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Media Arts & Design > Film Studies

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Film Summaries, Reviews, Criticism

Summaries tell you the basic plot of a film.

offer critical evaluations, frequently with recommendations as to whether to see a film or not. Some can be quite scholarly, but many are quite brief. 

analyzes a film in detail, discussing themes, cinematography, similar films, direction, acting, and more.





These are in rough priority order.  Be sure to compare the year of your film with the resource's dates of coverage.


Academic Search Complete (EBSCO) (1853 to date)

To find news, reviews, and criticism, search for the title of the film followed by (film) and put it all in quotes.

ex: "king kong (film)"


Look for the Database Selection area near the top of each database's home page to search all 3 of these at once.

WilsonWeb OmniFile (HW Wilson) (1982 to date)

Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective: 1907-1984 (HW Wilson) (1907 to 1984)

Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (HW Wilson) (1890 to 1982)

Search for the film title and the words motion picture reviews.

ex: citizen kane and motion picture reviews



JMU Library Catalog

For film criticism for specific films, do three different searches in LEO—a subject search for the film title, a subject search for the director, and a word search for the film title.  In many cases, you will find different titles, all relevant, with each search.

Subject search:  Citizen Kane                        

Subject search:  Welles, Orson

Word search: Citizen Kane



New York Times: Historical (ProQuest) (1851 to 3 years ago)

Limit your search to the year that the film was released, and the following year. 

Also, consider the New York Times Film Reviews 1913 to date (on Reference shelves after the regular call numbers end) for reprints of film reviews.

Internet Movie Database

Offers detailed information about films including full cast and crew, reviews, awards, plot summaries, trivia, technical details, and images.  Also includes information about films currently in production.

Film Indexes Online (ProQuest) (1893 to date)

This source is especially good for hard-to-find titles and hard-to-find details.

This one source includes both:

American Film Institute Catalog--Lengthy plot summaries of films produced in the United States and, despite the subtitle, abroad from 1893 to 1970.  Includes seldom-credited staff like makeup artists.

Film Index International--Index to movies, films, and film personalities including actors, actresses, directors, producers, etc. Some citations include references to articles on the films or people. 


FIAF (International Index to Film Periodicals) (1972 to date)

Database designed specifically for finding scholarly film reviews and criticism.Great for harder to find titles and when you need more comprehensive indexing.


Film Literature Index Online (1976-2001)

Film Literature Index  (1973 to 1975)  (Reference Index Table 5)

This is a subject and author index to international and U.S. film periodicals published from 1973 to 2004.  Good source for reviews and criticism.  It is available online for free but in print for a few earlier years.



Film Review Annual (1981 to date) (Reference Index Table 5)

Gives important film reviews in their entirety and lists other publications in which the film was reviewed.  Includes films released 1981 to date but tends to run a few years behind the current year.

If you consult these sources are unable to find summaries, reviews or criticism for a particular film, consult the longer guides for Film Criticism, Film Reviews, and Film Vendor Catalogs & Guides. Want even more help? Ask a Librarian for help.

Have a suggestion? Need Help? Ask Erika Peterson
This page last reviewed by Jennifer Keach on 09/09/2011
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Last updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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