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35 Best Movies Based on Books That Are Actually Worth Watching

By Anna Moeslein

35 Best Movies Based on Books That Are Actually Worth Watching

There are a lot of movies based on books. There are very few good movies based on books.

That's not a knock on Hollywood–it can be challenging to fit a novel's worth of plot and character development into a few hours of entertainment. That's why the best films based on books often feel more like a companion piece than a true retelling of a best-selling paperback. Some, like the 2019 movie adaptation of Little Women , play with the story or add in new scenes to appeal to a modern audience. Others benefit from the glitz and glam that Hollywood brings. Netflix's film version of To All the Boys I've Loved Before , for example, comes with an engaging soundtrack that elevates the romance onscreen.

Below you'll find some of the best movies based on books available for streaming right now. We also included the real-life novels that inspired them so you can add to your reading list. No chance of boredom here. (Need more? We've also got a guide to the best movies based on romance novels .)

All products featured on Glamour are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Jack O'Connell as Oliver Emma Corrin as Lady Constance in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Cr. Parisa...

1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2022)

The book: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence's novel about an affair between a gamekeeper and an upper-class woman is notorious for its explicit descriptions of sex—so much so that the book was banned for obscenity in several countries. Onsreen, stars Emma Corrin and Jack O'Connell have a natural chemistry that only adds to the steaminess.

Available to stream on Netflix

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Keira Knightley 2005  Focus Featurescourtesy Everett Collection

2. Pride and Prejudice (2005)

The book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's classic story of love and bad first impressions has been adapted many times over. But this film version, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, takes a more realistic approach than other film versions. As a result, enemies turned lovers Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy come to life onscreen.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK from left KiKi Layne Stephan James 2018. ph Tatum Mangus © Annapurna Pictures Courtesy...

3. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

The book: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

James Baldwin's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk , about a young woman trying to clear the name of her boyfriend after he was wrongfully accused of a crime in New York, is an incredible read. So only someone with a vision like Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed this adaptation, could bring it to the big screen. The Oscar-nominated film received numerous awards, including a best supporting actress win for Regina King's performance.

Available to stream on Hulu

The book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum  What can be said about The Wizard of Oz that you don't already...

4. The Wizard of Oz

The book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

What can be said about The Wizard of Oz that you don't already know? The 1939 classic starring Judy Garland enhances L. Frank Baum's children's fantasy novel through its innovative use of Technicolor, memorable performances, and a beloved score that includes “Over the Rainbow.”

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

By Emily Tannenbaum

By Lindy Segal

LITTLE WOMEN from left Laura Dern as Marmee Meryl Streep as Aunt March Florence Pugh as Amy 2019.

5. Little Women (2019)

The book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

There's a reason Little Women has been adapted for film seven times. Louisa May Alcott's semiautobiographical novel about sisters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy has stood the test of time, and it's still just as relatable now as it was in 1868, when it was published. The most recent remake stars Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, and Saoirse Ronan and is arguably the best interpretation of Alcott's story.

Available to buy on Amazon Prime Video

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6. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

The book: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Where do we even begin with this one? The fashion! The romance! The drama! Constance Wu and Henry Golding lead the romantic comedy about a Chinese American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's family. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. His family is one of the richest and well-known families in the country, and his mother is not exactly welcoming of her son's new romance.

Available to stream on HBO Max

GONE GIRL Rosamund Pike 2014. ph Merrick MortonTM  copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reservedcourtesy...

7. Gone Girl (2014)

The book: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

We could write a dissertation about Gone Girl, and it still wouldn't be long enough to dive into the complicated issues tackled in the movie. Here's what you need to know: The David Fincher–directed mystery movie is about a husband who becomes a suspect in his wife's disappearance. The thriller tackles parenting, manipulation, misogyny, and most of all, marriage. When it comes to movie adaptations of books, this is near the top of the list.

A SIMPLE FAVOR from left Henry Golding Anna Kendrick 2018. ph Peter Iovino. ©Lionsgatecourtesy Everett Collection

8. A Simple Favor (2018)

The book: A Simple Favor: A Novel by Darcey Bell

Nothing's simple about A Simple Favor . Perhaps the best part of the crime thriller is Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick's odd yet enthralling dynamic. You'll be scratching your head from start to finish as you try to figure out what exactly is going on in the film.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY from left Kate Winslet Emma Thompson 1995. ph © Columbia Pictures  courtesy Everett Collection

9. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

The book: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Another Jane Austen movie makes the list because…well, there are just so many good adaptations of her work. Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet lead this film about a sensible and reserved older sister, Elinor, and her romantically inclined and eagerly expressive younger sister, Marianne.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Anne Hathaway Meryl Streep Emily Blunt 2006

10. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The book: The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel by Lauren Weisberger

Meryl Streep plays the coldest, scariest, most intimidating boss at the fictional fashion magazine Runway . Anne Hathaway's character is clueless and unfashionable, and fancies herself a serious journalist. Their characters clash yet somehow find a way to work together. The movie is elevated by the performances, and you might find yourself surprisingly moved at the end.

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Hat Whoopi Goldberg and Face

11. The Color Purple (1985)

The book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The story of Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) is one that will stay with you. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Alice Walker and portrays the problems Black women faced during the early 20th century, including domestic violence, poverty, racism, and sexism. Celie's journey spans a 40-year time period.

Image may contain Goldie Hawn Human Person Hair Suit Coat Clothing Overcoat Apparel Bette Midler Blonde and Teen

12. The First Wives Club (1996)

The book: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

We love everything about this movie: the acting, the humor, and the friendship of three reunited friends. The film follows the women, played by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, deciding to get revenge on their ex-husbands after the death of a close friend.

Image may contain Lana Condor Human Person Bag Handbag Accessories Accessory Purse and Sitting

13. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

The book: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Laura Jean and Peter Kavinsky's romance is sure to go down as one of this generation's most popular love stories. The trilogy of teen romantic comedy books by Jenny Han turned Netflix movies are popular for a reason. Yes, there are some common tropes used in the plot. However, the film adaptations somehow still feel fresh, unique, and effortlessly heartwarming.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX Rupert Grint Daniel Radcliffe Emma Watson 2007

14. The Harry Potter series (2001–2011)

The book: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Who could have known that the boy who lived would start an international phenomenon? Readers and audiences of all ages have been obsessed with the Wizarding World for decades, and it's easy to see why: The friendship, the magic, the excitement and the humor are as enthralling in the movies as they are in the books.

Available to stream on Peacock

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Human Person and Octavia Spencer

15. Hidden Figures (2016)

The book: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

If you're in the mood for a feel-good movie, then look no further. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe star in this movie about the three Black women who worked at NASA during the early years of the space program. They were an integral part of launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit. This true story is most likely not one you learned about in school.

Available to stream on Disney+

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS Jodie Foster 1991

16. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The book : The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter, who famously asks Jodi Foster's character, “Well, Clarice…have the lambs stopped screaming?” If you don't know what that means, there's only one way to find out: Queue up the classic thriller for movie night.

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY Matt Damon Jude Law Gwyneth Paltrow 1999

17. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

The book: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

This sexy classic is actually part of a series about the Tom Ripley, a social-climbing mimic who will lie, cheat, and even murder his way up the ranks of wealthy midcentury Manhattanites. The movie features Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, and Jude Law at their golden, glowy, youthful best, and a striking performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

IT from left Jack Dylan Grazer Jaeden Lieberher Chosen Jacobs Wyatt Oleff Sophia Lillis Jeremy Ray Taylor Finn Wolfhard

18. It (2017)

The book: It by Stephen King

This chilling horror classic has terrified generations. In a small New England town, a group of unlikely friends find themselves caught in the clutches of a mysterious shape-shifting killer who takes the form of whatever you fear most.

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Human Person Heather Matarazzo Tie Accessories Accessory Suit Coat and Overcoat

19. The Princess Diaries (2001)

The book: The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

The ultimate glow-up! Mia Thermopolis is an awkward, nerdy high school outcast who discovers she's actually royalty in this modern twist on the Cinderella story. Peppered with observations about friendship, love, and growing up, the books are as funny as the movie. The young adult book series, written like a diary, will make you fall even more in love with Mia than the film adaptation did. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to wear Doc Martens after reading.

Image may contain Kieu Chinh Lauren Tom Human Person Tamlyn Tomita Food Meal Rosalind Chao Restaurant and Tsai Chin

20. The Joy Luck Club (1993)

The book: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Chinese American immigrant experience is explored in detail in this adaptation of Amy Tan's novel, which follows a group of women living in San Francisco's Chinatown as they support one another through heartbreak and triumph.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE from left Wallace Shawn Robin Wright Andre the Giant 1987 TM  Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film...

21. The Princess Bride (1987)

The book: The Princess Bride by Willam Goldman

This beloved classic is like five fairy tales combined into a sparkling family comedy that's much easier to follow than the book it's based on. Featuring a host of quirky character actors and quotable lines, this is essentially a meme factory from before there was such a thing. Don't fight Grandpa; it's time for a love story (you'll get that reference once you watch the movie).

ELECTION Reese Witherspoon 1999

22. Election (1999)

The book: Election by Tom Perrotta

This dark comedy about the ruthlessness of politicians features a breakout performance from a young Reese Witherspoon and taught a generation to recognize the Tracy Flicks in their lives. It's become a catchword often hurled unfairly at women with ambition, but it also accurately describes the kind of earnest yet hollow striving we see in so many people, no matter their gender, today.

The Shawshank Redemption

23. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The book: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

The highest-rated movie on IMDb, this classic is parodied (and homaged) all over the place, a favorite of both fans and critics. It's a drama, to be sure, but as far as prison stories go, watchable and even a little hopeful.

ATONEMENT James McAvoy Keira Knightley 2007. ©Focus Featurescourtesy Everett Collection

24. Atonement (2007)

The book: Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan

Beware: This story is a bummer. Though famous for its library sex scene and the debut of a young Saoirse Ronan, Atonement is mostly a war story, and a devastating one at that. No one gets away clean in this tale of love, loss, lies, and regret.

JURASSIC PARK from left Laura Dern Sam Neill 1993. ph Murray Close  © Universal Studios  courtesy Everett Collection

25. Jurassic Park (1993)

The book: Jurassic Park: A Novel by Michael Crichton

This blockbuster keeps getting rebooted for a reason: It's just cool to watch dinosaurs chase people! Yes, there's a lesson here about overstepping the bounds of science and hubris in the face of nature, but mostly, T-Rex go chomp-chomp.

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Suit Coat Overcoat Performer and Artur Rojek

26. The Godfather trilogy (1972–1990)

The book: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The greatest achievement in the history of American cinema? This crime epic has been praised for its performances, filmmaking, quotable lines, and archetypal characters. It's rich with symbolism and history, but actually a straightforward and pleasant watch. Never meandering or slow, the story is gripping, if devastating.

The White Tiger

27. The White Tiger (2021)

The book: The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga

This film adaptation of Aravind Adiga's 2008 novel follows a man named Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav, in his first leading role) who was born into poverty and uses his wit and cunning to build a successful career as an entrepreneur.

THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY Andra Day as Billie Holiday 2021. ph Takashi Seida  © Paramount Pictures  Courtesy...

28. The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021)

The book: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

Andra Day was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of legendary singer Billie Holiday in this biographical film, which was based in part on Johann Hari's book about the history and impact of drug criminalization.

Image may contain Furniture Brie Larson Hammock Human and Person

29. Room (2015)

The book: Room by Emma Donoghue

Both the book and the film adaptation of this intense story follow a kidnapped young woman and her son, who we learn was born in captivity. When they finally escape their abuser, the child gets to experience the outside world for the first time in his life.

EMMA Anya TaylorJoy as Emma Woodhouse 2020. © Focus Features  courtesy Everett Collection

30. Emma (2020)

The book: Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's novel, about a spoiled heiress who amuses herself by meddling in the lives of her neighbors, has been adapted to film before. But the 2020 version, starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role, is one of the best thanks to its excellent casting, whimsical costume and set design, and modern approach to the source material.

The book Emma by Jane Austen  Yes Emma again One of Jane Austens best books it also inspired this comingofage teen...

31. Clueless (1995)

Yes, Emma again! One of Jane Austen’s best books, it also inspired this coming-of-age teen comedy starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, and Paul Rudd. Says screenwriter and director Amy Heckerling, “I loved [ Emma ] when I read it in college—it’s the most modern story with the most perfect character, the most lovable, flawed person that you’re rooting for. Then I looked at what could make the bones for the present day high school teenagers, and if I ever thought like, wait, how would this happen, I would just go back to Emma and there were the answers.”

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER from left Logan Lerman Ezra Miller Emma Watson 2012. ph John Bramley©Summit...

32. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

The book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Movie adaptations across all genres exist, and that includes YA Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and Logan Lerman lead this coming-of-age drama about a shy teenager experiencing the many highs and lows of freshman year of high school.

The book The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien  Epic fantasies naturally translate well to the big screen but nobody...

33. The Lord of the Rings series (2001–2003)

The book: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Epic fantasies naturally translate well to the big screen, but nobody does it like this movie series . And now you can follow up your rewatch by diving into Rings of Power, a new TV show that's set thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings .

The book Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon by Wang Dulu  Directed by Ang Lee this epic was a critical and commercial success...

34. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

The book: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Wang Dulu

Directed by Ang Lee, this epic was a critical and commercial success with 10 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture and a win for best foreign language film.

The book The Paddington books by Michael Bond  We didn't think Paddington a beloved fictional character in children's...

35. The Paddington movies (2014, 2017)

The book: The Paddington books by Michael Bond

We didn't think Paddington, a beloved fictional character in children's literature, could get any cuter—and then we saw him on the big screen. In fact, Paddington 2 ranks among our favorite movie sequels of all time. If you can watch it without crying…how?

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Essential Film Criticism Books for Any Film Lover’s Shelf

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No cinephile’s bookshelf is complete without a well-curated selection of film criticism books to complement their robust movie library. After all, criticism exists to enhance our understanding of art, and really any creative endeavor. The art of film criticism is almost as old as film itself, and has evolved just as film has over the past century or so.

The below selection of film criticism classics includes a wide variety of literature that helps enhance the filmgoing experience, from in-depth histories of specific films to exhaustive analysis of filmmakers and actors; from essay collections of famed critics to histories of film movements and eras. They’re both historical and contemporary, with original release dates spanning nearly eight decades. These books aren’t only covering classics, either — sometimes the zero-star reviews about notorious flops are just as illuminating as thoughtful takes on some of film’s most revered movies.

See our selection of best film criticism books below.

books and movies review

“The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael : A Library of America Special Publication”

There have been many collections of Pauline Kael’s work, but a great deal of them — “For Keeps” and “I Lost it at the Movies” included — are hard to find or out of print. This 2016 collection features the sharply opinionated New Yorker critic’s takes on “The Godfather,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Last Tango in Paris,” and more seminal works, and spans her entire career.

books and movies review

“Negative Space: Manny Farber On The Movies”

Another seminal and divisive critic with a very distinct style of prose, Farber, an accomplished painter, deconstructs films and scenes with a unique eye. His definition of “termite art,” as opposed to “white elephant art,” opened up a whole new discourse around appreciating the aesthetic greatness of B movies and genre films that don’t necessarily telegraph their artistic intent with the literalism and obviousness of “prestige” efforts. This collection comes with seven essays he wrote with his wife, the artist Patricia Patterson, along with an in-depth interview.

books and movies review

“Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth” by A.O. Scott

Longtime “New York Times” film critic Scott examines the discipline of criticism as a whole, using his own work as a lens to demonstrate how criticism allows creativity to thrive. This particular volume was inspired by the author’s own Twitter feud with Samuel L. Jackson, following Scott’s pan of “The Avengers.” Everyone’s a critic, because critical thinking informs all aspects of life, from art to politics and everything in between.

books and movies review

“Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: The Modern Era”

Maltin stopped updating his annual movie guides a few years ago, but the 2015 edition serves as a capstone of sorts and includes nearly 16,000 entries of essential information on films from the modern era — box office record-breakers, cult classics, and complete bombs alike.

books and movies review

“I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie” by Roger Ebert

Yes, you should definitely add any volume from Ebert’s “The Great Movies” collection to your bookshelf. But just as important as the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic’s raves are the scathing takedowns that, in many cases, are even more fun than the movies themselves. This is the first best-selling collection of Ebert’s one-star (or less) reviews, followed by the equally entertaining “Your Movie Sucks” and “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies That Suck.”

books and movies review

“Murder and the Movies” by David Thomson

In his latest volume, film historian Thomson investigates film’s obsession with murder and what that says about us as viewers through the lens of classics including “Strangers on a Train,” “The Godfather,” and “The Shining.” (Also shelf-worthy: The most recent update of his comprehensive “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.” )

books and movies review

“Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood” by Karina Longworth

The creator of the essential film podcast “You Must Remember This” reminds readers that the film industry’s obsession with sex and power predates the #MeToo movement. Before Harvey Weinstein there was Howard Hughes, and “Seduction” shows how Hughes’ wielded his power via the stories of ten women who had relationships with the mogul.

books and movies review

“Hollywood Black” by Donald Bogle

Bogle’s overview of Black filmmaking, from the silent era through “Black Panther,” tells the history of Black Hollywood, including its films, stars, and filmmakers, and includes a foreword by the late John Singleton.

books and movies review

“From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, Third Edition” by Molly Haskell

Originally published in 1974, the latest update to Haskell’s classic piece of feminist film criticism was released in 2016. It includes an insightful investigation into the way women are portrayed on screen versus their status in society, plus a new introduction about how Haskell’s views have evolved since its initial publication.

books and movies review

“What is Cinema?” by André Bazin

This foundational text of film studies comes from one of film criticism’s most influential voices, the French critic Bazin, who championed filmmakers such as Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, and Roberto Rossellini.

books and movies review

“From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film” by Siegfried Kracauer

This defining history of German expressionist film, first published in 1947, examines how the Weimar Republic produced such politically charged work as “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “M,” “Metropolis,” and “The Blue Angel.”

books and movies review

“Pictures at a Revolution” by Mark Harris

Harris focuses on the best picture nominees at the 1967 Academy Awards — “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “The Graduate,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Doctor Doolittle,” and “Bonnie and Clyde” — to show how the cultural revolution of the 1960s changed Hollywood forever.

books and movies review

“Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas” by Glenn Kenny

Kenny’s history of Scorsese’s classic mob movie arrives on Sept. 15, just in time for the 30th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s seminal 1990 film. This behind-the-scenes story features interviews from Scorsese and star Robert De Niro and sheds light on why the film’s legacy has endured over the past three decades.

books and movies review

“Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan” by J. Hoberman

“Make My Day” chronicles the relationship between politics and cinema in Reagan’s 1980s, and is the third volume in Hoberman’s trilogy (after “The Dream Life,” about the 1960s, and “An Army of Phantoms,” about American movies in the first decade of the Cold War).

books and movies review

“Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor” by Amy Nicholson

Nicholson investigates the career of the all-American superstar, from his first role (in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders”), his rise to super-stardom in the ’80s (in “Top Gun” and beyond), and his enduring status as modern-day action hero (in the “Mission Impossible” series).

books and movies review

“David Lynch: The Man from Another Place” by Dennis Lim

Lim digs into the career of the director not by trying to de-mystify his mysterious mind, but by embracing the strangeness of the multi-hyphenate artist.

books and movies review

“Movies That Mattered: More Reviews from a Transformative Decade” by Dave Kehr

Film critic Dave Kehr’s work is compiled in this second volume of criticism, compiled from his time at the Chicago Reader and Chicago magazine between 1974 and 1986, which features some of the in-depth, nuanced essays for which Kehr is known.

books and movies review

Returning the Gaze: A Genealogy of Black Film Criticism, 1909-1949 by Anna Everett

“Returning the Gaze” is an exploration of Black film criticism, from the first half of 20th   century. The book shares film commentary through the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, in addition to pieces written during the Great Depression, and the pre-and-post-war era. The book looks at how Black media pushed back against racist themes in film, and called attention to the use of lynching footage as examples of both a commercial, and callous, act of exploitation.

books and movies review

Regarding Film Criticism and Commentary by Stanley Kauffman

Released in 1993, this collection of writings from late critic Stanley Kauffman includes films from major established directors, musings on cinematic adaptations of Mozart’s operas, and independent cinema, in addition to exploring changing public attitudes towards film as an art form.

Ambiguity and Film Criticism: Reasonable Doubt by Hoi Lun Law

As the title suggests, Hoi Lun Law’s book makes a case for ambiguity on film and why it’s a vital concept to cinema. Broken into two parts, the book features seven chapters that include: “Difficulty of Reading, “Depth of Suggestion, “and “Threat of Insignificance.”

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The 29 Best Movies Based on Books in 2021

Now's the perfect time to read the 900-page Dune!

peter rabbit, white tiger, dune

Whether you enjoy a  good page-turner  or love seeing an  excellent adaptation , there are a ton of  2021 films  to look forward to that draw inspiration from really good stories. Among the many offerings this year, we've got films about Cruella De Vil's backstory ( yes please, Emma Stone ), a firsthand account of a prisoner from Guantánamo Bay, an exploration of India's caste system, and the inner life of Marilyn Monroe. One thing that's great about this list: It features a number of books I was less familiar with, which means there might be some new literature on here that you can get and read before the film comes out. That way, you can be prepared when you head to the movie theater (or maybe stay home and watch it on your TV, given the current circumstances). So grab your Kindle—or even go all the way and get  an actual book !—and pull up these riveting reads. Then get ready to love, loathe, or otherwise pass judgment on these 2021 on-screen adaptations, ahead. 

1. 'House of Gucci'

Nobody can stop talking about  House of Gucci , starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, which tells the story of the Gucci family (murder and all!) and is based on the  title of the same name . The film is set to premiere in November.

2. 'Nomadland'

Based on  Jessica Bruder's book  of the same title,  Nomadland  won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Chloé Zhao, the film's director, won Best Director. The film stars Frances McDormand as a nomad who leaves her hometown and travels across the United States after her husband dies. The movie officially premiered on streaming outlets in the U.S. on February 19, 2021.

3. 'Cruella'

The highly-anticipated Disney prequel is based on the character from  101 Dalmatians  before she becomes the puppy-coat-wearing villain we all know. I'm still not totally sure how they're going to get the character to "wearing dog fur makes sense!" but at least they're not doing what prequels sometimes do—tone down her evil. Cruella says it best herself: "I was born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad."

4. 'The White Tiger'

An adaptation of Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning  book of the same name , Balram Halwai (played by Adarsh Gourav) is the titular "white tiger" born once every generation. He's brilliant and ambitious—and his work for a wealthy Indian family leads to fascinating, tragic consequences.

5. 'The Mauritanian'

Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote  this 2015 memoir  while he was being imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay as a suspected 9/11 terrorist, despite never being formally charged with any crime. Definitely read the gripping best-seller before you watch the film, which stars Tahar Rahim, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jodie Foster. The movie was released in theaters on February 12.

6. 'The United States vs. Billie Holliday'

Johann Hari's  Chasing the Scream  is a fascinating look at some of the most horrific stories from the War on Drugs, undermining everything we think we know about that campaign. One of those stories comes to life in this biographical drama about Billie Holliday as she's targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics. With the amazing Andra Day as Holliday, it's a riveting, honest, and devastating watch.

7. 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever'

I mean. The first two movies are just so cute, and so beloved, that watching the final movie was never in question. Lara Jean and Peter navigate "together forever" in the face of college and the potential of a long-distance relationship. (Ah, the problems of youth!) It's worth noting that  Always and Forever, Lara Jean   has a few key differences, if you're a fan of the book series.

8. 'Those Who Wish Me Dead'

Michael Koryta's book , about a 14-year-old on the run after he witnesses a horrific murder, came to the big screen in May 2021. Directed by  Sicario 's Taylor Sheridan, it also features the return of Angelina Jolie as a mysterious, isolated ex-firefighter. The book goes quickly and is absolutely worth it as you wait for the film.

9. 'Without Remorse'

One of the most anticipated movies of 2021 (which is also a spinoff of the film series),  Without Remorse  is based on the 1993  Tom Clancy book  of the same name. All of Clancy's books are page-turners, but even by that standard this is an intense rollercoaster of a read. Michael B. Jordan, the best in everything, graced our TV screens as the iconic Mr. Clark via Amazon Prime in April.

10. 'Cherry'

The story of an unnamed soldier-turned-addict-turned-bank robber became  a national bestseller  that's now a Russo brothers film starring Tom Holland. It's also, incredibly, based on the experiences of the author Nico Walker, who (spoiler alert) wrote the novel while he was in prison for bank robbery. It's riveting to read.

11. 'The Dig'

The book  is a fictionalized telling of the Sutton Hoo dig, a critically important excavation of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. The film looks like it's  a pretty faithful telling  of the real-life participants involved, and we might see it make the rounds in upcoming awards circuits. If archaeology is your thing, the book is terrific.

12. 'Chaos Walking'

Another Tom Holland movie, this is based off of the first book in Patrick Ness's  Chaos Walking  series:  The Knife of Never Letting Go . The premise is  so  compelling—Todd lives on a planet of only men, where are their thoughts can be heard and seen out loud. Then he meets a girl who's apparently crash-landed on his home (Daisy Ridley, post- Star Wars ). This film has gone through a number of delays, but the books are apparently pretty riveting if the idea interests you.

13. 'French Exit'

In a darkly comedic novel by famed author Patrick deWitt, widow Frances Price escapes her New York pennilessness to live in Paris with her son. The film is garnering  positive reviews  thus far, particularly for Michelle Pfeiffer bringing the caustic Frances to life. The film was out in March.

14. 'Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway'

Technically, this is only loosely based on the beloved children's  Peter Rabbit  series, and it's a direct sequel to the first  Peter Rabbit  (2018). But, if you love bunnies and cute antics and Rose Byrne as Beatrix Potter, give the film a watch when it's released in June. And if you have kids,  definitely  get the books.

15. 'Infinite'

The Reincarnationist Papers   centers around a secret society that can recall their past lives, and the young man who discovers them. This upcoming film by director Antoine Fuqua reimagines the premise as a man (Wahlberg) begins to realize he's hallucinating his past lives. Both sound equally compelling, TBH.

16. 'Fatherhood'

The book by Matthew Logelin, titled  Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love , tells the story of losing his wife to a pulmonary embolism...27 hours after she gave birth to their daughter. So both the book and the movie, with Kevin Hart in the lead role, promise to be absolute tearjerkers.

17. 'Monster'

If you've never read the  Pulitzer Prize-winning novel  by Walter Dean Myers, go rent or buy it now: A 17-year-old teenager is charged with felony murder, and a terrifying trial ensues that has much to say about race in America.  Netflix acquired the rights to the film  in November 2020, after it originally debuted at Sundance in 2018. Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright,   Jharrel Jerome,   John David Washington, and Jennifer Ehle are among the stars.

18. 'Finding You'

This one will hopefully translate into rom-com gold:  There You'll Find Me  by Jenny B. Jones follows teen Finley (Rose Reid) who's headed to Ireland after her brother's death. At the same time, film star Beckett (Jedidiah Goodacre) is also in Ireland filming a movie. Sparks fly, naturally. What happens?? Read the book, so you'll be ready for this on-screen romance!

19. 'The Last Letter From Your Lover'

This one also sounds like a fascinating read/watch: A journalist stumbles upon old letters between two star-crossed lovers, and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened between the pair. Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, and (Mr. Taylor Swift himself) Joe Alwyn star in what will likely be a passionate romantic drama, with plenty of period-appropriate fashion to ogle as well. If you're dying to know how it ends,  here's the novel .

20. 'The Power of the Dog'

Kristen Dunst and Jesse Plemons join Benedict Cumberbatch in this tale of love and revenge. Two brothers work on a farm, barely tolerating each other—until one of them gets married, and the other one decides to burn their relationship to the ground.  Thomas Savage's story  has been compared to a modern-day Greek tragedy. It will have its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September.

It's not just an old, cult-favorite movie:  Dune  started life as a  classic novel  sometimes considered to be the best sci-fi epic ever written. Denis Villeneuve ( Blade Runner 2049 ) is the perfect director to bring this trippy, terrifying, totally unique vision to life. It's headed to theaters and streaming in October.

22. 'The Last Duel'

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are teaming up again to adapt this  fascinating nonfiction book  about the last judicial duel held in France, a.k.a. "the duel to end all duels." Adam Driver and  Jodie Comer  also star, so I'm definitely watching. But the real event's just as interesting, so the book's worth the read regardless of whether you plan on watching the film. It will be released on October 15.

23. 'Mothering Sunday'

Olivia Colman and Josh O'Connor—yes, the Queen and Prince Charles themselves—are back at it with Colin Firth and Odessa Young in this adaptation.  Mothering Sunday   is a short read about English maid Jane Fairchild meeting with her upper-class lover on what might be the most important day of her life. No spoilers! The film is set for release on November 19.

24. 'Deep Water'

Deep Water  has most recently made headlines for its stars, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, briefly becoming an IRL couple (they met on set,  apparently !). But  the fictional story  is some  Gone Girl -level stuff. Author Patricia Highsmith (who also brought the talented Mr. Ripley to life) writes a story about a miserable married couple. One of the wife's lovers disappears—did her jealous husband do it? This one will now be released in January 2022.

25. 'Death on the Nile'

Agatha Christie fans unite:  Death on the Nile , arguably one of her most compelling mystery novels, is getting the superstar treatment. The film is a follow-up to 2017's  Murder on the Orient Express  with Kenneth Branagh reprising his role as Hercule Poirot. It's the story of a deadly love triangle: A woman steals her BFF's boyfriend. Someone dies. And everyone has a motive. If you absolutely can't wait to figure out who did it (it's  such  a cool twist), read the novel first—you'll have plenty of time. After being delayed several times due to COVID-19, the film will now be released on February 11, 2022.

26. 'Clifford the Big Red Dog'

Everyone's favorite enormous pooch will be voiced by none other than David Alan Grier in this live-action adaptation of  the book series . Expect for the story to go through some modernizing for today's young audience, with Darby Camp to star as the misfit teen who needs help from her brightly colored canine pal. The movie was originally supposed to premiere in September, but it's looking like it will have a 2022 premiere date.

27. 'The Stars at Noon'

Nicaragua in the 1980s is the setting for  The Stars at Noon , which details the relationship between an American woman and an Englishman. Neither of them are exactly as they seem at first glance, and they become involved in "sinister plots." Claire Denis directs, and Robert Pattinson (who worked with Denis on  High Life ) and Margaret Qualley are set to star in the film planning to release in 2022 now. 

28. 'Blonde'

And that's not the only film based on a book de Armas is starring in.  Blonde , the adaptation of  Joyce Carol Oates' novel  about Marilyn Monroe, is the film icon at her most vulnerable. This is the perfect work for adaptation: an imagining of Monroe's rich inner life and a retelling of her impressive accomplishments in a male-dominated film industry. No official release date has been given, but at this point it's expected to premiere in 2022.

29. 'The Nightingale'

Apparently inspired by true events, Kristin Hannah's  The Nightingale  tells the story of two French sisters who get caught up, in different ways, in World War II. The Goodreads Best Historical Novel of the Year was bound to be adapted—and real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning are playing the lead roles. It's not coming out until December 2022 now, so you'll have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the subject matter.

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books and movies review

The best film books, by 51 critics

Which are the most inspirational five books about film ever written? This was the question we asked 51 leading critics and writers, and their answers are printed here in full.

☞ Read Nick James’ introduction ☞ See the top five

  • Sight & Sound reviews the latest film books every month.

Geoff Andrew , Michael Atkinson , Peter Biskind , Edward Buscombe , Michael Chanan , Tom Charity , Ian Christie , Michel Ciment , Kieron Corless , Mark Cousins , Paul Cronin , Chris Darke , Maria Delgado , Richard Dyer , Olaf Möller , Christoph Huber , Lizzie Francke , Philip French , Chris Fujiwara , Graham Fuller , Charlotte Garson , Tom Gunning , Philip Horne , Kevin Jackson , Nick James , Kent Jones , Richard T. Kelly , Mark Le Fanu , Toby Litt , Brian McFarlane , Luke McKernan , Geoffrey Macnab , Adrian Martin , Peter Matthews , So Mayer , Henry K Miller , Kim Newman , Geoffrey Nowell-Smith , Michael O’Pray , John Orr , Nick Roddick , Jonathan Romney , Jonathan Rosenbaum , Sukhdev Sandhu , Jasper Sharp , Iain Sinclair , David Thompson , David Thomson , Kenneth Turan , Catherine Wheatley , Armond White Updated: 8 May 2020

books and movies review

This is an unabridged version of the Film Book poll published in the June 2010 issue of Sight & Sound

Jean-Pierre Melville

Jean-Pierre Melville

Index of contributors

Geoff Andrew Michael Atkinson Peter Biskind Edward Buscombe Michael Chanan Tom Charity Michel Ciment Kieron Corless Mark Cousins Paul Cronin Chris Darke Maria Delgado Geoff Dyer The Ferroni Brigade Lizzie Francke Philip French Chris Fujiwara Graham Fuller Charlotte Garson Tom Gunning Philip Horne Kevin Jackson Nick James Kent Jones Richard T. Kelly Mark Le Fanu Toby Litt Brian McFarlane Luke McKernan Geoffrey Macnab Adrian Martin Peter Matthews Sophie Mayer Henry K. Miller Kim Newman Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Michael O’Pray John Orr Tim Robey Nick Roddick Jonathan Romney Jonathan Rosenbaum Sukhdev Sandhu Jasper Sharp Iain Sinclair David Thompson David Thomson Kenneth Turan Catherine Wheatley Armond White

Geoff Andrew

Head of film programme, BFI Southbank, UK

Note : Publication dates are for first edition only, except where specified. However, votes for a particular title are collected together no matter what the edition (with the exception of Geoff Dyer’s voting for all five editions of David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film).

Signs and Meaning in the Cinema Peter Wollen, Secker & Warburg, 1969

A Biographical Dictionary of Film David Thomson, Secker & Warburg, 1975

Hitchcock’s Films Robin Wood, A.S. Barnes & Co, 1965

The Making of Citizen Kane Robert L. Carringer, University of California Press, 1985

Mamoulian Tom Milne, Thames & Hudson, 1969

Michael Atkinson

Critic, USA

The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 Andrew Sarris, Doubleday, 1968

A Biographical Dictionary of Film David Thomson

Vulgar Modernism J. Hoberman, Temple University Press, 1991

Agee on Film: Reviews and Comments James Agee, McDowell, Obolensky, 1958

Magic and Myth of the Movies Parker Tyler, Simon & Schuster, 1970

PLUS: Cahiers du cinéma: The 1950s Edited By Jim Hillier Confessions of a Cultist   Andrew Sarris The Phantom Empire   Geoffrey O’Brien Durgnat on Film   Raymond Durgnat Science Fiction Movies   Philip Strick The Hollywood Hallucination   Parker Tyler Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies   Manny Farber The Shadow of an Airplane Climbs the Empire State Building   Parker Tyler Film as a Subversive Art   Amos Vogel Dictionary of Films   Georges Sadoul Cinema: A Critical Dictionary Edited By Richard Roud On the History of Film Style   David Bordwell City of Nets   Otto Friedrich Visionary Film   P. Adams Sitney Hitchcock   François Truffaut Who the Devil Made It   Peter Bogdanovich Signs and Meaning in the Cinema   Peter Wollen

Peter Biskind

Author/critic, USA

The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era Thomas Schatz, Pantheon Books, 1988

I Lost It At the Movies Pauline Kael, Little, Brown, 1965

Final Cut Steven Bach, William Morrow, 1985

Indecent Exposure David McClintick, William Morrow, 1982

A Life Elia Kazan, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

↑  Back to contributors’ list

Edward Buscombe

Signs and Meaning in the Cinema Peter Wollen

The founding work of so-called Screen theory – which is where I came in, although it has now left me behind, or me it – is still a pretty enjoyable read today. Back in 1969 when it was first published, it was, like Martin Peters, ten years ahead of its time.

Hitchcock’s Films Robin Wood

Its opening sentence – “Why should we take Hitchcock seriously?” – strikes just the right note of courteous provocation in its determination to reorient our view of popular cinema. Although I disagree with much of it, Wood always demands to be taken seriously.

The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 Andrew Sarris

The Bible of the dedicated cinephile when it was first published in 1968, and still an invaluable route map of what needs to be seen.

Horizons West: Studies in Authorship in the Western Jim Kitses, Thames & Hudson, 1969

Here I have to declare an interest, in both senses: an enduring love of the Western, and a role in editing the much-expanded second edition of 2004. The best book of criticism bar none on the most important film genre.

The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era Thomas Schatz

First published in 1988, and thus the only one of my choices not first published in the 1960s (showing my age). A marvellously subtle and informative account of the way the Hollywood film industry worked in its heyday and a book I wish I’d been able to write myself.

Michael Chanan

Academic, UK

The Technique of Film Editing Karel Reisz and Gavin Millar, Focal Press, 1953

This is the book that taught me about film language – not just the nuts and bolts of how it works, but the aesthetics. But I forgot that I’d read it (as an undergraduate, when I was first thinking of making films) until many years later, when I first started teaching film and rediscovered it. Now I recommend it to all my students, whether they’re interested in practice or theory.

The World Viewed Stanley Cavell, Viking, 1971

A book I found so captivating I devoured it in a single night. As a postgrad studying aesthetics, I was enthralled to find an English-language philosopher who understood cinema! At the end I felt it had said practically everything it needed to say. An exaggeration, of course, but for a while I was convinced.

The Camera and I Joris Ivens, International Publishers, 1969

Like all autobiographies, Ivens’ leaves certain things out, but it’s a great testimony to political commitment and full of wisdom about the nature of documentary, which Ivens calls “a creative no-man’s land”. Very inspiring.

Hitchcock François Truffaut, Simon & Schuster, 1967

I enjoyed this immensely, though largely because it seemed to me to explain why I didn’t really care much for Hitchcock.

Histoire économique du cinéma Pierre Bachlin, La Nouvelle Edition, 1947

I found this browsing for second-hand film books in Paris at the very moment I was first trying to figure out how the film industry worked. Bachlin was a Marxist, and this was the first rigorous analysis of the industry I’d discovered that made real sense to me. It seems symptomatic that the book has never been translated into English – neither has the film writing of the Italian Marxist Umberto Barbaro (which I read in the translation published in Cuba by the ICAIC).

Tom Charity

Lovefilm and CNN.com, Canada

Hitchcock François Truffaut

These were the most inspirational books to me as a film student (as was Truffaut’s The Films in My Life). If the first edition of Robin Wood’s study hadn’t been so seminal for me, I would now choose Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, because it shows how critical engagement is a lifetime’s process, always evolving as we mature. The Hitchcock interview book has probably inspired more film books than any other, including, I assume, the entire Faber ‘Directors on Directors’ series.

This is Orson Welles Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, HarperPerennial, 1992

This is probably my favourite of the many books on Welles.

John Ford: The Man and His Films Tag Gallagher, University of California Press, 1986

Substantially revised in 2007 and made available for free download, this is exemplary film criticism, a book Ford would have delighted in deriding yet kept close by his bed, I’m sure.

But let’s have the original 1975 edition, when it was really something.

Ian Christie

Professor of Film History, Birkbeck, UK

Frank Kermode defined the ‘classic’ in literature as a work that can be endlessly re-interpreted, according to the needs and interests of successive generations. These are the books that I find myself returning to again and again, usually finding new information and insights that I hadn’t previously noticed.

Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Cinema Jay Leyda, Allen & Unwin, 1960

Surely one of the greatest books about a national cinema ever written? Leyda spent several years in the USSR in the mid-30s, studying at the world’s first film school, and assisting Eisenstein on his eventually banned film, Bezhin Meadow. And those ‘witnessed years’, as he calls them, are the fulcrum of the book. But the whole sweep of Russian cinema up to the years just after Stalin’s death are vividly chronicled by Leyda. We may know much more today about what really happened, but Leyda’s judgements were shrewd and his sheer enthusiasm is still infectious.

The book that every young film snob carried around or even memorised in the early 70s – just in case you might catch a rare Edgar Ulmer B movie in a rep cinema (yes, that’s how we saw films maudits in those days). Sarris’ classification of directors on different levels – from the ‘Pantheon’ to ‘Lightly Likeable’, via ‘Expressive Esoterica’ and ‘Less than Meets the Eye’ is imprinted on my attitude to American cinema, and I still have to argue in my head with Sarris’ unforgettably snappy put-downs. Sarris was far more influential than Chabrol, Truffaut and co., I’m sure, in shaping the British politique des auteurs.

What is Cinema? André Bazin, translated by Hugh Gray, University of California Press, 1967 (Volume 1) and 1971 (Volume 2)

This may be a poor translation of Bazin, inadequately edited, but it was my generation’s first contact with cinema’s greatest post-war critic-philosopher and the godfather of the French New Wave. After first swallowing Bazin whole, I turned against his Catholic humanism, but I find myself returning to him almost every week to check something, to argue with him, and often to agree.

Circles of Confusion Hollis Frampton, Visual Studies Workshop, 1983

Frampton wasn’t just the high priest of ‘structural cinema’, with his cerebral but playful masterpieces, Zorns Lemma and (nostalgia), but a superb essayist on classic photography and on the ontology of film as “the last machine”. This long-unfindable book (now revived in a new edition) brings together essays that can stand alongside those of Borges, Barthes and just about anyone who helped shape it.

A Life in Movies Michael Powell, Heinemann, 1986

After years of professional disappointment, Michael Powell decided to write a passionate no-holds-barred autobiography that would tell the story of cinema as the 20th century’s folk art from the standpoint of one who had helped shape it. There’s still no film autobiography to match it for style, audacity and insight – and it deserves to be recognised as one of the 20th century’s great memoirs. Apart from conveying what it felt like to be at the top of the game (and sliding to the bottom in the second, equally fascinating volume, Million Dollar Movie), it also provides dozens of shrewd judgements on film-makers who are only now being discovered.

Five is not enough! It leaves no room to mention Ray Durgnat’s crucial book, A Mirror for England, that staked a claim for British cinema when few film enthusiasts in Britain cared; or Rachael Low’s pioneering seven-volume history of British cinema from the very beginning to, alas, only 1939, although Low is a treasure trove of discoveries still being made. Or Dan Talbot’s eclectic Film: An Anthology (1966), a stirring alternative to Ernest Lindgren and Paul Rotha, which first introduced me to writings by Manny Farber, Parker Tyler, Gilbert Seldes and Erwin Panofsky. Peter Wollen’s Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, as elegantly written as it was groundbreaking, made semiotics exciting and revealed the political and wider aesthetic context of film. And what about the writing that was never in book form when it was most influential? How many Xeroxes of Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure’ Screen article have I passed on, along with essays by P. Adams Sitney, Annette Michelson and many others, before film books became common?

Michel Ciment

Editor, Positif, France

What is Cinema? André Bazin

An anthology of the best French film critic of the 1940s and ’50s.

A groundbreaking interview book and a model of its kind.

A Life Elia Kazan

The best autobiography (with Bergman’s) of a theatre and film director.

Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood Todd McCarthy, Grove Press, 1997

A perfect example of the critical biography: informed, never complacent, analytical and with a superb knowledge of the industry background.

Viv(r)e le cinéma Roger Tailleur, Institut Lumière, 1997

Personal Views: Explorations in Film Robin Wood, Gordon Fraser, 1976

Two volumes of selected film criticism by two inspirational critics, from France and England respectively.

Kieron Corless

Deputy Editor, Sight & Sound

Abel Ferrara Nicole Brenez, University of Illinois Press, 2006

Poétique du cinématographe Eugène Green, Actes Sud, 2009

Notes on the Cinematographer Robert Bresson, Editions Gallimard, 1975

Fassbinder’s Germany Thomas Elsaesser, Amsterdam University Press, 1996

Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies Manny Farber, Da Capo Press, 1998 (expanded edition)

Mark Cousins

Critic and filmmaker, UK

Who the Devil Made It?: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997

The Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema Edited By Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, BFI, 1994

Notes on the Cinematographer Robert Bresson

Currents in Japanese Cinema Tadao Sato, Kodansha Int, 1982

Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis Barry Salt, Starword, 1983

Paul Cronin

Writer / filmmaker, UK

On Directing Film David Mamet, Viking, 1991

A beautiful, idiosyncratic articulation of the job of the film director. Eisenstein for the new millennium.

The Technique of Film Editing Karel Reisz and Gavin Millar

There is no better explanation of what it’s all about. Theory and practice intersect at craft.

My Life and My Films Jean Renoir, Collins, 1974

Autobiography and common sense.

Film: A Montage of Theories Edited Richard Dyer, MacCann, E.P. Dutton, 1966

A definition of film theory: anything written about the cinema.

Film as a Subversive Art Amos Vogel, Random House, 1974

Because he has spent the past 60 years opening up new worlds to us.

Chris Darke

The Republic Plato

Cinema was invented in the fourth century BC with the Myth of the Cave, a thought experiment illustrating the hard-won virtues of education via a parable of perception and knowledge. Socrates’ mise en scène depicts underground captives facing a wall on which the light of a fire casts lifelike shadows, which they mistake for reality. The question of whether we should believe our eyes (or any of our senses) is dramatised in a setting that uncannily predicts cinema. The Cave is the first work of film theory, and considerably more readable than most examples of the genre written since.

Illuminations Walter Benjamin, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1955

For ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), a jazz standard of an essay that writers have riffed on (and ripped off) ever since. Benjamin was one of the first people to grapple with the question of how art is transformed by technology, supposedly sacrificing ‘aura’ for accessibility. A modernist rapture over the possibilities of the film image – deathlessly described as “an orchid in the land of technology” – is palpable throughout.

In his clarity of expression and the way he develops theoretical ideas from specific examples, Bazin was a truly great writer on cinema. Two essays from the 1940s are irreplaceable, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ and ‘The Myth of Total Cinema’, both setting film in art’s longue durée. Should one want to get a handle on the thorny philosophical question of ‘faith’ in the image in the digital era, Bazin is the first go-to guy…

The Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord, Buchet-Chastel, 1967

…and Debord is the second. Platonic mistrust of mere appearances goes into late-1960s overdrive here, but Debord’s analysis remains astonishingly prescient given that the spectacle – described as “the other side of money” – is now the element we live in. And while cinema is inevitably compromised by its fundamental role in this state, it should be remembered that Debord was also a master of the found-footage film.

The Invention of Morel Adolfo Bioy Casares, Editorial Losada, 1940

There’s no shortage of novels deserving of a place on the shelf, including Shoot! Or the Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio by Luigi Pirandello (1916), pretty much everything by Don DeLillo, and Me, Cheeta by James Lever (2008). Three rules for great novels about film: 1) they needn’t be ‘great novels’; 2) they should concern themselves less with the intrigues of filmmaking than with cinema as a metaphor for the modern condition; 3) they must remain resolutely unfilmable. Which ought to rule out The Invention of Morel, the inspiration for Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. Bioy Casares was a friend and collaborator of Borges, and his 1940 fantasy shares his quizzically metaphysical character and was inspired by the author’s Louise Brooks fixation. A fugitive finds his way to an unnamed island, discovers he has unexpected company, sees two suns rise, and observes how, with the aid of Dr Morel’s magical machine, space and time can be irretrievably altered. Borges called the plot “perfect” – if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

Maria Delgado

Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema Andrei Tarkovsky, The Bodley Head, 1986

Poetry as cinema, cinema as poetry. One of the best books on artistic endeavour and the craft of film-making. Just beautiful.

Out of the Past: Spanish Cinema After Franco John Hopewell, BFI, 1986

The first book to really explore what had happened to Spanish cinema post-Franco, rooting the argument in a discussion of how film-making had functioned under El Caudillo’s dictatorship. Still indispensable.

Letters François Truffaut, translated by Gilbert Adair, Faber & Faber, 1989

A funny, droll, incisive, idealistic and perceptive collection of letters to friends and collaborators, colleagues and film-makers he admired (and fell out with).

The Brechtian Aspect of Radical Cinema Martin Walsh, edited by Keith Griffiths, BFI, 1981

I picked it up as an undergrad and never looked back.

Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society Richard Dyer, BFI, 1986

The first edition was published in 1986 and changed the way I thought about film acting and stardom.

I would restrict my choice to the various editions (the fifth, I believe, is forthcoming) of David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film. I’m sure some future scholar will produce an admirable thesis comparing the changes in – and evolution of – what has come to be, along with everything else, a vicarious and incremental autobiography. In that context, even Thomson’s diminishing interest in cinema – or current cinema at any rate – becomes a source of fascination. The Dictionary is not only an indispensable book about cinema, but one of the most absurdly ambitious literary achievements of our time. It deserves a shelf to itself.

The Ferroni Brigade aka Christoph Huber & Olaf Moller

Critics, Austria/Germany

Dictionnaire du cinéma Edited by Jacques Lourcelles, Laffont, 1993

The only general dictionary we trust: absolutely partisan while commendably catholic in its scope and taste – just check out the list of auteurs worth discussing more deeply at the very end of the second edition from 2003.

Lignes d’ombre: une autre histoire du cinéma soviétique (1926-1968) Edited by Bernard Eisenschitz, Edizioni Gabriele Mazzotta, 2000

Histoire du cinéma Naz i Francis Courtade and Pierre Cadars, Eric Losfeld/Éditions Le Terrain Vague, 1972

Two tomes that (should have, at least) changed the way we think about film history; two attempts to understand the (extra)ordinary in film cultures deemed totalitarian and therefore artistically irrelevant by our unquestioning middlebrow culture and its collaborators high and low.

Enciclopédia do Cinema Brasileiro Edited by Fernão Ramos and Luiz Felipe Miranda, Senac São Paulo, 2000

Anschluß an Morgen and Das tägliche Brennen Elisabeth Büttner and Christian Dewald, Residenz Verlag, 1997 and 2002

Two exemplary ways of making sense of a national film culture: the first is an encyclopedia that invites the seeker to find his or her own way through a labyrinth of myriad relationships; the second offers creative criss-cross readings of topoi and obsessions through various decades, genres and political systems. We consider these approaches preferable to the common and-then-and-then histories, as these are usually too industry-development-keyed – i.e. disinterested in spheres like documentary cinema, the avant garde, sponsored films, amateur praxis, etc, which we consider all equal in importance and interest.

Mauritz Stiller och hans filmer 1912-1916 Gösta Werner, Norstedt, 1969

Leo McCarey: sonrisas y lágrimas Miguel Marías, Nikel Odeon, 1999

The value of the late Gösta Werner’s work lies in its author’s age: he was old enough to have seen many a Stiller work now (considered) lost, meaning his memories are probably as close as we’ll ever get to these films. Marías’ McCarey monument is of interest and dear to us as an instance where the best analysis of an essential oeuvre was written and published in a language other than that of the auteur in question.

Soshun: Früher Frühling von Ozu Yasujiro Helmut Färber, Eigenverlag des Autors, 2006

Red Cars y David Cronenberg, Volumina, 2006

Put them in your apartment and feel the atmosphere change for the better. Soshun is the most outstanding piece of film analysis in decades – based on only the first few minutes of the subject’s work.

Zur Kritik des Politischen Films: 6 analysierende Beschreibungen und ein Vorwort “Über Filmkritik” Peter Nau, DuMont Buchverlag, 1978

Der lachende Mann: Bekenntnisse eines Mörders Walter Heynowski and Gerhard Scheumann, Verlag der Nation, 1966

Criticism and agitation, reflection and documentation, theory and praxis.

Lizzie Francke

Development Producer, UK Film Council, UK

On Film-making Alexander Mackendrick, Faber & Faber, 2004

The Cinema Book Edited by Pam Cook, BFI, 1985

Suspects David Thomson, Secker and Warburg, 1985

Philip French

Critic, Observer, UK

Film Roger Manvell, Pelican, 1944

There was only a handful of books on the cinema when I and my contemporaries (now aged 70+) became cinephiles after World War II: Paul Rotha’s seminal The Film Till Now (1930 and never updated by its author); Alistair Cooke’s lively anthology of criticism, Garbo and the Night Watchmen; several theoretical works (Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Spottiswoode, Balázs, Arnheim); some dull sociological studies; and Manvell’s Pelican paperback Film. First published in 1944 and constantly revised over the next decade, Manvell’s marvellous book covered all aspects of cinema and was the one book that all of us owned. Affordable, deeply serious, clearly written, it gave us our first filmographies, 15 frame blow-ups from Battleship Potemkin and a cinematic canon that we eagerly accepted and then rebelled against.

When this original paperback appeared in 1965, the first full-length study of Hitchcock in English, I wrote in my Observer review: “It is an important publication that sets an altogether new standard for critical books on the cinema in this country.” Revised and augmented several times (most recently in 1989), it remains unsurpassed and is the high-water mark of auteurist criticism, with Andrew Sarris’ taxonomic masterpiece The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 a close runner-up.

The Parade’s Gone By Kevin Brownlow, Secker & Warburg, 1968

Few people have done so much to revive interest in silent cinema and none has written so well about it as Brownlow. This beautifully produced book, the first and most essential volume in a trilogy on American cinema before the coming of sound, is based entirely on evidence gathered at first hand and mostly illustrated by photographs from the author’s own collection. It’s an informative delight to read and look at and the kind of thing that gives passionate enthusiasm a good name.

The Film Encylopedia Edited by Ephraim Katz, Crowell, 1979

First published in 1979, this is by some way the best, most wide-ranging single-volume reference book on the cinema ever written. Entirely the work of one man, an Israeli documentarist resident in New York, it has been updated, though sadly not improved, since Katz’s untimely death at the age of 60 in 1992. It should be kept within easy reach by anyone interested in the cinema, whether writer or film fan.

The Last Tycoon F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scribner, 1941

The cinema as a subject for fiction has attracted serious writers ever since Luigi Pirandello’s Shoot! was published in 1915, and there are 50 or 60 examples on my shelves, gathered over the years for a book I’ll now never write. The best novel of recent years is Theodore Roszak’s astonishing Flicker (1991), while the finest on British cinema is Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet (1945), but greatest of all is Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, left unfinished at his death in 1940 and superbly edited by his friend Edmund Wilson.

Chris Fujiwara

Rivette: Texts and Interviews Edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, BFI, 1977

A manifesto for a revolutionary cinema, this compact selection of talks with and essays by Jacques Rivette includes his seminal text on Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Godard on Godard Jean-Luc Godard, edited and translated by Tom Milne, Secker & Warburg, 1972

It may not always be obvious from reading Godard’s early reviews that the writer would become a film-making giant, but it’s clear he could inspire five or six others to do so.

Every page of this slim volume – the Pascal’s Pensées of film – is filled with riches. Opened at random: “To your models: ‘You must play neither someone else, nor yourself. You have to play no one’”; “Neither director, nor film-maker. Forget that you’re making a film”; “Slow films in which everyone gallops and gesticulates; quick films in which people hardly move”; “Your film must be like the one you see while shutting your eyes.”

It launched and defined an era of cinephilia in the United States.

Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies Manny Farber

The only reason I list this edition instead of 2009’s Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings is that the smaller collection is the one I spent years marveling at, puzzling over and taking comfort from as from a favourite food.

Graham Fuller

The Parade’s Gone By Kevin Brownlow

The History of World Cinema David Robinson, Stein and Day, 1973

The Haunted Screen Lotte Eisner, Le Terrain Vague, 1952

Suspects David Thomson

Working on The Movie, a multi-volume history of the cinema published in weekly parts at the start of the 1980s, I found the first four books on this list not only remarkable for their scholarship and practical use, but as sources of magic – Eisner’s not least because of the dread-heavy stills and the electrifying chapter on G.W. Pabst and Louise Brooks, since exceeded only by ‘Lulu and the Meter Man’ in Thomas Elsaesser’s Weimar Cinema and After. Though in need of updating, Robinson’s History is unequalled as a single-volume narrative primer on cinema’s evolution. The Parade’s Gone By is the most accessible of Brownlow’s great books about silent film, though I could as easily have picked The War, the West and the Wilderness and Behind the Mask of Innocence.

Thomson’s Dictionary was a revelation when it first appeared 35 years ago because it doubled as a work of reference and (brilliant) criticism – it remains indispensable. Thomson was a historian writing like a novelist and so it was logical that he would eventually weave fiction with history in the serpentine Suspects, from which one can learn more about the iconography of film noir than from many worthy textbooks.

That’s five – and still I’m missing The BFI Companion to the Western and Hollywood Babylon.

Charlotte Garson

Critic, Cahiers du cinéma, France

Encompasses all film book categories: interview, yes, but also memoir, monograph, theory, picture book…

It’s always fruitful to go back to Bazin’s writings, less as a theoretician than as a critic (with theoretical intuitions that are sometimes hazardous).

The first film book I ever read.

Eric Rohmer Pascal Bonitzer, Cahiers du cinéma, 1991

Along with Bazin’s unfinished Jean Renoir this is one of the best monographs I know on any director.

Film: A Sound Art Michel Chion, Columbia University Press, 2003

Godard au travail: Les années 60 by Alain Bergala A wealth of documents, but also Alain Bergala’s ever-clear, precise prose on one of the film-makers he knows best. (Also, in French: Nul mieux que Godard, an anthology published by Cahiers du cinéma on Godard and edited by Bergala.)

La Maison et le monde by Serge Daney The anthology (in two volumes) of the Cahiers and Liberation French critic offers a panoramic view of the changes French criticism went through from the 1960s to the ’90s.

My Life and My Films by Jean Renoir

Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film by Jean Cocteau

The ‘I’ of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History, and Aesthetics By William Rotman

John Ford hors-série , Cahiers du cinéma

Mikio Naruse by Jean Narboni

Sul cinema By Roland Barthes , edited by Sergio Toffetti Only in Italy are Barthes’ writings on film collected!

Tom Gunning

Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago, USA

Film Form Sergei Eisenstein, edited and translated by Jay Leyda, Harcourt Brace, 1949

Visionary Film P. Adams Sitney, OUP, 1974

The World Viewed Stanley Cavell

From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film Siegfried Kracauer, Princeton University Press, 1947

Philip Horne

Prater Violet Christopher Isherwood, Methuen, 1945

The best novel I know on the film-making process, set in the 1930s and dealing (as if from the experience of ‘Christopher’ himself) with the career of Austrian director Friedrich Bergmann, whose genius is thrillingly evoked.

One of the great landmarks, a meeting of two film cultures, two languages, two personalities – full of omissions and evasions, but richly suggestive, and a demonstration that criticism and creation can enter into a significant dialogue.

A Life in Movies Michael Powell

Powell was a major film-maker who could write and who cared immensely and generously for literature and art – this magnificently vivid, self-dramatising yet wonderfully responsive first volume of his memoirs brings to life one eccentric but steely Englishman’s journey to greatness.

Adventures of a Suburban Boy John Boorman, Faber & Faber, 2003

Like Powell, Boorman can write like a dream as well as direct films like Point Blank and Deliverance “in a state of grace”, and this wise, intensely sympathetic, informative, amusing, moving account of his globe-spanning trajectory from Carshalton via L.A. to Galway is a classic.

After three decades of use, it’s an old companion, rather taken for granted and occasionally irritatingly prejudiced (eg on Ford), as well as funny and endlessly suggestive about avenues to explore; but whatever reservations it inspires (and expresses) it’s a grand example of appreciative, impassioned, intelligent, encyclopaedic criticism that shaped a generation or two of film watchers.

Kevin Jackson

Godard on Godard Jean-Luc Godard

A thrilling confection of passionate advocacy, youthful extremism, ardent love and lofty disdain. The one film book I crammed into my suitcase to keep me company when I went to live abroad for a couple of years; every dip into its pages offered something to think about, wonder at or silently dispute. So what if it borders on eccentricity, and then crosses the borders? It turns up the old mental rheostat every time. Well worth it even if you don’t much care for his films, and all the more so if you do.

Doesn’t everyone enjoy these interviews? Highly informative when read innocently, highly entertaining when read for the implied drama: the hero-worshipping young man (who is no dummy, mind), paying court to the urbane old master who seems to give so much away, and yet, cunning trickster/shaman that he is, really yields nothing that could be used in court against him. The dialogue as artform.

Reeling Pauline Kael, Little, Brown, 1977

Or almost any of her collections, really, but wasn’t she at her best when she had plenty of movies to love? And wasn’t the 1970s the period of cinema she loved best? This was the volume that made a god awful 26-hour greyhound bus trip to New York seem bearable – in fact, time well spent. It doesn’t matter if you don’t admire all her raving and comminations; she is almost always a gas, and brought to film criticism an addictive combination of driven, garrulous intensity and loose-limbed, slangy intimacy. Has anyone ever managed that balance as well?

A miracle. How could anyone – especially someone with a boring day job, and before the video/DVD age – have seen so much, noticed so much, understood so much, remembered so much at such a young age… and then written about it in a prose style of such idiosyncratic verve, lyricism and aphoristic pith? Not just one of the best film books, one of the best later 20th-century books of criticism of any medium. A monument.

Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers Antonia Quirke, Fourth Estate, 2007

Plus one: this lightly fictionalised memoir of film criticism, love affairs and the quest for beauty and perfection is so funny that it often makes you bark with laughter. Plus two: it is also an achingly serious discussion about why movies can be so potent, about the way they shape our fantasy lives and so our real lives, about how it really does matter whether or not you can love Withnail & I. Plus three: Quirke has an effortless knack for the mot juste; eat your liver, Flaubert. A potent and delicious cocktail.

Editor, Sight & Sound

Like most people in the unique position of foreknowledge of what others have said, I have avoided the choices that now seem obvious in this survey. My list is therefore devised partly to champion books neglected by everyone else.

A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence Raymond Durgnat, Faber & Faber, 1970

I first encountered Durgnat’s seminal book by proxy in the stirring poetic quotes from it that turned up regularly in the reviews of old British films in London listings magazines. It was out of print by the time I wanted to buy it, but I found a copy on my first trip to New York in 1982 (along with Kings of the Bs), devoured it, then lent it to a friend and never saw it (or him) again. So it’s as mysterious a treasure for me as, say, any film seen and loved years ago and not re-encountered since – though of course there’s a copy in the BFI library just three floors down from my office. Call it deferred gratification.

Melville on Melville Edited by Rui Noguera, translated by Tom Milne, Secker & Warburg, 1971

This most inspiring of interview texts is at least as fine a demonstration as Truffaut’s Hitchcock of why the Q&A format is so often more revealing than the mediated profile article or book. As befits his flinty films, Melville is a pugnacious, affectionate and slightly melancholy observer: sanguine and unequivocal about the daring with which his films were made. He gives a cool insight too into the rich inheritance of pre-war French cinema that declined post-war into the cinéma du papa so decidedly trashed by Truffaut. Towards the book’s end, Melville says, “I estimate the final disappearance of cinemas to take place around the year 2020.” Let’s hope he’s not right.

The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette James Monaco, OUP, 1976

Again, for me this book was about self-education. Not at all professionally involved in film when I bought it, I wanted something to help a London art student get more out of the films of Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol and Rivette. And if it was as puzzling in its way as some of the films seemed at the time, then that only intrigued me more, as any introduction to so important a subject should.

The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy Robert B. Ray, Harvard University Press, 1995

Judging from this survey few, if any, colleagues seem to share my enthusiasm for Ray’s attempts to break out of the cul-de-sacs of postmodern film theory, but I find his use of surrealist randomising and brainstorming games to generate new perspectives on classic Hollywood and other material stimulating, imaginative, informative and very entertaining, both here and in his more recent The ABCs of Classic Hollywood.

The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium Gilberto Perez, The John Hopkins University Press, 1998

In recent decades there has been no more cogent a rethinking of the physical and psychological experience of film as it evolved, both as a technology and as an artform. I want to read it again, soon.

Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber Manny Farber, Library of America, 2009

King Vidor, American Raymond Durgnat and Scott Simmon, University of California Press, 1988

The American Cinema Andrew Sarris

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage Stanley Cavell, Harvard University Press, 1981

These are the books that I’ve lived with the longest (excepting Farber On Film), so I suppose they’re the ones that have had the most profound effect on me.

Richard T. Kelly

Fun in a Chinese Laundry Josef von Sternberg, Secker & Warburg, 1965

My Last Breath Luis Buñuel, Jonathan Cape, 1983

Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film Jean Cocteau, J.B. Janin, 1946

Mark Le Fanu

Academic / critic, Denmark

The books that most influence you tend to come early in one’s life – whether one likes it or not, everyone is a product of their generation. I started reading about cinema in the late 1960s, the heyday of auteurism: the books that I read then formed my taste and have marked me as a certain kind of cinephile and, 40 years on, after the great adventure (or misadventure) of theory, that is still how I would define myself.

The opening revelation in my case was the discovery of the late Robin Wood’s writings, specifically the five or six beautiful monographs he wrote around that time on contemporary film-makers, so let me single out Bergman (Praeger, 1969). Wood’s patient, unpedantic, exegetical prose remains for me the permanent model of how to do these things.

Next, an interview book: Jon Halliday’s extended conversation Sirk on Sirk: Interviews with Jon Halliday (Secker & Warburg, 1971) hints at profound connections between European and American cinema and the sophisticated passage between the two cultures – connections deepened and cemented by my more or less simultaneous discovery of Andrew Sarris’ extraordinary handbook (compact and encyclopaedic at the same time) The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 . Over the years this little volume must surely have been the Bible for many of us.

Another bible (can there be two?) that has never left my desk is David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film . Readers of Sight & Sound will need no introduction to Thomson’s stunningly erudite film scholarship – for over 30 years he has been a leading contributor to this journal.

Alas, only one more book! There are so many wonderful writers out there. Should I opt for something from my collection written by Geoffrey O’Brien? Or Pauline Kael? Or Robert Warshow? Or André Bazin? Or either of the two wise Gilberts (Perez and Adair)? No, it is going to be François Truffaut’s collection of essays The Films in My Life (translated by Leonard Mayhew, Simon & Schuster, 1978). The peerless lucidity of his writing about cinema is underscored by a profound moral passion. Indeed, this is true about all the writers on film that I admire most – even the aesthetes and dandies.

Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky is my all-time favourite director. But while this is fascinating, I sometimes find his statements frustratingly evasive. Or to the point but about very vague subjects: “Time”. Everything’s a lot clearer in the films. Yet this is what he had to say about them, and that makes it uniquely valuable.

Notes: On the Making of Apocalypse Now! Eleanor Coppola, Simon & Schuster, 1979

For a while I became obsessed with what must have been the best-documented disaster shoot in film history. I had the photo of Francis Ford Coppola pointing a revolver at his head up on my office wall the whole time I was writing Corpsing.

Louise Brooks Barry Paris, Hamish Hamilton, 1989

This depressed the hell out of me, but it’s a great read. Louise Brooks was one of the few actresses with absolute integrity. This may have something to do with why she also had the most vivid screen presence.

Lulu in Hollywood Louise Brooks, Hamish Hamilton, 1982

And she could write, too.

Quay Brothers Dictionary Michael Brooke

In the absence of a full book on my favourite contemporary film-makers, this pamphlet that came with the DVD Quay Brothers: The Short Films 1979-2003 will do very well. I’m still following up all the references to writers, artists and poster designers.

Brian McFarlane

Academic, Australia

Agee on Film: Reviews and Comments James Agee

I loved his willingness to find excitement in unexpected places, to do justice to merit when he found it and to write in such a strongly personal voice.

Ealing Studios Charles Barr, Cameron & Tayleur/David & Charles, 1977

This still seems to me the definitive account of the ethos of a studio. Lucid, rigorous and utterly readable.

David Lean: A Biography Kevin Brownlow, Richard Cohen Books, 1996

The best biography of a film-maker I’ve ever read. An enthralling account of a man enraptured by cinema, written by another man enraptured by cinema.

Typical Men: The Representation of Masculinity in British Cinema Andrew Spicer, I.B. Tauris, 2001

Gives a whole new perspective on the phenomenon of male stardom in British film, wears its theory lightly and is written with wit and perception.

Infuriating and stimulating by turns, this is an idiosyncratic inclusion. It leaves out Phyllis Calvert and includes Audie Murphy, which enrages me, but I read it from cover to cover.

Luke McKernan

Curator, Moving Image, British Library, UK

Spellbound in Darkness Edited by George C. Pratt, University of Rochester, 1966

A loving anthology, with commentary, on the silent cinema. An invitation to discovery on every page, and perhaps the best title for any film book yet published.

The British Film Catalogue, 1895-1970 Denis Gifford, David & Charles, 1973

The nearest we have to a British national filmography was created not by any institute or university but by one man.

Ealing Studios Charles Barr, 1977

A classic analysis of a film studio’s output in terms of nation, society and politics. There is no better stimulus to look at films seriously.

The Pleasure Dome Graham Greene, Secker & Warburg, 1972

Greene’s film reviews from the 1930s are filled with sharp observations and haunting turns of phrase no other critical anthology can match.

The Cinematograph in Science, Education and Matters of State Charles Urban, The Charles Urban Trading Company, 1907

Written at the dawn of cinema, an inspirational manifesto for film as an educative medium.

Geoffrey Macnab

The richness of Powell’s autobiography lies in its scope and its colour. On the one hand, it’s a fantastically useful resource for anyone interested in British film history. Powell offers vivid portraits of his colleagues and collaborators, many of them émigrés. This is a gossipy and very colourful memoir, full of anecdotes and asides about Powell’s romantic life and his sometimes vexed relationships with studio bosses. On the other hand, it is also a self-portrait by a brilliant and uncompromising English film-maker.

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson, Faber & Faber, 1997

Published to accompany a BFI documentary, this is a beautifully illustrated and very sharp-eyed tour through a century of American cinema by a true obsessive. Scorsese is as interested in Allan Dwan, Phil Karlson, Jacques Tourneur and Sam Fuller as he is in the bigger-name directors.

Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges: His Life in His Words Preston Sturges, Simon & Schuster, 1990

Sturges’ autobiography is as well written, droll and well observed as his best films.

The Magic Lantern Ingmar Bergman, translated by Joan Tate, Hamish Hamilton, 1987

There’s a wild streak of perversity to Bergman’s autobiography. He is honest and self-lacerating about his own foibles and equally caustic about those of others. Morbidity and lyricism run side by side as he lays bare his demons.

An Autobiography of British Cinema Brian McFarlane, Methuen, 1997

This book is easy to undervalue. At first glance it looks like a series of nostalgic, fireside chats with actors and film-makers from the good old days of British cinema. However, no one else was doing these interviews. Thirteen years on, many of the 180 interviewees have died. McFarlane did future British historians an extraordinary service by capturing their reminiscences.

Adrian Martin

Critic, Australia

Theory of Film Practice Noël Burch, Secker & Warburg, 1973

A book that opens minds to formalism in the fullest and most supple way. Burch has changed his position many times since 1967 (when the chapters first appeared in Cahiers du cinéma), but there is still much to excite in these pages.

The Memory of Tiresias: Intertextuality and Film Mikhail Iampolski, University of California Press, 1998

So you think you know what intertextuality is? Iampolski, a pre-eminent contemporary Russian theorist, gives a dazzling demonstration of how, when, where and why films quote other films (and other media) and why we should care. A book so far ahead of its time we haven’t caught up with it.

The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium Gilberto Perez

The long tradition of sensitive film aesthetics (it would once have been called film appreciation), from Béla Balázs to V.F. Perkins, finds its apotheosis in Perez’s superb book, as fully literary as it is analytical. Has anyone ever written this beautifully about Dovzhenko, Renoir or Straub-Huillet?

Deadline at Dawn: Film Criticism 1980-1990 By Judith Williamson, Marion Boyars, 1992

Journalist-critic heroes play out, on a weekly or even daily basis, the tension between the pressure to publish an instant response and the background resource of a lifetime’s reflection. Bazin, Daney, Rosenbaum and a dozen others fill this role admirably, but my vote is for Britain’s own Judith Williamson, whose books of collected reviews from the 1980s and ’90s are an unending inspiration.

Poetics of Cinema Raúl Ruiz, Dis Voir, 1995 (volume 1) and 2007 (volume 2)

Writings on film by film-makers form a generally undervalued genre. Among the many candidates – from Eisenstein, Tarkvosky and Pasolini to Alexander Kluge, Marcel Hanoun and Alexander Mackendrick – Ruiz’s ongoing Poetics of Cinema project stands out for its intellectual generosity, its luminous storytelling, its sly wit and its surrealist vision of what cinema could still become.

PLUS FIVE UNTRANSLATED GEMS:

Method Sergei Eisenstein, Museum of Cinema, Eisenstein-Centre, 2002

A casual observer might think we have much or most of Eisenstein’s writings in English, but the complete assemblage of his lifelong two-volume project Method has only appeared in Russian (and German) over the past decade. It will forever change the way we regard his life, work and thought. Fortunately, thanks to the gifted Russian-Australian scholar Julia Vassilieva, this project is on the way.

De la figure en général et du corps en particulier: L’invention figurative au cinéma Nicole Brenez, De Boeck, 1998

English-language film cultures have kept pace with French aesthetic philosophers like Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou, but forgot to check where film analysis itself went in France after the heyday of semiotics. Here’s the answer: the most radical, innovative and inventive tome of cinema study in the past quarter-century, boldly proposing a ‘figural’ approach that combines meaning with emotion, history with imagination. Brenez is our greatest living critic.

Im/Off: Filmartikel Frieda Grafe and Enno Patalas, Hanser, 1974

Emerging from Filmkritik magazine in the late 1950s, this lively pair shaped much future German-language film culture to come with their analyses, programming, teaching and restoration work. Grafe (1934-2002), in particular, combined a crisp, evocative, Barthesian style with a rigorous eye and brilliant mind. This book is among the key chronicles of the 1960s and ’70s revolutions in cinema and film criticism.

Viv(r)e le cinéma Roger Tailleur

Francophiles, in general, know a lot about Cahiers du cinéma (and the whole artistic-intellectual culture that goes with it) and almost nothing about Positif (ditto). The saddest lacuna of all is Roger Tailleur (1927-85), an extraordinary prose stylist and encyclopaedic brain who, on a good day, makes Manny Farber seem like Harry Knowles. This selection, lovingly assembled by Positif comrades Michel Ciment and Louis Seguin, and containing classic essays on Bogart, Antonioni, Hawks and Marker, really just scratches the surface of Tailleur’s remarkable oeuvre – a true thinking-person’s cinephilia.

Kantuko Ozu Yasujiro Shigehiko Hasumi, Chikuma Shobo, 1983

Hasumi’s analytical method is deceptively simple: he takes us through the facts, limpidly described, of the everyday world of Ozu’s films – the walking, sitting, dressing, banal chit-chat – in order to arrive at often devastating revelations of this master director’s sensibility at work. Few critics give us such a concrete sense of what Godard once called “the evidence”. Cahiers du cinéma published a French version in 1998; we English readers are still waiting.

Peter Matthews

Agee on Film: Reviews and Comment James Agee

The greatest American film reviewer of the 1940s is a neglected figure these days, no doubt as his lofty humanist standards are out of tune with our own cynical resignation to ‘entertainment’. Ever the disappointed idealist, Agee offered grudging praise to such compromised efforts as Meet Me in St. Louis and Double Indemnity in long, delicately cadenced sentences that would never survive the copy editor now. Yet he was equally a master of the short demolition job (Princess O’Rourke: “An unobtrusive raising of the window, and the less said the better”), while his clairvoyant appreciation of Zéro de conduite almost single-handedly put Jean Vigo on the map in the English-speaking world. Though he could get it wrong (as in his cranky dismissal of Citizen Kane), Agee’s intense moral engagement with cinema sets him far above critics who merely get it right.

Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist Andrew Britton, Studio Vista, 1995

The competition isn’t fierce, but this book remains easily the best serious full-length study of a star. Shunning the high road of 1970s ‘apparatus theory’, with its curiously self-defeating notion that pleasure is an ideological error, Britton champions Hollywood icons as authentic sources of emotional and political inspiration. Hepburn’s fey, tomboyish persona may not have been radical exactly, but its very oddity created a worrying disturbance in her films that even the ritual clinch at the end didn’t entirely pacify. Stars back then embodied vital social contradictions – one doubts whether the featureless pretty people of contemporary celebrity would repay so subtle and scrupulous a treatment.

The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium Gilberto Perez

This volume has already become a milestone in film criticism, and it isn’t hard to see why. For one thing, Perez magnificently vindicates the beauty of illusionism – a salutary attitude after decades of academic militancy that judged it a ruling-class plot. But even more crucially, he understands how every general theory of cinema must start from its concrete particulars as an artform. The book is really about nothing beyond the author’s own infinite sensitivity to the implications of style. Has anyone else been quite so astute regarding the poetics of the shot/reverse shot (in Straub-Huillet’s History Lessons) or the uses of stasis (in Dovzhenko’s Earth)? A work of transcendent intelligence.

These aphoristic memos from the legendary director are often as inscrutable as Zen Buddhist koans, yet reflecting on them can produce a similar enlightenment. Bresson’s notorious contempt for acting is explained here in the distinction he draws between cinematography (pure writing with images) and mere cinema (still beholden to the mimetic fakery of theatre). The professional player counterfeits truth vaingloriously, whereas the amateur or ‘model’ simply reveals a soul. Essential reading for anyone curious about the physics and metaphysics of film, this slender volume can be profitably revisited over a lifetime.

Sirk on Sirk: Interviews with Jon Halliday Edited by Jon Halliday

A book that revolutionised film studies. Douglas Sirk’s erudite exchanges with Halliday in 1971 turned his previous reputation as a merchant of lachrymose piffle upside down by revealing he had been a cool ironist all along. Universal loved the Panglossian optimism of the title All That Heaven Allows, but Sirk knew what it really meant (‘heaven is stingy’) and proved the point with a mise en scène that systematically undercuts its own chocolate-box display of luxury. Through his sophisticated apologia for melodrama, a despised genre was propelled into the academic spotlight where it has remained ever since.

I could as easily have picked William Rothman’s Documentary Film Classics, Robin Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage or Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. I haven’t included André Bazin’s What is Cinema? because it sits in a class by itself.

Sophie Mayer

Decreation Anne Carson, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005

Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film Jean Cocteau

Essential Deren: Collected Writings on Film Maya Deren, edited by Bruce McPherson, Documentext, 2005

Queer Edward II (annotated screenplay) Derek Jarman, BFI, 1991

When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics Trinh T. Minh-ha, Routledge, 1991

Henry K. Miller

Let’s Go to the Pictures Iris Barry, Chatto & Windus, 1926

A product and record of the years when cinema first came to be ‘taken seriously’ in Britain, to use the conventional phrase. Barry was a cinephile pioneer among the literati, and one of film culture’s seminal figures. Very little was outside her scope. Sample observation: “Every habitual cinemagoer must have been struck at some time or another by the comparative slowness of perception and understanding of a person not accustomed to the pictures: the newcomer nearly always misses half of what occurs. To be a habitué makes one easily suggestible through the eye, quick at observing manners, gestures and tricks of expression.”

The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema Jean Mitry, Indiana University Press, 1997

Overflowing with riches, it’s something of a scandal that Mitry’s summa went untranslated until the 1990s while the canon was packed by scores of philosophers manqués.

Films and Feelings Raymond Durgnat, Faber & Faber, 1967

Hard to pick just one Durgnat. Films and Feelings makes it because its extended chapter on the history of Franco-Anglo-American film criticism, ‘Auteurs and Dream Factories’, has yet to be bettered.

The Studio John Gregory Dunne, Farrer, Straus & Giroux, 1969

This account of a year at Twentieth Century Fox during the dying days of the dream factory is the best of the ‘inside Hollywood’ books by dint of Dunne’s peerlessly dry prose.

Cinema: A Critical Dictionary Edited by Richard Roud, Secker & Warburg, 1980

The single best reference work on the cinema I’ve dipped into, this ought to have become standard household issue. Having assembled an all-star team of contributors – from Jean-Andre Fiéschi to Robin Wood to P. Adams Sitney – editor Roud (an S&S mainstay) himself jumps in at the end of each entry to register the extent of his disagreement.

An Illustrated History of the Horror Film Carlos Clarens, Putnam, 1967

The first film book I ever bought – or nagged my parents to buy me – and still a model of genre history/criticism, teasing out bigger narratives from the mosaic achievements of individual films.

Kings of the Bs: Working Within the Hollywood System Edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, Dutton, 1975

Full of important things, like Manny Farber on Val Lewton and Roger Ebert on Russ Meyer, and evaluations of previously obscure films (Thunder Road) and film-makers (Sam Katzman).

Looking Away: Hollywood and Vietnam Julian Smith, Scribner, 1975

A study that manages to say a lot of fascinating, illuminating things about its subject even though it labours under the handicap that when it was published (1975) Hollywood had made almost no films about the Vietnam War.

Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents Stephen Thrower, FAB Press, 2007

A huge study of independent American horror films of the 1970s and ’80s, this is a rare book that tells me things I didn’t already know. A monumental achievement, and it’s only the first part.

Science Fiction Movies Philip Strick, Octopus, 1976

Strick, a long-time S&S commentator, was one of the sharpest writers on science fiction in film and literature. This was one of a series of disposable illustrated books, but proved that the wordage between the stills needn’t just be rehashed press releases. Like all books I go back to, it has solid information, wide-ranging insight and an elegant, precise, wry prose style.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

Academic and writer, UK

Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? (What is Cinema?) André Bazin, Editions du Cerf, 1958-62

Four little volumes of essays and reviews written in the 1940s and 1950s, published posthumously, that were absolutely formative for the film-makers of the nouvelle vague and for critics ever after. The selective and not very good English translation as What is Cinema? may have done more harm than good in reach-me-down film studies courses. A much better translation of most of the key essays has recently been published (What is Cinema?, edited and translated by Timothy Barnard, Montreal: Caboose, 2010), but for copyright reasons is available only in Canada.

A Bazin antidote. Harbinger of the theory boom of the 1970s, but much more readable than most of what followed.

Thoughts and opinions of the most important and revolutionary film-maker of the past 50 years. Beautifully edited and translated, but it unfortunately stops just before 1968. For Godard’s later thinking, avoid books and watch his extraordinary Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998).

For a reference book, am I allowed to put forward The Oxford History of World Cinema, despite being its editor (OUP, 1996)? If debarred, then the 2000 edition of the Time Out Film Guide, being less bulky than it has since become.

Michael O’Pray

Visionary Film P. Adams Sitney

Magisterial. It was written over 30 years ago, yet remains the most lucid and critically coherent account of American avant-garde film.

A World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film Stanley Cavell, Harvard University Press, 1971

The most sophisticated marriage of philosophy and film written. Brimming with ideas and beautifully written.

Stargazer: The Life, World and Films of Andy Warhol Stephen Koch, Marion Boyars, 1991

Still the best book on Warhol’s cinema. A cool gaze at a cool world.

My Last Breath Luis Buñuel

Surrealism, not as a set of dogmas, but as a life lived.

Durgnat on Film Raymond Durgnat, Faber & Faber, 1976

So sharp and so readable.

This is as sharp, witty and lacerating as all his best pictures; Buñuel’s observing eye turned into an act of reflective writing on his own life.

L’Imaginaire Jean-Paul Sartre (mistranslated as The Psychology of the Imagination), Gallimard, 1940

This is the book of books that helped me develop a cinematic eye.

Memoirs of the Beijing Film Academy Ni Zhen, National Publishers of Japan, 1995

Charts the rise of the Fifth Generation out of nowhere to astonish the world.

Ingmar Bergman Jacques Aumont, Cahiers du cinéma, 2003

In which the French critic says it all and shows us that further Bergman books must lie in new detail or a broader window on the film world.

Film Journal Eve Arnold, Bloomsbury, 2001

A masterpiece of stills photography that captures the world behind the movie camera, culminating in her extraordinary on-set pics of Marilyn and The Misfits.

Critic, Daily Telegraph, UK

The Aurum Film Encyclopedia Edited by Phil Hardy, Aurum, 1983-98

This guide to the horror (1983 edition), science fiction (1984) and Western (1984) genres is addictive, exhaustive and unsurpassed.

Reeling Pauline Kael

My favourite Kael collection because the period it covers (1973-75) coincides with so many of her true passions.

Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism Jonathan Rosenbaum, University of California Press, 1995

No one else seems to get the point of film criticism as well as Rosenbaum, or to pursue it with such prickly independence.

Dirk Bogarde: The Authorised Biography John Coldstream, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004

This grasping of a unique career and life is an absolute model of diligence and wisdom.

The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood Julie Salamon, Delta, 1992

Outstrips even Steven Bach’s Final Cut as an appalled account of big-budget catastrophe.

Nick Roddick

André Bazin’s What is Cinema? introduced me to a different way of thinking about film and Christian Metz’s [two-volume] Essais sur la signification au cinéma (Klincksieck, 1968 and 1972) took things to a whole new level – even if the air up there was sometimes a little too thin to breathe.

In an entirely different context, a trio of Hollywood autobiographies – Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer (Alfred A. Knopf, 1963), Raoul Walsh’s Each Man in His Time: The Life Story of a Director (Farrer, Straus & Giroux, 1974) and Sam Fuller’s A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) – confirmed that, even within the studio system, there were different lives being lived and different stories being told.

So, in a quite different but unforgettable way, did Kenneth Anger’s scurrilous Hollywood Babylon (J.J. Pauvert, 1959), which should be prescribed reading on every po-faced film course.

One that got away: Hugh Fordin’s MGM’s Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit (Da Capo, 1996), which I lent to someone in 1976 and never saw again.

But if there is one book to rule them all, it is Peter Wollen’s Signs and Meaning in the Cinema . The revised and enlarged edition of 1972 is the most concise, lucid and inspiring introduction to thinking about film ever written.

Jonathan Romney

Critic, Independent on Sunday, UK

Deadline at Dawn Judith Williamson

This is an exemplary collection, with a superb opening essay on the importance of resisting complicity with the culture supermarket. Its key statement, provocative but true: asking a critic what films to go to is as inappropriate as asking a geographer where to go on holiday.

Devant la recrudescence des vols de sac à main, cinéma, télévision, information Serge Daney, Aléas, 1997

This was my first exposure to the complexity, provocation and sometimes perversity of this French critic, a champion of cinephilic promiscuity and a brilliant expander of small, seemingly inconspicuous details into troubling symptoms. The title is what they used to warn audiences about in French cinemas: “Given the increase in handbag thefts…”

Flicker Theodore Roszak, Summit, 1991

Dan Brown avant la lettre for film buffs and those who tolerate their obsessions, Roszak’s novel is the best airport thriller ever, a passionate mythomanic celebration of cinema and its possible secret histories and, incidentally, a prescient forecast of the satanic-brat film-making generation of Gaspar Noé, Harmony Korine, Eli Roth et al. If ever I were to use the term ‘unputdownable’…

Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles David Thomson, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996

Biography as something close to picaresque fiction. At once imaginative myth-making and insightful, demystifying critical essay.

The Phantom Empire Geoffrey O’Brien, W.W. Norton & Company, 1993

A sui generis reimagining of film history – a poetic treatise, cultural delirium and phenomenological evocation of the mysterious, multiform rapture of watching. O’Brien’s prose textures alone bear testimony to the power of film to galvanise the creative impulse.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Films and Feelings Raymond Durgnat

This first collection by the most thoughtful, penetrating, and far-reaching of UK film critics ever remains scandalously overlooked and undervalued. Conceivably more ideas per page can be found here than in the work of any other English-language critic, and Durgnat’s grounding in surrealism and the school of Positif is merely one of the starting points for an exploratory critical intelligence that is nonetheless quintessentially English.

I also prize the expanded original, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard of 1985 – it’s only the first of two volumes, but still a doorstop at 638 pages. The shorter English version of this seminal collection of criticism and interviews may be only 292 pages, but Tom Milne’s translation and commentary are exemplary, and there’s no other volume of criticism from Cahiers du cinéma that has influenced me as deeply. (The main reason, incidentally, why I haven’t selected any collections in French by André Bazin or Serge Daney is the absence of any fully satisfying volume in the first case and too many possible candidates in the second.)

More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts James Naremore, University of California Press, 2008 (revised and expanded edition)

Although it’s hard to arrive at a single title by my favourite academic film critic (my second choice would probably be the updated edition of The Magic World of Orson Welles), this is probably the most enjoyable, edifying, and rereadable of Naremore’s books – and certainly the best study of noir ever published.

After much internal debate, I’ve opted for this essential collection over the far heftier Farber on Film because this includes the lengthy and indispensable interview Farber and Patricia Patterson gave to Richard Thompson in 1977, whereas the other volume, even though it sports the almost accurate subtitle The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, contains only excerpts from it.

Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges James Harvey, Alfred A. Knopf, 1987

Before arriving at this 720-page definitive compendium, I came very close to selecting the 1977 640-page The Compound Cinema: The Film Writings of Harry Alan Potamkin by a leftist intellectual of the 1920s and ’30s with a truly international grasp of cinema – and the first critic ever to write about film cults. But I keep returning to Harvey’s judicious book even more often.

Sukhdev Sandhu

Channel 4 Guide to François Truffaut Channel 4, 1984

As all who recall the glory days of the fanzine will know, great, life-changing literature often comes through the front door in a self-addressed envelope. This small booklet, issued as a pedagogic aid of sorts, is a reminder of a time when terrestrial television scheduled whole series dedicated to individual arthouse directors (at prime time!) – series that would initiate ignorant schoolboys like me into the joys of world cinema.

Geoff Dyer once wrote: “Spare me the drudgery of systematic examinations and give me the lightning flashes of those wild books in which there is no attempt to cover the ground thoroughly or reasonably.” Bresson’s slender collection of jottings and aphorisms (“The ejaculatory force of the eye”; “The terrible habit of theatre”; “Don’t run after poetry: it penetrates unaided through the joins”) is a witty example of the virtues of brevity.

100 Modern Soundtracks Philip Brophy, BFI, 2004

It doesn’t have the most compelling title, and this kind of synoptic volume is usually far less than the sum of its parts, but Brophy is a terrifically incisive and generative thinker about the possibilities of Ear Cinema, audio-delving into films as diverse as India Song and I Spit on Your Grave to create what he calls a “Braille for the deaf”.

As a film writer, my knee-jerk position is to use the word ‘studio’ as shorthand for greed, enervated groupthink, imaginative inertia, capitalism, western imperialism, evil itself. Sometimes, especially after you’ve just stumbled out of the remake of Clash of the Titans, that seems an intellectually responsible position. Mostly though, as this fastidiously researched and elegantly argued rebuff to auteurism shows, it’s not: the complex mesh of marketing, production and management enabled as much as it retarded the creation of the best US cinema of the mid-century.

An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896-1937 Zhang Zhen, University of Chicago Press, 2006

As the years trundle by, I’m more and more embarrassed by the parochialism of my filmic knowledge. Of Bollywood and Nollywood and Latin American cinema I know a bit, but not as much as I ought. As for Chinese film, well, this superb history, in which Zhang spotlights the teeming interplay between movies, photography and architecture in early 20th-century Shanghai, performs the function of all the best literature: it leaves you ravenous for more.

Jaspar Sharp

Midnight Eye, UK

The Japanese Film: Art and Industry Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie, Princeton University Press, 1959 (expanded edition 1982)

Although only covering developments prior to the 1960s, this is still the most essential publication out there on Japanese film.

The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years’ War, 1931-45 Peter B. High, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003

An exhaustive and fascinating account of how the Japanese film industry was mobilised during the war years.

From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film Siegfried Kracauer

Its arguments as to how Germany’s national cinema portended the rise of Nazism might seem a bit oversimplified, but this book still provides a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of one of the world’s greatest film industries.

A Pictorial History of Horror Movies Denis Gifford, Hamlyn, 1973

I owe my obsession with cinema to being given a copy of this at the age of ten.

Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema around the World Pete Tombs, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998

The book that really opened my eyes to some of the more obscure corners of global film culture.

Iain Sinclair

Proving you don’t need to rehash the plot (it’s only there to secure financing). And for that essay ‘White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art’. And for the undeceived appreciation of Sam Fuller. Rescues, with painterly intelligence, a defunct form.

Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life David Caute, Faber & Faber, 1994

Begins with the balance sheet: accountancy, documentation, polemic. The cultural connections of that period, from Brecht to Pinter, nicely fixed.

Knotty meat. A good place from which to steal.

Film at Wit’s End: Essays on American Independent Film-makers Stan Brakhage, Polygon, 1989

Generous evaluations of his peers by the inspirational film poet.

Nouvelle Vague, The First Decade Raymond Durgnat, Motion, 1963

Provocative, opinionated and a little crazy. I read this one until it fell apart, pre-viewing in my imagination films I had not yet seen and might never see. A fine example of literature as catalogue.

David Thompson

Critic/documentarian, UK

A Discovery of Cinema Thorold Dickinson, OUP, 1971

Reeling By Pauline Kael Film as a Subversive Art By Amos Vogel

I would also add a complete set of Sight & Sound – no kidding!

David Thomson

Critic/author, USA

I don’t think this has been equalled as a record of a life in show business desperate to get into art.

Final Cut Steven Bach

The most candid and complete account of a film, and a famous disaster – which looks better every time you see it.

David O. Selznick’s Hollywood Ronald Haver, Bonanza, 1980

The most beautiful film book.

This is Orson Welles Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Endlessly fascinating, a book of record that is bursting to be a novel.

The Deer Park Norman Mailer, Putnam, 1955

Mailer had so many great insights about film and they start in this 1955 novel.

Kenneth Turan

Critic, LA Times, USA

Picture Lillian Ross, Rinehart, 1952

A terrific piece of journalism and a landmark in the history of American non-fiction writing, this look at how John Huston made The Red Badge of Courage remains the ultimate Hollywood behind-the-scenes story.

The Pat Hobby Storie s F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scribner, 1962

The great American novelist turned his attention to a Hollywood he knew well for this collection of short stories about a washed-up screenwriter, which retain their relevance and punch to this day.

For US critics of a certain age this is the most obvious choice, but there is no overestimating the impact its English-language exploration of auteur theory had on serious filmgoers and critics.

The book that almost single-handedly revived serious interest in the long-reviled world of silent film.

King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn Bob Thomas, Putnam, 1967

A deliciously gossipy biography of Harry Cohn, the feared and reviled head of Columbia Pictures. As comedian Red Skelton said of the man’s well-attended funeral, “It proves what Harry always said: ‘Give the public what they want and they’ll come out for it.’”

Catherine Wheatley

Critic/Academic, UK

Hollywood Babylon Kenneth Anger

Postcards from the Cinema Serge Daney, P.O.L Editions, 1994

Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film Atom Egoyan and Ian Balfour, MIT Press, 2004

Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film Giuliana Bruno, Verso, 2002

The Cinema Book Pam Cook

Armond White

Critic, New York Post, USA

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Pauline Kael, Litte, Brown, 1968

A treasure chest of critical art anchored to her ‘Notes on Movies’ – a personal, inspiring history of cinema without a single received idea.

A one-man tour de force that cements the case for the auteur theory.

Heavenly Bodies: Stars and Society Richard Dyer

The one true advance from pop criticism into academic thought, yet that still relates to pop, pleasure and real life.

The only example of a great film era (the 1970s) meeting a worthy, attentive journalist. Includes her essential ‘On the Future of Movies’ essay, a timeless cri de coeur.

The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World Armond White, Overlook Press, 1995

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A pantheon of one’s own: 25 female film critics worth celebrating - image

A pantheon of one’s own: 25 female film critics worth celebrating

Miriam Bale , Anne Billson , Mark Cousins , Jemma Desai , Bryony Dixon , Jane Giles , Pamela Hutchinson , Nick James , Violet Lucca , So Mayer , Henry K Miller , Nathalie Morris , Nick Pinkerton , Jonathan Romney , Jonathan Rosenbaum , Claire Smith , Kate Stables , Francine Stock , Isabel Stevens , Matthew Sweet , Ginette Vincendeau , Thirza Wakefield , Ben Walters , Catherine Wheatley , Rob Winter

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Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012

1963 and all that: Raymond Durgnat and the birth of the Great British Phantasmagoria - image

1963 and all that: Raymond Durgnat and the birth of the Great British Phantasmagoria

Henry K Miller

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Here are the Books We Love: 380+ great 2023 reads recommended by NPR

Here are the Books We Love: 380+ great 2023 reads recommended by NPR

November 20, 2023 • Books We Love returns with 380+ new titles handpicked by NPR staff and trusted critics. Find 11 years of recommendations all in one place – that's more than 3,600 great reads.

11 books to look forward to in 2024

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A gender-swapping photo app helped Lucy Sante come out as trans at age 67

Lucy Sante, shown here in January 2024, says, "I am lucky to have survived my own repression. I think a lot of people in my position have not." Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for The Guardian hide caption

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A secret shelf of banned books thrives in a Texas school, under the nose of censors

February 21, 2024 • A high school teacher in Houston has a library in her classroom of books she's not supposed to have, per state legislation. Students say she's helping them survive. ( Story aired on ATC on 1/29/24 .)

Jada Pinkett Smith, the artist

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It's Been a Minute

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February 15, 2024 • Short-story writer Kelly Link's first novel delves into the complications of love and friendship, family drama, grief, resilience, and the power of adaptability, while delivering a supernatural tale.

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Maurice Sendak delights children with new book, 12 years after his death

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February 6, 2024 • The late author-illustrator, creator of Pierre and Where the Wild Things Are , loved whistling, Mozart, and Mickey Mouse curios. His trademark whimsy can be found in the new book Ten Little Rabbits .

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Home » TV Service

Is the Book Better Than the Movie?

90% of the time, the answer is a resounding yes

Michael Archambault

We may earn money when you click our links.

It’s an age-old debate, which is better, the book or the movie? We analyzed over 1,100 books and compared them to their movie adaptations to see which fans prefer.

From Harry Potter to The Lord of The Rings to James Bond , we took a deep dive in an attempt to solve the book vs. movie debate.

Once you’ve finished comparing, be sure to check out some of the top streaming services to see where you can catch up on these great films.

Which is better, the book or the movie?

Ratings of Popular Book-to-Movie Franchises

The TL;DR is that the book is almost always better than the movie.

In our review of over 1,100 books, we found that the book was rated higher than the movie 89% percent of the time—that’s 9 out of 10 book-to-movie adaptations!

Readers also came out in higher numbers to rate their favorite books. Most written works had over 265k ratings, while most movies had only 109k ratings.

Curious what books made it to the silver screen more than others? James Bond is the clear winner in this department, having 15 more movies than the next runner-up, Harry Potter .

Popular book-to-movie franchises

Let’s dive into some of the most popular book-to-movie franchises to see how they fared—the ultimate battle of Hollywood versus the mighty word.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter Book vs Movie Ratings

The original Harry Potter series was made up of seven books but translated to eight movies, as the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows , was split in two.

The highest scoring Harry Potter film was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 with a rating of 8.1/10, but that didn’t even come close to the book series.

When it comes to the book series, the lowest-rated book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , scored 8.9/10.

Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings Books vs Movies

There is one ring to rule them all, but Sauron didn’t go to Jared to get it.

From The Lord of the Rings to The Return of the King , none of J.R.R. Tolkein’s books scored below an 8.7 rating—that’s quite an impressive feat!

While nearly all of Tolkien’s books were beloved more than the films, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring did score an 8.8, while the book scored an 8.7. These two titles came very close, but we need to give it to the film for this one.

The Hobbit Book vs Movie Ratings

In another creation of J.R.R. Tolkien, we dive into a world of fantasy with The Hobbit . Originally a single book titled, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again , the book was expanded into three modern films.

When it made its way to Hollywood, The Hobbit became a trilogy, splitting into An Unexpected Journey , The Desolation of Smaug , and The Battle of the Five Armies .

There should be no surprise that while the book scored a rating of 8.6, the average film score was 7.7—an admirable effort, but still not better than the books.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Book vs Movie Ratings

No, this series isn’t about a delicious meal; the hunger within the series’ name refers to an annual event in which children fight to the death—harsh.

Author Suzanne Collins crafted three books in the Hunger Games series, but Hollywood translated the works into four movies, splitting the last book into two parts.

Reviews found all of Collins’ works to be rated better than the movie series with the last book scoring 1.5 points higher than the film adaptation.

Twilight Book vs Movie Ratings

Sparkling vampires, attractive werewolves, and a huge serving of paranormal romance—that’s how to describe Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.

While both the books and films served as a cultural phenomenon, critics didn’t hold back any punches. None of the movies scored above a 5.5 rating with the worst film, New Moon , scoring only a 4.7.

If you’re looking for a romance with a teenage vampire or werewolf, you’re likely to find a better experience within the books.

Jason Bourne

Bourne Identity Book vs Movie Ratings

To viewers of the films, Matt Damon is the spy-gone-rogue, Jason Bourne, in Robert Ludlum’s series of heart-pounding adventures, but the series started on paper.

Originating in the 1980s as a series of novels, Ludlum’s series made it to the big screen in 2002, introducing us all to Operation Treadstone.

Even if you’ve seen the movies, you’ll want to pick up the books as they all score higher than their film counterparts by an average of 0.4 points.

James Bond Book vs Movie Ratings

Bond, James Bond.

This martini-drinking man needs no introduction. James Bond is quite simply the world’s most well-known spy, which considering his occupation probably isn’t an advantage.

British writer, Ian Fleming, brought the character to life in 1953 within his novel Casino Royale . Since Bond hit the silver screen in 1962, there have been over two dozen films produced with the latest actor to portray the spy being Daniel Craig.

While the majority of Fleming’s novels were found to be better than their film adaptations, three films stood out with higher scores: Casino Royale , Goldfinger , and The Spy Who Loved Me .

Grab that book and start reading

Sorry movie-goers, when it comes down to an analysis, the majority of books score higher than their film adaptations. It appears readers win this argument over film buffs.

Then again, who says you can only enjoy your entertainment a single way? Work your way through a series of novels, then hit up Netflix to watch the latest adaptation.

If you find that your movie-watching experience isn’t streaming so smoothly, you may also want to check out the best internet providers for a more reliable connection.

Methodology and Sources

To determine whether the books or movie adaptations are better, we sourced ratings and lists from Goodreads. To compare, we sourced movie ratings from IMDb.

To determine whether the books or movie adaptations were better, we sourced seed lists of book to movie adaptations from Goodreads.

After removing duplicate titles, we normalized the Goodreads ratings on a 1-10 scale and sourced the movie ratings from IMDb to compare.

In total, 1,168 titles were analyzed.

  • Goodreads seed lists - List 1 , List 2
  • Movie data sourced from OMDB

This analysis was conducted by Reviews.org and is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with any of the entities listed above or their affiliates.

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Music & Drama » Film, Cinema & TV

The best books on film criticism, recommended by andrew sarris.

The legendary American critic, Andrew Sarris , sounds off on auteurism, his own career and the value of the traditional film-writing canon over internet innovations such as IMDB. He picks the best books on film criticism.

Interview by Eve Gerber

The best books on Film Criticism - Agee on Film by James Agee

Agee on Film by James Agee

The best books on Film Criticism - The Immediate Experience by Robert Warshow, Stanley Cavell and Lionel Trilling

The Immediate Experience by Robert Warshow, Stanley Cavell and Lionel Trilling

The best books on Film Criticism - What is Cinema? Volume 1 by André Bazin

What is Cinema? Volume 1 by André Bazin

The best books on Film Criticism - Negative Space by Manny Farber

Negative Space by Manny Farber

The best books on Film Criticism - The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson

books and movies review

1 Agee on Film by James Agee

2 the immediate experience by robert warshow, stanley cavell and lionel trilling, 3 what is cinema volume 1 by andré bazin, 4 negative space by manny farber, 5 the new biographical dictionary of film by david thomson.

Before we talk about film criticism’s golden era, let me ask a question about its future: Do you think the paring of print payrolls, the proliferation of viewer reviews, and the emergence of Internet aggregators, like Metacritic, will spell an end to serious criticism? And if serious criticism no longer pays, what will fuel the arguments among cinephiles that used to occur under theatre marquees (at least in Woody Allen movies)?

I disagree with those who say film criticism is in crisis. There might be fewer people looking for a fight; it might be less polemical than it was when subscribing to a certain film theory could make you a marked man among your fellow critics. But I think as long as filmmakers keep making great work – like The King’s Speech – the work will resonate and we will continue to wrestle with it.

As a professor of film, I find that my students appreciate their predecessors and have greater access to good writing on film than people of previous generations.

Let’s move on to that writing, starting with James Agee. He is best remembered for his sober social reporting and his posthumously-published Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death in the Family . Agee on Film assembles essays he wrote about film during the 1940s.

I read Agee in high school. He was deeply humanistic. He was an inspiring force for me as well as for many other critics. He was a message critic, very much concerned with what film said, and very sociologically oriented.

“Before the auteurists, Hitchcock was considered trivial. Now the notion that Hitchcock’s body of work was important is not so controversial.”

As someone who experienced so much success writing about topics other than film, he brought a great deal of style and a great deal of prestige to film criticism. I’ll give you an anecdote: When I was at Columbia, I applied for a creative writing course. During a personal interview with Professor F W Dupee, a legendary literary critic, I was asked what I wanted to write, and I said film criticism. He said: ‘Oh no, you don’t want to do that.  We’ve already lost Jim Agee to movies. He was a good writer until Hollywood got to him.’ That was the attitude that people had. But Agee blazed a path that other great writers would follow.

Let’s move on to The Immediate Experience, a collection of criticism by Robert Warshow, who died in 1955. His analyses of the archetypes of mid-century cinema, including cowboys and gangsters, were so canonical that this collection was published in 1962 and then republished in 2002.

He died at a very young age – he was 37 – but he had a tremendous influence on many contemporary critics. You read him to get a different slant on film and criticism. He took movies as they were, and didn’t ask them to bear the weight of social messages.

Warshow focused on the ‘immediate experience’ of the viewer – how a movie moved a man. He, in fact, preferred the term ‘movie’ to the more highfalutin ‘film’. He suggested that we should judge films based on the emotional effect they have on us.

He concentrated on films that were not fashionable and directors that were not fashionable.  He was a great champion of the B-picture and the action picture, movies that were dismissed by mainstream critics. He didn’t look down on films because of their genre. He had a tremendous effect on people in academe. He made people rethink films and rethink what made a great film. When you read him today, what he wrote still jumps off the page.

The next collection you chose, if we go in chronological order, has a very different point of view. This is What is Cinema by André Bazin, France’s most esteemed film critic .

Bazin was the antithesis of Russian film theorist and director Sergei Eisenstein, who posited that film didn’t become film until it was sliced up and served montage-style.  Eisenstein advocated for the collision of images and conflict of classes in films. Bazin believed that films should be smooth, and needn’t be so socially weighty; he felt that films should have a realism to them. He focused on mise-en-scène, as opposed to montage.

Bazin was one of the founders of the Cahiers du Cinema, which popularised the auteur theory of film.

You are credited – and were at times blamed – for importing Bazin’s theory of auteurism to the States. Can you explain the theory and how it influenced the course of film criticism?

Auterism acknowledged that the director was the dominant personality in films and that films reflected a director’s vision. That was how it changed the trajectory of criticism. It was accused of ignoring every other contributor and technician involved in film – unfairly so.

Auteurism helped us understand that a director’s work should be judged on its artistry rather than its subject matter. Before I became familiar with the work of Bazin, I felt that film had to be ambitious and socially conscious to be valuable. Bazin and Cahiers helped me realise that cinema was sui generis , that film didn’t have to prove its social relevance, and that film should be judged on its own terms.

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But back then, bucking mainstream American criticism and showing appreciation for commercial pictures was a risky proposition. My first review (for The Village Voice) was of Psycho ; because I treated Hitchcock as a major artist, and Psycho as a masterpiece, I got a major, major amount of hate mail. Before the auteurists, Hitchcock was considered trivial. Now the notion that Hitchcock’s body of work was important is not so controversial.

Let’s move on to the work of a very different critic. Manny Farber (the author of Negative Space) wrote about film for Time, The Nation, and Artforum from the late 40s through the early 70s. 

Manny Farber was the ultimate iconoclast. He pointed out the ways in which some of the most revered directors of the era, such as John Huston, were pretentious and insensitive to the medium. At times he would underrate people who were overrated. On the other hand, he brought to broader attention some directors who had previously been dismissed as insignificant, such as Samuel Fuller. Like Warshow, Farber uplifted action movies.

Some credit Faber with creating a prose style that matched the fluidity of film. 

He was a great writer. I think his reviews read better now than they did at the moment he wrote them.

Farber is remembered for favouring what he called ‘termite art’, art which burrowed into its subject matter in a down-to-earth way, over ‘white elephant art’, which pretentiously trumpeted its own importance. Did his focus on the value of ‘termite art’ alter perceptions of popular cinema? 

Farber took unpretentious films seriously, and encouraged others to do so too. He influenced not just filmgoers, but also filmmakers. He had the same kind of influence on the new directors of the 70s that Bazin had on the Nouvelle Vague of the 60s. I think the cinema of Spielberg and Scorsese was much influenced by Farber.

Your final choice is The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, by David Thomson. It was first published in 1975, and a fifth edition just came out in October. Tell me why you selected this over other reference works. 

This volume is a compendium of biographical profiles of just about every major figure in film. But it is really much more than a movie reference book; Thomson writes better than almost any other encyclopaedic critic. And he writes with a great deal of humour. He packs a lot into each entry in his Dictionary. 

Thomson is a great analyst of acting. He did the same thing with actors that Bazin did with directors: he ennobled their work and made us all see how cinema depends on them.

Why is Thomson’s work still worth reading in the age of IMDB? Why is any of this criticism still worth reading?

The work of these critics is just much more nuanced than what you can find on Internet movie databases. Agee, Bazin, Faber, Warshow, and Thomson still make great reading today. They don’t just broaden our knowledge of film; they deepen it.

Are today’s critics serving more as consumer guides?

All critics were in some sense consumer guides. There is nothing wrong with being a consumer guide. I know that the term is used in derogation. But the best writers were also the best consumer guides.

March 9, 2011

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Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris was a film critic and professor of film studies (1969–2010) at Columbia University. In 1960 Sarris began writing for the Village Voice. Sarris outlined his radical approach to film criticism in the essay “Notes on the Auteur Theory” (1962). He also applied the approach in his influential book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929–1968 (1968). Sarris left the Village Voice in 1989 to write for the New York Observer, where he remained for 20 years.

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The best film books of 2020

Histories, memoirs and valedictions, but also treasure troves of props and intergalactic graphic art, and an anthology of the female gaze: here are our ten best movie books of 2020.

20 December 2020

Sight and Sound

There are a daunting number of books on film and television published each year, in a field that ranges from light, popular works through to the most specialist academic texts.

Our monthly coverage of new film books in the pages of S&S tries to steer a course through that terrain, and the list below is a selection of ten titles that reflect the variety covered this year, and that impressed our reviewers or the editorial team. They’re not presented in any ranked order, but are merely ten standouts from a crowded field. They cover the waterfront, from in-depth biographies to revealing memoirs, and from picture-led tomes to an exciting collection of essays on the subject of female desire and the cinema.

One of the key stories of the year in film-book publishing came with the relaunch of BFI Publishing’s long-running Film Classics monographs series back in May, with the publication of 20 titles in a new design – a mixture of new works, on films including Babette’s Feast and Touch of Evil, and reissued back-catalogue titles with new introductions – among them Camille Paglia’s entry on The Birds , Ed Guerrero’s on Do the Right Thing and S&S ’s own Pamela Hutchinson’s excellent book on Pandora’s Box . The relaunch signalled what BFI Publishing says will be a “change in focus”, with greater diversity being sought in the films covered and writers used. It will be interesting to see where the always essential series goes in the next few years.

— James Bell

See much more of our review of the year in our Winter 2020-21 double issue

Our biggest-ever issue takes stock of 2020 with our annual polls of the best films and television of the year and surveys of the state of different regions and genres.

books and movies review

10. The Star Wars Archives

Paul Duncan (Taschen)

The latest lavishly produced doorstep Taschen collection of stills, designs and other material drawn from the archives by author Paul Duncan, after his books on Kubrick, Chaplin and many others.

books and movies review

Linn Ullmann (Hamish Hamilton)

Ullmann’s novel/memoir about growing up as the daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.

“At once loving, original and mischievous.”

— Hannah McGill, S&S  October 2020

books and movies review

8. Cary Grant

A brilliant disguise.

Scott Eyman (Simon &  Schuster)

“A remarkable read. A fluent account of a complex life, and one that relishes the complexity.”

— Pamela Hutchinson, S&S Winter 2020-21

books and movies review

7. The Beginning or the End

How hollywood – and america – learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Greg Mitchell (New Press)

Enjoyable account of the making of a 1947 MGM feature about the atomic bomb.

“An eminently readable book about an unwatchable movie.”

— J. Hoberman, S&S  December 2020

books and movies review

6. Conclusions

John Boorman (Faber)

Reflections on a life spent both in and outside of filmmaking from the now 87-year-old director.

“An enjoyable mixture of memoir, reflections and advice for filmmakers.”

— Philip Horne, S&S  Summer 2020

books and movies review

5. Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks

Adam Nayman (Abrams)

A sharp run through PTA ’s films.

“A fun read, insightful and brimming with pop cultural gusto.”

— Tom Charity, S&S  November 2020

books and movies review

4. Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps

Designing graphic props for filmmaking.

Annie Atkins (Phaidon)

A fascinating trove of intricate, meticulous graphic material produced for films by regular Wes Anderson collaborator Annie Atkins.

books and movies review

3. She Found It at the Movies

Women writers on sex, desire and cinema.

Christina Newland (Red Press)

Fascinating collection of writing on female and non-binary desire and the movies.

“Intoxicating… profound, provocative and deeply personal.”

— Nikki Baughan, S&S May 2020

books and movies review

2. Made Men

The story of goodfellas.

Glenn Kenny (Hanover Square Press)

In-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of Scorsese’s mid-career mobster masterpiece, with many new interviews.

“It’s a heady and compelling account, told in a conversational style that blends critical analysis and oral history, weaving sometimes contradictory tales from key players into a single narrative… From its untold anecdotes to its salient critique of contemporary know-nothing potshots at Scorsese, it’s one of those books you can’t believe hasn’t been written already. Let’s just be grateful it finally has.”

— Christina Newland, S&S  October 2020

books and movies review

1. The Big Goodbye

Chinatown and the last years of hollywood.

Sam Wasson (Faber)

An engrossing account of the making of Polanski’s Chinatown.

“This is an exceptional film book, far more than the production history of Chinatown, and so vividly written… Wasson writes about Los Angeles with the same love and diligence Robert Towne brought to his script, sensitive to the city’s nocturnal beauty, the unexpected wafts and hidden eddies of romance. He also, like Towne, deftly links personal histories with greater social and political shifts… I welled up over the final page… The Big Goodbye is worthy of Chinatown, this unforgettable movie – high praise indeed.”

— Tom Charity, S&S  March 2020

Further reading

The best blu-rays and dvds of 2020, the best television series of 2020.

By James Bell

The 50 best films of 2020

Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more

News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.

Other things to explore

10 films to watch at borderlines 2024.

By Faye D. Effard

5 things to watch this weekend – 16 to 18 February

By Matthew Thrift

10 great Italian pastoral films

By Pasquale Iannone

Den of Geek

63 Film Books That Are Well Worth Your Time

Looking for good books about the movies to read? We've got a bumper selection of recommendations right here...

books and movies review

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This article originally appeared on  Den of Geek UK.

A confession. I actually started writing this article in 2013, and the reason you’ve only reading it now is that I’ve made sure I’ve read every book on this list, save for one or two where I’ve marked otherwise. As such, what you’re getting is a very personal list of recommendations. Each of these books has at least something to it that I think is of interest to someone wanting to learn more about film – or just enjoy stories of movie making.

I’ve tended to avoid picture books, with one exception, as these ones I’ve chosen are all intended to be chock-full of words, to relax with at the end of a long day. Which is what I did. There are one or two notable omissions, as I’m still working through a pile of books (sorry, Sidney Lumet). I’ll keep adding recommendations to the list though as I find more books I think are worth checking out. Please add your own recommendations in the comments!

Also, I should note, I’ve also avoided books that tend to be more academic. None of these are for a film studies course. All are designed for mortals like me to read.

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Some of these are out of print, and some are quite tricky to track down. Others are widely available, none of them should break the bank. They’re listed in alphabetical order, by author’s surname.

Without further ado…

Vic Armstrong – The True Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman

About half way through movie stunt legend Vic Armstrong’s memoir, I found myself wondering if it’d been a better book were it a biography rather than an autobiography. Yet I still enjoyed it, and Armstrong offers an angle on the movies that’s not often discussed.

He talks about the rise of his career in movie stunt work, sharing his views on the proliferation of CG in more recent times (the Bond movie Die Another Day gets particular criticism). Also, his stories of doubling for Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom in particular are very good value. You’ll learn lots from the book, even if it’s not always the easiest to read.

Buy  The True Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman on Amazon

Steven bach – final cut.

Here, I defer to my colleagues.  Final Cut   charts to the story of the infamous production of Heaven’s Gate . Ryan charted 10 stories of excess from the filming of the movie, gleaned from Bach’s excellent book, right here . And Aliya penned a piece about this book specifically here .

Buy Final Cut on  Amazon

John badham – i’ll be in my trailer.

Director John Badham has written a pair of books on directing movies, of which this one is the best for my money. It’s written in a dip in and out style, and that’s the best way to enjoy it too, I think. Badham is a man who’s candid that he’s learned from his mistakes on movie sets, and he’s got lots of advice for potential directors, generously illustrated with compelling examples from his own career.

Buy  I’ll Be In My Trailer  on Amazon

Peter biskind – down and dirty pictures.

In theory, this was supposed to do for the independent cinema boom of the 1990s what Easy Riders Raging Bulls (below) did for the films and filmmakers of the 1970s. As equally as contentious as its forerunner, Down And Dirty Pictures didn’t quite gel as well for me personally, yet there’s an awful lot to feast on here. And as you come to expect from Biskind’s film writing, you get a hell of a list of films to check out once you’re done.

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Buy  Down And Dirty Pictures  on Amazon

Peter biskind – easy riders raging bulls.

There have been many conversations about just how close to the mark the many stories that Peter Biskind explores in Easy Rides Raging Bulls are. But one thing is fairly certain: that by the time you get to the end of his gossip-y book, you’ll have a list of films to watch that’s comfortably in double figures (assuming you’ve not seen them before, of course).

Biskind’s book is a hugely, hugely entertainment journey though the rise of directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Hal Ashby and Brian De Palma. Funny, wildly entertaining, and one of the most wonderful journeys through 1970s cinema in print form.

Buy  Easy Riders Raging Bulls  on Amazon

Brian blessed – absolute pandemonium.

First piece of advice: get the audiobook. Blessed reads it himself. Second piece of advice: head to the chapters on Flash Gordon , and the making of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace . Utter gold.

Blessed’s new memoir also covers his landing the role of Fancy Brown in Z Cars , and takes in his theatre work as well. The film stuff is strong enough to earn it a place on this list, though. Best not to read Absolute Pandemonium while sipping a drink would be my strong advice. The number of laugh-out-loud moments in here is high.

Buy  Absolute Pandemonium  on Amazon

Bernie brillstein – where did i go right you’re no one in hollywood unless someone wants you dead.

The fact that the late Bernie Brillstein wasn’t a household name, particularly in the UK, just adds to the surprise of his 1999 autobiography. For Brillstein was instrumental in the careers of people such as Jim Henson, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. As a manager and producer, he had access to lots of behind the scenes stories, and he shares many of them, from a slightly different perspective than many others can offer. He has interesting stories to tell, and tells them very, very well.

Buy  Where Did I Go Right?  on Amazon

Billy crystal – still foolin’ em.

A warm, witty collection of essays from actor, writer, director, comedian and Oscar-host Billy Crystal. Plenty to enjoy here, too, with my favourite being the story of how Charles Bronson slammed the phone down on Crystal, insulted, after being offered Jack Palance’s role in City Slickers . The film for which Palance would finally win his Oscar…

Buy  Still Foolin’ Em  on Amazon

Michael deeley – blade runners, deer hunters & blowing the bloody doors off.

An insightful read this, and (relatively) rare in that it gives a producer’s-eye view of some very big and important movies. Michael Deeley’s stories are happy to poke at a few old wounds, and he’s a man who doesn’t pull his metaphorical punches.

Inevitably, that means you get a very one-sided version of events behind the scenes of films such as Blade Runner , The Italian Job , and The Deer Hunter . But once you settle into the fact that it’s a very subjective tale – as more autobiographies should arguably be – then it’s an entertaining book to read. Just one you’re aware that you might not be getting the full picture from.

Buy  Blader Runners, Deer Hunters & Blowing The Bloody Doors Off on Amazon

Helen de winter – what i really want to do is produce.

What differentiates some film books is the enviable access they’d had to the right people. That’s certainly the case with Helen de Winter’s comprehensive What I Really Want To Do Is Produce . In it, she tries to get to the bottom of what film producing is about, and how to break into it. And in doing so, she talks to the likes of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, Lawrence Bender, and Lord Of The Rings producer Bob Shaye.

Each has different approaches to their job, and de Winter takes time to find out about them, then present the information in a digestible way. No shortage of good anecdotes, too…

Buy  What I Really Want To Do Is Produce  on Amazon

Kirk douglas – i am spartacus.

Kirk Douglas has penned many books , but I thought I Am Spartacus was really quite something. It’s an economical piece of work, that in turn tells the story of Douglas producing and starring in Spartacus , whilst also helping break the Hollywood blacklist.

The blacklist side of the story comes from the hiring of Dalton Trumbo (now the subject of a biopic starring Bryan Cranston), and that’s arguably the best bit of the book. His stories of visiting Trumbo, living in Hollywood exile, are expertly told.

But then so is the story of changing directors on Spartacus , and coming to work with Stanley Kubrick. It won’t take too long to read I Am Spartacus , but it’s very much worth the effort.

Buy  I Am Spartacus  on Amazon

Susan dworkin – making tootsie: a film stud y.

A little bit dry this one, perhaps, but still an interesting book, and one given a new audience by it being made available on Kindle. It digs into the making, as you can probably guess, of Sydney Pollack’s comedy classic, and in particular the intensity with which star Dustin Hoffman approached the lead role. It’s a brief read, coming in well shy of 200 pages, but delivers very much on the promise of its title.

Buy  Making Tootsie: A Film Study  on Amazon

Joe eszterhas – hollywood animal.

A very long, sometimes rambling, but very often utterly gripping autobiography of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. The meat for movie fans will be in his candid description of the rise and fall of his screenwriting career ( and we touched on just a fraction of that here ). We get the expensive script sales, the arguments, taking on the most powerful man in Hollywood at the time (agent Mike Ovitz) and the making of some of the movies themselves.

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What we also get is Eszterhas’ complex upbringing, his marriages, his battle with the bottle, and often a picture painted of a not very nice man. Comfortably one of the longest books on this list, it’s worth sticking with it through its slower parts, not least because it’s an insightful glimpse of Hollywood in the ’80s and ’90s.

Buy  Hollywood Animal  on Amazon

Robert evans – the kid stays in the picture.

From the heady heights of heading up Paramount in the 1970s, to a fast fall from the top fuelled by excess, Robert Evans has quite a tale to tell. Across two books, he both tells it very well, and in a very tired way. So stick with the first, the engrossing The Kid Stays In The Picture . It leaves him on the verge of what would prove to be an unsuccessful comeback – The Saint and Sliver were on his slate at the time – but his stories from behind the scenes of Love Story and The Godfather , for instance, are engrossing.

Robert Evans is clearly a man in love with himself, by the tone of his prose. Plus you won’t be left in much doubt that he’s led something of a sleazy life. Yet for some reason, books about ’70s Hollywood rarely fail to deliver. This is no exception.

Buy  The Kid Stays In The Picture  on Amazon

Corey feldman – coreyography: a memoir.

Corey Feldman has lived more lives in his time on Earth already than many of us will ever manage, and his open, revealing memoir is pretty frank about them. It’s heavily movie-centric, going behind the scenes on the likes of The Goonies and The Lost Boys , before detailing his current run of DTV productions. But it’s most haunting for the stories of what it’s like being a child star, with a very pushy parent. Difficult to read at times, as it should be, Feldman puts his heart and soul onto the page in a very strong book.

Buy  Coreyography: A Memoir  on Amazon

Angus finney – the egos have landed.

Palace Pictures was, at one stage, the biggest force in UK cinema. At a point where the British film industry was in the doldrums, Palace – in the ’80s and ’90s – managed to get films such as The Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game through the system.

But the methods Palace used – with films heading into production before full financing was in place – led to a house of proverbial cards the eventually came tumbling down. Angus Finney’s book captures some of that. And whilst its still leaves the door open for perhaps a more definitive tome on the Palace era, it’s a fascinating snapshot of a very British riches to rags story.

Buy  The Egos Have Landed  on Amazon

Charles fleming – high concept: don simpson and the hollywood culture of excess.

This doesn’t feel like the definitive telling of uber-producer Don Simpson’s life. Perhaps if his one-time business partner Jerry Bruckheimer ever writes an autobiography, then there’ll be a little less varnish.

Still, Fleming does a solid job charting the rise and premature death of Top Gun and Days Of Thunder producer Don Simpson. There’s a lot more excess charted than there is movie insight delivered, and it might have worked best as a series of articles rather than a book. But it’s hard not to get something out of High Concept .

Buy  High Concept  on Amazon

Michael j fox – lucky man.

As you might expect, Michael J Fox’s first memoir focuses on his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, and the way he has fought from that point. Lucky Man is also intertwined with some candid conversation about his movie career, and the choices that he made. For instance, Fox details signing a three picture deal with Universal Pictures in the early 1990s, and how that proved to be a good idea only in the short term.

Fox’s voice is engrained through Lucky Man , and it’s a rounded, moving and very human piece of work.

Buy  Lucky Man  on Amazon

Hadley freeman – life moves pretty fast.

You don’t have to spend long with Google to find articles from people on why movies of a particular era mattered to them so much. What makes Hadley Freeman’s terrific Life Moves Pretty Fast stand out is that not only does she come up with interesting reasons as to why her films of choice worked so well, but that she’s woven that in alongside chats with some of the people behind them.

Her choices are fiercely mainstream too. And given how the bookshelves of Waterstones have a habit of creaking under the weight of academic dissections of less well known features, Life Moves Pretty Fast is all the more accessible for celebrating such ultimately successful films.

Buy  Life Moves Pretty Fast  on Amazon

Caseen gaines – we don’t need roads: the making of the back to the future trilogy.

An unofficial guide to the putting together of the Back To The Future films, albeit with enough access to key personnel to give it a bit of extra lift. If there’s a flaw with Gaines’ well-researched and likeable book, it’s that it gives the sequels – which arguably have enough stories of their own to fill a book – quite short shrift. A pity, as many of the tales of the first film are already well known. Still, Gaines is a passionate host, and it’s hard not to be swept along by his love and enthusiasm for his subject matter.

Buy  We Don’t Need Roads  on Amazon

William goldman – adventures in the screen trade.

Not for nothing is William Goldman’s Adventures In The Screen Trade known as one of the very best books about film ever written. It’s the book in which Goldman came up with the phrase “nobody knows anything” to describe how people keep trying to predict the ingredients for a successful movie. Yet the pages are dripping with stories that are gold dust for self-respecting movie nerds. Superbly written, as you’d expect, decades on, Goldman’s book is still hard to beat.

Buy  Adventures In The Screen Trade  on Amazon

William goldman – which lie did i tell.

A sequel of sorts to Adventures In The Screen Trade , Which Lie Did I Tell? brings thing a little more up to date. Published in 2001, it covers Goldman’s work on films such as The Chamber , Maverick , and Misery . Plus it’s got plenty of tips for wannabe-screenwriters, and some superb analysis of what does and doesn’t work on film.

Buy  Which Lie Did I Tell?  on Amazon

Richard e grant – with nails.

The film writing of Richard E Grant is something to be cherished, not least because he published his outstanding movie diaries – With Nails – whilst very much at his most in-demand.

Grant turns his witty, critical eye to the likes of Hudson Hawk (his account of this one being a particular delight), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (a movie you can feel him aching to like slightly more than he ultimately did) and L.A. Story . As a snapshot of ’90s movie-making, it’s pretty much unparalleled, all the better for us not having to wait 20 years until these stories spilled out.

Grant’s subsequent film book, The Wah Wah Diaries , is also worth a look – an incisive and intelligent look at making his debut movie as director, Wah Wah .

Buy  Richard E Grant  on Amazon

Nancy griffin and kim masters – hit & run.

A spiky, terrifically-written look at when Peter Guber and Jon Peters ran Columbia Pictures in the early 1990s. In particular, the superb insight into just what went wrong with the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Last Action Hero is reason enough to pick the book up.

As with many Hollywood true stories, it’s so bizarre and far-fetched there are moments of pinch-yourself madness in here. And yet, it seems, it was all true. One of the best books out there about 1990s Hollywood.

Buy  Hit & Run  on Amazon

Peter guber and peter bart – shoot out.

The astonishing era at Paramount Pictures in the 1970s has been richly covered in film books, but there’s room in producer and eventual Sony studio head Peter Guber for a few more tales.

Shoot Out – which was turned into a television series – was published in 2003, and thus it doesn’t cover his more recent career heading up Mandalay Entertainment. But between him and former Variety editor Peter Bart, there’s enough behind the scenes meat here to warrant seeking out a copy.

Buy  Shoot Out  on Amazon

Don hahn – brain storm.

Not ostenisbly a movie book, Don Hahn’s Brain Storm is nonetheless bursting with movie anecdotes, of particular interest to animation fans. Hahn, the producer of films such as The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast , has put together a book that gets across ways to make your work more creative, and how to capture that spirit in others. But the bonus here is in the proverbial margins, as Hahn offers tips and examples from across his movie making career.

Buy  Brain Storm  on Amazon

Jane hamsher – killer instinct.

Whether you came to love or loathe Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers , the story behind bringing it to the screen is worth a read. There’s the fact that original screenwriter Quentin Tarantino became, er, ‘not a fan’ of the way his story was being treated. There’s the moment where Stone caught one particular shot, with the added incentive of free goodies if he did. And there’s ultimately the story of young producers biting off, at first, seemingly more than they can chew, and eventually steering one of the 90s’ most controversial movies to the screen.

Buy  Killer Instinct  on Amazon

Mark harris – scenes from a revolution.

A really, really satisfying read this one, that takes the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967, and charts how each had their part to play in shaping the future of Hollywood. Harris is an excellent guide, from the tittle-tattle behind the scenes of the bloated Dr. Dolittle , to the struggles just to get Warner Bros to fully back Bonnie & Clyde .

Wonderfully researched and a joy to read, Harris’ Five Came Back also comes strongly recommended.

Buy  Scenes From A Revolution  on Amazon

Peter hanson and paul robert herman – tales from the script.

It’s the level of access that Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman has enjoyed that makes Tales From The Script such a vital book for wannabe screenwriters. It’s packed with anecdotes about the film industry, and in particular, how the development process dilutes and in many cases weakens the ideas that have got a film interesting a movie studio in the first place. Contributions come from the likes of Frank Darabont, the late Nora Ephron, William Goldman and Shane Black, amongst many others.

Buy  Tales From The Script  on Amazon

Dade hayes and jonathan bing – open wide: how hollywood box office became a national obsession.

Box office analyis used to be purely for film trade magazines, now it’s a meal feasted on by thousands of websites and publications. The 2006 book Open Wide dug into this, and it’s at its best when it zeroes in on a trio of movies as they approach their release in summer 2003. The films? Terminator 3 , DreamWorks’ Sinbad , and Legally Blonde 2 .

It’s interesting to read just how far in advance the film companies concerned knew they had problems, or otherwise (especially DreamWorks, in this instance). And whilst Open Wide can be tough to get through at times, when Hayes and Bing devote their attention to those three movies, the results are excellent.

Buy  Open Wide  on Amazon

Robert hofler – party animals.

Or to give it its full title: Party Animals – A Hollywood Tale Of Sex, Drugs And Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring The Fabulous Allan Carr .

Penned by Robert Hofler, this biography charts the rise of producer Allan Carr, whose name adorns most infamously both Grease and the Village People movie musical, Can’t Stop The Music . Oh, and Grease 2 .

It’s a story of parties, excess and famous names, although it does feel like – a harsh criticism for a biography, granted – this is a very familiar tale. However, the stories of some of Carr’s parties alone make for good reading, and we also get an insightful glimpse at the insecurities beneath a one-time big name producer.

Buy  Party Animals  on Amazon

David hughes – tales from development hell.

An update to his earlier book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made , the trick to David Hughes’ excellent Tales From Development Hell is that he’s dug deep to find the real stories behind fabulous-sounding movies that never happened. His book charts the battles behind Darreon Aronofsky’s Batman , Ridley Scott’s Crisis In The Hot Zone , and productions that have since been realized, including Indiana Jones 4 and the now-in-development Sandman .

In the last addition, he also adds a chapter where he discusses his own screenwriting, and this too proves to be insightful and well worth reading. The structure of the book makes it one to easily dip and out of, too.

Buy  Tales From Development Hell  on Amazon

Anjelica huston – watch me: a memoir.

As with many memoirs on this list, Huston’s latest book, Watch Me , talks around the movies as much as about them. Yet there are real gems in here, not least her working with her father, John Huston, on his last film.

Huston manages to be open and engaging without being snarky and nasty, and her writing is perceptive and captivating. I found myself breezing through this one, and enjoying it, in next to no time.

Buy  Watch Me: A Memoir  on Amazon

Brian jay jones – jim henson: the biography.

Inevitably covering Henson’s early work, experimental shorts and television breakthrough with the likes of The Muppets and Sesame Street , there’s also no shortage of material here for movie nerds to feast on.

In particular, it’s hard not to applaud as Henson delves into The Dark Crystal , without any semblance of a completed script in place. Then there’s the sheer ambition in The Muppet Movie and Labyrinth . It’s an exhaustive biography, but crucially not a rose-tinted one. It’s a richly rewarding read, too.

Buy  Jim Henson: The Biography  on Amazon

Dave itzkoff – mad as hell.

I’ve a real soft spot for books that go into forensic detail about the making of just one film. But even without that, David Itzkoff’s superb dissection about the making of Sidney Lumet’s classic Network would be a must-read.

New interviews and archive material are skilfully woven together, and the end result is a wonderful piece of work, about a really wonderful movie. Credit, too, for focusing so heavily on screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky.

Buy  Mad As Hell  on Amazon

Rebecca keegan – the futurist: the life and films of james cameron.

Aided by having access to her subject, Rebecca Keegan has here put together a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the movie career of James Cameron, right up to the release of Avatar . It’s got a lot to cover in its near-300 pages, and if there’s a frustration, it’s that the production of each of Cameron’s movies feels like it deserves a book of this ilk in its own right.

Still, Keegan absolutely doesn’t short-change you when it comes to anecdotes about the man himself. Our favourite? On the set of True Lies , Cameron barking at Arnold Schwarzenneger “would you rather have Paul Verhoeven directing this?”. Priceless.

Buy  The Futurist  on Amazon

Mark kermode – it’s only a movie.

Mark Kermode has done a trilogy of books thus far that are his broader takes on cinema (as opposed to, for his instance, his excellent BFI tome on Silent Running ). I’ve enjoyed the other two – Hatchet Job and The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex – a lot. But It’s Only A Movie just about edges them for me.

Ostensibly an autobiography, it’s actually Kermode talking about his upbringing through films. As such, he paints a picture of growing up with double bills, the excitement of discovering new filmmakers, his love of horror and – as you’d expect – The Exorcist . It’s a witty, immensely readable piece of work.

Buy  It’s Only A Movie  on Amazon

Michael kuhn – one hundred films and a funeral.

A little bit clinical this one, but if you like your film books nerdy, and with a managerial focus, then it’s worth at least checking a local library for. After all, it’s the only book on this list that attempts to break down the mechanics of budgeting a motion picture. Furthermore, the story of how Kuhn helped build up Polygram Films in the UK – and in particular his hand in turning Four Weddings And A Funeral into a success, is rewarding. Not always the easiest to get through, but there’s the kind of nuggets in here you don’t find elsewhere.

Buy  One Hundred Films And A Funeral  on Amazon

Nicole laporte and stephen hoye – the men who would be king.

The ambitious plan by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to set up the first major Hollywood movie studio since United Artists enjoyed some success. Still, over 20 years on, DreamWorks is a different beast to the one it once was. Nicole LaPorte and Stephen Hoye’s chatty history goes through the creation of the studio, and how it stumbled through its early days before hitting success with the likes of Gladiator and American Beauty .

Russell Crowe infamously called at least one of its facts to account around the time of the book’s publication, but it’s still a decent read, that pulls together much of the early DreamWorks story.

Buy  The Men Who Would Be King  on Amazon

John leguizamo – pimps, hos, playa hatas and all the rest of my hollywood friends.

Dear John Leguizamo: please write more books.

Rare amongst his peers for writing an honest, candid and hilarious book about the people around him whilst still working with some of them, his 2006 book is quite brilliant. The Steven Seagal anecdote from the set of Executive Decision alone justifies the book’s existence. As you might expect, that’s the proverbial tip of a quite wonderful proverbial iceberg.

Buy  Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas And All The Rest Of My Hollywood Friends on Amazon

Art linson – what just happened bitter hollywood tales from the front line.

Also subsequently made into a film, What Just Happened? sees producer Art Linson taking us through his world of movie-making, and the difficulties that lie wherein. It’s not an easy book to read in one sitting, giving that Linson jumps around an awful lot. But he does have things to say about the making of movies such as Fight Club , the underrated The Edge , and Great Expectations , that make this an intriguing tome for those interested in ’90s Hollywood.

Buy  What Just Happened?  on Amazon

David mamet – bambi vs godzilla.

Perhaps not quite the great film book you’d expect and hope for from David Mamet, Bambi Vs Godzilla is nonetheless a useful look at the Hollywood system. This time, it’s primarily from Mamet’s screenwriting and occasionally directing perspective, and he shares his bemusement at many parts of the filmmaking process. You might not quite get as much out of the book as you’d hope, but I still quite enjoyed it.

Buy  Bambi Vs Godzilla  on Amazon

Garry marshall – wake me when it’s funny.

Marshall, the director of films such as Pretty Woman and Beaches , has written two memoirs, but I confess I’ve only read this one. It was worth it, though. The book explores his rise to prominence through his work writing, producing and directing on the liks of Happy Days and Mork & Mindy . It then takes in his movie career (albeit, given when the book was written, stopping in the 1990s).

Marshall’s an entertaining storytelling, but I also liked very much his detailed stories, of how he went about getting certain scenes to work. Good stuff.

Buy  Wake Me When It’s Funny  on Amazon

Jack matthews – the battle of brazil.

A wonderfully-researched tale of Hollywood horror, that, of course, is also true. The Battle Of Brazil is the story of how Terry Gilliam and Universal Pictures came to butt heads over the director’s richly acclaimed 1985 movie, Brazil .

The book covers the story of the studio’s fight with the filmmaker, and the infamous putting together of the ‘Love Conquers All’ cut of the movie. Furthermore, there’s Gilliam’s campaign to persuade Universal to release a movie that was picking up awards, even if nobody could see it.

The book also features the director’s cut of the screenplay. An astonishing story, excellently told by Matthews.

Buy  The Battles of Brazil  on Amazon

Simon mayo and mark kermode –  the movie doctors.

Don’t be fooled! What looks like it may just be a tie-in book to their excellent Wittertainment Radio Five Live film review programme, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode have put together a thumping good film book instead. Capturing the tone of their excellent radio show whilst finding (lots of) space for detailed film essays, quick recommendations and lots of film chatter, it’s a beautifully presented, absorbing piece of work.

Buy The Movie Doctors  on Amazon

Mike medavoy – you’re only as good as your next one.

The co-founder of Orion Pictures, and one-time head of TriStar, Mike Medavoy has had his fingers in an awful lot of film pies. Films greenlighted on his watch include The Terminator , The Silence Of The Lambs , Cliffhanger , and Sleepless In Seattle .

His book, subtitled 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films And 100 For Which I Should Be Shot , is a little scattergun. But, not for the first time on this list, he offers a snapshot of what it was like to be making movies, and getting them through the system, across the 1970s through to the 1990s. He’s a strong guide, too, with enough insight and access to put across an account with real substance to it.

Buy  You’re Only As Good As Your Next One  on Amazon

Ryan north – b^f: the novelization of the feature film.

A book that no Back To The Future fan should be without. Originally posted as a Tumblr blog, what Ryan North has done here is taken the utterly bizarre original novelization of Back To The Future by the late George Gipe, and done a forensic scene by scene comparison with the film.

The star of the show is North, though, thanks to his breathlessly funny writing style. Rarely has such a factual dissection induced such mirth. Given the structure of the book – an assembling of the aforementioned Tumblr posts – it’s best to read this one in pieces, rather than in one go.

Buy  B^F: The Novelization Of The Feature Film on Amazon

Lynda obst – hello, he lied: and other truths from the hollywood trenches.

Producer Lynda Obst has written a couple of books about working in Hollywood, but this one is probably the best of them. It’s more aimed at those wanting to work in the business, or get advice on surviving it. But for outsides, Obst still has interesting tales to tell. Her insight into how, for instance, the movie Crisis In The Hot Zone failed to materialize is eye-opening.

Buy  Hello, He Lied  on Amazon

David a price – the pixar touch.

One part the making of a technology company, another part the story of John Lasseter’s thirst to make animated films, David A Price’s The Pixar Touch is a terrific read. In particular, Lasseter’s drive to make massive, film-changing breakthroughs in digital animation.

Yet Price doesn’t neglect the Pixar culture, the Steve Jobs influence (and doubts), and the ultimate battles with Disney. It’s an enthralling read, and well worth pairing with Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc for a fuller look at the life and times of Pixar, and how it came to be.

Buy  The Pixar Touch  on Amazon

Robert rodriguez – rebel without a crew.

How far would you go to get your first feature funded? In the case of Robert Rodriguez – now best known, of course, for the likes of Spy Kids and the Sin City films – he’d sell his body to medical science.

Rebel With A Crew charts Rodriguez trying to get his first full feature – the micro-budget El Mariachi – funded and made. In his extremely candid book, he’s as open about the technical challenges he faced in the edit as he is the lengths he’d go to in order to secure finance. It’s a captivating, outstanding read.

Buy Rebel With A Crew  on Amazon

Jake rossen – superman vs hollywood.

It stops before we get to the current era, as Zack Snyder takes cinematic ownership of the Superman screen franchise, but Jake Rossen’s history of Hollywood’s flirtation with the Man of Steel is still perhaps the best account out there.

The book tries to do an awful lot, but finally comes into its own when it moves onto the Salkinds, and how they brought the first four Superman films to the screen. In particular, the challenges of making the first two back to back, and the subsequent fallout with director Richard Donner. We then get the Superman III and Superman IV problems dissected.

The Death Of Superman Lives movie picks up the later story slightly better, but this is still an empassioned account of how Hollywood has dealt with a comic book icon.

Buy  Superman Vs Hollywood  on Amazon

Danny rubins – how to write groundhog day.

Less a great book perhaps, more a really, really interesting one. For what sets Rubins’ story of taking his idea to the movies apart is he charts the before, middle and after of its development. All from the writers’ perspective. On top of that, you get the original script for Groundhog Day that Rubins wrote, which is notably different, before it went through the system.

Rubins is open about the process he went through, and about what director Harold Ramis brought to it (eventually sharing screenwriting credit). It’s not a textbook, though, rather that Rubins puts a very human perspective on what happened. His book, especially considering the classic movie that came out at the end of it, rewards the time you give it.

Buy  How To Write Groundhog Day  on Amazon

Julie salamon – the devil’s candy.

The real gift of Julie Salamon’s superb telling of the making of the movie The Bonfire Of The Vanities is that she has you absolutely rooting for it. Accepting that the movie was a notorious early 90s Hollywood bomb (eclipsed in Bruce Willis’ career soon after when the knives came out for Hudson Hawk ), Salamon is a patient, diligent observer. She charts how one of the most compelling books of its time was chewed up by the Hollywood system, with director Brian De Palma desperately trying to shape a worthwhile picture at the end of it all.

The Devil’s Candy has been described as the greatest book on the making of a film ever written. I couldn’t personally call that. But I can tell you it’s surely a candidate…

Buy The Devil’s Candy  on Amazon

Michael sellers – john carter and the gods of hollywood.

Andrew Stanton’s John Carter movie seems resigned to living – in the minds of some – in the annals of Hollywood failures. The hugely expensive blockbuster had a muddled released, and the film certainly had problems. Yet few people have got to the heart of quite what happened as effectively as Michael Sellers.

Sellers takes the project from its early stages, through to the botched marketing campaign and its eventual release. He has a perspective on it, given that he ran a John Carter fan site that was clearly doing a better job of selling the film than Disney was. Once or twice, perhaps, his focus shifts a little more towards his site than the key task in hand. But that’s a minor grumble, in what turns out to be a riveting account of how a film that Hollywood had been trying to bring to the screen for 100 years fell at the release hurdle.

Buy  John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood  on Amazon

Robert sellers – very naughty boys , hellraisers.

Robert Sellers is the author of a bunch of fascinating, quite gossipy film books, each of which are written in an accessible, non-academic way. That’s not to sell them short. Sellers is clearly fascinated with his subjects, and that can’t help but come across on the page.

His best? Well, I’m going for two.

Firstly, the rise of Handmade Films is charted in Very Naughty Boys . Founded by George Harrison, Handmade had an at-times guerilla approach to getting movies made, and amongst the productions it’d be responsible for were Monty Python’s Life Of Brian and Time Bandits . There’s an inevitable fall to the rise part of the story, yet Sellers has a style that takes you through 1980s British moviemaking, as if you and he have drinks on the table, and he’s telling a very, very good story.

The same style permeates Hellraisers , his charting of the movie and drinking careers of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. Some of the stories he manages to uncover beggar belief, and Sellers writers about them in a warm and entertaining way.

Buy  Very Naughty Boys   and   Hellraisers  on Amazon

Dawn steel – they can kill you but they can’t eat you.

The late Dawn Steel was one of the first women to ever run a Hollywood movie studio, heading up Columbia Pictures in the late 1980s, before setting up Steel Pictures and making films such as Cool Runnings .

Steel’s memoir is a candid one, most notably for her recollection of discovering Paramount Pictures had fired her, just as she’d given birth to her daughter. Steel died tragically young, at just 51 years old. Her excellent book is a fitting tribute to her work.

Buy They Can Kill You But They Can’t Eat You  on Amazon

James b stewart – disneywar: the battle for the magic kingdom.

The boardroom battles behind the scenes at Disney in the 1990s and early 2000s left the company in a position ripe for saving – which the merger with Pixar arguably properly kickstarted. The tragic death of Frank Wells in the early 1990s led to a power struggle of sorts between Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, with the latter eventually leaving to co-found DreamWorks.

DisneyWar is a book that tries to chart all of this – and there’s both a biography and an autobiography of Michael Eisner that has a go, less successfully – and as a consequence, it does get bogged down in boardroom politics. But it’s surprisingly entertaining, and would also set the scene for a film in its own right. It also goes a long way to explaining why Disney rose and fall so dramatically across 20 or so years.

Buy  DisneyWar  on Amazon

Drew struzan and david j schow – the art of drew struzan.

I’ve tried to focus this list more on text-driven books than visual ones, but I’ll make an exception for the brilliant The Art Of Drew Struzan . The reason? Because alongside the draft poster designs for many iconic movies, the text – from Struzan and David J Schow – bothers to take us through why some ideas were rejected, why some made it through, and what Struzan’s thought process was. A real gem.

Buy The Art of Drew Struzan  on Amazon

Sharon waxman – rebels on the backlot.

A really fascinating book this one, that looks at how six films and six filmmakers at the end of the 1990s came to alter the Hollywood studio system. The filmmakers cover David O Russell, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher and Spike Jonze, amongst others. Waxman has access to most of her subjects too, and in particular, the story of how Being John Malkovich made it through the Hollywood system by simply barely being noticed is a fascinating one. An excellent book.

Buy  Rebel On The Backlot  on Amazon

Jerry weintraub – when i stop talking, you’ll know i’m dead.

The late Jerry Weintraub’s resume is testament to the fact that, at one time, he was one of Hollywood’s biggest producers. That said, his book isn’t one of a man with scores to settle. Rather, it’s a guided tour through Weintraub’s life and the entertainment industry, with few passages likely to make headlines, but the coherent whole adding up to a gently intriguing tale.

Buy When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead  on Amazon

Mara Wilson – Where Am I Now?: True Stories Of Girlhood and Accidental Fame

Not a pure film book, but Mara Wilson’s excellent memoir recounts her early experiences as a child actor, and how that conflicted with the personal tragedy she was going through at the same time. Furthermore, it’s an intelligent, wonderfully-written piece of work, that follows Wilson’s decision to move away from acting, and why…

Buy  Where Am I Now?  on Amazon

Andrew yule – hollywood a go-go: an account of the cannon phenomenon.

A tricky book to track down at a decent price (it was a lucky charity shop find for me), Hollywood A Go-Go was first published in 1987, when the rise and demise of Cannon Films was still fresh, and a little less nostalgic (the excellent documentary film Electric Boogaloo certainly had a lot more affection).

At the heart of the story is the fractious relationshop between Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and Yule doesn’t disappoint in his relaying of their tale. It’s very much worth the effort to track this one down.

Buy Hollywood A Go-Go on Amazon

A few others worth mentioning, that i’ve read and nearly put on the main list….

Gavin Edwards – Last Night At The Viper Room

Michael Uslan – The Boy Who Loved Batman

Patrick Swayze and Lisa Niemi – Time Of My Life

Tom Shone – Blockbuster

And I’m about to start reading My Indecision Is Final . Expect to see that on the main list soon…

Lead image: BigStock

Simon Brew

Simon Brew | @SimonBrew

Editor, author, writer, broadcaster, Costner fanatic. Now runs Film Stories Magazine.

books and movies review

20 Books About Movies Every Film Lover Should Own

September is a very good month for books about film. Roger Ebert’s wonderful memoir Life Itself is out in paperback; J. Hoberman’s excellent survey of 21st century cinema culture, Film After Film , is available in hardback and on Kindles; and there’s an all-new edition of Leonard Maltin’s movie guide . It’s the kind of thick, information-packed reference that is getting rarer and rarer in the IMDb age, but as Maltin notes on his Indiewire blog, “To those who think it’s been supplanted by the Internet I can only say, ‘We’re still here.’ And as someone who uses the ‘net every day, I can tell you that my colleagues and I still face surprising hurdles trying to get reliable information about brand-new movies. That’s one reason I think our book still has relevance to anyone who cares about accuracy, useful information, and of course, reviews.”

He’s right; the Maltin book is indispensible, and not just for those of us playing the home version of the “Leonard Maltin game” on Doug Loves Movies . Its newest iteration, and the embarrassment of other riches this month, got us thinking about the essential books about film; we’ve put together our suggested library after the jump, but feel free to add your own must-haves in the comments.

books and movies review

The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson

Thompson’s big, bulky, fiercely opinionated tome is the definitive movie reference book, even if his tastes run mighty persnickety (I just randomly opened to a page in the middle and found this comment, re Paul Newman: “I am skeptical of such blue-eyed likability”). But it is a thorough, comprehensive work, the result of a lifetime of viewing and understanding cinema, and the skill with which he combines filmography and criticism is astonishing.

IDEAL COMPANION: The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris is less exhaustive but no less fascinating, finding the chief American booster of the auteur theory ranking and contrasting American filmmakers from the beginning of the sound era through its publication in 1968.

books and movies review

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris

Harris is one of the most insightful film writers working today (few think pieces get at the inherent trouble with movies today like his brilliant Esquire essay “The Day the Movies Died” ). His first book examines the birth of the “New Hollywood” movement in a rather ingenious fashion: by simultaneously profiling the five films nominated for the Oscar as 1967’s Best Picture. Two were rabble-rousing films from young and inventive directors ( The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde ), two were “social change” pictures from the old guard ( Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In The Heat of the Night ), and one was a big, bloated musical extravaganza that exemplified all that was wrong with studio production ( Dr. Doolittle ). In his cinematic “intercutting” of their five stories, he paints a full and riveting picture of modern movies’ turning point.

IDEAL COMPANION: J. Hoberman’s brainy The Dream Life deals with the same period within a wider scope, taking a broad view of the Sixties and (partially) the Seventies, but drawing clear lines between the movies and the historical, cultural, and social moments that shaped them — and vice versa.

books and movies review

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

Biskind’s account of “how the sex-drugs-and rock ‘n’ roll generation saved Hollywood” is a dishy treat, equal parts appreciation and gossip, filled with fascinating stories of that brief period when Hollywood handed the keys to the kingdom over to a bunch of passionate neophytes. Endlessly informative and compulsively readable.

IDEAL COMPANION: The Movie Brats by Michael Pye and Lynda Myles is a little harder to come by — it’s out of print, having been written roughly contemporaneous to the events in question. But it’s worth tracking down: by profiling the six of the key auteurs of the era (Coppola, Lucas, DePalma, Milius, Scorsese, and Spielberg) in their prime, Pye and Myles capture something of their infectious passion and love for the cinema.

books and movies review

The Other Hollywood by Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne

This “uncensored oral history of the porn film industry” (heh heh) makes for a fascinating mirror to the Biskind and Pye/Myles volumes — here, too, was an industry that came of age in the early 1970s, only to see its “golden age” fall to commercialism in the go-go eighties. Colorful, smart, and laugh-out-loud funny, The Other Hollywood is also a must-read for Boogie Nights fans (play spot-that-inspiration!), and its riveting tale of the MIPORN operation, in which two FBI agents went undercover as porn producers and found it more seductive than they’d anticipated, is a Boogie Nights / Donnie Brasco combination movie just waiting to happen. Bonus: Co-author McNeil was also behind the essential punk rock oral history Please Kill Me .

IDEAL COMPANION: For another alternative history of seventies cinema, check out Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value , which looks at the less reputable but no less innovative filmmakers (Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, et al) who made exploitation horror into an art form.

books and movies review

Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes by John Pierson

John Pierson was at the forefront of the next truly exciting moment in indie cinema, the indie movement of the late eighties and early nineties, serving as a “producer’s rep” (getting unknown pictures in front of people who could make them known) for such films as She’s Gotta Have It , The Thin Blue Line , Roger & Me , Slacker , and Clerks . That film’s director, Kevin Smith, serves as a kind of Greek chorus for the book, popping up every couple of chapters for entertaining conversational interludes with Pierson, whose reader-friendly business sense and evocative storytelling creates a you-are-there portrait of an exciting, seemingly anything-goes period.

IDEAL COMPANION: Sharon Waxman’s Rebels on the Backlot relies more on second-person accounts, and has thus been disputed in some quarters, but it’s an awfully good read anyway. She focuses, Movie Brats -style, on six key filmmakers of the indie-to-studio migration (Tarantino, Soderbergh, Fincher, PT Anderson, David O. Russell, and Spike Jonze), masterfully capturing that movement’s combination of art and commerce. And the stories about Russell’s legendary clashes with George Clooney are not to be missed.

books and movies review

For Keeps by Pauline Kael

No writer did more to elevate the consideration of movies as art — and to make that consideration an art form itself — than the great Pauline Kael, who spent twenty-plus years at The New Yorker redrawing the boundaries of film criticism. This doorstop volume (1200-plus pages) collects all of the essentials, and a good many treats besides: her verbose and brilliant take on Bonnie and Clyde , her hyperbolic yet persuasive praise of Last Tango in Paris , her fascinatingly nuanced struggle with Straw Dogs , the entirety of her controversial Citizen Kane appreciation, and “Trash, Art, and the Movies,” which may well be the single greatest piece of film writing ever, period.

ALTERNATE OPTION: For Keeps is long out of print, and a bit of a hassle to lug around, so there’s something to be said for last year’s The Age of Movies: Selected Writings . It’s not as comprehensive, but all of the must-haves are there — and, bonus, it’s available in e-book form, for those of us who always want to have some Kael at our fingertips.

books and movies review

Awake in the Dark by Roger Ebert

Ebert is the most renowned film critic of the post-Kael era: enthusiastic yet tough, eloquent yet approachable, knowledgeable without showing off. This 2006 collection assembles dozens of his finest reviews, along with a number of terrific think pieces (his case for a Pulitzer Prize for film is awfully compelling) and his terrific early profiles of legends like Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin.

IDEAL COMPANION: Ebert showed his skills as a curator match his as a critic with Roger Ebert’s Book of Film , a marvelous 1997 collection of his favorite film writing (both fiction and non), featuring everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Susan Sontag to Tom Wolfe to Elmore Leonard to Louise Brooks to Leo Tolstoy.

books and movies review

From Reverence to Rape by Molly Haskell

Haskell’s unflinching and unforgiving examination of the female image onscreen was first published in 1974, and it has only grown more accurate and disturbing in the years since, which haven’t exactly been a watermark era for women in film. Haskell’s close-reading is tough and analytical, but it’s not off-putting either. She does what the best cultural writers do: she makes you see the world through her prism, both as you read and long after you’ve put the book down.

IDEAL COMPANION: Once you’re in that kind of analytical mind-frame, you might be ready to tackle Robert Kokler’s dense A Cinema of Loneliness , which examines the films of Arthur Penn, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Altman, but with a heavy emphasis on the social changes and political conditions within which those works were created.

books and movies review

The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb

Spielberg’s 1974 Jaws shoot was one of the most notoriously difficult productions up to that time, which is why this first person account by Carl Gottlieb (who co-wrote the screenplay, and co-starred as Mayor Vaughn’s right-hand man) is so valuable. It’s also fast and funny — Gottlieb’s roots were in improv comedy — and captures the tribulations and irritations of location shooting as few other volumes have.

IDEAL COMPANION: Long before “behind the scenes” pieces were de rigueur, Lillian Ross chronicled the making of John Huston’s Red Badge of Courage — first in a series of New Yorker pieces, then the book Picture , which collected and expanded them. Candid and fascinating, it offers up proof positive that the struggle between art and commerce has some mighty deep roots.

books and movies review

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

Still, there’s nothing like getting a director’s take on the process of filmmaking — and no one has put it to the page with more warmth and wisdom than the late, great Lumet ( Dog Day Afternoon , Network , 12 Angry Men ), whose wonderfully conversational guidebook strolls leisurely through development, technique, editing, and working with actors. His affection for the craft emanates from every page, and the story of how he got that incredible performance out of Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon ’s telephone will-dictation scene is worth the cover price alone.

IDEAL COMPANION: The story of how Robert Rodriguez became a Hollywood player on the basis of a $7,000 Spanish shoot-’em-up became indie legend, and he tells it with crackling energy and unflagging enthusiasm in Rebel Without a Crew , which combines his production diary (including the time he spent as a “human lab rat” to raise funds), a written version of his “ten minute film school,” and the film’s annotated screenplay.

Those are our “must-have” movie books — what are yours?

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Books Vs Movies: Which Is Better? The Debate Settled!

Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Louisa

Books and movies are two of the most popular forms of entertainment, but which is better? This age-old debate of books vs movies has been causing a stir for decades, so I’ve decided it’s time to settle the score once and for all.

While both offer unique ways to experience stories, there are pros and cons for each. When determining which is better, reading books or watching movies, the answer really is determined by a number of factors.

If you ask any reader, they will of course tell you all the reasons why books are better than movies, but if you ask a movie buff, you will receive a strong counter-argument for why movies are better.

In this guide, I’ve listed the reasons why you would want to choose a book over a movie, or a movie over a book, and in doing so, settle the debate once and for all.

To be clear, in this guide, we are concentrating on books that have been adapted into movies.

Books vs Movies Pros and Cons

If you need a quick summary of whether reading books or watching movies is better, then check out the below table which summarizes the points in this article.

Keep reading for a detailed analysis of reading books vs watching movies.

Pros of reading books over movies

  • There is more depth to a book, scenes are described in more detail, and have more plot-setting scenes.
  • A book allows the reader to use their imagination.
  • Readers follow the plot as it was intended by the author.

Cons of reading books over movies

  • Books take a long time to read, sometimes several days.
  • Some books can drag in the middle.
  • Dialogues can sometimes be unrealistic in books but come to life on the big screen.

Pros of watching movies over reading books

  • Movies are quicker than books.
  • You can watch a movie with a friend, but you can’t read a book with someone else.
  • You don’t have to concentrate on a movie and there is less need for your own imagination.
  • Acting is an art form.

Cons of watching movies over reading books

  • Scenes are often adapted or deleted based on what looks better visually.
  • Viewers are often left asking questions because scenes from the book not being included.
  • Characters can often be drastically changed.

Why books are better than movies?

If you’re a book enthusiast looking for arguments for books over movies, these are some of the reasons why books are better than movies.

#1. Books nurture the reader’s imagination

is reading books better than watching movies? A man reading a book

When it comes to reading books, readers have an unparalleled level of control in terms of how they visualize the story. When I first read The Hobbit, I pictured a very different-looking Bilbo Baggins to that seen on screen.

Readers can also move through a story at their own pace and use their imagination to create vivid scenes in their mind’s eye. Sometimes even filling in the blanks where there are questions that need answering.

Not only this, but you also get to experience the book in the way the author intended. When directors make a movie adaptation, they have to decide what scenes are the most action-packed and therefore keep the audience engaged.

This often means that some scenes are cut out from the plot that may seem important to the overall storyline.

The biggest example of this is how characters are described in books. Often characters in books look different in movies.

Frankenstein’s monster comes to mind here. In the book, he is described as:

“He is so gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated; and when he speaks, although his words are culled with the choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence.” Frankenstein, Victor Hugo, Letter 4

The monster was intended to be gentle. Frankenstein wanted to create a friend, not the brutish monster that we see in the movies.

#2. Books have more depth than movies

books and movies review

But the biggest argument as to why books might be better than movies is that books often have more depth than films due to the additional time they spend on character development and intricate plot points.

When I talk about depth, I am referring to descriptions. The reader gets more insight into how words are said, how characters look, and how scenes are created.

The small details in a book, such as short scenes or little descriptions, are the parts of a book that help readers ask the right questions, start to piece parts of the story together, and even predict what will happen next.

There are usually some key depth features that are missing in movies.

#3. Movie adaptations miss out on key points

If you think about the number of hours you spend reading a book compared to watching a movie, then you get an idea as to how much is missing.

Films tend to lack some of the detail and nuance found in books due to time constraints. This usually leads to unanswered questions after watching the movie.

One of the biggest examples of this is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

books and movies review

In the movie, there is a scene in which Harry sees a patronus charm of a doe, which leads him to a pond covered in ice where he discovers the sword of Griffindor beneath the surface.

If you watch the movie without reading the book, this scene would be somewhat confusing.

While we do later learn that Severus Snape’s patronus is a doe, and therefore alludes to him placing the sword for Harry to find, the movie never answers the question: how does Snape find Harry?

We also don’t learn how Snape has the sword in the first instance and why it never fell into the ministry’s hands.

While I absolutely loved the movies, I can honestly say I loved it more because I had read the book prior to watching and was able to fill in the blanks.

My partner has never read the books (yes I know, a book blogger is dating someone who has not read Harry Potter. Dumpable offense? Let me know in the comments) and he was constantly badgering me with questions to which I always responded with “in the book, this happens”

#4. Reading has other benefits

There is more to reading books than just following a story. Reading helps to grow your knowledge, expand your creative horizons, and even helps improve your mood.

According to Healthline , reading books can help strengthen your brain, both cognitively and in terms of your mental health.

So you see, there are many reasons why reading is important , not just for something fun to do!

#5. Books allow the reader to think more deeply

books and movies review

Books often have an underlying theme or moral tone that allows the reader to think deeply about certain topics or situations.

The storylines can help you to empathize with certain characters, and reflect on how situations would be handled in our own world.

In classic literature books such as 1984 , for example, there are a lot of areas in which the reader can think about how political influences shape society, but in the movie, you do get a sense of this but it is less developed than in the book.

Why are movies better than books?

If you’re looking for arguments for movies being better than books, here are some reasons why you may prefer a film vs a book.

#1. Movies help bring hard-to-visualize scenes to life

books and movies review

Movies offer a unique cinematic experience that allows viewers to sit back and enjoy a story without having to actively think about it.

This is great for those who don’t have a vivid imagination or struggle to see a clear picture of what an author is describing in their mind.

Movies provide visuals that can often be breathtakingly beautiful or incredibly intense, sometimes more so than written in a book.

One great example of this is in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

In the book, Bilbo is hit on the head and knocked out for the whole battle. Only when he awakes does Gandalf fill him in on what happens, but it’s short and to the point.

When you watch the movie, you see all these incredible stunts and action-packed scenes.

Yes, it does feature some gravity-defying performances from Legolas who does not appear in the books, which is something Peter Jackson decided to add to the storyline to make the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchise more connected.

But in the book, you don’t get any of that.

#2. Acting is an art form

books and movies review

Something that readers may not appreciate about movie adaptations is the acting.

Acting is an art form, and by watching movies, audiences can appreciate acting performances as well as special effects such as CGI or stunts that would be much more difficult to experience in a book.

#3. Movies are quicker than books

Reading often requires more time and effort than watching a movie. Reading a book from start to finish usually takes a few days with breaks in between.

If you do sit down to read from start to finish, you can take several hours to get through the entire story.

One reason why you wouldn’t want to do this is that you will instantly forget what happens or you won’t appreciate the detail enough.

Reading should be savored like a fine wine, allowing you to digest information and ponder on the themes, morals, and messages.

If you don’t have time on your side, then movies are your saving grace.

#4. Social interactions are more relatable in movies

Often times when I am reading the dialogue in a book, I feel it’s too staged, or unnatural.

When dialogue is spoken in a movie, it can feel more authentic, as often actors will improvise the script and make it feel more real.

#5. You can watch a film with friends

books and movies review

While you can always go to a book club to talk about a book you love, this is really an activity that hardcore readers enjoy more.

When you go to the cinema, it becomes a larger social outing that can bring together people with all different hobbies and interests.

Should Books Be Made Into Movies?

So while you can now see there are many pros and cons to books and movies, the question remains; should books be made into movies?

Absolutely.

While we can all agree that there is less detail in a movie than in a book, I personally feel that when a book I love has been made well on the big screen, I love the book more.

The best example of this is Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch the movies or read the books, I fall in love with the story and characters all over again.

I also find that when I’m not in the mood to read, watching a movie brings back fond memories of the book and helps me get out of a reading slump and inspired to read again.

And it’s not just me that thinks this. According to a study by SuperSummary , 82% of people agree that movie adaptations bring a book to life.

Books vs Movies: The Verdict

Ultimately, which form is better comes down to personal preference as both offer unique experiences that shouldn’t be compared side by side.

While books allow you to use your imagination to its fullest, movies allow the viewer to follow a story without concentrating.

You get more depth to a plot from a book, but you spend less time watching a movie.

Whichever way you choose, whether it’s curling up with a good book or settling into your couch for some movie night fun, there can be no doubt that both will result in an enjoyable escape from reality.

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books and movies review

About Louisa Smith

Editor/Founder - Epic Book Society

Louisa is the Founder, Editor, and Head Honcho of Epic Book Society. She was born and raised in the United Kingdom and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts with a degree in Journalism. Louisa began her writing career at the age of 7 when her poetry was published in an anthology of poems to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. Upon graduating university, she spent several years working as a journalist writing about books before transitioning to become a Primary School Teacher. Louisa loves all genres of books, but her favorites are Sci-Fi, Romance, Fantasy, and Young Adult Fiction. Read more Louisa's story here .

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Christopher Null

Online Reviews Are Being Bought and Paid For. Get Used to It

Anyone who writes reviews for a living has heard it before, and plenty: “How much did you get paid to write this?”

I’ve been a critic of many things over the years: movies , wine and spirits , and all manner of tech gear , for WIRED and other publications. And no matter what it is that I’m writing about, there’s always that one guy who pipes up in the comments suggesting that my opinions were bought and paid for.

It was invariably easy to dismiss these comments, but things got more complicated in September, when Vulture published a story that revealed the untold scale of the paid reviews industry. The story showed, among other things, how publicists were paying some independent film critics to review indie films and non-mainstream releases. These reviews, which were often published on independent film review websites, were then getting grabbed by Rotten Tomatoes . This meant, the story suggested, that a coveted Certified Fresh score on the hallowed Tomatometer could potentially be bought, and not earned.

The story caused chaos in the film industry.

Cast an eye beyond the world of art houses and streaming services, and you soon realize that this practice is commonplace. Reviews of everything—from gadgets to books, apparel, hotels, booze, you name it—are all potentially compromised, depending on your definition of that word. And the more you dig, the weirder things get.

In the wake of Vulture’s story, Rotten Tomatoes took action and began to boot movie reviewers who it believed had taken payments off the platform. In doing so, the company upended the lives of many film reviewers and blew a hole in a common tactic employed by indie titles to get visibility. Defenders of the practice argued that those smaller films would have gone unnoticed by critics absent a financial incentive to watch them.

The scenario points to a fundamental paradox in online reviews. Indie films—heck, indie anything—make the creative industry a better place, and boosting their signal above the noise is a net win for anyone with tastes outside of the mainstream. The practice of amplifying these independent voices by paying for coverage can be seen as deceitful, dishonest, and mercenary by readers who aren’t aware of the bigger picture.

That bigger picture is in fact a blockbuster. No matter what you produce, there’s probably a way to buy a review for it. A network of platforms exists to connect filmmakers, authors, and product manufacturers with writers, blogs, and publications who can boost their brand for a fee. My inbox is inundated by overseas manufacturers of white-label tech products who are desperate to pay me to write a review if I can get it published in WIRED or another outlet. I politely declined, and for decades I never accepted outside payment to write a review of a product.

Until, one day, I did.

Lane Brown’s piece in Vulture, “ The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes ,” claimed that the popular movie review site could be “easily hacked.” At the core of the article is a publicity company called Bunker 15. It’s one of many businesses that help independent filmmakers get reviews for their movies that can count toward the all-important Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer rating. For the service, it pays some reviewers $50 per review.

Brown emailed me before his story was published to ask if I’d been paid by Bunker 15 for my review of the film Ophelia –also central to his piece–and, honestly, I didn’t know if I had or not. I published my review at Film Racket, an independent film website that I’ve run since 2013, more than five years ago, and I don’t have records going back that far. I told Brown it was possible, and that we did work with Bunker 15 on other films over the years. After the story was published I did more digging and discovered that, yes, I was one of the critics who was paid $50 to write a review of the movie, and that it was probably the first film the company ever submitted to Film Racket for proposed coverage. It’s not a great movie, but I gave it three stars out of five , which Rotten Tomatoes marked as “fresh.” It remains the only review I have ever personally written of a Bunker 15 film or for which I’ve been paid by a third party; other writers did the rest.

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Daniel Harlow, head of Bunker 15, has always been clear to me about his company’s proposition: Take a look at this screener. If you think you might like it, we'd love for you to review it. For writers who are commissioned, Bunker 15 will pay 50 bucks for the honor. If you think it looks like garbage, well, maybe don’t waste your time. It’s important to note that none of these films are movies you have ever heard of. The company has represented such recent blockbuster titles as Love in Kilnerry and The Seeds of Vandana Shiva .

Vulture’s implication is that Bunker 15 would prefer to pay only for positive reviews. Of course, every publicist wants positive reviews, and they lobby heavily for that coverage. Film Racket has published dozens of reviews for Bunker 15 movies over the years, and the majority were considered “fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes. But we passed on reviewing dozens of movies too, simply saying no thanks if the trailer looked terrible. Simply put, $50 isn’t enough to merit sinking hours into watching a movie you know is going to be bad and then writing about it.

Sometimes we did anyway, providing a “rotten” review—and contrary to Vulture’s conjecture, I’ve never been asked to remove a negative or mediocre review or somehow hide it. On that latter point, Harlow says that some critics have occasionally mentioned to him that they have published negative reviews on their own blogs rather than a larger media site out of respect for an indie filmmaker, which may explain the common accusation of reviews being “buried.”

In the story’s wake, some critics received warning notices from Rotten Tomatoes that noted “potential violations” of its “Critics Code of Conduct,” which cites a prohibition against reviewing “based on financial incentive”—and which I, for one, had never previously seen. The communiqué also warns: “If we find evidence to support future violations, your Tomatometer status will be removed.” Many of their allegedly compromised reviews were then delisted from the site. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason as to who got these warning letters. Some longtime Bunker 15 collaborators received no warning and no punishment, while conversely at least one critic was completely deleted from the Rotten Tomatoes database, along with their entire catalog of reviews. (They declined to comment further for this story, citing the potential for reputational harm, and asked not to be named.)

Film Racket was also temporarily removed from the Rotten Tomatoes platform entirely, though I didn’t realize it at the time. An executive at Comcast NBCUniversal had to alert me to that fact when I was attempting to wrangle a comment out of the company for this story. I hadn’t done any active development on Film Racket for years and have largely left it clinging to life as a place for a few other critics to publish occasional reviews on. My plan is to let the domain expire in a few months and then shutter the site completely in 2024.

Rotten Tomatoes also sent a cease and desist email to Bunker 15 which reads, in part, “We are removing film pages which appear to be associated with Bunker 15, and plan not to honor any future requests to include films represented by Bunker 15 on Rotten Tomatoes.” Harlow says he was never given the chance to plead his case or refute the claims made about his business. The movie Ophelia was scrubbed for a time from Rotten Tomatoes entirely, as if it never existed, along with numerous other films promoted by Bunker 15. One of those was The Light of the Moon , a well-regarded indie which won a 2017 audience award at South by Southwest and which Bunker 15 promoted pro bono. (And a film, Harlow says, for which no critics received payment for their reviews.) Now, tainted.

It doesn’t help matters that the entertainment industry has a long history of money changing hands in exchange for promotion. The payola scandal of the 1950s, where radio DJs in the US were paid to play records, was one of the first big shots. It seems decidedly quaint today, but the matter eventually resulted in congressional hearings and an amendment to the Communications Act, which outlawed the practice. In the late 2000s, the government got involved again in response to the rise of bloggers—among the most prominent being “mommy bloggers” at the time—who were getting free samples and writing positive reviews of products without disclosing the receipt of the freebie. New rules were enacted, and today bloggers in the US are supposed to meticulously disclose these samples, as are social media influencers. The guidelines are extensive but confusing around what must be disclosed and even who is bound by the rules. As such, critics warn that they are widely ignored . There’s even a marketplace for paid reviews: GetReviewed connects product manufacturers with a “hand-picked network” of product review bloggers.

When it comes to film and TV criticism, the shenanigans run deep. I’d be remiss without a callback to good old David Manning , a 2000s-era film critic who loved Sony’s movies so much he seemed too good to be true. And he was. Sony had made him up, along with all his poster “blurbs.” Then in 2021, when the Los Angeles Times revealed that Emily in Paris received two Golden Globe nominations after its original producer, Paramount, jetted dozens of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to the show’s set in France, the backlash started the conversation that led to the Golden Globes telecast being canceled the following year.

These tales are damning, but is the Bunker 15 business model really on the same level? Is there in fact anything bad about it at all? Is it possible to get paid by a publicist to write something, but do so with honesty and integrity?

No matter what your gut reaction to those questions is, understand first that reviews which involve money changing hands are already all around you. In moviedom, Film Threat is the most visible and transparent example of the pay-to-get-reviewed concept, a business model that it launched in 2011 and then revised under new management in 2018. The long-running, well-respected site offers multiple tiers of coverage for filmmakers looking for a review. While anyone can submit a movie for free, you’re not guaranteed a review of a feature film unless you pay $100, which also gets you bonus extras like promotion on social media, a link to the review on the home page, and a backlink to your film’s website. For $500 you get an ad, a feature in the newsletter, trailer promotion, and more. Alan Ng, Film Threat's editor in chief, will offer these “fast pass review” assignments to a specific writer, or drop it into the site's bullpen of writers, who can pipe up to review the film if they are interested.

Other sites have similar fee-based arrangements, but none publicize their rates as openly as Film Threat.

Proprietor Chris Gore says the site receives upwards of 100 requests for coverage each week from small-time filmmakers looking for reviews. The program gives Gore a way to pay his writers—many of whom otherwise work for free—while simultaneously supporting independent filmmakers looking for press. Today, about a third of Film Threat’s revenue is generated by the pay-to-get-reviewed program. Still, the operation is tiny, and Gore notes that it has been forced to cease publication on at least two separate occasions over the years.

“Even with 30 writers contributing four reviews a month,” Gore says, “we’re still covering less than half the movies submitted to us.” This model lets filmmakers jump the line, guaranteeing a prompt review in a week instead of having to wait for up to three months in the hopes of getting one. The pay-to-get-reviewed system is the best way to support the industry, Gore argues. “You can read our reviews, and you can call bullshit if you’d like. But I'll just let my reputation and what I've built speak for itself.” Gore calls the model the “most fair” he can come up with, the fee akin to a single submission to a film festival and enough to help keep the website online.

Still, if a filmmaker pays Film Threat for a review and the movie is deemed awful, the site provides an escape hatch. Film Threat editor in chief Ng explains that he avoids the problem of people having buyer’s remorse over paying for negative coverage. “I get ahead of it and offer the filmmaker or publicist the opportunity for a news item or filmmaker interview in lieu of a review,” Ng says. “Almost always, they take the interview.”

Film Threat is far from alone in giving indies a pass. I also corresponded with Jessie Maltin, daughter of famed film critic Leonard Maltin and cohost of his podcast Maltin on Movies , on this topic. She says that back in 2016 or 2017, Leonard—no longer writing his famed Movie Guide or reviewing for a commercial outlet—decided that “if he really didn’t like a smaller movie then he wouldn’t review it,” Jessie says.

A critic of the elder Maltin’s stature is usually not given specific assignments and can review what he wants, Jessie says, so he’s focused on only praising good cinema. “The number one thing people say to him is, ‘You never seem mean,’” she says. “They feel like he wants to enjoy the movies he sees and looks for the positive. It’s the truth. He loves movies and genuinely wants them to be good.”

Gore takes a similar position, saying that at Film Threat, indie films earn more leeway than big-budget studio pictures. “I judge studio films more harshly because there’s no excuse for this movie not to be the best movie I've ever seen,” Gore says. “When it comes to indie films, I always look for a movie that's like a bird with a broken wing: This movie would soar if they had more money for a bigger budget.”

The film industry's stance on the use of paid reviews seems almost quaint in comparison to other industries. Consider the magazine Publishers Weekly , which offers a paid book review service called BookLife . For $399, independent and self-published authors can buy a 300-word review that includes letter grades for various production elements (nothing below a C) and “an honest, positive one-sentence takeaway that summarizes the reviewer’s opinion of the book’s best aspects and likely audience.” These appear on the BookLife website and in print, at the author’s discretion, in Publisher’s Weekly .

Carl Pritzkat helped found BookLife in 2014 as a place to provide feedback on unpublished manuscripts to authors. That business model was “dead on arrival,” Pritzkat says, and so he guided its evolution into its current form in 2019. Much like Film Threat, BookLife considers its goal to “try to give self-published authors exposure to professional criticism,” says Pritzkat, while providing these reviews to the publishing industry: libraries, booksellers, agents, and publishers.

The program initially had to prove itself. Early features, like the manuscript preview and BookLife prize, were dismissed at the time. “We got a lot of flak when we came into the marketplace by the community who thought somebody was trying to cash in and scam them,” says Pritzkat. Over the years that perception was erased, namely because the program has done what it promised, he says, showcasing quality where it exists and bringing up books’ shortcomings in a constructive way. “Over time we’ve developed a great reputation because people really see the benefit of it. They know they’re getting a truly professional, honest review.” Today, BookLife publishes about 1,600 reviews annually—a number that goes up every year—compared to the 9,000 published by Publishers Weekly .

Coverage from Kirkus Reviews can be purchased too—and unlike at Publishers Weekly , these aren’t shunted to a separate site. According to Chaya Schechner, president of Kirkus Indie, these paid reviews “follow the same strict editorial standards as the rest of the magazine, and an indie review can be positive (it can even earn a Kirkus Star), negative, or somewhere in between.” The fee for a Kirkus Indie review starts at $450 for a traditional book, but “if you receive a negative review, you can choose not to publish your review and it will never see the light of day.” Reviews from the program, which launched way back in 2005 as Kirkus Discoveries, look just like unpaid reviews, except for a small notice—“Review Program: Kirkus Indie”—appearing in the review’s errata. The program now reviews a whopping 4,400 or so books annually. About a third of those reviews go unpublished, presumably because they are not overwhelmingly positive.

“Kirkus Indie has seen a lot of growth over the years and is another way for Kirkus to accomplish its goal of connecting books and readers,” says Schechner. “Many authors have been very happy with the program and have had multiple books reviewed.”

How about the world of wine? Glad you asked. The venerable Beverage Testing Institute charges a minimum of $140 for a review, and publishes a score, medal, and short writeup on its website Tastings.com. The site does not appear to publish reviews that score below 80 out of 100 points, and anything below 85 points seems to just receive a “bronze medal.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Then there’s Sam Kim, a New Zealand-based wine critic who launched his wine review site Wine Orbit in 2007. His initial business model was to charge a subscription fee to readers, but that fizzled. “Turns out New Zealand is a small country,” he says. After 18 months he pivoted and started charging wineries NZ$34 per bottle in exchange for a review on his site—an amount that Kim estimates is about half the cost of submitting a wine to a formal wine competition, which wineries gladly pay. Kim’s site does not carry advertising, and he only publishes reviews that score 81 points (3.5 stars) or higher, which amount to about 90 percent of submissions, he says.

Some wineries have balked, but most haven’t. “I expected the number of entries to drop significantly, but it didn’t,” Kim says. “In fact, it significantly grew.” Today he receives about 4,500 wines per year for review and has turned Wine Orbit from a hobby into a full-time job. Minor backlashes have erupted over the years asking whether Kim’s business model is unethical or if his reviews are automatically biased because money has changed hands. Today, Kim says, “by and large” his business model has found acceptance.

Doug Bremner is a physician and medical school professor who also loves movies. In 2014, he wrote and directed a film called Inheritance, Italian Style , inspired by his wife’s Italian ancestry. After the movie wrapped, Bremner says, “We did the usual thing and went to film festivals, and finally went through two distributors.” No one ever saw the movie. The film eventually ended up streaming on Amazon Prime—you can watch it right now for $2—but Bremner didn’t have a clue how to get people to watch it.

A post on X eventually led Bremner to Bunker 15, with whom he contracted to get some reviews of the film in the hope of getting some critical attention. He says that he ultimately got nearly two dozen reviews, some good and some bad, but that they were positive enough to earn a “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating, which helped move the needle. “We got more exposure, and it worked out pretty well,” he says, earning enough from paid streams to cover the $2,000 he had paid to Bunker 15. Today, he says some of those reviews have been deleted from the Rotten Tomatoes database as part of its purge, but he’s still sitting at a 71 percent “fresh” rating, at least for now.

Rick Pamplin, a longtime independent filmmaker and a former film critic, has a similar but more volatile story. While the Vulture article suggests that his most recent film, Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview , is a “medium-sized” title, it’s really quite tiny, a documentary made by a husband-and-wife team with a sub-million-dollar budget and a rather niche subject. It’s an oddball movie, but Pamplin calls the film “the best film I’ve ever made in my life,” and gushed to me for nearly an hour about how he poured his heart and soul (and savings) into the movie’s distribution, which became a celebration of the final days of the famed screen icon.

Getting critics to watch and review a movie about Burt Reynolds was a massive undertaking. The movie played at the Berlin Film Festival, and a few reviews trickled in. After trying to get additional reviews outside the festival on his own, Pamplin came up dry. He says he was told that "editors didn't have the budget to assign anyone to review the movie. We hired two publicists, and they got us zero reviews. But once we went with Bunker 15, we started seeing reviews pop up.”

Pamplin says the process of getting Bunker 15 to agree to represent the film was onerous, saying that Harlow had to personally see the film and approve it and then interview Pamplin about the movie. They saw eye to eye, and after Bunker 15 had beaten the bushes, the movie finally reached 16 reviews linked on Rotten Tomatoes, enough to get the film some notice from streaming services and lucrative in-flight movie services. Eventually the film landed at a 94 percent Tomatometer score and a 97 percent audience rating.

After a mention in passing in the Vulture article, Rotten Tomatoes sharpened its ax. Today, the movie has five reviews and no official “freshness” designation because that total is too small. “No one [from Rotten Tomatoes] has talked to us,” Pamplin says. “No one has said anything. It’s been devastating. It’s like an assassination.”

Pamplin says that the actions taken by Rotten Tomatoes are exclusively targeting small productions, adding that a grave injustice is being committed, one which is “basically annihilating independent films,” he says. In his early days in the studio system, he says, he was witness to big studios spending “hundreds of thousands or millions” of dollars to “wine and dine” critics and fly them to exotic set locations—and then demand quid pro quo, good reviews if they wanted to stay on the guest list. “It’s always been about undue influence at the highest level.”

That kind of influence is tough for Rotten Tomatoes, which makes money from big studio advertising and is owned by Comcast NBCUniversal, to call out. Independent filmmakers make for a much easier and lower-risk target. “The sad thing about Rotten Tomatoes is that I gave them a lot of credit for bringing on all these other critics in 2018. Why shouldn't other voices be heard?” says Pamplin. Now he thinks those voices are being quashed along with the small films they are writing about. “It just seems terribly unfair and undemocratic and against art. It’s disrespectful to filmmakers, to us, to everybody—and to Burt. But it’s been this way my whole life.”

And then there’s the other side of the equation: the independent film critic. A few dozen critics with national recognition dominate the discussion; in fact, Rotten Tomatoes prioritizes them as “Top Critics.” The rest—thousands of them—fight over the scraps in the hope that their words will be seen by someone willing to get through more than 400 reviews (no, really) of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One . Naturally, most critics gravitate to writing about blockbusters. Film critics large and small cover Hollywood studio films because there is inherent demand for reviews. This is why Film Threat reviews the latest Spider-Man movie for free; ads and revenue from YouTube will (in theory) cover the cost of producing the writeup. Publishers Weekly doesn’t charge Simon & Schuster to review the new Stephen King book. Consumers want to read it, as the review will sell magazines and generate clicks.

But reviews of small films and self-published books don’t generate any clicks. “If you expect the advertising clicks from a review to pay for the review, you’re not going to be reviewing many movies,” says Harlow, especially if you are a small publisher without a recognized brand. “Blogs have to get revenue from somewhere.” Without programs like Bunker 15’s, argues Harlow, mainstream films will ultimately be the only thing anyone writes about. (At the time of writing, Barbie has nearly 500 reviews linked on Rotten Tomatoes. Black and Missing , a docu-series which won a 2022 Independent Spirit Award, has eight.)

Tony Macklin is a veteran film critic who has been writing about movies since the 1960s and still votes for Sight and Sound's decades poll. He launched his own website in 2009 and continues to publish reviews there today. He connected with Bunker 15 around 2018 and was interested, he says, not because they were offering money but because they were offering exposure to independent films that interested him. “They never made any demands,” Macklin says. “They allowed me to write the reviews as I wanted.” That includes negative reviews, though Macklin says he often chose not to submit those reviews to Rotten Tomatoes as a courtesy to the filmmaker. “I realize how tough it is for these independent filmmakers,” he says. “I didn’t want to change my standards, but I did want to give them a voice.” Macklin says he’s “never made a dime” from his site, which doesn’t carry advertising, and that the idea that a $50 payment for a review would somehow sway his opinion is preposterous. Many of his reviews for Bunker 15 films have been wiped from the Tomatometer.

Matt Brunson has a similar tale: Many of his reviews, including plenty of negative ones, vanished as part of Rotten Tomatoes' purge of Bunker 15-affiliated reviews. “As someone who's worked alongside Bunker, I find that insulting and offensive,” he says. “I'm an award-winning veteran critic with over 30 years professional, full-time experience.” He stresses that he was never asked only to write positive coverage and bristles at suggestions of bribery.

Brunson says that no one from Rotten Tomatoes contacted him about the delisting of his reviews. Eventually, most were reinstated, though not those of movies that were temporarily wiped from the site.

Harlow says the fallout from the Vulture article has cast a chilling effect across the industry. Many film critics are now afraid of further retaliation, including the loss of their approved critic status and deletion of their Rotten Tomatoes accounts. Some have opted to retire altogether out of dismay that their names have been tarnished by a manufactured scandal. Few critics agreed to speak to me on the record, as many said they feared further punishment from Rotten Tomatoes if they did. Rotten Tomatoes did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Dana Benson, a spokesperson for its parent company, Comcast NBCUniversal, said the site's “extensive investigation” informed its “decision to remove reviews.” “This decision was made through the lens of maintaining journalistic integrity and delivering accurate information for Rotten Tomatoes’ users,” she says, adding that “no films were permanently removed from the site, and the current film pages now represent an accurate aggregated critical sentiment.”

Matt Atchity, the editor in chief of Rotten Tomatoes from 2007 to 2017, also responded to WIRED. He, however, “didn’t see a problem with” Bunker 15’s business model and said that he even reached out to Rotten Tomatoes management to discuss the issue with them six months ago. “I got shut down,” he says. “The Rotten Tomatoes team said, ‘We’re not going to talk about it.’”

Atchity says that Harlow’s practice of picking writers to review a movie is par for the course today. “All the studios are doing that now,” he says, “cherry-picking friendlies to get a high Tomatometer score early. Can Rotten Tomatoes do anything about this? Short of holding reviews until the day of release, not really.” And because Rotten Tomatoes wants traffic to its pages well in advance of opening day, it’s all but understood that the site doesn’t actually want to do anything about it.

Ultimately, Atchity says that the vast majority of critics are getting paid by someone, and that’s fine. “It shouldn't matter who is paying the critic,” he says, “as long as they’re being honest.”

Harlow maintains that he does not manipulate reviews and does not pay only for positive ones. “That’s insulting, and if that was true the critics would fire us,” he says. “Rotten Tomatoes didn’t lift a finger to try to figure out if [suggestions of bribery] were true or not,” says Harlow. “They all but ignored their own critics, and they still haven’t responded to them.” Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t responded to Harlow’s requests for clarity about his business, he says. “It would be great if they actually called me back and explained to me how we can operate in their good graces.” Foremost among his questions is what constitutes “reviewing based on a financial incentive,” which is prohibited by Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Code of Conduct. Is getting paid by a website or newspaper a “financial incentive?” Or running an ad paid for by a studio on the same page as a review of that movie? Flying a critic to visit the set?

In addition, Harlow is hoping the litany of hate-filled emails and voicemails he’s been receiving might come to an end.

Meanwhile, it’s the filmmakers who are hurting the most. In addition to the examples above, Harlow mentions a film called Stay Awake . The producers hired Bunker 15, hoping to push the film’s 35 reviews linked on Rotten Tomatoes up to 40, which is the minimum number of reviews for a limited-release title that qualifies a “fresh” movie for a coveted “Certified Fresh” badge. (The film had a 91 percent Tomatometer rating at the time.) Just as the film was about to launch on video-on-demand, the Vulture story broke and the film was delisted from Rotten Tomatoes. The film was eventually reinstated, minus the added reviews, bringing it back down to an “uncertified” but still fresh level. The people who made the film are no longer speaking to him.

No filmmaker I spoke to said that Rotten Tomatoes had responded to requests for reinstating delisted reviews or deleted films. Harlow adds that one filmmaker he works with has engaged an attorney and is considering legal action against the site. Meanwhile, despite the controversy, Emily in Paris is still listed and holding strong with a “just made it” 62 percent “fresh” rating.

I still stand by my Ophelia review. I could have been more transparent about the paid nature of Bunker 15’s program, but otherwise, I don’t have any regrets about the relationship. It’s noteworthy that when Rotten Tomatoes delisted Film Racket’s review for Inheritance, Italian Style , the Tomatometer rating for the film went up: It was a two-star review .

If Bunker 15 was somehow suppressing bad reviews to artificially inflate Rotten Tomatoes scores, that’s another question. So far I’ve found no evidence of that, and even the Vulture story cites only one case in which it claims a critic was lobbied to raise the rating of a movie—something which, in my experience, happens all the time. (Memorably, the screenwriter of a 2000 Mario Lopez-starring dud called Eastside once emailed me asking for “at least 1 more star for ‘heart.’”)

When asked to comment on this reporting, Harlow said, “We don’t lobby critics to do anything, because if we did, the word would spread like wildfire within the critic community and no one would work with us.”

Publicists are rarely shy in their lobbying for better reviews. And film critics exist under the constant threat of publicists who can restrict access to the advance screenings and celebrity interviews which are the requirements of doing their job. Like many critics, on multiple occasions I’ve been temporarily banned from attending a studio’s screenings in retaliation for a single negative movie review. Play nice for a while, learn your lesson, and suffer in silence, and you’ll eventually get back on the list.

So where should the boundary lie? Are paid reviews worse than paid advertisements? Advertorial posts that look like independent content? Critics who jet to Cannes on a studio’s dime? Buying your way into The New York Times bestseller list? Amazon reviews purchased on the gray market or written by generative AI bots? Ultimately it’s the person reading a review who must decide where their comfort level lies.

As for the situation at Rotten Tomatoes, it continues to change without warning. Sometime this fall, the site quietly reinstated Ophelia and The Light of the Moon , though Ophelia has lost a portion of its reviews and has returned to a suspiciously just-rotten 59 percent rating. Quietly and without notice, Film Racket and most of its reviews were restored to the site—including my three-star Ophelia notice. But deleted critics are still gone, and Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview remains stuck on a paltry five reviews.

The Vulture story has also had one unintended positive consequence, says Harlow. Unconcerned about the threat of retaliation from Rotten Tomatoes, prospective filmmakers and writers alike have flooded Bunker 15’s inbox, intrigued by the business model. Harlow says he received more inquiries in the week after the story ran than he normally would in a month.

Guess there really is no such thing as bad press.

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Madame Web Ending Explained and Post-Credits Scene Check-In: Does the Marvel Movie Connect to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man?

Director s.j. clarkson answers all your burning questions about the film..

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Do you want to know if there's a post-credits scene in Madame Web ? We'll tell you right here: There are no scenes after the credits.

Read on for full spoilers for the film!

You've seen the memes. You've — maybe — watched the trailers. You've likely heard the phrase "He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died" (spoiler alert — that's not a real line in the movie). And now Madame Web (read our review) is out in the world. The supernatural thriller is unlike any superhero movie you've seen before, but definitely feels like a fun throwback to the '00s comic book films that many of us grew up on.

So if you're ready to dig into the depths of Madame Web lore with director S.J. Clarkson answering all your burning questions, then get ready web slingers because here we go!

Madame Web Ending Explained

After an action-packed journey that set Cassie Web (Dakota Johnson), Julia Cromwell (Sydney Sweeney), Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced), and Mattie Franklin (Celeste O'Conner) on their fateful path, the film comes to its climax when the crew battles Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim) in an abandoned warehouse. In a twist of fate, it's revealed that while Ezekiel was drawn to the girls because he thought they would kill him, it is in fact Cassie who is fated to end his life.

Thanks to her newly discovered powers of weaving — which include astral projection — Cassie saves all three of her young charges but ends up almost drowning. Thanks to an earlier impromptu CPR lesson, her life is saved by her newfound family of future Spider-Women. After Ezekiel is killed by a falling giant Pepsi sign (yes, you heard that right) and successfully saving the day, the crew heads to the hospital where Cassie is revealed to have been rendered blind as a result of her near-drowning.

We also learn that Mary Parker (Emma Roberts) has safely given birth to her unnamed son. Mary is the sister-in-law of Adam Scott’s Ben Parker, who forevermore shall be known as… Uncle Ben.

Should Madame Web connect directly to the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies?

We then get a skip forward that reveals Cassie and the girls now live together in a New York City Spider-lair where they bicker and banter as Cassie, now in a wheelchair, foresees their future as a team of super Spider-Women. It's here that we get to see the girls in their full Spider-suits along with Cassandra in hers, now acting as a spiritual guide to the superteam. But this scene also plays with our expectations, reminding us that "the future hasn't happened yet," implying this could all still change.

Does Madame Web Have a Post-Credits Scene?

Madame Web doesn't have any post-credits scenes, which makes sense not only due to the fact that the status of the Sony-verse is up in the air but also because the entire movie essentially acts as a lead-in to a potential Spider-Woman/Spider-Women movie featuring the three younger cast members. So if you want to stick around to pay homage to all the folks who worked on the movie or you're like me and always want to see which comic creators get thanked, then go for it! But you won't need to wait for any of the infamous superhero stingers this time around.

Is Uncle Ben in Madame Web?

As has long been rumored, everyone's favorite everyman — Adam Scott of Parks and Rec and Severance fame — does play Uncle Ben A.K.A. Ben Parker in Madame Web. He's Cassie's EMT partner and the one friend who keeps her grounded and connected to the rest of the world, despite her more introverted and often cranky tendencies.

Every Upcoming Spider-Man Movie Spin-Off in Development

Click through to learn about every Spider-Man spin-off movie currently in development.

Aside from the obvious connection to the wider world of Spider-Man, Ben Parker and his sister-in-law, Mary (more on her in a moment), were added to the film as a way to homage Madame Web's comic book origins and to build out her world. "Madame Web doesn't have her own comics yet," director S.J. Clarkson told IGN. "It would be wonderful if she did, but she doesn't. And I think because she comes from The Amazing Spider-Man, it was really nice to be able to give a nod to the world that she comes from. So it's really nice to have some of those characters in it."

Is Peter Parker in Madame Web?

As the film ends, we see that Mary Parker has safely delivered her baby with the now Uncle Ben by her side. Where was the kid's father? Richard Parker was away traveling, hinting that the film is taking from the comics canon where Richard and sometimes Mary were spies.

As for the infant's identity, Clarkson was quick to point out that "the baby's born, but we never actually name the baby." But the implication is obviously that it's Peter Parker. That holds especially true as in the comics that the film takes inspiration from, Mary's most famous child is obviously the guy who'd become Spider-Man, though she did secretly have a daughter who was revealed in 2014's Spider-Man: Family Business series. And we get even more of a hint at that when Cassie and the girls talk about Ben loving being an uncle because it's all the fun and none of the responsibility, to which Cassie replies "That's what he thinks" with a smile, nodding towards the future when Ben and May will take care of and raise Peter.

How Does Madame Web Connect to the Other Spider-Man Movies?

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One of the biggest conversations around Madame Web has been whether the film would work as a prequel to any of the Spider-Man movies. When IGN asked whether the 2003 setting of Madame Web meant we were watching the origins of Tom Holland's Spider-Man universe, Clarkson revealed the choice was more about Cassandra's story than any connection to an existing Spider-Man.

"In terms of the year, that was the year that was in the script originally," she said, adding that it was meant to connect to Cassie’s mom and her adventures in the Amazon. "I think what it relates to is really back in the 1970s when her mom was around, and it goes back to her inception story. So this is very much her story."

It's a choice that gives Sony the freedom to choose what it wants to do with the film once it's out in the world and they've seen the reception. And either way, the film still exists as a standalone origin for Cassie and her young Spider-crew. So if they want to connect the baby that is born to the Tom Holland Spider-Man, they can. And if they decide not to, they have that option as well.

As to whether the movie would ever end up connecting to other Spider-films, she worked in a nice Madame Web power pun: "I wish I had clairvoyance to see where it could or might connect to anything else, but I don't have the luxury of that, unfortunately."

How Could Madame Web Set Up Future Sony Spider-Films?

The film ends with what seems like a setup for future Spider-Women movies, especially as each of the young heroes have storied comic book histories to draw from. But some fans might be surprised that there isn't actually a lot of Spider-Women action in the film as the girls are only seen in their full suits during a couple of very quick flash-forward sequences. As Clarkson told us, that was so that the film could fully focus on Cassie and her story.

"There were definitely conversations," she shared. "But I think that for me it was always an origin story. And I think if you're going to do an origin story justice — unless it's going to be a three, four-hour epic — you concentrate on that character. And each of these other Spider-Women are such extraordinary characters in their own right that I think if you're going to start exploring origins of all of them, I think that's a lot to get into one movie.

"I don't think you can do it justice. We've already got Ezekiel and all these characters, so I think it's a lot to juggle for one picture and it's called Madame Web, so I think that was really front and center of everything. And hopefully, the others might get their own. That would be amazing."

And we agree. Whatever your feelings about Madame Web, the film did a great job casting Cassie and her Spider-Crew, and we'd love to see where those characters go next. Of course, if Sony gets its way and the film is a success, then there could even be movies for each of the Spider-Women before they team up for the future that Madame Web saw.

Of course, the biggest question remains: Could Madame Web and her Spider-Women connect to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and even the bigger MCU eventually? At this point, anything could happen, but it appears there are no definitive answers either.

This story was updated with full spoilers on Feb. 14, 2024. It was originally published without spoilers on Feb. 13.

Rosie Knight is a contributing freelancer for IGN covering everything from anime to comic books to kaiju to kids movies to horror flicks. She has over half a decade of experience in entertainment journalism with bylines at Nerdist, Den of Geek, Polygon, and more.

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Olivia Wilde ’s electric feature debut, “Booksmart,” is a stellar high school comedy with an A+ cast, a brilliant script loaded with witty dialogue, eye-catching cinematography, swift editing, and a danceable soundtrack. Most importantly, it’s incredibly fun to watch again and again. While paying homage to the teen comedies that have come before it, “Booksmart” sets itself apart with the characters at its center. Molly ( Beanie Feldstein ), a type-A bookworm obsessed with being the top of her class, and her best friend Amy ( Kaitlyn Dever ), a quieter if no less driven feminist activist, worked hard to get into good colleges. When Molly finds out that their less studious classmates have also gotten into the same prestigious schools, it shatters her understanding of the world. Instead of enjoying their usual quiet night in, Molly convinces Amy to dress up -– they’re going to party at least once before they walk across that graduation stage.

After helming a few music videos and shorts, Wilde has blossomed into a fully-fledged filmmaker with style and voice to spare. Her sense of humor shines through every ridiculous situation, sharp quip or a visual gag, be it poking fun at a rich kid’s pimped out ride with a license plate reading “FUK BOI” or the existence of Gigi ( Billie Lourd ), a character best remembered for her unprompted wild antics, mysterious ability to pop up at all of the night’s parties and her “cool girl gone eccentric” vibe. Wilde also has fun riffing on Hollywood musical tropes and creating a stop motion drug hallucination that’s almost too bizarre to describe. It’s better if you just watch and laugh your way through it.

Wilde’s acting background helped lead the cast to give both wonderfully deranged and emotionally moving performances. We ride the highs and lows of Molly and Amy’s odyssey through Los Angeles at breakneck speeds but nothing feels lost. We get a sense of their deep friendship, much like the two best friends at the center of 2007’s “ Superbad .” They tease each other, they have their own shared language, like using the name Malala to ask each other for help, and rituals like over-complimenting each other’s outfits. Usually, so many names on a script would be cause for worry, but the contributions of Susanna Fogel , Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins and a final draft by recent hit scribe Katie Silberman (“Isn’t It Romantic,” “ Set It Up ”) does not disappoint. When I spoke with some members of the cast and crew at South by Southwest, the actors said they felt supported by Wilde to build out their characters as they saw fit, which is likely why the high schoolers sound like kids their age talking about their chosen Harry Potter House.

Feldstein and Dever are perfectly matched to bounce off of each other’s personalities, even if their characters seem similar at first glance. Playing the best friend part in “ Lady Bird ,” Feldstein had limited screentime to show off her comic chops, but it was obvious that she already had great timing and hilarious exaggerated reactions. Given the spotlight in “Booksmart,” she takes her antics to 11 with a confident and determined energy for her misguided and strongwilled character. Dever makes a lot of Amy’s shy girl persona and her quiet crush on another girl. She subtly plays out Amy’s mortification at her parents’ cutesy enthusiasm, her reluctance to be honest about her feelings and her protective loyalty to Molly, even when she feels overwhelmed by her friend’s bombastic personality.

As wonderful as it was to watch a movie about strong and supportive female friendships, it was just as refreshing to see it set in a high school that’s full of diverse students, different sexual orientations and gender expressions. The supporting cast is just as wonderfully funny as the stars and is given something more to do than be the token high school stereotypes. In fact, many of Molly’s first impressions of her classmates turn out to be wrong, and while their characters may not get the full in-depth exploration, they weren’t reduced to one trait or reductive punchline.

Wilde’s film is a complete package delivered to theaters with a bow on top. The movie’s cinematography matches the teens’ wild “ After Hours ” adventure with dreamy yet colorful lighting. No high school party ever looked so good. There’s one scene where cinematographer Jason McCormick , who shares Wilde’s background in music videos, captures the moment Amy’s crush, Ryan ( Victoria Ruesga ), leans her elbow on Amy’s knee, causing time to slow and the pink and yellow party lights to saturate the karaoke room, like that moment when your heart skips a beat because someone you like acknowledges your affections. The snappy rhythm of Jamie Gross ’ editing makes the girls' adventure feel like it’s flying by to the infectious beats of Gorillaz’s Dan the Automator. It’s a sensational mix that left me with an elated feeling by the time the credits rolled.

In “Booksmart,” girls just want to have fun. Put aside the pressure to succeed or live up to strict ideals and focus on what’s important: our friends. “Don’t make the same mistake I made,” warns the teens’ favorite teacher, Miss Fine ( Jessica Williams ), and that statement feels like a warning for the audience, too. Focusing so much on work and success has pushed generations of women to burn out. Perhaps “Booksmart” is trying to teach the next graduating class that there’s nothing wrong with balancing all that hard work with some party time.

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to  RogerEbert.com .

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Film credits.

Booksmart movie poster

Booksmart (2019)

Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking - all involving teens.

105 minutes

Kaitlyn Dever as Amy

Beanie Feldstein as Molly

Mason Gooding as Nick

Skyler Gisondo as Jared

Victoria Ruesga as Ryan

Billie Lourd as Gigi

Molly Gordon as Annabelle "Triple A"

Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan Brown

Lisa Kudrow as Amy's Mother

Will Forte as Amy's Father

  • Olivia Wilde
  • Emily Halpern
  • Sarah Haskins
  • Susanna Fogel
  • Katie Silberman

Cinematographer

  • Jason McCormick
  • Jamie Gross
  • Dan Nakamura

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