Turning Ten: A Decade on Letterboxd

Ricky Baker’s birthday celebration from Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Ricky Baker’s birthday celebration from Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Letterboxd officially turned ten this past October. We asked ten members to tell us what a decade of tracking films has meant to them. (It’s meant the world to us!)

In late 2011, at a friendly web conference held in Brooklyn, New York, Matthew Buchanan debuted Letterboxd, which he had created in Auckland, New Zealand with co-founder Karl von Randow and a small team. Designed to foster a community of film lovers who would share, log, rate and watchlist films, this early iteration attracted enthusiastic beta members.

Ten years and five-million-plus members later, we were curious about what a ‘life in film’ looks like for those early adopters who now have a decade of movie-watching habits recorded—and what that data might tell them about themselves.

From a shared passion for the world of cinema, to a place to make friends, and a way to access memories, ten film fanatics lovingly (and critically) describe what it is to have the fabric of one’s life threaded through a social-media platform made for sharing our love of movies. Here’s to the next ten!

Parasite at the top of the Official Letterboxd Top 250? It’s so… metaphorical.
Parasite at the top of the Official Letterboxd Top 250? It’s so… metaphorical.

Dave Vis

Letterboxd profile: dave (curator of the Official Letterboxd Top 250)

November 12, 2011 was the day. Not that I remember it like the birth of my kids, but it’s been in my Letterboxd bio ever since. The site was in its beta phase at the time, so how my good friend here in Holland got a couple of invitation codes for this New Zealand film geeks’ website is still a mystery to me.

From those early days of browsing through lists of thousands of films just to tick more ‘watched’ icons, to following new people with interesting takes on films, I instantly loved it. The list-making fetishist in me soon got his way also, especially when the facility to sort titles by average rating was added. I just felt I needed a Letterboxd Top 250 just as IMDb had one. I’m still quite humbled that I was asked to curate it as the Official Letterboxd Top 250, with over 58,000 likes now.

Letterboxd was also important for my personal film-watching experience. The Letterboxd community—the heart of the website—introduced me to so many classics, art-house gems and foreign films I would never have seen if it wasn’t for them. The Top 250, user reviews and direct contact with other members put so much incredible stuff on my radar. So I want to thank the Letterboxd team for their inspired initiative and all beloved members for their input in making this the best film platform there is over the last ten years. Here’s to ten more!

 “I love seeing love,” swoons Dirk in his review for Wong Kar-wai’s dreamy Chungking Express.
 “I love seeing love,” swoons Dirk in his review for Wong Kar-wai’s dreamy Chungking Express.

Dirk H

Letterboxd profile: dirkh

Letterboxd to me is a reversed diamond. It started out as a thing of shiny beauty, a beauty which is now rather obfuscated to me but still there.

Letterboxd used to be gorgeous. I have always been a movie fanatic, but Letterboxd broadened my movie horizon considerably. What we get in cinemas in the Netherlands is limited to mostly Hollywood fare, so exposure to movies from other countries was limited. But now, I hunted down films from so many other countries and eras. Letterboxd gave a depth to my fanaticism and fuelled it immensely. I was always jotting down mental notes for my review while watching. The sense of community was really strong with so many wonderful initiatives some of which still exist to this day.

So Letterboxd was for me a place to educate myself, have fun and write. I feel that essence is starting to waver a bit. Art appreciation revolves around interpretation and opinion. In this age, however, confirmation bias runs rampant and there seems to be a false sense of appropriation for just about everything. And I see that seeping through to Letterboxd as well. Opinions are wrong and being critical of the latest Nolan or [insert big franchise/classic film here] gets you aggressive comments. The popularity algorithm has made it a chore sometimes to find an actual review of a film. They’re still there, I just hope they’ll get the possibility to punch through a bit more.

Letterboxd is a reflection of our global community and the fact that has moved me to the shadows a bit, observing from a distance, has more to do with me than with the platform. The beauty of film is that it is one of the most accessible art forms there is. Letterboxd, warts and all, is a linchpin for lovers of cinema. It is a movie lover’s itch that needs scratching. And I’m sure we’ll get that diamond shining brightly once again.

Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s mermaid horror The Lure populates Jacob’s “You’ll find me in the tub…” list.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s mermaid horror The Lure populates Jacob’s “You’ll find me in the tub…” list.

Jacob Powell

Letterboxd handle: jacobunny

3,551 films, spread over 6,451 hours, by 2,045 different directors, from 104 countries.

Is this what a decade looks like? I enjoy statistics. In my day job, I’m a librarian. I enjoy putting objects in order: books on shelves, DVDs and Blu-rays in my large cupboard; arranged by subject category, author or director, and date of release. I used to track my movie viewing via a mish-mash of half-filled spreadsheets and a clunky piece of DVD library software, so when Letterboxd appeared in my Twitter feed in mid-2012, I had to check it out.

My ‘in real life’ movie crew expanded into a community composed of enthused filmheads from across the globe (including a few favorite actors and directors) who enrich each others’ cine-lives. My taste has always been eclectic, but engaging with some of the thematic ‘challenges’ that float about the Lettersphere has pushed me to be more purposeful in my viewing choices—a strong example being the #52filmsbywomen prompt. In recent Covid-constricted times, I’ve found myself in the midst of a few Letterboxd-based group-viewing projects (many thanks to my proactive friend Doug Dillaman).

And yet, for me, the primary appeal of the service lies in its core functionality: I want to be able to log my viewing, and my thoughts about my viewing. This piece of applied technology enables me to access the memories and detail I need when my brain can’t recall them. To contribute to conversations, to reference in my writing, or simply to bask again in a specific cinematic experience. To address my opening question: my Letterboxd account literally preserves the glorious, fresh-eyed minutiae of my last ten years of film-watching. I have loved my time here.

Certified New Yorker Khoi refers to The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as “maybe the most five bouroughs-y movie ever made”.
Certified New Yorker Khoi refers to The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as “maybe the most five bouroughs-y movie ever made”.

Khoi Vinh

Letterboxd handle: khoi

If I’ve really been on Letterboxd ten years then it must’ve come into my life during the foggiest stretch I’ve ever experienced. At the time, I had a toddler, twins on the way, a new business getting off the ground, and my wife and I were looking for a new house. Frantic times.

So the start of my Letterboxd journey is a dim memory at best. Nevertheless, somewhere along the way it flowered into something more, and became one of the most essential parts of my online life. These days, I fire up the Letterboxd app on my phone, load up the Letterboxd site on my laptop, and/or launch the iPad app every single day—and some days I do all three. At this point, I use Letterboxd more than Twitter or Facebook or any other social network, and not just because Letterboxd isn’t actively undermining society.

The thing about Letterboxd is that the signal-to-noise ratio is high. Remarkably high. It’s often hilarious, frequently insightful, and even sometimes deeply emotionally moving. And it’s all about a shared passion for the world of cinema, for the triumphs of artists attempting to put good stuff into the world. That’s what the Internet should be, by the way. Thank you, Letterboxd, for doing it the way that you do.

Live footage of Laura when she finally finishes Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
Live footage of Laura when she finally finishes Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Laura E. Hall

Letterboxd handle: lauraehall

Movies are part of the fabric of my life. I watch a lot of them—more than 300 this year, so far—and when I’m recalling life events, major or minor, inevitably there’s a film playing in the background of those mental reels.

An overseas family visit? That trip took place between two films: seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater when we first arrived, and watching The Lobster on the plane home. That time the tree fell on our house during an ice storm? We were on the opening frames of Barry Lyndon—still haven’t gotten to finish that one.

For the last decade, Letterboxd has been an essential part of those memories too. At the end of each year, I look back on my film diary and reflect on my previous twelve months of film watching. My Letterboxd data lets me trace the ebbs and flows of the time that’s passed. Social events, birthdays, celebrations, mourning… my film-loving friends and family and I sat together in front of the screen, laughing and chatting or silently engrossed, taking those cinematic journeys together.

Scrolling through my film diary, I’m joyfully remembering the moments that have been the most meaningful for each year, and thinking about which movies will evoke this period in my life ten years from now: The last movie I watched in cinemas before lockdown in the US (63 Up). The first film we watched with friends remotely (In Fabric). The movies I put on in the background when I was newly working from home (so many documentaries). The movies I have on now, nearly two years later, as we enter another gray Oregon winter (every 2021 Hallmark Christmas movie).

The fabric of my life and the texture of my memories is still being woven, and I’m grateful that Letterboxd has been a part of it for the last decade. Here’s to another ten years.

Unlike Harry Wormwood, Lola thinks Matilda is “an honest-to-goodness gem”.
Unlike Harry Wormwood, Lola thinks Matilda is “an honest-to-goodness gem”.

Lola Landekić

Letterboxd handle: lola (also editor in chief of Art of the Title

When did I join Letterboxd? Has it been so long? A deep fog rolls in when I try to recall a time before I ritualistically logged the films I watched, tapping that green plus sign encased in a circle after the credits have rolled away and the lights have come up. By now, the platform has become a repository of some of my favourite memories.

Over the years, as I watched films with my family, best friends, fleeting flings, long-term loves and, most of all, by myself, my stalwart companion has been Letterboxd. I’ve spit out specks of disgust and yawps of joy, pithy one-liners and long, flowery reflections. I’ve been able to watch with intention. I look at my data and I say to myself: More films by women! More films by people of color! More horror! And then I build myself a path.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook”, Joan Didion wrote: “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” And so I use Letterboxd to keep track and to keep notes, to make jokes and to make lists, to remember films, but mostly to remember myself. I remember what it was to be me.

Life is sweet when Mark is able to witter on about kitchen-sink dramas on Letterboxd. 
Life is sweet when Mark is able to witter on about kitchen-sink dramas on Letterboxd. 

Mark Cunliffe

Letterboxd handle: man_out_of_time

I’ve my friend Michael Mackenzie to thank for introducing me to Letterboxd. He knew I liked film and told me about this site that was in beta currently that I might be interested in. A decade ago was a bit of an empty period for me. I’d recently been made redundant, so there wasn’t much going on in real life, and I was also finding my online life a bit stale too. All I had was my regular movie watching—now here was a way of recording that activity. The opportunity to pen reviews provided an outlet for my creativity and passion for writing.

If it wasn’t for Letterboxd, I’d never have become a regular reviewer at sites like The Geek Show and We Are Cult. I’d have never appeared on podcasts, and I’d certainly never have got my freelance gig at Arrow writing booklet essays for prestigious releases like Children of Men and The Day of the Jackal. What Letterboxd did was appeal to my love of film, my ability to chat about it with friends, and sharpen it until it became a skill as much as a pastime. Letterboxd genuinely gave me confidence in my own voice and opinions, something that has never previously come easy to me.

Letterboxd also introduced me to a great community of like-minded, intelligent, passionate, and funny souls, each of whom has, in turn, introduced me to films and filmmakers I probably would have never considered if it wasn’t for the opportunities on this site.

Ultimately, Letterboxd has provided me with my most comfortable internet ‘home’, a place in a rewarding community. And all I have to do to keep my place is witter on about my love for Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, social realism, kitchen sink, old TV plays, etc. Thanks for having me for a decade. Here’s to the next ten years.

Mitchell gets personal in their review of Tsai Ming-liang’s The River: “thank you to anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written on here.”
Mitchell gets personal in their review of Tsai Ming-liang’s The River: “thank you to anyone who’s ever read anything I’ve written on here.”

Mitchell Beaupre 

Letterboxd handle: mitchell (also Letterboxd’s Festivals and Senior Editor) 

Letterboxd came to me at a very crucial time. Suffering from an undiagnosed chronic illness, I had recently become entirely bedridden, unable to leave my home for anything other than doctor’s visits. This period would last for three years before I was able to receive a diagnosis, and consequently find ways to manage the illness well enough to at least keep me out of bed. During those three years, I spent all day, every day, alone, and films kept me company.

Just as importantly, Letterboxd kept me company. An invite from an online friend brought me to the site when it was in beta, and I spent days upon days converting my many documents of film reviews and ratings into Letterboxd. Without film, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through those years of isolation, and in that time I found a purpose in writing reviews, using Letterboxd as a personal diary as much as it was a platform for critical analysis.

Being so open in my writing here allowed me to build connections that I still maintain, but more than anything, Letterboxd has been a tremendous curatorial tool to help me discover new areas of cinema previously unexplored, opening me up to a world far beyond the four walls that would surround me.

As the years went on—as I started to have friends I could hang out with in person, to go back to movie theaters, to eventually get a job—many things in my life changed, but Letterboxd remained the one constant. For the last ten years, it has been my homepage, a site (or app) that I check daily to read thoughts from my friends on the films they’re seeing.

It’s funny to look back on the beginning of the site now, in the midst of a pandemic, when I am once again confined to staying inside for potentially years on end, thanks to my illness putting me at high risk. Letterboxd truly has always been there—a place where I can chart my journey from being confined to my bed, to being out in the world, to being confined inside again—and just like before, it has allowed me the opportunity to feel new experiences, to build new connections, and to find community despite my physical limitations. It’s a platform I will be eternally grateful to have in my life.

Rob needed a lie-down after watching Demon Seed during his annual “Robtober” marathon.
Rob needed a lie-down after watching Demon Seed during his annual “Robtober” marathon.

Rob Weychert 

Letterboxd handle: robweychert

I never used to think of myself as much of a collector. Decades of confined apartment living taught me to cultivate a certain minimalism, to avoid sentimental attachments, to reduce and consolidate. When the Information Age came for physical media, I held on a little longer than most, but by the time I finally stopped buying CDs, my entire collection had already been ripped to MP3 for years.

I didn’t even bother to digitize most of my DVDs before I sold them off unceremoniously. To some traditional collectors, this may have seemed like a lack of devotion, but this process helped me realize I wasn’t attached to the artifacts of music and film, I was attached to the experience of them. So now I think of myself as a collector of experiences.

We all accumulate experiences, of course, just like we accumulate objects. But a collection—at least the kind that interests me—is much more deliberate than an accumulation. The best collections are curations, and a curator puts a lot of thought into what they value about their collection and what would make it more complete. To this end, I can think of no finer tool for managing a collection of experiences than Letterboxd.

I’ve been a film lover my whole life, but if Letterboxd hadn’t come along, I think it’s safe to say I would never have been quite so intentional about it. I’ve kept up with friends’ moviegoing adventures. I’ve written hundreds of wannabe Pauline Kael reviews. I’ve cross-referenced my film diary entries to find interesting patterns and connections. I’ve fallen down cast-and-crew-research rabbit holes. I’ve methodically sorted and filtered aggregated community ratings to assemble my October schedule of new-to-me horror.

Through it all, Letterboxd has been my cinephilic command center. For the past ten years, it’s been indispensable, leaving no film-watching experience unexamined, and as a result, the collected experiences that live in my Letterboxd account are so much richer than a bookcase full of Blu-rays could ever be. Matthew, Karl and the rest of the crew have made something truly special, and I can’t wait to see what new discoveries and friends I make in my next ten years on Letterboxd.

Sacha doesn’t care that you know that she has watched Pitch Perfect more than once.
Sacha doesn’t care that you know that she has watched Pitch Perfect more than once.

Sacha Judd

Letterboxd handle: szechuan

When Letterboxd launched, it felt special from the start—a place to share the movies you loved with people who loved them just as much. But for me, it was confronting. Writing reviews amounted to putting my taste on display. I felt like I was performing for an audience even if, back then, the audience was small. I wanted my reviews to be pithy, clever and on-point. I spent ages agonizing over whether something deserved an extra half-star.

And then, I watched Pitch Perfect, the 2012 feel-good hit about competitive acapella singers. I didn’t care that the film wasn't Oscar-worthy or a cinematic triumph. I absolutely loved it. It was funny and fresh and joy-filled. I wrote in my Letterboxd review: “This is a movie I’d watch more than once.”

And so I did. I watched it again. And again. I logged that film eight times in one year. Somewhere along the way, I realized something magical—I didn’t care what other people thought of my film opinions. I’m happy to be someone who rewatches the entire Fast and the Furious franchise everytime there’s a rainy public holiday, and doesn’t want to fight everyone online who thinks skipping Tokyo Drift is a mistake (Tokyo Drift is the mistake). I stopped writing reviews altogether. I have plenty of thoughts, but no need to share them. I just want a record of the films I’ve seen and the stars for the vibe, so I can go back later and think ‘three, average, didn’t hate it’. Or ‘one, definitely avoid’.

So I’m a Letterboxd lurker, and have been for years, and it’s still one of my absolute favourite places on the internet. Filled with smart, thoughtful analyses piling up right alongside hilarious lists and meme-worthy reviews. A community of creative, passionate users. Every time I see a screenshot of a Letterboxd review shared somewhere else I think, ‘that’s right, those are my people’. Even if only 17,000 of them appreciate Pitch Perfect as much as I do.

Further Reading

  • “I remember you, Matt, saying ‘I think we’re ready to build this’.” —Listen to Karl and Matthew’s episode of The Letterboxd Show.


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