A sample of film review sites
Before going to film review sites, you may want to check out principles for choosing a film. From a point of view, the more that a film might enrich, enliven, and change us, the more it is worth our time. This presents a bit of a difficulty for finding good web sites to help with deciding whether to see a film, since few reviews are written from this perspective. The majority of reviews focus on (a) whether a movie was entertaining, (b) the artistic quality of the filmmaking, and/or (c) providing a tally of different types of offensive content (often without regard to how such content may relate to what the film is doing).
All that said, here’s current list of the most useful or interesting film review sites and why they are on the list. Note that, whereas the “Before viewing” talks on are short and focused specifically to avoid spoilers, thus giving the film more space to have its impact, many reviews, including on the sites below, give away major aspects of a movie, even if they don’t spoil the ending itself. Also note that, many “Before viewing” talks have links to reviews on sites not mentioned below, but such links should not be taken as an endorsement of the whole site referred to by the link.
Primary site recommendations
- Christianity Today Movies usually has a good balance of discussion between a film’s entertainment value, artistic quality, and consideration of content in the context of what the film is doing. Reviews include a short section called “The Family Corner” intended to give parents a few focused comments about content. An alphabetical index makes it easy to find older reviews when watching a movie at home. Links to some of the CT film reviewers’ personal sites are featured on film site quick views page.
- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) maintains a very large database of online film reviews, going back decades. Older ones may be very short, but all of the reviews re-rate the film using USCCB's rating system. The most restrictive rating, "O" (morally offensive), should first be taken as an indication of the surface-level ugliness of a film. Some films tagged as "O" may have alternate readings wherein the ugliness serves to strengthen our understanding of why God cries at such things; some have no such value. In any case, "O" films are not for the unprepared (see principles for choosing a film).
- Looking Closer is the personal site of Jeffrey Overstreet, who long ago started Christianity Today's movie review site. His are typically thoughtful reviews from a strong perspective. The reviews make us think more about whether to see the film because he doesn't assign an overall rating (which can be a good thing).
- Filmwell looks mostly at arthouse film. It's a good resource for broadening the space of our film viewing. Be aware, though, that some of the movies that Filmwell talks about deal heavily in darkness — not for the purpose of enjoying the darkness but to, by contrast, see light all the better.
Two sites are interesting not because the reviews are necessarily great, but because they offer well-organized collections of many perspectives on each movie. Both provide an aggregate score across the many reviews. Note that these sites are heavy with advertising, especially Rotten Tomatoes, and thus may have images that some don't like seeing.
- Metacritic provides two interesting lists on its movie review home page. One highlights the current top box office movies, with aggregate scores by each; the other lists the highest scores among recent films. Aggregate scores are color-coded green-yellow-red for easy recognition of the range of rating.
- Rotten Tomatoes also provides aggregate scores based on its collection of reviews. Above a 50% rating, a movie gets a ripe, red tomato; below 50%, it gets a green tomato splat. The site used to have a very useful feature called "My Critics" but it appears to have gone missing on the site. Though it was difficult to configure, it allowed a registered user to set up a list of preferred critics, then see only those reviews on a separate tab, even with an aggregate score calculated using only your critics. If My Critics comes back, will add a few tips here on how to use it — if you want to be notified if that happens, sign up for the website feed for comments on this page via:
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Content review sites
principles for dealing with ugly content center on general understanding of a film's content and personal conviction. Most importantly, the principles intend to guide us in considering content (both "good" and "bad" content) in relation to its context in the film. For some viewers, consideration of the content itself is very important, aside from its context in the film. Some of us are simply not prepared to see certain things. Some content may hit too close to home, forcing us to deal with issues before we're ready. We may not yet have the breadth of life experience or the emotional maturity to engage with certain themes or content in a healthy way. Such concerns about whether we're ready for a movie go beyond its surface-level content — the content may be "clean" while the emotional territory explored by a film is still difficult. In any case, sometimes it is useful to look at a review that centers heavily on a movie's content, even though such reviews do not necessarily consider the content's relation to the rest of the film. With that as background, points to two sites with a heavy content focus.
- Kids in Mind provides a three-part score that tallies a movie's sex & nudity, violence & gore, and profanity. The text of each review then describes many or most of the instances of the offending content, with often a comment about substance abuse (in which smoking and moderate alchohol usage are included). As to what the film is doing, Kids in Mind summarizes the film into a one-sentence message and lists keywords around which discussion of the film might revolve.
- Plugged In Online, sponsored by Focus on the Family, summarizes the major story line of the movie, recounts morally positive elements it contains, then describes content that is sexual, violent, crude or profane, drug- or alcohol-related, or otherwise negative. Each review ends with a conclusion as to whether or not the movie imparts good lessons for those who watch it.
- IMDb — The Internet Movie Database is more movie resource than review site but, if you go to a movie's individual page, you can click on the number of votes (at the top, next to the line of user rating stars) and see interesting statistics on the ratings by age and gender (at least as IMDb users identified themselves in their profiles). You can also link to a long list of reviews (see "External reviews" at the bottom of the page). And, there are other fun things like favorite quotes from the movie, interesting trivia, and a full list of credits, with links to pages for actors and filmmakers where you can see what other work they've done.
- Crosswalk has a large database of reviews that focus on entertainment and filmmaking quality, with summary content coverage at the end. Many articles have an "audience" designation that provides a useful and likely more appropriate designation than the movie rating system. The reviews are generally good, though finds some unevenness in tone and humility. Note that the "Movie Review Archives" are the best place to start, since the link to them is a bit hard to find if you just go to the main site and click on "Movies".