Conducted every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute has surveyed film critics, filmmakers, programmers, curators, archivists and academics for their Greatest Films of All Time list. Up until 2012, the vast majority of films in these lists came from the United States, Britain, and Europe, with India being represented only by Satjayit Ray and Japan only by Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, with virtually no films by women directors; from these regions a widely established cinematic canon developed. Was one to come to the conclusion that no great works of art worthy of inclusion in the canon were made by women, minority filmmakers, and countries outside of America, Britain, and Europe, aside from the films of Ray, Mizoguchi, and Kurosawa?

As an Asian-American cineaste with family from Taiwan and China, I always asked myself why the groundbreaking films of the Taiwanese New Wave movement, or the revolutionary films from the Sixth Generation of Chinese filmmakers were never included for discussion in the cinematic canon? Or how about the innovative feminist films of iconic women filmmakers like Marguerite Duras and Jane Campion? Things slowly began to change in 2012 when BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time list included films by Chantal Akerman, Edward Yang, and Wong Kar-wai. Then, an almost seismic event occurred when Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” jumped from number 36 in the 2012 poll all the way up to number one in 2022, heralding in a sign that the BFI poll was catching up with modern times.

Like all things in history, societal norms are constantly evolving and adapting with the times, and our current culture is becoming a more gender fluid, female-empowered, multi-cultural society. This cultural evolution is reflected in all aspects in society, from our workplace, to the way we communicate with each other, and in the arts. This has resulted in much pushback from those who still adhere to the old guard of White, Eurocentric, male dominated modes of thinking, but like all major evolutions in society, things will eventually settle down to a more equitable norm. The most recent 2022 British Film Institute/Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll is a perfect reflection of this societal evolution.

When “Jeanne Dielman” emerged at the top of the 2022 poll, it dethroned Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and the perennial poll champion Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” What’s most interesting about this change in guard of the poll is that the radically feminist “Jean Dielman” overthrew the reign of two films that dealt with themes of male empowerment over women. “Citizen Kane,” which topped BFI’s poll for six decades since the list began in 1952, was a film about a power-hungry tycoon who lorded over the women in his life as if they were essentially just treasured objects like the many statues and artifacts he filled his mansion with. “Vertigo” was about a man who struggles to control and manipulate a woman he views as a sort of ideal version of the female image. What makes these two films interesting is that while “Citizen Kane” was about a man who triumphantly dominated the women and objects in his life, “Vertigo” was a film about a man who tried to but ultimately didn’t succeed in controlling the woman he’s obsessed with. In this way, with its themes of a man unable to control a woman, “Vertigo” serves as a sort of bridge to “Jeanne Dielman,” a film about a woman who is controlled by a male dominated society, but who ultimately rebels against the system in a shocking act of defiance.

While discussing the thematic elements of “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo,” one still has to acknowledge the historical importance and technical brilliance of both of these films, and the many ways in which they revolutionized and still continue to influence the cinematic landscape. Indeed, in the 2022 poll, “Vertigo” is still ranked at the number two position, while “Citizen Kane” occupies the third position, so the new poll results are in no way denigrating the indisputable greatness of these films, and the other equally important films in the tradition cinematic canon. However, by ranking “Jeanne Dielman” ahead of these two films, the poll is also acknowledging that a film made by a woman, and one which deals with specifically female-centered themes, can be just as cinematically accomplished as “Citizen Kane” and “Vertigo.”

Aside from “Jeanne Dielman’s” number one placement, another way that BFI’s 2022 poll reflects modern society is its inclusion of eighteen new films from minority and women filmmakers, including such noteworthy films as Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust,” Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” Barbara Loden’s “Wanda,” Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep,” Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and Agnes Vardas’ “The Gleaners and I.” Each of these eighteen films are landmark works of art that are cinematically important on both a technical and thematic level, and are just as worthy of inclusion in the canon as the films that carried over from previous lists. Some have bemoaned the addition of these new films, accusing those who participated in the poll of being “woke” and using “virtue signaling,” but this would only apply if they had arbitrarily chosen mediocre films by minority and female filmmakers for inclusion in the list. Also, these are only eighteen new films out of 100 total films, meaning the vast majority of the films in the list are still part of the cinematic canon from previous lists, so it’s not like these new films are somehow cancelling out all the readily accepted films from the poll.

The best analogy to explain this is to imagine you had a street that had a row of high quality restaurants, but all the restaurants were owned by men and only served American, British, and European food. This street eventually became world-renowned, and became a model of sorts for other restaurateurs to follow. If you suddenly started having a few equally first-rate restaurants on the street from non-Western countries like Africa, Taiwan, and South America, or which were owned by women, does that somehow dilute the quality of the restaurants on the street? Wouldn’t it actually enhance the variety of food options available on the street if you had restaurants from other countries and/or owned by women? The same applies to the BFI Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time list—by including more films from women and non-Western/European filmmakers, it broadens and provides new frames of reference for the established cinematic canon.

For the 2022 list, BFI polled their largest number of participants ever at 1,639 films critics and scholars, reaching out to a more diverse group of poll takers from non-Western and European based countries, as well as polling more women; hence, the result was a more diverse group of films. From the unranked top ten lists, BFI tabulated the results and came up with their 2022 list, with some pleasantly surprising results. Although the 2022 list still primarily consists of the same canon films from America, Britain, and Europe, the inclusion of additional films from women, minority, and countries beyond the three traditional regions is the first step in the right direction to create a broader, more inclusive canon of cinema. Like all attempts at diversity, there has unfortunately been much hostility and pushback from those who want to protect the old guard of cinema.

Some have speculated that BFI manipulated the poll results, citing proof with the fact that this year poll participants were asked to provide demographic data, including age, gender, and ethnicity. However, it is standard practice to collect demographic data for large polls such as BFI’s Greatest Films of All Time list, as it helps to better analyze the data collected, and provide context to compare the results with past and future results. There isn’t some conspiracy going on with BFI somehow rigging the results of the poll to their liking.

We should be celebrating the fact that the BFI list has finally caught up with the times, more accurately reflecting the global landscape, instead of insularly focusing on a narrow canon of films. Some have argued that by allowing more films in from women, minority, and non-Western countries, it has resulted in the removal of what they deem to be more important canonical films. However, by limiting the main poll to only 100 films in the first place (the whole list extends to 250 films), BFI already has to exclude hundreds of other equally qualified films from their list. The process of elimination of these other qualified films is the same method that occurred when the 18 newer films replaced the previous canon films from prior lists. The expectation isn’t to fit films from every country in the world, or from every important woman filmmaker, but by allowing newer, more diverse voices to enter the film canon, we are enhancing rather than limiting the language of cinema. Hopefully, the 2032 Greatest Films of All Time list will further advance the cinematic landscape.

Here’s the complete results of the BFI Greatest Films of All Time poll:

1. “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
2. “Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
3. “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, 1941)
4. “Tokyo Story” (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
5. “In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-wai, 2001)
6. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7. “Beau travail” (Claire Denis, 1998)
8. “Mulholland Dr.” (David Lynch, 2001)
9. “Man with a Movie Camera” (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
10. “Singin’ in the Rain” (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1951)
11. “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
12. “The Godfather” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
13. “La Règle du Jeu” (Jean Renoir, 1939)
14. “Cléo from 5 to 7” (Agnès Varda, 1962)
15. “The Searchers” (John Ford, 1956)
16. “Meshes of the Afternoon” (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
17. “Close-Up” (Abbas Kiarostami, 1989)
18. “Persona” (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
19. “Apocalypse Now” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
20. “Seven Samurai” (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
21. (TIE) “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1927)
21. (TIE) “Late Spring” (Ozu Yasujiro, 1949)
23. “Playtime” (Jacques Tati, 1967)
24. “Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989)
25. (TIE) “Au Hasard Balthazar” (Robert Bresson, 1966)
25. (TIE) The Night of the Hunter” (Charles Laughton, 1955)
27. “Shoah” (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
28. “Daisies” (Věra Chytilová, 1966)
29. “Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
30. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Céline Sciamma, 2019)
31. (TIE) “Mirror” (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
31. (TIE) “8½” (Federico Fellini, 1963)
31. (TIE) “Psycho” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
34. “L’Atalante” (Jean Vigo, 1934)
35. “Pather Panchali” (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
36. (TIE) “City Lights” (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
36. (TIE) “M” (Fritz Lang, 1931)
38. (TIE) “À bout de souffle” (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
38. (TIE) “Some Like It Hot” (Billy Wilder, 1959)
38. (TIE) “Rear Window” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
41. (TIE) “Bicycle Thieves” (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)
41. (TIE) “Rashomon” (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
43. (TIE) “Stalker” (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
43. (TIE) “Killer of Sheep” (Charles Burnett, 1977)
45. (TIE) “North by Northwest” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
45. (TIE) “The Battle of Algiers” (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
45. (TIE) “Barry Lyndon” (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
48. (TIE) “Wanda” (Barbara Loden, 1970)
48. (TIE) “Ordet” (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
50. (TIE) “The 400 Blows” (François Truffaut, 1959)
50. (TIE) “The Piano” (Jane Campion, 1992)
52. (TIE) “News from Home” (Chantal Akerman, 1976)
52. (TIE) “Fear Eats the Soul” (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
54. (TIE) “The Apartment” (Billy Wilder, 1960)
54. (TIE) “Battleship Potemkin” (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
54. (TIE) “Sherlock Jr.” (Buster Keaton, 1924)
54. (TIE) “Le Mépris” (Jean-Luc Godard 1963)
54. (TIE) “Blade Runner” (Ridley Scott 1982)
59. “Sans soleil” (Chris Marker 1982)
60. (TIE) “Daughters of the Dust” (Julie Dash 1991)
60. (TIE) “La dolce vita” (Federico Fellini 1960)
60. (TIE) “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins 2016)
63. (TIE) “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz 1942)
63. (TIE) “GoodFellas” (Martin Scorsese 1990)
63. (TIE) “The Third Man” (Carol Reed 1949)
66. “Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty 1973)
67. (TIE) “The Gleaners and I” (Agnès Varda 2000)
67. (TIE) “Metropolis” (Fritz Lang 1927)
67. (TIE) “Andrei Rublev” (Andrei Tarkovsky 1966)
67. (TIE) “The Red Shoes” (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger 1948)
67. (TIE) “La Jetée” (Chris Marker 1962)
72. (TIE) “My Neighbour Totoro” (Miyazaki Hayao 1988)
72. (TIE) “Journey to Italy” (Roberto Rossellini 1954)
72. (TIE) “L’avventura” (Michelangelo Antonioni 1960)
75. (TIE) “Imitation of Life” (Douglas Sirk 1959)
75. (TIE) “Sansho the Bailiff” (Mizoguchi Kenji 1954)
75. (TIE) “Spirited Away” (Miyazaki Hayao 2001)
78. (TIE) “A Brighter Summer Day” (Edward Yang 1991)
78. (TIE) “Sátántangó” (Béla Tarr 1994)
78. (TIE) “Céline and Julie Go Boating” (Jacques Rivette 1974)
78. (TIE) “Modern Times “(Charlie Chaplin 1936)
78. (TIE) “Sunset Blvd.” (Billy Wilder 1950)
78. (TIE) “A Matter of Life and Death” (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger 1946)
84. (TIE) “Blue Velvet” (David Lynch 1986)
84. (TIE) “Pierrot le fou” (Jean-Luc Godard 1965)
84. (TIE) “Histoire(s) du cinéma” (Jean-Luc Godard 1988-1998)
84. (TIE) “The Spirit of the Beehive” (Victor Erice, 1973)
88. (TIE) “The Shining” (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
88. (TIE) “Chungking Express” (Wong Kar Wai, 1994)
90. (TIE) “Madame de…” (Max Ophüls, 1953)
90. (TIE) “The Leopard” (Luchino Visconti, 1962)
90. (TIE) “Ugetsu” (Mizoguchi Kenji, 1953)
90. (TIE) “Parasite” (Bong Joon Ho, 2019)
90. (TIE) “Yi Yi” (Edward Yang, 1999)
95. (TIE) “A Man Escaped” (Robert Bresson, 1956)
95. (TIE) “The General” (Buster Keaton, 1926)
95. (TIE) “Once upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone, 1968)
95. (TIE) “Get Out” (Jordan Peele, 2017)
95. (TIE) “Black Girl” (Ousmane Sembène, 1965)
95. (TIE) “Tropical Malady” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)