Seeing as many movies as I do at the cinema isn’t something you can do blindly or without careful preparation and planning. (Well, you could, but you’d have to be really not fussy about what you saw. All About Steve, anyone?) So there are a number of tools I use to help me decide what I’m going to spend my hard earned cash on. First and foremost among these is the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb for short.
Anyone who’s ever seen a film has probably been to that site, but not only does it contain masses of useful information on each film (as well as TV series, games, bus stops, kitchen sinks and the like), it can also be used to build up a useful profile of what you like and what you should be seeing.
1. Be aware of what’s in cinemas right now
First place is to know what’s on, and what’s coming up. The simplest place to start this is on the home page. Down the left hand side, there’s a link to the top box office, and then if you’re in the UK or US, there’s a top five ‘Opening This Week’ and ‘Coming Soon’. At the bottom right of either of these sections, there’s a link (circled in red on the image) to the full list of what’s coming up.
This is a pretty comprehensive list, and features the big releases for each week, and also lists regional releases, film festival premieres, films that – sob – have gone straight to DVD, so as long as you’re looking ahead, there should be no excuse for not knowing what’s coming.
The only difference here is that in the US, the site will also help you find show times for anything that’s out as well, whereas in the UK, you have to go off site to find out what’s where. The best, easiest and most consistent sites are screenrush.co.uk, findanyfilm.com and google.co.uk, but more on that another day.
2. Don’t be afraid to use all the statistics
Every single movie on the database carries a user rating. This is an instant guide to how other people are seeing a particular movie, but of course it’s useful to know what the score actually means. In terms of movies, the absolute best (the first two Godfather movies and The Shawshank Redemption) have an average score of 9, whereas the absolute worst (Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Pocket Ninjas and the like) are scoring 1.5 or lower. But in general, something scoring over 8 is likely to be getting awards notice or making huge money, over 7 is still pretty good, and anything that’s getting at least some positive reviews should be scoring at least 6.
But you’ll notice that the number of people that voted is also a link, and if you click onto this, there’s more useful information available, with a demographic breakdown and some more averages.
For example, the breakdown above shows the weighted average (IMDb’s secret method of ranking all films against each other, based on the scores) as being 5.4, but there are two other averages. The most useful here is the median – if you don’t remember much maths from school, imagine everyone who’s rated the movie being lined up in order, high to low, of the score they gave – then the person in the middle would have scored 7. It’s clear this one split opinion down the middle – the other part of the demographic shows clearly why.
It’s now fairly clear that there’s a lot of wives and girlfriends who thought this was good or better, and a lot of dragged along husbands (and possibly some random people allergic to chick flicks who may not have even seen it) who, well, didn’t. But knowing which category you fall into can help to inform your moviegoing decision.
For a further example of this, compare the demographic breakdowns of Tokyo Story and Shaun of the Dead; both get weighted averages of 8.0, but when you compare the demographics of the two, are getting appreciation from vastly different groups of people.
The last thing to remember on scores is that the first people to see a movie normally have the strongest reactions to it – so in the first week or so, good movies may score slightly higher, and bad ones lower, than their final score once more people have seen it. But it’s easy to get a feel for this once you’ve compared a few.
3. Add your own ratings and make lists
This presumes, of course, that your tastes fit in exactly with the general public. IMDb also has the ability for you to make multiple lists of films – if you register with the site, a fairly simple process, every time you score a movie (or even if you don’t) you have the option to add it to your own lists, simply by going to the movie’s page and then clicking on the ‘Add to My Movies’ link (shown left). Once you create a list, for every movie you’ve scored the list will also show you the score that the general public gave the movie – as you build up lists, it then becomes easier to gauge how your tastes stack up against those of other people.
4. Visit the Independent Film section
If your current movie watching only extends to the normal Hollywood output, maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons. If you click on the Movies link at the top of the home page, there’s a drop-down menu. One of the most interesting sections is the Independent Film link on this menu – a whole page devoted to the less well known output from around the world. Here, you can get news, trailers (so you can get a feel for the film) and a whole host of other useful information – ideal for creating some inspiration if you don’t fancy going with the crowd this weekend.
5. Get lost in the detail
While the purpose of my blog is to convince people that the best place to watch movies is in a cinema, I will readily admit that not everything is likely to be showing in your immediate vicinity. So don’t be afraid to use the IMDb for other inspiration. Once you start clicking on a few random links, it’s very easy to get lost in everything the site has to offer, and hopefully something, somewhere, will inspire either a DVD rental or a trip out.
However you use the site, it does make you wonder how we coped before the invention of the Internet. But whatever you find, happy viewing!