Monday, December 19, 2011

What is Your Favorite Classic Film? Who Are Your Favorite Stars? The 2011 Classic Film Survey Has Answers

Last month, the Cafe surveyed over 125 classic film lovers as part of its first annual Classic Film Survey. The survey's final question proved to be the most difficult for many survey participants: "What is your favorite: film, actress, actor and director?"

Several people stated it was too difficult to pick just one of each category. Others noted: "If you asked me the same question tomorrow, my answers would be different." Still, most of the surveyed film fans listed their favorites and here are the results.

What is your favorite film?

This was the most diverse of the four "favorite" categories, with the results being spread among 61 motion pictures. They ranged from silent films (Sherlock Jr.) to movies from the early 1980s (e.g., Raging Bull). Surprisingly, there were a number of foreign-language films, such as Seven Samurai, Cinema Paradiso, Babette's Feast, and Yojimbo. However, the top vote-getter was no surprise at all, with Casablanca earning the honors. Here are the top six films:

Casablanca (10.8%)
Gone With the Wind (6.5%)
North by Northwest (4.3%)
Philadelphia Story (4.3%)
Citizen Kane (3.2%)
Vertigo (3.2%)

Other films with more than one vote: All About Eve, The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, It's a Wonderful Life, My Man Godfrey, Notorious, Random Harvest, and The Thin Man.

Who is your favorite actress?

It was a two-person race in this category and, in the end, Bette Davis emerged as the top vote-getter with 14.3% of the total. The only actress to come near that percentage was Katharine Hepburn with 10.9%. What's interesting about Bette's popularity is that only one of her films--All About Eve--garnered any support as favorite film. The implication is that, in some cases, star appeal transcends the films featuring the star.

Thirty-five actresses received at least one vote. There were silent film actresses (Lillian Gish), foreign-language stars (Jeanne Moreau, Claudia Cardinale), and recent screen favorites (Naomi Watts). Here are the top six actresses:

Bette Davis (14.3%)
Katharine Hepburn (10.9%)
Barbara Stanwyck (6.5%)
Audrey Hepburn (6.5%)
Jean Arthur (5.5%)
Myrna Loy (5.5%)

Other actresses with more than one vote: Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, Vivian Leigh, Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, and Natalie Wood.

Who is your favorite actor?

The resounding answer is Cary Grant. Mr. Grant dominated in the actor category, crushing his competitors with 31% of the total votes. What's impressive about his "victory" is that the question was an open-ended one. Thus, with no choices on a form to select from, 31% of the survey participants typed in Cary Grant as their favorite actor.

James Stewart was a distant No. 2 with 12% of the votes. Still, he was a clear second choice, outdistancing the rest of the pack by at least 8%. Furthermore, Stewart's 12% was almost enough to win any other category.

With Grant and Stewart collecting so many votes, it's somewhat surprising that the remaining votes were spread among 47 actors. Several current performers made the list, to include George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, and Alan Rickman. A single vote prevented many Hollywood favorites, such as John Wayne and Ronald Colman, from being shut out totally. Here are the top five actors:

Cary Grant (31%)
James Stewart (12%)
Humphrey Bogart (4%)
Errol Flynn (3%)
James Cagney (3%)

Other actors with more than one vote: Leslie Howard, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, and Anton Walbrook.

Who is your favorite director?

The expected winner--Alfred Hitchcock--was the top choice with 28% of the votes. His total more than doubled that of second-place finisher Billy Wilder. Still, it wasn't the landslide that I expected. Once again, classic film fans proved to possess a wide range of tastes. This category, in particular, reflected a fondness for foreign-language cinema with votes being cast for Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Jacques Tati, Erich Von Stroheim, Rene Clair, Federico Fellini, Jean Cocteau, Pedro Almodovar, and even John Woo. The top six directors were:

Alfred Hitchcock (28.4%)
Billy Wilder (13.7%)
Frank Capra (7.4%)
John Ford (4.2%)
Howard Hawks (4.2%)
George Stevens (4.2%)

Other directors with more than one vote: Ingmar Bergman, Charles Chaplin, George Cukor, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Otto Preminger, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, and William Wyler.

A Special Thanks

I want to personally thank everyone who voted in the 2011 Classic Film Survey. It's been a lot of fun to analyze and share the results. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from the Cafe's fans on Twitter. In fact, we're already thinking up questions for the 2012 survey, which we'll launch next November!


  1. Ha! Very interesting!! :D

  2. Darn it! I missed out. Maybe next time.

  3. Rick,I have really enjoyed learning more about all of us here at the Cafe. Thank you for taking the time to put together the Surveys.

  4. People love Cary Grant don't they? I am not sure why he inspires such devotion, I have always found him perfectly decent, but the favourite actor ever? Is it too late for me to vote for James Stewart?

  5. My choices weren't very popular! lol At least Cary Grant made the list.
    Happy Holidays to everyone at The Cafe.

  6. You start your write-up stating that those who participated in the survey stated the difficulty of choosing just one in any of the categories. This is so true that I don't even remember who I chose in several of the categories.

    Taking the survey and seeing the results were great fun. I look forward to next year's. Thanks for sharing all.


  7. I'm disappointed that Humphrey Bogart and John Ford were not more popular.

  8. I just posted a poll of my own on my Katharine Hepburn blog - Which is your favorite director of Katharine Hepburn movies? A couple of her directors are listed in your post, which I found very interesting. How lucky she was to work with the very best. I'd love it if you cast your vote!

  9. As has already been stated it is hard to choose the favorite movie and much harder the favorite actor or actress,

    I believe if i were to name my three favorite movies it would be
    Gone with the wind
    River of no return
    not necessarily in that order

    I would have to name
    Robert Michem, Clark Gable, and Humphrey Bogart as my favorite actors and of course i doubt any one could exclude John Wayne. and also Rory Calhoun who Before becoming an actor worked as a boxer, a lumberjack, a truck driver and a cowpuncher.

    Clark Gable worked in the oil fields.

    Robert Michem.s young life was more like my own so i will not go there.

    If i want to forget the problems of the world there is nothing like watching and listening to Gene Autry, the one who made the signing cowboy movies famous.

    As for the actresses there are so many, but Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall stands out as two that can not be duplicated, if it was assumed any one could be.

    I never thought much about this in my younger years, but in more recent years i have had time to look at the back ground of many of these old stars and realized most of them never got it handed to them on a silver platter, many of them came from poor families just the same as i did an they worked their tails off.