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Finding movie info online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 2, 2007
(Issue 2544, Geeky Gadgets for Fun or Profit)

It's been two and a half years since we last looked at some of the better sites for learning about movies.

A lot has changed since then, although the two main sites we looked at – the Internet Movie Database and – are still two of the most popular, most complete and most informative.

One thing that has changed since then is my day job – part of which is putting together the weekly movie reviews in the North County Times. As part of that, I have to find schedules of upcoming theatrical and DVD releases, find publicity stills to accompany the reviews of new movies, and find the latest top 10 list of the most popular current films.

All of which means I've assembled a pretty useful list of bookmarks at work for helping track down that info every Tuesday.

More great resources

In addition to and IMDB, a couple of other great sites for learning about almost any movie you could want to rent or see are Yahoo's movies page and Rotten Tomatoes.

Yahoo's page is, like AllMovie and IMDB, pretty comprehensive, with credit information and reviews of movies going back to the very beginning of cinema. ("Battleship Potemkin," the 1925 Russian classic, is included here, as are "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane.") It doesn't have the depth that either of those movie sites have, but with bio pages for most major actors and actresses, it's a solid resource. And it lists the weekly Top 10 – at least in gross. I've not found a good reporting service that tracks individual tickets sold, nor anyone that does something like the Nielsens do for TV ratings, providing a comparison of the percentage of the population seeing a specific movie. By that measure, "Gone With the Wind" may have been more popular than the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, even though it may far less money (although once adjusted for inflation, that may not have been as far apart, either).

Rotten Tomatoes is more of a digest, providing basic info about a movie (cast, director, rating, running time, studio) and then links to reviews, with an overall grade for each movie based on the average score the critics gave it.

It's an inexact measuring stick, to be sure – especially as some outlets (The New York Times, for one) don't provide a letter grade (A, B, C, etc.) for a movie, so someone at Rotten Tomatoes has to assign a grade to those reviews based on what the critic is saying.

Still, it makes for an interesting read, and useful, too, in that if your local movie reviewer has far different taste than you do, you can go to Rotten Tomatoes and find other movie reviewers whose tastes run more to your liking.

Plus, Rotten Tomatoes also posts the combined score from its readers – anyone can sign up for free, and then rate movies they've seen. There are quite a few movies with a difference of more than 10 percentage points between the critics' composite rating and the viewers'.

While most of the movies we see in this country are made in Hollywood, there are films made all over the world. The BBC movie site has more of an international focus than the above sites (although all three of the above sites have a very solid collection of non-American movies). It's also interesting to see American films reviewed from a British point of view.

Both Rotten Tomatoes' and the BBC's databases go back to the very earliest films, as well, making them good resources when looking for something to rent on DVD.

Tracking indies

Still, even with all the major foreign films accounted for, there are all those films not issued by the major studios – the so-called independents.

While there have always been independent filmmakers, the number has increased exponentially the past few years. The cost of producing movies has dropped considerably over the last few decades, as digital video cameras have dropped in price to under a thousand dollars, as video-editing software has entered the retail consumer space, and as sites like MySpace and YouTube have made it possible to find non-theatrical outlets for disseminating a film.

And yet, while there are more independent films than ever to see, finding the ones you want to see is undoubtedly more difficult – simply because there are so many and they're not part of the regular movie reporting.

IndiePix aims to solve that problem by collecting information about independent films in one location.

As this is written in mid-October, there are just a shade under 3,000 films on IndiePix – but all of them are available for purchase via download (and can then be burned to DVD). Which may seem a conflict of interest, except that since anyone can open an account (they're free) and rate movies, there were quite a few movies with only one or two stars out of five.

Next week: Finding movie stills, posters.