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My Love-Hate Relationship with Letterboxd, by Eleanor Prytherch

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

On a Friday in late August, a group of my friends and I made a pilgrimage to an AMC an hour away to see the highly anticipated queer high school comedy Bottoms. It was a delight, and seeing it in the theater with a bunch of friends added immeasurably to the vibe. When the lights came up, with the credits still rolling, everyone pulled out their phones to log the movie on the film-oriented social media app Letterboxd. I needed to take a beat before my thoughts solidified enough to post my review, so I stood up to stretch my legs.

From my vantage point, a full row of queer 21-year-olds leaning over their phones to pen their Bottoms review in the theater made me chuckle, so I took a photo. The picture circulated among the friends in attendance and made it onto several Instagram stories, sometimes in tandem with screenshots of the corresponding collection of Bottoms reviews.

For those unfamiliar, Letterboxd is an app and website that markets itself as a “social platform for sharing your taste in film” on their website — essentially social media for movies. Users log movies as they watch them, rating them on a five star scale in half-star increments and writing reviews.

The site also allows users to read reviews from other users, make lists, comment on their friends’ activity, see what movies are trending on a given week and add films to their watchlist. It has shot up in popularity in recent years, as the social-media savvy generation becomes increasingly interested in the art and history of film.

The app abounds with film bros who write a novel in their reviews, offering legitimate criticism and deep analysis, in between brief one-liners from more casual users. It provides a platform for the common movie lover to feel like a connoisseur in the great art of film.

I have zero formal education in the art of film, and most of the time, I write my reviews based on pure vibes. This seems to be the majority approach. In the reviews for any given film, most of the user contributions will be just a sentence or two of sarcastic quips or even simply a quote from the movie. When people are done watching a movie, they can keep the entertainment party going and easily fall down a rabbit hole of commentary provided by the common people.

A lot can be discerned about a person by the four favorite films they choose to display at the top of their profile. One can get a glimpse into someone’s life by observing which films they log and when.

Many users add more information using the tag feature, the primary purpose of which is to provide a sort of filing system for the individual’s various movie watching experiences. It also provides followers with bonus entertainment, as the common practice of tagging the names of various movie watching companions has been known to cause rifts in friendships or “soft launch” relationships.

With Letterboxd, what was once thought of as a fairly solitary pastime has become an increasingly social activity.

This is where my issue comes in. I started using Letterboxd at the beginning of this year, and it is undoubtedly very fun. Still, it wasn’t long before I started noticing how it changed my movie watching experience. While watching a movie, I’m brainstorming my review in the back of my mind.

Everyone loves to make their friends laugh, and when there’s a streamlined platform to channel that impulse through movie watching, it starts to take over. I’m fairly new to it all, and already I feel like it has fundamentally altered the way I watch movies — and not in a way that I like very much.

The pressure to have something quippy or clever to post when you’re finished watching creeps into the whole experience, and I doubt that I’m alone in this feeling. Instead of being immersed in the story, I’m thinking about how to construct my experience of it into content for others to consume.

Maybe this is a benefit for some people, maybe it gets them to be present and watch more intentionally. Maybe I’m too much of an introvert. But as someone who watches as a way to decompress from the intellectual demands of being a college student, I’m finding it increasingly fatiguing.

Granted, a benefit of the app is that it allows users to engage with it at various levels. One could log and rate a movie without leaving a review, or simply log without any other feedback. Still, the high of coming up with the perfect review, and maybe even having one’s friends reference it in a later conversation, is hard to resist.

After Bottoms, my friends jokingly pushed me to post my review quickly so that all six or seven reviews would show up in a row on their feed and they could post the screenshot. I couldn’t let them down!

Of course, it’s all just for fun, and everyone should use it whichever way is the most enjoyable for them. Sadly, for me, the life of the diligent reviewer is one I may have to give up. When watching movies stops being about watching movies and starts being a means to construct the perfect Letterboxd feed for social media or curate an online persona, I have to wonder whether it’s actually making movies more fun.

It seems like everyday there are more and more layers to the entertainment and content we interact with, and it’s tricky but necessary to be deliberate about using it to actually improve our lives.

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