The 10 Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers

Every ten years, film journal Sight and Sound conducts a worldwide survey of film critics to decide which films are considered the best ever made. Started in 1952, the poll is now widely regarded as the most important and respected out there.

And the critical consensus for a long time was that the masterpiece Citizen Kane by Orson Welles (born 100 years ago today, by the way) is the best of the best. The film topped the list for five decades from 1962 until 2002. Then in 2012, perhaps out of Kane fatigue, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo muscled its way to the top.

That’s what the critics think. But what about the filmmakers?

Beginning in 1992, Sight and Sound started to poll famed directors about their opinions. People like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Mike Leigh and Michael Mann. So what is the best movie ever made according to 358 directors polled in 2012? Kane? Vertigo? Perhaps Jean Renoir’s brilliant Rules of the Game, the only movie to appear in the top ten for all seven critics polls? No.


Instead, the top prize goes to Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story.

It’s a surprising, an enlightened, choice. Ozu’s work is miles away from the flash of Kane and the psychosexual weirdness of Vertigo. Tokyo Story is a gentle, nuanced portrait of a family whose bonds are slowly, inexorably being frayed by the demands of modernization. The movie’s emotional power is restrained and cumulative; by the final credits you’ll be overwhelmed both with a Buddhist sense of the impermanence of all things and a strong urge to call your mother.

But perhaps the reason filmmakers picked Tokyo Story of all the other cinematic masterpieces out there is because of Ozu’s unique approach to film. Since the days of D. W. Griffith, almost every filmmaker under the sun, even cinematic rebels like Jean-Luc Godard, followed some basic conventions of the form like continuity editing, the 180-degree rule and matching eyelines. Ozu discarded all of that. Instead, he constructed a highly idiosyncratic cinematic language revolving around match cuts and rigorously composed shots. His film form was radical but his stories were universal. That is the paradox of Ozu. You can see the trailer of the movie above.

Citizen Kane does make number two on the list but the film is tied with another formally rigorous masterpiece – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Next on the list is perhaps the best movie ever about making a movie – Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. And Ozu’s film might be number one, but Francis Ford Coppola is the only filmmaker to have two movies on the list – The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. And that’s no mean feat.

You can see the full list below:

1. Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
= 2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick (1968)
= 2. Citizen Kane – Orson Welles (1941)
4. 8 ½ – Federico Fellini (1963)
5. Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese (1976)
6. Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
= 7. The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
= 7. Vertigo – Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
9. Mirror – Andrei Tarkovsky (1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica (1949)

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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  • Daniel Magnusson says:

    According to this we haven´t made a decent film in thirty five years … and we did the ten best in the span of thirty eight years …. how come?

  • Aishwarya says:

    Interesting observation Daniel. But I am not sure it would be right to say that no decent film has been made in the last 35 years. It would be interesting to get a list of top 10 films decade wise and make comparisons of the films. We may get some answers there. What do you think?

  • Bill says:

    I think this is covering films far beyond “decent.” Some of these choices will change in 20 years. But 2001 will likely remain!

  • Gary Schmidt says:

    I imagine marketing and distribution models play a huge part in the answer to this.

  • Mike Flores says:

    They may be critics, but what these lists reveal is the age range of the people participating. The giveaway?

    There isn’t one silent film on the list. You must be joking.

    How could this list have meaning?

    Top 10 in each category- comedy, drama, horror, western, etc. Best silent, Best sound films, etc. This list is a reflection of the days when TV and media were a hodge podge. Today channels are specialized, and newspapers trying to be all things for all people are sinking fast. A list that leaps from 2001 to THE GODFATHER and ignores decades of worldwide movies can’t be taken seriously.

  • Christopher Denny says:

    With 4 out of 10 titles, apparently, the 1970s was the Golden Age of Cinema.

  • Christopher Denny says:

    And Bernard Herrmann, with three titles, must be the greatest film composer of all time.

  • Jonathan says:

    You are aware that there are more than 10 decent films right?

  • Jonathan says:

    Pretty sure that Tokyo Story, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, 8 1/2 and maybe The Godfather will also remain, seeing as how those have been mainstays of this list for a very, very long time.

  • Jonathan says:

    This list is an aggregate. No one consciously mad the list, rather these are the 10 films that showed up the most on each of the director’s lists. Basically, the take all the lists of the 358 film makers. Then they tally up each movie, and whatever the 10 movies are the got the most mentions, that is your top 10 list. That is why Citizen Kane and 2001 are both #2. It means they got an equal number of mentions.

  • tim says:

    Oh look a list on the internet, bring on the inane comments about how things are missing, I’ll get the popcorn.

  • rubberman says:

    I would vote for The Seven Samurai by Kurosawa. Magnificent!

  • Mark Meldola says:

    No Kurosawa…or Bunuel??? Apocalypse Now? I don’t see it. I mean I saw it, haha, but in the top 10? – NO WAY. And 2001 isn’t even the best Kubrick film by a long shot.

  • Sayan B says:

    A list like this without any Charles Chaplin? His work belongs here.

  • Markus Breuss says:

    Satyajit Ray !!!

  • Dex Weis says:

    1. Tokyo Story – Yasujiro Ozu (1953)
    2. Citizen Kane – Orson Welles (1941)
    3. Apocalypse Now – Francis Ford Coppola (1979)
    4. The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppola (1972)
    5. The Seven Samurai – Akira Kurosawa (1954)
    6. Bicycle Thieves – Vittorio De Sica (1949)
    7. Los Olvidados – Luis Buñuel (1950)
    8. The General – Buster Keaton (1926)
    9. Raging Bull – Martin Scorsese (1980)
    = 10. Raiders of the Lost Ark – S. Spielberg (1981)
    = 10. Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino (1994)
    = 10. Mulholland Drive – David Lynch (2001)

    Ah, fixed it!

  • Dex Weis says:

    almost forgot

    = 10. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick (2011)

  • David Allen Newman says:

    While there are tweaks I would make to this list, most of these titles have been appearing on such lists for my entire life, and for good reason – the enduring greatness of those particular films. And the lack of films after the 1970’s (which isn’t called the platinum age for no reason) can definitely be attributed to both a decline in the quality of films (much of it traceable to changes in the way films are now made for economic reasons). If there were any major new discoveries to be made in terms of an artistic use of the medium, those discoveries would not have been made in the last thirty or so years. So, no, there haven’t been any films lately of a high enough caliber to go on any list of the greatest ever made. IF such a film comes along (or has come along – which I doubt) it would probably have to stand a test of probably decades before it could be determined whether it really merited inclusion or not.

    The only tweak Dex Weis made to the list that I agree with would be Los Olvidados – but that’s not even as serious an omission as Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Raiders is a very entertaining film, but not one that inspires deep fascination like Vertigo (which can’t have seriously been dropped), Pulp Fiction is good enough that people seem to overlook its pretty serious flaws (certainly not good enough to qualify as one of the ten best films ever made, though), Mulholland Drive is a sometimes brilliant and sometimes banal hodgepodge, Malick’s navel gazing is becoming increasingly insufferable (but Art Films are so rare in this day and age I can see some people gobbling them up as if they were prime Bergman), and Raging Bull is nowhere near as interesting as Taxi Driver. As silents go, The General is a great film the way Raiders is a great film and will always be an impressive entertainment, but it is neither as technically groundbreaking as Battleship Potemkin (or, for that matter, Sunrise), nor as visually radical and emotionally indelible as Dreyer’s Passion.

    Granted, a list like this will never be perfect (Apocalypse Now is a magnificent, beautiful mess, but I’m not at all sure it makes the grade), not least of all because limiting it to ten films is a serious handicap. It is also, of course, subjective, and subject to the limitations of the participants’ viewing histories.

  • Petrice says:

    As with most canon’s, women always seem to be omitted. Same happens in music related ones.

  • heddie says:

    The BEST top five movies of ALL time are Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta, ROCKY 1, with Sylvester Stallone, Gilbert Grape with Leonardo Dicaprio and Johnny Depp and Out of Towners with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Hands down. There are simply no other movies that could ever, ever compare to these incredible movies that gave us insight into worlds we didn’t know existed and gave us inspiration and hope. Just incredible movies with incredible actors. Amazing amazing movies. Too bad we didn’t have more like this now. Now we have nothing but filth and idiocy.

  • Greg McCreanor says:

    I think Sight and Sound has an obsession with Alfred Hitchcock’s obsessions.

  • Tim Page says:

    No Bergman? Seriously? “Winter Light”? “Wild Strawberries”? I don’t even think “Vertigo” is the best Hitchcock, let alone anything more substantial than that. At least they skipped “Star Wars.”

  • Neil Conway says:

    Come on people, the selection method is clearly stated. There’s nobody to be angry at here. Well, maybe they could have told us the top 20 films as voted for by 358 unnamed film makers. Who’s looking to this list for anything definitive? Ranking art is just a bit of tabloid style fun. Maybe I’ll finally watch Tokyo Story.

  • Terence Hill says:

    Why? Why do we have to rank art like sports? What kind of metrics should we base this on, besides subjective liking and groupthink? From Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang to Carl Dreyer and the list goes on and on (2 x Coppola and no Godard, Lumet, Antonioni, Wajda, Polanski, etcetc.?) — these lists are ridiculous. While at it, why is Fosse always forgotten — just because of envy that he was also genius in other art forms? — Cabaret, Lenny and All that Jazz are milestone films that still hold up today but are never mentioned in the “greatest films of all times.”

  • Nick Rossiter says:

    There seems to be a few glaring omissions on this list.
    How bout Carol Reed’s “The Third Man”?
    Or any of David Lean’s Legendary films, such as ” Lawrence of Arabia”, “Bridge on the River Kwai”, or “Dr. Zhivago”
    Not to mention any of Kurasawa’s films such as “The Seven Samurai” or “The Hidden Fortress”.

  • Michael Harlan says:

    I have always enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption & am surprised it’s not on the list.

  • Ron says:

    Tons of great movies, just like music, quite impossible to make a list of the 10 best. For example, in my best there is Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein” and many, many fantastic “foreign” (non-US) films that could be considered great, if, everyone had the chance to see them, like Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendie”, and some pretty nice chinese movie too…

  • Joydeep Ghosg says:

    How could the film maker juries could forget makers like Andrei Tarkovosky, Ingmar Bergman, and Akira Kurosawa???? what I felt is it is an hollywood take over and to justify they put Ozu on top Though Tokyo Story is a briliant film.

  • Joydeep Ghosh says:

    Juries are biasedtowards hollywood, where as Soviet Russia, Japan,and the whole of eastern / western europe made the film viewing worth while

  • arka mandal says:

    No Bunuel, no Bergman, no Ray, Bresson. its just laughable. Just toss a few foreign language films to make it look international, eh?

    And if this is the meter – then why no Shawshank, American Beauty, Forrest Gump, Reservoir Dogs, Brockeback. Folks – don’t take this list seriously.

  • Atul says:

    It’s a nice observation. I feel we’ve made great films in the world in the last 35 years as well. However, this poll has been conducted by living filmmakers. And being a filmmaker myself I know how competitive artists can be amongst themselves. So it isn’t a surprise that they are not voting for a contemporary film, because that is saying that the filmmaker in question is a master and genius. That’s hard for filmmakers to admit!

  • Anthony Mastrandrea says:

    Where is Chinatown. Definitely one of the best if not the best. Anthony in LA

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