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How to Summarize a Movie

A movie summary should be an objective account of its contents.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whether you are telling a friend about a movie you've seen, or you're summarizing a movie as part of a class project, the process is similar. After identifying the primary factual elements of the movie -- the who, what, where and when -- you must consolidate them into a few quick sentences. Remember to stick to what's objectively true about the movie and leave out whether or not you enjoyed it. Save your opinions for a more lengthy movie review.

State the movie's premise. This is a one-sentence statement of the basic idea behind the movie. For example, you could say the movie is about a senior police officer and his rookie partner as they fight crime in urban America.

State the major storyline of the picture. This moves slightly beyond the premise to outline what the major characters are going to do in the movie. For example, the two cops investigate the disappearance of the rookie cop's younger brother.

State the major plot points of the movie. For example, the rookie cop tries to contact his brother and discovers he is missing. Despite his more experienced partner's warnings, the rookie proceeds to investigate his disappearance and his partner relents and assists him. They discover the missing brother has a secret life in another city and eventually discover he has abandoned his previous life and family for a new beginning.

Describe the emotional development of the characters and how the details of their lives are revealed in the film. For example, the rookie cop discovers his brother experienced childhood trauma that sent him on the wrong path and led him to desire a different life. The brothers bond over the newly revealed information. The senior cop acts as a mentor to his young colleague throughout the film and is touched by his commitment to his family.

Put together all elements of your summary into a written or spoken paragraph. If possible, re-read your completed summary and edit as required, eliminating subjective responses to the movie. For example, do not include such phrases as "I thought the plot was pretty unbelievable." Also avoid extraneous information about the movie's production, such as "This was John Smith's directorial debut." Include these subjective and behind-the-scenes comments only if your summary is designed to be more lengthy and part of a larger review.

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