International Movie Database (IMDB)

Jessica Horvath

Cinema is, comparatively, new territory in humanities studies. For several decades, professional film critiquing was limited to a niche group in larger cities. This is basically still the case. The National Society of Film Critics lists only 61 members nationwide. In his article, “Film Criticism is Dying? Not Online,” Roger Ebert claims that the internet has provided a platform for more and better writing about movies. With dwindling job opportunities, the death of the traditional film critiquing parallels the death of print journalism; however, amateur film critics are able to thrive more than ever. “These new critics [...] exploit every available technical resource. Their essays employ streaming audio and video, dazzling links to citations and resources, and endless threads of comments” (Ebert, 2011).

The advantage of using web-based technologies in film studies is twofold. First, it provides a platform and an audience for participative discussion. Second, the internet provides a method of easy storage and fast delivery of video. The transformation from circulating physical storage devices, like VHS tapes and DVDs, to cloud-based streaming delivery is a profound game-changer in the way we can research movies.

Moreover, the internet has made an impact on film library resources. Libraries are no longer limited by expensive journal databases to locate information about movies, nor are they limited by shelf space to store film. The Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board lists hundreds of film collections worldwide, so the impact of web-based film archives on the library world is big.

The International Movie Database (IMDB) was launched in 1990 by film enthusiast and hobbyist Col Needham, and is a popular go-to sources for movie and television information. The database is composed of factual information about contributors, biographical information for actors, and user reviews and rankings.

The information on the IMDB is a mix of resources directly from studios and filmmakers, but most of the information is from people in the film industry and database visitors. You can compare the reliability of the information to Wikipedia; however, the facts of each record are much easier for administrators to verify with studios. Undoubtedly, the IMDB is one of the most complete film and television databases. The most current statistics from IMDB show 2,031,967 titles and 4,332,606 people in the IMDB, and each week, IMDB adds thousands of pieces of content.

After twenty years of existence, IMDB is, perhaps, the oldest website for film information, and a source of inspiration for other ranking sites. They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? ( is a film ranking site developed by two film lovers in Australia, who describe the website as a “cinematic traffic cop,” guiding users to the best films of all time. The website had humble beginnings on Geocites in 2002, and moved to its own domain and server in 2003. The purpose of They Shoot Pictures is solely for ranking and socially critiquing movies. The website’s list of 1,000 greatest films is updated annually, created by collating several film lists from site users and polls from approximately four hundred sources, including the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine, The Village Voice, and another popular online film ranker, Rotten Tomatoes. Essentially, the They Shoot Pictures list is the most definitive list because it’s a composite of several lists that also claim definitive status.

Without the internet, IMDB and the They Shoot Pictures list would not exist as it is today. These film websites rely on sharing information with a large community. Having these sources freely available to researchers and libraries alike is, in many ways, better than having expensive access to a journal database of film reviews. The content in IMDB and other collective resources provides reviews from several perspectives, giving a wide-scope analysis of films – many of which are too scarce to even be reviewed by a newspaper film critic.

The web has changed how we talk about movies; it’s also changed how we watch movies. 2005 brought along the advent of YouTube and social video sharing. Today, YouTube claims to have over two billion visitors every day, and smaller streaming video websites, like Vimeo, are commonplace on the web. Any amateur director can store and share their work online, which was impossible fifteen years ago.

Video streaming expanded to feature films in 2008 when Netflix offered the Watch Instantly option to subscribers. Netflix’s streaming service, of course, gave way to other companies, like Hulu, to offer similar subscription-based services. These services exist more for entertaining subscribers and finding films that fit subscribers’ taste, not streaming video for the purpose of study.

MUBI, a burgeoning movie streaming service, is an online library of films with the mission to offer art-house and acclaimed films online for a low price ($3 per film; $12 per month unlimited). Users are encouraged to make and share lists, connect with other film enthusiasts, and contribute articles and reviews. MUBI acts as a bridge between popular streaming services and the study and analysis of film.

Libraries can use online databases, like IMDB, for reference work, and libraries have worked with Netflix for their DVD delivery service in the past. Is there potential for film libraries to utilize the collective knowledge of IMDB with their own film catalog or adapt the streaming delivery of MUBI? Perhaps there’s potential for libraries to integrate IMDB’s database with library catalogs, and perhaps services like MUBI could be a catalyst for film libraries to share their collections online -- but for free! The services discussed in this paper have proven that the capability exists for libraries to adapt to this level of resource sharing.

Today, there are more film critics online than in the newspapers, and, arguably, they’re more well-informed than film critics fifteen years ago because the resources are easier to obtain. Regardless of what the future holds, the impact of online databases, streaming video, and user participation has already greatly affected the way we analyze movies and the way librarians find information.

Ebert, Roger. (2011) Film criticism is dying? Not online. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Wall Street Journal Online:
International Movie Database. Retrieved from:
MUBI. Retrieved from:
National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved from:
Public Moving Image Archives and Research Centers. National Film Preservation Board. Retrieved from:
They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? Retrieved from:
YouTube. Retrieved from: