Skip to main content

Hitchcock knocks Welles off top of 'greatest film' poll

By Neil Curry and Bryony Jones, CNN
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 1934 GMT (0334 HKT)
  • Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" named greatest film in once-in-a-decade poll of film critics
  • Hitchcock knocks Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" off top of list for first time in 50 years
  • "Tokyo Story," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Searchers" among top picks
  • Three silent films, including Murnau's "Sunrise" (1927) also included in Top 10

London (CNN) -- Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" has been named the greatest movie of all time, knocking long-time favorite Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" off the top of a once-in-a-decade survey of critics from around the world.

Hitchcock's thriller, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, came top of Sight & Sound magazine's poll of 846 film experts more than 50 years after the movie was first released -- to little critical acclaim -- in 1958.

Sight & Sound has compiled a list of the 100 greatest films every 10 years; the results, announced with great fanfare, are awaited with bated breath by cinephiles across the globe. But over the decades the composition of the top 10 has remained relatively consistent, with "Citizen Kane" retaining pole position for half a century.

Critics' choice: Top Ten Films
1. Vertigo

2. Citizen Kane

3. Tokyo Story

4. La Regle du Jeu

5. Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

7. The Searchers

8. Man with a Movie Camera

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc

10. 8 1/2

This time around, though, Orson Welles' 1941 masterwork slipped to the number two slot, ahead of Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" (1953) at number three, Jean Renoir's "La Regle du Jeu" at number four.

Sight & Sound's editor Nick James said the surprise result in the critics' poll reflected changes in the culture of film criticism, away from "films that strive to be great art, such as 'Citizen Kane,' and that use cinema's entire arsenal of effects to make a grand statement" towards those with "personal meaning to the critic."

"Vertigo is the ultimate critics' film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul mate," he said in a statement.

F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise" (1927) rounded out the top five. Murnau's first Hollywood movie was one of a record three silent films to make it into the top ten, alongside Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929) and Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928).

And while the rest of the top ten does include films familiar to more mainstream moviegoers -- Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and John Ford's "The Searchers" -- there is little room in the poll for today's box office hits.

Directors' choice: Top Ten
1. Tokyo Story

=2. 2001: A Space Odyssey

=2. Citizen Kane

4. 8 1/2

5. Taxi Driver

6. Apocalypse Now

=7. The Godfather

=7. Vertigo

9. Mirror

10. Bicycle Thieves

Hollywood's big-budget blockbusters, such as "Avatar," "Titanic," and "The Avengers" do not register in the upper reaches of the poll. You'll find no Harry Potter or James Bond -- the most successful film franchises of all time -- and you'll have to look beyond the top 20 for a film made beyond the 20th century.

"2001: A Space Odyssey," dating from 1968, is the most modern film in the top 10; more recent offerings from Wong Kar-Wai -- 2000's "In the Mood for Love" -- and David Lynch -- 2001's "Mulholland Drive" make their debuts lower down the list, at 24 and 28, respectively.

Women, too, are poorly represented -- just two female filmmakers are included in the top 100 -- Chantal Akerman for "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles" (at 35) and Claire Denis for "Beau Travail" (at 78).

Filmmakers also got to have their say: A separate poll of 358 directors from all over the world, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, picked "Tokyo Story" as their top movie, ahead of "Citizen Kane" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" in joint second place. "Vertigo" was placed seventh on the directors' list.

And there's hope for the likes of James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson -- Hitchcock's "Vertigo" was not considered "great" at the time of its release. Its gradual rise up the Sight & Sound poll (it was first included in 1982, at number 7) parallels an increasing recognition of Hitchcock's film-making prowess.

Alfred Hitchcock: The man behind the movies

Hitchcock's classics remade in sticky tape

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.