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: