Reeling in the Years

YearScrollNo, this isn’t my annual end-of-the-year post. That’ll be going up tomorrow morning, with any luck. But as I was pondering what to post for today — circumstances prevented me from having a movie ready to review (it’s been just a bit hectic here lately) — it occurred to me that I had another project I’ve been working on that I recently completed and might merit a few words.

How many movies have you seen? It’s a question that’s almost never asked. Instead, we add qualifiers and limitations; these questions are actually quite common. How many have you seen this year, how many this month, what movies have you seen lately, and so forth. But it’s pretty much unheard for anybody to ask how many movies you’ve seen, overall. And the reason for that is simple: it’s a really daunting question. It’s not like most people keep track of these things. But it occurred to me, idly thinking about things several months back, that in this day and age it’s actually a question where the answer is theoretically knowable — though it does require quite a bit of work and is thus still not really reasonable for most people to know.

But I’m not most people, I have plenty of free time, and reasonableness and I aren’t always on speaking terms…

IMDb has, in theory, a listing for every film ever made (barring some independent ones that never got any sort of real release). Thus, if one is sufficiently determined and is willing to take the time, it’s possible to go through and check off all the films one has seen. I didn’t check every film — but I got a pretty good sampling of everything from 1900 to 2012. I built a query in IMDb’s advanced search feature to bring up all the titles from a particular year. To keep things manageable, I excluded anything that didn’t have at least 100 votes — I figure that if something hasn’t had at least that much attention, the odds are strongly against my having seen it, at least if we’re talking about things from before I started blogging (and if it’s something I reviewed while blogging, I’ve already rated it on IMDb anyway.) I also excluded anything that didn’t have a theatrical release, or which was a short film — I’m only interested in theatrical features for this (even if they were independent and not wide-release, they count, but if they were made for TV or direct to video, they don’t). With those exclusions, I still had a lot to go through — later years often had nearly 2000 films remaining. But it was possible to slowly work through the years this way, rating any movie I remembered seeing (and if I don’t remember seeing it, I consider it unseen whether I actually watched it or not), and also adding things to my watchlist if they sounded interesting.

I don’t know exactly when I started doing this — I think it was probably back around June. I finally finished 2012 (and marking some of 2013’s and 2014’s films on my watchlist) this month. (Not that 2012 was difficult — really, it was mostly just adding stuff to my watchlist as well.) Now I know how many theatrical features I’ve seen from each year, and how many I’ve seen total.

That total? 878 films. The odds are strongly in favor of my breaking 1000 during 2013.

Have I missed some? Quite possibly. But I’m satisfied with the thoroughness I’ve given it.

The oldest film I’ve seen is Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms — which at 45 minutes is just long enough to count as a feature. The newest I’ve seen is Wreck-It Ralph.

Unsurprisingly, there are some years where I don’t have a single film on record. 1919, 1920, a few other years… an odd three-year gap from 1943 to 1945… it’ll be a little interesting to me to see when those gaps get filled. And it’s also unsurprising that, even though I do make an effort to seek out classic films, the earlier things get the fewer films I’ve seen. My first double-digit year is 1963, and the next is 1979. After that it’s fairly consistent about being at least in double digits per year (though I’m a little short on 2011 yet).

It’s also not a surprise that the 1980s and 1990s form the bulk of my movie watching. The year with the most films I’ve seen is 1988, with 34 films; 1994 and 1995 are tied for second at 32. I’ve still got a ways to go on any of them though to meet the purpose for which I originally started this little research project.

What I would like is to eventually be able to give myself the ability to create Top 10 lists of the best films for each year. A question I’d like to put forward to anybody who is interested, is how many films you think a person should have to have seen from a given year to be able to pick a top ten from it? My thinking is 50. It’s about one film a week for the year, and theoretically it should give a rounded perspective on the year. Now obviously, if I’m setting 50 as my goal per each year, it’ll be a while before I’m able to do a top 10 for any year, let alone more than one, but that’s all right by me. I’d rather it wait than be premature.

In the meantime, I’m just glad that I’m no longer trawling through IMDb digging up films I’ve seen. While it had its fun discoveries, it did get just a bit tedious.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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17 Responses to Reeling in the Years

  1. Jaina says:

    That is an epic task you undertook here, Morgan! Serious kudos to you.

    878 is a brilliant number. Here’s to 1000 for next year! Also looking forward to your top 10 lists. Your logic definitely feels, erm, logical to me in terms of how many films from each year you can see before you can compilate a top 10 list.

    I’ve been keeping tabs of my films since 2008. Seeing roughly 100ish a year since then. So in the last 5 years I’ve seen 500ish films. Feels like that maths is a bit wrong, or I’m just forgetting we’re in 2012 and not the 90s anymore! Getting old!

    • I know… I keep having to remind myself that the 1990s no longer count as “recent”. My 15 year high school anniversary was this year (missed it, unfortunately); strange to think there are kids in high school now that weren’t even born when I was in high school.

      I’ll make a special note of whatever my 1000th film winds up being. Hopefully it’s a worthy one of the milestone. πŸ˜€

  2. Fifty films is a lot, considering you will be watching new releases as well. But in the end it is a personal challenge, difficult but accomplishable.

    Good luck with it.

  3. Bubbawheat says:

    One thing I found that’s good for that is Letterboxd, although if you’ve already done it through IMDB, it’s not needed to go through it again. My movies watched is a bit closer to 1,000 coming in the high 900s, and I think I’ve missed a few, though I’ve also counted some short films and DVD/TV movies. Still, that’s a lot of entertainment.

  4. Nostra says:

    I’ve been keeping track of my movie watching since 2004. Since then I’ve seen a total of 1,471 titles. And most of those have been in the last three years πŸ™‚
    Besides IMDB I also use (it’s a dutch site, but there is an english option), which allows me to see all statistics easily. So I can tell you I’ve seen 311 movies in 2012.

    After I’ve seen a movie I always head to those two sites (and occasionally to keep track of it all.

  5. Eric says:

    Another really helpful website for compiling information like this is You can even import your IMDB data so you don’t have to go through and check off everything again. Plus you can browse through all of their lists and likely stumble upon some films you forgot you have seen. I use that site religiously. πŸ™‚

  6. Cool post. I use as well and right now I’m at 1011. Although I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

  7. Pingback: 900 Film Genre Breakdown | Morgan on Media

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