UPDATE MAY 2013: The search situation on Netflix is still terrible — most of all on the TV interface itself, less so on their mobile apps. But it’s Flixster‘s Rotten Tomatoes that can help you out with ease if you want to search Netflix by actor or director. They’ve even introduced a Netflix Streaming category (under DVDs, oddly, on the desktop version; under Menu on the app) that you can search by either movie title, or actor or director. Presently, they list 3,643 films available for streaming.
One of the strangest things about Netflix has long been how difficult it is to both browse or use to find that movie you want to see with that one actor in it.
Browsing is still surfacing off-kilter categories that feel translated from another language — “Exciting Foreign Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead,” anyone? Sure, but don’t think you know me, HAL! On the desktop, though, you can search by actor or director, and now that’s true of Netflix on Xbox 360 (and PS3), too. You can’t save a search, or pin it to your home screen, that I can tell.
People search is not yet in Netflix’s app for the iPhone (just checked) or iPad, or Roku, so the ecosystem of third-party Netflix apps that have sprouted up would seem still to have a lease on life — depending on how you read Netflix’s new terms for its API program.
In any event, Netflix people search is still a blunt instrument that recognizes names only if they are spelled correctly. Say you type in “Kristin Bell” for instance. (Obviously you are a terrible person and not a real fan, because you don’t know it’s “Kristen” with an “e.”) Up to “Krist-” you get 10 suggestions that don’t contain Bell. Once you type “Kristi-” she’ll never appear. In that case, you get these results: