Cinema - Describing a film - ESL Vocabulary for Film and Television
Describing a film
If you’ve just seen a great film, you might want to tell your friends about it. Here are some tips for doing that. Make sure you know how to sequence your story, and use linking words to help others understand you.
Telling a story about a film
Here are some ways you can tell the story (plot) of a film you’ve seen.
It’s set in…(New York / in the 1950’s).
The film’s shot on location in Arizona.
The main characters are … and they’re played by…
It’s a mystery / thriller / love-story.
You can tell the story of the film in the present simple tense.
Well, the main character decides to… (rob a bank)
But when he drives there…
Giving your opinion
I thought the film was great / OK / fantastic…
The actors / costumes / screenplay are/is …
The special effects are fantastic / terrible
The best scene / the worst scene is when…
The plot is believable / seems a bit unlikely
Not telling all
You don’t want to spoil the film for your friends, so you can say something like:
“I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’m not going to tell you what happens in the end.”
“You’ll have to go and see it for yourself.”
“I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you.”
All these are useful words and phrases to spice up your description:
true-to-life (a real story)
the real story of
remarkable (unusual, good)
masterpiece (the best work someone has done)
Vocabulary for describing movies
Here is a list of vocabulary that reviewers often use when describing movies.
I have divided them into three categories: positive, negative, and neutral.
Note that depending on the combination of words used, they may change from neutral to positive or negative.
Movie / Film vocabulary
Uses simple and ordinary effects
Technically and visually stunning
A compelling work of science-fiction
Unimaginative, implausible and ridiculous
An eye-opening expose
A cliché-ridden script and familiar narrative
Chock full of high-tech dazzling action
Features manic action
An offbeat but touching romantic comedy
Light and entertaining
Goes overboard with slapstick and effects
Spiced with plenty of humor and affection
Crude and offensive
A funny political satire
Lacks originality, ingenuity, humor, and charm
An overly melodramatic tearjerker
Mammothly entertaining stuff
Movie is skippable
Dark, thrilling and mysterious
A big-reveal thriller with surprises that do NOT surprise
A clever, heart-pounding thriller
An obvious, predictable plot
A dull and repetitive interpretation
Merely passable acting
Refreshingly honest and utterly charming
A tired and monotonous
A well-acted, intensely shot, action filled war epic
Fails to come up with interesting characters
Movie review vocabulary
Movie reviews include different elements of the movie including:
Director – the person who directed the movie
Rating – 1-5 number of stars, 5 stars is the best review
Starring – the names of the actors in the movie
Producer – the person/company that produced the movie
Based on – used when a movie is based on a book
Action/Adventure – fighting, chases, explosions, and fast scenes
Animation – computer-animated or hand drawn characters
Comedy – funny, funny, and more funny
Documentary – story about someone or something that actually took place in history
Drama – emotionally charged personal challenges
Foreign – any movie not in English
Horror/Thriller/Suspense/Mystery – dark, scary and bloody scenes
Kids/Family – fun for the whole family
Romance – a love story
Sci-Fiction/Fantasy – not a true story, but based on make-believe, full of imaginative ideas
and special effects
Musical – story told with song and dance
Some other vocabulary related to film/movie
catch a movie
go to the movies
buy some popcorn
catch a movie
get a drink
go to a movie theater
read a movie review
sit in an aisle seat
wait in line
watch a movie trailer
watch the credits
watch the previews
take a seat
at the front
in the middle
at the back
x has much to recommend it.
X is, at heart, a(n) love/spy/adventure story.
It is based on a book by …
It is set in the countryside/the future.
The film has a quality cast.
The film was directed by …
The film score is enchanting/evocative/scary.
The film captures the spirit of …
The hero/heroine/villain is …
I felt/thought it was …
I was impressed by …
What struck me most was …
What I liked most/didn’t like was …
The plot was gripping.
The characters were very convincing/very well drawn.
On reflection, I think it was …
It struck me as being …
What I didn’t understand was how …
In spite of these few criticisms, I think …
I would have no hesitation in recommending …