Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is Now the Greatest Film of All Time

When I dabbled in a couple of film classes in university a little over a decade ago, it was simply a given that Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane was the greatest film of all time. It was generally regarded as a scientific fact on the same level as gravity and no one ever questioned it, even though common sense dictates that choosing the ultimate film is an impossible task. But the times they are a changin’, because if the BFI’s latest poll is any indication, future generations may soon be talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in these terms instead of Citizen Kane.

Every decade, the British Film Institute asks an international group of film critics to vote on the greatest film ever made and publishes the results in their Sight & Sound magazine. It is the defacto standard for all lists of this sort, and for the past 50 years, Citizen Kane has predictably held the top spot. This year, however, the 846 participants chose Vertigo as the best film of all time, knocking Kane down to second place. For the first time, a documentary also cracked the list: Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. All in all, a significant shift in opinions. They also have a similar list voted on by directors, the winner of which was Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Are you surprised by these choices? Check out both of the top 10 lists after the jump or visit the BFI’s site for a rundown of the entire top 50.

Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time (Critics)

1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)

Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time (Directors)

1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1980)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
7. The Godfather (Coppola, 1972) and Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) (tie)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)

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  • Colin

    Interesting to see so much love for Ozu, but I have to go with Good Morning as my favorite by him.

  • bard

    I understand how important the older movies are, but it bothers me that nobody seems to think that there are any movies from the last 20 years or so that are even close.

  • antho42

    Bard, they are asking both critics/scholars and filmmakers (i.e., Scorsese and Tarantino).

  • IchigoNL

    Yeah, it’s stupid that recent films are never included. Although nostalgia probably plays a huge role in the creation of these lists. And maybe people are ‘scared’ to change things up a bit.

  • jay sneel

    Cool. I like Vertigo more anyway.

  • Vertigo is not all that

  • Johnny

    I didn’t like Vertigo that much to be honest.

  • Kasper

    I haven’t seen most of these ancient films and have no interest in doing so either. Lists like this are meaningless.

  • antho42

    “I haven’t seen most of these ancient films and have no interest in doing so either”
    What is ironic is that lots of people in my age bracket have this sentiment towards 1980’s films, including Big Trouble in Little China.

  • kyri

    BFI had a Hitchcock thing this year, like a tribute or something, all of his films were played in the big screen.. I went to a few of them,

    having said that.. yeah, next year it will be Kane again… I BET MONEY ON THAT.

    these old farts..

  • I’d like to take this opportunity to point out a trend I’ve been noticing among film fans. I’ve heard a lot of older film people (say, 40s and up) speak condescendingly of younger film fans. I recall something to the effect of “Kids These Days need explosions or a David Fincher title sequence in order to get their interest. You should watch old movies, too.” I do watch old movies, and thus find that kind of talk patronizing and insulting.
    At the same time, though, I’ve noticed a lot of people closer to my age who jump on so-called “ancient” films and the praise they garner among critics and filmmakers alike. Citizen Kane is an easy target, but in the context of when it came out and the amount of innovation in both technical and story-telling aspects, it’s quite amazing to behold. I think the reason films end up on this list is not only their quality outside of context, but also because their influence on films in the following decade. Whether or not you like Vertigo, you can’t deny its far-reaching impact.
    Jay has mentioned several older films that are shot in a non-archaic fashion (A Night To Remember and Letter Never Sent, for example), and I think this is an important thing to get across to people who might otherwise be wary about checking out a film that is 50+ years old.
    I haven’t seen all the films on this list, but I’m sure they’re on there for a reason. Could someone put forward a film from the last 20 years that they think belongs in the top 10?

  • antho42

    “having said that.. yeah, next year it will be Kane again… I BET MONEY ON THAT.”
    It is only every 10 years.

  • Kasper

    antho42: MADNESS. Big Trouble in Little China is the most fun you can have with a movie.

  • Mark Stevens

    VERTIGO over CITIZEN KANE?–What a load of solid intestinal waste!

  • scott

    How ridiculous criticism has become.

  • Owozifa

    The list is no more than an aggregate opinion. I don’t agree with it, but then how is anyone ever going to agree with an aggregate opinion unless they get lucky?

    Unless you’re only supposed to see one movie in life, the fact that one is above the other is basically meaningless. Swap places and it means the same thing.

  • James

    People in their mid 40’s (e.g, me) grew up with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Alien/s, Terminator etc. I think it’s the 60’s+ crew who get teary at The Sound of Music.

  • Oh sure, JUST after I picked up “Kane” on Blu-Ray and was getting ready to watch it for the first time, I find out that it’s back to just being common street trash. Fuuuuuucccckk.

    If they’re going to do this every ten years, don’t you think they’d just do it ON the 10? Y’know, like the census?

  • david

    I watched Sunrise a few years ago and it blew me away on so many levels. Performances, camera work, etc.

    I hate to be the “kids these days” kind of guy, but I think people are much more about the very latest. I surveyed my students (college) this semester and only one or two per class had seen Return of the Jedi and one student asked me to use a more recent example when I used Transformers 3 to outline a critical essay on the board. Most of them could never handle a black and white film, let alone a silent.

  • bullet3

    I think there’s an important reason you don’t see more recent films on these lists. Judging a movie as being great and influential is simply very difficult to do objectively around the time they come out. Many films which end up being hailed as classics, are ignored or mis-understood on release. I think anyone saying a movie made in the last 10 years is “The best ever made” is really misguided (the whole idea of “best” movies is misguided to begin with, but that’s another story), as it’s simply far, far too early to tell.

    Also, most people already know, and are familiar with what recent movies are considered good/great. The value of these BFI lists are that they expose people to great films from the past that they wouldn’t otherwise seek out, or have even heard of.

    I think in the next 20-30 years you will slowly start to see more recent films creeping in, as they’ve had time to properly age. I would bet money that something like Pulp Fiction sneaks in there to represent the 90s at some point down the line.

  • johnbobshaun

    There’s actually quite a few recent films in the top 50, just not the top 10.

  • ButtonMan88

    10 years ago, Citizen Kane was #1 with what was mostly the same group of critics who ousted it in favor of Vertigo this time round.

    Was it that Hitchcock recently went back and added the “Noooooooooo!!!” to accompany Kim Novak’s fall from the bell tower?

  • La Menthe

    The Searchers on no. 7? Really? It’s a good film indeed, but it’s also a film full of flaws and cliches – factors that are impossible to overlook.

  • Colin

    @La Menthe: Those were not cliches at the time it was created… the cliches came after.

  • Yes, lists are inherently silly, and films on a “50 greatest movies” list for example are interchangeable with one another.

    And there is no such thing as “best film ever made”.

    But I always think of Citizen Kane as a supremely important film if you have an interest in cinema as an art form and would like an historical context. Yeah, it’s homework, deal with it. It’s not a “fun film”, But it’s certainly not boring or heavy. Vertigo is more entertaining, but then again, while Welles was an undisputed artist, as far as I know Hitchcock never claimed to be more than an entertainer (of course he was much more than that).
    Without Welles or Hitchcock we wouldn’t have the cinema we have today.
    In the past 20 years there has been many important films that changed cinema, but most of them on a technical level, I think (mainly special effects), rather than formally deep. The form was established long ago by all those so-called ancient films.

    Actually, and perhaps surprisingly, the only modern film that I can see had real effects on current filmmakers and a whole genre is Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy. A huge number of Fantasy and epic films that followed it, from Troy to Narnia to the Game Of Thrones TV show have been influenced by it tremendously. I believe LOTR will be remembered years from now as film that, decades after David Lean did it, re-defined epic filmmaking.

  • La Menthe

    #Colin

    They were clichés back then too. Not cliché in the sense of that it has been done before, but the way it is done. Some scenes are terribly bad in their melodramatic presentations. And there are a lot more issues with the film, including a good deal of bad acting moments, and bad scrip moments. Overlooking these elements “just because the film is old” is unfair. I have probably seen more older films than newer ones, and I do have a different critical eye towards them than towards newer films (like the fact that over-acting was a part of the style of vintage-films, unlike today), but I also try being as fair as possible. I’m not going to be shy about the bad parts of a film, something I feel too many people are on classics such Lawrence of Arabia and The Searchers – classics, no doubt, but also films with many overlooked flaws.
    I guess I’m just angry, being a western-fan, that the only western on that list isn’t Once Upon a Time in the West or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – films that also, I’ll admit, have their flaws…

  • bullet3

    Ya, Once Upon a Time in the West should definitely be on there instead of The Searchers.

  • #26, #27

    Thanks for reminding me about “Once Upon a Time…”. Awesome bit of film and list worthy I feel…

  • scott

    I agree on SUNRISE. I love that movie!

  • Owozifa

    Flaws sometimes make a more interesting film.

  • La Menthe

    Like the akwardly bad *angry expression* of Lucy, when she says “I’m gonna tell ma on you”, after she is seen kissing Brad at the beginning of the film?

    And flaws never make a film better (I guess that’s why you chose the more secure word “interesting”). It might come to be a part of the film’s charm – because you are so used to it, you don’t want the film changed. But then we are talking about flaws that can easily be dismissed (not like the one above).

    I’m just rewatching the film, and would be happy to give more examples of flaws that cannot be overlooked.

    I would also like to add, once again, that I am very fond of this film. It in fact makes it on my top 10 list of best western films. But I just don’t think it deserves the kind of spot that the list above, like many others, has given it.

  • Cody Lang

    @Steve.

    I think Taste of Cherry should on on the top ten or top fifty best films, or some other films by Kiarostami. Although I think the list is they published this year is a good selection. Personally I think Rear Window is Hitchcock’s best film. I think Vertigo is great as well, up there with Psycho.

  • T. Heilman

    What fucking films don’t have flaws? Kane has questionable old-age make-up. Vertigo is guilty of melodrama. Great films reflect their respective eras in their approach and technique. This does not diminish their greatness. I don’t necessarily agree with all the titles on these lists, though The Searchers and Taxi Driver would make my top ten, but all the choices are pretty respectable.

  • Jonathan

    @ButtonMan88 Exactly. How did this film suddenly get better?

  • La Menthe

    @Heilman

    I wouldn’t mention them if they weren’t different than the flaws in other classics mentioned above (please read my comment about flaws that can/can’t be dismissed).

  • royfinch

    Here’s a few recent quality films in no particular order, there are as many “classics” being made now as in the past, we just don’t know which ones yet.

    City Of God
    Hunger
    There Will Be Blood
    Pan”s Labyrinth
    Drive
    Beasts Of The Southern Wild
    Scott Pilgrim
    Fight Club
    Sunshine
    Trainspotting
    Training Day
    Inglorious Basterds
    The Master

    …so many more.

  • Leon Horka

    What would be a “flawless” film to you? to me Once Upon a Time in the West is a “flawless” Western movie.