Gemma Gracewood takes a look at the top 200 films that were added to Letterboxd members’ diaries during a year-long period of stay-at-home orders.
We knew you were watching comfort films. We knew you were taking on directors’ and writers’ filmographies, and working your way through entire franchises. We had fun taking a deep-dive into your obsessive rewatches. But we also wanted to know where the films released during lockdown stood alongside old favorites and popular titles.
So we are marking a year of staying-at-home by seeing what you added to your diaries over that period. Our methodology involved calculating the 200 films with the most diary entries between March 15, 2020 and March 15, 2021. We picked March 15, 2020 as the start date, as that is the week when world leaders began shutting down public life, and much of the Letterboxd community began physically distancing in earnest. (For film lovers, it’s also the week when the cancelled SXSW 2020 would have been held; a stark line in the sand for the film community.)
Just a note about logging versus watching on Letterboxd: there is a difference between telling us you’ve watched a film using the “eye” icon—or by applying a rating directly—and logging the film in your diary using the Log option. (Many members mark films as watched as they build out their Letterboxd profiles, without specifying the date watched. This is perfect for filling in your backlog, however going the extra step and logging a film tells us—and you!—the exact day you saw it.) “Most logged” also differs from “most popular”, which considers all activity for a film, including reviews, comments, list additions, diary entries and so on. Filtering by most logged helps build a viewing picture of a specific time period, rather than overall popularity at a given point in time.
What are we seeing here? In the top twenty alone, you’ve got the power of feel-good stories (Soul, Palm Springs), the power of Christopher Nolan (Tenet), and the power of an actual cinema release (The Invisible Man, which had the last good theater run of 2020 and was released digitally just three weeks after its theatrical release).
The power of streamers is evident in the top twenty (from Netflix’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Enola Holmes, to Amazon’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and Sound of Metal, and the unexpected Disney+ gift of Hamilton). Also clear: the power of that incredible year-of-film, 2019 (Knives Out, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems). Then there’s always that one film we just can’t stop talking about—in this top twenty, it’s Promising Young Woman. This is huge, considering Emerald Fennell’s film was released theatrically and on VOD, not via a streamer, and it is not yet even out in the UK (it goes straight to Sky a week before the Oscars).
Beyond the top twenty, other trends emerge. Of note, given the many shuttered cinemas and restricted screenings, is that a quarter of the films on the list were released during the lockdown. By hook or by crook, we watched them. And among those 50 films are solid indie and low-budget titles, such as Possessor, The Vast of Night, His House, First Cow and The Assistant. The list includes five films actually produced during the pandemic: Host, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm, Malcolm & Marie, Framing Britney Spears, and Death to 2020.
A few titles stood out for their connection to the pandemic, from the direct (Home Alone had more than its usual Christmas traffic, and Steve Soderbergh’s Contagion saw its steepest curve through March and April 2020, remaining popular through the year;) to the more esoteric. Sofia Coppola’s loneliness meditation, Lost in Translation, was an evergreen favorite throughout lockdown, while Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had a surge of diary entries through the northern summer as the ignorance of Amity’s leaders reflected real-life (“As you see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time.” —Mayor Vaughn).
As the year dragged on and we searched for meaning in our bubbles, a film about a man who doesn’t know he is growing up in a bubble began to rise up the diary ranks. Many Letterboxd members rewatched The Truman Show for the comfort of recognition, many more because they’d never seen it the first time around and found solace in the concept of living life in a loop until meaning is found, not to mention Jim Carrey’s brilliant performance throughout its horrific conceit.
This top 200 also shows us that stay-at-home orders gave many of you the opportunity to catch up on critically acclaimed titles of the last few years, such as Moonlight, The Farewell, Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Florida Project, The Handmaiden. Also, the classics: The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, Goodfellas, The Godfather series, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, Alien, Halloween, Fargo, Psycho, In the Mood for Love and, of course, that hand flex in Pride & Prejudice.
Many contemporary Letterboxd faves made the list, such as The Social Network, La La Land, Lady Bird, Hereditary, Booksmart, Lost in Translation, Her, Nightcrawler, The Nice Guys. We’d expect teen romances and comedies to bring comfort, and you logged films like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Superbad often enough to make the list.
We absolutely expected musicals (Hamilton, La La Land, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Frozen II) and we knew there would be franchises and blockbusters (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, various Star Wars instalments, Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Back to the Future, Avengers, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Die Hard, Bill & Ted, Jurassic Park, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and all of Lara Jean’s boys). Only two documentaries had enough logged views in the specified period to make the list: The Social Dilemma and Framing Britney Spears.
It‘s pleasing—and no doubt part of the Netflix effect—to see that of the twelve animated features on the list, five are from Studio Ghibli. The full dozen: Soul, Onward, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Fantastic Mr Fox, Princess Mononoke, Frozen II, Ratatouille, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Coco.
On animation, it is well worth noting that if Letterboxd parents and caregivers logged every watch of their household’s quarantine viewing in their diaries, this entire top 200 would look quite different. We’d hazard a guess at a top ten that would include the Frozens, Totoro, Coco, Moana, Inside Out, Up, Shrek, The Lion King or any number of the other most popular animated features of the year. (This author’s household alone has watched Wolfwalkers more than 30 times since its release—a statistic that’s not evident in my Letterboxd diary.)
Finally, it’s always interesting to do a tally of which directors we are watching the most. The usual suspects: Christopher Nolan (seven films on the list), David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino (five each), Wes Anderson (four), Spike Lee, the Coen brothers and Denis Villeneuve (three). Directors with two films on the list include Sofia Coppola, Greta Gerwig (with a third as writer), Edgar Wright, the Safdie brothers, Damien Chazelle, Bong Joon-ho, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jordan Peele, Steven Soderbergh and Steven Spielberg. Charlie Kaufman is also represented as a writer and/or director on several films.
What can we take away from all of this? That Letterboxd members have great taste, no doubt. That we are solid supporters of new movies, even when cinemas are shut. That films have provided comfort, information, context, escape, a way to feel something throughout this horrendous year. But also, taking our lead from the number one film on the list, that it is time to step outside and look up, let the sun fall on our faces, and go hug a vaccinated person.