I recently compiled a bunch of surveys listing the most popular old movies. I restricted myself to movies made more than 50 years ago. Here are the results, in order:
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Citizen Kane (1941)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Rear Window (1954)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
North By Northwest (1959)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
On the Waterfront (1954)
The Third Man (1949)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
All About Eve (1950)
In compiling this list, I looked for rankings by people who were just plain movie watchers — not critics, academics, or movie-making professionals (although those specialists probably participated in the rankings that were open to anyone). The top movies on the list ranked highest on the most surveys. Some of the rankings were polls, but I also included items like Amazon’s list of its best-selling classic movies.
Some things about these results fascinate me.
The most popular movies on the list — 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind — are the oldest.
Alfred Hitchcock has more movies (Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest) than any other director, and all of his are in the top half of the list.
Billy Wilder, with three movies (Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, and Double Indemnity), is another crowd pleaser. So is David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai).
Stars who appear more than once include James Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Rear Window), Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon), Alec Guinness (the David Lean movies), and Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, The Third Man).
Among the filmmakers NOT on this list: Walt Disney, John Ford, and Cecil B. DeMille. Among the superstar actors absent: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn.
Anyone have other insights?