Guide to Studying Movies

The following information should be used to help studying films in academic contexts


  1. Is it entertaining? Does it keep your attention?
  2. When you are finished watching it, do you feel good about how you spent the last two hours?
  3. Would you see the film again?
  4. Is the film free of (excessive) hidden agendas?
  5. Does the film devote attention to truly perfecting the mise-en-scene?
  6. Does the film have actors and actress who truly become their character? (Meryl Streep sets the bar extremely high!)
  7. Do characters have agency? Do they grow and change? Do we see them as humans?
  8. Does the movie avoid letting the big-name movie stars involved control the movie?
  9. Does the film avoid obsessing over a character’s body? Is it free of “male gaze” and “white gaze”: does it avoid turning people into objects and/or only victims?
  10. Does the film avoid perpetuating stereotypes, be that in terms of how people are racialized, genderized, etc.?
  11. Does it challenge privilege and its various manifestations?
  12. Does the film avoid unnecessary sex, violence, language, etc.?
  13. Does the film speak to issues that people care about, does it have some kind of lesson or higher moral value?
  14. Does the story make sense? Is it logical? If it uses magic realism, does it work to make an effective narrative?
  15. Does the film avoid clichéd lines (“I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it”) and plots?
  16. Does the film take some risk and go outside of the box? Is it new and exciting?
  17. For films set in a time previous to when it was made, does it accurately reflect that era? Are historical elements, accurately represented?
  18. Does it pass the Bechdel test for women: does the film have at least two women (with names), who talk to each other, about something besides men?
  19. Does it pass a parallel test in terms of how people are racialized: does the film have at least two non-white characters (with names), who talk to each other, about something besides white people?


  • When possible, watch on a bigger screen.
  • When possible, watch with other people. Films are usually meant to be viewed with others. Discuss the film with them, too. 
  • Always watch the full film on regular speed in one sitting. (Of course, pause for a bathroom break, if needed.)
  • Avoid multitasking while watching films.
  • Watch more than once when possible. Otherwise, re-watch at least some vital scenes. You’ll always see more the second (and third, fourth, or fifth time – I have seen some films an insane amount of times!).
  • Watch with closed captioning on. Try to really listen to the words. 
  • Be extra alert if a film is starting to make you laugh or cry, for example. What is happening, how are they provoking these emotions, do they have other agendas (such as making you laugh at something inappropriate)?
  • Be mindful of how the film uses sound light, edits, camera positions/movements, and color pallets.
  • Think about how film shows experiences and events for which you do and don’t have personal experience. 
  • Watch until the very end — through all of the credits — the songs and music played here are important, and sometimes there is additional footage. 
  • What is the film’s overall argument? 


  • We can absolutely both enjoy and study a film. And you should enjoy our films! 
  • This is not a class that perpetuates any notion of “the novel is always better” – sometimes, the film IS better. Regardless, the novel and the film are both independent and worthwhile texts. I have taken careful care to select some of the best and some of the most important films available. 
  • Don’t forget that generally all of the characters are created by the writer — lines spoken by children, disabled people, men, women, etc — are from one mind. “Many out of one mind” as I think of it. And these characters do not exist before or after or beyond the narrative provided. 
  • Historical fiction gives us extra opportunities to specifically think about cinema and time. Often, people are very concerned with the degree to which film is “accurate.” To me, this question is irrelevant because a two-hour (or so) movie represents a much, much larger amount of time, weeks, years, even decades—or a day in the case of Fruitvale Station. Therefore, all kinds of details and events were omitted. Even in a so-called “perfectly factual” movie, we need to study what was left out and why and the related rhetorical implications. 
  • Also with historical fiction, don’t get too distracted with historical anachronisms (such as how Skeeter in The Help uses whiteout a few years before it actually existed) and how common English is spoken instead of German in some Holocaust films.