If there's any method you might use to determine which movies should be at the top of your viewing list, Sight & Sound's “greatest films of all time” poll is a fantastic place to start. Updated once every ten years, the poll has become a tradition among Sight & Sound staffers, with hundreds of critics naming what they believe are the undisputed best movies of all time.
Since 1952, this list has reflected the way movies have changed over the years. Hundreds of the most cherished movies from across the globe have found a way onto the publication's poll, from early cinematic achievements like Sunrise to more recent films like Moonlight.
While Sight & Sound's poll lists 250 movies, we boiled the list down to its top 12, providing details about the movie's plots and their significance in mainstream film. From Alfred Hitchcock's American thrillers to early documentaries from the Soviet Union, here are the top-voted movies on Sight & Sound's latest poll.
Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles
Six years after the death of her husband, a despondent housewife (Delphine Seyrig) tends to her household chores, cares for her teenage son, and casually sells her body to support her child and herself.
Eclipsing Vertigo‘s place as the number one film of all time is Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles. An achingly minimalist film bursting with emotion, it's an evocative character study of the titular Jeanne Dielman and the contradictory lifestyle she leads on a daily basis: mundane and extraordinary all at once.
John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) is a former San Francisco police officer who retired after developing a severe case of vertigo. Taking an assignment on behalf of an old friend (Tom Helmore), Scottie is hired to follow his friend's wife (Kim Novak) around the city, only for his affliction to get in the way constantly.
Like most directors on this list, Alfred Hitchcock has many masterpieces attached to his name, yet few are as well-loved among critics as much as Vertigo. A Freudian nightmare wrapped up in a thriller, it's an odd, surreal, almost dreamlike film about fear and obsession (two hallmarks behind most of the Master of Suspense's many movies).
When wealthy newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) passes away, a reporter (William Alland) is hired to retrace Kane's life and piece together the meaning behind his enigmatic last word: “Rosebud.”
Likely the most famous American film there is (or at least the one most extensively taught in film schools), Citizen Kane is the crowning achievement of Orson Welles' career as an actor, writer, and director. Implementing innovative techniques that would become commonplace in the industry, Citizen Kane overcame its initially hostile reception to become a classic in mainstream cinema.
Wanting to visit with their now adult children, an elderly couple (Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama) travel to Tokyo, only to find their kids are too busy to spend time with their parents.
Along with the celebrated Akira Kurosawa, Yasujirō Ozu remains one of the most cherished filmmakers in Japan, Tokyo Story being his major opus. Heartbreaking in its content, it's a movie that forces you to think about your familial relationships and how incredibly hurtful we can be to our loved ones even when we don't mean to be.
In the Mood for Love
Discovering that their respective partners have run off with one another, two apartment neighbors (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung) form a close friendship to mend their broken hearts, slowly developing romantic feelings for each other along the way.
When most hardcore film buffs think of modern auteurs, Wong Kar-wai is sure to be one of the names that instantly springs to mind. Known for his brilliant Hong Kong romance films that tend to mix various genres, In the Mood for Love is a drama on par with Brief Encounter – and every bit as hauntingly beautiful and overwhelmingly emotional as David Lean's classic film.
2001: A Space Odyssey
After a mysterious extraterrestrial monolith is found on Jupiter, scientists are dispatched to the planet to investigate, only for their sentient supercomputer, HAL (Douglas Rains), to grow increasingly hostile, putting their mission in jeopardy.
Nearly every one of Stanley Kubrick's films figures into Sight & Sound's poll, be it speculative dystopian works like A Clockwork Orange to psychological horror films like The Shining. For as many acclaimed films as Kubrick has had, though, 2001: A Space Odyssey takes the proverbial cake regarding Kubrick's landmark achievements. Using state-of-the-art techniques that still look fantastic today – not to mention a deliberately challenging, open-ended narrative – 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to rank among the best sci-fi movies of all time.
From his home in Marseilles, a former French Foreign Legion officer (Denis Lavant) remembers his days leading troops in Djibouti before the arrival of a recruit (Grégoire Colin) threw his career off track.
No movie comes with as complete a dissection of rigorous military life as Beau travail. Analyzing everything from masculinity to jealousy and defensive attitudes over one's destined career path, it is just one more example of why Claire Denis is one of the most exciting directors working today.
Following a car accident on Hollywood's famous Mulholland Drive, a woman (Laura Harring) with severe amnesia tries to recall who she is with the help of an aspiring young actor (Naomi Watts).
A stylistic successor to similarly spellbinding movies like Vertigo, Mulholland Drive was a return to form for David Lynch after a decade of critically so-so films. Combining Lynch's trademark surrealism with classical noir motifs, it reads like Lynch's take on the Hollywood industry, full of envy, jealousy, moral corruption, and powers beyond human understanding.
Man with a Movie Camera
In the late 1920s, documentarian Dziga Vertov used his trusty camera to capture life in the Soviet Union ten years after the fall of the czar, interacting with citizens in Moscow, Kyiv, and Odesa.
At the time it was made, filmmakers were still working out the boundaries of the documentary format. With the aptly-named Man with a Movie Camera, Vertov helped set those boundaries in place, introducing complex new techniques that were later adopted by future documentarians and practically every other filmmaker on this list in the decades to come.
Singin' in the Rain
In the final days of the 1920s, a group of silent film stars do their best to adapt to the changing tides of the industry brought on by the introduction of sound in film.
An iconic film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Singin' in the Rain is among the most beloved musicals ever. Featuring unbelievable dancing numbers between the legendary Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, it's a rare '50s film with both style and substance.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Coerced into murdering his wife by a seductive woman from the big city (Margaret Livingston), a farmer (George O'Brien) instead rediscovers the love he had long lost for his wife (Janet Gaynor), rekindling their marriage.
An early American film directed by pioneering filmmaker F.W. Murnau, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is an extraordinarily moving film that's aged remarkably well. Despite its obvious lack of sound, it manages to convey so much emotion through its actors' facial expressions and musical score alone (interestingly, it's one of the first feature films to synchronize a soundtrack and sound effects together).
After his gangster father (Marlon Brando) is slated for assassination by a rival syndicate, a once idealistic Marine (Al Pacino) reluctantly joins the family business, becoming a powerful mafia don.
Many films were released during the lauded New Hollywood era, but few are as influential as Francis Ford Coppola's crime epic, The Godfather. Easily among the most influential American films of all time, it's a shifting portrait of Pacino's Michael Corleone, who begins the film as a wide-eyed young man eager to make a life for himself unrelated to his family. Only by the end of the film do we see how complete his descent into the criminal underworld has become, Coppola symbolically swinging the door shut on Michael, severing his chance at a normal life for good.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).