Learn How to Write a Film Review for a New Movie

Introduction on How to Write a Film Review

Learning the fundamentals of how to write a film review for a new movie, relies on understanding several important elements. The first part is to watch the film and take notes. It’s a necessary skill as it helps you focus your thoughts on what’s happening on screen. As you’re professional film reviewer you should always look at watching key multiple scenes again and again, or at least attempt to watch the film you’re reviewing more than once.

If you’re watching a film in theatres then you’ll need to capture your notes with great accuracy. Unless you have access to reviewer DVD Screeners you may need to pay twice to watch the film. This is the price to pay until you’ve become a successful film reviewer and have access to films before general release.

1979 Alien Opening Credits and Titles

Alien Blu-ray
Alien Blu-ray

Alien opening titles help you understand what the film is really about and should form an essential part of your movie review


Always Analyze the Opening Credits

There’s a film theory that’s in circulation at the moment that states that all films can be understood from the opening credits. The use of montage, color, music and the font of credits all help shape and define the narrative that is about to unfold.

For example if you watch Alien (Ridley Scott) it’s perfectly possible to understand what the film is about from the first instance.

The use of opening credits is not arbitrary, but is a well crafted art that unites the film as a whole. Don’t think film credits are redundant or random when you’re writing your review.

Use these credits to help shape the content of your article. It can always be tweaked at a later point if it doesn’t work with the rest of your review. Think of credits as setting the scene for what is about to be shown.

Credits will often set a mood and give you clues as to what to expect. This is the audiences first interaction with the film and shouldn't be ignored.

Learn to Write Down and Note Essential Film Points Such As:

  • Character Names
  • Who are we supposed to be Identifying With?
  • Locations
  • Plot Points
  • Twists or reveals

Consider the Following Film Elements When Writing Your Review:

  • Colour use and framing within the film. Does the film use black and white?
  • The use of audio (audio tracks/famous composers/sound effects)
  • Editing Techniques such as freeze-frame, stop frame, dissolves for scene transition, conventional or unconventional SRS (Shot-Reverse-Shot) techniques.
  • The use of lighting and what aesthetic mood and feeling it is striving to create
  • Camera movement and what is it implying (processes of audience identification or alienation)
  • What are we suppose to feel as the movie progresses – do our thoughts and feelings when watching the film change?

You’ll now have a set of film notes. However, when writing your film review you may need to return to certain scenes to refresh your memory and confirm certain facts contained within the scene or scenes. With new movies this can only be done when you’re in the film theatres. With the advent of the Internet it’s totally feasible to explore plot-points and reconfirm character names etc. By visiting popular film sites such as IMDB.com as a writer you can explore certain film points and plot-points as well.

How to Avoid Film Plot Spoilers The Hobbit as an Example

One of the most important parts of learning how to write about film and offering a review to the general public is that you must indicate if your review contains spoilers. There’s a fine line though between weaving through the film and offering salient points whilst trying to dodge the plot reveals or character outcomes.

The preferred way I feel is to offer a ***SPOILER ALERT*** for all your film review activities unless you avoid plot reveals. This though leads to a conundrum. You obviously want people to read your film review, but you don’t want to spoil their future enjoyment.

Let’s look at the following Example for the film called The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies *** Spoiler Alerts Contained Below *** just in case you haven’t seen this film. Let’s get into the finer detail of the film review and talk about the death of Smaug. There are 2 ways you can write about this. One way will obviously be a Spoiler the other will give detail but avoid a spoiler.

1) SPOILER - Smaug gets shot with an arrow and dies

2) NON-SPOILER – The battle between Smaug and the citizens of Laketown utilizes state of the art CGI and immersive audio thumps and bangs.

OK a simple example but you get the point. Keep your reader protected from total plot revelation and character deaths etc.

Apocalypse Now Trailer with Voice Over Narration

Apocalypse Now (Apocalypse Now / Apocalypse Now Redux / Hearts of Darkness) (Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition)  [Blu-ray]
Apocalypse Now (Apocalypse Now / Apocalypse Now Redux / Hearts of Darkness) (Three-Disc Full Disclosure Edition) [Blu-ray]

The use of voice-over narrative helps explain the motivation of the central character Captain Benjamin L. Willard


How to Identify the Film’s Main Characters

When you begin to write your film review you'll need to identify the main antagonists and protagonists as well as any additional character that plays a key point in either moving the plot forward or has a direct action on the screen that moves the film structures around.

One of the most important parts of learning how to write a film review is to understand the character on the screen. In film we’re introduced to the character at an early stage. As an introduction we may know something about what has happened to the character, through self-revelation dialogue, or visual images/colors/edits on screen.

Often great directors use mise-en-scene to build up the fundamental parts of a characters life. The use of flashback as a narrative technique can help explain what has happened, and why a character is at the position he or she faces in the film.

Voice over servers a similar process. Indeed it’s hard not to think about the poignancy of Apocalypse Now without recalling the strength and power of the Martin Sheen voice-over that emanates throughout the film.

Writing your Film Notes Whilst Watching A Movie

You’ll want to keep a list going as this film progresses. If you are unsure about the accuracy of names then wait for the end credits to roll before completing and finalizing your character actor list. You’ll probably already be aware of the main actors and their celebrity status. This familiarity of a previous actors work within films can lead to an interesting review, if for example in the film you are reviewing; they begin to stray away from previous film roles and audience expectations. The same is also true with directors.

Most Hollywood directors these days work well within the Hollywood film production system. Rather than developing as an auteur within their own right directors either work with tried and tested film formulas, or move their own canon of works forward. When you’re learning how to write your review it’s also advisable to have familiarity with the film’s director. In addition become aware as well of his or hers previous films.

The Girl in Red - Schindler's List

Schindler's List (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Schindler's List (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)

A perfect example of the importance of key scenes is seen in Schindler's List - the girl with the Red Dress


How to Identify Key Scenes in a Film

Learning how to write about key scenes without plot revelation is an art. Every film contains scenes that help define it as either a formulaic film or in some part a work of genius. A perfect example of how a key scene helps define and shape a movie can be seen in the Steven Spielberg Film Schindler's List. The film is black and white throughout, until the massacre at the Jewish Ghetto where a lone girl dressed in a red dress searches frantically for her missing parents.

You can easily write why this is a key scene in the film because Oscar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) is watching the scene from horseback. It’s in this instance that he changes his views on his staff. He turns from exploiter to protector. This is a result of this key scene for both the audience and actors.

This moving scene shows us the innocence of life as it faces slaughter. A moving scene made more powerful through the use of audio.

How to Embellish Your Movie Review with Audio/Editing/Cinematography Details

Another aspect of writing a film review is to look at and examine the film techniques that are being deployed. A director will often use colors or over-saturation and under-saturation to give a film a certain exemplified “feel”. Similarly lighting has had an effect on the moving image since its birth. It’s hard now to look at German Film and in particular German Expressionism without realizing the importance of lighting and shot composition to create a world out-of-kilter, a world of darkness and horror that was allowed to operate during the German Weimar film period.

The Jaws Theme John Williams

Why You Should Write About Audio in a Film

The unity of film and music should not be forgotten. For example it’s impossible to think about Jaws without instantly hearing the Jaws theme conducted and composed by John Williams. Are you humming it now? Audio in terms of source music as well as effects work hand-in-hand with the moving film image and should form an integral part of your movie analysis.

How to Write About Creative Editing in a Film

Just take a look at Raging Bull (directed by Martin Scorsese) and you’ll see how Thelma Schoonmaker uses editing to such devastating effect in the brutal yet energetic fight scenes.

These scenes also unite amazing sounds as well as moving images to represent the whirlwind fights. Just listen to the howling tornado like sounds that form art of the visual and audio feast.

The Key of How to Write a Film Review - Offer an Interpretation – YOUR interpretation

There is no right or wrong in a film review, just your viewpoint. Try to be original and learn how to write a film review for a new movie from your own unbiased viewpoint. Originality remains the strongest point for any writer wanting to create a fresh and interesting film review. Focus on the elements of film and try to comprehend the meaning behind the various scenes and images contained within the film narrative. Examine the unity between sound and image too whilst exploring filming, editing, and shot construction to give an insightful review.

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Did You Find How to Write a Film Review for a New Movie Interesting? 2 comments

Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 15 months ago from Essex, UK

I myself have written a number of film reviews on HubPages, though so far only films which I enjoy and wish to promote, and only films that I have reviewed many times on DVD.

Most of the principles remain the same of course, but as you indicate, reviewing a movie on just one or two showings in the cinema requires a very alert mind and immediate appreciation of the key points of the movie. I'm sure your guide will help many to prepare for writing such a review.

I fully agree with the final comments about originality - a review which expresses a well thought-out analysis of the themes and meanings behind the film, will be so much more effective than just a bland documenting of the story and the performances.

johndwilliams profile image

johndwilliams 15 months ago from Essex England Author

Thanks for your comment I appreciate your time in writing this response - thanks again

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