Most people who didn’t discover IMDb.com until the early part of the 21st century were likely surprised to learn that the site is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Not that it was in any shape or form in 1990 as it is now, or even visualized in very many minds when the tangible Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide was thought to be the final reference on movie info minutiae. The site also went through as many evolutions as a human being, including the very show business name changes from Rec.arts.movies Movie Database to classy Cardiff Internet Movie Database to the more business-savvy and abbreviated IMDb once Amazon.com bought the company in 1998.
Through all of those changes, it also became the emblem of the trivia-obsessed human being providing info on the net. You can say that despite IMDb always giving the illusion that it’s some kind of film trivia entity that miraculously came down from an info queue in a cloud for our own enlightenment. Or, perhaps it was more intended as a gift to make us look more knowledgeable than Turner Classic Movie’s host Robert Osborne (who reportedly consults the site for his intros/outros).
After 20 years, though, this site requires a deeper look into how it’s shaped us, even if most of us have only used it for less than half of the site’s age. Its key components set a standard for how fast information can be had on the internet at the click of a link. Similarly, it gradually formed itself into a companion to those Maltin and Ebert movie guides rather than destroying the reference book as some alarmists report.
Yes, as comprehensive as IMDb is, it occasionally overlooks minor things you can ultimately find in your tangible reference book lying nearby.
But what are the classic assets of IMDb over the years that we turn to again and again? Many are near perfection, and others should be easily designated as 20-year works-in-progress…
Trivia Section on Movies/TV
This section always gets clicked by me first thanks to a teaser on the main page showing the most interesting or juiciest piece of trivia from a movie or TV show. When you see the trivia in its totality, it’s easy to get the feeling you’re reading an elaborate hoax of information Wikipedia style. That feeling still persists considering sources aren’t always cited. Then again, I’ve backed some of the information up through other legitimate sources. And, reportedly, industry people anonymously provide some of the trivia.
The only time the trivia section turns surreal is when you’re watching a movie on Turner Classic Movies and Robert Osborne mentions several pieces of the same trivia you just read to yourself or out loud to someone watching the movie with you.
Also, after reading every trivia fact or half-truth, you realize that making a movie appears to have more mayhem behind the scenes than any other chaotic event you can imagine or remember.
Other Minutiae: Box Office Returns, Famous Quotes and Marriages
You can usually get a good idea whether an unknown movie was a turkey or not based on the box office return information. Once you see that particular movie and realize how much of an earnest effort was put forth in its making, it hurts to see a movie with a cost of $58 million only making back $10 million back to date.
Sometimes the same feeling can be had seeing quotes taken from famous stars of the past. Many of them look like extracts during a sodium pentothal session. Ultimately, though, it helps provide the best glimpse into the true soul of movie stars alive and dead than found anywhere else.
And what about the section (occasionally found in Trivia) that shows the past marriages of the stars? Most names of spouses are there. However, you’ll sometimes see a “?” in place of a name, either as a gaping hole of trivia minutiae or maybe intentional by decree of divorcees that were or be.
IMDb Public Ratings System
Arguably the only site that lets a film have as much as ten stars, it’s clear this part of IMDb isn’t perfected quite yet. Also, the chances are good that no film will ever see a full ten stars. The only movie that comes close at the time of this writing is “The Shawshank Redemption” (9.1), which also happens to be the #1 movie on IMDb’s Top 250 movies. Good luck to you, though, if you can decide whether a movie is worth seeing when it gets 5.7 stars.
The Top 250, on the other hand, is worth existing to give a populist list as counterbalance to the American Film Institute’s ubiquitous Top 100. Nevertheless, it’s clear that any internet voting method is going to have its share of biases and ways of fans tweaking to give benefit to movies that don’t deserve to be in the Top 10. Consider something wrong and worth investigating when movies made only in the last 35 years are in the Top Ten and none from any year prior to “The Godfather” (1972).
As counterbalance to the counterbalance, you might want to check out the Bottom 100 that doesn’t get heralded enough. Apparently every bad movie has been primarily made since the 1980’s. They mostly contain monsters, wizards and babies.
This section of IMDb is the better half of the populist element. Unlike Amazon.com customer reviews that can sometimes border on “I Haven’t Received My Product!” (2 out of 57 people found this review helpful), IMDb’s public reviews are some of the most thoughtful you’ll find in a similar arena. Plus, many of them go into minute detail about why they think the film is good, great or horrible, despite having to endure another ten-star rating system. Many of these are seen by more eyes than Amazon’s clumsy customer comments and may be the best training ground for movie reviewers in training.
Fortunately, most of those amateur movie reviewers will eventually get demoted to using four stars to work with in rating a movie.
This part of IMDb has seen more tweaks than anything, for good reason. Somewhere along the line, IMDb’s message boards became a haven for a specific brand of spammers and vitriolic messengers who decided to stick around there for the rest of their wasted lives. As sullying as that sounds to IMDb’s reputation, let’s not exaggerate and put a disclaimer to their message boards as “will vary, depending on which board you read.” It seems the more arousing you are in the world of entertainment, the more the disclaimer becomes moot.
With that in mind, let’s also remind IMDb that any board without a moderating team is a sitting duck for chaos. Fortunately, there is a way to report spam and other torture bearers, but it doesn’t always remove spiteful comments. Also, as primitive and as insignificant as the IMDb boards are, I’ve seen evidence that some of the famous names with busy boards actually read their boards. No word whether they swore off reading it again after seeing some of the thread titles.
IMDb Media Content & IMDb Pro
These last assets of IMDb may arguably be the best of all. While Hulu mostly has the old television classics market cornered in free viewing, IMDb consolidates all that if you’re already there looking up info on an old TV show. It’s the showcase of independent filmmakers there in the last couple of years that’s taken IMDb up a few notches. The small little films showcased on the site have provided ample space for aspiring filmmakers when other space has become a little crowded lately.
What of IMDb Pro, though, and why do you and I need to have it? Well, it’s resourceful for media professionals who need to learn about upcoming film projects or to promote your own acting career. Nonetheless, I suspect some of its users aren’t media professionals at all and instead just curious individuals with money to burn. Or, it could be the new tool to look like you’re a Hollywood insider at parties. For real users, the hope that your profile picture randomly shows up on IMDb’s front page is the new dice throw of a nascent acting career.
Honorable Mention: Reducing Movie Trailer Snipes
If you’ve been hijacked with a movie trailer graphic or video while reading IMDb in recent years, then willkommen, bienvenue, welcome. These obtrusive ads were as bad as the snipes you see on network and cable TV that hijack your TV screen with what’s coming up next Thursday instead of the current show. More recently, IMDb tweaked this feature so there hasn’t been as many obtrusive movie trailers starting unexpectedly on your screen as you search info on an entirely different movie.
It’s a perfect example that brains are still behind the curtain and making IMDb all the more perfect for those of us demanding so much more in websites that give us reams of free information.