline:

  • Introduction (title, topic, release date, background info)
  • Accuracy of the depiction
  • Use of sources in the documentary
  • Creative elements that enhance or tarnish the overall story
  • Your opinion
  • Conclusion

Outlines are always important! You need a proper outline to create any type of an essay as well as other forms of writing. They help you stick to the subject and create that logical flow which is important for the quality of your paper.

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Writing a movie review

We all like watching and discussing movies, which is why you’ll find it fun to write a review. Here are some useful movie review writing tips that can help with essay:

  • Watch the movie twice and take notes of all major and minor details, characters and such on a piece of paper. Don’t rely on your memory only, that way you’d leave out some important details
  • Collect the information about the movie through research. Find information about the director, theme, locations, plot, characterization, and other important things that can help you write your review
  • Analyze the entire movie after watching it. This will require more time, but in order to write a review, you have to understand what you just watched. To do that, you’ll have to evaluate it from the beginning to the end, just like you would analyze a book
  • Draft an outline
  • Include examples for everything you say about the movie e.g. if the casting is bad, then why is it? If dialogues are good/bad, then name an example or two. Make sure that everything you mention in the review is supported with evidence. That way your professor will know you watched a movie and developed critical thinking skills
  • Consider the movie’s originality and quality of scenes

Mistakes to avoid

  • Not focusing on the film – don’t write about the history of cinematography or that particular genre, snacks, and other unnecessary details
  • Inserting yourself – you’re writing the review which means it reflects your understanding and opinion of the movie you’ve seen. Therefore, there is no need to write in first person all the time: I noticed this, I saw that, I liked this, I disliked that. As mentioned above, your review should be unbiased with trace of your opinion stated in the story and supported with evidence
  • Not checking your facts about movie background and release date, director, casting etc.
  • Giving out your opinion without mentioning any reason why you think that way
  • Talking about irrelevancies
  • Writing a review without a structure

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Bottom line

Writing a movie review is a great way to demonstrate your vocabulary skills, critical thinking, the ability to pay attention to details, and so much more. It is important to create a proper outline, watch the movie more than once, and take notes. Lastly, support your claims with examples that justify them.

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