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Change in the IMDb Top 250
If you're used to this data and just want to look at the current year's grab, here's the
IMDb Top 250 for 1st January, 2023
When I moved to the US in 2004, I wasn't allowed to work until the government gave me permission. That took six months to grant and I took advantage of the free time to delve into classic film courtesy of the newfound wonder (to me) of cable television and, in particular, Turner Classic Movies. While I watched as much as I could generally, I also tried to have some focus to ensure I was finding an appropriate grounding.
There are many lists of "the greatest films of all time". I maintain archived copies of a bunch of Top 100 Lists here at Dawtrina.com, for example, and there are plenty of others out there to play with. These are generally static lists, created by a single person or a focused group of people, and that's fine. However, there's another list that's been around for a long while that is constantly updated and it's voted for by the largest audience of film fans there is: people who frequent the Internet Movie Database.
The IMDb Top 250 is a fascinating, albeit flawed, creature and I grabbed a static copy sometime in mid-2004 to work through. I've tried to keep up by watching new films that enter the list, though I've never managed to watch everything. For a while, my ratings since 2004 highlighted that I was between the 200 and 210 mark, though I'm a little lower nowadays, in the 170s.
IMDb do attempt to ensure a strong list by applying rules and algorithms to get weighted ratings. They don't disclose all the details of how they do this—for instance, only votes from regular IMDb voters (which is not publicly defined) are considered)—but the core formula is below (source here):
The following formula is used to calculate the Top Rated 250 titles. This formula provides a true 'Bayesian estimate', which takes into account the number of votes each title has received, minimum votes required to be on the list, and the mean vote for all titles:
weighted rating (WR) = (v ÷ (v+m)) × R + (m ÷ (v+m)) × C
Please be aware that the Top Rated Movies Chart only includes theatrical features; shorts, TV movies, miniseries and documentaries are not included in the Top Rated Movies Chart. The Top Rated TV Shows Chart includes TV Series, but not TV episodes or Movies.
Put simply, they filter down to feature films that have received a certain number of votes (which is currently 25,000), then reject what appears to be bad data. They do a pretty good job.
Some flaws are still obvious, of course. This is based on popular voting, so it's open to the tyranny of the majority. It's not too surprising to find a strong bias towards recent pictures, especially big Hollywood blockbusters which leap into the list on release and then slowly (or quickly) drop back out again.
What I found over time, though, is that it holds up pretty well, with my average rating for the IMDb Top 250 higher than that for the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies list. From an entirely personal and an 80%-ish complete standpoint, the IMDb list is "better" than the AFI's (and, to a varying degree of completion, the other few dozen lists I'm tracking). That still seems odd to me, but the data doesn't lie.
So, in order to keep an eye on this data, I started grabbing a fresh copy of the IMDb Top 250 every New Years Day, starting in 2013. That allows me to see how that data changes annually. I'm sharing that data on pages here for wider reference:
2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and some time in mid-2004.
Here's a summary table:
Here's what these data elements mean.
The mean, median and mode are ways of calculating averages.
The mean is what most people would call the average. It's calculated by adding up all 250 values and dividing by 250. Right now that's 1986.
When all 250 values are sorted in order, the median is the value in the middle. In other words, there as many films in the list from 1994 moving forward in time as there are from 1994 moving backwards.
The mode is the most frequently represented value. In other words, according to this list, 1995 is currently cinema's golden year.
The Hal and Dee numbers represent how many of the 250 films my better half and I have rated (which means that we've seen them since 2004; we've both seen more of these than we've rated) and the mean of our ratings. My rating system ranges from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) with 4 an OK pivot between them.
The rest of the elements reflect change since the previous year:
Same is the number of films which stayed in the same spot as the previous year. Up is the number that moved up. Down is the number that moved down. New are the number of films in this year's list that weren't in the previous year's — however, some of them may have been in the list prior to that.
Variation marks how much the list has changed overall over the previous year. It counts how many places in the list each film moved (either up or down) and calculates the mean of that.
Basic Analysis for 2023
More detailed analysis can be found on the page for the IMDb Top 250 for 1st January, 2023.
The change in mean usually tells us that the films represented in the IMDb Top 250 get newer each year. That's not surprising as new movies are released all the time. Except that that trend was bucked for the first time this year, with the mean year dropping from 1987 to 1986. That's probably due to COVID-19 preventing a lot of movies from being released and that translating into only one new entry from the previous year, an all time low.
The median ought to get newer too, and it is doing that over time, but it seems to get stuck a lot more. It spent three years at 1988 and three more at 1993, before rising to 1995. However, last year it dropped for the first time, from 1995 to 1994, and it stayed there this year. Usually, that's because a bunch of the new entries are classic films that have just reached the ratings threshold and the films they replaced are generally much more recent. Again, not the case this year, where replacement was closer to like for like.
The mode is interesting. Cinema's golden year, according to this list, is 1995 and is for the tenth year in a row. It's represented by eight films, one more than 2004. Behind them with six films each are 1957, 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2019.
Our ratings suggest that my wife and I both prefer the oldest list that I grabbed in 2004 and so the Top 250 has gradually slightly little less valuable to us since then. However, after a 6.67 in 2004, my average ratings dropped about a tenth of a point and stayed there from 2013 to 2018, varying just a little, but they dropped another tenth of a point in the two years to 2020, robbing it of the crown of most valuable list (to me) that it's held ever since I started tracking it. However, my average ratings went up again in 2021, to 6.52, and after two years there, dropped slightly to 6.50 this year. A reminder: that's out of a maximum of 7.
It's perhaps also worth mentioning that my better half generally rates film higher than I do, but my ratings of IMDb Top 250 films have always been higher than hers. I've wondered about that, but, looking wider, it seems that I rate both higher and lower than her, praising or panning, while her ratings clump a little more consistently in the middle. Hers were slightly up this year at an average of 6.30 from a low of 6.28 over the past two years.
Ups and Downs
Unsurprisingly, the up and down numbers always suggest that a lot more films drop every year than rise. This is surely because, while some films do move up the list, it's much more common for them to be moved down by new entries, which also often move down too, even faster. Except this year, the reverse happened, probably because of COVID-19's impact on release schedules. For the first time in the decade I've been tracking, more films went up than down and by a large number: 126 up and 90 down, beating a previous high of 84 up and a previous low of 102 down, both in 2018.
Large changes are traditionally more represented by drops than climbs, but this year challenged that as well. Seventeen films leapt at least 20 places within the Top 250 and eighteen films plummeted by at least 20. To give some perspective on that, only seven films rose by 20 places over the past seven years combined, but seventeen did in the past year. The highest climber was Million Dollar Baby, moving up 42 places.
As always, the biggest drop was a mainstream Hollywood film that was a new entry the previous year. This year, that dubious honour goes to Spider-Man: No Way Home, which entered at 16 last year but freefalled 132 places downward to 148 this year. As with last year, the majority of films that dropped out of the list entirely are foreign (14 out of 17).
The variation is up to a new high, meaning a lot of volatility in the Top 250, even if only one new entry made it into the top two hundred places. The general trend has been for each year to see less violent change and with 2017 and 2020 being exceptions to that rule, it's held true otherwise since 2014. Until now, when it's more volatile than ever, for reasons I don't see.
Given that each new year brings new great films, we might expect previous decades to be represented less and less over time and that's generally true. However, the 2020s were not more represented this year, remaining at a mere 5. However, the 1930s and 1940s both increased their representation, as did the 1990s and 2000s. Notably, the 2010s decreased in representation for the second year running, after increasing consistently each eligible year before that.
This year's new entries are notable in that only one is from recent years, 2022's Top-Gun: Maverick being the only one from the psat decade.
This year's top directors are again balanced well between the modern and classic eras, with Steven Spielberg up one to join Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan on seven titles each. Behind them on six is Alfred Hitchcock, with Charlie Chaplin, Quentin Tarantino and Billy Wilder on five each.
The Top Ten
The Top Ten has remained relatively unchanged for a long while, being the same ten films, if in slightly different orders, since 2013. However, the order did shift a lot this year, with two films moving up within the top ten and eight in the top twenty. Nothing moved more than one place, except Se7en leapfrogging Seven Samurai to take Spider-Man: No Way Home's vacated spot in the top twenty.
Last update: 1st January, 2023