Since I’m a strange, introverted bastard (well, being a bastard doesn’t have much to do with the rest of this article, but indeed, my parents weren’t married when I was born), I began reflecting on what I actually know about movies. This began with me watching Last Year in Marienbad and thus stumbling upon a branch of French New Wave known as Left Bank. According to Wikipedia, Left Bank looked at movies as one more art form among others, while the core New Wave people were more about finding a language of its own for their movies.
Anyhow, it got me thinking: If I hadn’t heard of this movement, which apparently has some historical signifance, how much do I really know about movies? Can I quantify it somehow?
Well, yes, but with caveats. I can figure out how many movies I’ve seen. According to IMDb I’ve seen 2890 feature films. Also, according to IMDb there are about 300.000 feature films in existence. IMDb hasn’t listed them all and I’ve probably forgotten to rate some of the movies I’ve seen (and there were also plenty of movies I saw before becoming a member of the IMDb and haven’t gotten around to rating), so perhaps I’ve seen around 1% of all movies ever made.
How does that compare to other people? According to US Today, a regular person watches 5000 movies in their lifetime. However, they don’t talk about repeats. That averages to roughly 1.2 movies per week for an 80 year lifespan. According to this figure, I’m not that much ahead of the pack despite dedicating a lot of time on movies. I’m guessing the difference is in those repeats. According to the same source, most people can quote three movies line by line, meaning they’ve seen them quite a few times. I don’t have such a movie. I do see a lot of repeats as well, but I know I’ve seen at least 2890 different movies (soon 2891, as I plan to watch Miss Sloane later this evening).
Okay, that was easily quantifiable. However, it isn’t the complete picture. There’s a huge difference between watching yet another mindless action movie (of which I’ve seen my fair share of) and watching a weird little Best Foreign Movie nominee from Columbia (which I did watch earlier today – there is only one such movie, Embrace of the Serpent). Maybe there’s another way to quantify this? From how many countries have I seen a movie from? Actually, hard to say, but let’s try a list with an example, starting with Nordic countries and moving out from there. (I’ve been meaning to do something like this for a while, but at least now I have an excuse.)
Note that I’m limiting this to existing countries, so sorry Yugoslavia.
- Finland: Tom of Finland
- Sweden: Let the Right One In
- Norway: Trollhunter
- Denmark: Festen
- Iceland: Grimmd
- Russia: Mongol (which is apparently a Russian movie… who would have thought?)
- Germany: The Lives of Others
- Netherlands: Borgman
- Belgium: Man Bites Dog
- France: Leon
- Austria: Goodnight Mommy
- Hungary: Turin Horse
- Poland: The Saragossa Manuscript
- Czech Republic: The Cremator
- Romania: 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: No Man’s Land
- Greece: Dogtooth
- Italy: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
- Spain: The Skin I Live In
- Portugal: Mysteries of Lisbon
- United Kingdom: Dunkirk
- Ireland: In Bruges
- Algeria: The Battle of Algiers
- South Africa: District 9
- Japan: Your Name
- South Korea: Handmaiden
- China: Red Cliff
- India: 3 Idiots
- Iran: A Separation
- Iraq: Turtles Can Fly
- Turkey: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
- Ukraine: The Tribe
- Israel: Lebanon
- Lebanon: The Message
- Thailand: Ong-Bak
- Cambodia: The Missing Picture
- Indonesia: The Raid
- USA: Let’s say Miss Sloane, which will be true in a couple of hours
- Canada: Ginger Snaps
- Mexico: Pan’s Labyrinth
- Argentina: The Secrets in Their Eyes
- Brazil: City of God
- Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent (as mentioned before)
- Chile: Machuca
- Uruguay: The Silent House
- Australia: The Babadook
- New Zealand: What We Do in Shadows
That’s at least 47 countries. I might have missed some and I know I’ve seen short films from at least Nepal, Egypt and a number of other African countries, but those don’t count here. I’ve also seen some other African features, at least from Nigeria (which has the second highest number of releases per year, right after India), but I couldn’t name them.
How does that contrast to other people? How many of those Americans have seen movies from more than a handful of countries? Maybe they’ve seen a Miyazaki film or two, but that’s probably about the extent of the exoticism for most of them. I don’t know. Maybe I’m underestimating them.
How many Europeans have seen a movie from outside few staples and their own country?
Anyhow, this doesn’t tell much. It might say a little bit about my willingness to explore, but I wouldn’t put too much into this stat. You can explore quite a bit within one countries output. It will just be a different kind of exploration.
How about this? I’ve seen three features that came out before 1920, 25 movies from the 20s, 64 from the 30s, 71 from the 40s (surprisingly small growth from the 30s), 118 from the 50s, 203 from the 60s, 228 from the 70s (again, a surprisingly small growth from the previous decade), 379 from the 80s, 600 from the 90s, 708 from the 2000s, and 489 from the 2010s (which means I’m out of pace to reach the same figures as I did for the 2000s, but there’s always some delay here, so maybe I’ll reach the same number).
How does this compare to others? I know people tend to avoid black and white films, if possible, so I compare favorably on that regard, but does that actually tell us anything? It’s also hard to say. I bet not that many people have seen Kubrick’s Spartacus just because it was colored later on.
How about this: There’s an annual book called 1001 Movies You Need to See Before You Die. Now, I don’t think there’s even one movie you need to see, but let’s still suppose there’s some value in these books. Based on the latest list (2017), I’ve seen at least 60% of them. Since many of the movies are quite obscure and hard to obtain, I’m guessing this is much more than most people.
If you want to test this part yourself, and have an IMDb-account, the list is available here. (Choose “Refine” -> “You and this List” -> “Titles I Rated” and you’ll see how many you have rated, which might be equal to how many you’ve seen… or not.)
Here’s something similar: There’s a website knows as 366WeirdMovies. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. They have a mission to find a list of movies so that you can have a different weird movie for each day of the year. As of this writing, they have 321 movies on their list, of which I’ve seen a whopping 284.
This has pros and cons. On one hand, my whopping number means that I’ve seen quite a few movies that are far outside of the norm. These represent around .1% of all movies ever made (if we believe the number from the beginning of this article), so in that sense it’s not quite representative of movies as a whole, but these are so different from mainstream movies that maybe seen them makes more of a difference in the big picture, because at least they represent a wider taste in movies.
On the other hand, this is a curated list, which represents a very specific subsection of all movies. Probably different and more varied than a random selection of 300+ movies, but still, it’s not in any way representative of the whole artform. Quite the opposite. If these were the only movies you’ve seen, your overall understanding of the artform is probably going to have serious limitations. I’ve also clearly been using the website as a watchlist, which also skews my views. It has been fun though.
I could come up with more ideas, but I’m at 1300 words at this point, so I’m pretty sure no-one’s reading anymore.
So, to conclude, I could probably quantify my knowledge of movies, if I had the resources to investigate this thoroughly. I am going to assume I’m pretty deep here, but at the same time, there are plenty of people with much better understanding of the form. I’d say I’m still hovering around top 1% or something like that. Feels right, even though I can’t really prove it with the information I have available to me. Sadly, there aren’t too many others pondering similar things, so I can’t just look at some study and find my place in this little corner of the world.
I guess I’ll just have to be happy with watching the movies. Which I’m going to do later today. I was thinking maybe Wind River?