The Internet Movie Database

The Television & Movie Wiki: for TV, celebrities, and movies.

Image:IMDb.Logo.png The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), owned by Amazon.com since 1998, is an online database of information about actors, movies, television shows, television stars and video games. It celebrated its fifteenth anniversary on October 17, 2005.

Contents

Overview

The IMDb has a comprehensive 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 by offering daily movie and TV news and running special features at various movie events such as the Academy Awards. IMDb also has an active message board community: there are message boards for each database entry, which can be found at the bottom of the relevant page, as well as general discussion boards on various topics. 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. IMDbPro is not specifically designed for use by the general public, and its content is not free.

Any person with an email account and a web browser that accepts cookies can set up an account with IMDb, then submit information and cast votes to rate various titles. For automated queries, most of the database can be downloaded as (compressed) plain text files and the information can be extracted using the tools provided (typically using a command line interface). IMDb interfaces.

The movies (as well as TV Movies, video movies, TV shows and video games) are not just those that exist; there are those currently being made. When a movie is 'in production' its production status appears next to its title in red. The order is:

  • Announced
  • Pre-production
  • Filming
  • Post-production
  • Completed

Statistics

December 13 2005:

  • Titles: 478,962
  • People: 1,914,777

See: IMDb Statistics

History

In rec.arts.movies

The database originated from two lists started as independent projects in early 1989 by participants in the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies. In each case a single maintainer recorded items emailed by newsgroup readers, and posted updated versions of his list from time to time.

It began with a posting titled Those Eyes, on the subject of actresses with beautiful eyes. Hank Driskill began to collect a list of sexy actresses and what movies they had appeared in, and as the size of the repeated posting grew far beyond a normal newsgroup article, it soon became known simply as THE LIST. [1].

The other project, started by Chuck Musciano, was briefly called the Movie Ratings List and soon became the Movie Ratings Report. Musciano simply asked readers to rate movies on a scale of 1 to 10, and reported on the votes [2]. He soon began posting "ballots" with lists of movies for people to rate, so his list also grew quickly.

In 1990 Col Needham collated the two lists and produced a Combined LIST & Movie Ratings Report [3], and at this point the ball really started rolling. Needham soon found himself starting a (male) Actors List, while Dave Knight began a Directors List, and Andy Krieg took over THE LIST, which would later be renamed as the Actress List. Both this and the Actors List had been restricted to people who were still alive and working, but retired people began to be added, and Needham also started what was then (but did not remain) a separate Dead Actors/Actresses List. The goal now was to make the lists as inclusive as the maintainers could manage.

In late 1990, the lists included almost 10,000 movies and television series. On October 17, 1990, Needham posted a collection of Unix shell scripts which could be used to search the four lists, and the database that would become the IMDb was born. At the time, it was known as the rec.arts.movies movie database.

On the Web

By 1993, the database had been expanded to include additional jobs as well as trivia, biographies, and plot summaries; the movie ratings had been properly integrated with the list data; and a centralised email interface for querying the database had been created. Later in the year, it moved onto to the World Wide Web (a network in its infancy back then) under the name of Cardiff Internet Movie Database. The database resided on the servers of the computer science department of Cardiff University in Wales. Rob Hartill was the original web interface author. In 1994, the email interface was extended to accept the submission of information, meaning that people no longer had to email the specific list maintainer with their updates. Over the years, the database was run on a network of mirrors across the world with donated bandwidth.

As a company

In 1995, it became obvious to Needham and the rest of the volunteers that the project had become too large to continue to maintain through donations and in their spare time. The decision was made to become a commercial venture and in 1996, IMDb was incorporated in the United Kingdom, becoming the Internet Movie Database Ltd. The shareholders were the people maintaining the database and revenue was generated through advertising, licensing and partnerships.

This state of affairs continued until 1998. The database was growing every day, and it was again reaching a critical point; revenues were being spent on equipment, and shareholders were finding it difficult to reconcile the fact that for all their hard work they themselves were getting very little income. Offers had been made by major businesses to purchase the database, however, the shareholders were unwilling to sell if it could not be guaranteed that the information would be accessible to the internet community for free.

It was at this point that Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com appeared. A deal was made, allowing the IMDb to have the ability to pay the shareholders proper salaries for their work, while Amazon.com would be able to use the IMDb as a resource in their business of selling DVDs and videotapes.

IMDb continues to expand its functionality. In 2002, it added a subscription service known as IMDbPro aimed at entertainment professionals. It provides a variety of services including production and box office details, as well as a company directory. Subscriptions are priced at $12.95 per month, or $99.95 per year (price on 5 April 2005).

User voting

The IMDb uses a weighted voting system for determining the satisfaction viewers got from the movie. This is given in stars: when voting on a movie, a user picks a whole star rating from 1 to 10. The received votes are weighted according to the demographic distribution in order to compensate for the fact that IMDb users are not representative of the demographics of the overall movie going public. IMDb applies additional confidential weighting factors to prevent "vote stuffing".

Top 250

The IMDb Top 250 is a listing of the top 250 films of all-time as voted by the registered users of the website. Only theatrical releases running longer than 60 minutes with over 1250 votes are considered; short subjects, documentaries, miniseries, direct-to-video and made-for-TV movies are ineligible.

Ratings shown in the Top 250 list may not be quite the same as the rating discussed above. Whilst the rating shown on the movie's page considers votes from all users, the Top 250 rating is based on only "regular voters". This is why a film with a lower (normal) rating can be ranked above a movie with a higher rating in the Top 250, and why the rating given in the Top 250 is not necessarily the same as shown on the movie's page. The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption are consistently ranked numbers one and two.

How successful these criteria are in producing an unbiased list is 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. However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that newer films usually place lower on the list than older films with the same ratings.

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 (For example, the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest Movies" lists Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time. However, it is typically outside of the top ten on the IMDb's list and almost always lower than all three of the films of The Lord of the Rings). In practice, however, many of the movies atop critical yearly and historical best picture lists appear high on the Top 250 as well (for example: the vast majority of films on AFI's list are also on the IMDb list, many placing very highly; there are four movies in common on the lists' Top Tens), raising the question of whether the opinions of the critics and movie-goers are all that different after all.

Bottom 100

The IMDb also has a Bottom 100 feature which is assembled in roughly the same way. Films that frequently make the top (or from another perspective, bottom) of these lists are Manos: The Hands of Fate and Santa with Muscles. This rating system has succumbed, however, to the "so bad, it's good" phenomenon. For example, Plan 9 From Outer Space is often regarded as one of the worst films ever made, but it is common not to see this film on the list at all. Some movies are so incredibly poor that viewers find them humorous and the movies gain a cult following. Occasionally some voters submit inflated ratings to displace movies from the "top" of the Bottom 100 list.

Message Boards

One of the most popular features of the Internet Movie Database is the Message Boards that coincide with every database entry, along with 47 Main Boards. These boards allow registered users to share, discuss and debate information about the movie/actor/writer.

The Main Boards are wide discussion forums that pertain to certain aspects of film discussion. They divide into the categories Trivia! Trivia! (various aspects of detailed film minutia), Awards Season (various movie awards winners and nominees), FilmTalk (Talk about film in general and specific films), TV Talk (television shows, new and old), Shop Talk (film professions), Genre Zone (a number of established movie genres), Around the World (global cinema), Star Talk (celebrities and film professionals), General Boards (miscellaneous and non-film-related topics), and IMDb Help (anything pertaining directly to the site itself). As the IMDb expires older posts from all message boards variably, it is difficult to precisely measure traffic according to individual board, but The Sandbox and The Soapbox are amongst the highest traffic boards on IMDb. The Soapbox is a general purpose discussion board, where users can go for "their more heated discussions". The Sandbox is a general purpose, anything-goes board designated for test messages and off-topic posts.

Over the last 5 years the George W. Bush and Soapbox message boards (and, to a lesser extent, the Farenheit 9/11 message board and other message boards for political personas) have been popular centers for inteligent pollitical debate.....as well as some not so intelligent banter.

While IMDb has more then 4,111,600 registered members their forums are often very slow in activity.

Copyright issues

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.


One of the most popular features of the Internet Movie Database is the Message Boards that coincide with every database entry, along with 47 Main Boards. These boards allow registered users to share, discuss and debate information about the movie/actor/writer.

Caveat emptor

The ability of the software to filter content is limited. Staff members may 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 given the amount of data and the voluntary nature of contributions, it is no surprise that errors abound. The added restrictions have made it more difficult to add information to the database, and this has been controversial with long-time users of the IMDb. For example, the editors will generally not allow the addition of new program entries (films, TV series, documentaries, etc.) unless a website featuring said production is provided, making it difficult for users to add older or obscure titles.

Furthermore, IMDb also retains the right to publish AND what not to publish in such categories as a film's trivia, goofs, celebrity information, etc., regardless of how true it is. It is common for an item to be published one day, only to be relinquished the next.

See also

External links

The IMDb's newsgroup origins

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