Some years produce a fine wine of great movies, others… Sour grapes. Let’s take a look at the IMDb.com top 1000 movies and see which years had the most movies make the cut.
The first thing that sticks out to me is the recency bias. Every year since 1997 has at least 16 movies in the top 1000. (Except for 2020 which I think we can all agree doesn’t count.) But it may not be solely due to recency bias. It could simply be because more movies released today than in the past, especially when you factor in all of the streaming services.
There’s also an argument to be made that creatives (writers/directors/actors) are simply getting better at making movies. If we were talking about life-saving drug therapies no one would be shocked that there are more discoveries today than 20+ years ago simply because of advancements in technology, funding, etc. The same could be said for cinema._
1962: Way To Represent!
1962 had 13 movies in the top 1000. It would be another 31 years before that record was broken. Let’s take a look at the movies from that year.
|121||To Kill a Mockingbird|
|122||Lawrence of Arabia|
|301||The Exterminating Angel|
|302||What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?|
|304||The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance|
|445||Vivre Sa Vie|
|561||The Manchurian Candidate|
|710||The Longest Day|
|711||Jules and Jim|
These movies were before my time, yet I’ve seen many of them and have heard of most. Most notable to me is Lawrence of Arabia. I’m surprised it’s this low.
The Record-Breaking 1993
Here’s the list from 1993 with an astounding 22 movies in the top 1000.
|271||In the Name of the Father|
|272||Farewell My Concubine|
|406||The Nightmare Before Christmas|
|408||Blood In Blood Out|
|534||Three Colors: Blue|
|670||The Remains of the Day|
|673||A Bronx Tale|
|674||Batman: Mask of the Phantasm|
|831||What's Eating Gilbert Grape|
|971||Dazed and Confused|
What a list! There’s one truly fabulous movie at number 9 with Schindler’s List. But nothing else ranks in the top 250. So a great year for volume, but not really high quality. Although, there are a lot of really enjoyable movies here. I vividly remember watching True Romance with two of my best friends. I grabbed it off the VHS shelf at the grocery store without much thought. None of us had heard of the movie before, but as it began we saw the cast list on screen: Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette—no surprise, they were on the cover. Then we see Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt. We look at each other, mouth agape. That trio alone is an all-star lineup. But wait, we’re not done. There’s also Christopher Walken and Samuel L. Jackson. What the what? How can a movie with Hopper, Oldman, Pitt, Walken, and SLJ exist that we haven’t heard of? Whoever was in charge of promoting this movie had a simple job but boy did they fail. But there’s still more: Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, James Gandolfini, and Tom Sizemore. Now, these guys weren’t Hollywood A-listers, but they were highly respected actors. And then let’s finish off with Val Kilmer who is heard, but not seen, as the voice of Elvis. Perfect!
If only they would have cast Kevin Bacon in this movie we’d be talking about the 5 degrees of Kevin Bacon instead of the 6.
And oh, by the way, it was written by Quentin Tarantino.
The Movie That Launched Its Own Genre
Groundhog Day opened in February of 1993 and in the process created its own genre. Not many movies can lay claim to that. But truth be told, the Star Trek: TNG episode Cause and Effect is a “Groundhog” story of events occurring over and over with only minor deviations between them until a puzzle is solved. Cause and Effect was released on March 23, 1992. That’s nearly a year prior to Groundhog Day. Given the short period of time between, there couldn’t have been any cross-influence because the writing and production of any movie take years. It’s just a wild coincidence that both came out so near each other.
It’s also worth noting that Tom Hanks showed that he’s not just a comedic actor in the movie Philadelphia. Prior to this all of his movies had relied on his comedic talents. He really showed the world that he had much more to offer.
1994: The Year of Iconic Movies
There are only 14 top 1000 movies from the year 1994. But boy what a lineup at the top. Check this out:
|1||The Shawshank Redemption|
|44||Léon: The Professional|
|45||The Lion King|
|267||Three Colors: Red|
|269||Andaz Apna Apna|
|532||Once Were Warriors|
|970||Three Colors: White|
Three of the top thirteen movies of all time in the same year and the top overall movie ever. And then two more at 44 and 45. Think about it, if I tell you we’re talking about movies and I say Shawshank; you say Redemption. If I say Pulp; you say Fiction. If I say Forrest; you say Gump. If I say Lion; you say King. And if I say Léon… Well, you get the point.
2004: Tops for Quantity, Not So Much For Quality
The year 2004 shattered the previous record for most top 1000 movies in a year by 7 movies. The previous record was held by 2001 with 26 movies. Since the year 2000 the average number of top 1000 movies per year is 23.8. So yeah, 2004 stands out like an El Nino year during Global Warming with a solar maximum thrown on top. But then when we look closely at the list for 2004 we find that the overall quality is lacking.
|99||Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind|
|163||Howl's Moving Castle|
|241||Million Dollar Baby|
|379||Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War|
|383||Kill Bill: Vol. 2|
|386||The Sea Inside|
|512||Shaun of the Dead|
|516||Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban|
|651||The Motorcycle Diaries|
|786||Kung Fu Hustle|
|787||The Bourne Supremacy|
|792||Man on Fire|
|938||Dead Man's Shoes|
|946||A Very Long Engagement|
|951||The Butterfly Effect|
The highest-rated movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at number 99. The average ranking for the movies this year is 548.
With so many movies in the top 1000 this year I got to thinking, was there a top 1000 movie released every month? Let’s do some data crunching and find out.
Almost, but not quite. August got left out. But check out October with 6 movies!
What Was The Best Year For Movies Overall?
That of course depends on what sort of meter we use. If we go by the sheer number of top 1000 movies then 2004 is the clear winner. Another way to rank it is by the average ranking of movies from each year. I charted that below for the years between 1971 and 2019.
By this criteria, 1994—the year of iconic movies—has the lowest average ranking (lower is better) at 365. 1975 is a close second at 375. It’s also interesting that the three worst years for average ranking among the top 1000 are 1987, 1990, 1992. But around that same time, we have 1988 and 1994 with the 5th and 1st lowest averages. What a time for volatility. The 2010s have generally been good with a downward trend toward better movies.
That’s all I have on this specific topic of the top 1000 movies by year. Is there anything else you can think of that’s worth examining? If so drop a comment below and I’ll see if I can crunch the data.
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