The Ten Greatest Films of All Time According to 358 Filmmakers

The Ten 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 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)

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Related Content:

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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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Comments (21)
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  • Pete says:

    So no-one has made a truly outstanding film in the last 40 years? Yeah, right!

  • droy says:

    Tokyo Story. Always Tokyo Story. What’s the deal with Tokyo Story?

  • Richard Berger says:

    No Lawrence of Arabia? No Paths of Glory? The list is noteworthy because of what’s not on it.

  • JV says:

    Taxi Driver isn’t even the best Scorsese film. It’s highly overrated and hasn’t aged well, IMO, although I do appreciate how electrifying it must have been in 1976. I don’t have much to quibble with the rest of the list. Of course, every choice here could be replaced by an equally worthy alternative and get no argument from me. Lists like this are fun and informative but always far from definitive. I agree with another commenter here, Lawrence of Arabia would be on my list. Some more recent movies that I think hold their own against the classics here would be:

    City of God
    The Tree of Life
    The Great Beauty
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

  • NRG says:

    Very interesting – guess I gotta go see it (them). I’m curious – were the film makers asked for their favorite, their 3 favs, their 10?

  • NRG says:

    Pete – apparently, film makers don’t think so. And they should know something about it – especially trying to have their own recent ones up there on the list!

  • Mark Taliana says:

    So the last film on the list was made in 1979…..and the Critics top 10 last film was 1968 that says something about film making in the past 40 years, and its not good

  • Mark Taliana says:

    name one

  • Lori E Gold says:

    It is The Bicycle Thief (not thieves), FYI

  • vlasis3 says:

    It is though, definitely “Bicycle Thieves” ;)

  • Tyrone says:

    I was wondering about that. The 400 Blows/ Hiroshima mon Amour/Black Orpheus/ The Day the Earth Stood Still/ Pyscho/Stormy Weather/ Kurosawa./Ingemar Bergman./The Thing/ Do the Right Thing.Moonlight…..

  • David says:

    Any list without Seven Samurai is not legit.

  • dm10003 says:

    What is with the Vertigo mania? I am totally missing something.

  • Karen D says:

    Yes. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I had forgotten how wonderful it was

  • Sharon says:

    While my tastes disagree with the film makeres, I DO have to respect that they are the professionals! I will watch the movie picks Ive yet to see and will most likely be impressed with their choices.Im looking forward to seeing these. I appreciated the reason behind the pick of Tokyo, but wish the article explained their reasonings behind the others.

  • Frank D says:

    Don’t much care who puts together a list of top films but if Schindler’s List is not on the list it can’t be taken seriously.

  • Dan Sutton says:

    The first half hour of “Private Ryan”

  • Patti Champion-Garner says:

    Thank you. That was driving me nuts.

  • Christopher Potter says:

    The Tree of Life? Ouch.

  • DJKuulA says:

    Posters for the original US release had “The Bicycle Thief,” and it was referred to that way by many theaters and critics. I seem to recall it translated in the singular when I saw the re-release back in the ’90s, but my memory is hazy at this point. :)

    “Bicycle Thieves” is certainly the correct title, though.

  • Amy says:

    Have they not heard of any female directors?

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