"There has to be a better way."
That's what UK software developer Mike Fox thought last year when he was searching RottenTomatoes.com for blog posts about films he wanted to check out. But as much as he liked the curation and aggregation of reviews that gave each film a score, he was frustrated he couldn't filter results based on the number of critic or audience reviews. He was also annoyed by the many articles about celebrities surrounding reviews, which cluttered and sullied the database.
So, like many intrepid developers, he built a better site.
Cinesift, which launched last September but was updated recently thanks to a popular post on reddit, aggregates the aggregators. It lists more than 21,439 films and includes data from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Letterboxd, IMDB and more. Fox created an algorithm that averages the score from each source to give each film a new rating, while also displaying if the film is available on DVD, Netflix and Amazon Prime.
While Fox's idea isn't entirely new—InstantWatcher.com also lists films with Netflix/Amazon Prime availability—he developed a robust search engine that will make Cinesift incredibly popular with finicky movie lovers. The standard search options include the ability to find films based on year or decade, genre, the number of critic reviews, and whether it's available on DVD, Netflix and/or Amazon Prime. The impressive Advanced Options let you filter results based on director, cast and even keyword within the plot description.
Got MLB fever and in the mood to catch a baseball-related movie? Type "baseball" into the Plot field and you'll see results ranging from Moneyball to Sugar to Bull Durham.
Other Advanced Options for filtering let you toggle sliders for fields such as rating and number of audience reviews within each source, such as Metacritic and IMDB.
The coolest feature for those outside the U.S. is the ability to select on a drop-down list the Netflix availability for various regions, such as Canada, UK, Sweden and Australia.
"I've always been interested in film," says Fox, 29, in an interview, "and I used to love checking out the films in a video shop, seeing what interests me… and I've always enjoyed programming and crunching Big Data."
In fact, when Fox was studying physics at university, his final-year project looked at binary star systems. Fox collected the image data at night, but then wrote and edited scripts to analyze "large amounts of image data in an attempt to model the star system," he adds.
His passion for programming is evident in his new project. Cinesift is built using AngularJS, which then interacts with the API Fox developed that runs on the server. It then reads/writes to the database.
Two weeks ago, when Fox posted Cinesift on reddit's dataisbeautiful to garner feedback on his project, the post soon became #1 on the sub that week. He was excited to read the many comments offering suggestions and feature tweaks, which allowed him to fine-tune the site and also attract the highest amount of site visits he's ever enjoyed: at the height of the reddit bump, Cinesift had received more than 150,000 views in a day.
One way Fox wanted to make the site stickier was by asking for users to register, which allows them to sort the movies that have caught their attention by adding them to a "Watchlist" and or "Favorites" or marking them as "Watched" or "Discarded."
So far, the visitors have been largely American, with 90 percent of users identifying as male and 80 percent listed as under 35.
"I want this site to help others find new films, and find out where they can watch those films," says Fox.
He doesn't have plans to monetize the site, since his focus is split on the many other projects he works on as a freelance developer. If he had more time to work on Cinesift, he would add availability options such as Hulu and HBO Go, and may even integrate TV shows into the database.
For now, film heads can visit this all-in-one movie hub that will undoubtedly be a convenient way to learn what critics and audiences think of new releases and legendary classics.