How long would it take to watch all the movies ever made?
This question popped up a few times over the last few months, so I decided to do a bit of data mining and math.
What exactly is a movie?
The IMDb actually has 7 different categories for its data, ranging from movies to video games. The relevant ones for this question are “Movies”, “TV movies” and “Video movies”. To cut down the noise a bit more, we can ignore any entry tagged as “Adult“, “Erotica“, “Reality-TV“, “News“, “Talk-Show” or “Game-Show“.
The remaining data is still pretty diverse, so let’s single out the subset of movies longer than 40 minutes, as per the AMPAS definition of a feature length movie. This leaves us with almost 300 000 movies to analyze.
While there are still quite a few gaps in the IMDb data, this will give us a lower bound
How much time can you actually spend watching a movie?
How much time would a dedicated movie watcher be able to spend watching movies? Let’s examine 3 different scenarios:
- The absolute maximum is given by the maximum of 24 hours a day, 365.25 days a year.
- A more realistic estimate would be 16 hours per day for 313 days a year (one free day per week).
- For a lower bound the Penn World Table gives us the average hours worked per person in the U.S.A. in 2011: 1 703.5 hours.
Depending on your definition, you could have been unable to keep up with the amount of footage produced in 1936. But since 2002 it has definitely been impossible.
When was the last time, it was possible to watch all movies ever produced?
It is fairly easy to figure out, at which time it became impossible to watch all movies up to that time.
There is still some room, before it becomes absolutely impossible, yay!
Figuring out, when it became hopeless to try and watch all movies ever produced is a bit more complicated. The simplest way is to check in which year it became impossible to watch the yearly output of movies. Then you can calculate how long it would have taken to watch all the movies produced up to that point.
A person watching movies as a job wouldn’t have been able to keep up after 1936. At that point there were already 752 days of movie footage in existence. So any person starting after the year 1934 would have been doomed to failure, and would never have been able to catch up.
As the upper bound, in 2002 the length of all feature films produced exceeded 365 days. The total for all feature films produced from 1880 to 2001 was 10 450 days, so anyone starting more than 28.6 years earlier (the summer of 1973), would have encountered some downtime in their quest to watch all movies ever made.
Other fun facts from the IMDb data
Short(er) movies seem to be making a comeback
Yet another proof for our shortened attention span!
While there could be a bias in the way IMDb data is collected (only few people have the patience to enter all short movies from 1960), this could also be a result of cheaper equipment, easier distribution over the internet and an increase in short film festivals and competitions.
We seem to love drama
A dramatic documentary about a comedic romance should be a huge success!
In general the yearly offering of new movies seems to be a bit more diverse, than 50 years ago.
Seems like documentaries were the big hit around the turn of the century
At the height of it’s popularity (from 1944 to 1958) film-noir movies accounted for up to 3% of all movies produced. But this still only amounts to 571 film-noir movies in total.
The western genre survived a bit better, but in 2013 there were only half as many (60) westerns produced than during its heyday in th 1950s (134).
The Internet Movie Database offers their complete data in a neat textversion for download. There are various libraries to parse this data. I used IMDbPY to import it into an easy to handle 6.5GB SQL database, and used some general python glue to query the database. The visualizations were produced with gnuplot and converted to png from svg using Inkscape.
You can download all necessary files (except the IMDb data) here.