My brother-in-law, Drew, is an Apple maven. At home, one mention of anything with an Apple logo and my mother starts to wipe off her glasses so she can see her phone to dial Drew’s number. Drew isn’t a casual fan of the Apple computer company; he is the first to know, and knows the most.
Where do you turn when choosing a movie to watch, or deciding which new release to go see? Considering that in the last 12 months, on average, the term “IMDb” has been Googled more often than “Obama” and “Romney” combined, I’d say you turn to IMDb. So IMDb is your maven, your expert, your “Drew.” But IMDb isn’t this, not even close.
IMDb is one of the most popular online movie aggregators and falls in the top 50 most visited websites of 2012, according to Alexa Internet, Inc. The site uses user-generated ratings and a little math to produce a score for each movie. This number carries weight since the site aggregates such an enormous volume of movie reviews. The scores from “regular voters” dictate a movie’s position on the behemoth of all movie lists: “IMDb Top 250.”
According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” a social epidemic needs three components to occur: mavens to discover the next best thing, connectors to spread the information and salesmen to convince hesitant adopters. IMDb has all three. Aggregated scores are seen as expert ratings. The site’s popularity is undisputed. High numbers of votes, especially for newer movies, are very persuasive. This means IMDb publicizes the likes and dislikes of the average viewer extremely effectively, guiding us all toward the watered-down center of a subjective art. But is this average score credible?
To explore that question, let’s look at “The Hobbit.” At the time of writing, IMDb rates “The Hobbit” as an 8.3, pegging it as #141 on the list of top 250 movies of all time. To contrast, “The Hobbit” scored a 58/100 as an aggregated score by Metacritic from 40 critic reviews, and one of those critics, Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post, rated it a 38. Which score should you listen to? Which is credible? That just depends on what you are aiming for.
For an aggregated score in one number from mavens, professional critics, use Metacritic. However, this aggregation diminishes the voice of any single critic. If you want to listen to one maven that you really trust, your “Drew,” you have to find and track what they say on any given movie. Finding critics you like and staying up to date with their reviews can be more time consuming than aggregators. That’s where Flicklist picks up.
Flicklist is an app that promises to preserve this idea of a maven. Members can still rate movies on a one to five scale, but the emphasis of the site is on building lists of movies you’d recommend and trusting others’ lists. According to the website, trusting someone on the site is not like “adding them as a friend on Facebook or following them on Twitter.” Rather, you’re trusting the opinions of people you actually value. Professional critics and other movie mavens with large numbers of people who trust them will become more prominent on the app’s main pages. Flicklist is about listening to multiple, carefully selected mavens, IMDb is about listening to everyone collectively, and Metacritic bridges the gap.
Each of the discussed methods for finding movie reviews has its merits, and I will continue to use all three. However, people must remain cautious of allowing an average opinion to directly dictate the art they consume. I don’t like average, I never have. With average comes the end of originality; 2011 and 2012 tied for the highest number of sequels, prequels and spinoffs produced in one year, at 27. And with the site’s popularity growing daily, the scores are becoming increasingly skewed.
Netflix accounts for one third of peak Internet traffic in North America, while BitTorrent and video streaming have also become increasingly popular. With virtually any film just a few clicks away, a rental store’s selection or a movie theater’s schedule are no longer limiting factors. You have more freedom than ever before, so don’t tie yourself to the limits of one source. IMDb doesn’t even let documentaries on their Top 250 list. What you do with your free time is your decision, so if you want advice, consult a maven. Consult someone with the passion to research and recommend, not just the rating of an average viewer, set along an arbitrary scale.
Travis Smith is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Travis on Twitter @jtsmith317.