I don't know about you, but I spent the majority of my youth watching Siskel and Ebert, Leonard Maltin, and scanning IMDb to see what movies I should watch over the weekend. I would scan the Arts & Entertainment section of the Philadelphia Inquirer to see who got four stars and beg my parents to take me if what I wanted to see got a good write-up. 

Thanks to all that reading and watching, I learned a lot. 

Film criticism is not just fun to read, but it's an amazing skill to have, especially if you want to work in Hollywood. It can teach you how to speak about the things you like in films. You can learn lessons about what you would want to add to your films, and just have a conversation with people.

We've covered some film theory on this site before, but today I want to focus on criticism. 

But how do you become a film critic? And how do you learn how to talk about films in an educated way when making an argument on whether or not it's good? 

Let's talk about it. 

Want to Learn How to Become a Film Critic? 

Are you the person your friends go to before Rotten Tomatoes? Maybe a career in film criticism is right for your future.

As we mentioned before, it’s not about “good” and “bad” but having a breadth of knowledge that allows you to compare a movie/TV show to the pantheon of entertainment that came before it. You have to analyze character and plot development, performance, cinematography, directing, editing, and writing. 

You can comment on how the lighting changes the tone. Or how the director’s control of the edit makes the movie too long, too short, or just right. Or you could even make a YouTube channel where you blow all that up and focus on nitpicks.

Film criticism is really about trying to figure out if the film accomplishes what it set out to do.

So where do you learn these skills? 

You can develop them in college by taking courses on analysis in film and literature. You can even get a degree in journalism. If you don't want to make this your concentration in school, you can spend some time reading as many different critics as you can. No matter what, you need to learn to be a good communicator and have a natural curiosity about the world and work. 

Then, no matter if you got to school or not, you have to sit down and actually write some reviews. Take notes as you watch the films and really dig into the symbolism, meaning, and themes. Write an opening that draws them in and come to a conclusion that's fair and balanced. 

You should write lots of reviews, and if you are serious about becoming a critic, maybe start your own website or try to submit to magazines or newspapers that take them. Make sure you read the briefs from these sites so you know you're writing in the style accepted by them. 

As you get published or self-publish, you'll begin to get a portfolio that you can use to get other work. 

The Three Kinds of Movie Critics 

1. Amateur 

An amateur critic self-publishes their work and usually makes no money from them. Sometimes they make their own YouTube channels where they dissect and pick apart cinema and all the little details.

They do it for the love of movies, but if they begin to hone and market their skills to make money, they can quickly move into the next section of criticism. 

2. Journalistic 

I qualify all paid critics or people who make money from their criticism as journalistic critics. These are the critics whose opinions we pay to hear. They're Roger Ebert, Amy Nicholson, and Justin Chang. They're people hired by magazines, TV channels, and websites to watch movies, interview actors, go to festivals, and bring us a lot of information about films and filmmaking. 

3. Academic 

Think about the film professors you had in college or graduate school. They write books, get published in journals, and typically do deeper analyses of movies, not just whether or not they are good. Academic criticism focuses on the film’s importance, how it reflects on real-life events, and its place within film history within its respective genre. 

People can work in all three of these sections or multiple at once. A journalist could write an academic deep-dive book, or an academic could run a movie review website. But these are just the categories I see. 

If you want to join the ranks, listen to this advice from Siskel and Ebert. 

Summing Up How to Be a Movie Critic 

Hopefully, all this information helps you set off on your course toward film criticism. If nothing else, it gives you something to debate at parties and something to talk about with your friends. 

Who are some of your favorite film critics right now? Who are some of the people you most respect? 

I'd love to hear about them in the comments.