Although this page is called a "F.A.Q.," it is not really a F.A.Q. because it was written before the many of these questions were asked. Instead, a better name would be a "Q.A.F.A." (Questions Anticipated to be Frequently Asked). The Phi Phenomenon Philosophy and Method page also contains information that might help answer questions that you might have.
The phi phenomenon (sometimes called the phi effect or phi movement) is a psychological term for the illusion of motion upon seeing two nearby lights fired in rapid succession. More importantly, the phi phenomenon is related to the ability of viewers to perceive motion from a series of still images projected onto a screen at 24 frames per second (or any speed if fast enough). It was chosen as the name of this web site to reflect the webmaster's off-line training as a psychologist and because he fell in love with the alliteration in the Phi Phenomenon Philosophy.
The webmaster started by searching bookstores, libraries, and the Web for any list of great movies that met certain criteria. Films on each list received points based on a formula described on the Method page. Ties were broken based on which lists included the film. Films that appeared on lists more similar to the other lists were ranked higher than films on more idiosyncratic lists. All films listed on this site appear on at least five lists. Readers interested in more detail can find more information on the method page.
Lists had to meet the following criteria:
- The list had to be made up mostly of feature films (that is, films over one hour in length that were intended to be the main attraction in theaters).
- The list had to list or rank films based on their quality or some similar characteristic such as historical importance or popularity.
- The criteria for a film to be included on the list could not be too restrictive. For example, it could not include films from only a single year or only films in a narrow subgenre.
- The list must include at least 50 films (including short films, made-for-television films, and miniseries).
- The list had to have been created or updated since 2004.
- The list had to have been made retrospectively. The only exceptions are Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Foreign-Language Picture.
A simple but incomplete answer is to say that the computer looks for films that tend to show up together on the same lists. For example, lists with It Happened One Night (1934), a mainstream film, are more likely to include On the Waterfront (1954), another mainstream film, than are lists without It Happened One Night (1934). The computer uses this information to identify different categories of lists that are similar to each other. The webmaster then looked at the categories and tried to make sense of them. He found that a three-category explanation was the most easily interpretable. The use of the terms "Popular," "Mainstream," and "Highbrow" were simply a judgment call on the part of the webmaster. The three tastes could easily have been called "Popcorn Flicks," "Classic Hollywood Cinema," and "Art Films."
For each taste, there are three different lists. The list of "top" films for each taste (for example, the list of "top popular films") is a rough idea of what a top film list would look like if the opinions of people with that taste were the only ones that were included. It was formed by using only the lists that fell in that taste's category, weighted based on how strongly the list matched that category. The descriptions on the links and references pages indicate roughly which lists fall in which taste and how strongly. The list of "most" films for each taste (for example, the list of "most mainstream films") is a list of how strongly each film matches that taste as compared to the other two tastes. These are the films that people with that taste like much more than do people with the other two tastes. Finally, the list of "least" films (for example, the list of "least highbrow films") indicates which films are liked by people with the other two tastes much more than by people with that taste.
This is very unlikely. The mainstream, popular, and highbrow tastes are probably the most widely held and the most clearly defined, but there could be other tastes. Analyses used to hint at a fourth taste, which might best be called "offbeat." It seemed to contain mostly films that are good but are not well known to most people. However, this taste, if it does exist, is too ill-defined so far to be described any further and has not been seen in recent analyses. It is possible that more data would find other tastes as well. The webmaster is hoping to find a taste that prefers documentaries, animated films, Bollywood films, and films with female directors to cancel out biases that appear in all three of the main tastes.
Furthermore, it is likely that each of the three main tastes have subtastes. For example, some analyses of lists created by amateur film fans showed a split in the popular taste. Some fans with the Popular taste tended to prefer genre films like the Star Wars Trilogy. Other fans preferred recent dramas. Analyses of the lists used for this site indicate a split in the Mainstream taste between those who preferred black and white films and those who preferred color films. There was also a split in the Highbrow taste between those who preferred English-language films and those who preferred films in other languages, although this may simply be due to lists that explicitly excluded English-language films.
The short answers to these questions are "somewhat" and "no." In general, the farther down the list, the less certain the ranking. If there were no bias in the creation or selection of the lists, the rankings of the top 20 films would be within a few spaces of their real rank. Those toward the bottom of the top 100 would be an average of five to ten spaces away from their real rank. Those around #500 would be an average of 50 spaces of their real rank. Those around #1,000 would be an average of 120 spaces away from their real rank. Ranking How to Train Your Dragon (2010) at #953 and The Cranes are Flying (1957) at #954 simply means that, based on current data, the chance that How to Train Your Dragon is a better film than The Cranes are Flying is (slightly) greater than 50%.
All this assumes no bias in the creation or selection of the lists. The main bias in the selection of the lists is that the input for most of the lists comes from Americans, and most lists are in English. This probably depresses the rankings of films in other languages, particularly those that were not widely seen in the United States. Also, many of these lists consciously or unconsciously exclude silent films, short films, documentaries, and very recent films.
If you are a film critic, film professor, or another person who makes a living studying film, then yes, you should see all of them. In fact, you should have seen most of them already.
Other people should not be expected to see all of them. Instead, amateur fans should start by seeing the top-100 films. From there, they can start on the second-100 films and also explore films similar to ones that they like. A person who liked The Seven Samurai (1954) might want to check out other films directed by Akira Kurosawa. A person who liked Double Indemnity (1944) might want to check out other noir films.
No. In fact, nearly every filmgoer will dislike and even hate some of the films on the list. Perhaps the most important result of this whole project is the identification of three important tastes in films. Many films on the master list are there only because of people with a single taste.
As mentioned in the Phi Phenomenon Philosophy, even great films will leave some people cold. Apparently film X did not work for you. Its appearance on the list reflects the fact that enough other people saw something that you did not.
If it is any consolation, the webmaster is at least ambivalent about 19 of the top 100 films on the list, including two of the top ten. Furthermore, some of his favorites are well down on the list or even absent altogether.
There are a few possible reasons:
- Most people believe that they should see a film before rating it. A rarely-seen film is unlikely to appear on many lists regardless of how good it is. If more people saw it, it might appear higher.
- Most lists do not sample all films that were ever made. Most consciously or unconsciously exclude documentaries and short films. Many exclude silent films or films in languages other than English. Many list makers want to wait before including recent films, and some lists were made before recent favorites like Gravity (2013) or Inside Out (2015) were made.
- Finally, it is possible that film Y touches you in a way that it touches nobody else. You could be unique in liking it.
Part of the reason is, as mentioned above, many of the lists used by this site were compiled before many recent films were released. Also, some people who compile lists prefer to wait before adding new films to their best film lists.
The webmaster has been concerned with this issue and has tried to tweak the system in order to get new films on the list quicker. He eventually concluded that only a few films will appear on the master list within a few months of release unless they have Hobbits, although Serenity (2005), The Departed (2006), No Country for Old Men (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and The Wrestler (2008) also appeared on the Master List within a few months of their initial release. Furthermore, not even the recent Hobbit films have made the list right away. Most of the best films are released in the United States at the end of the year to gain Academy Award eligibility, so an update early in the year should capture most of the best films from the Oscar season of a year before. For example, early 2016 is probably the earliest time in which an update can expect to include more than a couple of the best films released at the end of 2014.
The Webmaster does not want to use his subjective judgment as a basis for deciding on the categories where each film belongs, so he uses the genres, keywords, and other information from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Most of this information makes sense, but there are some curious inclusions and exclusions.
Much of the information presented in the IMDb comes from users. This means that users of this site who see egregious exclusions and inclusions can submit information to the IMDb to rectify the situation, assuming that someone else has not already beaten them to it. Every year there are changes to the genres, keywords, nations of origin, and even year of production of the films analyzed by the Phi-Phenomenon. Tracking these changes takes up a significant amount of the time to update the Phi-Phenomenon.
Some of the wackier inclusions/omissions over the years include Ghostbusters (1984) not being a comedy, Casablanca (1942) not being a romance film, The Godfather (1972) not being a crime film, and Life of Brian (1979) being a biopic. Many of these get corrected by the next update
Film studios are in the business of making money, so the majority of films are made for the average filmgoer. The studios do not make money if regular filmgoers do not see their films. Even investors in truly independent films would like to see their investment returned. It is not fair to judge a film solely on whether it pleases people it was not designed to please. Furthermore, filmgoers may not know as much as film critics, but they are not ignorant either. Their opinions do matter. It is illogical to say that the collective opinion of the 50,000+ who voted in the Amazon.co.uk poll is worth much less than the collective opinion of the fewer than 300 people who voted in the 2002 Sight and Sound poll. Finally, highbrow critics seem to be biased against recent films and against genre films. Including the opinions of regular filmgoers balances this bias.
The average critic has seen more films than the average filmgoer. Many great films have been seen by many critics but by very few regular filmgoers. These films would be excluded if the master list did not consider critics’ opinions. Most critics have a better sense of film history and of how films are made than do regular filmgoers. This knowledge helps critics see both good and bad things that regular filmgoers would not. Also, regular filmgoers are biased against silent films and films in languages other than English. Including the opinions of critics balances this bias. Finally, regular filmgoers who believe that the opinions of critics should not matter are as snobbish as critics who believe that the opinions of regular filmgoers should not matter.
People with Mainstream tastes seem to be more open to differing opinions than other people are. This is probably because the Mainstream taste falls between the other two tastes on most dimensions.
There are many lists of the best songs, albums, and books, so it is definitely possible to make sites analyzing tastes in music and literature. Unfortunately, the Webmaster does not have the spare time to maintain two sites of this size, so any further new sites will probably encompass a much smaller population such as episodes of a specific television show. The Webmaster is willing to perform statistical analyses and provide advice for anyone else who wishes to spend the time to create a website similar to the Phi Phenomenon analyzing media other than films.
Permission is granted to reprint the material on this site provided that the following three conditions are met:
- The material on this site is used for non-commercial, educational, and/or scholarly purposes. A personal Web site will usually count as non-commercial.
- The material is not substantially altered without explicitly saying how it is altered. This does not refer to minor changes such as listing screenwriters with each film, using titles commonly used outside the United States (such as Ladri di biciclette for The Bicycle Thief), or using a shortened version of the list. However, any reuse of this material may not make a substantial alteration, such as reordering the list, without clearly explaining how the reprinted material differs from the material on this Web site.
- Credit is given to the Phi Phenomenon. This would include a link either to the page where the information came from or to the main page of the Phi Phenomenon if reprinted online or the URL if reprinted on paper.
Also, anyone is free to use the data presented on the Phi Phenomenon for her or his own analyses. Credit to the Phi Phenomenon will always be appreciated if the results are published.