I'm visiting friends in Denver, CO this week and the movie we all want to see is Moneyball. So my friends bring up Fandango to find out where it's playing locally. However, what they don't know is that Fandango, like its competitor MovieTickets.com, doesn't simply show you the nearest theaters as you would expect. Instead, both sites prioritize their own partner theaters and, to varying degrees, hide theaters from which they don't collect commission on ticket sales (often relegating theaters to the next page even though they're closer geographically). Enter Filmbot, a new independent showtime engine that promises to treat all theaters equally, including independent listings and special screenings, and that also aims to make your theatrical experience personalized and social using Facebook. It's limited to New York city right now, but it should be expanding to other areas soon. Here's the demo video:

The site answers all your questions in one place: what's playing, where and when, how's the trailer, and what are the reviewers saying? And it does so by being a brilliant mashup of existing web sites and services. Filmbot currently requires Facebook to log in, but creator Max Friend tells me they're adding non-Facebook login functionality as well.

Facebook or not, the social features will only be useful if the site achieves critical mass among your friends -- meaning, it's not useful unless the majority of your personal friends are also using it. This is of course the same challenge every social site faces. In the case of movies, however, I'm not sure how motivated I am to find out what my real friends think, which shows that I'm friends with them for reasons other than their cinematic tastes. I trust the critics more than I trust my buddies, which makes it a good thing that Filmbot automatically pulls in Rotten Tomatoes ratings and New York Times reviews. Regardless, making the theatergoing experience social is and should be a primary focus of Filmbot, and I hope it catches on. One way to get a jump might be to pull in ratings from existing services like Netflix, for example (where I've rated over 1,000 films).

Screen-shot-2011-10-26-at-1I'm less convinced with the genre customization functions, as I tend to like the crème de la crème of a year's movies regardless of what genre they fall under. Just because I liked The Dark Knight and Drive doesn't mean I'll also appreciate The Avengers and Fast Five, for example: it's more a matter of the director than it is the genre, though this may be the case for cineastes more so than the moviegoing masses. Still, I don't find the "bot" part of the Filmbot name (seen at left), despite the fun factor of creating a customized avatar, to be particularly informative. Not to mention, if I'm going to spend the time listing my favorite genres, I would prefer the homepage to show "movies for me" as opposed to "big movies" by default. There's a tremendous opportunity to better integrate and promote independent films alongside the blockbusters, and by giving blockbusters their own visually-rich page and relegating indie films to an "all movies" text-only listing, Filmbot is doing the opposite of what I'd like to see as an independent filmmaker.

Still, for a startup site in beta, I'm nitpicking. For me personally the question is whether I'll start using Filmbot or stick with my current method of finding showtimes, Google Movies, which is similarly agnostic towards online ticket providers. But I want to see Filmbot succeed and grow to include listings in other areas, so I tossed out a few suggestions above. Filmbot's Facebook integration is admirable -- for that matter, basically everything about the site is admirable -- and despite a few beta bugs (after rating a "movie I want to see," it stays in that category despite the fact that I've already seen it), it's a much-needed new entrant to the space. If you're in New York City, check out Filmbot now, and if you're anywhere else, it's definitely a site to keep tabs on.

Link: Filmbot

[via Brian Newman]