Tag Archives: IMDB


The first part of this was taken from a post I’m cooking up on Star Trek movies.

That’s called a teaser, you see. I’ve never been very good at them but I’m told they can be terribly effective.

I am a big believer in the Wisdom of Crowds … sorta. When it comes to judging the quality of art, I think mass rankings are more useful than critical rankings. They are not perfect: it often takes time for a work of art to be fully appreciated. And enthusiasm for the new can cause it to be over-rated. But, generally, if you ask me where to look for an objective opinion, I’ll look to the … well, not the mob … but to the large mass of those who are interested enough to form an intelligent opinion.

That’s why I always talk about IMDB ratings when I talk about movies. IMDB has done an oustanding job of creating a movie rating system that is useful. It allows anyone to vote, but only if they are interested enough to create an account. They can only vote once. And an algorithm tempers the enthusiasm for newer movies. The ratings are not perfect: you’ll usually see new movies rocket to the top of the ratings and then slowly fall. All three Lord of the Rings movies vaulted to #1 in the ratings initially, then slowly fell back to #14, #25 and #10, which is about where they should be. The Dark Knight Rises is currently at #11 but will probably finish outside the top 250. The Godfather and Shawshank Redemption have vied for the #1 spot for more than a decade now and I know many who would agree that they should be near if not at the top.

The utility of the IMDB rankings is most obvious when you contrast it against those of critics, like the recent revision to the Top 50 Films of All Time, courtesy of the British Film Institute. The big news is that Vertigo displaced Citizen Kane from the top spot. The bigger news should be the ridiculous bias. Consider the way the films are distributed in time:

1920’s: 6
1930’s: 3
1940’s: 3
1950’s: 12
1960’s: 15
1970’s: 7
1980’s: 1
1990’s: 3
2000’s: 2
2010’s: 0

(And yes, that’s actually 52 movies in the top 50).

Now I’m willing to concede that some movie eras were better than others. The 1970’s, in particular, stand out as a golden age for new film-makers like Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Lucas. But it is insanity to suggest that the 1950’s and 1960’s produced 4.5 times the number of great films the last three decades have. This is telling you nothing about the quality of those films and everything about just how old the BFI electorate are.

Even their modern choices are a bit puzzling. Since 1980, the only films they rate in the top 50 are Shoah, Satantango, Close-up, Histoires de Cinema, In the Mood for Love and Mulholland Drive. I have not seen three of those. I would agree on the greatness of Shoah and In the Mood For Love. But Mulholland Drive is an excellent TV pilot with thirty minutes of bullshit sewn on. It’s a massively over-rated movie and I think it’s mainly over-rated because of the great lesbian sex scene that happens right before the movie implodes.

Let’s compare to IMDB:

1920’s: 5
1930’s: 10
1940’s: 18
1950’s: 31
1960’s: 25
1970’s: 24
1980’s: 29
1990’s: 40
2000’s: 55
2010’s: 13

Now there is a definite skew in IMDB toward recent movies. But that skew is not nearly as drastic as BFI’s. The 1990’s and 2000’s contain 38% of IMDB’s top movies. That’s compared to the 1950’s and 60’s containing 52% of BFI’s top films. BFI has only 12% of their movies in the last three decades. There is no three-decade period that has that low a percentage in IMDB. The only period that comes close is the first three decades of film. And that’s for a dynamic polling system.

The skew is stronger when you narrow IMDB to the top 50 movies. 15 of those are in the 1990’s and none in the 1920’s. But even then, the skew is not nearly as drastic as BFI’s, with plenty of top films in all decade except the 1920’s. And I would argue that this proves the point: IMDB is still better when you take the comparison that is the least fair because of IMDB’s over-rating of recent movies.

What are IMDB’s favorite movies of the last three decades? Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Lord of the Rings, Dark Knight, Fight Club, Inception, The Matrix, City of God, Forrest Gump, Silence of the Lambs. I removed The Dark Knight Rises because it is riding a wave of enthusiasm and will certain sink lower (as will Inception and The Dark Knight). I would submit, however, that IMDB’s slate of films is better than BFI’s. It is certainly more watchable.

Consider the top tens:

BFI: Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, La Regle du jeu, Sunrise, 2001, the Searchers, Man with a Movie Camera, the Passion of Joan of Arc, 8 1/2

IMDB: The Shawshank Redemption, Godfather, Godfather Pari II, Pulp Fiction, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, 12 Angry Men, Schindler’s list, Dark Night, Return of the King, Empire Strikes Back

I will admit that BFI’s is more artistic and has a better international flavor. It’s less guy-movie oriented. But is it really better? Which of those slates would you rather have with you on a desert island? I thought so.

That’s why I talk about IMDB. It’s far from perfect, but it’s easily the best thing going. I especially like it is so very useful for relative rankings. It allows one to measure the progress of franchises, as I did last year with the Bond films and as I will soon do with the Trek movies. IMDB gives you an accurate glimpse of what the public thinks at this moment. And I find that far more enlightening than what some old, wizened critics think.

IMDB Ratings

When I talk about movies on this site, I usually reference the ratings I give them on IMDB. I thought I’d put up a post about how those ratings come about.

Ratings tend to be personal. I’m trying to be objective but sometimes a great movie just doesn’t grab me and sometimes a modest movie does. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that Citizen Kane is probably “better” than Lord of the Rings. So why do I rate the latter a 10 and the former a 9? Because I do, that’s why. Or to be blunt, because I would rather watch the latter than the former even though Citizen is a great movie and I’ve watched it many times.

I tend to be kind of a harsh grader and have become harsher as I’ve gotten older. Many fine films end up with 7’s or 8’s which makes the few 10’s I give out look even more ridiculous. I’ve also been rating movies for 15 years and some inconsistencies have cropped up. So … sue me. When I mention a film on the blog, I’ll usually reconsider the rating. But I can’t promise to be consistent. Roger Ebert complains all the time about people wondering how he can rate movie X as four stars and movie Y as 3.5 stars. I didn’t understand why he did that until I started rating movies myself. Consistency is difficult and ultimately futile. We rate how we rate. Let IMDB toss the outliers.

My general rule of thumb on IMDB ratings (with examples) is listed below.

10 – Perfection in film. The list of films I have given a rating of 10 are: Das Boot, 2001, Apollo 13, Grave of the Fireflies, Lawrence of Arabia, Master and Commander, Psycho, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ran, Schindler’s List, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that’s a pretty “guy”-oriented list. I have testicles.

9 – Should be seen by everyone. I probably own it on DVD. This gets more interesting. A “10” rating means something to me. “9” ratings are where you will find the more traditional great movies, from the wonderful World of Apu to the touching Before Sunrise to the hilarious Blazing Saddles to Branagh’s fantastic Hamlet to the wonderfully weird City of Lost Children to the erotic Sex and Lucia to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

8 – Very good, if you’re into that sort of thing. Probably own it on DVD. A lot of great movies end up here too if they don’t stick in my brain. You’ll see almost all of the top movies of any year end up as 8’s. A few random examples: Grizzly Man, Henry V, Kingdom of Heaven, North by Northwest, Lust Caution, The X-files movie, Yojimbo.

7 – Worth watching. If I had infinite money, I might have a copy. This is probably where the bulk of films I watch end up. Here or 8. I don’t have much time for movies and usually don’t bother with things I don’t think I’ll like. This unfortunately means I miss out on the occasional surprise. But … I figure by the time Abby is off to college, I can catch up by having them beamed directly into my brain. Random examples: Bridget Jones’ Diary, High Fidelity, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Sideways (yeah, I gave it a 7. I know everyone loves it. I merely liked it, mostly because I like Paul Giamatti.)

6 – If I’m flipping channels and see this, I’ll stop and watch. Probably has some decent parts. Random examples: Chicago, Lolita, Transformers, Uncle Buck.

5 – If I’m watching something else and this comes on and I can’t reach the remote… Examples: Lost in Space, Resident Evil, numerous pointless sequels.

4 – I’ll make sure to change channel if this comes on. Addicted to Love, Sleeping with the Enemy, Supergirl. Out of Africa shows up here too. That can’t be right and it isn’t. My only memory of this film is watching it when I was 13 and being bored to hell. I have to watch it again. But this is where films start showing up that I dislike for specific reasons. Addicted to Love‘s astronomically ridiculous opening sequence, Charlie’s Angels over-the-top bullshit, The Life of David Gale’s absurd plot, Erin Brockovich’s glorification of lawsuits and under-carpet-sweeping of her deceptions.

3 – I will risk bodily injury to change the channel. There are few movies that I’ve watched enough of to get here. Dirty Dancing is here but almost certainly doesn’t deserve to be. It’s just that my sister watched it endlessly and I can’t stand the thought of it. Jerry Maguire is a popular movie that I despise. Hannibal was an absolutely revolting movie that had no qualities to redeem its endless series of shocks. Serendipity, despite being liked by my wife and starring two of my favorite actors, just rubbed me the wrong way.

2 – I will throw something at the TV, hoping to smash it to pieces as this film has befouled the TV by its very presence. Here are the movies I have rated a 2: 3 Men and a Baby, Battlefield Earth, Death Becomes Her, Hello Again, Shining Through, Teen Wolf. I could write a whole post on those movies. 3 Men, like Jerry Maguire, is rated lower than it deserves because so many people liked it and tried to convince me it was good. Nothing will make me hate a film more than being told I should like it when I clearly don’t. Battlefield Earth is rated low, but I’ve actually watched it more than once because it’s in the “so bad it’s good” territory. At least, it is when you’ve had enough to drink. Shining Through is an epic miscalculation; I laughed while watching it. Hello Again and Teen Wolf I actually saw in theaters as a kid, although I’ll be damned if I know why. There’s nothing worse than forcing yourself to sit through a movie because you’ve paid for it. Nowadays, I understand the concept of sunk costs and would walk out, even if it meant sitting on a corner for two hours waiting for my mom to pick me up … late as usual. And Death Becomes Her? I never thought I could despise a film with Isabella Rosselini in it, but there you go. I’ll never forget the critic in the Carletonian who said that the only reason to see this movie at the campus theater was because it was free. He was wrong. Two hours of your life is worth something. You could get drunk in two hours. You could get laid in two hours. No piece of shit movie is worth two hours.

1 – I would not show this to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. No movie gets this rating, thankfully.

Anyway, now I have this up for reference. Time to write some more about actual movies.