1. Michael Jackson, “Thanks, This Is It (2009)”
The Internet Movie Database, referred to almost exclusively as IMDB, debuted all the way back in 1990, but the broadband age turned it into a key accessory for watching movies and TV at home. Quick questions of, “Wait, that guy looks familiar—who is he?” or “Where did they shoot this?” are quickly answered via IMDB’s site or essential app, simultaneously distracting from and enriching the viewing experience. But it also has a peculiar tic: Searching a person’s name can produce some odd results. Type “Al Pa” in the search bar, and the type-ahead will automatically pull up “Al Pacino, Actor, The Godfather (1972),” which makes sense. Others, not so much—like Michael Jackson. The late performer’s name defaults to an appearance on the thanks list for his own concert film—the one he was making when he apparently worked himself to death. Jackson didn’t have many screen credits—The Wiz, The Simpsons—but just about anything would be better, even Captain EO.
2. Barbra Streisand, “Director, Barbra: The Concert (1995)”
Barbra: The Concert won a bewildering number of awards for a televised concert—five Emmys and a Peabody Award (not to mention three coveted CableACE Awards)—but it’s not as if her other directorial work has gone unheralded. 1983’s Yentl won an Oscar for Best Music, 1991’s The Prince Of Tides earned seven Oscar nominations (and won a Golden Globe for Nick Nolte), and even The Mirror Has Two Faces drew two Oscar nominations. Beyond that, Streisand actually won Best Actress for 1969’s Funny Girl. Just about all of them seem more important than a concert film for HBO.
3. Brad Pitt, “Actor, Se7en (1995)”
When Brad Pitt made Se7en, he was in his early 30s and had only toplined one film, the 1992 flop Cool World. He co-starred with Morgan Freeman in Se7en, directed by David Fincher, and the film became a hit that placed in the top 10 grossing films of 1995, even though it was released in late September. (The two films immediately above it in the top 10 for that year: Casper and Jumanji.) Since then, IMDB lists 36 other screen credits for Pitt—not to mention a staggering 26 additional ones “in development”—such as this year’s World War Z, the highest grossing project of any of them ($201,922,757 and counting). Pitt has made so many films since Se7en, and is several orders of magnitude a bigger star now than he was in 1995, that Fincher’s classic is a relatively low-profile project by comparison.
4-9. Sylvester Stallone, “Writer, Rocky (1976)”
Steve Martin, “Writer, The Jerk (1979)”
Matt Damon, “Writer, Good Will Hunting (1997)”
Uma Thurman, “Writer, Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)”
Dan Aykroyd, “Writer, Ghostbusters II (1989)”
Harold Ramis, “Writer, Ghostbusters II (1989)”
Actors who have writing credits confuse IMDB, which seems to favor those above other entries in an actor’s filmography. Sure, Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky—and has since insisted on a writing credit for everything he’s done—but his career over the past four decades as a bankable action star and franchise-builder makes IMDB’s default credit for him a little jarring. It could be worse—it could say “Writer, Rhinestone (1984).” Ditto Steve Martin, who’s more than 30 years and a professional lifetime removed from the guy who wrote The Jerk. Matt Damon co-wrote Good Will Hunting with Ben Affleck (whom IMDB more charitably credits as “Director, Argo (2013)”) when they were in their early 20s, and the Oscar they won for the film’s screenplay is now mostly relegated to a bit of trivia for their prolific careers. (And Good Will Hunting has only seemed more overrated with each passing year.) While Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are correctly credited with writing Ghostbusters II, that’s an odd one for two guys with such long filmographies—particularly Ramis, who has written and/or directed numerous classics, including Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day, and, you know, the original, classic Ghostbusters, not just its lame sequel. The most peculiar of these is Uma Thurman, who’s credited as a writer on Kill Bill because she and director Quentin Tarantino created her character. Crediting her as a writer on the film is generous, and an especially odd default credit.
10. Liza Minnelli, “Self, Sex And The City 2 (2010)”
When Cabaret won eight Oscars in 1973, one of them went to Liza Minnelli, who took Best Actress for her portrayal of Sally Bowles. She’s earned a slew of nominations and awards over the course of her career, including a Golden Globe for 1981’s Arthur, and was introduced to a new generation thanks to her loopy portrayal of Lucille 2 on Arrested Development. So it’s more insulting than odd that Minnelli’s name shows up first in relation to the dire Sex And The City sequel, in which she appeared as herself in an “embarrassing for all involved” performance, according to A.V. Club reviewer Genevieve Koski. It’d probably be best for all everyone if they acted like Sex And The City 2 never happened.
11-14. Marvin Gaye, “Soundtrack, Se7en (1995)”
John Lennon, “Soundtrack, Children Of Men, (2006)”
Paul McCartney, “Soundtrack, Vanilla Sky (2001)”
Frank Sinatra, “Soundtrack, Silver Linings Playbook (2012)”
IMDB tracks soundtracks as well, which can make for some of its most off-base default credits: Surely everyone remembers Marvin Gaye’s appearance on the Se7en soundtrack? Even more odd are musicians who actually starred in films, such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon in those early Beatles movies. Because those two aren’t known as actors, maybe it makes more sense to default to something besides Help! But IMDB lists 65 screen credits for Frank Sinatra (the last one being, sadly, Who’s The Boss? in 1989), and he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1954 for From Here To Eternity. But hey, that Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack is pretty good, too. It has “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, whom IMDB thinks is most known for the Die Hard soundtrack.
15. Sammy Davis Jr., “Self, Family Feud (1976)”
Speaking of the Rat Pack, the story goes that Sammy Davis Jr. held the title of the greatest living entertainer in the world (who bestowed it is a mystery) because he could sing, dance, act, play instruments, and do comedy. He helped integrate Las Vegas hotels as a performer there in the ’50s and ’60s, and he co-starred in the original Ocean’s Eleven. He also served as “Sub-Host” of Family Feud—as if hosting weren’t demeaning enough—for an unknown number of episodes in 1979, so that’s what IMDB uses.
16. Jerry Lewis, “Self, The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950)”
The default credit for the comedy legend and filmmaker? The Colgate Comedy Hour, the variety show he co-hosted with Dean Martin in the early ’50s. One theory for how IMDB sets its default credit holds that it uses the most-searched project associated with that person. Are there really that many people searching for The Colgate Comedy Hour, when Lewis has a filmography that includes a string of hit films in the ’60s and Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy?
17. Kevin Kline, “Actor, Wild Wild West (1999)”
Does anyone remember much about Wild Wild West? Action-comedy? Set in the 1800s? Will Smith playing a gunslinger named Captain James West? Anything? Maybe Smith’s theme song for it rings a bell? It was, essentially, Men In Black In The Old West, with Kevin Kline in the Tommy Lee Jones role. The film grossed a robust $113 million domestically, but finished a distant 17th for 1999’s top-grossing films. (That was the year of The Phantom Menace, The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, and The Matrix, after all.) Wild Wild West is undoubtedly a footnote in Kevin Kline’s impressive filmography, which includes stuff like Sophie’s Choice, The Big Chill, A Fish Called Wanda, Dave, The Ice Storm, and, lately, multiple appearances on Bob’s Burgers. Wild Wild West comes in first for Kline in one regard, though: It’s his highest-grossing film ever—which is preferable to his second one, 2006’s remake of The Pink Panther.
18. Art Carney, “Actor, The Last Action Hero (1993)”
Art Carney acted—and acted a lot—for nearly 40 years after his signature role as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. IMDB lists 99 screen credits for him, beginning as an announcer for something called Pot O’ Gold in 1941 and concluding with The Last Action Hero in 1993. Maybe IMDB just pulled that final one for his credit; even though the film was a notorious flop, it certainly beats “Actor, The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).” (He played Saun Dann, a trader on the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk. Sample line: “What’s that I smell? Could it be some of those famous Wookiee ookiees?”)
19. Mia Farrow, “Actress, Peyton Place (1964)”
Mia Farrow may have two credits before Peyton Place in her filmography—and one of them was an uncredited appearance 1959’s John Paul Jones—but Peyton Place was, for all intents and purposes, her first real job. She appeared in 237 episodes, a run that ended 47 years and 55 subsequent screen credits ago. Listing it as her default association is like someone’s grandparents programming IMDB. “Mia Farrow? The girl from Peyton Place?”