The other day I was bored, so I decided to have a gander at the top ranked films on IMDB. I was just curious to see if there were any cool movies I should check out. What struck me was how overrated a bunch of films were. Honestly I feel if the list was called top 250 most overrated films, it would be an amazing list. Anyway, this silly article of mine is not picking on IMDB or its users. I just want to think out loud here and voice my opinion on film lists and the word “greatest”. Let’s take a look at some films from the IMDB top 250 (in order):
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Fight Club (1999)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Léon: The Professional (1994)
American History X (1998)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The Departed (2006)
The Green Mile (1999)
The Prestige (2006)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The Avengers (2012)
Sin City (2005)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
The King’s Speech (2010)
Into the Wild (2007)
Black Swan (2010)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
The Artist (2011)
District 9 (2009)
I stopped @ 203 with District 9. The reason for my premature stoppage was that once I came across the following series of:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Ip Man (2008)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
I realized that having a list extend to include the entire top 250 won’t prove my point any better. The point is this: If you are looking for some good movies to watch, and are using IMDB top 250 as a point of reference, you will have a bleh you must weed through. Furthermore, you will not get many old or foreign movies to choose from. “Bleh” is a harsh phrase, I suppose. “Movies that should not be listed in the top 250″ is a more sensitive way of conveying what I mean.
Now let me point out that the above list I have compiled is not a list of crappy movies. I would consider many of these movies as being amongst the best in their genres. I would even consider some of the movies as the best movies ever made. So why do I consider these movies over rated? Well, because whether or not something is overrated is a function of how people rate it. So if something is ranked as being the best, but in reality it is the second or third best, then it is considered to be overrated by one or two spots. Obviously when we are dealing with something as subjective as movie rankings, there is no true number one or number three, and so the thought of meticulously quantifying how overrated something is can be quite miserable. And assigning a number of spots by which a movie is overrated is even more miserable if there is no true master list.
Now that we have gotten the obvious points out of the way, I will say that The Shawshank Redemption is overrated by 87 spots. Okay, maybe it is not overrated by 87 spots. But lets be honest, that movie is most defiantly not the greatest movie ever made. And here is the one line in this post that contains my honest, non sarcastic opinion; If you include foreign films in a greatest of all time movie list, I doubt The Shawshank Redemption would even crack the top 100. Why am I so confident that it is not the greatest movie ever made? Because it has not been around long enough. By my criteria a movie that is considered to be “modern” cannot mathematically be the greatest movie ever made. That’s right. I brought math as well as my personal criteria this, but hear me out for one second. One thing that must be understood is when I’m talking about the “greatest”, I am not talking about “most enjoyable”, “most entertaining”, “best executed” or “best shot”. When I talk about greatest, I am primarily talking about “most important”. My criteria for evaluating the greatness of a film relies on its technical legacy. Style, camera work, sound, pace, lighting, cutting, editing… all that type of stuff gets lumped into a film’s technical legacy. Then once all those elements of the film are accounted for, one can address the story, plot, and whatever else there is to address. Even though the story, characters, and whatever else there is to address are afterthoughts in my criteria, they are still very important. After all, without those elements, we would feel quite detached from films.
In other words, how would erasing this movie from filmmaking existence change the course of filmmaking? Honestly, I doubt removing any one movie from film history would impact the progress of filmmaking in a significant manner. But surely some movies are more important than others. It isn’t until you define the criteria in this way that you understand why many boring (by our modern standards) films get ranked so high. So the crux of my argument is this; most greates film lists have a different set of rules they play by. If you want to get into debates about film greatness, you should adopt logically conforming criteria. My “importance” factor is just my take on it. There are plenty of ways of ranking the greatness of films. Just make sure the criteria is not the same as the criteria you use for ranking your favorite movies, otherwise your “greatest films” list is just a favorite films list.
So what is the greatest film of all time, since it is not The Shawshank Redemption? I don’t know. Rashomon, Citizen Kane, Metropolis, etc… take your pick from an “important” oldish film. I think Citizen Kane is a safe choice.
One thing that is clear; the IMDB top 250 list is not a list of the greatest movies of all time. It is a list of the highest rated movies. In other words, it is a list of movies that received a lot of high scores, and few low scores. I see the list as a list of movies that are hard to dislike. If someone ordered me to watch all the movies on this list over the course of a year I would be satisfied.
So why are the movies listed above so overrated? Because people are not rating movies based on how great they are, but based on how much they liked the movie. After all, this is how I rate movies on Netflix and this is why I rated The Nutty Prefessor Two: The Klumps a solid four stars. Anyway, I realize criticizing IMDB’s list is stupid, and I was just using it as a reference for finding overrated movies. But it got me wondering, do people have two separate movie ranking lists like I do? I have two lists that I obsess over, my all time greatest film list and my all time favorite film list. I think the former list is a good way of paying respect and appreciation to classic movies. It also encourages you step away from your opinions and try to analyze the movie in an objective way. It’s a way of “getting” a movie even if you don’t like it.
Rewatchability is a nice word. Oh, hey speaking of the word rewatchability, I also have a desert island movie list which obviously favors rewatchability. Basically the list is such: If you could only watch 10 movies for the rest of your life, what would they be? This desert island list is great for figuring out whether or not you should buy a movie. For instance Dumb And Dumber is worth more to me than Amadeus even though I may rank Amadeus as a better film because I can watch Dumb and Dumber over and over again.
When I was scanning through the IMDB top 250 list, I was trying to be fairly conservative in what I highlighted and copied on to my notepad thus deeming it as overrated. Despite my leniency I think I was too harsh towards some movies. Like maybe The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Pulp Fiction (1994) are not as overrated as I think they are. Maybe I am being harsh on Jaws (1975). But really that is it. Those few movies are the only ones I feel have a case for being omitted from the list I have compiled. I was actually quite shocked with how low Blade Runner is listed on IMDB. I guess, people I know personally tend overrate Blade Runner, while IMDBers don’t? Personally, it’s one of my favorites, and I genuinely believe it is one of the greatest films of all time.