October 2020

Col Needham: 30 years of IMDb

We speak to IMDb Founder and CEO Col Needham (Computer Science 1988) prior to his Leeds Alumni Voices event in November.

Col Needham has been described by The Guardian as the most powerful Brit in Hollywood.

Such status is not something he ever set out to achieve. Col is Founder and CEO of IMDb, the number one movie website in the world with over 6.5 million titles and more than 200 million monthly visitors worldwide. And it all began with nothing more than a love of film.

“I’ve been obsessed with films all my life,” Col says. “I’d watched so many movies as a teenager, I couldn’t keep track of them all, so from 1981 onwards, I began recording every film that I’ve seen.

“I also liked technology, and the two interests led to the creation of my film diary. I would rewind the tapes and record the credits – the cast, the date I saw it, and what I thought about it. A geeky thing to do, but it turned out alright!”

That is certainly true – fast forward to present day, and IMDb is the world's most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities. When it comes to entertainment coverage, it is streets ahead of anything else out there. We base our film and TV choices on its user ratings. Casting directors use IMDbPro subscription to decide who is going to star.

It’s come a long way from Col's teenage collection. The journey is intriguing, with key decisions being made – and continuing to be made – just when they were needed. Col’s decision to enlist the help of an international group of enthusiasts to grow the database, for example. Or his choice to launch as one of the first 100 websites on the web in 1993 – a leap of faith at the time. 

But beyond skill and timing, there’s a third ingredient helping to take it to where it is today: passion.

“The key is finding something that you’re really passionate about. That’s what makes difficult times much easier.”

Col Needham (Computer Science 1988)
IMDb Founder and CEO

“I get cranky if I go more than a day without seeing a film,” Col laughs. “I see on average two per day, so around 700 per year. My current count of unique films I’ve seen is more than 12,600 and that doesn’t include repeat viewings!”

During his time at Leeds, things were no different. Col divided his time between studies and the cinema. “I’d go to all the various cinemas at Leeds. I also enjoyed cinema club at Lupton Flats, where we would watch a film every Thursday. I have a clear memory of watching The Shining there on Halloween 1985 – everyone was creeped out by that one.

“The key is finding something that you’re really passionate about. That’s what makes difficult times, those times when you ask why you are doing it, much easier.

“At IMDb, our mission is to share our passion for films and TV with a global audience.”

To hear more about Col’s journey and the story of IMDb, sign up to ‘Leeds Alumni Voices: 30 years of IMDb’ event, 6-7pm, Wednesday 25 November.

Leeds alumni film favourites: Time to vote

Jaws or The Shining? Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs? It’s time to find out which films mean the most to our alumni.

Who better to get the ball rolling than IMDb Founder and CEO Col Needham. Read his responses to our quick-fire questions below, then send us your own. The final results will be shared in our next newsletter, and participants will be entered into a prize draw to win a Leeds jigsaw.

What was the first film you ever saw?
Snow White and Seven Dwarfs.

What’s your favourite film?
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo from 1958, which I saw for the first time in November 1989. It changed the way I look at film. I think the director did an amazing job of pulling me into this world, making me fall in love with the characters, colour and music. It raised film in my mind to another level. I’ve seen that one more than 50 times.

What’s the most underrated film in history?
I’d have to go with 27 Dresses. I love that film. A brilliantly written romantic comedy.

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