Internet Movie Database
The IMDb has an extensive amount of information on works, including basic details such as actors and directors, plot summaries and reviews, as well as more esoteric information such as trivia, continuity errors and other goofs, soundtrack listings, aspect ratios, and alternate versions. Actors, directors, writers and other crew members have their own database entries, listing the movies and programs they worked on, and often also featuring biographies. The expanded database found at akas.imdb.com can be used to find movies from the title under which they were released in many different languages and countries.
The IMDb also reaches beyond being a database for movies and video games, by offering daily movie and TV news, and running special features at various movie events such as the Academy Awards. It has also expanded to provide the sister site IMDbPro, offering additional information to business professionals, such as contact details for people in the movie business, movie event calendars, and more. This site is not specifically designed for use by the general public, and its content is not free.
Access to the information at IMDb is free, however. In addition, any person with an e-mail account and a browser that accepts cookies can set up an account with IMDb, then submit information and cast votes to rate various titles.
The database started out in 1990 as a collection of shell scripts created by Col Needham which could be used to search the FAQs posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies . In 1993, a centralized e-mail interface for querying the database was created, and in 1994 this interface was extended to allow the submission of information as well. The database then moved to a Web-based interface, which initially ran on a network of mirrors with donated bandwidth. In 1996, the project was incorporated in the United Kingdom to form Internet Movie Database Ltd., and banner ads were added to the web site.
One popular feature of the IMDb is the Top 250, a listing of the top 250 feature-length movies of all-time as voted by the registered users of the website. Users are given the option of rating a movie from "1" (lowest) to "10" (highest). The numbers are then filtered through an undisclosed mathematical formula to produce an overall rating. To safeguard against "vote stuffing" and other attempts to subjectify the data, the database employs data filters and a vote quota (currently 1250) in an attempt to give a true "Bayesian estimate."
The listing is notable for being comprehensive and sometimes startling. Consistently represented on the listing are old movies (e.g. Nosferatu (1922)) and new movies (e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)), popular movies (e.g. Star Wars with over 100,000 votes) and little seen movies (e.g. Bride of Frankenstein with apprx 4,000 votes), and movies from a cross-section of genres (e.g. film noir—Double Indemnity; comedy—Some Like It Hot; romance—Casablanca; fantasy—The Princess Bride; science fiction—Blade Runner; musical—Singin' in the Rain; western—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; animated—Beauty and the Beast; anime—Spirited Away; etc.). The listing also carries surprising movies which were not necessarily widely popular hits but which have developed broad followings among more devoted movie fans (including movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Snatch and Memento).
How successful these criteria are in producing an unbiased list is sometimes debatable. For instance, newly released movies commonly find their initial ratings artificially inflated by fans who are more likely to see a movie first and develop a love-at-first-sight impression of it, which is contrary to the commonly held belief that a truly great movie should hold up to repeat viewings. It is not unusual, therefore, to find a movie placed among the Top 250 shortly after its release, even as high as the Top 100, only to fall from the list as more people see the movie and fans see the movie repeated times. Another common criticism has been that it is merely a popularity contest and does not therefore reflect any objective knowledge about the history or art of movies. In practice, however, many of the movies atop critical yearly and historical best picture lists appear high on the Top 250 as well, raising the question of whether the opinions of the critics and movie-goers are all that different after all.
The IMDb also has a Bottom 100 feature which is assembled in roughly the same way (there is a 625 vote minimum, rather than 1250).
All volunteers who contribute content to the database retain copyright to their contributions but grant full rights to copy, modify, and sublicense the content to IMDb. IMDb in turn does not allow others to use movie summaries or actor biographies without written permission. Using filtering software to avoid the display of advertisements from the site is also explicitly forbidden. Only small subsets of filmographies are allowed to be quoted, and only on non-commercial websites. The latter restrictions on the use of data are likely to be unenforceable, as the U.S. Supreme Court in Feist v. Rural ruled that data cannot be copyrighted.
The ability of the software to filter content is limited; to a certain extent, staff members gauge the validity of contributed data based on the past reliability of the contributor. Submission policies have been restricted over the years, and approval of new titles to be added has become more cautious, but some listings of unreleased titles and unauthenticated data, particularly in bit roles, persist in the existing database.
One element of IMDb that helps to foster a sense of community is its use of message boards. People can start discussions on any profile on the database addressing any subject of their choosing. This can lead to insightful discussions about movies or actors and often results in new information about the subject being revealed. On the flip side, however, a great many discussions either degenerate into flame wars or are inflammatory from the very beginning. One theme of IMDb flame wars that comes up with surprising regularity is American foreign policy and culture, generally in a deriding tone. This theme can come up attached to movies that do warrant a discussion about a perceived pro- or anti-American tone, such as Les Triplettes de Belleville, but it seems just as often that it comes up without basis and regardless of what is being discussed.
The regularity of this phenomenon led to the forming of Koenig's Theory, which states: No matter what the original subject of the conversation and regardless of what subject is being discussed, the probability of any and every discussion, debate or argument on the IMDb message boards becoming an argument about America (pros, cons, etc.) reaches one. (See Godwin's Law)
- The Internet Movie Database—including a copyright statement and license terms
- Internet Movie Database UK mirror
- IMDb Pro
- LA Weekly "Do You IMDb?" August 2004 article
- blogsnow:imdb list of blogs recently linking to IMDb entries