Differences between Film Reviews and Criticism

Reviews and criticism are not synonymous. Many media organizations and Web sites do not make any distinction between the two terms, but academic researchers do. Below are some criteria to guide you in critically evaluating film commentary to determine whether you are reading a review or criticism.



General plot summary

May focus on a specific aspect of a film

Rates or ranks films from an entertainment, cultural, or artistic perspective

Discusses films within a historical, social, political, or theoretical context

Usually short to medium length

Substantive length

Written by journalist or staff

Written by a scholar, or other expert in the field of film studies

Finding Film Reviews and Criticism

Search Tips

  • You need as much information as possible about the film to find commentary, especially if it is an older film. Go to the Internet Movie Database and enter the name of your film, to get its release date and director.
  • Match the release date of your film with coverage dates in CSUMB Library databases. For example, if you're looking for a New York Times review of a film released in 1965, you would choose The New York Times Movie Reviews site (coverage from the late 1920s) rather than the CSUMB Library's Lexis-Nexis database, which has New York Times coverage from 1980.
  • You can get a broader perspective on a film by investigating other work by the same director, or other films in the same genre. Many of the resources below allow searching by film title, director, or genre.
Recent Film Reviews in CSUMB Library Databases

Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe
International, national and regional newspapers, magazines, and trade publications. Includes full text of The New York Times from 1980 and the last six months of the Los Angeles Times.
Search Strategy

Use the Easy search and enter the name of the film in quotation marks with the connector word AND the term movie review: "xxx" and movie review. If you would like to use the word: film,"you may interchange it with the term "movie," or set up the search like this: "XXX" and (film or movie) review

The search results are all on the right side. On the left side are the results by categories and the numbers of articles under each category. This is very handy, because you can either look through newspaper reviews like the The New York Times, or magazines, like The New Yorker reviews, without having to go through all results by relevance-the default manner in which the results are displayed on the right side.

Expanded Academic ASAP
Covers popular, general interest, and film publications, as well as major newspapers that carry film reviews. Includes Time, Newsweek, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The Washington Post. Also has film publications containing criticism, which include Cineaste, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Film Journal International, Journal of Film and Video, Journal of Popular Film and Television, American film, and Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.
Search Strategy
Use Keyword search: Enter the film title and "movie reviews."

Contains national and international newspapers.
Search Strategies
Use drop-down menus to the right of the search boxes to find the search types mentioned below. Combine types as appropriate.

  • Subject: Enter the film title.
  • Article type: Select "movie review," "movie review favorable," "movie review mixed," or "commentary." You can also use the "browse article types" link that appears when you choose "Article type."
  • Citation and abstract: Enter the film title.
  • Person: Enter a director or actor's name.

Older Film Reviews

New York Times Movie Reviews

Contains reviews from 1929 to the present. "Critics Picks" on the entry page contains recommendations by Times critics A. O. Scott, Stephen Holden, and Manohla Dargis. Other features on this site are readers reviews, film festival news, new DVD reviews, and a "film tracker" that finds news related to animated films, documentaries, motion pictures, and television. You'll need to register, but it's free.
Search Strategies

  • Click "Reviews" on the top navigation bar to search for reviews by movie year, title, genre, critic, or country of origin.
  • Browse by "Movie Title."

Los Angeles Times Archives

Los Angeles Times film reviews from 1985 to the present.
Search Strategies

  • Enter film title in the "Search For" box
  • Enter appropriate date range.
  • Choose "Movie Review" for the "Article Type."

Pacific Film Archive: Cinefiles

Contains reviews, press kits, festival and showcase program notes, newspaper articles, and other documents relating to "world cinema past and present." Hosted by UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archives Library collection.
Search Strategy
Use the drop-down menu to the right of the" Simple Search' box to search by film title, director, genre, or subject.

Film Criticism in CSUMB Library Databases

MLA Bibliography

Contains serious film and other performing arts criticism from publications including Film Journal, Inside Popular Film, The Independent Film and Video Monthly, Film and Culture, Historical Journal of Film, Anuario de Cine y Literatura en Espanol: An International Journal on Film and Literature, Radio and Television, Postscript, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Film Quarterly, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Quarterly Review of Film Studies, Film Criticism, Literature/Film Quarterly, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema, Wide Angle, and Scope.
Search Strategy

  • Enter film title as a Keyword search, or
  • Enter director's name, last name first, as a Descriptors search

Expanded Academic ASAP

Please see above listing for description and search strategies.

Project Muse
film criticism from publications including Wide Angle, Velvet Light Trap, Camera Obscura, American Imago, Theatre Reviews Cinema Journal, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, The Henry James Review, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Arti and New Literary History.
Search strategy
Enter the film title in the "Search For" box and select "Title Reviewed" from the drop-down menu in the "in" box.

Reviews on the Web

Rotten Tomatoes

This site has movie reviews and criticism from single cirtics/reviews and from the L.A., N.Y, National Society of Film Critics. Also offers DVD and game reviews, as well as box office grosses, film blogs and discussion groups.

The Movie Review Query Engine

Contains over 41,000 reviews from regional, national and international newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Sight and Sound, The Village Voice and the Boston Phoenix, as well as from online review sites like the Cranky Critic, Rotten Tomatoes, and Filmsnobs.
Search Strategy

  • Enter film title in the "Find Reviews" box
  • Browse the "Precomputed lists of titles," which include collections of various film festival winners, articles about New Yorkeri film critic Pauline Kael, "Overlooked Films of the 1990s," and "Funniest American Movies."
  • You can sort results alphabetically, by popularity, or by rating.


"For every film, we list the ratings of 15 prominent critics. Some are the usual suspects (e.g., Roger Ebert) but we also try to use critics from different parts of the country and from different media in order to give a more representative idea of the national 'Critical Consensus.' Then, under the title 'Dueling Critics,' we include two quotes, one from the critic who gave the film its highest rating and one from the critic who gave it its lowest rating." Includes reviews from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, and the Sacramento Bee.
Search Strategy

  • Enter the film title in the search box, or
  • Click on the appropriate alphabetical letter, or
  • Click on links "This Year," "By Year," "The Best," or "The Worst" for a list of films.
Criticism in Online Journals


A refereed online journal of film studies edited by staff and students at the Institute of Film Studies at the University of Nottingham that provides "a forum for discussion of all aspects of film history, theory and criticism." Scroll down the entry page to find "Film Reviews." There are also links to other sources for film criticism and commentary.

Images: A Journal of Film and Culture

Commentary on films, directors, and genres. Features contains articles about directors, genres, films, and film festivals; Reviews focuses on film and DVD reviews; and In-focus features themed film commentary.
Search Strategy
Click the "Search" button on the top navigation bar, then enter the film title

Other Film-Related Resources

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers

Volume 1-Films; Volume 2-Directors; Volume 3-Actors and Actresses; Volume 4-Writers and Production Artists. Nearly 700 entries about films and filmmakers including production information, cast and crew members, biographies, bibliographies, essays written by experts, and major awards.

Film Encyclopedia

Alphabetically arranged entries about filmmakers, techniques, processes, and equipment, as well as film-related organizations, events, and inventions. Includes technical terms, biographies, and filmographies.