Kristin Thompson was perhaps fated to an academic life. She was born mid-century, in 1950, in Iowa City, where her parents were both working on their masters' degrees. Brought up in Dixon, Illinois and Miami, Florida, she eventually returned to the University of Iowa under the impression that she wanted to become a tech theater person. Luckily for her, the fledgling film-studies program was in the same department. After taking a survey history course as an elective during her junior year, Kristin slid quietly over into film and was admitted to the MA program at Iowa.

Her initial interest was kindled by silent films like those of Georges Méliès and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which she found strikingly different from modern films. Trying to establish the norms of mainstream films and explain how and why certain movements and filmmakers have deviated from them became the foundation for much of her work.

After six years at Iowa, Kristin worked on her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Drawing upon the writings of the Russian Formalists, she wrote her dissertation, an analysis of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible (published by Princeton in 1981). During the fateful year of 1977, she received her degree, her then-paramour David Bordwell got tenure, they signed the contract to write their Film Art textbook, and they bought their first house. They have since moved to another house, but Film Art has gone on to a ninth edition, published last year.

Opting to write full-time rather than teach, Kristin published critical and historical books. The Classical Hollywood Cinema, with David and Janet Staiger (1985), dealt with the norms of the most enduring and successful filmmaking system to date. Exporting Entertainment (1985) followed, as a means of measuring the exposure to American films in other countries. Breaking the Glass Armor (1988) applied the formalist method of her dissertation to several major filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Tati, and Robert Bresson. Storytelling in the New Hollywood (1999) argued for the survival of classical narrative practice in the modern age. Storytelling in Film and Television (2002) differentiated between norms of contemporary film and television. Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood (2005) compared German and American styles in the decade after World War I by studying a director who was a master of both.

Much of the research Kristin and David conducted over the years went into their second textbook, Film History (1994, 2002, 2009). She gained permission to interview the makers of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, on the basis of which she wrote The Frodo Franchise (2007).

Kristin has pursued other interests, including writing a study of P. G. Wodehouse, Wooster Proposes, Jeeves Disposes (1992). There she investigated how a popular writer subtly reworked the norms of his day. In 1992, a tour of Egypt inspired a new obsession. Again she was intrigued by a period when artistic norms were stretched and violated in ways whose causes remain controversial: the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Several conference papers and one article later, she was invited to join the expedition working at Tell el-Amarna, Akhenaten’s ancient capital, where she has worked annually from 2001 to 2010. In collaboration with Marsha Hill, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she is at work on a book on the statuary program in the ancient city.

Kristin blogs regularly at her and David's Website on Cinema and at The Frodo Franchise.