IMDb turning 20 on Sunday

Internet Movie Database takes a stroll down memory lane


The year was 1990 and the movie classic "Goodfellas" not only didn't win the Oscar it deserved - I liked "Dances With Wolves," too, but c'mon - it wasn't even one of the year's top 20 box office draws (No. 1 was "Home Alone," which at $285.7 million "is still the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever"). Tom Cruise married Nicole Kidman. And Emma Watson was born.

That and much, much more you can learn on a single page of the Internet Movie Database's special section devoted to its 20th anniversary. Also on that page devoted to 1990:

October 17th: Our founder, Col Needham, (below) writes a series of Unix shell scripts which make the lists that were being collected at a Usenet group called "rec.arts.movies," searchable (the lists were filmographies for actors, actresses, directors and something called the "dead list"). The ability to search existing data is one of the key components of the Web experience, and it immediately makes the lists more meaningful and useful. Though the name was still six years off, IMDb, the Internet Movie Database is, in essence, born.

(2010's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)


Since then IMDb has become to film-and-TV-related data and images what Google is to general search, Facebook is to social networking, and is to myth debunking: in a word, indispensible.

The 20th anniversary section features all kinds of goodies, including: a star of the day profile; 10 best and 10 worst "twist endings;" memorable movie quotes of the past 20 years; and "20 Years of Trailers."

There's a page devoted to the Hollywood happenings of each of the 20 years that includes a passage about the evolution of IMDb itself. Here are a few nuggets culled from those passages:

1991: New lists are added including writers, composers, movie goofs, and cinematographers. The database covers more than 11,000 different movies and contains over 25,000 entries.

1993: The first web interface to the database is launched at Cardiff University in Wales. The first e-mail interface to the database is launched. Users can query the database by sending an e-mail message and receive a reply within the hour.

New lists are started including trivia, plot summaries, genres, and biographies. The first two biography entries are for Linda Hamilton and Alfred Hitchcock.

1995: Internet Movie Database Newsletter #1 is sent out via e-mail.

IMDb covers nearly 63,000 movie titles and credits for individuals total 840,000.

1996: The domain name is created. The first IMDb-owned server is purchased to replace the mirrors being used up to that point (cost: $4,076). First ad campaign for a movie studio debuts on IMDb with Fox advertising Independence Day.

IMDb recently underwent a major site redesign, which hasn't been well received by everyone. However, here's the Internet Archive Wayback Machine's first image of the site, dated Nov. 19, 1996, so you can see from whence it has come.

1998: IMDb officially becomes an company. ... Our User-comments system is launched.

1999: Message boards are started. This first version is called the "Snack Bar" and has 11 boards, including "Name That Quote," "Mens Room," "Ladies Room," "Soapbox," and "Current Releases."

2000: IMDb celebrates its tenth birthday (and now) covers over 265,000 movie titles; including TV-series and video games and credit entries now total almost 4 million.

2001: The 1,000,000th name is added to the database. is officially launched at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The event is covered by one journalist, from the Hollywood Reporter, who is less than complimentary of the service.

2002: Time Magazine lists IMDb as one of "Ten Essential Websites."

2004: The 1,500,000th name is added. It took 11 years to get to one million; less than 3 years to add half that many again.

2009: IMDb launches the iPhone app and quickly becomes one of the top entertainment applications.

2010: Internet access to IMDb gets blocked in China.

As for today by the numbers, you can see every conceivable statistic here, including a breakdown of Bacon numbers.

The Los Angeles Times published an interview with Needham this week in which the IMDb founder explained how it all got started:

"I'd be watching movies and would notice all of these connections between films. I was a big Cary Grant fan, so putting all of the information in a little database, for example, helped me keep track of which Cary Grant films I'd seen," he said. "It's a bit geeky, but it worked out all right in the end."

(Update: Letter from Needham on the big day.)

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