The Internet Movie Database turns 25 this month. Since 1990 the number of users casting their verdicts on hundreds and thousands of titles has skyrocketed. With that in mind, we’ve taken a step back to the site’s first year online (1996) to see the top ten films voted by its early visitors and compared them to that same ranking today.
10th place. 1996: Schindler’s List | 2015: Fight Club
Released in 1999, Fight Club wasn’t even a contender for this spot in 1996. Question is, if it had been, would Fincher have triumphed over Spielberg? What’s more intriguing than who’s got the biggest sway is what this reveals about the power of cult status. A tale of disillusioned males seeking a reprieve from the farce that is contemporary culture doesn’t boast the universality of good vs. evil that scored Schindler’s seven Oscars. And yet, somehow it snuck into the top ten.
9th place. 1996: Blade Runner | 2015: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Another cult classic that’s since evacuated the top ten and tends to hover now around the 130s. Blade Runner’s inclusion isn’t unexpected if we’re to speculate that the types of registered voters in the mid-nineties leaned more towards the movie buff and cinephile persuasion. It’s a movie lovers movie. Whereas the behemoth that is Peter Jackson’s last chapter in the Rings saga is an all-encompassing epic. It may originate in fantasy territory, that realm claimed by the nerd sect, but the brand ain’t just for Tolkienists anymore.
8th place. 1996: Casablanca | 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western has surpassed the classic World War II melodrama — Casablanca now sits in IMDB’s early 30s. The latter is peppered with classic stars such as Humphrey Bogart delivering one-liners that still echo today, while the former is a piece of dusty gunslinger grit that made Clint Eastwood a star. Each deserve this spot for different reasons. Could it be the influx of modern westerns in recent years — Django Unchained, for example — that’s seen a return to the top for Leone? Or are audiences less enthused by the greatest film of all-time than critics?
7th place. 1996: Star Trek: First Contact | 2015: Pulp Fiction
Arguably the best Star Trek movie snagged this coveted spot, since taken over by Tarantino’s most popular title. The fact that First Contact doesn’t even feature in the top 250 anymore speaks volumes about the changing user demographic. Earlier hordes of IMDB voters ramped up the movie so much so that it outshone a ton of undisputed classics. Whereas now Pulp has stolen its crown, moving up five places from 12. It’ll probably never leave the top ten.
6th place. 1996: A Close Shave | 2015: Schindler’s List
Aardman Studios rock the claymation. No-one does it better or with as much warmth, humor, and silliness. Wallace and Gromit rule. But number 6? This placement is one of the most baffling 1996 rankings, leaving literally hundreds of superior cinematic masterpieces trailing behind in the triple digits. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant. It’s just not as deserving as Schindler’s List.
5th place. 1996: The Wrong Trousers | 2015: 12 Angry Men
AGAIN? Another Aardman movie, The Wrong Trousers, is elbowed out in favor of a solid piece of American cinema. 12 Angry Men opened in 1957, and bridges the gap between the chatty dialogue-driven movies of Hollywood’s golden age and the experimental sixties era. The vast chasm between these two movies is indicative of something. Either our changing tastes or the fact that the early users consisted mainly of Brits.
4th place. 1996: The Usual Suspects | 2015: The Dark Knight
The Usual Suspects dominated the top ten for years. At the time of this early ranking, mere months had passed since its theatrical release. Hence, the boom in votes. It happens more often than you’d think. For example, films that are just terrible somehow manage to nudge superior titles out of the way. Most of the time it’s short-lived but for Suspects now in the mid-20s, it looks as though the comic classic The Dark Knight is here to stay.
3rd place. 1996: Trainspotting | 2015: The Godfather: Part II
With a sequel in the works for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, expect a spike for this one in the next couple of years. In the last two decades it’s dropped from third place all the way down to 155. That bronze spot is now taken by The Godfather: Part II, a movie that most of the Western world can watch without having to read subtitles on account of the strong accents. Surely that’s not why it’s fallen?
2nd place. 1996: The Shawshank Redemption | 2015: The Godfather
Nudging aside the likes of Dr. Strangelove and Citizen Kane, The Godfather now sits nestled in second place, working its way up from the mid-teens ranking it held in 1996. Despite the widely-held opinion that the sequel is better, it’s managed to rise one place above its successor, and give Shawshank the boot. A position that’s not entirely unexpected given that that movie found its audience on home video around late 1995.
1st place. 1996: Star Wars | 2015: The Shawshank Redemption
Andy Dufresne swam through a river of shit and still beat sci-fi’s golden boy Luke Skywalker for the number one spot. In twenty years, Shawshank has fluctuated slightly within the top five, often knocked off for a brief hysterical spell before returning to first place. Star Wars, which once reigned as IMDB’s king, now sits at #19. A fair trade? Each deal with good vs. evil and possess a championing spirit reflective of the other. Shawshank just appeals to a wider net of users. We’ll see how it stands up when The Force Awakens threatens to topple it this December.