FilmFish Puts Humans Back Into Movie Recommendations

Have you ever been frustrated with Netflix’s rating system or generic recommendations?  If so, there’s a new app that can take the ambiguity out of helping you choose a movie to watch.  As the creators of FilmFish will tell you, “Just because you watched The Good, the Bad & the Ugly doesn’t mean you want to watch Adam Sandler’s new western movie.  And just because you watched The Basketball Diaries doesn’t mean you want to watch Air Bud.”

Touted as “the world’s best movie recommendation engine,” FilmFish was created by Emmy winning film critic Joyce Kulhawik, Hollywood star Topher Grace, recent Y-Combinator graduate and serial entrepreneur Simon Borrero, Sundance featured producer Daniel Posada and MIT professors Donald Sull and David Hartzband. They claim that algorithms just don’t get it when it comes to movies.

So how does FilmFish do it? It relies on film buffs, not robots, to make their suggestions.  Their team has curated recommendations for over 15,000 movies, capturing the essence of why we love the films we do.  Plus, as a bonus, once you find a movie, the app shows you exactly where you can watch it across the streaming services to which you subscribe.  In surveys, 75% of users say they prefer this approach over the competition.

I had the opportunity to look at FilmFish for iOS a week before its release. After a simple sign-up, I selected Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon Prime for my services.  (I could also have chosen Crackle and Hulu Plus.)  Then, from a simple Home screen, there’s a large search field to “Find your next favorite movie with recommendations from real film-buffs.”  I entered a few movies to test the app…

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First, I entered Back to the Future.  From the movie’s screen, I could see the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer percentage (96%) and the Flixster popcorn bucket (94%) percentage.  I could also click to watch the trailer, save the movie to a list, or click a “Seen It” button.  I could also see that it’s available to stream on Amazon Prime and Vudu.  Below this information were three “tabs:” Similar Movies, Similar Free, and Similar List.

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“Similar Movies” listed 20 recommendations. Oddly, only one (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) had anything to do with time travel.  Some of the choices were clever (Real Genius, Weird Science), some were obvious (Back to the Future II and III, Teen Wolf) and some were surprising (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Ghostbusters).

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“Similar Free” listed only four. I assume these are titles that can be streamed at no cost.  These movies were Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Tron, Spaceballs and Galaxy Quest.

“Similar Lists” told me that the 20 movies recommended are part of an “80s Geeks Unite Comedies” list. The description of this hand-picked, ordered by relevance list says, “For people who were nerds in the 80s, are nerds now, or are considering becoming nerds in the near future, enjoy this list of the best sci-fi comedy the 1980s had to offer, from Back to the Future to Weird Science.”

Other lists to which Back to the Future belong include “Family Sci-Fi Classics,” “Best 80s Sci-Fi,” and “Best 80s Comedies.”  Each list would of course connect the movie to a list of other selections to help narrow down your choice.

To test something newer, I entered The Accountant.  I got no search results.  In fact, the most recent movie (as of October 27) I could find was Deepwater Horizon, which came out on September 30.  It’s included in one list: “True Tales of Survival” and has recommendations like Sully, Into the Wild and United 93.  One of the developers of FilmFish, Phillip Sull, tells me that any lack of brand new movies is intentional.  “When movies are in theaters, we try to wait a little bit for critical consensus before adding them to the database.”

FilmFish is not an app that I will use for anything other than curiosity. I have enough movies on my “To See” list that I don’t need recommendations.  However, I can see how it would be more meaningful and helpful to casual movie goers.  When you play around with it a little, you may think there’s no great science being conducted; you’d simply put movies on different subcategory lists, then cross reference them to produce a variety of results.  But that would be missing the originality of FilmFish in which the lists are actually generated by humans, not machines.

FilmFish is available on iOS on Friday, October 28, with Android coming soon.  Check out the site now at https://www.film-fish.com/.

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