Obviously my main aim, given the project’s title, was to find “The 50 Greatest Films”. But more than that, by expanding the voting from the usual ten titles to 50, I also hoped to freshen up the results a little. My thinking being that there are films that would seldom make any one’s top ten, but would perhaps be almost essential for most people’s top 50s. Surely no list would be complete without a Marx or a Laurel and Hardy film? I was tempted to stipulate 100 titles, but thought that this may prove too daunting a task and put people off. With hindsight, 100 may have proved a better bet.


I took as democratic an approach as possible to the selection of participants. In an effort to avoid an elitist or populist result, I selected people based on their depth of cinematic knowledge and their commitment to the filmic arts, ignoring thoughts of position or pedigree. As a result, professionals and amateurs sit side by side. I also attempted to select people from as many different cultural backgrounds as possible. Although language barriers have ensured that most participants are from English speaking countries. Never the less, 34 different countries are represented: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Wales.

As a result of this mix of nationalities, cultural origins, and professional statuses, a total of 3037 different films have been nominated by 187 different cinephiles, with 1745 being unique titles – which means that on average, each individual included somewhere in the region of 9 titles not seen elsewhere (which has led to far too many 100+ hour working weeks for me, but also a great deal of variety within the lists – even if this hasn’t made a great deal of difference to the final top 50.)


They say that doing something over and over again in the same manner yet expecting differing results is a sign of insanity. Now whilst I haven’t undertaken a poll of this type before, I have seen enough to know that the results seldom differ. Yet, I still set out hoping to achieve something that I really should have known not to expect – surprises. But if I’m honest with myself, I never really expected anything other than what we have ended up with. After all, if you ask people to list the 50 greatest films, you can’t really be disappointed when that’s exactly what they do. Well, consensually speaking anyway – because the individual lists themselves are teeming with diversity. And after all, isn’t the real pleasure of these polls derived from perusing the individual lists, rather than from the results.

The only real surprise, and it’s not much of one really, is that Do the Right Thing (1989) has made the top 50. But, after all, if you’re going to add a Spike Lee film to your list, which other one would you choose. Whereas, if you’re going to add a Mizoguchi or a Buñuel, the choice is certainly much more difficult, which might explain the absence of both of them from the top 50.

The most recent film to make the top 50 is Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Whilst the highest ranked filmed from the 2000s is Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001), which missed out on the top 50 by just one vote.

The list is, perhaps, a little more US-centric than one might have expected, with 31 American titles making the top 50. The UK is represented by four films; France, Italy, and Japan by three films each; with Germany and Sweden making up the rest of the list with one mention a piece.

Billy Wilder is the director with the most appearances in the top 50 with four films. Francis Ford Coppola, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Kurosawa Akira each are represented by 3 films.

The following directors made the top 50 directors list, but were not represented in the top 50 films (testament, perhaps, to the strength in depth of their entire body of work):

Robert Altman, Luis Buñuel, The Coen Brothers, Sergei M. Eisenstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Howard Hawks, Werner Herzog, John Huston, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Sidney Lumet, David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Mizoguchi Kenji, Michael Powell, Alain Resnais, Steven Spielberg, Andrei Tarkovsky, and François Truffaut.

The following, although fairly well represented throughout the 187 lists, appear neither on the top 50 films nor top 50 directors lists (how Terence Davies doesn’t receive more attention is beyond me):

Pedro Almodovar, Lindsay Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Hal Ashby, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stan Brakhage, Marcel Carné, John Cassavetes, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Cocteau, David Cronenberg, Terence Davies, Jacques Demy, Clint Eastwood, Atom Egoyan, Victor Erice, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Milos Forman, Bob Fosse, Georges Franju, Samuel Fuller, D.W. Griffith, Michael Haneke, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jim Jarmusch, Elia Kazan, Abbas, Kiarostami, Kobayashi Masaki, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Ernst Lubitsch, Alexander Mackendrick, Louis Malle, Chris Marker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Vincente Minnelli, Max Ophüls, G.W. Pabst, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sam Peckinpah, Gillo Pontecorvo, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Satyajit Ray, Jacques Rivette, Nicolas Roeg, Eric Rohmer, George A. Romero, Roberto Rossellini, John Schlesinger, Douglas Sirk, Preston Sturges, Tarr Béla, Jacques Tati, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Jacques Tourneur, Agnes Varda, Dziga Vertov, King Vidor, Jean Vigo, Luchino Visconti, Josef von Sternberg, Erich von Stroheim, Lars Von Trier, Wim Wenders, James Whale, Wong Kar Wai, William Wyler


Tim F said...

Actually, I prefer 25th Hour to Do The Right Thing. Sorry 'bout that.

Well done for all your hard work, Iain. Will do a post linking here in the next day or two.

Dennis Fischer said...

Actually, I do think MALCOLM X is a better Spike Lee film than DO THE RIGHT THING, though undoubtedly, DO THE RIGHT THING must be counted among Lee's best work. Sadly, Lee's work became far more erratic from then on.