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Tue Jul-19-22 04:50 PM

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3. "How we made the Greatest Films of All Time poll"
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How we made the Greatest Films of All Time poll

The story behind the biggest ever edition of our celebrated poll of the world’s best movies.

Updated: 8 June 2021

By Nick James

Every ten years, Sight & Sound has conducted a worldwide poll of critics in order to decide which films are currently regarded as the greatest ever made. We’re proud that the longevity of this poll means that it’s widely regarded as the most trusted guide there is to the canon of cinema greats.

Back in 1952, Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist parable Bicycle Thieves won the first poll only four years after it was shot. In today’s era of digital plenitude, it’s hard to imagine how critics could be so sure they had recently seen the greatest film ever made, but of course in those days there were vastly fewer films to measure Bicycle Thieves against than there are today.

Famously, Citizen Kane won the next five polls, up to and including 2002. Orson Welles’s film had the disadvantage in 1952 of not yet having been seen by a lot of Europeans because of World War II. If they had been able to see it, it might even have won then. So for over half a century, Citizen Kane had been the critics’ all-time champion movie.

About a year before we published our 2012 poll, the S&S team met to consider how we could best approach the poll this time. Given the dominance of electronic media, what was immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators. We were also keen to include among them critics who’d established their careers online rather than purely in print.

To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films. This makes the process a little more democratic, though I can’t pretend that the 1,000 or so individuals were selected by any more rigorous process than simple chains of recommendation. (The 2002 critics’ poll, by contrast, was based on just 145 lists.)

Each entry on each list counts as one vote for the film in question, so personal rankings within the individual top tens don’t matter. And one important rule change compared to 2002 was that The Godfather and The Godfather Part II would no longer be accepted as a single choice, since they were made as two separate films.

The Godfather Part II (1974)
As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.”

What the increase in numbers has – and hasn’t – done was surprising. We had hopes that some 21st-century films might break into top-flight contention, but not so. Instead, what we have achieved is a consensus on what represents ‘great cinema’ that now has a greater force of numbers behind it. Another fascinating result is that we now have a plausible Sight & Sound Top 250.

Since 1992, we have also conducted a separate directors’ poll, which before 2012 had likewise had been dominated by Citizen Kane. Around 350 directors contributed this time, with some pronounced differences between the critics’ list and what we can now call the Directors’ 100 Greatest Films of All Time.


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Greatest Films of All-Time (2022 Sight & Sound/BFI Poll) [View all] , Sponge, Tue Jul-19-22 04:39 PM
Subject Author Message Date ID
Poll position: Kaned!
Jul 19th 2022
Poll position: why so serious?
Jul 19th 2022
This does inspire me to watch more of the classics, lol.
Jul 19th 2022
RE: This does inspire me to watch more of the classics, lol.
Aug 03rd 2022
looking forward to it. last poll made me watch a ton of movies.
Jul 20th 2022
RE: looking forward to it. last poll made me watch a ton of movies.
Aug 03rd 2022
Aug 03rd 2022
           RE: re:
Aug 10th 2022
the strategic herding is always interesting
Nov 14th 2022
Agreed. Good to see you pop in. Been a while.
Nov 28th 2022
      in a storm, always to seek safe harbor
Nov 30th 2022
Question: How many of these are NOT white films?
Nov 23rd 2022
Thursday release, we'll see
Nov 28th 2022
Jeanne Dielman the new #1.
Dec 01st 2022
Should I be embarrassed I've never heard of it?
Dec 01st 2022
Its on HBOMax. I added it to my queue the other day
Dec 03rd 2022
Can we stop with the Seven Samurai shit already
Dec 20th 2022
Feb 01st 2023
that's crazy.
Dec 31st 2022
Dec 31st 2022
Can someone pls explain
Dec 31st 2022
The Directors' Poll #1 is 2001: A Space Odyssey
Dec 01st 2022
Top 250 is now posted on the site
Feb 01st 2023
I remain confused why No Country For Old Men cannot crack these lists
Feb 03rd 2023
Twin Peaks: The Return
Feb 03rd 2023
2,000+ voter ballots are available to view online
Mar 05th 2023
Mar 06th 2023
Edgar Wright:
Mar 06th 2023
shout out to Adam McKay including Office Space
Mar 06th 2023
Bonus:101 Hidden Gems
Dec 04th 2023
Love that 8 Diagram Pole Fighter vote.
Dec 05th 2023

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