50 Greatest Movies of All Time: Only 6 Movies After 1980 Made the List

Earlier this week, the Sight & Sound Institute released it's 2012 list of the greatest films of all time. Based on a poll of prominent critics, academics, and other members of the film industry, the list has been updated every 10 years since 1952. This year's rankings saw the first shake-up at the top slot in half a century, with Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo beating out the perennial champion Citizen Kane. This dethroning was a surprise to many, but the most talked about aspect of the new list has definitely been the almost complete absence of recent films. 

Only six films released since 1980 made it into the top 50, and the top 20 contains only one film made in the last 37 years, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now which made it to number 14.

 

There are a lot of ways to make the numbers seem shocking, but many pundits are nonplussed by the apparent bias towards classic, if not ancient, cinema. One opinion is that newer movies should have a hard time making the list because they haven't yet truly proved themselves to be “timeless.”  I disagree, because even the most recent movies can be built on the timeless techniques of old. 

 

A prime example of this would be Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, which was released in late 2007. If Hitchcock's iconic thriller can make it all the way to the top, and the John Wayne epic, Searchers, is in the top 10, then the Coen brother's undeniably Hitchcockian take on the Western genre should be in the running as well. Aside from it's classical foundations, No Country for Old Men can already be considered timeless because on a purely technical level the film feels like it could have just as easily been made 40 or 50 years ago. There are no fancy special effects or ultra-modern elements, just well crafted shots and pulse-pounding suspense.

Another reason that some newer movies should still be considered timeless is the exponential rate at which our culture is changing. One film I'd definitely like to see on Sight & Sound's list is 1999's Fight Club, directed by David Fincher. I don't think it's unfair to say that the world is a very different place compared to when I first saw this film on VHS in 2001, yet I would probably enjoy it even more today (especially now that I can watch it on Blu-Ray). The fact that Fincher's masterpiece has already survived the cultural upheaval of the information age should be more than enough to qualify it as timeless. 

 

Of course, the question remains as to how many films from the last 25 years will ever be able to crack the top 50, no matter how long they stand the test of time. Is it possible that newer movies are simply worse than the classics? After looking over dozens of lists of great, recent films, I'm afraid to say that this nostalgic notion might be true. Besides Fight Club and No Country, there are only a handful of movies released during my lifetime that I'd be willing to go to bat for in terms of all time greatness, namely GladiatorThe Silence of the Lambs, and The Shawshank Redemption. Five films in a quarter century is much less than you would expect given that the entire top 50 spans just 85 years. 

 

There simply must be more movies out there that are worthy of consideration. Based on the population of the current list, a lot of them are foreign films. Obviously I've seen a much lower percentage of movies released in other countries, but I have seen a fair amount of the more critically acclaimed efforts from recent years like Y Tu Mama Tambien and Pan's Labyrinth. Though they are certainly very good movies, I wouldn't want to put any of them in the pantheon.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for recent films seeking a spot on Sight & Sound's list of the greatest movies of all time is the fact that it's only getting harder and harder to be groundbreaking. Cinema will never stop evolving, but true novelty is becoming extremely difficult to find. It seems like the current top 50 has a slight bias towards films that heralded new movements in the industry. This is a slightly alarming trend; I cringe at the thought that Avatar might someday find itself on Sight & Sound's list. 

Check out the full list below: 

1. Vertigo (1958)

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

3. Tokyo Story (1953)

4. La Regle du Jeu (1939)

5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

7. The Searchers (1956)

8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)

10. 8 1/2 (1963)

11. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

12. L’Atalante (1934)

13. Breathless (1960)

14. Apocalypse Now (1979)

15. Late Spring (1949)

16. Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

17. Seven Samurai (1954)

18. Persona (1966)

19. Mirror (1974)

20. Singin’ in the Rain (1951)

21. L’avventura (1960)

21. Le Mépris (1963)

21. The Godfather (1972)

24. Ordet (1955)

24. In the Mood for Love (2000) 

26. Rashomon (1950)

26. Andrei Rublev (1966)

28. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

29. Stalker (1979)

29. Shoah (1985)

31. The Godfather Part II (1974)

31. Taxi Driver (1976)

33. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

34. The General (1926)

35. Metropolis (1927)

35. Psycho (1960)

35. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

35. Sátántangó (1994)

39. The 400 Blows (1959)

39. La dolce vita (1960)

41. Journey to Italy (1954)

42. Pather Panchali (1955)

42. Some Like It Hot (1959)

42. Gertrud (1964)

42. Pierrot le fou (1965) 

42. Play Time (1967)

42. Close-Up (1990)

48. The Battle of Algiers (1966)

48. Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998)

50. City Lights (1931)

50. Ugetsu monogatari (1953)

50. La Jetée (1962)