How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide - San Diego International Film Festival (2022)

There’s a lot of advice out there about writing film reviews from a critic’s perspective, each with varying degrees of advice. I’ve been analyzing movies critically for six years, and I’ve personally found that reviews don’t need to be complicated. Rather, they need to be honest and encourage discussion. Here are the steps I take from start to finish, when screening films.

Step 1: Before You Watch the Movie

The hardest part of this first step is going to be avoiding doing too much research or reading other reviews prior to watching the movie (as tempting as it may be.) I find that it’s more liberating to the experience to go in with an air of unfamiliarity.

Ideally, when I start on the path of reviewing a film, I will know very little about it—aside from the actors and the director involved. If I’m not familiar with the cast and/or the director, I’ll do a little filmography research, but only about their past work if I’ve never seen it before. Avoiding exposure to the movie can be more difficult than it sounds when it’s a popular film—as trailers and marketing run rampant. But if you can avoid watching the trailers and reading about other peoples’ opinions prior to watching, you won’t have any preconceived judgments and can go in with an unbiased perspective.

Trailers work well to provide some context and tone prior to watching a movie, but they can also be filled with spoilers, which is why I do my best to avoid them when possible. As for reviews, reading about what others think of the movie before watching or writing a review can affect your opinion heavily. And when you’re in reviewer mode, you want to be as honest with your own opinion as possible, and not allow any outside voice to alter it. Of course, after the review is finished, I always welcome a discussion with fellow cinephiles to hear and understand what they enjoyed and didn’t.

Without being affected by the trailers, marketing, and other reviews before watching a movie, you can really put your best foot forward to creating your authentic opinion and turning that into a movie review people can trust.

How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide - San Diego International Film Festival (1)

Avoid trailers and other reviews prior to watching as to not sway your perception.

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Step 2: Watching the Movie

I believe you only need to a see a film once in order to critique a film. Of course, there are those who prefer at least a couple viewings, but from my experience multiple viewings can actually skew your assessment.

What works for me is to watch the movie in its entirety without distractions in order to get a grasp on what the director intended. If you spend your first viewing pausing, playing back, and re-watching segments at a time, you won’t get a sense for the way the film was meant to be enjoyed.

I also try not to take many notes while I watch the movie—if you’re jotting down a long critique or opinion while watching the movie, you can miss brief, yet vital moments. I will however, write down a word or phrase that stands out so that I can recall scenes or story information that catch my attention and that I deem important. This will help later when I’m constructing my review—for brief summary recaps, breaking down the themes, and reflecting on the direction or acting.

In general, I think of pausing, rewinding, and taking notes as interruptions that will bring you out of the film—literally and emotionally—and that can play a role in how you view a film from a critical standpoint.

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How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide - San Diego International Film Festival (2)

Avoid trailers and other reviews prior to watching as to not sway your perception.

Step 3: After You Watch the Movie

The window of time immediately following the viewing is critical. Since I don’t take a lot of notes during the movie, one of the most important aspects of writing a critique is to stay focused and write down all of the things that stood out to me about the film. And since collecting my thoughts after seeing a movie can be chaotic, I need to be sure that I jot down everything that struck my radar as soon as it’s over. It’s better to get it all down on paper, and then evaluate what’s necessary to convey to the reader later. Being precise in your commentary and incorporating specific examples from the movie to back up your opinions is key.

This is where the checklist comes into play. When I write a review, I do my best to cover all aspects of filmmaking that went into creating the final product, including:

  • Plot: What was the movie about? Was it believable? Interesting? Thought-provoking? How was the climax revealed? How did the setting affect the story?
  • Themes and Tone: What was the central goal of the movie? Was it made to entertain, educate, or bring awareness to an issue? Was there any strong impression the movie made on you? Did any symbolism come into play?
  • Acting and Characters: Did you like how the characters were portrayed? Did the acting support the characters, and help them come to life? Did the characters display complex personalities or were they stereotypes? Were there characters that embodied certain archetypes to enhance or diminish the film?
  • Direction: Did you like how the director chose to tell the story? Was the pacing and speed of the movie too fast or too slow? Was the direction comparable to other movies this director has created? Was the storytelling complex or straightforward? Was there a certain amount of suspense or tension that worked? Did the director create a captivating conflict?
  • Score: Did the music support the mood of the movie? Was it too distracting or too subtle? Did it add to the production and work well with the script? Were the music queues timed well for the scenes they were supporting?
  • Cinematography: Were the shots used in a unique way to tell the story? Did the coloring and lighting affect the tone? Was the action coherently shot? How well did the camera move? Were actors or settings framed well?
  • Production Design: Did the sets feel lived-in and believable to the story or characters? Were the costumes suitable for the characters or story? Did the created environments heighten the atmosphere on camera?
  • Special Effects: Were the special effects believable? Did they align with the era and tone of the movie? Were the effects overboard or too subtle? Did they integrate well to the purpose of the story?
  • Editing: Was the editing clean or choppy? Was the flow consistent? What unique effects were used? How were the transitions between scenes?
  • Pace: Did the movie flow well? Was it too fast or too slow? Was it clearly organized? Did certain scenes drag down the movie?
  • Dialogue: Were the conversations believable or necessary? Did the dialogue bring context to plot developments? Did the words match the tone of the movie and personality of the characters?

Let’s take the special effects as an example. I want to evaluate them based on utility, use within the film, and obviously how well it looks on screen. When I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, I was blown away with all the practical effects and how everything served a purpose to the story. It looked like everything was well crafted and built with love to develop such a brilliantly inspired wasteland.

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On the other side of the coin, the Transformers movies, as detailed as the robots look, most of the time while I was watching the movies, I felt like I was watching a jumbled mess of computer animated metal smashing into each other. It didn’t look stimulating. You want the special effects to complement the story rather than just being used as a visual device.

How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide - San Diego International Film Festival (3)

After you watch the movie get your ideas down as quick as possible.

Step 4: Writing the Review

After I have all of my thoughts down, I take as much into consideration as I can and then work on the flow. I put a lot of care into the organization of my review, and make sure my thoughts are read in a cohesive manner to help my audience understand where I’m coming from. I prioritize what’s most important to include and let the rest go.

Hands down, the most important component to address in a movie review is how it made you feel. Anyone can write a summary of a film or create lists about the highlights. But good reviews should convey to the audience how the movie resonated with you.

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If you don’t put your voice into your critique, your audience will find it difficult to understand your perspective, connect with you as a reviewer, and most importantly, they may not be able to trust your opinion. And if they don’t trust you, they wont come back to read more of your work. And you want your review to provide value to the reader, right?

I want to ensure that my thoughts encourage readers to create a constructive discussion around the film, or help them decide whether or not the movie is for them. And hopefully, the audience will have as much fun reading my review as I did writing it.

How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide - San Diego International Film Festival (4)

The most important component to address in a movie review is how it made you feel.

––

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Tyler Schirado is the founder and editor-in-chief of TurnTheRightCorner.com, an entertainment blog focused on providing honest opinions on the world of film, television, gaming, and more. Legend has it that he’s said to have rid on the back of a T-Rex and has the natural survival instincts to live through the zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Twitter @TyRawrrnosaurus, and you can find TurnTheRightCorner.com on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Image Source: Giphy.com

FAQs

How do you do movie analysis? ›

The first step to analyzing the film is to watch it with a plan.
...
Watching the film
  1. Give the clip your undivided attention at least once. Pay close attention to details and make observations that might start leading to bigger questions.
  2. Watch the clip a second time. ...
  3. Take notes while you watch for the second time.

What are the 3 levels of questions when analyzing film? ›

How to ask & answer questions
  • Level 1: Recall.
  • Level 2: Analyze/Inference.
  • Level 3: Synthesis.

What are the parts of movie analysis? ›

Reviews analyze the effectiveness of the plot, theme, acting, direction, special effects, musical effects, cinematography, and all other elements that created the movie.

What are the seven standards that a reviewer must look into when examining a movie? ›

7 Things Critics Look for When Reviewing a Movie
  • Directing. It's best to think of the the director like a general. ...
  • Writing. ...
  • Cinematography. ...
  • Editing. ...
  • Acting. ...
  • Production Design. ...
  • Sound.
25 Jul 2015

What is the first step of analyzing a film? ›

The first step is to understand how the film is put together as a whole. Examine narrative films in terms of plot, story, causality, time, and space. Analyze the pattern of development.

How do you start a film analysis essay? ›

1. Introduction. The introductory part of a film analysis essay contains some fundamental information about the movie, like the film title, release date, and director's name. In other words, the reader should get familiar with some background information about the film.

What is a film analysis essay? ›

The purpose of these analytical essay assignments is to teach students to examine a feature film, interpret its meaning, and develop an argument based on and supported by material presented in the film itself as well as in HUM 1020.

What are good questions to ask about a movie? ›

Discussion Questions:
  • What thoughts does this movie spur in you? ...
  • What is your emotional response to this movie? ...
  • What moments, character, or ideas resonated with you while watching this movie? ...
  • What themes are present in this movie?
  • What is this movie saying about our world?
  • Why would someone want to watch this film?
7 Jun 2021

What is based on film analysis? ›

question. A (B) Flow process chart is based on film analysis.

What are the 8 elements of film? ›

What are the key elements involved:
  • Film Type.
  • Shots.
  • Camera Angles.
  • Lighting.
  • Color.
  • Sound or Audio.
  • Editing.
  • Mise-en-Scene.
3 Mar 2021

What are the 4 elements of film? ›

In conclusion, The Big Four Elements of Film consists of mise-en-scéne, cinematography, editing and sound.

Where can I find film analysis? ›

Free Film-related Databases
  • All Movie Guide FIlm FInder. This database is very similar to the Internet Movie Database (described below). ...
  • British Board of Film Classification Database. ...
  • DocuSeek Film and Video Finder. ...
  • Roger Ebert Reviews. ...
  • Educational Media Reviews Online. ...
  • Facets Multi Media.
5 Aug 2022

How do you structure a film review? ›

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)

How do you write a critical review of a movie? ›

9 Tips for Writing a Film Review
  1. Watch the film at least once.
  2. Express your opinions and support your criticism.
  3. Consider your audience.
  4. Know the Actors' portfolios.
  5. Call out directors, cinematographers, special effects.
  6. No spoilers!
  7. Study the professionals.
  8. Reread, rewrite and edit.
2 Jun 2017

What appears first in a film review? ›

- In the opening of your review, provide some basic information about the film. You may include film's name, year, director, screenwriter, and major actors. - Your introduction, which may be longer than one paragraph, should also begin to evaluate the film, and it should allude to the central concept of the review.

What are the four basic approaches to studying film? ›

Answer and Explanation: Film analysis is guided by various approaches, and the four traditional approaches to film history include: aesthetic, technological, economic, and social-historical.

How do you analyze film editing? ›

Editing | Introduction to Film Analysis - YouTube

How do you describe a movie? ›

Here is a list of vocabulary that reviewers often use when describing movies. I have divided them into three categories: positive, negative, and neutral.
...
Positive.
first-rateinsightfulclever
tenderhilariousabsorbing
sensitiverivetingintriguing
powerfulfascinatingpleasant
surprisingdazzlingthought provoking
3 more rows

Why is it important to analyze films? ›

So film analysis helps us understand what we're watching and how it affects us. It can help us to understand important themes expressed or encoded by film makers that would otherwise be missed.

How do you describe a movie scene? ›

Include words that communicate color, texture, size and shape. Write visual descriptions of primary parts of the plot, as well as other details that help to create the atmosphere. Write about the sounds involved in the scene. Use language that describes tone, pitch, volume and mood associated with various sounds.

Which film analysis would be best used when examining the story elements of the film? ›

A semiotic analysis studies the symbols and imagery used in a film and what is achieved by using these devices. A narrative analysis examines story elements such as narrative structure, character, and plot.

How do you lead a film discussion? ›

Leading a Virtual Film Discussion in 7 Steps
  1. Prepare. Get familiar with the film. ...
  2. Do an icebreaker. Once your participants are logged in for the virtual program, offer an easy introductory activity. ...
  3. Ask who has watched the film. ...
  4. Juan RubioAsk for a recap. ...
  5. Start the discussion. ...
  6. Continue with more specific questions. ...
  7. Conclude.
21 Oct 2020

How do you start a conversation about a movie? ›

How to Talk About Movies and Films in English - Spoken English Lesson

What are the top 5 questions to ask an interviewer? ›

Best Questions to Ask the Interviewer
  • How would you describe the responsibilities of the position?
  • What are you looking for in a candidate?
  • What are the biggest challenges of this job?
  • How would you describe a typical day in this position?
  • What is the typical work week?
  • Is overtime expected?

Which chart is used in film analysis? ›

A SIMO chart is a chart based on the film analysis, used to record simultaneously on a common time scale the Therbligs or a group of Therbligs performed by different parts of the body of one or more operators.

Which chart is based on film analysis? ›

A Simo-Chart is often based on film analysis. It shows a common scale the Therbling or groups of Therblings performed by different parts of the body of one or more workers.

What is a shot by shot analysis? ›

ShotByShot.com is a Strokes Gained Analysis website that can help all golfers accurately identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can shoot lower scores.

What are the five principles of film form? ›

Terms in this set (5)
  • Function. Story lines or characters that serve a function effect the outcome of the whole movie.
  • Similarity and Repition. Are there repeated scenes or lines that reinforce the meaning of the film?
  • Difference and Variation. ...
  • Development. ...
  • Unity and Disunity.

What is the structure of a movie? ›

The narrative structure, as the term suggests, is the structural framework for a movie. The story is the action of the movie, and the plot is how the story is told. The narrative structure can be either linear or nonlinear. Linear narrative structure is a movie that moves in chronological order.

What do movie critics look for? ›

Critics are primarily interested in the art of the film. That means that critics are looking for things about the film that work or don't work. They're interested in the aesthetics and the content. And their main interest isn't in serving as some kind of Consumer Reports for movies.

What are the parts of a movie called? ›

The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. It was popularized by Syd Field in his 1979 book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.

Which is the most important element of film making Why? ›

But as filmmakers, our overriding concern should be movement. Movement also has a double meaning: 1) the physical movement of the camera or objects within the frame and 2) moving our audience emotionally.

What is the difference between a film review and a film analysis? ›

A movie review is more "consumer-oriented," placing more emphasis on recommendation than analysis. Movie reviews are usually written when a movie is released, and then perhaps again, when the dvd is released.

Which movie critic site is the best? ›

1) Roger Ebert

If you are looking for the daddy of all film review websites, Roger Ebert's has to be it. The recently deceased critic wrote in-depth reviews on nearly every film released and has an extensive back catalogue.

How do you write a semiotic analysis of a film? ›

Semiotics analysis for beginners! | How to read signs in film - YouTube

What are the 7 steps to writing a movie review? ›

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review
  • If circumstances permit, view the film more than once. ...
  • Express your opinion of the film, but support your criticism. ...
  • Adjust the style of your review for the readership. ...
  • Avoid spoilers. ...
  • Judge the story. ...
  • Rate the actors. ...
  • Evaluate the technical elements.

How do you write a movie summary essay? ›

5 Tips To Write A Movie Summary Essay
  1. Study the Source Material and Take Notes. Obviously, your work on the movie summary starts with watching the source material. ...
  2. Be Clear About the Purpose of a Movie Summary Essay. ...
  3. Keep It Concise. ...
  4. Structure Your Movie Summary Essay. ...
  5. Make It Your Own.
9 Nov 2021

How many paragraphs does a review have? ›

A book review should have four to five paragraphs. One paragraph identifying the thesis, and whether the author achieves the stated purpose of the book. One or two paragraphs summarizing the book.

What do you say when a movie is good? ›

I thought this was a masterpiece. Seriously. I've never seen another movie hit me in the same way this one did.
...
Realistically, it's much better than that, but we simply don't know how else to phrase it.
  • That was a really good movie! ...
  • I thought that was a really good movie. ...
  • I think that was a really good movie.

Do film critics get paid? ›

How Much Do Film Critics Make? The average salary of a movie critic is over $42,000 per year. The full range of average earnings varies from over $10,000 to over $213,000 per year.

What are the elements that helped you identify its kind of movie? ›

The above elements of story, plot, setting, and character equal a specific category of movie. These elements are discussed regarding how their variations create a different category of movie.

What are creative elements in a film? ›

Creative elements: Describe the characters, dialogues, camera work, costumes, use of colors, genre, tone, symbols, or anything that adds to or misses from the overall story.

What should I analyze in a movie? ›

Step 3: After You Watch the Movie
  • Plot: What was the movie about? ...
  • Themes and Tone: What was the central goal of the movie? ...
  • Acting and Characters: Did you like how the characters were portrayed? ...
  • Direction: Did you like how the director chose to tell the story? ...
  • Score: Did the music support the mood of the movie?
22 Jul 2015

What is a film analysis essay? ›

The purpose of these analytical essay assignments is to teach students to examine a feature film, interpret its meaning, and develop an argument based on and supported by material presented in the film itself as well as in HUM 1020.

What is the purpose of film analysis? ›

So film analysis helps us understand what we're watching and how it affects us. It can help us to understand important themes expressed or encoded by film makers that would otherwise be missed.

How do you become a movie critic? ›

You'll need:
  1. knowledge of English language.
  2. the ability to critically analyse information.
  3. knowledge of media production and communication.
  4. to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
  5. the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure.
  6. excellent written communication skills.
  7. excellent verbal communication skills.

What are the 8 elements of film? ›

What are the key elements involved:
  • Film Type.
  • Shots.
  • Camera Angles.
  • Lighting.
  • Color.
  • Sound or Audio.
  • Editing.
  • Mise-en-Scene.
3 Mar 2021

What are the 4 elements of film? ›

In conclusion, The Big Four Elements of Film consists of mise-en-scéne, cinematography, editing and sound.

Where can I find film analysis? ›

Free Film-related Databases
  • All Movie Guide FIlm FInder. This database is very similar to the Internet Movie Database (described below). ...
  • British Board of Film Classification Database. ...
  • DocuSeek Film and Video Finder. ...
  • Roger Ebert Reviews. ...
  • Educational Media Reviews Online. ...
  • Facets Multi Media.
5 Aug 2022

How do you describe a movie? ›

Here is a list of vocabulary that reviewers often use when describing movies. I have divided them into three categories: positive, negative, and neutral.
...
Positive.
first-rateinsightfulclever
tenderhilariousabsorbing
sensitiverivetingintriguing
powerfulfascinatingpleasant
surprisingdazzlingthought provoking
3 more rows

How do you describe a movie scene? ›

Include words that communicate color, texture, size and shape. Write visual descriptions of primary parts of the plot, as well as other details that help to create the atmosphere. Write about the sounds involved in the scene. Use language that describes tone, pitch, volume and mood associated with various sounds.

What are the four basic approaches to studying film? ›

Answer and Explanation: Film analysis is guided by various approaches, and the four traditional approaches to film history include: aesthetic, technological, economic, and social-historical.

Can you get paid for reviewing movies? ›

The money you get paid depends on how many people read your review. It might come from subscription fees or ad revenue. You might also hear these sites referred to as revenue sharing or pay-per-view sites. There's a range of different sites to which you can submit your movie reviews and earn royalties.

What do movie critics look for? ›

Movie critics are responsible for viewing, taking notes and analyzing the acting, plot development, writing, directing, editing and cinematography of films. They use their writing and analytical skills to craft a professional review that can help audiences determine whether or not they should view the film.

Do you need a degree to be a movie critic? ›

A film critic is a journalist with knowledge of the film industry. Some film critics have a background in film studies, while others have a degree in communications or journalism; studying both disciplines through major and minor options may give you an advantage. A bachelor's degree can prepare you for employment.

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