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Is Letterboxd's UI changing the way we review movies?

Letterboxd's UI has shifted movie reviews from lengthy film critic think pieces to bite-sized takes designed to be shared.

Three mobile phones and multi-colored bubbles set over a 3d grid receding in space. Each phone shows a Letterboxd interface.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein. Images courtesy Letterboxd.

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Letterboxd's UI has shifted movie reviews from lengthy film critic think pieces to bite-sized, at-a-glance takes written by anyone, and designed to be retweeted.

If you’re searching for film review sources online, there’s a lot to choose from. Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, and Metacritic are just a few of the top options—but none of them can really match the user experience of Letterboxd, the social network for film lovers. And that's because the UX/UI of the platform makes it uniquely shareable online, playing a big role in its rise in popularity over the past few years.

Images 1-3 courtesy Letterboxd. Image 4: Screenshot: Letterboxd.

Often self-described as Goodreads for movies, Letterboxd is a combination of a film database and a film diary that uses a social-network-style follower model, setting it apart from sites that only run on aggregated reviews and ratings. Founded in 2011, Letterboxd started out with 17,000 members after a private beta launch, and their numbers have been growing steadily ever since. It wasn’t until 2020 that they saw a huge growth jump, largely due to the pandemic’s quarantine period, when people were just spending a lot more time at home watching movies. They now have more than 3 million active member accounts, nearly double what they had two years ago.

The highest rated reviews on the platform aren't your typical lengthy film recaps by industry pros; they're tweet-sized takes; unconventional, satirical, and written by anyone with an account. Directly above the review text box, there’s a visual star rating system in bright green, which turns up the absurdity of the best one-liners. Each review has a small image of the movie’s key art on the right. All are design layout decisions that make the movie reviews recognizable at a glance, as well as easy to read, screenshot, and retweet. Many have gone viral, like the four star Joker review that simply read, “This happened to my buddy Eric,” and got over 164,000 likes.

The Joker review screenshot, which was also retweeted over 21,000 times, was originally posted on Twitter by Blake Austin, who runs @InsaneLetterbox (which itself has over 168,000 followers). It’s one of several accounts on Instagram and Twitter that curate the funniest and weirdest reviews by posting screenshots of the UI of reviews on the platform. “I definitely think the layout lends itself to being retweeted and shared,” Austin says. “The reviews I post are bite-sized and easy to consume. You don’t even need to know what Letterboxd is in order to enjoy them.” Austin says the Joker review screenshot has taken on a life of its own, even earning an entry into the database. “I’ll be on a totally different side of the internet and see that review referenced. It’s wild,” Austin explains.

Letterboxd co-founder Matthew Buchanan says they weren’t consciously thinking about the UI being shared as screenshots during the design process, but he sees why people would want to post the experience of using the app on social media if the information is clear and accessible. “It’s immensely pleasing to see the many ways in which our members use the tools we’ve built to create their own identities and memes,” he says. “It’s impossible to consciously plan for this, but it’s delightful to see the organic sharing of images from our UI across the web.

Images courtesy Letterboxd.