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AFI 100: 'Kane' still number one

No. 1: "CITIZEN KANE." The 1941 epic starred Orson Welles.

Welles’ “Citizen Kane” is still the greatest American film of all time. Coppola’s “The Godfather” is second. Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” and Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” have cracked the Top 10, booting out “The Graduate” (No. 7 to No. 17) and “On the Waterfront” (No. 8 to No. 19). And Ford’s “The Searchers” hurtled from No. 96 to No. 12.

So says the American Film Institute. Its list of the Top 100 American Films, voted on by a group of 1,500 filmmakers, critics and historians, was revealed Wednesday night on a TV special hosted by Morgan Freeman, star of “The Shawshank Redemption” (No. 72).

Lists like these cry out to be disagreed with. Seconds after an advance copy was sent to news outlets, film critic Peter Debruge e-mailed me: “Of all the issues surrounding this list, my biggest question: Where did ‘Fargo’ go?”

What? “Fargo” not on the list? Unthinkable, considering that, well, I was going to name a title that has no business being on the list, but actually they all have a claim, even the few like “High Noon” that I personally don’t much like. It’s just that — what? No “Fargo.”

In the aftermath of the first list, issued in 1998, I received enough complaints about missing titles to supply two or three more lists. No doubt most of those 1,500 experts are themselves dismayed by titles that did and didn’t make the cut. But such lists serve two functions: (1) The television special makes money for the American Film Institute, which is a noble and useful institution, and (2) some kid somewhere is gonna rent “Citizen Kane” and have the same kind of epiphany I had when I first saw it as a teenager.

New films become old films so fast. “Raging Bull” came out 27 years ago. It’s older than “Casablanca” (No. 3) was when I became a film critic. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, more than 50 percent of moviegoers are under 27. They are going to find movies on this list that were made before their grandparents were born — and, if judging by the kids I saw Buster Keaton’s “The General” (No. 18) with, they might love them.

Ah, but there’s the problem: Will they find out about them? Too many younger moviegoers are wasting their precious adolescence frying their brains with vomitoriums posing as slasher movies. A list like the AFI’s can do some good. During a Google search for “age of average moviegoer,” I came across a column by critic T.C. Candler that opened with this quote:

“I have here a heartfelt message from a reader who urges me not to be so hard on stupid films, because they are ‘plenty smart enough for the average moviegoer.’ Yes, but one hopes being an average moviegoer is not the end of the road: that one starts as a below-average filmgoer, passes through average, and, guided by the labors of America’s hardworking film critics, arrives in triumph at above-average.”

Candler was quoting me, and I cannot agree more. To take a hypothetical possibility, if you were to see all 100 films on the AFI list, by the end of that experience, you would no longer desire to see a Dead Teenager Movie. (Yes, there could be a great Dead Teenager Movie. Please send me a list of the 100 greatest.)

To read over the film institute’s list is to remember spine-tingling moments in movie theaters. The ballet of space ships in “2001.” The soaking-wet dance in “Singin’ in the Rain.” The scary perfection of Astaire and Rogers, the perfect anarchy of the Marx Brothers, the anarchic warfare in “Apocalypse Now,” the warfare of obsession in “Vertigo.”

The list will become a retail tool. AOL, Best Buy and Moviefone have scheduled promotions. You know that Netflix and Blockbusters will push it. The movie channels will feature titles from it. Some newbie will find out who James Stewart or Ingrid Bergman was.

So in the last analysis, it doesn’t really matter what movies are on the list. What matters is the movies on the list, voted by 1,500 above-average moviegoers who don’t think “Citizen Kane” has aged one day.

Sixty-nine of the films on the American Film Institute list are reviewed as Great Movies at

1. “Citizen Kane” (1941)

2. “The Godfather” (1972)

3. “Casablanca” (1942)

4. “Raging Bull” (1980)

5. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)

6. “Gone With the Wind” (1939)

7. “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

8. “Schindler's List” (1993)

9. “Vertigo” (1958)

10. “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

11. “City Lights” (1931)

12. “The Searchers” (1956)

13. “Star Wars” (1977)

14. “Psycho” (1960)

15. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)

16. “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

17. “The Graduate” (1967)

18. “The General” (1927)

19. “On the Waterfront” (1954)

20. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

21. “Chinatown” (1974)

22. “Some Like It Hot” (1959)

23. “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940)

24. “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

25. “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)

26. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939)

27. “High Noon” (1952)

28. “All About Eve” (1950)

29. “Double Indemnity” (1944)

30. “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

31. “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

32. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974)

33. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

34. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)

35. “Annie Hall” (1977)

36. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957)

37. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946)

38. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948)

39. “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)

40. “The Sound of Music” (1965)41. “King Kong” (1933)

42. “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)

43. “Midnight Cowboy” (1969)

44. “The Philadelphia Story” (1940)

45. “Shane” (1953)

46. “It Happened One Night” (1934)

47. “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

48. “Rear Window” (1954)

49. “Intolerance” (1916)

50. “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)

51. “West Side Story” (1961)

52. “Taxi Driver” (1976)

53. “The Deer Hunter” (1978)

54. “M*A*S*H” (1970)

55. “North by Northwest” (1959)

56. “Jaws” (1975)

57. “Rocky” (1976)

58. “The Gold Rush” (1925)

59. “Nashville” (1975)

60. “Duck Soup” (1933)

61. “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941)

62. “American Graffiti” (1973)

63. “Cabaret” (1972)

64. “Network” (1976)

65. “The African Queen” (1951)

66. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

67. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)

68. “Unforgiven” (1992)

69. “Tootsie” (1982)

70. “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)

71. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

72. “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

73. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969)

74. “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

75. “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

76. “Forrest Gump” (1994)

77. “All the President's Men” (1976)

78. “Modern Times” (1936)

79. “The Wild Bunch” (1969)

80. “The Apartment” (1960)

81. “Spartacus” (1960)

82. “Sunrise” (1927)

83. “Titanic” (1997)

84. “Easy Rider” (1969)

85. “A Night at the Opera” (1935)

86. “Platoon” (1986)

87. “12 Angry Men” (1957)

88. “Bringing Up Baby” (1938)

89. “The Sixth Sense” (1999)

90. “Swing Time” (1936)

91. “Sophie's Choice” (1982)

92. “GoodFellas” (1990)

93. “The French Connection” (1971)

94. “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

95. “The Last Picture Show” (1971)

96. “Do the Right Thing” (1989)

97. “Blade Runner” (1982)

98. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942)

99. “Toy Story” (1995)

100. “Ben-Hur” (1959)

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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