Film criticism

Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films and the film medium. In general, film criticism can be divided into two categories: journalistic criticism that appears regularly in newspapers, magazines and other popular mass-media outlets; and academic criticism by film scholars who are informed by film theory and are published in academic journals. Academic film criticism rarely takes the form of a review; instead it is more likely to analyse the film and its place in the history of its genre or in the whole of film history.[1]


Film was introduced in the late 19th century. The earliest artistic criticism of film emerged in the early 1900s. The first paper to serve as a critique of film came out of The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal, followed by the Bioscope in 1908.[2]

Film is a relatively new form of art, in comparison to music, literature and painting which have existed since ancient times. Early writing on film sought to argue that films could also be considered a form of art. In 1911, Ricciotto Canudo wrote a manifesto proclaiming cinema to be the "Sixth Art" (later "Seventh Art").[3] For many decades after, film was still being accorded less prestige than longer-established art forms.[4] In Sweden, serious film criticism was spearheaded by Bengt Idestam-Almquist, whom the Swedish Film Institute has called the father of Swedish film criticism.[5]

By the 1920s, critics were analyzing film for its merit and value, and as more than just entertainment. The growing popularity of the medium caused major newspapers to start hiring film critics.[2] In the 1930s, the film industry saw audiences grow increasingly silent as films were now accompanied by sound. However, in the late 1930s audiences became influenced by print news sources reporting on movies and criticism became largely centered around audience reactions within the theaters.[6]

In the 1940s, new forms of criticism emerged. Essays analyzing films were written with a distinctive charm and style, and sought to persuade the reader to accept the critic's argument.[2] This trend brought film criticism into the mainstream, gaining the attention of many popular magazines; this eventually made film reviews and critiques a staple among most print media. As the decades passed, some critics gained fame, and a few became household names, among them James Agee, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, and more recently Roger Ebert and Peter Travers.

Journalistic criticismEdit

Film critics working for newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, and online publications mainly review new releases, although they also review older films.[7] An important task for these reviews is to help readers decide whether they want to see a particular film. A film review will typically explain the premise of the film before discussing its merits or flaws. The verdict is often summarized using a rating system, such as 5- or 4-star scales, academic-style grades, and pictograms (such as those used by the San Francisco Chronicle).

Chicago critic Roger Ebert (right) with director Russ Meyer

Some well-known journalistic critics are James Agee (Time, The Nation); Vincent Canby (The New York Times); Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times); Mark Kermode (BBC, The Observer); James Berardinelli; Philip French (The Observer); Pauline Kael (The New Yorker); Manny Farber (The New Republic, Time, The Nation); Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian); Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune); Andrew Sarris (The Village Voice); Joel Siegel (Good Morning America); Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader); and Christy Lemire (What The Flick?!).

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel popularised the practice of reviewing films via a television program, in the show Siskel & Ebert At the Movies, which became syndicated in the 1980s. Both critics had established their careers in print media, and continued to write reviews for newspapers during the run of their television show.

Online film criticismEdit


Websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic seek to improve the usefulness of film reviews by compiling them and assigning a score to each in order to gauge the general reception a film receives.[8] Other less well known aggregators such as the Movie Review Query Engine (MRQE) are also available.

Online film criticsEdit

Blogging also introduced opportunities for a new wave of amateur film critics to have their opinions heard. These review blogs may focus on one genre, director or actor, or encompass a much wider variety of films. Friends, friends of friends, or strangers are able to visit these blogsites, and can often leave their own comments about the movie and/or the author's review. Although much less frequented than their professional counterparts, these sites can gather a following of like-minded people who look to specific bloggers for reviews, as they have found that the critic consistently exhibits an outlook very similar to their own.[9] YouTube has also served as a platform for amateur film critics.

Some websites specialize in narrow aspects of film reviewing. For instance, there are sites that focus on specific content advisories for parents to judge a film's suitability for children. Others focus on a religious perspective (e.g. CAP Alert). Still others highlight more esoteric subjects such as the depiction of science in fiction films. One such example is Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Intuitor. Some online niche websites provide comprehensive coverage of the independent sector; usually adopting a style closer to print journalism. They tend to prohibit advertisement and offer uncompromising opinions free of any commercial interest. Their film critics normally have an academic film background.[2]

The Online Film Critics Society, an international professional association of Internet-based cinema reviewers, consists of writers from all over the world,[10] while New York Film Critics Online members handle reviews in the New York tri-state area.[11]

User-submitted reviewsEdit

Community-driven review sites, that allow internet users to submit personal movie reviews, have allowed the common movie goer to express their opinion on films. Many of these sites allow users to rate films on a 0 to 10 scale, while some rely on the star rating system of 1–5, 0–5 or 0–4 stars. The votes are then converted into an overall rating and ranking for any particular film. Some of these community driven review sites include Letterboxd, Reviewer, Movie Attractions, Flixster, FilmCrave, Flickchart and Everyone's a Critic. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic aggregate both scores from accredited critics and those submitted by users.[12]

On these online review sites, users generally only have to register with the site in order to submit reviews. This means that they are a form of open access poll, and have the same advantages and disadvantages; notably, there is no guarantee that they will be a representative sample of the film's audience. In some cases, online review sites have produced wildly differing results to scientific polling of audiences.[13] Likewise, reviews and ratings for many movies can greatly differ between the different review sites, even though there are certain movies that are well-rated (or poorly-rated) across the board.[14][15]

Academic film criticismEdit

More often known as film theory or film studies, academic critique explores cinema beyond journalistic film reviews. These film critics try to examine why film works, how it works aesthetically or politically, what it means, and what effects it has on people. Rather than write for mass-market publications their articles are usually published in scholarly journals and texts which tend to be affiliated with university presses; or sometimes in up-market magazines.[16]

Most academic criticism of film often follows a similar format. They usually include summaries of the plot of the film to either refresh the plot to the reader or reinforce an idea of repetition in the film's genre. After this, there tends to be discussions about the cultural context, major themes and repetitions, and details about the legacy of the film.[17]

Academic film criticism, or film studies can also be taught in academia, and is featured in many California colleges in the United States due to its established home of film: Hollywood. Some of these colleges include University of California, Davis, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University, as well as many other colleges across the world.[18]

Academic criticism is typically divided and taught in the form of many different disciplines that tackle critique in different manors. These can include:

  • Formalism, that analyzes the way that things are done and the appearance of their form or shape.
  • Structuralism, that examines the way that movies are sequenced, have a dedicated style, and the way that language and art itself can create meaning.
  • Historical, a form of criticism that doesn't look at the direct things being said, but the culture and surrounding environments of a given film. The historical critic will create meaning from something that is not explicitly stated or shown in the film.
  • Psychoanalysis, that breaks down the unconscious that one can experience while observing a given film.
  • Political and economic, which not only looks into how economics and politics are depicted directly inside the film, but also how it affects the film's creation, marketing, screening, and sale.[19]

Academic film criticism tackles many aspects of film making and production as well as distribution. These disciplines include camera work, digitalization, lighting, and sound. Narratives, dialogues, themes, and genres are among maty other things that academic film critics take into consideration and evaluate when engaging in critique.[20]

Some notable academic film critics include André Bazin, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut (all writers for Cahiers du Cinéma); Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell, and Sergei Eisenstein. Godard, Truffaut and Eisenstein were also film directors.

Issues and controversiesEdit


In the 2000s, the effect that reviews have on a film's box office performance and DVD rentals/sales have become a matter for debate. Some analysts argue that modern movie marketing, using pop culture convention appearances (e.g., Comicon) and social media along with traditional means of advertising, has led, in part, to a decline in the readership of many reviewers for newspapers and other print publications. There are fewer critics on television and radio in the last thirty years.[citation needed]

However, in recent years, there has been a growing belief in the film industry that critic aggregators (especially Rotten Tomatoes) are increasing the collective influence of film critics. The underperformance of several films in 2017 was blamed on their low scores on Rotten Tomatoes.[21] This has led to studies such as one commissioned by 20th Century Fox claiming that younger viewers give the website more credibility than the major studio marketing, which undercuts its effectiveness.[22]

Today, fan-run film analysis websites like Box Office Prophets, CineBee and Box Office Guru routinely factor more into the opinions of the general public on films produced.

The "undulating curve of shifting expectations"Edit

The "undulating curve of shifting expectations" (UCoSE) refers to both the title of a recurring entertainment industry feature in New York magazine by cultural critic Adam Sternbergh and also to a concept of media analysis co-developed by writer Emily Nussbaum.[23][24]

UCoSE refers to the dynamic tension between pre-release promotional efforts and subsequent audience reactions to entertainment media.

The UCoSE provides a way of analyzing the trajectory of entertainment products as they metamorphize their way through his theorized seven-stage growth chart: Pre-Buzz, Buzz, Rave Reviews, Saturation Point, Overhyped, Backlash, and finally, Backlash To The Backlash.[25]

Female representationEdit

There have been many complaints against the film-criticism industry for its underrepresentation of women.[26] A study of the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes shows that 91 per cent of writers for movie or entertainment magazines and websites are men, as are 90 per cent of those for trade publications, 80 per cent of critics for general interest magazines like Time, and 70 per cent of reviewers for radio formats such as NPR.[27]

Writing for The Atlantic, Kate Kilkenny argued that women were better represented in film criticism before the rise of the Internet. In the past, when film was considered less prestigious than visual art and literature, it was easier for women to break into film criticism. Judith Crist and Pauline Kael were two of the most influential film critics of the 1960s and 1970s. The Internet led to a decline in jobs at small newspapers where women were more likely to review films, whereas the more male-dominated jobs at major newspapers survived better. The Internet also encouraged a growth in niche review websites that were even more male-dominated than older media. Kilkenny also suggested that the shortage of female critics was related to the shortage of female opinion columnists.[4]

Clem Bastow, culture writer at The Guardian Australia, discussed the possible effects of this on the critical response to the 2015 film The Intern,[28] which received mixed reviews from critics:

The critical response to The Intern was fascinating. There's a subset of male critics that clearly see Nancy Meyers as code for chick flick and react with according bile. What's very interesting, though, is that I think female critics, working in an industry that is coded as very male, if not macho, often feel the need to go hard on certain films for women, presumably because they worry that they'll be dismissed, critically speaking, if they praise a film like The Intern as though they're only reviewing it favorably because they're women.[26]

Matt Reynolds of Wired pointed out that "men tend to look much more favorably on films with more masculine themes, or male leading actors." On online review sites such as IMDb, this leads to skewed, imbalanced review results as 70 per cent of reviewers on the site are men.[14]

A study using Johanson analysis was used evaluate the representation of women in 270 films.[29] Johanson complied statistics for the year 2015 on how having a female protagonist affected a movie, with the following results:[29][30]

  1. 22% of 2015's movies had female protagonists.
  2. Critics are slightly more likely to rate a film highly if it represents women well.
  3. Mainstream moviegoers are not turned off by films with female protagonists.
  4. Movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don't, and are less risky as business propositions.


As of 2021, movie critics earned a yearly average salary of $63,474.[31]

As of 2013, American film critics earned about US$82,000 a year.[32] Newspaper and magazine critics made $27,364-$49,574.[33] Online movie critics earned $2-$200 per review.[33] TV critics made up to $40,000-$60,000 per month.[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Reviews vs Criticism - Film & Television Studies". The University of Vermont Libraries Research Guides. October 15, 2017. Archived from the original on October 6, 2017. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Battaglia, James (May 2010). "Everyone's a Critic: Film Criticism Through History and Into the Digital Age". Senior Honors Theses: 32 – via Digital Commons.
  3. ^ Giovanni Dotoli, Ricciotto Canudo ou le cinéma comme art, Preface by Jean-Louis Leutrat, Fasano-Paris, Schena-Didier Érudition, 1999
  4. ^ a b "How the Internet Led to the Decline of Female Film Critics". The Atlantic. 2015-12-27. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  5. ^ Forslund, Bengt (2012). "Bengt Idestam-Almquist". Swedish Film Database (in Swedish). Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  6. ^ Butsch, Richard (2001). "American Movie Audiences of the 1930s". International Labor and Working-Class History (59): 106–120. ISSN 0147-5479.
  7. ^ "The Classic". At the Movies with Margaret and David. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  8. ^ Beam, Christopher; Singer-Vine, Jeremy (2011-06-06). "Slate's Hollywood Career-O-Matic". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  9. ^ "What is blogging?". The Balance. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  10. ^ "Our Bylaws – Online Film Critics Society". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  11. ^ "New York Film Critics Online - Who We Are". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  12. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes: About". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  13. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (2017-12-17). "Did Audiences Enjoy 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'? Deciphering Online User Reviews From Exit Polls". Deadline. Retrieved 2017-12-18.
  14. ^ a b "You should ignore film ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2019-11-30.
  15. ^ "Top 10 Movies of All Time". Retrieved 2019-11-30.
  16. ^ "Faculty publications".
  17. ^ Hantke, Steffen (2007). "Academic Film Criticism, the Rhetoric of Crisis, and the Current State of American Horror Cinema: Thoughts on Canonicity and Academic Anxiety". College Literature. 34 (4): 191–202. doi:10.1353/lit.2007.0045. JSTOR 25115464.
  18. ^ Svetkey, Benjamin, ed. (2018-08-16). "The Top 25 American Film Schools". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  19. ^ Ryan, Michael (2012). An introduction to criticism: literature, film, culture. Chichester, West Sussex; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8283-6. OCLC 752909880.
  20. ^ Braudy, Leo; Cohen, Marshall (2009). Film theory and criticism: introductory readings. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-536562-7. OCLC 262430698.
  21. ^ Mendelson, Scott (13 June 2017). "Rotten Tomatoes, Netflix And A Perfect Storm That Dooms Hollywood". Forbes. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  22. ^ Lee, Chris (9 June 2017). "How Hollywood Came to Fear and Loathe Rotten Tomatoes". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  23. ^ "When Is It OK to Spoil?". On the Media. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  24. ^ "The Mathemagical World of New York Magazine". Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Whitney Cummings, The Television Industry's Most Criticized Female, Comes Out In Support Of Lana Del Rey, The Music Industry's Most Criticized Female". VH1 Music News. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  26. ^ a b Adams, Thelma (2015-12-29). "The Curious Case of the Missing Women in Film Criticism". Variety. Retrieved 2017-10-24.
  27. ^ Devan Coggan (2016-06-23). "Male film critics greatly outnumber female critics, study finds". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  28. ^ Clem Bastow (September 30, 2015). "The Intern has been panned by film critics. Why am I not surprised?". Retrieved December 15, 2015.
  29. ^ a b Johanson, MaryAnn (2016-04-11). "Where Are the Women?: crunching the numbers". Retrieved 2020-07-16.
  30. ^ Johanson, MaryAnn (April 2016). "Where Are the Women? : Data Spreadsheet". Google Docs.
  31. ^ "Pay Scale for Movie Critics". Work - Retrieved 2021-11-03.
  32. ^ "Pay Scale for Movie Critics". Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  33. ^ a b c "How Much Money Do Movie Critics Make?". Bizfluent. Retrieved 2018-05-02.

Further readingEdit