Woes of organizing movies

15 Nov

There is no fully satisfactory way to organize a film collection. No system ever works without compromises, exceptions, workarounds, and/or annoying logic gaps.

Alphabetical? Sure, it makes sense in theory, but drawbacks quickly become apparent when you think about it. Does it really make sense to put Batman Begins and The Dark Knight far away from one another on the shelf? Surely they belong together. What about foreign films? Take The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for instance. That’s its translated English title, and the name I mostly know it as. In its original French, it’s called Le scaphandre et le papillon, which could be said to be its real name. On the Swedish DVD case I have, it’s titled Fjärilen i glaskupan. So do I put it under D, S, or F?

In the past, I’ve toyed with the idea of organizing my collection according to my numerical ratings. The films I love would be showcased up front and center on my shelves, with unfavored films hidden away down at floor-level. This is another idea that sounds good organization-wise, as I tend to instinctively remember what scores I’ve given to various films. Unfortunately, this too has the undesirable side effect of splitting up franchises. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is for my money among the very best action films ever made. While I do think that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines gets way more hate than it deserves, it’s certainly not on the same level as T2. But they still ought to stand side by side in my collection. Box sets further complicates the system. I can’t split up the Alien Quadrilogy box even if I wanted to.

Chronological order? Nah. What with me mostly having films from this side of the millenium border, it’s not all that useful. Besides, do I go with US, international, or Swedish release dates? Plus, you still have the franchise-splitting problem.

The system I’ve used for the past few years is based on genres. My shelf space is divided into sections that are assigned different types of film: Action, comedy, dramedy/black comedy, drama, romance, horror, thriller, documentary. Everything has its spot. The benefits of this system are plentifold. Franchises can be kept together – for the most part. I can say “Hmm, I’m in an action mood today” and go to the action section to pick out something suitable. I can micromanage to my liking within the subsets as well, such as bunching together musicals in the comedy section, J-horror in the horror section, Jason Statham in the action section, and so on.

Even this is not perfect, though. The aforementioned Alien Quadrilogy rears its xenomorph head again, for instance, with Alien arguably being horror while Aliens is more action-y. Where do I put my Coens set consisting of Blood Simple (thriller), The Big Lebowski (comedy) and Barton Fink (what the hell is Barton Fink anyway?) Exceptions also have to be made due to my sorting tendencies. I want to keep Kevin Smith‘s View Askew films together, for instance, but while Chasing Amy is more of a dramedy or off-beat romantic comedy, Clerks II is more straight-up comedy in my mind.

Plus, you have the often troublesome task of determining genres of individual films. Is Ghostbusters primarily an action movie or a comedy? Is Let the Right One In horror, thriller, or romance? Is Man on the Moon a comedy or a dramedy, or simply a drama that’s funny by proxy due to the subject matter? What genre is Rashomon? What genre is Inglourious Basterds?

Oragnizing is tricky indeed. Maybe John Cusack in High Fidelity has the right idea:

How do you organize your movie collection?


Posted by on 15 November, 2012 in Discussions, Misc.


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18 responses to “Woes of organizing movies

  1. Hauke

    15 November, 2012 at 20:03

    No problem anymore. I get rid of physical media; if I need them to get access to a movie I buy it, rip it and either store the medium in the attic or donate it to the library.

    A friend just bought a 400 mediums BluRay player/changer/storage with a great on screen menu interface. Same result without getting rid of the medium (unless he hits the 400 items limit… let’s see what happens then).

    • Emil

      15 November, 2012 at 22:06

      Ah, function over form. That’s a mindset I can get behind in general. For films, however, I like having them double as decoration personally.

      400 would not be enough for me. It’s a handy solution, though.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Anna

    15 November, 2012 at 22:14

    I’m a complete dork for admitting this, but whatever. I organize my DVDs by directors. (I keep my Criterion DVDs on a separate shelf.)

    • Emil

      15 November, 2012 at 22:49

      That’s a good way of sorting, if you can swing it. I couldn’t pull it off, since I tend to forget the names of directors for stuff like, say, The Transporter.

      Would you put Alien (Ridley Scott) and Aliens (James Cameron) far away from each other, then?

      • Anna

        16 November, 2012 at 21:19

        Darling, that’s what it is at the moment.

  3. Jandy

    15 November, 2012 at 22:49

    I use an unwieldy combination of format, genre and chronology. Blu-rays are separate from DVDs, because the boxes are different sized, and it bugs me to have them mixed together. Criterion Blu-rays are also split from other Blu-rays, so the matching spines can go together. I don’t really have enough Blu-rays yet to separate out by genre, so I just do them all chronologically (according to release year in country of origin).

    DVDs get separated by genre like on your shelves, albeit with all the same issues, and then are arranged chronologically within that genre. Most people think I’m insane for doing the chronological thing (and I do break the rule to keep series together, generally either placing them at the beginning of the whole genre if it’s a large series, i.e., James Bond movies, or just putting the later ones in the same place as the first one, which is in chronologically-accurate order), but it makes the most sense to me. There’s no relationship between films that start with the same letter, so looking at a shelf arranged alphabetically doesn’t tell me anything. Films that were made about the same time DO have some historical and often stylistic relationship, though, and seeing a shelf arranged chronologically shows a sense of history and evolution that pleases me.

    Box sets – I generally only buy box sets that are series-specific – the Die Hard series, the Alien Quadrilogy, the Star Wars trilogy, etc. Stuff like your Coen set I much prefer to get individually instead of packaged together. I’m about to break that by buying the gigantic Hitchcock Blu-ray set, but at least those pretty much all fit in the same genre comfortably.

    • Jandy

      15 November, 2012 at 22:53

      Oh, and don’t even get me started on books. This time around I think I’m just going to do fiction by author’s name. In the past, I’ve tried separating books out by period (Medieval, 18th-19th century, Modernist, Contemporary) and even origin (British, American, European, etc.), but that got to be headache-inducing fast. And then books are so many different sizes that part of me wants to keep all the mass market paperbacks together, the trade paperbacks together, and the hardcovers together just so they look nicer on the shelf. And if I have a bunch of books from the same publisher, like Modern Library, which has a uniform “look” to their books, I want to keep those all together. But that breaks up any other more logical organization scheme. It’s kind of maddening.

      • Emil

        16 November, 2012 at 09:35

        That’s a fair arguement for chronological sorting. I could see myself doing that myself if I had more older films in my collection – though with the same workarounds as you do.

        I used to have a separate spot for my Blu-rays, but I decided that with time, it’s going to look weird to have them all together in a bunch regardless of genre. So I split them up, but still keeping them bunched up in their respective sections – so all the action Blu-rays are together in the action section, for instance. It looks okay, and it’s reasonably logical.

        Books is an entirely different story. I am actually running some weirdo quasi-biographical system for those. I have certain shelves dedicated to old favorites, books I read while at university, books I’ve stumbled upon in recent years, etc.. But then I also break it off genre-wise here and there – biographies, fantasy, and so forth. I also have a section for books I read specifically because I liked the movies that were based on them.

        The book collection is a bit of a mess, to be honest. I try not to think about it too much…

  4. Nostra

    16 November, 2012 at 09:07

    Looks like a good way to sort it. Currently I think most of my DVD collection is sorted by genre as well, but I hardly look at it. Planning to change it if I ever get a cinema room, I will then just go alphabetical…

    • Emil

      16 November, 2012 at 09:37

      Keeping it nice and simple. I can dig that. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Movies - Noir

    16 November, 2012 at 14:08

    I guess I’m kind of boring, but I’ve put all my DVD’s in alphabetical order. The only exception being boxes that get a separate section.

    The thing I do though, is that I go by the name on the DVD cover. So if it’s the Swedish title, that’s the one I go by. If it’s the French, that’s it. For some reason, I skip the “The”, but not “Det”, “Den” or “La” and “Le” etc. This way I feel I know where to look for a film if I want to find it. And if it’s not under the English title, I know I can find it under the Swedish.

    However, I haven’t re-organized by collection for a long time. In fact, I haven’t bought a lot of DVD’s the last couple of years. But I do have a lot of oldies mixed with newer stuff so changing it to chronological order is intriguing… Sorting by genre isn’t an option for me as I’d have a hard time deciding what category certain films fall under :)

    • Emil

      16 November, 2012 at 15:06

      Hey, whatever works. :)

  6. Mahoney

    17 November, 2012 at 18:21

    Oh, what a nice photo! I found for myself the “Rewatchables” idea, thanks!
    You know… It is only the first level of movie organizing :) The next one – is to create electronic movie catalog of your collection. I am using All My Movies program for this. It is available at Also, I heard that some online services exists for the same purpose, but I am a bit oldstyle man :)

  7. Travis McClain

    5 December, 2012 at 13:27

    Years ago, I quit segregating my library and moved to just alphabetizing the whole damn thing. Here are my particular rules:

    *Abbreviations are sorted as the full word, so Dr. No comes before Doctor Zhivago.
    *Numbers are alphabetized as words, so 300 is in the T’s as “Three Hundred”.

    It made no sense to me to alphabetize words by abbreviations, and once I accepted the standard of sorting by the actual word, it was easy to extend that to the realm of numbers.

    *Box sets are sorted by the box set title.
    You’ll find “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” in the A’s, “The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection” in the C’s and “The Golden Age of Silent Films” in the G’s.

    *TV shows are sorted first by box title, then chronological by season.
    Psych: The Complete Fourth Season comes after Psych: The Complete Third Season, even though the word “Fourth” precedes the word “Third” alphabetically.
    Star Trek: The Original Series is sorted after Star Trek: The Next Generation, even though the TV show’s actual title was simply Star Trek.

    *Sequels with numbers are sorted in the same way.
    Toy Story 2 is between Toy Story and Toy Story 3, but The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers comes after The Fellowship of the Ring (F) and The Return of the King (R).

    *Foreign titles, like box sets, are sorted by the title on the packaging.
    Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain can be found in the A’s, because the title on the Blu-ray packaging is simply Amélie.

    The most curious thing is my Criterion edition of 8 1/2. You’ll find that in the O’s because its actual Italian title is Otto e mezzo. I settled on this since the numbers themselves aren’t language-specific and it made sense to me to sort by what the numbers stood for in the film’s original language.

    *Blu-ray Discs are presently grouped away from the DVDs, but I have at times combined the media.

    At present, I’ve excluded possessive names from the titles. That is, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is sorted in the D’s under “Dracula”; “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” is in the N’s and “Frank Miller’s Sin City” is in the S’s.

    The one thing I haven’t yet figured out is what to do with “Mrs.” as the leading word in a title. “Mr.” gets sorted as “Mister”, but “Mrs.” isn’t actually an abbreviation. We say “missus” when we speak, but they’re technically two different words. At present, this only affects one title in my library: Mrs. Henderson Presents, sorted between Moulin Rouge! and Munich. That wouldn’t even be an issue if they’d just kept the British title, Lady Henderson Presents. But you know us Americans: we couldn’t possibly comprehend a title like “Lady” so we have to have it changed to “Mrs.” so we understand the movie.

    • Nostra

      5 December, 2012 at 13:32

      Wow, that sounds like a very well thought out system, I’m impressed.

      • Travis McClain

        5 December, 2012 at 13:46

        The key to any organizational system is making it easy for you to locate what you want to find. By going to an entirely alphabetical system, I avoided all the pesky matters of whether this movie should be on that genre shelf, or with that director, etc. Yes, I broke up some series to do it this way, but I actually kind of like that there’s a Bond movie in so many different places instead of all being in a block together.

        Once I settled on the holistic alphabetical system, the other issues just kind of came up as I encountered them and I arrived at the guidelines above simply by trying to resolve them with a combination of formal filing conventions, convenience for myself and maintaining consistency of the guidelines.

        I’m sure it seems intricate just from seeing it all in print like that, but it’s actually a very streamlined, simple system.

        I did forget there’s one other matter: performance videos. I’ve struggled with these. Is the actual title Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You for the Last Time – Live on Broadway or is it I’m Telling You for the Last Time – Live on Broadway? I’ve settled on sorting these by the performer’s first name, on the basis that it’s consistent with the box set rule since the performer’s name is always in front of the special’s title on the package.

    • Emil

      5 December, 2012 at 13:52

      Sounds like you have spent spent some time working out a usable system, Travis. Cool stuff. I like the idea of putting box sets under the name of the set. That makes perfect sense. Having 8 1/2 under O would drive me bonkers personally, though.

      • Travis McClain

        5 December, 2012 at 14:03

        The box set rule originated because I had a couple of multi-title collections that didn’t present an obvious, easy way to be sorted. Once I adopted that rule, then in the interest of consistency, I applied it to other boxes. That’s how “The Adventures of Indiana Jones” got moved to the A’s. I found it’s easier to just apply a rule completely than to create a convoluted defense for every violation of that rule.

        One more addendum that occurred to me just now:

        *Bonus DVDs are sorted with the feature title.
        The Story of Star Wars was a Walmart exclusive bonus DVD packaged with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. It comes directly after Episode III on my shelf, rather than being sorted by “Story”. This is an entirely arbitrary decision on my part, since sorting by either the content title or the packaging title would separate Episode III from Story.

        I rationalized this one on the basis that The Story of Star Wars was never released by itself, and had to be purchased with Episode III. Essentially, all I’ve done is keep together the contents of the original package as I purchased them.


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