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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, 2024


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 in the "How do you calculate the rank of movies and TV shows on the Top 250 Movies and Top 250 TV Show lists?" section):

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:

2024, 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and some time in mid-2004.



The Data

Here's a summary table:


Element 2024 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2004
Mean 1987 1986 1987 1987 1987 1985 1985 1984 1983 1983 1982 1980 1973
Median 1995 1994 1994 1995 1994 1993 1993 1993 1988 1988 1988 1986 1976
Mode 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 1995 2003 2003
Hal Rated 178 181 172 171 176 180 176 176 207 188 200 200 210
Hal Average 6.37 6.50 6.52 6.52 6.49 6.52 6.59 6.55 6.57 6.59 6.57 6.58 6.67
Dee Rated 177 177 167 166 171 176 172 171 203 184 197 199 210
Dee Average 6.25 6.30 6.28 6.28 6.26 6.32 6.40 6.37 6.40 6.41 6.44 6.51 6.61
Same 37 17 35 37 25 38 47 30 28 20 17
Up 58 126 67 65 53 81 84 37 82 73 69
Down 150 90 136 134 150 117 102 158 124 140 136
New 5 17 12 14 22 14 17 25 16 17 28
Variation 4.08 11.50 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. Right now that's 1987.

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 1995 moving forward in time as there are from 1995 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, though the difference is gradually closing) and the mean of our ratings. My rating system ranges from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) with 4 an OK pivot between them.

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 2023

More detailed analysis can be found on the page for the IMDb Top 250 for 1st January, 2024.

Averages

The change in mean usually 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. That trend was bucked for the first time last year, with the mean year dropping from 1987 to 1986. That was probably due to COVID-19 preventing a lot of movies from being released and that translating into only one new entry from the previous year, an all time low. It's back to 1987 this year.

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. It dropped from 1995 to 1994 a couple of years ago, stayed there last year and went back up to 1995 this year. However, the exact median is 1994.5 so that's a very subtle change due to rounding up or down. Usually, the reason behind this is that 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. With only five films entering and leaving the list this year, trends are notably off.

The mode is interesting. Cinema's golden year, according to this list, is 1995 as it's been since at least 2013 (and possibly earlier). As with last year, it's represented by eight films, one more than 2004 and behind them with six films each are 1957, 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2019.

Ratings

Our ratings suggest that my wife and I both prefer the oldest list that I grabbed in 2004 and so the Top 250 has gradually slightly little less valuable to us since then. We tend to rate IMDb Top 250 films highly, but a little less so with each year that passes.

It's perhaps also worth mentioning that my better half generally rates films 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 always 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. That changed last year, likely because of COVID-19's impact on release schedules, but they returned to expected levels this year: 58 rising and 150 dropping.

Large changes are traditionally more represented by drops than climbs and this year's list returns to norms. Last year, seventeen films leapt at least 20 places and eighteen films dropped at least 20 places. Equivalent numbers this year are zero and three respectively, much more in line with previous years, where only seven films rose by at least 20 places from 2016 to 2022 combined. The highest climbers this year were Prisoners (10 places), Dead Poets Society (10 places) and Jai Bhim (12 places).

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 Top Gun: Maverick, which entered at 88 last year but dropped 42 places to 130 this year. That's not a large drop historically; last year's biggest drop, Spider-Man: No Way Home dropped 132 places. What changed this year is that very few films actually left the Top 250 and all of them were very close to the bottom of the list last year. Only five films dropped out this year and the highest placed last year, Persona, only had to drop eight places to do so. As always, the majority are foreign (but only 3 of those 5).

The variation is up to a new high, meaning a lot of volatility in the Top 250, even if only one new entry made it into the top two hundred places. 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. Until now, when it's more volatile than ever, for reasons I don't see.

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. While the 1920s to 1940s were unchanged this year, the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s lost one film each and the 1970s two. The beneficiaries were the 1990s and 2010s, each rising one, and the 2020s rising only because of three new entries from 2023.

That's not a lot of 2023 representation, those three films being Godzilla Minus One, Oppenheimer and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. It's worth mentioning here that, while I haven't seen any of these yet, many of my friends have and Godzilla Minus One is the only modern film I can name about which I have literally not heard anything negative.

Directors

This year's top directors are again balanced well between the modern and classic eras, but Oppenheimer nudges Christopher Nolan into top spot with eight titles, ahead of Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg on seven each. With Dersu Uzala dropping out of the list, Akira Kurosawa falls to six, joining Alfred Hitchcock there. Behind then on five remain Charlie Chaplin, Quentin Tarantino and Billy Wilder.

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. However, it does shuffle a little over time and it didn't do that this year. In fact, the only change in the top twenty was It's a Wonderful Life moving up from 21 to 20 and nudging Seven Samurai down one.



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Last update: 1st January, 2024