Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films of All Time Poll – a silent resurgence

Sunrise (1927)
Sunrise (1927)

In 1952, Sight & Sound‘s critics picked seven silent films in their top 10 great Films Film of All Time selection. Today, they chose just three, but that’s one more than in 2002, 1992 and 1982. They’re much-loved films too: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Man With a Movie Camera and Dreyer’s towering The Passion of Joan of Arc. I am surprised that Battleship Potemkin fell out of the top 10, and would have expected The General or Greed, say, to nudge ahead of Movie Camera, but that’s a good, interesting spread of late silent cinema.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

When we see the top 100, I expect to see more silents overall – revivals and restorations of Metropolis, Napoléon and a general greater awareness and love for early cinema should see to that. And I would love to see some earlier films. I know I voted for one. But then, one more vote would have kept Potemkin in the top 10, and I didn’t nominate it, so perhaps I should keep quiet about my list…  The full poll details will shortly be online, so we can look forward  to lots more number-crunching. I can tell you that the top 10 silents voted for overall were: Sunrise, Man With a Movie Camera, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Battleship Potemkin, The General, Metropolis, City Lights, Sherlock Jr, Greed, Un Chien Andalou and Intolerance.

The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Yes, some people will tell you that the lead story here is the toppling of Citizen Kane by Hitchcock’s Vertigo – or the fact that there is nothing here more recent than Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s probably true, and you can read more about the list here, from the very wise Tim Robey. In fact, here’s the top 10 in full. What do you think?

  1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  4. La Règle 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. 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
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5 thoughts on “Sight & Sound’s Greatest Films of All Time Poll – a silent resurgence”

  1. Having thought about this a bit over the last couple of days, I vacillate on the importance of recent NFT programmes, the curriculum of film studies courses and general release schedules to their influence on the list. I think the first may have helped The Passion Of Joan, the recent Dryer season may have nudged a few memories. I think film studies curriculum has helped Man With A Movie Camera -you have to see it and when you do, its importance shines through. The Artist may have made people consider silent film a bit more, though I’m not sure I believe that. The Artist’s biggest effect might have been some influence in the unfortunate downgrading of Singin’ In The Rain.

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