“Who’s that guy?” It’s a question we often ask when a semifamiliar face crops up in a TV show or a movie. The default answer has become, “IMDb him” — that is, look him up on the Internet Movie Database, the online repository for more than 100 million bits of information consisting of everything from what else that henchman has been in to who designed the movie’s costumes, what the reviews are like and whether or not a sequel is in the works.
Yet it’s a question that few of the site’s 160 million monthly visitors ask about the site’s own creator. Who’s the guy who made the IMDb happen? The surprising answer is that it’s a self-confessed geek from Bristol, in the West of England.
Colin “Col” Needham grew up loving movies, then computers. Born in 1967, his earliest memory (at the age of 5) is of his grandmother taking him to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. His mother took him to see Jaws three years later — another formative experience — and, when he was 10, he was at the opening weekend of Star Wars, sitting in the jam-packed theater. “Those gave me my love for film,” Needham recalls, his warm tone and down-to-earth accent giving little hint of the power and wealth that he now wields. Needham also happened to get his first computer at the age of 12, and within a couple of years, he was keeping himself in clothes and records by writing and selling video games.
What’s Our STARmeter?
IMDb creator Col Needham weighs in on the STARmeter ranking of some of American Way’s past cover subjects.
Magic Johnson: 24,863
Andrea Bocelli: 10,420
Alicia Keys: 3,668
Keith Urban: 3,040
Viola Davis: 937
Christina Applegate: 790
Andrew Garfield: 321
Andy Samberg: 166
Steven Spielberg: 151
Helena Bonham Carter: 133
Elizabeth Banks: 88
Jeremy Renner: 10
(Data acquired Feb. 11, 2013)
His twin loves for films and computer technology continued through the 1980s: When his family got a VCR, he watched Alien 14 times in 14 days, and in 1985, he became one of the early email users in the United Kingdom. “One of the things that came with that interconnected world,” he recalls, “was that I found myself in discussion groups with film fans from all over the world. It was a film lover’s dream.”
Needham’s love for cinema and his aptitude for computers came together in a peculiar hobby: collating as many details about movie credits as possible. By the end of the decade, despite marrying his high-school sweetheart, Karen, and taking a full-time job with Hewlett-Packard, Needham was watching 1,100 films a year, faithfully recording the credits on video, then adding them to his own desktop database. “In a box somewhere in my house, I’ve got entire VHS tapes filled with opening credits and end credits,” he says. “You can get quite a lot of movies on a three-hour tape if you’re just recording the credits.”
In the days before Web browsers made the Internet easily accessible, Needham swapped movie minutiae with fellow enthusiasts in America, Europe and Australia via text-based discussion forums. “I’d been collecting credits; someone else had been compiling lists of actresses and all the films they’d been in,” he recalls. Eventually, the group pooled its information, and Needham made a version of his software available to anyone with an online connection. On Oct. 17, 1990, the Internet Movie Database was born.