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Change in the IMDb Top 250


Quick Jump

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, 2022


Introduction

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

Where:
R = average for the movie (mean) = (rating)
v = number of votes for the movie = (votes)
m = minimum votes required to be listed in the Top Rated list (currently 25,000)
C = the mean vote across the whole report

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:

2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and some time in mid-2004.



The Data

Here's a summary table:


Element 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2004
Mean 1987 1987 1987 1985 1985 1984 1983 1983 1982 1980 1973
Median 1994 1995 1994 1993 1993 1993 1988 1988 1988 1986 1976
Mode 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 2003 2003
Hal Rated 172 171 176 180 176 176 207 188 200 200 210
Hal Average 6.52 6.52 6.49 6.52 6.59 6.55 6.57 6.59 6.57 6.58 6.67
Dee Rated 167 166 171 176 172 171 203 184 197 199 210
Dee Average 6.28 6.28 6.26 6.32 6.40 6.37 6.40 6.41 6.44 6.51 6.61
Same 35 37 25 38 47 30 28 20 17
Up 67 65 53 81 84 37 82 73 69
Down 136 134 150 117 102 158 124 140 136
New 12 14 22 14 17 25 16 17 28
Variation 5.71 5.84 8.81 4.70 6.56 10.17 5.95 9.16 10.83


Explanations

Here's what these data elements mean.

Averages

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.

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.

Our Ratings

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).

Change

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 2022

More detailed analysis can be found on the page for the IMDb Top 250 for 1st January, 2022.

Averages

The change in mean 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. The mean is now 1987 for a third year running. 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, this year it dropped for the first time, from 1995 to 1994. 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.

The mode is interesting. Cinema's golden year, according to this list, is 1995 and is for the ninth year in a row. It's represented by eight films, one more than 1957 and 2019. Behind them with six films each are 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2009.

Ratings

Our ratings suggest that my wife and I both prefer the oldest list that I grabbed in 2004 and it's gradually become a 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 they've stayed there this year.

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.

Ups and Downs

Unsurprisingly, the up and down numbers 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.

Large changes are more represented by drops than climbs, with six films dropping at least 20 places within the Top 250, with five more dropping at least 20 places out of it entirely. Only five films climbed the list by a double digit number, one fewer than last year. However, Come and See, last year's highest climber, moving up 30 places, moved up another 19 this year, while The Passion of Joan of Arc recovered an unexpected 22 places after declining steadily over the past few years.

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 Soul, which entered at 163 last year but is now gone, meaning a drop of at least 87 places. However, all the other films that dropped out of the list entirely (except one) are foreign for a change. The films that fell furthest but still remain in the Top 250 follow in similar vein: the largest dropper was Hamilton, falling 34 places from 52 to 86, but followed by foreign films The Bandit, My Father and My Son and Autumn Sonata, which fell 33, 29 and 28 places respectively.

The variation is down even further than last year. A few more films moved up and down films but they generally didn't move far, while fewer films dropped out of the list entirely. 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.

Decades

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. There were only 12 new entries this year, the lowest number since I've been tracking, possibly due to problems within the industry caused by COVID-19, and only 3 of these were 2021 movies.

This year's new entries are notable in that only half of them are from recent years (2016-2021), the other half dating back to the previous century. Nights of Cabiria and Fanny and Alexander both return after a couple of years away, having spent multiple years in the list but dropping out after 2019.

It's rare for decades prior to the nostalgia point (currently the 1980s) to increase their representation in the list, but the 1950s and 1960s did this year. There are 24 films from the 1950s, which puts it back at 2019 levels, while the 19 from the 1960s puts it at the highest point it's been since 2016.

Directors

This year's top directors are again balanced well between the modern and classic eras, with Akira Kurosawa up one to join Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan on seven titles each. Behind them on six are Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, as last year.

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. This year remains static for the second year running and, in fact, the only change in the top twenty is the addition of Spider-Man: No Way Home.



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Last update: 1st January, 2022