Sight & Sound 2012 Polls

Once a decade Sight & Sound asks critics to select the Greatest Films of All Time. We’re proud that, thanks to its longevity and critical reach, this poll has come to be regarded as the most trusted guide there is to the canon of cinema greats, not to mention a barometer of changing critical tastes. Famously, Citizen Kane topped our poll every decade from 1962 to 2002…

For our 2012 edition, riding on the back of an increasingly globalised movie culture, we made a concerted push to take the poll truly worldwide – extending invitations to over 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and receiving 846 top-ten lists from correspondents in 73 countries, citing 2,045 different films.

What the increase in numbers has – and hasn’t – done is surprising. We have a new number one (a colour film!), but the overall top ten has shifted back in time, with fully three silent films and nothing more recent than 1968’s 2001. (That said, there may be the first accruals of recognition for the past decade-and-a-bit’s putative ‘modern classics’ at numbers 24 and 28. And on the subject of fluctuating tastes, it’s fascinating to see the extremely long latter-day titles that have infiltrated the 36th and 48th slots.)

Female filmmakers also continue to be underserved by the consensus: while a quarter of our voters were women, there were barely nine female-directed titles in our top 250. And while we attempted to extend our invitations to more particular connoisseurs of documentary, animation, experimental and short films, there’ve been few surprises to disrupt the dominance of the ‘art’ feature film – the most notable exceptions being at numbers 8 and 29…

All these trends and more warrant further exploration, which we’re continuing to amass over at our poll news pages at bfi.org.uk/sightsoundpoll2012, where you can also read more about our methodology. And on 22 August we’ll be adding here the 358 top-ten lists we received in our parallel film directors’ poll, which we’ve also conducted every decade since 1992; for now you can see their top ten here, or indeed browse 100 of their entries in our special September 2012 poll issue, now also available in digital form.

In the meantime, happy browsing…

Critics’ Top Ten Films

  • 1

    Vertigo (1958)

    Alfred Hitchcock

    A former detective with a fear of heights is hired to follow a woman apparently possessed by the past, in Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless thriller about obsession.

  • 2

    Citizen Kane (1941)

    Orson Welles

    Given extraordinary freedom by Hollywood studio RKO for his debut film, boy wonder Welles created a modernist masterpiece that is regularly voted the best film ever made.

  • 3

    Tokyo Story (1953)

    Ozu Yasujirô

    The final part of Yasujiro Ozu’s loosely connected ‘Noriko’ trilogy is a devastating story of elderly grandparents brushed aside by their self-involved family.

  • 4

    Règle du jeu, La (1939)

    Jean Renoir

    Made on the cusp of WWII, Jean Renoir’s satire of the upper-middle classes was banned as demoralising by the French government for two decades after its release.

  • 5

    Sunrise (1927)

    F. W. Murnau

    Lured to Hollywood by producer William Fox, German Expressionist filmmaker F.W. Murnau created one of the silent cinema’s last and most luminous masterpieces.

  • 6

    2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

    Stanley Kubrick

    Stanley Kubrick took science fiction cinema in a grandly intelligent new direction with this epic story of man’s quest for knowledge.

  • 7

    Searchers, The (1956)

    John Ford

    John Ford created perhaps the greatest of all westerns with this tale of a Civil War veteran doggedly hunting the Comanche who have kidnapped his niece.

  • 8

    Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

    Dziga Vertov

    An impression of city life in the Soviet Union, The Man with a Movie Camera is the best-known film of experimental documentary pioneer Dziga Vertov.

  • 9

    Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)

    Carl Theodor Dreyer

    Silent cinema at its most sublimely expressive, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece is an austere but hugely affecting dramatisation of the trial of St Joan.

  • 10

    8½ (1963)

    Federico Fellini

    Federico Fellini triumphantly conjured himself out of a bad case of creative block with this autobiographical magnum opus about a film director experiencing creative block.