Many eyebrows raised in surprise when it was announced that “Citizen Kane” is no longer the best film of all time. For the past fifty years, Orson Welles’ masterpiece has topped the Sight & Sound magazine’s list of the “50 Greatest Films of All-Time,” but now that honor has gone to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie “Vertigo.” This resulted in many being stunned while others were actually not all that surprised by this happening.
Sight & Sound magazine is published by the British Film Institute, and its “50 Greatest Films of All-Time” list only comes out once every decade. It is a compilation of votes from 846 film critics, distributors, academics and writers made to determine what are the very best movies ever made. Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, has called it “the most respected of the countless polls of great movies” and “the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”
View slideshow: Two of the greatest movies ever made
“Citizen Kane” starred and was directed, co-written and produced by Orson Welles, and it has long since been regarded as his true masterpiece. Inspired in part by the life of American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, it was a critical success but a commercial failure. The year it was released, “Citizen Kane” won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay but failed to win Best Picture. As a result, the Best Original Screenplay has been nicknamed the “Citizen Kane award” as it usually goes to the movie which most feel should have won Best Picture but didn’t.
“Citizen Kane” ended up being neglected and forgotten for many years until it was rediscovered by audiences in the 1950s, and it was named the greatest film ever made by the Sight & Sound poll for the first time in 1962.
With “Vertigo” now passing by it for the number one spot, many now see Hitchcock’s psychological thriller as his true masterpiece. When many think of Hitchcock, they tend to think of “Psycho,” “North by Northwest” or “The Birds” as his most memorable work. Those who were stunned that “Vertigo” made it this far up the list however did not take into account that the movie has been ascending up the list quite rapidly since 1982.
Still, it is something of a surprise as “Vertigo” was not as critically well-received as many of Hitchcock’s movies were upon its release. Several critics found the movie which starred James Stewart and Kim Novak as being too long and slow back then, and many viewed it as a rare misstep in his career. It ended up getting re-evaluated in the 50s however when critics began looking at Hitchcock more as an artist than as just an audience pleasing movie director. As a result, “Vertigo” is now embraced as director’s most profound and beautiful movie.
It’s interesting to see how certain movies age well over the years as they come to look better today than they did when first released. Not all movies are that lucky, and many become dated in no time at all. But “Vertigo’s” ascent up Sight & Sound’s greatest films poll is a testament to its cinematic power, especially when it succeeded in doing what seemed impossible; it replaced “Citizen Kane” as the greatest movie ever made. With Welles’ movie having spent half a century at number one, it says a lot that it finally dropped down one spot to Hitchcock’s classic thriller.