Ebert’s ten greatest films of all time (and my top 13)

Well, movie critic Roger Ebert has spoken: in an essay on his Journal at The Chicago Sun-Times, he’s just compiled a list of his ten greatest films of all time, regardless of era, language, or anything else.  As he says when justifying his choices (do read the piece), “Once any film has ever appeared on my S&S list, I consider it canonized.”

Below are Ebert’s selections; this year he bumped “Dekalog” to keep the list at ten, and made the hideous mistake of replacing it with a film I consider dreadful: “The Tree of Life,” which I reviewed last November and found a pretentious, ponderous, and pointless waste of time.  I cannot reconcile how bad I consider this film with how highly it’s been rated by many critics, including Ebert.  This goes to show (take that, Nick Matzke) that there are no objectively great films. Anyway, here’s Ebert’s list:

Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
Citizen Kane (Welles)
La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
The General (Keaton)
Raging Bull (Scorsese)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
Tokyo Story (Ozu)
The Tree of Life (Malick)
Vertigo (Hitchcock)

I haven’t seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” (I believe I’m the only living America who can say this), but in general his choices are good ones, although I’m not with him on “Apocalypse Now” (I’d replace it with the Coppola films I give below) or, of course, “The Tree of Life,”

Now I’ve previously published my own list of best movies in June of 2010, deliberately omitting “Citizen Kane”, which is such an obvious choice that I wanted to give other films a chance:

The Last Picture Show (Bogdanovich)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)

Chinatown (Polanski)

Wings of Desire (Wenders)

Ikiru (Kurosawa)

Tokyo Story (plus Late Spring, Early Spring, and Late Autumn, all directed by Ozu and counted as one)

Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)

Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Herzog)

On the Waterfront (Kazan)

The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)

The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 (Coppola, counted as one)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (Cuarón)

And of course I invite readers to submit their own list, or simply one or two choices of “best films,” or to praise or criticize any of the films listed above. But I still think “The Tree of Life” is dfreadful.  n.b.: after endless discussion of this movie with my film-buff nephew, who agrees with Ebert, I’m unlikely to change my mind.


  1. Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    This will probably show my age and lack of familiarity with the classics, but here it goes.

    Blade Runner (Director’s Cut)
    Pulp Fiction
    A Clockwork Orange
    12 Monkeys
    Fight Club
    There Will Be Blood
    Lord Of The Rings
    The Matrix

    • George
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      One of the best things about classic movies is that you can get them at your local library. Just start working your way through the AFI’s lists of great movies:

  2. Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Here are more with humor:

    The Bank Dick

    Never give a sucker an even break

    You can’t cheat an honest man

    (all starring W.C. Fields)

    And the names in the credits in The Bank Dick are hilarious.

    Here are more with compassion (or something like it):

    Old Yeller

    Crying in the rain (Van Johnson/Jane Wyman)

    Of Mice and Men

    And some more honorable mentions:

    Hatari (John Wayne)

    The Court Jester (Danny Kaye)

    The Buccaneer (Yul Brynner)

    The Public Enemy (Cagney)

    Dances with wolves

    The Mummy (Karloff)

    Robin Hood (Errol Flynn)

    The Abyss

    I, Robot

    The first men in the moon

    I also like the mummy movies with Brendan Fraser.

  3. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    All of the above are great, and who could choose, but here are ten of my quirkier or less obvious favorites from my own film viewing history. Ten minutes from now, I could make another, completely different, equally compelling list:

    The Man Who Would Be King
    The Lion In Winter
    Barry Lyndon
    Zorba the Greek
    The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao
    The Postman Always Rings Twice
    The Sweet Smell of Success
    Paper Moon
    The Day of the Locust
    The Day of the Jackel

  4. Harbo
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    and Stardust

  5. Harbo
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of the above and have many new ideas for a rainy day, and would like to add a few we seem to have missed:
    Das Boot (all versions)
    Porco Roso (Ghibli in general)
    Cabaret (and I hate musicals)

  6. salon_1928
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if I could ever do a top 10 (or 13) list – my favourites change with my mood, what’s going on my life, etc. If I could put that list together, 2 of Jerry’s picks would definately make it onto my list though – those are:

    The Passion of Joan of Arc, and
    The Wizard of Oz

    A lot of people have posted some of my other favourites so I’ll just add 2 that I havne’t seen (although they may be in the comments somewhere…):

    Wild Strawberries (Bergman)
    The Red Shoes (Powell, Pressburger)

  7. Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Additional contribution: It isn’t a great movie, but for some reason I have a soft spot for _Starman_ (with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen). It is sometimes described as _ET_ for adults, which is curiously enough correct and more or less a good thing.

    • salon_1928
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Funny…Jerry’s a huge fan of The Last Picture Show (as am I), Starman strikes a chord wtih you…well, Fearless (the one with Bridges and Rossellini) has to be an alltime favourite film for me. I’m not sure about a top 10 film but definately one that I watch whenever I see it on an at least once every couple of years. Come to think of it, add The Big Lebowski to that list…

  8. Strider
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Ther’re too many posts to read through but I’d be sad if I didn’t chime in with “The Searchers”

  9. PeteJohn
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I’m a big movie fan, but must admit that I’ve not seen a great many of the films listed in the comments or on Ebert’s list. Maybe I need to branch out.

    Anyway, I feel like I’m still allowed to list out the films I would consider the best I’ve seen. Not necessarily my favorites, but the best I’ve seen:

    1. The Godfather
    1a. Apocalypse Now

    (It was really tough to pick between the two. One is dark, psychological, and experimental, the other operatic. I ended up saying Godfather was better, but only slightly)

    3. Dr. Strangelove
    4. Schindler’s List
    5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    6. Once Upon a Time in America
    7. GoodFellas
    8. The Wild Bunch
    9. The Searchers
    10. 12 Angry Men

    HM: The Shawshank Redemption (my favorite movie), No Country for Old Men, Pulp Fiction, Platoon, and Fargo

  10. harrylime
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Top 17, listed alphabetically:

    Casablanca (Curtiz)
    Chinatown (Polanski)
    Citizen Kane (Welles)
    City Lights (Chaplin)
    Ikiru (Kurosawa)
    Jules and Jim (Truffaut)
    The Lady Eve (Sturges)
    La Strada (Fellini)
    Lawrence of Arabia (Lean)
    Nashville (Altman)
    The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
    Paths of Glory (Kubrick)
    The Searchers (Ford)
    The Third Man (Reed)
    Tokyo Story (Ozu)
    Vertigo (Hitchcock)
    Winter Light (Bergman)

    …and a special shout-out to Patton, the favorite film of Jerry’s dad & my grandfather.

    • salon_1928
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Winter Light – superb pick…Bergman never misses for me (at least not yet). And there’s Ingrid Thulin – tough to have a bad or uninteresting film when she’s onscreen…

  11. exrelayman
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Having perused all the comments, I now chime in with some wonderful movies I did not see listed so far, and nobody should go through life without seeing if they possibly can:

    Sling Blade
    The Green Mile
    The Scarlet Pimpernel
    Rocky Horror Picture Show
    Little Shop of Horrors
    Golden Child
    Short Circuit
    Quigley Down Under
    Dream Team
    Deal of the Century
    Big Trouble in Little China
    Brother Sun Sister Moon
    The Little Princess
    Little Lord Fauntleroy

  12. Dominic
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    My dad was a Powell and Pressburger fan and I guess his list would have included -
    A Canterbury Tale
    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
    A Matter of Life and Death
    Also perhaps -
    The Lady Killers
    The Servant

    • Dominic
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 5:08 am | Permalink

      Ah – The Go-between

  13. Piero
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m slightly ashamed (but also slightly proud) to admit I have only seen “2001″, “The Godfather”, “Chinatown” and “The wizard of Oz”, none of which I liked in the least. “2001″ was technically marvellous at the time, but it thoroughly failed to capture the essence of the book. “The Godfather” (I, II and III) was just another gangster story, with some scenes filmed in Sicily for aesthetic or increased pathos purposes. It also failed to reach the standards of Puzo’s novel. The wizard of Oz, on the other hand, is a wholly incoherent tale made into an even more incoherent script. The original tale is quite forgettable (what is it trying to tell us?), and the film version lives up to such lowered expectations.

    I’ve never seen “La Dolce Vita”, but I have read the script. WTF? Is Fellini trying to actually say something? The symbolism is crass, and if Anita Ekberg was cast in a leading role, it only shows that Fellini had a penchant for large breasts (as evident in “Amarcord”).

    “Chinatown”? Really? I never got the point of that film. What’s so special about it? I could name thousands of better films: “The remains of the day”, “Roma, città aperta”, “Una giornata particolare”, “Hamlet” (the Russian version, with Innokentij Smoktunovskij and Annastassja Verstinskaya, which you can watch on YouTube), “Brutti, sporchi e cattivi”, “La stanza del figlio”, etc.

    Most “best films” lists are biased, and include mostly or exlusively English-language films. Yet the best films are made either in the UK or in non-English speaking countries. “Avatar”, for example, was utter crap: a kind of “Dances with wolves” set in an alien world. It had nothing original to offer, the acting was puke-inducing, yet it became a blockbuster. Why? Because ir was aimed at the 50% of the population whose IQ is below 100.

    The Oscars are awarded by Americans. Yes, there is an Oscar for the best foreign film, but that’s just a token. In fact, the best film-making is to be found outside the US. If you think I’m exaggerating, just watch the Russian and the American version of “Solaris”, and if you don’t agree with me after that experience, I’m afraid you are beyond redemption.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      My list has six non-Anglophone films on it, so your accusation of bias hardly obtains in this case. I can’t explain in this space why I think the Godfather and Chinatown are good, but if you go to the Rotten Tomatoes website and look at the critics’ reviews, you’ll see some reasons.

      This is all subjective, of course, but the critics do tend to have similar opinions on those two movies, at least.

    • Dermot C
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Points on 2 films, Piero.

      On ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Rushdie, with whom I have never been able to get on as an author, wrote an interesting short piece on the film and how he loved it; it’s his best piece, I think. The more I see it, the more I like its profoundly ambivalent message about there being no place like home; for ‘home’, as well as being banal and literally monotone, is a place where even those who are supposed to protect you are incapable of doing so; rather like Jane Austen’s view of parental figures. Did you know that the studio almost deleted the song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, because they thought it slowed the pace of the film? Producers know nothing.

      On Hamlet, there is a literary criticism, commom, apparently, in Russia. Who directs the events in the play? Answer: it is Fortinbras, the prince of Norway. Why? Who wants revenge on the Danish royal family? The Norwegian royal family. Because the Danes did away with Fortinbras’ father. Who is left standing at the end? None of the Danes. And Fortinbras inherits the throne. Very conspiratorial; very Russian, very complicated, very Russo-ironi-cynical!

      • Posted May 7, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        “Rushdie, … wrote an interesting short piece on the film and how he loved it” This?


        • Dermot C
          Posted May 7, 2012 at 1:34 am | Permalink


          I think so; the cover looks familiar. At 5 and a half smackers, the publishers aren’t shy of charging the full whack; it’s an hour’s read, if that.

    • harrylime
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      You can’t dismiss La Dolce Vita without having seen it, nor can you write off Ekberg as eye candy. A script is merely a foundation; it conveys dialogue and blocking (the least important aspects of a Fellini film) but not performance or tone.

      The Godfather uses the gangster milieu to present a Shakespearean saga of family, loyalty and changing times/mores. Chinatown limns a moral landscape as mutable and decentralized as Los Angeles itself (and quite eloquently, in the opinion of most).

      I think forcing the question “What is it trying to tell us?” would render any film banal.

      And do you really find The Wizard of Oz incoherent?

  14. sailor1031
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    There are no best movies;
    A few personal faves:

    A man for all seasons
    Lost Sex
    Wild strawberries
    Ladri di biciclette
    8 1/2
    Jazz on a summer’s day
    Fort Sagane

  15. Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on robinducret.

  16. Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    There are few Shakespearean films that would make the general publics’ top ten(with the possible exception of “Shakespeare in Love”) but for me, such films as there are can be viewed time and time again. Shakespeare is about words and depth of meaning not just plot and visuals.


    Ken Branagh gives us the 1996 “eternity” version (about four hours long), shot in beautiful 75mm. for the serious fans and the general public alike. It has a stellar cast including Ken as Hamlet, Kate Winslet and Julie Christie. A more controversial Hamlet is the Ethan Hawke up-to-date offering, very accessible though not for purists.

    Twelfth Night

    The Trevor Nunn version is the best by far with Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne and Ben Kingsley, who shows, incidentally, why his first ambition was to be a pop singer. It’s a pity that this was not also shot in 75mm but the acting and locations are great.

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream

    Ever popular version with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania. Great spectacle and beautiful music. Easy and enjoyable viewing.

    As You Like It

    Ken Branagh again gives us a very enjoyable though not perfect version with Romola Garai and Kevin Kline. I seem to view this film obsessively but that’s my problem!

    Romeo & Juliet

    Directed by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968. Still a great film after all these years. Stunning visuals and accessible to young and old alike.

    Much Ado About Nothing

    Also a Ken Branagh production. Worth watching, easy viewing. Stars are Denzil Washington, Emma Thompson and Keanu Reeves.


    Julie Taymor gives us a highly individual take on the seldom produced play Titus Andronicus. It stars Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins – need I say more?


    I am waiting for this to be released on DVD. It has received great reviews and stars Ralph Fiennes.

    • Pete UK
      Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      But the best Hamlet for me is the poor quality audio recording of a broadway production starring Richard Burton as the Prince. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it works for me. The Voice is utterly magnetic. You can’t afford to listen to it whilst boiling an egg – time just stands still for it.

      I quite liked Pacino’s Shylock too.

      • Posted May 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reminder re. Al Pacino. I fished out the DVD and was reminded how good he was. He also makes an appearance in another DVD “Looking For Richard” following the actors in a rehersal of Richard 111. Whilst on the subject of this play,Ian Mckellen’s Richard 111 is well worth finding as well.

    • Living Fossil
      Posted May 8, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      I had forgotten Branagh’s Hamlet. Whew! So impressive as to defy memory? Thanks.

  17. Pete UK
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    We’ve largely overlooked children’s films in our deliberations. Many were very good: Mary Poppins and Oliver! were amongst my favourites as a child, but I’m not sure they were great.

    But The Railway Children surely has to be in my list somewhere. Sentimental, yes, but as an evocation of the innocence of childhood and (in Agutter’s case) those first moments of growing awareness) it’s superb.

    And I’m sure there are others worthy of contention.

    • cubswin84
      Posted May 8, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Bambi, Lady & The Tramp, ET, and Sounder for families;

      additional need to be mentioned great films: Carnal Knowledge, The Pawnbroker, Last Tango in Paris, Catch 22, Stalag 17, Bang the Drum Slowly, Lenny, Soldier Blue, Diner, Boy in the Striped Pajamas, In Cold Blood, Kind Hearts & Coronets, Arsenic & Old Lace, The Killing Fields, 8 1/2, Girl Interrupted, Casualties of War, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff……..
      Time for me to shut up — for now!?

  18. James
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I come from the future, professor, to give you kudos on including Y Tu Mama Tambien in your list, especially since it seems the commenters who mentioned didn’t particularly care for it. Truly an excellent movie.

  19. Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    My top 11 (including Citizen Kane):

    Children of Paradise (1945)
    The Big Sleep (1946)
    Dr. Strangelove (1964)
    Apocalypse Now (1979)
    Chinatown (1974)
    Sunset Blvd. (1950)
    Vertigo (1958)
    Casablanca (1942)
    King Kong (1933)
    Citizen Kane (1941)
    The Third Man (1949)

  20. Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Bad Day at Black Rock (Sturges)

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