Today’s entertainment junkie has a seemingly endless supply of TV shows and movies to watch and an overwhelming number of ways to watch them.
If you’re like me, you probably struggle to manage all of the TV shows and movies on your watch list. You may be facing one or more of the following challenges:
- How to keep track of all the TV shows you’re already watching or would like to watch in the future.
- How to get notified when new seasons are available for your favorite TV shows.
- How to keep a watch later queue of all of the movies you’d like to see.
- How to find out when movies on your list become available for rental or streaming.
- How to decide which movies or TV shows are good enough to watch (whether now or later).
All of these challenges lead to the ultimate question:
The answer: yes … and no. I haven’t yet found a single app that can organize my entire screen entertainment life. But I have adopted several different apps that in combination meet most of my needs. In other words, creating a complete solution requires cobbling together several apps and services, which is what I have done to date.
Admittedly, this is a First World Problem and a bit silly to anguish over. Yet, I suspect that I’m not alone in my frustrations with the solutions available today.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my current setup and highlight where it falls short. At the very least, my hope is that some readers may learn about a helpful app or two. And if I get lucky, maybe someone reading this will have ideas about alternative apps I might try.
Note: I first published this post in September 2019. Since then, some of the apps I originally mentioned have been updated with new features. Consequently, I’ve decided to update and republish this post to reflect the current capabilities of the apps I discuss. That said, I haven’t updated all of the screenshots, so some of the movies and TV shows in them (as well as their streaming availability) are still from 2019.
My current setup relies on four apps: IMDb, EpisodeCalendar, JustWatch, and Rotten Tomatoes. All of these services are available both on the web and on mobile devices.
I use IMDb to create and manage my primary watch queue for movies (but not for TV shows). I mostly use the web app, but the iOS app is equally handy.
IMDb has a robust Lists feature, which you can use if you are a registered user. The app is a great place to keep your movie list(s) because it shows you a lot of data at a glance — everything from the movie’s basic meta info to its IMDb star rating and Metacritic Metascore. And if you click on the title, you can view ALL of the info about the movie on its “reference view” details page.
The other key feature of IMDb lists is the custom notes field, something that is difficult to find in other services. For each entry on your list, you can add whatever personal comments you’d like. Sometimes, I enter reminders of why I added the movie to my list (e.g. for Jindua, I have noted that it is a Canadian Indian movie that my wife watched on a flight). I also note whether I’ve added the movie to my JustWatch Watchlist (more on that later).
By default, IMDb provides users with an initial list called “Watchlist.” One way to add movies to this list is to click on the plus icon before the title on any movie details page.
I use the default Watchlist as my “active” queue — i.e. it contains movies that are currently available via one or more of my streaming services. Additionally, I maintain several custom lists in IMDb. For example, my “Pending Availability” list contains movies awaiting streaming availability and my “Backburner” list contains movies that I’m in no hurry to watch due to tepid interest.
As much as I like IMDb for managing my movie watch lists, the service comes up short in two key areas.
- Oddly, IMDb sometimes shows streaming availability and sometimes does not depending on where you look. For example, the movie details screen on the mobile app shows watch options whereas the web page does not. Another example: my IMDb Watch List (on the web) does not show availability but my custom lists do.
- IMDb does not provide the Tomatometer score from Rotten Tomatoes, which is my favorite source for reviews and evaluation.
IMDb (Internet Movie Database) also has data about TV series. However, I don’t use IMDb at all for managing my TV watch list.
Why not? Because EpisodeCalendar is a far superior tool for tracking TV series and episodes.
For managing your TV watch list, EpisodeCalendar has a killer feature set.
With EpisodeCalendar, you can:
Add TV series to your “My Shows” queue.
Organize your shows into default or custom lists.
See your unwatched episodes and mark the ones you’ve recently watched.
View a monthly calendar that indicates when new episodes of your shows will broadcast (or drop) within the next few months.
Receive daily and/or weekly email notifications for new episodes of shows in your queue.
For a full overview of EpisodeCalendar, see my previous post: How I Tamed Peak TV with EpisodeCalendar.
As much as I love EpisodeCalendar, it is not a complete solution. What’s missing?
- Unlike IMDb, EpisodeCalendar doesn’t offer a custom notes field for entries on your watch queue.
- EpisodeCalendar indicates the original network or streamer for a show, but it doesn’t tell you WHERE you currently can view a particular TV series or episode. In other words, it does not provide streaming availability.
- EpisodeCalendar does not have native mobile apps. However, its website is mobile optimized.
Note: While updating this post, I took a quick “test drive” of a web app called TV Time, which has a feature set similar to EpisodeCalendar (but also offers a mobile app). The result: an epic fail. The site was extremely buggy and several core features were working only intermittently (e.g. adding shows to the Watchlist) or not at all (e.g. the calendar never loaded when I set it to display only “My shows”). I turned off my ad-blocker and also tried a second browser with no luck. Also, I found the user interface confusing.
As I’ve already mentioned, neither IMDb nor EpisodeCalendar offers comprehensive info on where to watch movies and shows on your list.
To fill this gap, I’ve tried several services including JustWatch, Reelgood, and the now-defunct Go Watch It. Over time, JustWatch has emerged as my favorite, mostly because I prefer the user experience of their website and mobile app.
JustWatch is a search engine that tells you where you can stream movies or TV shows via subscription, rental, and/or purchase.
As you might expect, on JustWatch, you can add movies and TV shows to a Watchlist. Even better, you can filter your Watchlist to show only movies, only TV shows, or only content available from specific streaming services. For example, you could filter the list to show only movies available on Hulu.
Helpfully, with the meta info for each movie, JustWatch shows rating scores from both their own service and IMDb. Unfortunately, the service no longer shows the score from Rotten Tomatoes.
In March of 2021, JustWatch enhanced its service to allow you to track which episodes you’ve watched of a TV series, bringing it closer to feature parity with EpisodeCalendar. For each series, you can mark which seasons or which episodes you’ve already seen.
On your TV Shows Watchlist, the “Caught up” section lists the series that you’ve completed watching and indicates how long until new episodes will arrive.
The “Watch next” section has a “Continue watching” list (for shows you’ve started but not finished) and a “Haven’t started” list for the rest of the shows in your backlog.
You might be wondering why I don’t use JustWatch as my single organizer to track my movies and TV series.
For tracking TV shows, JustWatch is catching up with EpisodeCalendar, but I still prefer the latter since it also offers custom lists, email notifications, and a calendar view of upcoming episodes.
For tracking movies, JustWatch could work as a viable alternative to IMDb, depending on your needs. For me, JustWatch is missing two key features as compared to IMDb. First, is the ability to add custom notes to each title, which is a feature I regularly use on my IMDb lists. Second, is the ability to create custom lists. One other advantage of IMDb: its database contains virtually every movie ever made. By contrast, JustWatch has most movies, but sometimes I can’t find more obscure titles.
Nov 2023 Update
JustWatch has introduced custom lists as a new feature. As a bonus, you can import your IMDb lists (provided they are set to public). Unfortunately, JustWatch limits free users to just 2 custom lists. To create more than that, you have to subscribe to the Pro version.
In my case, I use JustWatch to augment the other two services where I keep my primary movie and TV lists. Unfortunately, that means I have to redundantly add all of my movies and TV shows on JustWatch. If that seems kludgy to you, I agree, but it’s a necessary evil for the value I get.
I heavily rely on Rotten Tomatoes to decide which movies to add to my watch queue. The critical consensus about a movie is more important to me than box office performance (popularity), genre, or the cast.
For movies, Rotten Tomatoes has the most comprehensive aggregation of reviews, and I like the ability to filter reviews to see only those from the “Top Critics.” Rotten Tomatoes allow me to easily get a quick measure of a movie by scanning over the review excerpts, with each corresponding full review just a click away.
For TV shows, I used to rely on MetaCritic to get the critical consensus on TV series, but now I turn more often to Rotten Tomatoes, which added television to its service sometime in the past few years.
The listing for each TV series and movie on Rotten Tomatoes contains a “Where To Watch” section that indicates where the title is available for rental, purchase, or streaming. The availability data is not as comprehensive as JustWatch, but it’s probably good enough for most people.
Unfortunately, Rotten Tomatoes is not a contender for the ultimate organizer. You can add movies and shows to a “Want to See” queue, but the list has none of the extra features and functionality I use in the other apps I’ve discussed.
My Ideal Feature Set
My ideal movie and TV organizer would allow me to:
- Add movies and TV shows to a watch queue.
- Use a single list or create multiple custom lists.
- Enter custom comments for each item on my list.
- See the streaming availability for each item on my list.
- Track which episodes I’ve watched from a particular TV series.
- Notify me by email when items on my list become available.
- See the critical consensus for a movie or TV series.
- View a personalized calendar of upcoming releases for items on my list.
The table below summarizes how the apps I use today stack up against my feature wish list.
- All features of EpisodeCalendar are for TV shows only as the service does not cover movies.
- To create more than 2 custom lists, JustWatch users have to subscribe to the pro version.
- Whether IMDb shows availability data varies by page and by device, as discussed above.
- EpisodeCalendar includes a score for most shows, but I can’t determine its source (it does not appear to be from IMDb or TVDB).
The feature matrix above helps drive home the point that my ideal vision of “one app to rule them all” seems elusive at the moment.
At this point, I would be happy to simplify my setup down to two apps, one for movies and one for TV. My ideal movie organizer would be a mashup of IMDb and JustWatch whereas my ideal TV organizer would combine the features of EpisodeCalendar with JustWatch.
Since I originally published this post, some of the apps I use are getting closer to providing all the features I’d like to have in a single app. But none are complete solutions as of yet. Alas, I suspect I’ll continue to use a four-app solution for the foreseeable future.
If you’d like to share your solution for managing your TV and/or movie watch lists, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)