What Is Film Analysis Essay?

As one can tell by the name of the assignment, a film analysis essay is dedicated to a specific film. To complete such a paper, you need to watch the assigned movie and analyze it across multiple aspects to prove that you have watched it attentively and managed to read between the lines. Many students find it hard to concentrate on some specific idea after watching a film and to craft a well-structured, academic analysis on this subject. So, we have prepared this guide to help you out and hone the skill of competent, academic writing on films.

How to Write a Film Analysis Essay? 

Those worried about  how to write a film analysis essay may use the following checklist as a pro guide to film essay structuring and idea generation. 

  • What was the film’s central message or topic? 
  • Did the producer accomplish the established goal effectively? 
  • What was the primary conflict in the film? Between whom did it occur, and what were the grounds? 
  • What is the broader significance of this conflict? 
  • What are the main characters of the film? What features do they possess, and what do they symbolize? 
  • What does the film make you think about? 

These are content-related tips for film analysis. In some cases, you may be tasked with performing technical film analysis, which usually refers to analyzing some movie scene or a series of scenes. In such an essay, you should focus on technical elements, such as: 

  • Mise-en-scene 
  • Sets and costumes of characters 
  • Lighting 
  • Camera movement 
  • Music used by the director 

Whatever your task for film analysis is, be sure to study the instructions in detail at first. Watch the movie only after you understand all the essay’s details and requirements so that you know what to focus on. 

What to Write About? 

Every  film analysis essay assignment is typically movie-specific. So, you’re likely to get some particular instructions from your supervisor regarding what to look for and what options to choose from. But some things about writing on film are universal. Thus, by including these elements in your writing, you’re sure to get a high grade for competent, professional analysis. 

#1. Look at smaller details. The regular audience usually watches a movie in general, thrilled by the plot and following the significant movements and dialogues of characters. However, a film analyst’s task is not the general plot but the small details coming out in the close analysis of scenes. Only such close analysis can reveal the unique voice of the director and the strategies they use. The good idea is to choose one tool (e.g., editing, framing, color, or light and shadow) and look for its applications throughout a scene or the entire film. 

#2. Go beyond the visual representation of symbols. The way you see and interpret symbols is a sign of your growing competence as a film analyst. Yet, professional writers shift their focus from interpretation of symbols per se to their placement in the broader context of the film. Why are these symbols present in this scene? This film? What does the director want to show with them? How does this symbol relate to others or determine them? 

#3. Back your analysis with facts. It’s good to express your own ideas and interpretations of what you’ve seen, but don’t forget that it’s not a letter to a friend that you’re writing. As a film studies student, you need to back your analysis with credible evidence and citations from relevant authoritative sources. In this way, you will succeed in situating your analysis within the broader context of your studies. 

#4. Focus on your film. Don’t forget that 99.9% of film analysis essays are assigned to students to check their comprehension of theoretical concepts and the application of those concepts in practice. So, at the core of your film analysis, there should be a link between theory and practice. Don’t just say that the director uses POV to let the audience align with the characters’ experiences. Illustrate this point with a couple of POV scene examples to show how this technique is applied and its effect on the viewers.  

Film Analysis Essay Outline 

Now let’s proceed to a film analysis essay outline that can serve as a universal template for everyone tasked with such an assignment. Here are the basic elements you can include in any film analysis essay with ease. 


This paragraph sets the scene for further analysis. You can name the film you’re going to review, say a few words about its director, and stipulate its central theme or message. Then comes a thesis statement in which you formulate the gist of your analysis. If it’s a technical film analysis essay, then name the filmmaking tools you’ll take a deeper look at; if it’s a content-related essay, then state the themes or symbols you’ll examine. 


Here, you should dedicate one paragraph to each component of your essay. Focus on different aspects of your analysis, and don’t be repetitive. For instance, if you analyze the film 12 Angry Men, you can dedicate one paragraph to the unique camera movement approach the director used, one paragraph to the concept of reasonable doubt, and one paragraph to the theme of implied racism in the U.S. legal system. 


The final paragraph of a film analysis essay is typically dedicated to a wrap-up of the entire argument and restatement of the thesis. You can also add your overall impression from watching the film and give broader references to the context and significance of its message. 

Film Analysis Essay Sample 

Here is a film analysis essay example to exemplify everything we’ve said above. You can use this example as a guide in your writing by looking at how the introduction is structured and how transitions are used to make the writing coherent. 

The 1957 film 12 Angry Men is a thought-provoking work of Sidney Lumet about an attempt of one juror to prevent the miscarriage of justice for an 18-year-old Hispanic boy accused of his father’s murder. The film is an excellent insight into how people’s prejudices affect their judgment and how one person’s reasonable doubt can do the impossible. Besides the life lessons and personal transformation cases, 12 Angry Men is an engaging film in technical terms. Lumet’s skilled use of filmmaking tools captures the atmosphere of fate-determining dispute in a hot, stuffy room.

Lumet’s use of camera positioning is a critical element in this film as it creates the relevant atmosphere and acts as a determinant of the characters’ state. At the beginning of the film, Lumet used the camera position above eye level to expand the room’s space visually. Closer to the middle of the film, the camera was positioned at the eye level, while by the end of the film, it digressed below the eye level to intensify the feeling of claustrophobia in the room. In this way, the director added the visual effect of mounting tension in the agitated discussion and symbolized the vanishing space for those insisting on the ‘guilty’ verdict. To accomplish the symbolic role of the camera lens, Lumet also shot the jurors leaving the court with a wide lens to enhance the feeling of moral release from doing the right thing. 

Another unique feature of this film the examination of team dynamics in action. The team of jurors compiled in the jury room is heterogeneous to its maximum, with one polite, one thoughtful, one biased, one stubborn, one uninterested juror, etc. Besides, the team has both weak and strong personalities in it, each with their own prejudices and preconceptions about justice, about the accused boy, and about life overall. So, the way Juror #8 manages to make the first gains in his debate against 11 other jurors fully confident in the boy’s guilt is a brilliant example of skilled negotiations and persistence in proving the reasonable doubt. 

The film has also become a common reference point among Law professors. Many characters from the film spoke at length about the American justice system, and the very case they were discussing was a vivid illustration of its major flaw – reliance on speculation instead of facts. Thus, 12 Angry Men illustrated the deadly mistakes jurors can make daily by relying on broad, vague assumptions reaching far beyond a reasonable doubt. The vicious impact of prejudice on the sober judgment is also persistent in the film. The subject of race and socio-economic status serves as sound bases for claiming the boy guilty instead of going the extra mile to discover the truth. 

So, upon watching 12 Angry Men, every student may discover an unrivaled piece of filmmaking art showing the weaknesses and strengths of human nature and the power of reasonable human inquiry. The film teaches being sober and objective in one’s judgment, enabling people to distinguish facts from their prejudices and biases. Lumet’s skilled camera use and a brilliant script of Reginald Rose have combined into a touching story that teaches people the value of objectivity and fairness. 

Common Mistakes Students Make When Writing a Film Analysis Essay 

After reading our sample film analysis essay, you are probably much readier to handle this task on your own. But don’t haste to submit your assignment to the tutor once you have completed it. You need to check the text in terms of common mistakes most students make, risking their grades. By ousting these things from your writing, you’re sure to become a better film analyst with time. 

  • Don’t summarize the plot. Your tutor likely knows the plot by heart, while other readers are more interested in seeing what you discovered in the film, not what the film is about. 
  • Don’t be biased. Obviously, film analysis essays involve a great degree of subjective judgment as they are the products of your personal analysis. Yet, your opinions should still be backed by evidence. If there is no evidence to support your claim, be sure to illustrate your point with detailed analyses of specific scenes. 
  • Name the characters. Saying something like, the old woman with a dog went to her neighbor, who was a deaf man, and they did this and that…” may sound too confusing, especially if you continue calling them “he” and “she” throughout the essay. If the characters have names in the film, call them by names. Otherwise, your readers won’t understand who you are talking about. 
  • Research the context. In most cases, understanding the film’s background is a sure way to practical, insightful analysis. Knowing what stood behind the film’s creation, how the actors were chosen, etc., can reveal new shades of meaning for you. For instance, 12 Angry Men was rehearsed in the same room without shooting for days so that all actors got the feel of what it was to stay in that hot room and debate a court case. This fact about the film explains why the acting looks so natural and sincere in the film’s final version. 

How to Write a Film Analysis Essay without Watching the Film? 

Obviously, writing on film involves much more than writing talent. To produce a well-structured and reasonable argument about a movie, you should watch it closely, preferably at least two times. So, our answer to the question of how to write a film analysis essay without watching a film is “no way.” You can create some valuable content based on online reviews and other students’ papers, but keep in mind that such a paper will never be in-depth and insightful. You’re most likely to compose something superficial, repeating the ideas circulating the Web and exposing zero understanding of the film, which your tutor is sure to detect.