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Internet Critics Name 'Citizen Kane' the Greatest Movie of All Time

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by Matt Singer
May 8, 2012 5:25 PM
4 Comments
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"Citizen Kane."
"Citizen Kane."

Film nerds eagerly awaiting the latest edition of Sight & Sound's once-a-decade Greatest Films Poll can help pass the time until its impending release with Film School Rejects' spinoff poll, "The Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet)." As the title suggests, FSR asked 37 online critics (along with four filmmakers), none of whom have been invited to participate in Sight & Sound's poll, to name the greatest films ever made. According to Rejects' Cole Abaius, the site deliberately provided no guidance to its respondents on how to formulate their picks; whether "greatest" meant "objective best" or "subjective favorites" was left entirely up to each voter. The results are similar to the Sight & Sound list in some ways, different in other ways, and interesting in all ways. Here's the top ten (for more detailed results, the list of runners up, and individual ballots, click the link below):

Film School Rejects' Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet):

1. "Citizen Kane"
2. "Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back"
3. "The Godfather"
4. "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
5. "Casablanca"
6. "8 1/2"
7. "Back to the Future"
8. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
9. "Bicycle Thieves"
10. "Vertigo"

And just for sake of comparison, here's the last Sight & Sound list from 2002:

1. "Citizen Kane"
2. "Vertigo"
3. "The Rules of the Game"
4. "The Godfather Parts I and II"
5. "Tokyo Story"

6. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
7. "Battleship Potemkin" (tie)
7. "Sunrise" (tie)
9. "8 1/2"
10. "Singin' in the Rain"

Half of the lists overlap, with "The Godfather" (or at least "Part I" of "The Godfather"), "2001," "8 1/2," and "Vertigo" appearing on both lists, and "Citizen Kane" taking the top spot on both. FSR's list replaces "The Rules of the Game," "Tokyo Story," "Battleship Potemkin," "Sunrise," and "Singin' in the Rain" with "The Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Casablanca," "Back to the Future," and "Bicycle Thieves." Those new results are an almost exact inversion of the old ones: four American titles and one foreign film replace three foreign ones and one silent film by a foreign director and one American title. Interestingly, "Bicycle Thieves," #9 on FSR's list, actually topped the very first Sight & Sound poll in 1952.

It may not be entirely fair comparing brand new results with ten year old ones, since it's very possible that Sight & Sound's upcoming poll may reflect some of the generational taste changes expressed in FSR's. But for now, the difference in lists is intriguing. The average year of release of the ten films in Sight & Sound's 2002 poll was 1949 (or 1949.9 if we want to be technical). The average year of release of the ten films on Film School Rejects' list is 1963 (or 1963.8), a difference of fourteen years. The most recent film in Sight & Sound's poll is 1974's "The Godfather Part II;" the most recent in Film School Rejects' is 1985's "Back to the Future." There are no silent films on FSR's list; there are two on Sight & Sound's. There are two foreign films in FSR's poll; there are four in Sight & Sound's (five if you count "Sunrise" from transplanted German director F.W. Murnau).

What does it all mean? It means these are the films that 41 people picked as the best of all time, using whatever criteria they felt like. It might be an indication of a sea change in film criticism and cinephilia in general, or it could just represent the taste of one particular website and its associates (of 41 ballots were cast, 17 of them belonged to Film School Rejects writers). But whatever else it means on a larger scale, it means that you've got an article to pore over and obsess about and comment on and compare to your own taste. And who doesn't love that?

Read more of Film School Rejects' "The 10 Greatest Movies of All Time (According to the Internet)."

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More: Sight & Sound Film Poll, Citizen Kane

4 Comments

  • Frank | May 10, 2012 12:21 AMReply

    Overall, those FSR lists border on embarrassing on the individual level, though less so if they would have just called them "our personal favorites."

  • MDL | May 8, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    The rise of fan-boy culture. For better of worse. You decide.

  • Cole Abaius | May 9, 2012 4:05 AM

    That seems to be too easy a dismissal, and this list at least points to a kind of broad literacy. Plus, if you're calling Empire and Raiders part of fanboy culture, you're forgetting that they're not niche movies beloved by a cult of basement-dwellers; they're phenomenal parts of larger, internationally known franchises that have become icons after tens of millions of people saw and loved them. They're also important to the history of filmmaking - particularly in the rise of the blockbuster era, and there's also the influential nature of both.

  • Cole Abaius | May 8, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    A solid ending point. As their overlord, I have greater access to FSR writers, but it's also important to note that many of them write for other sites as well. In fact, most of them.

    Here seems like the best possible forum to admit that I got actively excited watching the scoreboard change as new lists came in. Watching one film rise in the ranks while others were passed by. Seeing something go from #5 to #15 as the tide changed. It was actually sort of thrilling. Please ridicule me.

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