Hitchcock's 'Vertigo', Blah, Blah, Greatest Film, 'Citizen Kane' #2

James Stewart in Vertigo
James Stewart in Vertigo
Photo: Paramount Pictures

I think the only thing to really say about today's unveiling of Sight & Sound's latest installment in their decennial list of the 50 greatest films of all time is to acknowledge it as a list of truly great films. The hubbub over the ordering is a little like pissing in the wind as the major headline is Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo capsizing the 50 year reign of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which has been the number one film on the list since it began in 1952.

So Vertigo sits at number one, climbing steadily in the eyes of the participants of the every-ten-year poll made up of 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors.

A secondary poll of 358 film directors from all over the world -- including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh -- and they didn't go with Kane either, or Vertigo for that matter. Nope, Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 feature Tokyo Story was named the greatest of all-time followed by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and then Citizen Kane in third while Vertigo lags behind in eighth.

As pointed out by The Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound doesn't attempt to define what makes the "greatest" film and simply asks participants to interpret "greatest" in any way they choose.

When it comes to my personal interpretation of the list, I appreciate its existence if only to help me further my knowledge of films I may otherwise not see. Yet, the idea of a "greatest" film of all-time bothers me to some degree especially when it comes to lists such as this, coming from an outlet many look on as the Bible of today's cinema.

For so long Citizen Kane has reigned at the top of not only the Sight & Sound list, but also the AFI Top 100. For just as long people have used such distinctions to refer to Kane as the greatest film of all-time. What now?

I guess in this sense the Sight & Sound list does achieve one major accomplishment, with Vertigo taking over #1 from Kane and Tokyo Story taking the top spot on the director's list, the existence of three separate films declared #1 from three separate lists (I'm including the AFI list), it maintains the focus on the movies rather than their placement. This, in an age where the Internet sets out to determine best and worst as if there were no grey in-between, is a step forward, but yet there is something I would almost prefer to see more at this juncture...

What are these people's favorite films?

So often these lists ask people to set aside their preferences and instead look at films in a way I don't believe the majority of society interpret them, which is to ask which is the best rather than which is your favorite?

Looking over this list of films there aren't any surprises. It's a list of all the same films we've seen for countless number of years as the most recent films on the list are Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) and David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001). So to tell me this group of voters has the same opinion on movies as so many of the voters before them tells me nothing really. Vertigo got 191 votes to Kane's 157... big whoop. Both are still great right? Something that's been said for countless years.

However, if we put aside the pretense and let our hearts do a little more talking, I wonder what this list would look like then. There's no doubt many of these films would remain and perhaps many of them in the same order, but I think we might be able to shake things up a little more if we were to ask the same group to list their favorite films over those they believed were the "greatest." Neither are scientific, but one is a little more fun.

Below is the complete top 50 with some ties followed by the directors' top ten. You can get more information on the list here.

A few of my personal favorites fall at numbers 6, 8, 13, 17 (both), 21, 28, 31, 33, 34, 35 (Metropolis and Psycho), 39 (both), 42 (Some Like it Hot) and 48 (The Battle of Algiers).

  1. Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  2. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles)
  3. Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
  4. La Regle du jeu (dir. Jean Renoir)
  5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (dir. FW Murnau)
  6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
  7. The Searchers (dir. John Ford)
  8. Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Dziga Vertov)
  9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  10. 8 1/2 (dir. Federico Fellini)
  11. Battleship Potemkin (dir. Sergei Eisenstein)
  12. L'Atalante (dir. Jean Vigo)
  13. Breathless (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  14. Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  15. Late Spring (dir. Ozu Yasujiro)
  16. Au hasard Balthazar (dir. Robert Bresson)
  17. Seven Samurai (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  18. Persona (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  19. Mirror (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  20. Singin' in the Rain (dir. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)
  21. L'avventura (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)
  22. Le Mepris (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  23. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  24. Ordet (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  25. In the Mood for Love (dir. Wong Kar-Wai)
  26. Rashomon (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  27. Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  28. Mulholland Dr. (dir. David Lynch)
  29. Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  30. Shoah (dir. Claude Lanzmann)
  31. The Godfather Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  32. Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
  33. Bicycle Thieves (dir. Vittoria De Sica)
  34. The General (dir. Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman)
  35. Metropolis (dir. Fritz Lang)
  36. Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  37. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (dir. Chantal Akerman)
  38. Satantango (dir. Bela Tarr)
  39. The 400 Blows (dir. Francois Truffaut)
  40. La dolce vita (dir. Federico Fellini)
  41. Journey to Italy (dir. Roberto Rossellini)
  42. Pather Panchali (dir. Satyajit Ray)
  43. Some Like It Hot (dir. Billy Wilder)
  44. Gertrud (dir. Carl Dreyer)
  45. Pierrot le fou (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  46. Play Time (dir. Jacques Tati)
  47. Close-Up (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
  48. The Battle of Algiers (dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)
  49. Histoire(s) du cinema (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
  50. City Lights (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
  51. Ugetsu monogatari (dir. Mizoguchi Kenji)
  52. La Jetee (dir. Chris Marker)


  1. Tokyo Story (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
  3. Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles)
  4. 8 1/2 (dir. Federico Fellini)
  5. Taxi Driver (dir. Martin Scorsese)
  6. Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  7. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
  8. Vertigo (dir. AAlfred Hitchcock)
  9. Mirror (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
  10. Bicycle Thieves (dir. Vittoria De Sica)

  • Gautam

    As you rightly pointed out .. to name one greatest film .. nd then compiling a list of 50 films is really odd ... they shd have asked each one of the voters to share their top 50 and then rank according to the votes .... that would given us a more clear picture ... obviously its very difficult for nybody to point out one single greatest film ... nd I'm not surprised by many missing films .. specially the films of past 2 decades ... since hardly nyone will mention a film's name which has released in the recent past as their greatest !!

  • G-Man

    Even though I'm not a huge fan of either, I'm surprised to not see Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia on here.

    Maybe it's just the fact that I've started watching a lot of these "greatest films of all-time" in the past year or so, but I'm not a big fan of many of the ones I've seen on this list. Psycho is one of my favorite movies of all-time, so that's an exception. But as for Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and even Godfather I and II, I liked all of them, but the highest I rated any one was 8.5/10 (I rate based on quality of film and my personal enjoyment). I understand many of these movies are influential to what we see today, but I'd rather watch The Departed or The Shawshank Redemption over one of these any day.

  • Chris138

    I don't even think Citizen Kane is Orson Welles' best film but I think it is better than Vertigo. Don't get me wrong, it's a good Hitchcock film, but I'd much rather watch North by Northwest, Psycho or Suspicion over Vertigo. I seem to be one of the few people walking this Earth who doesn't absolutely love it.

    • AS

      Nope, you're not alone. I would go as far as to say that Vertigo is a bad film. Yep, that's right!

      • BlueFox94

        Then, you have failed :(

      • man14

        Vertigo a bad film?!!! You obviously don't know a thing about cinema, AS! I go with BlueFox94, you failed big time! I don't know if Vertigo should be at the top of this list (I completely agree with the author of the article, this list is pointless and the only good thing it does is to further your knowlege of films you may otherwise not see) and I agree it's not Hitchcock's absolute best (in my opinion, that place belongs to Rear Window, it's absolutely genial, brilliant), but Vertigo is one of the best films ever made, period! It's brilliant, absolutelly brilliant, and for you to say it's bad is just...ignorant. That's the word. Only someone totally ignorant of what good filmaking is would say a thing like that. And I'm sorry for you, because that probably means you've missed the pleasure of understanding and apreciating many great films.

        • AS

          lol, what a self-important asshole you are! Just because I didn't like Vertigo (like many others), I don't know anything about good cinema? My favorite films of all time are Godfather, There Will Be Blood, Pulp, Network and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now tell me I don't have good taste, jackass.

          • man14

            If your only arguments are a few titles of films and personal insults to me, then I rest my case: you know nothing about cinema. And by the way, I'm not self-important: like I said elsewhere, opinions are like heads, we each have our own, and I respect everyone else's, as I expect them to respect mine. Now, I know a lot of people don't like Vertigo, and I respect that; but there's a huge difference between saying you don't like it and saying it's a bad film! Even those who don't like Vertigo, recognize the innate quality of the filmaking behind it - from the screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor to Hitchcock's direction, from the actors performance to the amazing cinematography by Robert Burks, from the great editing made by George Tomasini to the mesmerizing music composed by the great Bernard Herrmann. Liking or desliking a film has everything to do with one's personal tastes, it's completely subjective. Knowing if that film is good or bad, on the other hand, has nothing to do with personal taste - good or bad - and everything to do with the knowlege one has of filmaking and everything it involves. And that, my friend, in spite of all your good taste in films, is what you lack: knowlege.

          • AS

            Oh, please! Your statement is completely indefensible since you make yourself out to be the ultimate authority on what is a "good" film and what is a "bad" film. You completely contradict yourself and your logic is beyond warped. By your own admission, taste in film is subjective, yet you assert that there are films that are clearly GOOD and clearly BAD. Sorry, but if that isn't a contradiction, I don't know what is.

            "personal insults to me" - Um, yeah. My response was born out of the shameless display of superiority that your initial comment reeked of. "You obviously don't know a thing about cinema," "Only someone totally ignorant of what good filmaking is would say a thing like that. And I'm sorry for you, because that probably means you've missed the pleasure of understanding and apreciating many great films." - After that statement, there is no way you can come out of this looking like anything other than a pompous, SELF-IMPORTANT snob.

            "in spite of all your good taste in films, is what you lack: knowlege." - The irony of you misspelling knowledge was not lost on me. But do tell, how does one attain such knowledge? Does it involve watching many films from different genres? Because I watch an average of 250 movies every year. But please, tell me, will I ever be able to achieve this vast "knowlege" you speak of?

          • http://www.myfilmreview.nl Reindeer

            Had to post this from Roger Ebert's blog ;-) ...

            ==For years people have been telling me they just don't see what's so great about 'Citizen Kane.'" Now they tell me they just don't see what's so great about "Vertigo." My answer will remain the same: "You're insufficiently evolved as a moviegoer." Or, more simply, "You're wrong."==

            That said, I do think man14 has a point, kind of. Looking at older art, can you say a loved-by-many-Rembrandt painting is bad? I think no one would ever say that. One could easily say "these things simply do not do it for me". In my opinion this goes for a certain group of films as well, including Vertigo. Hope this doesn't make me a jackass pr asshole though.

          • http://www.switchbladecomb.com Rolocop

            Sweet! I love PULP (1972)! Most people don't include that Mike Hodges cult classic. Unless you meant PULP FICTION. LOL!

  • AS

    Well, I'm not going to go on about the ridiculousness of this list since the entire thing is bogus, but I will say that Vertigo is not only NOT the greatest film of all time, it's actually one of Hitchcock's weakest films. It's beyond tedious!

    • Criterion10

      Haven't seen Vertigo in years, it's a film I've been meaning to watch again, but according to my faint memory I do remember it just being okay. Certainly a good film, though not even close to Hitchcock's masterworks, like Psycho or Rear Window. I should give this film a spin when I pick up the new Blu-Ray boxset this fall.

  • BlueFox94

    I have a bias for "SEVEN SAMURAI" and I have always been frustrated that it has only entered the Top 10 once in the past lists. It seriously needs to make a comeback.

    As for the Directors' List... what a joke. As much as "TOKYO STORY" is an awesome film, I cannot say its directorial effort is not better than "CITIZEN KANE", "SEVEN SAMURAI", "THE GODFATHER", or its inspiration Leo McCarey's "MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW". "2001" trumping "KANE" is understandable but... MAN!!

    As you can probably tell, the lists and their progressions from 1962 to now really make my head shake in disappointment >__<

  • Criterion10

    It's interesting to see that Citizen Kane has finally been de-throwned. I'm personally not a huge fan of tope top three films of the list. Filling out the top ten, I do love 2001: A Space Odyssey and 8 1/2. I still need to see the remaining five; they are films I've been meaning to get around to for quite some time.

    Thought I'd post my own top ten for the time being. I still have SO many more films that I've never seen. But, for now, here it is:
    1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    2. The Devils (1971)
    3. Gummo (1997)
    4. Blue Velvet (1986)
    5. Metropolis (1927)
    6. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
    7. Tommy (1975)
    8. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
    9. Dazed and Confused (1992)
    10. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

    • AS

      Solid list, here's mine:

      1. The Godfather (I consider Part I & II two half's of a whole)
      2. There Will Be Blood
      3. Pulp Fiction
      4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
      5. Network
      6. Casino
      7. Kill Bill
      8. Husbands and Wives
      9. No Country for Old Men
      10. Michael Mann slot (I love him, but I can never pick a favorite. I suppose it would be between The Insider, Heat and Public Enemies)

      • Criterion10

        Some very good ones on yours as well. The Godfather is one of my favorites. I haven't seen Part II in years, I've been meaning to rewatch it, although I do remember liking it. There Will Be Blood is one of the only few truly great films of the past ten years. Space Odyssey is my third favorite Kubrick. Haven't seen Casino or Husbands and Wives.

      • Criterion10

        Some good ones on yours as well. The Godfather is one of my all time favorites. Haven't seen Part II in years, but I do remember it being very good. There Will Be Blood is one of my all time favorite and one of the few truly great films of the past decade. 2001 is my third favorite Kubrick. Haven't seen Casino or Husbands and Wives yet.

        • Criterion10

          Whoops, thought my first post didn't go through due to an error message. Brad, maybe delete this post and my duplicate.

      • maja

        Great list AS. I've never seen Husbands and Wives so will be sure to check that one out.

  • Lenano

    It always surprises me to see The Searchers up so high in lists like these. I've never quite understood this enormously high regard for it, and to see it consistently land at the top of "Greatest Westerns of All Time" lists is a little annoying for me. It's quite a good film, but to see it at number 7 OF ALL TIME, above so many other films that I would easily place above it, baffles me.

    But then again, I really couldn't care less about the Sight & Sounds list. This list doesn't tell me anything, partly because, as Brad said, it's all largely the same as the lists that have come before. The fact that Citizen Kane was bumped down one spot is pointless.

  • Lenano

    You know what list would be interesting? A list of the films that only received one vote. I'd really like to see that.

    • http://www.myfilmreview.nl Reindeer

      Soon you can. On their website near the end of August. I think the 2002 info is still available. Also the 10 choices per critic/director. I remember some very interesting lists. That said, I think these lists - as well as IMDb top 250 and such - are helpful, simply because it contains films many people love.

  • AKD

    Someone needs to mention "There Will Be Blood" here.

  • maja

    Here's my top 20. This is based on my favorites rather than "the best" and obviously these change around all the time.

    1. Pulp Fiction (1994 - Quentin Tarantino)

    2. Cinema Paradiso (1988 – Giuseppe Tornatore)

    3. Vertigo (1958 - Alfred Hitchcock)

    4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966 - Sergio Leone)

    5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994 - Frank Darabont)

    6. A Clockwork Orange (1971 - Stanley Kubrick)

    7. City Lights (1931 - Charlie Chaplin)

    8. Leon (1994 - Luc Besson)

    9. Kill Bill (2002/3 - Quentin Tarantino)

    10. The Seven Samurai (1954 – Akira Kurosawa)

    11. Double Indemnity (1944 – Billy Wilder)

    12. The Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 - James Cameron)

    13. Million Dollar Baby (2004 - Clint Eastwood)

    14. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008 - David Fincher)

    15. Battle Royale (2000 – Kinji Fukasaku)

    16. Memento (2000 - Christopher Nolan)

    17. Strangers On a Train (1951 - Alfred Hitchcock)

    18. Witness for the Prosecution (1957 – Billy Wilder)

    19. The Prestige (2006 - Christopher Nolan)

    20. The Great Escape (1963 – John Sturges)

    • AS

      I like that you gave some love to Benjamin Button. An extremely under-appreciated film, if you ask me.

  • Badge

    Well, firstly, KANE wasn't the number one film on the list when it first came out. That was BICYCLE THIEVES. So a little rewriting of the article is required.

    Secondly, there is no such thing as the Greatest Film Of All Time. Once they start calling it Critics Favourite Film Of All Time there will be an end to all the semantic bickering.

  • Winchester

    I do find these lists interesting for the purposes of conversation but obviously they are not absolute as such. It's all personal preferences.

    Certainly I do think Vertigo is considerably more interesting, involving and enjoyable to me personally than Citizen Kane will ever be, however I can also say I haven't seen every film on that list, so one of the others could trump them.

  • Horatio

    Roger Ebert on "The List":
    "But let's remember that all movie lists, even this most-respected one, are ultimately meaningless. Their tangible value is to provide movie lovers with viewing ideas. In the era of DVD, all of the films on the list are available; in 1952, unless you had unusual resources, most of them could be found only in a few big cities."

    Enough said

    • http://www.rabidpictures.com Yaz

      Yeah, what Ebert said. Yeesh.

  • Scott

    I will admit that of the few movies on that list that I have seen, I have zero desire to sit through any of them again. I guess my tastes are somewhere in that vast canyon between the erudite taste of discerning cinephiles, and Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver.

    There are only a few movies that I've really enjoyed watching, that are also a little too small or slow-paced (or simply foreign) for the masses. The closest I get to the kind of movies that might show up on a list like that are City of God, LA Confidential, Brick, Eastern Promises, and Rififi.

    Generally, though, if Caddyshack or the Fifth Element or Spider-Man pops up on TV, I'm good, lol.

    • dslacker

      Great to see some love for Brick. Watched that film many times.

  • chriscarmichael

    Horrible list. The only films on that list that would be on my list is Apocalypse Now but I would put the Redux cut on my list. Tokyo Story is very good though.
    No Leone, though makes this list null and void for me.

  • Andrew

    I've got no problem with the Director's list, it's great to see Taxi Driver getting the respect it deserves, but there are so many films missing from the Critic's Top 50, specifically Rear Window, Pulp Fiction, and Raging Bull (which I believe was in the Director's Top 10 back in 2002). It will be interesting to see how many votes There Will Be Blood received when S&S releases the full results at the end of the month, because I thought if there was one film from the past decade the critics and especially directors would have gravitated towards, it would have been this one. I'm also very interested to see how The Assassination of Jesse James did.

    Anyway, here's my rough top 20 films. The top 10 are fairly set in stone, though after that there is quite a bit of fluidity.

    1. The Godfather Parts 1 & II (1972/74 - Coppola)
    2. Taxi Driver (1976 - Scorsese)
    3. Raging Bull (1980 - Scorsese)
    4. Pulp Fiction (1994 - Tarantino)
    5. There Will Be Blood (2007 - Anderson)
    6. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 - Spielberg)
    7. Vertigo (1958 - Hitchcock)
    8. Goodfellas (1990 - Scorsese)
    9. Chinatown (1974 - Polanski)
    10. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 - Leone)
    11. Jaws (1975 - Spielberg)
    12. The Seventh Seal (1957 - Bergman)
    13. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966 - Leone)
    14. A Clockwork Orange (1971 - Kubrick)
    15. Casablanca (1942 - Curtiz)
    16. Psycho (1960 - Hitchcock)
    17. Eyes Wide Shut (1999 - Kubrick)
    18. Dr. Strangelove (1964 - Kubrick)
    19. His Girl Friday (1940 - Hawks)
    20. Magnolia (1999 - Anderson)

  • Arnold

    Here's mine:

    1. CON AIR
    7. STAR WARS
    8. TITANIC

    • Scott

      Kudos to you, sir. Now that is a list that clearly is not concerned with conventional wisdom. I'm proud of you!

  • Dan

    Pierrot le fou isn't among your favorite Godard movies? Damn. That's my favorite of his. I'm hoping you just haven't seen it yet.

  • Akd1287

    1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
    2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
    3. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
    4. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
    5. You've Got Mail (Nora Ephron -I had to IMDB this one )
    6. Heat (Michael Mann)
    7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
    8. Inception (Christopher Nolan)
    9. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
    10. Snatch (Guy Ritchie)

  • Joe

    These are absolute top 20 all time imo:
    Rear Window <--better and more innovative than Vertigo imo
    Network <---- !!!!!
    The Lives of Others <--- A masterpiece of foreign film
    The Tree of Life <----- !!!!!!!
    Persona <---- Ingmar Bergman's best

    These are absolute top 50 all time imo:
    It's a Wonderful Life
    The Naked City
    The Fountain
    Enter the Void
    Purple Rose of Cairo
    Annie Hall
    The Elephant Man

    And some of my personal favorites:
    Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy
    The Hurt Locker
    Quiet City
    Peter and Vandy
    Your Friends and Neighbors

  • Fan

    My favorites are:

    1) Gangs of New York

    2) Gladiator

    3) No Country for Old Men

    4) Inglourious Basterd

    5) Pulp Fiction

    6) Hero

    7) A History of Violence

    8) There Will Be Blood

    10) Sweeney Todd: the Damon Barber of Fleet Street

    • http://www.switchbladecomb.com Rolocop

      Great movies in that list, even if there's not much variety. :)

      • Fan

        Yeah, I don't know, I just like the darker stuff... not to say I don't like, comedies or love stories and things like that. These films just works for me.

  • Helgi

    How would this list look with most of the pretention put aside? No Tarkovsky, no Godard (3 movies, common). This is ridiculous. I thought we were to take a list like this a little bit seriously. The omissions are glaring.

  • Gross

    This list is culturally biased, sexist, and racist. Its unfortunate.

  • http://www.switchbladecomb.com Rolocop

    My Top 10:

    10. ROBOCOP (1987)
    9. PULP FICTION (1994)
    8. STAR WARS (1977)
    7. MILLER'S CROSSING (1990)
    6. THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979)
    4. JAWS (1975)
    3. DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
    2. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
    1. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952)