Where Did IMDb Come From, Anyway? A Brief History of the Most Popular Movie Website

The Internet Movie Database — one of the most popular websites on the internet, with more than 110 million unique users per month — is the first, and often last, stop for anyone looking for information about any movie, television show, actor, or production member.  For a website that popular, it’s curious that it also is one of the most mysterious. 

Since IMDb doesn’t list an address, phone number, or even a list of staff, it’s ironic that the website is being sued for disclosing too much personal information in an actress’ profile.  So just where does a website that seems to have been in existence since everyone had dial-up come from?

An article in The Wall Street Journal reporting on IMDb’s privacy issues delves into the site’s history.  What would become IMDb started in the 1980s, when Col Needham, a Manchester-born man who the Journal calls “a self-described technology geek and cinephile,” began a database listing the names of the cast and crew in films, explaining, “My family thought it was a crazy hobby that perhaps I might grow out of,” he says. Of course, he didn’t.

Needham posted his database on a USENET internet forum in 1990, where it was updated by a number of users before moving to an internet website a few years later.  By the late 1990s, IMDb was popular enough to catch the attention of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who purchased the site from Needham for an undisclosed amount.  Since IMDb is owned by Amazon, the website allows the visitor to quickly purchase movies from Amazon with only a few mouse clicks.  Needham remains Chief Executive of IMDb, and the site is now based out of Seattle. 

During that time IMDb became the most popular website for movie information, and by far the most exhaustive.  Though it hasn’t been without controversy, you’d be hard pressed to find many movie fans who go a day without accessing the site at least once!

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