The Top 100 American Films of All Time, According to 62 International Film Critics

Enter­tain­ment first, and art sec­ond? Has­n’t that always been the Amer­i­can way when it comes to film? And is that how the rest of the world sees it, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing France’s love of Jer­ry Lewis, Germany’s obses­sion with David Has­sel­hoff, and Chi­na tak­ing Nicholas Cage’s career choic­es more seri­ous­ly than he does him­self?

In this list of The 100 Great­est Amer­i­can Films, the BBC polled 62 inter­na­tion­al film crit­ics to see what they thought were the Unit­ed States’ endur­ing con­tri­bu­tions to cin­e­ma cul­ture. The films only need­ed to be fund­ed by Amer­i­can companies—the direc­tors could be from oth­er coun­tries. (If not, about a third of these choic­es would be dis­qual­i­fied. Five are by Hitch­cock alone.)

As for oth­er favorite direc­tors, Spiel­berg gets five (although the high­est entry, Jaws, comes in at 38) and Bil­ly Wilder gets five, with The Apart­ment the high­est ranked at 24. The most pop­u­lar decade for film is the 1970s, the top two being Coppola’s first two God­fa­ther films. (It would be inter­est­ing to know the medi­an age of these 62 crit­ics, just to see if their for­ma­tive years align with the decade.)

Of the 100, here’s the Top 10:

10. The God­fa­ther Part II (Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la, 1974)
9. Casablan­ca (Michael Cur­tiz, 1942)
8. Psy­cho (Alfred Hitch­cock, 1960)
7. Sin­gin’ in the Rain (Stan­ley Donen and Gene Kel­ly, 1952)
6. Sun­rise (F.W. Mur­nau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stan­ley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Ver­ti­go (Alfred Hitch­cock, 1958)
2. The God­fa­ther (Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la, 1972)
1. Cit­i­zen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

Com­par­ing this list to BFI’s 2012 list of the Top 100 films of all time, there isn’t much dif­fer­ence in the top spots. And, in the years to come, I sus­pect those top four films will switch places occa­sion­al­ly but nev­er real­ly leave.

Instead, the sur­pris­es come fur­ther down the list. Gone with the Wind used to be con­sid­ered a clas­sic, no doubt bol­stered by its box office suc­cess at the time. But its pol­i­tics have weak­ened its posi­tion, and, along with Birth of a Nation, it might not last anoth­er decade on such lists. On the flip side, black film­mak­ers have four films on the list and women direc­tors only one (Mesh­es of the After­noon one of the best exper­i­men­tal films of all time).

Oth­er inter­est­ing choic­es include The Lion King (the only ani­mat­ed film on the list), Sternberg’s The Shang­hai Ges­ture, and Minnelli’s The Band Wag­on (one of two musi­cals by the direc­tor on the list). What films would you like to see added or tak­en away? Is this a fair assess­ment of America’s worth? Let us know in the com­ments.

Above, you can watch a some­what idio­syn­crat­ic pre­sen­ta­tions of the films on the BBC list.

Relat­ed Con­tent:
The 100 Fun­ni­est Films of All Time, Accord­ing to 253 Film Crit­ics from 52 Coun­tries

The 10 Great­est Films of All Time Accord­ing to 358 Film­mak­ers

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

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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