Vertigo is named 'greatest film of all time'

Kim Novak in Vertigo Kim Novak starred in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 suspense thriller

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Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo has replaced Orson Welles's Citizen Kane at the top of a poll that sets out to name one film "the greatest of all time".

The British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine polls a selected panel once a decade and Citizen Kane has been its top pick for the last 50 years.

This time 846 distributors, critics and academics championed Vertigo, about a retired cop with a fear of heights.

Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, Vertigo beat Citizen Kane by 34 votes.

In the last poll held 10 years ago, Hitchcock's 1958 thriller came five votes behind Welles's 1941 classic.

Its triumph coincides with the launch of the BFI's Genius of Hitchcock season, a major retrospective celebrating the acclaimed "master of suspense".

Camera trick

Vertigo, the film Hitchcock regarded as his most personal, sees the director tackle obsessional love, one of his recurring themes.

It opens with police officer Scotty Ferguson, played by Stewart, retiring after his vertigo inadvertently leads to the death of a colleague.


1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)

4. La Regle 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. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)

He is then hired by an old friend whose beautiful wife - played by Novak - is behaving strangely.

As the story plays out against a San Francisco skyline, there are several revelations that challenge the audience's preconceptions about characters and events.

The film is famous for a camera trick Hitchcock invented to represent Scotty's vertigo - a simultaneous zoom-in and pull-back of the camera that creates a disorientating depth of field.

The visual, often imitated, has become known as a "dolly zoom" or "trombone shot".

Like Citizen Kane, Vertigo received mixed reviews on release but has grown in stature as the years have passed.

The Sight and Sound list contains few surprises, with all of the films cited more than 40 years old.

Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, from 1953, is ranked third - bettering its 2002 placement at five - while Jean Renoir's La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) drops one place, from three to four.

Silent films

Both new entries in the Top 10 are silent - Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera at eight, and Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc at nine.

The newest film in the Top 10 is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, which charts at six.

The top British film in the countdown is The Third Man, which came in at the relatively low placing of number 73.


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, 1976)

6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)

7= The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

7= Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

9. Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)

10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)

Source: Sight & Sound

The panel, which voted for 2,045 films overall, was asked to interpret "greatest" how it saw fit.

Its results, said Sight and Sound editor Nick James, "reflects changes in the culture of film criticism".

Vertigo, he continued, was "the ultimate critics' film".

"It is a dream-like 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."

In a separate poll run by the monthly publication involving 358 film directors, Ozu's Tokyo Story was voted the greatest film ever made.

Citizen Kane is ranked at number two jointly with 2001, while Vertigo occupies seventh place.

Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh were among the participants in the poll.

The full results are published in Sight and Sound's September issue.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    The BFI & Sight & Sound are not art fascists out to trump people's own tastes. A majority of 850 different international critics placed Vertigo on their top 10 list of films over Kane or other titles. That's all. Why they did is subjective. They really LOVE the film or feel that have to say they do. But the film directors polled gave it less votes. They voted more for Ozu, which is also an upset.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    @141: I would ask my 40's female neighbour the same about her 80's hub, but I already know the answer. Here in the USA they are called "cougars." After money, health insurance, property, whatever - her exact reason for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Sadly this list will probably never change as all the critics seem to want to do is not stand out from the crowd or have a mind of their own.

    "Vertigo, hmm, was top last year, better include it in my picks this year. Don't want anyone to think i'm not cool!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    These experts are just that, we can all watch a film and list our personal favourites but there is obviously more than that at play here, they are probably questioning the vision of the director, the interactions of the characters, new techniques used in filming etc.

    I enjoy for a change accepting a few experts opinions rather than questioning everything. Vertigo is a wonderful film, well picked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    How can anything artistic EVER be the best or greatest? You can't use a yardstick to make an unassailable claim. One can declare the longest, costliest, most financially successful, oldest, etc., the same way a stopwatch or other neutral system can declare the fastest runner or best performance in a sporting event. There's no such objectivity in the arts. Greatest film? Take your pick . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    a subjective decision based upon those who voted for it. For younger people what about the Matrix,Empire Strikes Back,Memento, Casino,Goodfella's?Can anyone explain what is point of this poll? Everyone has their own favourite film and each age has a difference of opinion on it.Can I suggest this survey is a complete waste of time and those involved should be fired if taxpayers were involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I've not seen that many of these. I'm sure they're great films, and I will certainly make an effort to watch more of them, but again I find it suspicious that there are NO movies from the past 30 years included here. It suggests to me that a degree of elitism - or perhaps groupthink operated here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Weekend at Bernies, a true classic...oh and Dumb and Dumber............and Jaws maybe, oh and what was that film with whats his name, you know the one I mean, anyway it was good, but not as good as that other one he was in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    203. whoozonfirst

    There are seven billion people on the planet.

    Chances are you are not the only person who has an issue with lists, or who thinks some HYS topics are not very good.

    Is that worth getting angry about?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    My 5 favorites:

    1 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
    2 - Citizen Kane
    3 - Death in Venice
    4 - Seven Beauties
    5 - Blade Runner

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    It is noticeable that comedies rarely rank highly on such lists. Surely some of the following are worthy of entry: The General, The Great Dictator, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Some Like It Hot, Dr Strangelove, M*A*S*H, The Life of Brian.
    As for Hitchcock, he made four films with James Stewart and, IMHO, Vertigo was the weakest of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Vertigo is not the greatest film and Hitchcock is not a great director. His films are not art but pure entertainment and they really affected cinematography, but not in good way. His films are are shallow, plots are stupid and his characters are one dimensional. It is cheap entertainment for the masses. Great directors who created real art are Chaplin, Tarkovsky,Antonioni,Melville,De Sica,Malick

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Is this really the best use of the internet anyone can come up with? Sad to see the BBC reduced to such low-brow tabloid journalism. Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told what the "Top 10 this and that of all time" is? Who the hell do these arrogant morons think they are? I have my favourites and you have yours - it makes interesting dinnertime conversation - not news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Favourite films are based on suspense, excitement, originality, comedic factor or other, depending on what constitutes a favourite film in the viewers mind. These lists are compiled by so called experts who scrutinise the technical aspects of films as well as their overall viewability and in no way reflect the publics perception.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Oh no its not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    I worry about lists like this when they don't include, probably the greatest movie of all time: 'Once Upon a Time in America'. Don't get me wrong Vertigo is good, but in saying that it is no where near as good as say 'North-by-Northwest' or even The Birds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    195. True American

    I'll look at Vertigo again to see what am missing.

    Watched "The Third Man" last week. Loved it. The music score does it for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    What a load of nonsense - Ghostbusters wasn't anywhere on either of these lists!

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Any list will have people complaining about the decisions made, its impossible to nail it because it is entirely subjective and I'm pretty sure some people change their opinions regularly, even just ageing can change a perspective. Personally though, I use these lists as a resource to find the old films that are considered masterpieces, and without them I wouldn't have found other great films.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I too agree that Vertigo isn't the greatest, BUT, I would say that these lists seemed to be made on historical importance; and by that I mean, did they radically change film making? You may like "Wayne's World" more than "Citizen Kane", but nobody says "There were movies BEFORE Wayne's World and there were movies AFTER Wayne's World, and never the twain shall meet."


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