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Vertigo named as Greatest Film of All Time

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has usurped Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in a poll by the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine.

Sight and Sound polls its experts once a decade – and Citizen Kane has been their top pick for the last 50 years.

This time, 846 distributors, critics, academics and writers chose Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense thriller, about a retired police officer with a fear of heights.

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

In the last poll 10 years ago, it was five votes short of toppling Citizen Kane.

Alfred Hitchcock called it his most personal film and it sees the director tackle one of his recurring themes – love as a fetish that degrades women and deranges men.

It opens with police officer Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) retiring from the police force after his vertigo inadvertently leads to the death of a colleague during a rooftop chase.

He is then hired by an old friend, whose wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) has been behaving strangely.

As the story plays out against a glistening San Francisco skyline, there are dozens of twists and revelations that challenge the audience’s preconceptions about the characters and events.

It has become famous for a camera trick Alfred Hitchcock invented to represent Scotty’s vertigo: A simultaneous zoom-in and pull-back of the camera that creates a disorientating depth of field, known as a “dolly zoom” or “trombone shot”.

Vertigo has usurped Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in a poll by the BFI's Sight and Sound magazine

Vertigo has usurped Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in a poll by the BFI's Sight and Sound magazine

Like 1941’s Citizen Kane, Vertigo received mixed reviews on release but has grown in stature as time passed.

The BFI’s list contained few surprises, with the top 10 mostly representing a reshuffle of the 2002 list – and all of the films more than 40 years old.

Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story from 1953 was ranked third, bettering its last placement of number five, while Jean Renoir’s La Regle Du Jeu dropped one place from three to four.

The two new entries in the top 10 were both silent – Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929) at number eight, and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) at nine.

The most recent film in the top 10 was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) at six.

The top British film was The Third Man which came in at number 73.

For the poll, the panel voted for 2,045 films overall.

They were asked to interpret “greatest” as they chose – whether the film was most important to film history, aesthetic achievement or personal impact on their own view of cinema.

“This result reflects changes in the culture of film criticism,” Nick James, the editor of Sight and Sound said.

“The new cinephilia seems to be not so much about 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, but more about works that have 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.”

Meanwhile, in a separate poll run by the magazine involving 358 film directors, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story was voted the Greatest Film of All Time.

Again Citizen Kane was knocked down to number two, a place it shared with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Vertigo took seventh place.

Directors including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Mike Leigh participated in the poll.

The full results of the polls will be published in Sight and Sound’s September issue.


1. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

3. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

4. La Regle Du Jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)

5. Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

7. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

8. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1927)

10. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

Source: Sight & Sound


1. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

=2 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

=2 Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

4. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

5. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

6. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

=7 The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

=7 Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

9. Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974)

10. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

Source: Sight & Sound