Early last decade, Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow, web designers based in Auckland, New Zealand, were seeking a passion project. Their business, a boutique web design studio called Cactuslab, developed apps and websites for various clients, but they wanted a project of their own that their team could plug away at when there wasn’t much else to do. From a report: Buchanan had an idea for a social media site about movies. At the time, he reflected, he used Flickr to share photos and Last.fm to share his taste in music. IMDb was a database; it wasn’t, in essence, social. That left a gap in the field. The result was an app and social media network called Letterboxd, which its website describes, aptly, as “Goodreads for film.” After it was introduced at the web conference Brooklyn Beta in the fall of 2011, Letterboxd steadily developed a modest but passionate following of film fans eager to track their movie-watching habits, create lists of favorites, and write and publish reviews. In 2020, however, the site’s growth was explosive. Letterboxd has seen its user base nearly double since the beginning of the pandemic: They now have more than 3 million member accounts, according to the company, up from 1.7 million at this time last year.
The pandemic has ravaged the movie industry, as theaters have remained mostly shuttered and high-profile would-be blockbusters like “Tenet” have drastically underperformed. But for Letterboxd, all that time at home has been a boon. “We love talking about movies,” said Gemma Gracewood, Letterboxd’s editor in chief. “And we’re talking even more about what we love lately because we’re all stuck indoors.” In the beginning, Letterboxd mainly attracted film obsessives: hard-core cinephiles, stats fanatics and professional critics looking to house their published work under one roof. Mike D’Angelo, a longtime contributor to Entertainment Weekly and Esquire, used Letterboxd to retroactively log every movie he has seen, by date, since January 1992. In addition to uploading his old reviews to the platform, he uses the site as a kind of diary for more off-the-cuff musings.