IMDb Ratings with a Grain of Salt

December 2, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Cinephile 

Everyone interested in finding out more information about movies, actors, and directors eventually finds IMDb (Internet Movie Database). It is a wonderful resource that I would hate to do without. With over 57 million viewers a day it is one of the hottest places on the Internet. I find myself there daily for one reason or another. We often use it for a guide for picking the films we want to watch. The most important feature for me is the ability to cross reference actors and directors through their entire careers. You can find information like trivia, a plot summery, user comments, and very important for us living in France is alternate film titles. Almost immediately when you view a page about a movie you notice how many stars a movie has. Out of a scale of 10, site users give the film a rank. As a general rule we don’t watch films ranking under 6, and mostly try to stay at least 6.8 or higher. Though, I am more forgiving of a “bad” movie than Samantha and will watch anything that suites my interest at the time.

The Naked Spur (1953)

The Naked Spur (1953)

There is however one pitfall to using the ranking as a guide to the merits of a film. We have noticed that films released prior to the year 2000 have a more accurate measure of how watchable the film might be for us. This has been a topic of conversation amongst us and others lately. For example: One of the most revered films ever and one of my personal favorites is Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief). It receives a 8.4/10 rating. Though in my opinion it deserves more, it is a very fair assessment. The ranking of 8.0 seems to be a tough barrier to break, as well it should be. Now take for example Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur and one of this years top films Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, both of which gets a 7.5/10 rating. While Mann’s classic has endured the test of time and been admired and wrote about by film lovers for decades, it seems unfair to me that it is ranked equally to Stiller’s folly. I am not bashing Tropic Thunder, we both enjoyed watching it and got a few laughs, though neither of us would dare  to call it a great film or give it such a high rating. To me it relies too heavily on clichés and sensationalism without a strong storyline or creative cinematography. To its credit though, I am a fan of Nick Nolte, as he played one of my favorite roles ever as the eccentric artist Lionel Dobie in Martin Scorsese’s Life Lessons from the New York Stories collaboration. On the other hand, The Naked Spur falls into a much different category of cinema. Needless to say that with a lineup like James Stewart, Robert Ryan, and Janet Leigh it is hard to go wrong. Their talent and charisma simply pours off the screen. Mostly though The Naked Spur possesses all the great elements of story telling via cinematography. The story is rich in dramatic elements, and touched on relatively untrodden ground in the Western genera of the time. In this story we follow Stewart’s character which has a tortured soul and borders on the edge of darkness to the point where there is little to no separation from the hero and villain. I admit that it may be unfair comparing these two films that have obviously different presentation and style. I am merely referring to the user ranking verses the merits of the film in it’s own perspective.

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

The rating system at IMDb is not terribly flawed and is a well appreciated reference. It is not however an indication of how good a film is. That of course is ultimately left up to the viewers own personal taste. People have different kinds of appreciation for films, so there is a lot of room for discrepancy and debate. What makes a good film? Who is really to say? I have one theory that often times many users will give a film a good rating anytime they shell out the outrageous fortune required to see new releases at the cinema. But more likely it is that some of us seek out great films from all eras and nationalities and others wait for the next big released that is advertised shamelessly from the clothes in Walmart to a kid’s Happy Meal. As with music and the Internet, the film watching experience is changing also. Audiences in this new iPod generation have everything at their fingertips. When I grew up I treasured the Saturday afternoon matinée or late movie on television. It was always like a Cracker Jack surprise and most of the time worth the wait. Now I can simply download a film directly to my iPhone (though I don’t, I much prefer our home cinema with projector and screen). Maybe there is also a lack of appreciation or education amongst today’s younger film goers as to the elements that make a film worthwhile to watch. I’ve heard many people say they can’t stand to watch a movie in black and white. Perhaps next it will be that I can’t stand to see a film that isn’t a wireless stream to my cerebral cortex implant. I am sorrowful for this way of thinking, so many treasures are missed out on. For the serious film watcher, addict, cinephile, or however you view it, there is a desire to learn and watch and gain an emotional stimulus beyond the superficial. I believe these are the people who watch and rate movies like The Bicycle Thief.

First time on World Wide Angle, you may want to subscribe to our RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!