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)
3. 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)
8. 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.
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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.
So no-one has made a truly outstanding film in the last 40 years? Yeah, right!
Tokyo Story. Always Tokyo Story. What’s the deal with Tokyo Story?
No Lawrence of Arabia? No Paths of Glory? The list is noteworthy because of what’s not on it.
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
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?
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!
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
It is The Bicycle Thief (not thieves), FYI
It is though, definitely “Bicycle Thieves” ;)
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…..
Any list without Seven Samurai is not legit.
What is with the Vertigo mania? I am totally missing something.
Yes. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I had forgotten how wonderful it was
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.
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.
The first half hour of “Private Ryan”
Thank you. That was driving me nuts.
The Tree of Life? Ouch.
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.
Have they not heard of any female directors?
10 out of 10 by male directors, and only one non western movie? I wonder who the jury of these 300 plus people consisted of. Although the selected movies may be excellent – this somehow looks like a list from a past where diversity was not seen
What’s bout Citizen Kane? One of the most boring film I ever watched.
No French films, Truffaut, Goddard, Resnais don’t exist. Same goes for German films, none of these people seem to know Fassbinder and Wenders, Weak list.
It’s only a perfect movie. Ozu’s masterpiece. Unhurried. Beautiful cinematography. Incredible acting. Watching how families change and how priorities often change for children. How their parents, who were once their entire lives, become almost afterthoughts. A wonderful film.
It’s definitely “Bicycle Thieves.” It’s plural because it refers to the thief that steals the father’s bike as well as the father when he attempts to steal a bike at the end of the movie.
Raising Arizona has always been tops on my list. And should be # 1 on all lists forever!
what about ben hurt.. it won 11 academy awards
Badlands and The Last Picture Show.
No need to look very far….’Casablanca’ is worthy
If we’re judging by how many times one has actually watched a movie because it was that good/enjoyable, put me down for Captain Ron.
All these movies are great. I was just wondering if the movie have to be slow paced to make any great list of movies.
Nope, it’s “ladri di biciclette” which translates as Bicycle Thieves.
Are you chinese?
Leave the ending . ..the whole movie …the conversation …it had to be there
How can Caddy Shack not make this list?
Indeed, Martin, indeed. The list is a travesty, a taint on the taints of the gods of cinema. I must take solace in my overwhelming belief that Caddyshack is at least in the top 15 finest movies in history. And of course joining that august group is the cinematic pièces de ré·sis·tance, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken .
No Dr Strangelove, Paris Texas, Touch of Evil, The Wizard of Oz?
It is a personal thing.
Gladiator, Octopus, Day of the Jackal, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Rambo First Blood.
Interesting you don’t seem to list “the filmmakers” responsible or did I just miss it? IMO Apocalypse Now is a personal project gone wild. And Brando is over the top as Kurtz as are most of the other performances. I should feel warm and fuzzy though. Kubrick, he always gets the knod in there somewhere. He was something of a ideal when I was a wannabe filmmaker. Finally Kurosawa be a better choice for the role of overlooked Japanese filmmakers. I used to think Sergio Leone pretty hot till I saw Yojimbo. Your filmmakers aside.
Being There with Peter Sellers. His last film.
Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock
Memento w Guy Pearce
Platoon. Oliver Stone.
The Best(Happiest) years of our lives.
Escape fon Alcatraz
Antoininis. “Blow Up”
Article not saying that a truly outstanding film has not been made in the past 40 years, only that it did not rank higher than the top ten that are on this list, according to the 358 filmmakers that were polled for this article.
The original title is Ladri di Bicicletti, which translates as Bicycle Thieves. It’s called that in the UK. Does anyone know why it was changed in the US?
(I see i’m a year or so late here.)
Or maybe there just happen to be no films that make the list that happen to be female directed. So what
recently watched Taxi Driver and it just doesn’t engage me. Guess that is why art is hard to judge as to what is “best”, in the end it is a personal impression.
This list is Absolutely faux intellectual hogwash !!!
I’ll tolerate one or two old B&W classics but saying these are GOAT is ridiculous.
How do you put Apocalypse Now (which I love) on this list considering the beating it took and not include TRULY the greatest Action/Adventure/War epic “Lawrence of Arabia”; particularly as its based on a real hero????
Furthermore, there are far better, more entertaining and less obscure films that actually changed the way films are being made. Star Wars 4 A New Hope for example may be a somewhat flawed movie at times, but when you consider the cultural impact, what it did for Sci Fi, and the artistry of people like McQuarrie, Johnston, Dykstra and the rest who went on to make new film industries its a “no brainer”.
Bladerunner and Alien have been repeatedly lauded as 2 of the most important films made since their time for reasons I could write a book about. Stop trying to look like some cultured, woke, virtue signaling intellectual and pick something truly defensible. “Vertigo” isn’t even close to being the best Hitchcock film.
1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. Star Wars New Hope
3. Schindler’s List
4. Deer Hunter
5. Rocky 1
9. Saving Private Ryan
110 years of moving pictures and Coppola made two of the ten best, ever? What are the odds?
it was shortened to thief in america.because americans have a short atention span.and to many letters in thieves.
Maybe some of you should read a book instead of watching movies so you can learn to spell.
The number one is……. La strada !!
It doesn’t say that. It says nobody made a top ten of all time. There’s always going to be controversy on a list like this. Frankly at lot of it has to do with the shackles studios put on directors these days anyway. Using focus groups to determine plot, and forcing them to have happy endings only. Not exactly conducive to creativity or risk taking.
How old are you? :D