In today’s world, media consumption is the name of the game. Everywhere you go, you’re bombarded with media of all sorts: television ads, radio jingles, news broadcasts, political tweets, and on and on and on. Not to mention the internet, which contains a near-infinite stream of videos, songs, photos, ideas, and just about anything else you could imagine. And our habits reinforce this, being that, on average, internet users spend 6½ hours a day online. And this isn’t a small subset of hardcore gamers or anything, either. We’re talking about 4.4 billion internet users across the world spending more than 6 hours on the internet every day.
Even if you didn’t realize just how inundated we are by our media consumption habits, you’ll no doubt agree that we live in an overwhelming era. The infinite amount of media and commodities at our fingertips is absurd. If you have had friends or coworkers recommend a film or series to you, and then you replied, “Sounds great, I’ll have to add that one to the list,” you’re not alone. The fact that we all have backlogs of things-to-be-watched is kind of funny when you think about it. Though it can be stressful when you open up that iPhone notepad list on your phone and see how long the list stretches, it’s not a terrible problem to have.
Still, many of us are eager to bring some sense of orderliness to our lives. Enter a site like Letterboxd, which is a film-tracking service that doubles as a social media hub for people to exchange their opinions on movies. If you’re familiar with Goodreads, Letterboxd is quite similar. It not only lets you discuss and discover new films, but it also helps you keep track of the flicks you’ve already watched.
In this review, I’m going to turn the service inside out and see what it’s all about. What is Letterboxd best utilized for? And can it help organize this part of your cultural life? What drew me to the website was the idea that I could keep track of anything film-related in one place, and ultimately reduce my mental clutter. Now, I want to explore whether or not it does that, and how you can best utilize it yourself.
How it Started
Letterboxd is something of a spring chicken, in that it’s only been around since 2011. This makes its enormous growth all the more impressive, being that it has grown from an unheard-of website to a gargantuan platform in less than a decade. It all started at Brooklyn Beta, where the site was launched in beta mode in late 2011. At this point, it was invite-only and private, but its success soon led to a public launch in Q1 of 2013. As its membership has grown, the service has adapted by introducing a tiered-membership structure, where both free and premium subscriptions give users access to a variety of the site’s features.
How it Works
When you’re dealing with a service that’s equal parts film database and a communal discussion forum, it can be a bit daunting to figure out how the website works. Basically, it goes something like this: let’s say you’re thinking of watching a new movie and you want to see whether the online community gives it a thumbs up. Rather than deal with Rotten Tomatoes’ ranking system (which divides “audience” ratings from “critics”), you can head to Letterboxd and see what the community thinks of it. Letterboxd combines ratings from both big-name critics and everyday folks like me. For example, at this moment, Parasite boasts a 4.6 out of 5-star rating with thousands and thousands of reviews.
But keep scrolling, and you’ll get thorough schooling in all there is to know about the flick. After reading a short synopsis, you’ll find a comprehensive “About” section, which includes the cast & crew list, details about production, and the genres the movie has been lumped into thus far. Beneath this, you’ll find a mix of “recent reviews” and “popular reviews,” the latter of which are often written by respected critics.
Then, we’re met with one of Letterboxd’s best features. Beneath the title’s thumbnail at the top of the page, you’ll see a small “Where to Watch” tab. This marvelous feature shows you exactly which streaming services and/or networks the film is currently available on, and whether or not you can rent or buy the film there. This feature is a result of a recent partnership with JustWatch. Rather than bounce between each of your streaming services manually, this feature allows you to get to watching without a moment wasted.
Anyway, once you’ve finished watching your film, you can save it and add it to your diary. Over time, you’ll accumulate quite a retrospective that you can return to at your leisure. In your diary, you’ll find the films you logged, the date you logged them on, and your rating and review (if you gave one). All these parameters can be made public or private. You can sort through them, too, using filters like “decade”, “genre”, or “rating”. Personally, this is my favorite part of Letterboxd, as it helps me consolidate my thoughts.
Another fantastic part of Letterboxd’s consortium of features is its lists section. Here, users can group collections of films and share them with other users. These lists can be followed, shared, liked, etc. Because it’s such a popular feature, users put a lot of work into cultivating their lists. As I browse now, some examples of lists are Anxiety-Induced Cinema; High Art Genre Movies; and A24 – Complete Filmography. Browse for a few minutes and you’ll find half a dozen lists that’ll catch your interest and get you excited about seeing those new films.
So to review, what we’ve got in Letterboxd is a full-service website for film lovers that covers the gamut. From the beginning of your film search all the to the end – discussion, analysis, and reflection – the website has a feature that covers it all. From its community-based ranking system, to its social-media style comment-and-like platform, IMDb-like database, and its rich collection of user-curated lists, it’s hard to imagine a website that’s better conceived than this one.
I expected the worst when I opened Letterboxd on my phone’s Chrome browser for the first time. Being that the website is so comprehensive with its all-encompassing features, I imagined it would be difficult to implement this cleanly on mobile. But surprisingly, I was wrong, and for once, happy to be wrong. And the Letterboxd app, too, is clean as clean gets.
Whether you’re using the app or you’re more fond of sticking to a mobile web client, there’s little to complain about here. Logging films that you’ve just watched is incredibly easy, and navigating through Letterboxd’s UI is just as intuitive as it is on a desktop client. For a service that was created at the turn of the millennium, its sleek, modern-facing implementation shouldn’t be surprising. Still, it’s truly impressive that the app and the mobile web client are so clutter-free.
While Letterboxd is totally free to use, you do have the option to upgrade to a paid membership if you want more benefits. There are two tiers for paid members, the first of which is called Pro and the second, Patron. Letterboxd Pro seems to be quite popular among statistics geeks, and upon learning that it immediately piqued my interest. (Yes, I truly, really, honestly love numbers.) For $19 a year, a Pro membership will provide you with several features, including “year in review”-style statistical breakdowns, more control over the activity feed’s filters, and other numerical breakdowns like “all-time” stats. These might include parameters like, which actor you’ve seen the most; what genre you gravitate towards; what decade you prefer.
Then there’s the Patron membership, which costs a good chunk more than the Pro. For $49 a year, a Patron membership will grant you a slew of features that you probably don’t need. This includes being granted early access to beta feature, having your name “in lights” on the Letterboxd Patron page, and having a special insignia to signify your elite membership on your profile. Obviously, this is intended for folks who appreciate the work Letterboxd has done and want to give back by supporting the service with a monetary contribution.