Film Studies: UC Berkeley Library
Film Reviews and Film Criticism: An Introduction



Critical writing about film and video generally falls into several broad categories, including published film reviews, scholarly or focused criticism and analysis, and fan writing.

Film Reviews:

Film reviews are assessments of the aesthetic, entertainment, social and cultural merits and significance of a current film or video. Reviews tend to be short to medium length articles, often written by a single staff writer for a particular publication. In most cases, the chief aim of a review is to tell the reader whether the film is worth going to see (or buying on DVD). Although reviews are usually fairly "quick takes" on a movie, they can, in some instances, be lengthy, substantive, and very insightful. The writing of notable critics such as Pauline Kael (The New Yorker), James Agee (The Nation), Andrew Sarris (The Village Voice), blur the line between popular reviews and the more lengthy type of analysis described below.

As might be expected, reviews of current movie releases appear regularly in most film-related journals (Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Films In Review, et al.). Film reviews can also be regularly found in many general interest periodicals (e.g., Newsweek, Time, The Nation) and in most daily newspapers. Occassionally, reviews of topically-relevant movies or videos are also included in more specialized subject journals.

Criticism and Analysis:

Scholarly or focused critical writing about particular films--both current and historical--can be found in an amazingly wide variety of sources, including film journals, and publications devoted to theater, history, literature, women's studies, ethnic studies, and other disciplines. Critical/analytic film articles tend to be more academic and substantive than reviews. These articles often discuss particular films in broad social, political, and historical context. Many times the focus of these articles is on a fairly specific aspect of a film, a director's work, or a film genre.

A Note on Reviews and Analysis of Movies vs Documentaries:

Reviews for current, popular feature films are everywhere--general interest magazines and newspapers, scholarly journals, fanzines, the web. In sharp contrast, there are comparatively few reviews or articles that discuss current or historical documentaries. Why? Feature films are an enormously popular big business; in most cases, documentaries aren't (except for the fairly few documentary film makers such as Michael Moore who have temporarily caught the public imagination).

While some of the sources below index reviews/criticism of documentary films as well as movies, the coverage tends to be extremely selective. For reviews of documentary and educational works on video, see also Video Librarian (UCB users only).

Listings for some of the documentary videos in the Media Resources Center collection include citations to reviews and articles. See individual subject videographies in the MRC web site.

Strategies for Finding Reviews and Critical Analyses

The number of sources, both online and in print, for finding film/TV reviews and critical analysis is large and often bewildering. How to navigate this sea of information?

Current Film Reviews: Online Indexes

As a rule, the best places to start for reviews of current (within the last 10 years) feature films or television programs are the Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), ProQuest, and Lexis/Nexis Academic.

Academic Search Complete includes coverage of such popular and general interest publications as Newsweek, Time, The Nation, New Republic, and The New Yorker--all of which have regular movie review features. The index also covers major film-related journals, such as Journal of Film and Video, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Literature/Film Quarterly, and Cineaste. [For a complete listing of film journals covered, see Film Reviews and Film Criticism Resources

ProQuest and Lexis/Nexis Academic can help you locate current reviews and movie industry information appearing in national newspapers such as The New York Timesand The Washington Post, as well as national and trade magazines.

Current Film Reviews on the Web

The web offers an amazing abundance of film review sources, but in entering this cyber-territory, the searcher must beware. In surfing for reviews, it's particularly important to consider the source of the review. A large portion of web reviews are basically film industry promotional pieces, the opinions of fans, or too short to be of any real academic use. The best all-around engine for locating full-text reviews on the web is The Movie Review Query Engine. The MRQ is more useful in finding reviews for more recent films than for older ones, but with 28,000+ reviews on board, it's always worth a try. The engine turns up reviews in national and regional newspapers and magazines, newsletters and e-zines, use groups, and sundry other weird venues (Mutant Reviewers From Hell...really!)

Other web-based review resources are listed on a separate page

Older Film Reviews

An extensive listing on resources for finding historical reviews and criticism is provided on a separate page.

For reviews of films in magazines older than 15 years, it's best to start with The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature Retrospective Index . The Readers Guide goes back to the turn of the 19th Century and covers many of the same journals as are indexed in Expanded Academic Index (note that Readers Guide does not provide full-text).

For reviews of films older than 10 years in newspapers, it's best to start with Historical Newspapers (Proquest), which indexes and provides some full-text of articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times & Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times Film reviews from the Times from 1913-1970 are also indexed in a separate print publication, The New York Times Film Reviews (located in the Doe Library reference room: PN1995 .N4).

Film Review Index, a print source in the Media Resources Center, is a good bet for locating reviews of older films (1882-1985). It indexes publications ranging from popular periodicals, to the New York Times and The Village Voice, to relevant chapters in selected film books.

Other printed indexes to older reviews and criticism are discussed on a separate page.

Focused/In-depth Critical Analysis

As discussed above, the Academic Search Complete indexes a solid core of serious film journals and publications related to the study of popular culture--not a bad place to start a search for more scholarly or focused film literature.

The International Index to Film/TV Periodicals is currently perhaps the most comprehensive online index devoted exclusively film and television. Articles in international film journals are indexed from 1972 to present, and television journals from 1979 to present.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) Bibliography would be a good second place to look. The MLA Bibliography indexes an exceptionally wide range of journals which are broadly concerned with literature, folklore, theatre, and other performing arts--including film. This source also has the benefit of indexing relevant chapters in books, doctoral dissertations, conference proceedings, and other resources useful to the study of film.

International Index to the Performing Arts is another excellent source for film analysis and criticism. Content of the index is drawn from more than 210 scholarly and popular performing arts periodicals; and also indexes a variety of documents such as biographical profiles; conference papers; obituaries; interviews; discographies; reviews and events. Full-text is provided for 34 of the titles indexed.

An excellent resource to consult for articles related to film and American culture and history is the online index America History and Life. AHL indexes both important film journals (most of which are indexed in other sources discussed above and below) and a broad range of international journals devoted to American history, politics, and culture.

One of the best sources for tracking down criticism and analysis in international film journals is the Film Literature Index, a print resource which covers 153 film and TV-related publications from 1973 to present (the index is located in the Media Resources Center and the Main Library Information Center). One caution in using this index is the fact that UCB Library does not own a fair number of the smaller journals indexed.

The publications discussed above represent only a portion of the print and online resources available to assist the researcher in tracking down film literature. A more comprehensive listing of resources in the UCB Library is provided at

Review & Criticism Resources
Film Studies Home Page

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