March in the United States is reserved for college basketball. Fans don their team’s colors as they root for them in the NCAA Division I basketball tournaments. For those without a team close to heart, they cheered as fifteenth seed Oral Roberts University beat powerhouse Ohio State University in the men’s tournament. 

However, Dustin Fisher, ’98, visual and performing arts, was not only preoccupied with underdog basketball wins. While cheering on Villanova, Fisher rooted for The Night Before Christmas to take down Hamilton and for Inside Out to lose to Stand by Me. While watching March Madness, he took to his Movie Madness Facebook page to debate with fellow group members about whether Hamilton should even be considered a movie. Fisher’s March Madness is not about finding this year’s best basketball team; it’s about finding the best movie of all-time. 

The Origin Story

Movie Madness is rooted in the early days of the internet, says Fisher, who founded the group based on an email column from 1998 and a blog he kept in 2003. Fisher would write about two movies he would watch back-to-back, comparing them and determining the best one. This led to his idea of pitting them against one another in an NCAA-style bracket. As former UMBC intramural sports assistant director, Fisher was always involved in athletics and felt it was natural to combine his passions for sports and movies through Movie Madness.

In 2013, 19 of Fisher’s friends filled out his first Movie Madness bracket on Facebook. Today, the Movie Madness community is over 2,000 strong, bringing UMBC and non-Retrievers together over a common passion. 

The NCAA of Movies

Like the NCAA’s different conferences (most college sports fanatics are familiar with the Big Ten, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Twelve, and the Southeastern Conference), Movie Madness uses genres as its different conference tournaments. While genres like action, horror, and romance are staples of Movie Madness, Fisher and other committee members add genres as the film industry becomes more diverse.

“Eight years ago, there were no conferences for LGBTQ and Civil Rights movies. These are things that I’ve seen the need for and have added,” says Fisher. “As the world grows, the group grows with it.”

Movies competing for the conference title are nominated by Movie Madness group members. As with the selection of the 68 teams for the NCAA tournament, the Movie Madness bracket features the winners of the 32 conferences and the next 34 most competitive movies determined by the group’s committee. This year’s tournament features movies like Thor: Ragnarok, Get Out, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, as well as recurring competitors like Jaws and Alien

The 2021 Movie Madness VII bracket with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring named this year’s winner. Screenshot provided by Fisher.

To ensure that the bracket and conversation change from year to year, any movies that make it to the Final Four are retired. “Otherwise Empire Strikes Back will play Star Wars: A New Hope in every single tournament, and it would be very boring,” explains Fisher.

While all movies are taken into consideration, Fisher acknowledges the group’s slight bias towards superhero movies, recent movies, and movies from the 80s and 90s.

“Many people seem to vote for movies that they’ve seen in the last couple years. This is why I figure Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Hamilton, Hidden Figures, and Mad Max: Fury Road were the number one seeds in the tournament this year,” says Fisher. “But there’s also the ‘Oh my God, I remember this from my childhood!’ feeling that gives The Goonies and Field of Dreams probably more popularity than they deserve.”

Building Friendships One Debate at a Time

Conversation is essential to Movie Madness. For Movie Madness committee member Corey Johns ’11, American studies, media and communications, English, talking about movies in the group is a way to destress from his workday.

“It’s a tremendous way to just have fun online and to talk about things we like. We like movies, and this is a great way to just enjoy another aspect of them,” says Johns.

The Movie Madness Board (from left to right and top to bottom) of Brett McKenzie, Fisher, Greg Stryker, Chris Mondichak, Justin West, and Johns wore costumes in one of their filmed meetings. Screenshot provided by Fisher.

Johns explains that Movie Madness, at least the active members of it, created such a tight-knit community that it has inside jokes. Johns stated that The Goonies is a running joke in the group as the most divisive movie. UMBC community and Movie Madness members could not help but use memes from UMBC’s win against the University of Virginia in 2018 after sixteenth seed Clue beat number one seed John Wick in one year’s tournament. 

“We can immediately identify who the UMBC crowd is because we’re all tied together,” says Johns.

While the group is public to all and many active members are not affiliated with UMBC in any way, Johns and Fisher have met many UMBC alumni from different eras of UMBC through the group. The group is how Johns and Fisher met and how the pair met Movie Madness committee member Brett Mckenzie ’04, English.

“[Fisher and I] never knew each other at UMBC, but we throw out a lot of UMBC jokes that bring us together,” explains Johns. “We share the UMBC bond.”

“If I listed off my top 10 friends, Corey’s definitely on the list. We’ve spent so much time together. We’ve gotten to know each other so well,” says Fisher. “The group has definitely fostered some friendships that I would not have otherwise made.”

Beyond a Bracket

Fisher adds that, while the group started as a game, it has grown into a community of movie lovers spanning across generations of UMBC alumni and non-UMBC community members. As more people joined, Fisher, Johns, Mckenzie, and other committee members created ways to discuss movies on the page asides from the bracket to keep the community active.

“It’s very hard finding creative ways to spark a conversation,” said Fisher, but they still managed to create some buzz. Whether it be their spin on the game “You Don’t Know Jack” or videos debating who would win in a fight between characters like Thor from the Marvel series or Jack-Jack from The Incredibles, Fisher and Johns said that people engaged with the new content.

In one video debate, Johns did 15 costume changes in three minutes to argue that the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin would win. In another, Mckenzie wore a Captain Marvel costume to prove that she was the best superhero.

“[Those videos] really exploded our growth this year,” says Johns. “There was so much more activity. Instead of just the poll and voting, which is fun, but now you can have a conversation.”

As with most online groups, Movie Madness experienced growing pains as its membership increased. With more people outside his and his friends’ circles joining the group, Fisher had to assign admins to moderate conversations and prevent discussions from getting out of hand. Despite some struggles, Fisher and Johns said they are excited for the future of Movie Madness. While Fisher does not actively promote it on Facebook, he is happy to see new members.

“If people find this group, awesome,” said Fisher. “We’ll happily welcome you with open arms.” Just be prepared to have strong opinions about The Goonies.

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