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)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 846 Film Crit­ics

Woody Allen Lists the Great­est Films of All Time: Includes Clas­sics by Bergman, Truf­faut & Felli­ni

Mar­tin Scors­ese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies (and Writes a New Essay on Film Preser­va­tion)

Orson Welles Explains Why Igno­rance Was the Genius Behind Cit­i­zen Kane

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 (36)
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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

  • Aljoscha Steiner says:

    At least 2 of my favorites are there: Mir­ror, and Ver­ti­go.

  • Zvi Vakrat says:

    The best movie direc­tor is not even in the list. Ing­mar Bergman.with movies like-“The Sev­enth Seal”,“Wild Strawberries”,“Fanny And Alexander”,How did you miss it?

  • Dr. Arthur H Tafero says:

    There are some very good films on this list; I have seen them all, but I dis­agree with 9 of the 10 list­ed.

    First of all, God­fa­ther 1 is just not as good as God­fa­ther 2; that would be added to Cit­i­zen Kane and make two of the top ten (in no par­tic­u­lar order)

    The great­est silent film of all time “The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc” cer­tain­ly mer­its con­sid­er­a­tion. But maybe not top ten; as is “Tokyo Sto­ry” which I enjoyed immense­ly, but do not think it is top-ten wor­thy. As for Hitch­cock, I think Ver­ti­go is over­rat­ed; and that North by North­west is much bet­ter. Again, not top-ten wor­thy.. Lawrence of Ara­bia, On the Water­front, and I am a Fugi­tive from a Chain Gang belong in the top ten. That makes five. I would add Cin­e­ma Par­adiso, the best Ital­ian film ever made to the top ten as well.

    I loved Apoc­a­lypse Now, but not as a top ten film: Pla­toon was a much tighter film, but not top ten wor­thy either. Casablan­ca is sen­ti­men­tal­ly over­rat­ed as a top ten film, although it is very enter­tain­ing. But for the oth­er four spots, I would choose Lost Hori­zon (as pos­si­bly num­ber one), Full Met­al Jack­et, as Kubrick­’s best and the best war movie ever made (at least for basic train­ing), The Mag­nif­i­cent Sev­en, the best West­ern ever made, and Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind as the best sci-fi film ever made. Those would be my top ten.

  • MVM says:

    Lists always change, just like peo­ple’s mood’s through­out the years of liv­ing on this plan­et.

    I can tell alot by peo­ple’s lists, what kind of movies they watch on a dai­ly basis. The amount of films they watch from a cer­tain time peri­od, the region in which the films were made, etc, etc.. I’ve been watch­ing films from the silent era up to the present and real­ize its very dif­fi­cult to explain good taste, to those who only watch amer­i­can films or euro­pean films and on and on. I’m more inter­est­ed in film from the past before i was born in 1977. Why? I could care less about the answer to that ques­tion. What inter­ests me is based upon so many vari­ables that its worth­less to ana­lyze oth­er peo­ple’s opin­ions except my own most of the time. If one movie is great and anoth­er is great, i could care less to make a favorite movie or best of all time list.

    I do how­ev­er get very excit­ed when i’ve watched films that oth­er direc­tors think are excel­lent films after the fact that i’ve already watched the films they talk so high­ly of. It makes me feel sad when oth­ers rely on what oth­er peo­ple say about film before even view­ing any such film talked about.

    I do how­ev­er believe Ozu was one the great­est direc­tors of all time, does this mean i’m cor­rect and oth­ers are wrong, nope not at all.. It’s my opin­ion based on the fact i’ve watched every film avail­able from ozu from silent era to talkies. I know plen­ty of friends who went to film school and nev­er even heard of ozu, that i think is very sad for them to miss out on great films from the past.

    Most peo­ple are influ­enced by adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing to such an extent that they only watch what oth­ers con­sid­er are great films, i watch 5–6 movies a week i’ve nev­er seen before in my life.I’m more inter­est­ed in the past than any­thing from the present, but i do have guilty plea­sures of child­hood mem­o­ries of films i’ve watched that i know arent very good films but i con­nect with on dif­fer­ent lev­els.

    I think every film men­tioned on sight and sounds lists over the years are cor­rect, all great films in there own right. I have no favorite movie, i do have a list of movies i’ve enjoyed and con­tin­ue to enjoy each time i watch it over and over again. Trou­ble most peo­ple i know don’t have good taste in my opin­ion but it’s not a prob­lem in my eyes i’m aware of what i enjoy and what they enjoy, so be it.

    Lists are not essen­tial to what i watch, i watch movies for all dif­fer­ent types of rea­sons, alot of us for­get that to make a film takes alot of cre­ative peo­ple who come togeth­er and make some­thing spe­cial and usu­al­ly deeply per­son­al.. Its not just the direc­tor but so many vari­ables involved that make FILM SO SPECIAL>

    Lists should be seper­at­ed by Decade, not all time, com­plete­ly irrel­e­vant in my mind. The world changes, peo­ple change, ideas change, noth­ing is orig­i­nal. Any­one who get’s paid to talk about film is a com­plete waste of time in my mind, your lis­ten­ing 99% of the time to some­one who has nev­er worked on a film so obvi­ous­ly they have no idea most of the time what there talk­ing about and get­ting paid on top of that to ben­e­fit who ever pays them to bash or praise the films they review..

    Just be hon­est when u like some­thing or don’t like some­thing, a sim­ple yes or no is usu­al­ly the response i give when asked about a film. KEEP IT SIMPLE. film stu­dents just quote what they’ve been told by pro­fes­sors and sound real­ly sil­ly when they try and make out like it’s there opin­ion when asked about cer­tain films.

    Great­est Amer­i­can Direc­tors in my mind were Howard Hawks, Orson Welles & Stan­ley Kubrick PERIOD, taran­ti­no and speil­berg are good but no way in any shape or form come even close to Welles or Kubrick, but again that is my opin­ion. Based upon i’ve watched over 20,000 films in my life­time and i’ve seen quite alot from the past & present.

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