Letterboxd: the future of film criticism?


Merging the traditional and digital worlds, Matthew Buchanan and Karl Von Randow co-founded the app Letterboxd in 2011, an app that facilitates the discussion and review of cinema through social media formatting. Initially set up because of a modest passion in film, the founders declined funding for the app in order to keep it as close to their vision as possible as it grew at a moderate and comfortable pace.

Noticing the lack of similar ideas within the digital world, Buchanan and Randow jumped at this opportunity for modern cinema discussion within an app, the closest thing at the time being IMDb, a database more-so than a social media. Letterboxd ensures its adherence to both the information standard of a database such as IMDb as well as social media elements, which are apparent through the users’ ratings and reviews. Not limiting the reviews through rules, the app encourages a more open discussion that isn’t limited to those who have a nuanced and confident knowledge of film, thus appealing to a wide demographic. Casual cinema-lovers can now have their say, resonating with others like them, alongside the more eloquent and perhaps more passionate critics. Users can have their pick between both modes of review.

Aside from the review writing, the app allows users to create watchlists for films, a tool that is most useful in a world in which is characterised by a breadth of choice, as well as a hand-picked catalogue of films already seen. Additionally, users are able to log films in their diary, tracking them by the date, allowing them to trace the lexicon of films they have viewed within a certain year.

Users can create lists, that have a broader reach than the playlists you encounter on Spotify, truly made to reach other users, ranging from ‘top 250 horror films’, to ‘hot girl movies’ that will always consist of The Virgin Suicides, Jennifer’s Body, Girl, Interrupted, and Black Swan. The range and scope of these lists is a real testament to the app’s user-tailored foundations: it is far easier to find recommendations here than it has been on Google. Assembled by one lover of cinema for another, these lists ensure the popularity of Letterboxd has remained intact.

It has never been easier to share recommendations with friends, listening to their opinions

The social media aspects establish themselves in the app through the follower function – it has never been easier to share recommendations with friends, listening to their opinions on their favourite recent movies, or even ones that they have despised. This provides a more nuanced character than generic social medias, and in turn sparks conversation regarding film, encouraging users to branch out and increase their passion.

And yet the social function of film seems to be the app’s only incongruence. As a social media, Letterboxd appears to be doomed to the fate of consumption for consumption’s sake. There becomes an almost competitive air, a tinge of intellectual discourse between users that arises due to the feature of tracking movies seen annually by users; witnessing other users consume more movies in a single year than you have in the last five. There is no denying that it inspires you, motivates you to watch more movies – which truly isn’t my complaint; in fact, the app has done the very same for myself. It does however create the same issue we have in relation to reading books following Goodreads and BookTok. The loss of slow reading, and I suppose, slow viewing. Consuming films to have seen the classics, to increase the quantity of movies you have seen, rather than to simply enjoy the movie as a form of art, to appreciate it. Purely to satiate one’s ego and quell an admittedly childish insecurity, one could ruin their experience of cinema, the foundation of the application itself.

Letterboxd appears to be doomed to the fate of consumption for consumption’s sake

Similarly, other users’ opinions can alter yours, as the reviews are more intimate within Letterboxd compared to other, older services. The app removes the necessary chasm of opinion between critical response from Rotten Tomatoes, the general public’s voice or factors such as box o!ce sales. Now seeing a rating before even going into a movie, perhaps by your friends, or someone you follow, could make you more biased in your own perception of the movie. Even to the point where you may lower or increase a ranking based on the feedback of others. The social aspect, once again maintaining precedence over the user’s film experience, robbing them of a basic right of anyone viewing this artform: their unaltered and subjective opinion.

However, the app itself is not the primary issue, more so the online culture of a superficial sense of consumption that comes with the social media experience. Perhaps it’s necessary to remind oneself of the fact that it is a form of social media, of its grip on our opinions, and to take a more active role when partaking in it.

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