Chinatown: the best film of all time

Roman Polanski's 'neo-noir' starring Jack Nicholson and a killer last line takes first place in poll of Guardian and Observer critics
The best romance films
The best horror films
The best crime films
The best comedy films
The best action and war films
The best sci-fi and fantasy films
The best drama and art fllms

It's the film that cemented Jack Nicholson's reputation as the best American actor of his generation, and it was the last film Roman Polanski would make in the US before he fled the country in disgrace. Now, almost 40 years later, their 1974 release Chinatown has now been named the greatest film ever made.

The Chandleresque "neo-noir", with an Oscar-winning script by Robert Towne and a superlative performance by Nicholson as detective JJ Gittes, was voted into first place by a panel of Guardian and Observer critics.

Chinatown beat six other films in a shortlist drawn from the top-named films in the recently-published seven-part series of the 25 greatest films in seven genres, which concluded today. In joint-second place were Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (from the Horror section) and Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (the leading film in the Arthouse section).

The Guardian's film critic, Peter Bradshaw, said: "Chinatown is such a powerful piece of myth-making, a brilliant evocation of Los Angeles as a spiritual desert." The Observer's Philip French considers it a movie of "near perfection", ending "unforgettably with the line 'Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown!'".

Alongside Nicholson, Chinatown features career-best performances from Faye Dunaway – who notoriously clashed on set with director Polanski – and legendary film-maker John Huston, who played sinister landowner Noah Cross. Polanski himself had a cameo as a stiletto-wielding hoodlum who slices Nicholson's nose open.

Originally titled Water and Power, Chinatown was intended by scriptwriter Robert Towne to be the first of a trilogy examining the corrupting effects of Los Angeles's natural resources on the development of the city. But production of the second film, The Two Jakes, was much delayed and only emerged in 1990, with Nicholson himself as director. The disappointing critical and commercial reaction meant the third film, Gittes Vs Gittes, was never made.

The full result:

1) Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

=2) Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

=2) Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

4) Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1976)

5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

6) Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

7) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

Contributor

Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chinatown: the best crime film of all time

Roman Polanski, 1974

Philip French

17, Oct, 2010 @10:55 AM

Article image
Chinatown the greatest film ever, say Guardian and Observer critics
A late honour for Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski, with Hitchcock's Psycho coming in second

Andrew Pulver

22, Oct, 2010 @5:13 PM

Article image
The Shining: No 5 best horror film of all time

Stanley Kubrick, 1980

Anne Billson

22, Oct, 2010 @10:50 AM

Article image
My favourite film: Chinatown

Paul Macinnes continues our writer's favourite film series with the movie that left him chilled and overwhelmed – Roman Polanski's detective tale that exploded the genre conventions

Paul MacInnes

27, Dec, 2011 @12:01 AM

Article image
Chinatown: Archive review

From the Guardian, 9 August 1974

Derek Malcolm

17, Oct, 2010 @10:55 AM

Article image
My favourite city film is ... Chinatown
For the Barbican’s City Visions series, we’re asking you to pick the best city film – with the winner to get a special Guardian Cities screening. Xan Brooks cheers for Chinatown

Xan Brooks

22, Aug, 2014 @10:48 AM

DVD club: Chinatown

DVD club: Polanski made two films in America. The first is the occult horror movie Rosemary's Baby. The second is the magnificent Chinatown, set in a wonderfully recreated 1937 Los Angeles. Together with his Polish debut Knife in the Water (1963) and the low-budget British pictures Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac, shot back-to-back in 1965-66, they constitute the core of his oeuvre.

Philip French

10, Sep, 2006 @12:02 AM

Chinatown – review

Time has lessened our sense that this superlative 1974 film is simply a pastiche of the classic 30s gumshoe thrillers – it now looks like a straightforward classic, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

03, Jan, 2013 @8:59 PM

Article image
I’ve never seen … Chinatown
Even if you’re already aware of the ending, the final moments of the ultimate sunshine noir can shock even the most hardened box-set veteran

Graeme Virtue

09, Apr, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Top 10 horror movies

Time to bring the fear - from Nosferatu to The Shining, here's what the Guardian and Observer's critics have picked as the scariest films ever made

14, Oct, 2013 @4:49 PM