1920s

Jump to a year: 1920  1921  1922  1923  1924  1925  1926  1927  1928  1929

[Films are listed according to release date. Best Picture Winners are listed first each year, beginning in 1927]

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Films exploded in popularity in the 1920s. Movies became bigger, more polished, more refined, and more expensive. Most filmmaking migrated from New York and New Jersey to the West Coast. The “Big Five” studios of the era were: Warner Bros. Pictures which became prominent in 1927 with the release of The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie;” The Famous-Players Lasky Corporation (incorporated as Paramount Pictures in 1927) which possessed the greatest stars: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudy Valentino and others; RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures, the smallest of the Big Five that grew in popularity in the ’30s with Astaire-Rogers musicals and others (eventually Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane); Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the massively successful company of the ’20s and ’30s; and the Fox Film Corporation. This was the era of the total control of the studios -production, distribution, theaters, and even actors. Anti-trust suits were eventually brought in the ’40s.

The three “Little Studios” of the era were: Carl Laemmle’s Universal Pictures; the partnership of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists; and Columbia Pictures. Other smaller studios, like Disney, resided on “poverty row.”

In 1920, the “marriage of the century” took place when Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford got married and divorced their respective spouses. Douglas Fairbanks bought an 18-acre tudor-styled home in Beverly Hills, dubbed “pickfair” by the press. It became a West Coast White House of sorts, serving as a gathering place for dignitaries, diplomats, celebrities, artists, and journalists.

The top stars of the era were: Charlie Chaplin, who continued his pursuit of perfection as he turned away from his short films to focus on more serious movies like The Kid and The Gold Rush; and other brilliant comedy stars like Buster Keaton who completed his magnum opus The General and Harold Lloyd famed for his situational comedy in Safety Last!; Gloria Swanson, a wildly successful silent actress who starred in many Cecil B. DeMille films; Tom Mix, the “King of Cowboys;” the elegant Norma Talmadge, known for her performance in Smilin’ Through (1922); Rudolph Valentino, the “Latin Lover” whose life ended far too soon; Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the “King of Hollywood;” and “Our Mary” Mary Pickford; the free-spirited Norma Shearer who eventually married Irving Thalberg; the sophisticated John Barrymore, who successfully made the leap from silent to “talkie” films before fading into obscurity as so many do in Hollywood; an independent and eccentric Swedish actress named Greta Garbo, the “man of a thousand faces” Lon Chaney; the sex icon and “it girl” Clara Bow; a bumbling juggler from Ziegfield’s follies named W.C. Fields; and the launch of long-lasting careers like Janet Gaynor.

1920

The_Cabinet_of_Dr._Caligari_posterDas Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (1920)
Release Date: February 26, 1920 (Germany)
Director: Robert Wiene
This silent German Expressionist film is a classic of early horror cinema that explores the psychology of a mad hypnotist and his murderous creature called a “somnambulist.” But things are not always as they seem in this haunting picture. Dr. Caligari is a powerful early silent picture.

Waydowneast1.jpgWay Down East (1920)
Release Date: September 3, 1920
Director: D.W. Griffith
Studio: United Artists
Starring Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess, this melodrama is one of Griffith’s great silent masterpieces. The film is about a pitiable young country girl, who is treated poorly and births a child to an unjust man who leaves her and then the baby dies. When rumors circulate, she is cast out and left for dead in a dangerous scene of ice and snow, only to be rescued and reunited with the love of her life in the end.

Within Our Gates (1920) Director: Oscar Michaeux

Golem 1920 Poster.jpgDer Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came Into The World) (1920)
Release Date: October 29, 1920
Directors: Paul Wegener and Carl Boese
The Golem is a silent horror, German Expressionist film about the mythic German-Jewish golem creature that becomes animated by a Jewish rabbi to protect the Jews of ancient Prague, but the golem predictably terrorizes the whole community.

FairbanksMarkofZorro.jpgThe Mark of Zorro (1920)
Release Date: November 27, 1920
Director: Fred Niblo
Studio: United Artists
The Mark of Zorro stars Douglas Fairbanks “The King of Hollywood” as the unimpressive Don Diego Vega by day, turned acrobatic hero named Zorro by night. It is a fun adventure in old Spanish California, and one of Fairbanks’s signature roles. This is the first movie production of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story, “The Curse of Capistrano.” The film represents Douglas Fairbanks’s breakthrough role as an action/adventure star.

Top Grossing Films of 1920

1. Way Down East – $4,500,000

2. Over the Hill to the Poorhouse – $3,000,000

3. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – $1,300,000

1921

the-phantom-carriage-movie-poster-1921-1020683962The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Release Date: January 1, 1921 (Sweden)
Director: Victor Sjöström
The Phantom Carriage (literally Körkarlen or “The Wagoner”) is a silent Swedish horror film about an old, ghostly legend. The film has a haunting, dream-like quality to it, thanks to its astounding special effects. The legend is about the driver of the phantom carriage of the dead -the last person to sin and die on New Years Eve each year is condemned to drive Death’s ghostly carriage and pick up the souls of the dead for the year. It was directed by and also starred Victor Sjöström, of later repute for his roles in The Wind and, most notably, in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Bergman would later go on to praise this film as one of the greatest of all time.

chaplin_the_kidThe Kid (1921)
Release Date: January 21, 1921
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Studio: Charles Chaplin Productions
The Kid is Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length feature film as a director. Tragically its production coincided with Chaplin’s own personal misfortunes: divorce and the loss of his firstborn. The film tells the sentimental and tragic-comic story of the Tramp as he cares for an orphaned child (played by Jackie Coogan) until the boy’s long-lost mother finally reclaims him.

four horsemenThe Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
Release Date: March 6, 1921
Director: Rex Ingram.
Studio: Metro Pictures (later MGM)
This is the film that formed the career of the “Latin Lover” Rudy Valentino. It tells the epic story of an Argentinian-French family divided against one another during World War I. The story is based on a popular novel by Spanish writer, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, entitled Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis (1916). The film was later remade in 1962.

the sheikThe Sheik (1921)
Release Date: October 21, 1921
Director: George Melford
Studio: Paramount Pictures (The Famous Players-Lasky)
The Sheik tells the exotic story of a British woman who is captured by an Arabian sheik named Ahmed (played by Rudy Valentino) with whom she soon falls in love. A sequel was made in 1926, and the sequel is generally considered superior: The Son of the Sheik (1926).

orphans of the storm 1921Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Release Date: December 28, 1921
Director: D.W. Griffith
Studio: United Artists
Featuring the famous Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy, Orphans of the Storm is the last of Griffith’s great silent films. The film depicts the story of two poor French sisters who travel to Paris during the French Revolution to cure one sister of her blindness. They become caught up in the chaos only to find love and happiness in the end.

Top Grossing Films of 1921

1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – $9,200,000

2. The Kid – $5,450,000

3. Orphans of the Storm – $3,000,000

4. The Three Musketeers – $2,000,000

5. The Sheik – $1,500,000

1922

Foolish_Wives_adFoolish Wives (1922)
Release Date: January 11, 1922
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Studio: Universal Film Manufacturing Company (later Universal Pictures)
Foolish Wives is the erotic tragedy about a man posing as a Count in order to seduce wealthy women and steal their money. It is memorable mainly for being an early Erich von Stroheim film, and also for introducing his eccentric personality as a director.

nosferatuNosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror) (1922)
Release Date: March 4, 1922 (Germany)
Director: F.W. Murnau
Studio: Prana Film
Nosferatu is one of the great horror films of all time and it is an essential German Expressionist picture of the silent era. It was nearly sued out of existence by the estate of Bram Stoker for plagiarizing the story of Dracula, but thankfully one copy of the picture has survived to our great benefit. It tells the story of a businessman who is compelled to visit a remote German castle in order to complete a real estate transaction. Little does he know a blood-thirsty nosferatu named Count Orlock is waiting to wreak havoc upon his life.

Dr MabuseDr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922)
Release Date: April 27, 1922 (Germany)
Director: Fritz Lang
Dr. Mabuse is a four and a half hour long German epic about a mischievous psychologist who has mastered the art of mind control and disguise, so he orchestrates world events in his favor. The film is odd and challenging, yet haunting and mysterious with impeccable cinematography.

440px-Nanook_of_the_northNanook of the North (1922)
Release Date: June 11, 1922
Director: Robert Flaherty
Studio: Pathé Exchange
Nanook is the famous, or perhaps infamous, silent documentary film about the trials facing a Canadian-Inuit hunting chief named Nanook and his family. However, much of the film was actually scripted and staged for production. Nevertheless, it is a well-made and enjoyable silent picture.

haxan_sv_posterHaxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
Release Date: September 18, 1922 (Sweden)
Director: Benjamin Christensen
Haxan is a Dutch-Swedish silent, pseudo-documentary styled horror film that focuses on the occult: witches, satanism, and other superstitions. The costumes and set designs are particularly terrifying in this creepy film. The most memorable scenes feature the devil, played by director, Benjamin Christensen (Haxan is the film for which he is best known).

440px-Douglas_Fairbanks_Robin_Hood_1922_film_posterRobin Hood (1922)
Release Date: October 18, 1922
Director: Allan Dwan
Studio: United Artists
Douglas Fairbanks “The King of Hollywood” plays the exuberant and acrobatic Robin Hood in this impressive fore-runner to future Robin Hood films, (it contains the seed of future great Robin Hood pictures, particularly Errol Flynn’s memorable 1938 performance).

Top Grossing Films of 1922

1. Robin Hood – $2,500,000

2. Oliver Twist – $4,360,000

3. Blood and Sand – $1,250,000

1923

la roueLe Roue (The Wheel) (1923)
Release Date: February 17, 1923
Director: Abel Gance
Abel Gance is the master of the silent French epic film and The Wheel is his masterpiece. The film paints the tragic picture of Sisif, a railroad engineer who falls in love with his adopted daughter. However, his son is also in love with her, so ashamed at himself, Sisif moves up into the mountains where is cared for by his daughter until his pitiable death. It is a disturbingly beautiful picture, albeit a behemoth of a film.

The_Covered_Wagon_posterThe Covered Wagon (1923)
Release Date: March 16, 1923
Director: James Cruze
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The Covered Wagon is important for being the first big Hollywood Western epic. It tells the story of a pioneer wagon convoy departing from Kansas to Oregon in 1848 as they encounter American Indians, wild buffalo, and unfriendly terrain.

lloyd-harold-safety-last_01Safety Last! (1923)
Release Date: April 1, 1923
Directors: Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Studio: Pathé Exchange
Safety Last! is Harold Lloyd’s most celebrated silent comedy film. Even today, the film is an anxious comedy that leaves audiences worried for Lloyd’s safety as he scales a massive department store building, barely clinging to life from a clock tower while traffic speeds by far below.

Three Ages (1923)

a woman of parisA Woman of Paris (1923)
Release Date: September 26, 1923
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Studio: United Artists
A Woman Of Paris is a departure. It is Charlie Chaplin’s attempt at a dramatic feature film that does not feature either himself or his classic Tramp character. It is a somewhat forgettable film, if not for Charlie Chaplin’s name attached to the production. It is about two lovers who are prevented from seeing one another amidst tragic circumstances.

ourhospitalitylc3xsOur Hospitality (1923)
Release Date: November 19, 1923
Directors: Buster Keaton and John Blystone
Studio: Joseph M. Schenck Productions (or Buster Keaton Productions), Metro Pictures
This Buster Keaton comedy classic is about two feuding southern families (in a parody of the Hatfields and the McCoys). Their son returns years later to claim his inheritance and naturally, mayhem ensues. Our Hospitality is the second of Keaton’s ten brilliant independent films under Buster Keaton Productions.

Coeur_fidèleCoeur fidèle (Faithful Heart) (1923)
Release Date: November 23, 1923
Director: Jean Epstein
Studio: Pathé
Faithful Heart is a slow-paced French Impressionist film that tells the melodramatic story of two lovers in Marseilles, France. Jean Epstein was an early filmmaker of Polish-Swiss-French descent. He studied under Auguste Lumière and he developed a reputation as a notable director in the French Impressionist movement.

440px-The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_-_poster_1923The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Release Date: December 4, 1923 (Los Angeles), December 21, 1923 (New York City)
Director: Wallace Worsley
Studio: Universal Pictures
This classic version of Victor Hugo’s epic Parisian-Gothic novel is the film that made Lon Chaney “The Man of a Thousand Faces” famous for his grotesque portrayal of Quasimodo. Universal’s towering sets for the film are an incredible reconstruction of medieval Paris.

TenCommandments-bigposter-1923The Ten Commandments (1923)
Release Date: December 4, 1923 (Los Angeles), December 21, 1923 (New York City)
Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Studio: Paramount Pictures (The Famous Players-Lasky Corporation)
Similar in scope to D.W. Griffith’s multi-narrative epic Intolerance, Cecil B. De Mille created a massive silent epic with The Ten Commandments that, in part, mirrors the story of the book of Exodus, and also conveys a parallel story about two present-day brothers, one noble and one evil. DeMille later famously restructured and remade the film in 1956.

La_Souriante_Madame_BeudetLa Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) (1923)
Director: Germaine Dulac. The Smiling Madame Beudet is an avant-garde and beautifully created short French film about a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage. It ends with accidental gunfire followed by remorse and forgiveness.

Top Grossing Films of 1923

1. The Covered Wagon – $7,630,000

2. The Ten Commandments – $4,168,790

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – $3,500,000

4. Safety Last! – $1,500,000

1924

NibelungDie Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924)
Release Date: February 14, 1924
Director: Fritz Lang
Die Nibelungen is a two part Germanic epic film directed by Fritz Lang, the “Master of Darkness.” Part I details the rise of the heroic Prince Siegfried and his many accomplishments until he is killed and his princess commits suicide.

The_Thief_of_Bagdad_(1924)_-_film_posterThe Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Release Date: March 18, 1924
Director: Raoul Walsh
Studio: United Artists
Based on the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, this Douglas Fairbanks classic is a fun Arabian adventure that later became the inspiration for Disney’s Aladdin. The Thief of Bagdad tells the story of Ahmed, a comical thief who decides to steal the princess’s heart while concealing his identity as a common thief. The film is filled with amusing effects, such as an invisibility cloak and a flying carpet.

Sherlock JrSherlock, Jr. (1924)
Release Date: April 21, 1924
Director: Buster Keaton
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn Pictures
Sherlock, Jr. is delightful short meta-film. Buster Keaton plays a movie theatre projectionist who dreams of becoming a detective. He unsuccessfully tries to impress a girl and then falls asleep beside a film projector and has a dream that he climbs into the silver screen from the theatre and he appears in a series of movies (the effects are remarkable) only to be awoken and reunited with his love interest.

nibelungen posterDie Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924)
Release Date: April 26,1924
Director: Fritz Lang.
Die Nibelungen is a two part Germanic epic film directed by the “Master of Darkness.” Part II, is a revenge story against Hagen, the killer of Prince Siegfried in Part I.

iron-horseThe Iron Horse (1924)
Release Date: August 28, 1924
Director: John Ford
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
John Ford once called this western epic his personal favorite from his repertoire. The film is about the clash of cultures amidst the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The quality of the film has deteriorated somewhat with time, but the cinematography is extraordinary. John Ford is a master of making motion pictures and The Iron Horse is an early example of his genius.

maxresdefaultThe Navigator (1924)
Release Date: October 13, 1924
Directors: Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn
Buster Keaton’s classic stone-faced character hilariously purchases honeymoon cruise tickets prior to proposing marriage to a girl. When she predictably rejects his proposal, he decides to go on the honeymoon alone, but the two connect on the ship amidst Buster Keaton’s standard slapstick high jinks until the ship runs aground and they are nearly captured by cannibals, but they are saved at the last moment.

InhumaineL’inhumaine (1924)
Release Date: November 1924
Director: Marcel L’Herbier
“The Inhuman Woman” is an experimental French film about a heartless woman and the evil she brings upon those around her. Marcel L’Herbier is a noted director in school of French Impressionist school.

He_Who_Gets_SlappedHe Who Gets Slapped (1924)
Release Date: November 9, 1924
Director: Victor Sjöström
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn
He Who Gets Slapped is a tragic silent film starring the great Lon Chaney. It tells the story of a reputable academic who makes a remarkable breakthrough discovery, but he is betrayed and his reputation is sullied. His wife leaves him, and he sinks to becoming a traveling clown in a circus. However, the film is also a tale of revenge and requital as the clown ultimately gets the last laugh. He Who Gets Slapped contains the first released footage of the classic MGM lion’s roar

greed3Greed (1924)
Release Date: December 4, 1924
Director: Erich von Stroheim
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
With Greed, the eccentric Austrian-American director, Erich von Stroheim, creates an intertwined western story of two friends caught up in fraud and selfishness, who both wind up being murderers, handcuffed to each other, without water, in the desert just out of reach of their prized money.

the last laughDer Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (1924)
Release Date: December 23, 1924 (Germany)
Director: F.W. Murnau
Starring Emil Jannings, The Last Laugh is the brilliant work of F.W. Murnau, the great auteur of early cinema. It tells the somewhat absurd story of a proud but aging hotel doorman who falls beneath his station in life when he is demoted to a washroom attendant because he is too old. However, the film becomes a comedy in a surprising twist of fate, when the doorman inherits a vast sum of money and he regains his status.

great-white-silence-1924-001-ship-seen-behind-looming-iceberg-00o-fs6The Great White Silence (1924)
Director: Herbert Ponting.
The Great White Silence is the powerful and harrowing documentary about the ill-fated 1910-1913 expedition through the desolate, icy tundra to reach the South Pole. Surprisingly to me, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Top Grossing Films of 1924

1. The Sea Hawk – $2,000,000

2. The Thief of Bagdad – $1,500,000

3. Girl Shy – $1,500,000

1925

visagesVisages d’enfants (1925)
Release Date: January 24, 1925
Director: Jacques Feyder
“The Faces of Children” is a simple and beautiful film about a family living in the scenic Swiss alps whose mother suddenly dies. The widowed father sends his son away for a time, and during his son’s absence he eventually falls in love again and remarries. The film is a psychological exploration into one boy’s mind focusing on his mother’s death and his father’s remarriage.

the lost worldThe Lost World (1925)
Release Date: February 2, 1925
Director: Harry Hoyt
Studio: First National Pictures
Based on the Arthur Conan Doyle adventure novel of the same name, The Lost World is a wonderful adventure film about a group that gets trapped in the Amazon with dinosaurs and cannibals, until they successfully capture a brontosaurus and bring it back to the city where it runs amok, paving the way for King Kong. It is the first feature-length film to showcase stop-motion animation.

sevenchancesSeven Chances (1925)
Release Date: March 11, 1925
Director: Buster Keaton
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn
Seven Chances is a delightful Buster Keaton short film about a young man who realizes he is receiving an inheritance of $7M, but his inheritance is dependent on him being married prior to his 27th birthday. Suddenly, he realizes he is about to turn 27 so he proposes to his girlfriend, but she declines believing he is after money rather than love, so he is chased all over town by many women for his money, until he is reunited with his girlfriend and married before he turns 27.

Strike_(film)Stachka (Strike) (1925)
Release Date: April 28, 1925
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Strike is Eisenstein’s first major propaganda film (The Battleship Potemkin was released that year) and in it we find early elements of his Soviet montage style employed as a group of factory workers in Tsarist Russia rebel against the corrupt owners while spliced images of cows being slaughtered are edited into the montage.

220px-goldrush2The Gold Rush (1925)
Release Date: June 26, 1925
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Studio: United Artists
The Gold Rush sees the return of Charlie Chaplin’s classic Tramp character to the silver screen as he travels to the Yukon for the Klondike Gold Rush. He meets an odd prospector named Big Jim, along with a dangerous criminal, and he falls in love with a girl in a nearby town. In the end, Big Jim and the Tramp discover gold and they become filthy rich, just as the Tramp wins the heart of his paramour.

freshmanThe Freshman (1925)
Release Date: September 20, 1925
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
Studio: Pathé Exchange
The Freshman is another terrific comedy from Harold Lloyd, masterfully preserved thanks to the Criterion Collection. As the title suggests, Lloyd plays an awkward freshman in college who accidentally wins a football game for his alma mater and also wins the heart of his love interest.

keaton_go_west_1925Go West (1925)
Release Date: November 1, 1925
Director: Buster Keaton
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Go West is Buster Keaton’s parody of a cowboy western film as he travels west from the big city to become a cowboy, but he winds up merely befriending a cow, until he leads a herd of cattle through the city of Los Angeles. It is another hilarious classic from “Old Stone Face.”

440px-The_Big_Parade_(1925)_posterThe Big Parade (1925)
Release Date: November 5, 1925
Director: King Vidor
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Big Parade is the foundational war epic film that laid the groundwork for other powerful war films to come, like All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930. It tells the horrific story of three men and their experiences in World War I. The film boosted King Vidor into the Hollywood spotlight and changed the landscape of war films forever.

the_phantom_of_the_opera_1925_filmThe Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Release Date: November 25, 1925
Director: Rupert Julian
Studio: Universal Pictures
The Phantom of the Opera stays true to the original Gaston Leroux novel for the most part, but the true star of this film is Lon Chaney “The Man of a Thousand Faces” who plays the phantom. In one memorable and shocking scene when the phantom is finally unmasked, Chaney devised his own make-up to create the perfect effect.

vintage_potemkinThe Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin) (1925)
Release Date: December 21, 1925 (USSR)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
The Battleship Potemkin is Eisenstein’s masterpiece of Soviet propaganda. He used the film as a testing ground for his theory of cinematic montage editing in order to build dramatic tension, highlighting and exaggerating the conflict between the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and the oppressive Russian Tsarist regime.

ben-hur-1925Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Release Date: December 30, 1925
Director: Fred Niblo
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Ben-Hur is the incredible epic story of an ancient Jew, Judah Ben-Hur, who rises up from slavery during the time of Jesus Christ, and becomes a successful Roman athlete and charioteer. Ben-Hur was the most expensive silent film ever made, costing around $4M. The film was, of course, famously later remade by William Wyler in 1959 starring Charlton Heston. Both are excellent films.

Top Grossing Films of 1925

1. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – $9386,000

2. The Big Parade – $6,131,000

3. The Gold Rush – $5,450,000

4. His People – $3,000,000

5. The Freshman – $2,600,000

6. The Phantom of the Opera – $2,000,000

1926

prince achmedThe Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
Release Date: February 1926 (Germany)
Director: Lotte Reiniger
The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the oldest surviving animated feature film. The animation is amazing (Reiniger used the silhouettes of cardboard cutouts) and the plot is largely taken from the Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

sonofthesheikThe Son of the Sheik (1926)
Release Date: July 9, 1926
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Studio: United Artists
This 1926 sequel to The Sheik (1921), also starring the “Latin Lover” of silent cinema, Rudy Valentino, is widely reputed to be better than the original. In it, Valentino plays the spoiled son of the sheik as he falls in love with a dancer who he believes betrays him in a dramatic scene of kidnapping and ransom. This was Valentino’s final film before his untimely death from peritonitis.

3 Bad Men (1926)
Release Date: August 28, 1926
Director: John Ford
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
3 Bad Men was John Ford’s last silent film (most of his silent pictures have not survived) and it tells the beautiful western story of three horse thieves during the South Dakota land rush but they decide to change their ways when they suddenly become caretakers for a young woman, and find her a husband so they can live in peace on the prairie. This was John Ford’s last western film until the incredible Stagecoach in 1939.

faustFaust (1926)
Release Date: October 14, 1926 (Germany)
Director: F.W. Murnau
This film is yet another excellent picture from F.W. Murnau, based on Goethe’s interpretation of the Germanic legend. It is a silent horror film in which Emil Jannings plays “Mephisto” (or Mephistopheles).

Flesh and the Devil (1926)
Release Date: December 25, 1926
Director: Clarence Brown
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Greta Garbo steals the show in this tragic tale of romance in Germany as two former soldiers battle for the heart of one woman who sadly slips through ice at the end of the film and drowns. Amazingly, during the production of the film the romance between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert was not faked on screen as they had fallen in love secretly behind the scenes.

Battling Butler (1926)

Image result for the general 1927The General (1926)
Release Date: December 31, 1926
Director: Buster Keaton
Studio: United Artists
Loosely based on historical events that took place in the American Civil War, The General is Buster Keaton’s magnum opus. He plays a Confederate engineer who travels behind union lines on his train “The General” to rescue his sweetheart and provide key intelligence to the Confederate army.

Top Grossing Films of 1926

1. Aloma of the South Seas – $3,000,000

2. For Heaven’s Sake – $2,600,000

3. The Son of the Sheik – $2,000,000

1927

Wings_posterOutstanding Picture (1927-1928): Wings (1927)
Release Date: August 12, 1927
Director: William A. Wellman
Studio: Paramount Pictures (The Famous Players-Lasky)
Wings is the first ever winner of the award for Best Picture from the Academy. The film stars Clara Bow and a young Gary Cooper. It tells the story of two young adversaries who both are sent to fight in World War I, and both are in love with the same girl back home.

sunriseBest Unique and Artistic Picture (1927-1928): Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Release Date: September 23, 1927
Director: F.W. Murnau
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
Sunrise is yet another silent masterpiece from F.W. Murnau. It won an award at the very first Academy Awards ceremony for “Best Unique and Artistic Picture,” an award that has only been given once to clear the way for the Best Picture award (which has been credited to Wings for the year 1927-1928). The film paints a beautiful picture of an unhappy married couple in a rural European community, the unnamed husband is tempted by a loose woman, and he fails in an attempt to kill his wife so they both flee to the city where he begs her for forgiveness in a church and they reconcile. They return home after adventures in the city and he kills the other woman to be with his wife just as the sun rises.

MV5BNDAzNTkyODg1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA3NDkwMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Metropolis (1927)
Release date: January 10, 1927
Director: Fritz Lang
Metropolis is the great silent, monumental, masterpiece directed by the “Master of Darkness.” It tells the dystopian, futuristic story of workers who work in dark and dingy quarters below ground, while a peaceful aristocracy enjoys life above ground. One member goes below to see the horrors of life for the workers, meanwhile a scientist has been constructing a humanoid female robot who leads an uprising of workers below ground until reconciliation is found at the end. The film was considered a lavish production that became a box office disaster and the German production company had to be bailed out by American investors.

Oktyabr (October) (1927)
Release Date: January 20, 1928
Directors: Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov
October is Eisenstein’s third and final great silent classic film that employs the use of his montage theory. This Soviet government commissioned this propaganda film to commemorate the Bolshevik revolution, or the Leninist “October Revolution.”

The Kid Brother (1927)
Release Date: January 22, 1927
Directors: Ted Wilde, J.A. Wilde, Harold Lloyd, Lewis Milestone
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The Kid Brother is another wild ride from Harold Lloyd as he plays one of three sons of a sheriff. He tries to win the heart of a girl, but he is regularly mocked for being weak. Then the town is robbed and the sheriff (his father) is blamed. The sheriff sends his two older and stronger sons to solve the crime but they cannot, so Lloyd accidentally solves the crime and returns the stolen items to his town.

Image result for the lodgerThe Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Release Date: February 14, 1927
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
The Lodger is Hitchcock’s first great film. All of London is in fear because a serial killer (a la “Jack the Ripper”) is on the loose and attacking blonde women. One night, a strange man appears at a lodging house to rent a room, and suspicions grow but Daisy, the girl of the house finds him intriguing. However, just as a mob descends on ‘the lodger’ he professes his innocence and that he was trying to catch the true killer, whom the police apprehend. The Lodger is a classic Hitchcock film.

It_(1927_film_poster)It (1927)
Release Date: February 19, 1927
Directors: Clarence G. Badger and Josef von Sternberg (uncredited)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
It is the career-launching silent comedy film that labeled Clara Bow as the quintessential “It Girl.” The film tells a romantic story of a department store worker as she hopes to win the affection of her boss, the department store owner.

Image result for napoleon 1927Napoleon (1927)
Release Date: April 7, 1927
Director: Abel Gance
Napoleon is one of Abel Gance’s towering epic films of the silent era, along with J’accuse! in 1919 and La Roue in 1922. The original intent was for the film to be a six part, 75 minute each biopic, however it was significantly edited down to a more palatable time-frame, but nevertheless Gance’s films are all behemoths.

7th_Heaven_(1927_poster)7th Heaven (1927)
Release Date: May 6, 1927
Director: Frank Borzage
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
7th Heaven is a slow-paced dramatic, silent, romance film starring Janet Gaynor (who played the memorable wife in Murnau’s Sunrise) and Charles Farrell. The story is about a Parisian sewer worker who falls in love with a young woman amidst the backdrop of the First World War.

Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of A Great City) (1927)
Release Date: September 23, 1927 (Germany)
Director: Walter Ruttman
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
Berlin is the essential, plotless “city symphony” film. This movie offers us a brilliant panorama of a day in the life of Berlin -its people, architecture, entertainment and so on- just before the rise of the Third Reich in a handful of years.

The_Jazz_Singer_1927_PosterThe Jazz Singer (1927)
Release Date: October 6, 1927
Director: Alan Crosland
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
The Jazz Singer is important solely because it is considered the first “talkie” in the history of cinema (or the first film to synchronize dialogue with the running film). The film features several moments of ad-libbed words, like Al Jolson’s now legendary phrase: “you ain’t heard nothing yet!” The plot is about a young Jewish man (played by Al Jolson) who disappoints his family by running away to become a jazz singer (and he unfortunately performs in blackface, an act for which he became popular as a former vaudeville star) but he eventually returns and reconciles with his father and his synagogue.

Underworld (1927)

College (1927)

Top Grossing Films of 1927

1. The Jazz Singer – $7,630,000

2. Wings – $3,600,000

3. Blake of Scotland – $3,500,000

4. 7th Heaven – $2,500,000

1928

The Circus (1928)
Release Date: January 6, 1928
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Studio: United Artists
The Circus was an extremely challenging film for Chaplin to complete due to his public divorce from his second wife, her allegations of infidelity, a massive studio fire, the death of Chaplin’s mother, and threats from the IRS for owing back taxes. For all this Chaplin suffered a nervous breakdown. The film tells the story of the Tramp who wanders into a circus and accidentally steals the show. It is a tremendous film and it was a huge success of the silent era.

The Last Command (1928)
Release Date: January 22, 1928
Director: Josef Von Sternberg
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Starring the great but controversial Emil Jannings, who won the first Academy Award for Best Actor for his part in this film, The Last Command is one of Von Sternberg’s three silent masterpieces, also including Underworld in 1927 and The Docks of New York in 1928. The plots tells the flashback story of a formerly powerful commander from Tsarist Russia who narrowly escapes the Bolshevik revolution (leaving him with an unusual head twitch) and he comes to Hollywood as an aging extra who is cast in one final film (as a Tsarist general to mock him) but he delivers an outstanding performance, believing himself to be in Tsarist Russia once again, before he promptly dies.

The Crowd (1928)
Release Date: February 28, 1928
Director: King Vidor
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Crowd is a powerful and somber film about a man who is struggling through his job and marriage in the big city. One day, his daughter is accidentally killed and ‘the crowd’ of people mourns briefly and then moves along leading the protagonist into a downward spiral until he gets a job as a juggling clown. In 1934, King Vidor produced a sequel of sorts about a man who lives far away from the crowd in the country, called Our Daily Bread.

the-passion-of-joan-of-arcLa Passion de Jeanne D’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (1928)
Release Date: April 21, 1928
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
The Passion of Joan Arc is an extraordinary, silent, stylized French retelling of the trial of Joan Arc. The film focuses on her inquisition after being captured by the English, and her refusal to sacrifice her faith, and it concludes with her being burned at the stake. Renee (Maria) Falconetti delivers a career-defining performance as Joan of Arc.

stea2Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Release Date: May 12, 1928
Director:Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton
Studio: United Artists
Steamboat Bill Jr. was the last of Buster Keaton’s 9 independent films made for Joseph Schenck. It tells the story of the clumsy and effeminate “stone face” character who disappoints his Mississippi river-boat captain father, but suddenly when a cyclone strikes, Keaton’s character accidentally saves the day.

The Docks of New York (1928 poster).jpgThe Docks of New York (1928)
Release Date: September 16, 1928
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The Docks of New York is Josef von Sternberg’s third silent masterpiece, after Underworld in 1927 and The Last Command in 1928. It is a film about the dark underclass of New York as two shipmen arrive at New York’s harbor and are caught up in a swirling drama, one in reuniting with his former wife, and another with a prostitute.

The Cameraman (1928)
Release Date: September 22, 1928
Directors: Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
It tells the story of a young cameraman who tries to become a MGM filmer/photographer (ironically this was Keaton’s first MGM film) and he tries to impress a young woman with his footage. It is another delightful film from Buster Keaton.

2largeSteamboat Willie (1928)
Release Date: November 18, 1928
Directors: Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Steamboat Willie is the famous short cartoon, known for being the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound, as well. The title is a reference to Buster Keaton’s film, Steamboat Bill, Jr. released that same year. Steamboat Willie debuts Mickey Mouse.

190px-The_Wind_(1928)The Wind (1928)
Release Date: November 23, 1928
Director: Victor Sjöström
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Wind was one of the last silent films to be released, and it is only appropriate that Lillian Gish stars in the film. The Wind is a chilling film about a young girl who travels west by train, haunted by the wind. She arrives at a ranch and defends herself by killing a man who assaults her. The wind reveals the man’s body to her, only to swallow it up in the sand shortly thereafter, vindicating her killing.

In Old Arizona (1928)
Release Date: December 25, 1928
Director: Irving Cummings
Studio: Fox Film Corporation
In Old Arizona was the first “talkie” western film, and the first full sound-on-film “talkie,” as well. It tells the story of a desert bandit named “The Cisco Kid” as he thwarts his capture by a local sergeant and he double crosses the woman who loves him.

Image result for the fall of the house of usher film 1928La Chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) (1928)
Director: Jean Epstein. The Fall of the House of Usher is an experimental, French avant-garde retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s story.

Image result for La Petite marchande d'allumettes 1928La Petite merchande d’allumettes (The Little Match Girl) (1928)
Director: Jean Renoir. The Little Match Girl is a tragic short, French film from Jean Renoir. It tells the story of a poor, French girl who wanders the snowy streets of Paris trying to sell matches, until she huddles into a corner and dreams of being in a toy store until she dies alone on the street.

Top Grossing Films of 1928

1. The Singing Fool – $5,916,000

2. The Circus – $3,800,000

3. The Road to Ruin – $2,500,000

1929

broadwayOutstanding Picture (1928/1929) The Broadway Melody (1929)
Release Date: February 1, 1929
Director: Harry Beaumont
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Broadway Melody won the second award for Best Picture from the Academy in Hollywood, and it was also the first “talkie” to win the award. The film tells the story of two poor sisters who travel to New York City, looking for a career on broadway. One sister becomes a great success. The film follows their parallel stories, jealousies, and ultimate redemption.

Blackmail (1929)
Release Date: July 28, 1929
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Blackmail tells the story of woman in an argument with her boyfriend, an investigator, so she meets another man and goes up to his flat where they paint over a picture of a sad clown but when he tries to assault her she kills him. She leaves in a daze, but accidentally leaves behind her glove. She and her boyfriend are then blackmailed until the story is brought to a close.

The Cocoanuts.jpgThe Cocoanuts (1929)
Release Date: May 23, 1929
Directors: Robert Florey and Joseph Santley
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The Cocoanuts is the first big Marx Brothers feature-film as Groucho Marx runs a hotel in Florida along with Zeppo Marx, and predictably chaos ensues when a wealthy aristocrat arrives, along with her concerns of her daughter’s marriage, followed by two empty-suitcased thieves (played by Harpo and Chico Marx).

Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box 1929)
Release Date: January 30, 1929
Director: G.W. Pabst
Starring the erotic-icon, Louise Brooks, this German melodrama is about a woman who seduces men, married or not, which leads her into a downward spiral working the streets and treated poorly. The ending is ambiguous, but the audience is led to believe she is stabbed to death.

The Love Parade (1929)

man-with-a-movie-camera-posterMan With A Movie Camera (1929)
Release Date: January 8, 1929
Director: Dziga Vertov
Man With A Movie Camera is an abstract and highly experimental Russian film shot around the cities of Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow, and Odessa. It employs a variety of innovative shooting and editing techniques.

un-chien-andalouUn Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929)
Release Date: June 6, 1929
Director: Luis Buñuel
“An Andalusian Dog” is a silent, surrealist, Freudian free association French film that depicts a series of disturbing nightmarish sequences. The idea for the film came about from dreams between friends, Salvador Dali and Buñuel (who was a staff member on Jean Epstein films).

The Virginian (1929)
Release Date: November 9, 1929
Director: Victor Fleming
Studio: Paramount Pictures
The Virginian is an early Gary Cooper film about a Virginia man who gets into a fight with a cattle rancher, gets married, and when the rancher returns they duel.

Top Grossing Films of 1929

1. The Broadway Melody – $4,366,000

2. Gold Diggers of Broadway – $3,967,000

3. Sunny Side Up – $3,200,000

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