erik lundegaard

Tuesday August 02, 2022

Public Enemy

I did a quick search on IMDb the other day and got this:

I'll give them the rap band, particularly since I left off the definite article. It's the titles below I wonder over. How can a search for the 1931 James Cagney classic lead to: 1) a 1996 straight-to-video “Ma Barker” biopic starring Theresa Russell and directed by Mark L. Lester of “Truck Stop Women” fame; 2) a Belgian TV show; 3) a Korean movie.

I mean, just crunch the numbers IMDb supposedly cares about:

Title IMDb User Rating # of IMDb Ratings Awards
Public Enemies (1996) 4.4 1.2k 0
Public Enemy (TV) (2016) 7.5 1k 0
Public Enemy (2002) 7.1 2.3k Best Actor, Blue Dragon (S. Korea)
The Public Enemy (1931) 7.6 21k

AA nomination for screenplay; National Film Preservation Board

Even better is an area of IMDb called “Connections,” where users have tabulated which other movies or TV shows you might've seen a reference to this movie (or TV show). It indicates both cultural cachet and user engagement. The 1931 Cagney movie, for example, has been referenced in 85 other movies, featured in 44, spoofed in 14. The Ma Barker? Zero, zero, and zero. Same with the others. Goose eggs. Because they don't matter.

So is it all about the definite article? Does IMDb do this if you leave off the “The” in other titles? I tried “Godfather” instead of “The Godfather,” and the first result was for the '72 Coppola movie, thank god; and I tried “Exorcist” rather than “The Exorcist” and the first result was for the '73 Friedkin movie, thank god. So sometimes it works. Particularly if your title is the definite article plus one noun.

But if there's more than one word following the definite article, IMDb can't seem to fathom what you're talking about.

This is what you get with “Dark Knight” (which, not for nothing, is No. 3 on the IMDb Top 250 Movies list):

And here's my absolute favorite:

Imagine that's a conversation you're having with an actual person:

You: So the other day Jim told me that the scene in “Wizard of Oz” when the flying monkeys—
Actual Person: “Wizard of Oz”? You mean the 1985 video game? Or maybe the episode of “30-Second Bunny Theater” from 2004?
You: Bunny theater?
Actual Person: How about that episode of the 1990s news program “Time & Again” with Jane Pauley?
You: Dude, I'm talking about the movie. With Judy Garland? Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion? “Over the Rainbow”? 
Actual Person: Sorry. Nothing.
You: You don't know “The Wizard of Oz.”
Actual Person: Ohhhhh, “THE Wizard of Oz.” Well, that's completely different then. I gotcha now. Please continue.

It's a conversation with a crazy person. And you'd think that a website as important as IMDb wouldn't want its search results to seem like a conversation with a crazy person. But here we are.

Posted at 07:04 AM on Tuesday August 02, 2022 in category Technology  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

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