It’s one of the world’s top internet sites…but the inspiration for it started in a Tameside living room with a marathon viewing of the film ‘Alien’. The Internet Movie Database, or IMDb.com, is used by millions each day, thanks to the childhood film obsession of founder Col Needham. With cast, credits and photos from virtually every film and TV programme ever made, the site is synonymous with the moving image as a treasure trove of information.
But IMDb, a go-to place for movie buffs and Hollywood insiders alike, is the result of a Denton lad’s lifelong film obsession which has now made him a millionaire.
And thanks to a family friend who ran a local video shop, as a child Col, who now lives in Bristol, was able to get tapes out for a fortnight at a time – hence the 14 viewings of the original Alien film in 14 days.
“It was after my family got our first VHS player,” remembers Col.
“Because a friend of ours had a video shop I could get tapes out for two weeks – so I watched Alien every day after school until I had to give it back.
“It’s still one of my favourite childhood films, along with the first Star Wars and Jaws, which I saw at the Romiley Forum.”
Col now sees his films in slightly plusher surroundings; invited to film festivals and premieres to rub shoulders with the stars. He has offices in London, LA and New York.
You could be forgiven for thinking the company’s 44-year-old founder – now a very rich man after selling to Amazon in 1998 – would have forgotten his Manchester roots.
But memories of childhood trips to cinemas in Tameside and Manchester’s now defunct Odeon were part of Col’s obsession with film, and, with family still living in Denton, he’s makes regular visits back up north.
“Some of my earliest memories are of cinemas in Manchester,” says Col. “I used to go to The Palace in Hyde and another cinema in Ashton. Those were in the days before big multiplexes. “I also remember the excitement of a big trip into the centre of town to watch the first Star Wars film at the Odeon in Manchester in about 1977 – I think it’s one of my most inspiring memories.”
Growing up on Stockport Road, Col attended Audenshaw School and later Hyde sixth form, now Hyde Clarendon.
His movie obsession continued as a teenager, and once he got his first computer there was no stopping him.
Unable to keep track of the amount of films he was watching, self-confessed geek Col began a computerised list.
This became a downloadable database in the late 1980s, which then morphed into one of the world’s first internet sites in the early 1990s.
Originally a hobby as Col worked as a software developer in Bristol, IMDb’s popularity exploded – and unlike many internet sites of the late 1990s, it survived the burst of the dot com bubble.
Today,is one of the world’s most popular websites – its simple yet comprehensive format is beloved of film geeks and film industry aficionados, making it the go-to place for any film query.
“People in the industry say the site is really helpful,” said Col.
“When they get cast in a film they can find out who they’ll be working with and research other actors’ and directors’ past films.”
He names Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and North by Northwest as first and third favourites, with the second spot taken by last year’s psychological thriller Inception.
When not watching films, Col – who met wife Karen at sixth form college in 1983 and lives with her and their twin daughters Kate and Beth, 17 – works from a small farmhouse in Bristol near the family home.
He and a team of between 100 to 200 staff (Col is restricted from giving an exact number) work tirelessly to collate the cast, credits, trailers and photos from every film and TV programme released. Add in the daily film industry news, user-generated reviews and box office ratings and the amount of information on the site is truly mindboggling.
“The site is growing at an amazing rate,” said Col. “At the moment we have around 1.7 million details in the database and four million names in film and TV credits.”
Recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, IMDb’s momentum shows no signs of flagging.
Currently getting about 100 million unique users a month, its popularity is something most websites can only dream of, putting it in the top 50 sites on the web alongside giants Yahoo, Ebay and Google.
“There’s certainly never a dull moment,” said Col. “I honestly never thought IMDb would get this big – it is pretty amazing. And I’m just the guy from Manchester who is the founder and now the CEO.”