Silent movies. The words leave a fresh echo in my ear and a lasting image in my head. They were the first real ‘movies’ and when they evolved into sound, we were no doubt excited, but there was a tinge of sadness. That great feel of watching a silent movie would never be felt again. Here’s a list of the top ten silent films (in my opinion) ever made during that glorious era.
10: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
One of the most original, provocative, thought-provoking thrillers of its era, Wiene’s famous film, it’s spooky characters and excellent twist are almost impossible to forget, and amazing to watch. And by the way, what happened to that word… somnambulist… bring it back, I say!
9: The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Yeah, I know, I know, it’s racist, blah-blah-blah. I’m not denying it, it is definitely oriented toward a viewpoint of hatred toward African Americans, and that’s wrong, but just think about it, if Griffith had never made this film, we wouldn’t have half of the moviemaking techniques we have today. Awful to watch, astonishingly beautiful to look at.
8: The General (1926)
Keaton scoffs in the face of those “talkies,” sticking to his same, hilarious, risky slapstick even as the age of his art was crippling and slowly dying. The man deserves respect for this and countless other reasons. He is a true genius, and The General proves it.
7: Napoleon (1927)
The life-lasting tale of the famous leader that Stanley Kubrick was desperate to remake but never got the chance to, Abel Gance’s fantastic ‘epic’ is entertaining, gripping and long-lasting, everything a decent silent should be.
6: Nosferatu (1922)
Murnau’s unageing horror movie, perhaps the first vampire movie of all time (considering Les Vampires is apparently not about vampires), is one of the only horror movies that has deeply scared me. Watching it at age seven, I had nightmares for a week, and although it is never said in a real voice, “Your wife has a pretty neck” is a hauntingly recognizable line.
5: Un Chien Andalou (1929)
A collaboration of the artistic mind of Salvador Dali and the visionary film view of Luis Buñuel, this surreal 16-minute drama (thriller, comedy?) which seems to tell a strange, can-you-say-Lynchian story that is almost indecipherable. But who’d want to decode it? It’s there for us to enjoy, and what a treasure it is.
4: Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang’s futuristic thriller laid the path for a legion of movies, from terrific to terrible, and was tragically snubbed for Best Picture in the first ever year of the Oscars! An entertaining thrillride with an effect on its audience to this day, it’s a memorable movie that sadly marked the end of an era.
3: Intolerance (1916)
D.W. Griffith’s apology for the intolerably racist yet still powerfully affecting on the film industry The Birth of a Nation is a fantastic movie which definitely wins him back into our hearts. Presenting the fragile Lillian Gish as a symbol of innocence, he weaves a magnificent tale spanning all time.
2: Greed (1924)
With several different length versions in existence, you could come across any number of copies of Greed if you search hard enough. I’ve only seen the normal version, the easiest to find, but it blew my mind. I’ve never had so much fun watching a film sans sound.
1: The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Perhaps the greatest silent film of all time is Sergei Eisenstein’s fantastic true tale of a famous riot. Fantastic imagery and tons of memorable moments make this a revolutionary, EVOLUTIONARY step forward for film, and not only the best silent film, but one of the best movies altogether.
So that’s my Top Ten? What are silent films you love, or consider to be influential? Your feedback is what I crave, so leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.
Every year we have a load of decent films that are released, but one may notice that the amount of good movies released each year is beginning to lower. It’s times like these we need reminder that each year does present us with good films, whether the number is two or twenty. So, I’m going to present a list of films, one for every year from 1915 to 2010, to remind us that there are such things as good films, and that they do happen. This is the first part of four, listing films from 1915 to 1938. Enjoy.
The Birth of a Nation
Whether or not it is blatantly racist (which I’m sorry to say, it is), one can’t deny the artistic value that D.W. Griffith’s three-hour picture presented in 1915.
Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages
The masterful flow and presentation of this true epic more than makes up for the travesty of racist comment present in its predecessor.
The highest-grossing and most expensive movie of the year, this picturesque picture reigned supreme in an otherwise uneventful year.
F. Richard Jones’s 1918 movie was the highest-grossing box office hit of the year, and earns its place on the list as perhaps the year’s best movie.
Broken Blossoms or: The Yellow Man and the Girl
My favourite film of the 1910s decade is D.W. Griffith’s film about a Chinese man who saves a young girl from her brutal father. Definitely worth seeing.
Way Down East
Yet another D.W. Griffith movie! Yes it’s true, he is great, and this compelling film outshines that of all the year’s others as a true classic.
A Charlie Chaplin classic, this great film is full of emotion and tone, a perfect silent movie.
Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens
F.W. Murnau’s horror movie remains to this day one of the scariest, and definitely worth a look on a dark Halloween night. This was the film that got me into silent movies.
The image of Harold Lloyd hanging from that clock is one of many reasons this silent comedy is forever a classic. Welcome home!
One of my favourite silent films, Erich von Stroheim’s Greed is a timeless, long tale of exactly that, a chain reaction of events following a lottery win. Spectacular.
What else? This dramatic account of a naval mutiny is filled to the brim with spectacular imagery and is truly unforgettable.
It’s about time Buster Keaton made an appearance on this list, and a film like The General is a perfect way to do so. He really proves that he’ll risk it all for the laughs, and that is sadly so rare.
Fritz Lang hits the list with this great thriller that manages to stand out even amongst the other greats of this tricky year.
While not the best Keaton film, it still stands out to me to be an exemplary film for 1928. Keaton’s attempt at becoming a cameraman is amusing, as it should be.
Un Chien Andalou
A surrealist masterpiece and the best silent film ever made, Luis Bunuel’s 1929 collaboration with Dali is a memorable excersize in artistic fun and shocking imagery.
The surrealist style of Un Chien Andalou is revisited in this equally masterful excersize in disturbing images. Similar, but different.
Fritz Lang’s masterpiece and the oldest film on my Top 50 films list is this riveting, amazing tale of murder and redemption. Vigilante justice… ain’t it sweet?
This brilliant, original gangster movie is not to be confused with its 1983 counterpart (even though the 1983 film is superior). Great gangster moments and terrific performances paint the screen.
Who could forget this great adventure film, in all its black-and-white monstrous glory? The official monster movie.
It Happened One Night
Sweeping the Oscars and practically reinventing the romantic comedy, this swell road-trip ride through countless comic situations is original and funny.
The Triumph of the Will
Please don’t take this choice the wrong way. This is a hugely artistic, valuable film that has been misunderstood time and time again. A documentary about Nazis, this film is not pro-Nazi, but rather quite the opposite.
Another great Charlie Chaplin classic, this is a refreshing comedy that was undoubtedly the highlight of the year… as you can see.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
An animated joy, this age-old fairy tale is brought to spectacular life and ingrained forever in the memories of us and our children. Great stuff!
Bringing Up Baby
A fantastic comedy from Howard Hawks starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, this is a rare treat from one of the true masters.
So there you have it, the first twenty four films of ninety six spanning nearly a hundred years. Leave me a comment with your thoughts; whether you agree or disagree. Next time I’ll be listing films from 1939 to 1962.
Thanks for reading.