Could You Trust Your Movie Choices To Random Selection?

By  · Published on April 25th, 2014

Netflix Roulette

I’m one of those people who can’t make a decision to save my life. When given a choice in anything, whether there are only two options or an infinite amount, I take forever making up my mind. It drives my family nuts, though it’s not like I’m a fan of the problem either. It cripples my ability to buy new things, decide what to have for dinner, even plan what to do at any moment of the day.

Fortunately there are such things as the shuffle feature on iPods and whole services like Pandora to give me randomly selected songs, so I don’t have to pick (and I can shuffle between stations there, too, so I don’t even have to choose a genre). It’s much better than when I was a kid and would choose a CD to listen out of a hat – seriously, I had a hat with slips of paper in it with all my CDs represented.

Now I’ve discovered a new app that allows me to be just as random about my movie watching. Most of the time I actually don’t have to choose. I watch what I need to watch for work, whether I’m reviewing or researching a list or any other assignment requiring something to be seen. Typically I have more screeners on the side of my desk than I have time to get through.

But there are the occasions when I get some free time to watch something just for fun, and whenever that happens I spend way too long rummaging through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and my cable on demand library that I probably could have watched two movies by the time I’ve made a final decision. That doesn’t have to happen anymore if I just use Netflix Roulette. I just go to the site (there’s also an app for Android), click on the button marked “spin” and I’m quickly given a random movie to watch.

Like with Pandora, I can limit what I’m interested in by genre. I have enough capability for decision-making to know if I’m not in the mood for a horror film or anything in the faith & spirituality category. You can also isolate if you want to just search movies or just search TV shows. The only major fault might be that you can’t filter for quality – as in the Netflix Rating (though I don’t always trust those since I just noticed Ross McElwee’s Photographic Memory is listed there with only 2.9 stars). Maybe that’ll be an added feature later. For now, the classic movies category is a pretty safe bet.

I don’t know how many of you movie fans out there are as bad with choosing things as I am. Having the equivalent of a shuffle feature on your video streaming service isn’t something that seemed high in demand. I can recall, back when I worked in a multiplex box office, occasionally encountering moviegoers who’d appear to randomly pick what to see. But most people go by what they think looks good or what critics recommend. FSR even makes it easy by highlighting good movies streaming on Netflix each month.

There was a time when I thought about using random selection in the video store, but that was always a costly idea. If my choice was no good, I’d feel I lost money. With Netflix Watch Instantly, you’re not paying my the movie, and if Netflix Roulette steers you in a disappointing direction and you don’t like the selection, it’s easy to stop what you’re watching and spin again. Too bad it’s not “streaming service roulette” and you can filter so it picks something from any number of services you’re subscribed to. Sometimes I go back and forth between Netflix and Amazon when trying to find something to watch.

Anyway, here’s a fun idea you can use the app for: random movie club. Get some friends together and on a weekly basis take a random movie off Netflix Roulette, then watch it and discuss. Maybe we should even start such a club here on FSR if enough readers are into it.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.