17 October 1990: The day Bristol native Col Needham posted his movie-listing software to the Internet and IMDb was born.
It all started with the overwhelmingly human urge to make lists.
At the end of the 1980s, during the peak of the VHS boom, Bristol-based film buff and software engineer Col Needham was eager to find a way to remember all the movies he’d been watching.
“I’ve loved film since an early age, and in the early '80s I was watching so many films on VHS that I started to lose track of what I had seen,” Needham wrote in an article published this year.
“I bought a paper diary and started writing down the titles as I watched them. I soon expanded this into a database of titles and major credits on my home computer.”
Needham’s movie database began as a list of all the films he’d seen since 1980. He then expanded it by adding titles suggested by fellow members of an online film discussion forum.
And on 17 October 1990, he published the first version of the software he called IMDb, or Internet Movie Database.
An astonishing ascent
A far cry from its humble beginnings, today IMDb is the number one movie website in the world, with more than 200 million monthly users, according to internal figures.
The database currently includes more than 14 million titles, 12.4 million entertainment industry professionals, and over 1 billion user ratings.
IMDb’s meteoric rise is an unexpected success story, made possible by a now-25-year-long partnership with one of the most powerful media companies in the world.
Back in 1997, however, Jeff Bezos wasn’t a household name. He was just an American guy whose startup Amazon sold books online.
That year, Bezos reached out to Needham to ask him if he’d be interested in joining forces – IMDb became Amazon’s first acquisition a year later.
In the press release announcing the move, Bezos said he hoped IMDb would help “support (Amazon’s) eventual entry into online video sales.”
Their partnership grew into much more than that, as Amazon grew and grew into one of the major players in the new streaming market. Along the way, IMDb collected valuable data that helped power Amazon’s services including Prime Video and Fire TV.
A community of film nerds
Needham has remained at the helm of IMDb, continuing to run its operations from Bristol over the past half century.
Beyond the business, IMDb’s website has also created a community of film lovers and a space for people to discuss their favourite media – what Needham says is his favourite part of the service.
“I love it when I bump into someone outside of work and they spot my IMDb lapel pin and ask me if I work for IMDb,” he wrote in a recent article for Amazon. “When I tell them that I do, I often hear back stories of how IMDb helped them discover a new favourite film or show, or how we have fueled their passion for entertainment.”
As for Needham’s list of movies he’s seen? Running a massive website hasn’t slowed him down. He’s currently at 15,215 titles on his IMDb page.