Top/Fave/Significant Films of the 1920s


Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
This is really just meant to be an open discussion of the films you like from the '20s or the ones you think are still the best, most-entertaining and/or significant flicks from that decade. Not all '20s movies are "silent" of course, but when I started looking at which ones I thought were the best, they just were about all silent. Now, silent movies are very expressive and sophisticated since they had to make the visuals interesting enough for people to want to watch them. Therefore, they had to come up with all kinds of camera movements, editing and special effects. Trying to put up a Top Ten seems harder to me than other decades even though there are theoretically more movies for people to view from other decades, but in reality, more films were made in the 1920s than any other decade, even if a huge percentage of them are now lost.

Most people come to silent films through comedies by Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Comedies seem to translate to people's desire to be easily entertained, especially when they're watching something they equate with taking a yucky-tasting medicine. However, many have seen in school or due to their own devices such films as Metropolis, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Greed, Nosferatu, Battleship Potemkin, Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ, Un chien andalou, The Man With the Movie Camera and many Lon Chaney films.

The talkies of the era tend to be musicals or gangster flicks because they definitely need to use sound in newly-discovered ways. The Broadway Melody is very sexy and my vote for the best '20s musical even if the barely-talkie The Jazz Singer is more famous. Most of the gangster flicks are either on the weak side or lost nowadays.

Many of film's most famous stars made their names known during the 1920s. Besides, the silent clowns already mentioned, big names included Rudolph Valentino, Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Barrymore, Janet Gaynor, ZaSu Pitts, the Gish Sisters (actually leftovers from the '10s), Louise Brooks, Richard Barthelmess, Sessue Hayakawa, Ramon Navarro, etc.

OK, that's enough crap already. I almost wanted to list all the films I was considering to make my list, but I think I'll add some more posts later on; at least if anybody ever responds to this one. (Sarah?)

1. Entr'acte (René Clair, 1924) - True, it's a surrealistic short, but it's longer than Un chien andalou, and I like it a lot more.
2. The Goat (Buster Keaton/Malcolm St. Clair, 1921) - Another short, but it's my fave Keaton flick, and my next fave, Sherlock, Jr., is also considered a short at 45 minutes.
3. The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925) - I prefer the silent version, but you can watch it with Chaplin's narration and musical score, and that one's about 20 minutes shorter.
4. Safety Last! (Fred C. Newmeyer/Sam Taylor, 1923) - Thrills, stunts, laughs and beautiful filmmaking.
5. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger/Carl Koch, 1926) - The first feature-length animated film, utilizing the technique of silhouette animation with beautiful colors, wonderful animation and an awesome musical score.
6. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) - The most spectacularly-visual silent sci-fi film ever made, anywhere.
7. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927) - The most spectacularly-visual silent dramatic film ever made in the U.S.
8. Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927) - This is probably the most-inventive silent film ever made since Gance invented the tryptich filming and projection system which basically predated Cinemascope and Cinerama by about 25 years. His technique still seems ahead-of-the-curve today.
9. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) - von Stroheim had the gall to make the first mini-series in film history, pre-TV, at a little over nine hours, but then the studio kept chopping the film to bits. Even so, the "restored" four-hour version with many photos and wonderful gold "tints" is a sight to behold.
10. 7th Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927) - Incredibly romantic and humorous melodrama which actually touches many believable bases as it tries to tug at your heart every single way possible.

Not that you care, but if anyone has any questions about 1920s or pre-20s flicks, please ask me here. I have a ton more crap to post, but it's no fun doing it in an echo chamber.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
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I really need to set aside some time for Napoleon one of these days. Also need to hunt down Entr'acte and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I was going to start a thread like this the other day but decided not to, good thing because it wouldn't have had an great intro like Mark's.

My ten:
The General
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Battleship Potemkin
Sherlock, Jr.
The Last Laugh
The Gold Rush
Un Chien Andalou
"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Well, Entr'acte is on the DVD of A Nous La Liberte which I remember you watching, so just get that one again!
Doh! You the man Mark. I made a copy of the disc (ya ya I know - sue me) so as long as it wasn't a double disc and the short was on the second one I should be flying. I should pay attention to the special features and extras on DVDs more often. Thanks for the info.

Thanx to classic channels on cable, I've been able to catch up on a bunch of these original gangstas of cinema. However, I haven't been able to give many of 'em enough of a rewatch in order to better evaluate my tastes towards these films or to develope a real sense of attachment to any of 'em yet.
Therefore, for now, these few "standards" are the only ones that I can honestly respond to as being my faves during the prominently silent era of moving pictures:

10. Steamboat Willie (1928)

Okay, okay,
I know that this really isn't a movie,
it's a short. And an animated one, ta boot.
But it's still a significant step in the evolution of moving pictures. And, since I don't have any other films to include onto this list than the next nine, it helps to keep this list at an even number of ten.
Plus, it is Micky Mouse's first appearance & the beginnings of what would eventually lead to the world dominating power of entertainment that is the all-powerful Disney.

9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

And speaking of the all-powerful Disney, it's because of them that certain classical stories have become more well-known for their animated versions that are continually churned out by Uncle Walt's Mickey Mouse movie machine. Notre Dame's Hunchback is a classic example of this.
But way before that 1996 cartoon adaptation, outside of the literary circle, ol' Quasimodo's claim to fame back in the early days of cinema was primarily due to the thespian efforts of silent film megastar Lon Chaney. Back then, it was the make-up master's portrayal of the lopsided bell ringer that brung Quasi to life for the first on the silver screen & thus, more of a household name.
That is, if the household is a bell tower or somethin'.

8. Pandora's Box (1929)

And the main reason I decided to view this sucker was b'cuz I was curious about Louise Brooks and what was it that made her not only the biggest female star of the silent era, but also, the fact that her appearance was the defining look of the the look of the flapper, the female freedom movement of the roaring twenties.

7. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

During these early days of film, it's not all that hard to figure out who were the ruling kings of the cinema back then.
When it comes to the 20's, Buster Keaton is without a doubt one the first names to come up.
After viewing the combination of fantasy dream sequences with the elaborate stunts of physical comedy in Sherlock, Jr., is becomes clear why these theatric traits will always be cemented as the stylistic signature of Buster Keaton.
It's also easy to see why this film is regarded by many as the best the of 1924.

6. The General (1926)

One of the first movies that helps to start the lonnng trend in Hollywood of portraying the U.S. Civil War with the Confederates as heroes & the Union as villains.
Just what the hell exactly is it that movie makers have against those damn Yankees, anyways?

5. The Kid (1921)

I don't remember what age I was when I first saw The Kid, but I do know that I was incredibly young at the time, probably before my kindergatern years.
So to the best of my memory, this is the first silent film that I can recall watching. Now, in the house that I was raised in, I was exposed to alot the Three Stooges episodes. And because of this, when I saw the black & white images of Chaplin's character with his square mustache, trampy clothes & worn curled shoes, engaging in either a cane twirling penguin waddle or in some of his patented crazy cartoon-like stunts, I probably expected this movie to be as empty of any real emotional progress as were the zany tales of the Stooges. But as the movie went on, I was quite surprised not only of the emotional relationship that was developing as the center of this story, but also that the "silence" of the film allowed my young mind to actually understand & appreciate what was going on the screen.
Therefore, this was probably the first time that I got to experience a film that was, as one of the opening titles claims, a "picture with a smile, and perhaps a tear...".

4. The Phantom Of The Opera (1925)

Later on as a kid, since I lived in the Chicagoland area, that meant that an important part of my young viewing habits was the midwestern version of a localized TV horror show called Creature Features. One of the things I remember most about this program was how the beginning credits ran with a montage of scenes of some of the most famous black & white horror flicks, including the most famous scene of this one. And for me, out of the bunch, the scariest was the image of the Phantom revealing himself for the first time. Even now, whenever I watch this film, I still get a shiver of adrenaline whenever this scene comes on.
IMO, the only thing that could be scarier than seeing the face of the Phantom in real life, would be being forced to actually attend an opera.

3. The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Special effects, even in a rudimentary form, started almost as quickly as when the idea of actually making pictures move began. And soon after, follows that when an early film encounters a limited budget, then comes creativity in the form of cinematic expressionism.
And in the beginning of the twenties, that creativity came nicely boxed in the form of a cabinet (or, to keep in tune more with this story, an insane asylum. Cabinet, insane asylum, in the realm of artistic expression, they're all the same).
One of the first movies to start using film to the level of potential that the medium allows.
Surreal, distorted, disturbing, and in my opinion, particularly for it's time, it's was pretty cool as hell.

2. Nosferatu (1922)

Before there was Lestat, Blade, Eli, that whimpy, waspy whitey Edward Cullen, or even Dracula* hisself,
there was this guy.
Not only was ol' Noss the first vampire ever to be captured on screen, but also,
IMO, by far, the creepiest looking bloodsucker of all time.

* For all you nick-pickers out there,
yeah, I realize that this film is based off the classic novel of Dracula, but as a film, I'm sure you get the the gist of what I'm saying.

1. Metropolis (1927)

As I get on in years, I've tried to keep my mind open to as many styles of film as possible by not limiting myself to liking any specific kind of genre. But the truth is, if I looked at all the films that I've enjoyed the most, the category that would occupy the largest amount on my list would definitely go the science fiction genre. And when it comes to the idea of high production value for the purposes of a high scale sci-fi flick,
this is the aptly titled one that started it all.
Whenever I consider the the era that this black & white visual achievement was made (despite, IMO, it's overly dramatic acting, even for it's time), Metropolis is a film that I really enjoy looking at often.
Right now, all I'm wearing is a mustard-stained wife-beater T-shirt, no pants & a massive sombrero.

28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
Here are my thoughts on The Man With The Movie Camera.

And here are my thoughts on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

And of course, Battleship Potemkin.
"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

Suspect's Reviews

there's a frog in my snake oil
I haven't seen any Chaplin/Lloyd/Keaton etc in ages. Should get back on that. They've all blurred into one film in my head. Of the 20s films i can distinguish tho...

Two Good:

Metropolis - i hear they recovered the missing scenes for this. Would love to see it with a plot that makes more than symbolic sense . It's still pure eye-melting class tho

The Man With The Movie Camera - some thoughts, set to music

Two Not-Quite-Rad

Chien is seminal and that, but it mainly felt like a childish exercise in throwing toys out of pram. Not a worthless one tho, by any means.

Potemkin did nothing for me - i think i'm just not schooled enough in film lore to dissect the new from the old.


I need to finally watch Caligari - got it off the prelinger archive over a year ago . And Nosferatu. And damn Prince Achmed looks class. And the rest
Virtual Reality chatter on a movie site? Got endless amounts of it here. Reviews over here

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Way Down East (1920) was the first silent film I ever watched and probably still my favourite. I found it quite mesmerising. The plot (similar to Tess of the D'Urbervilles): a poor girl is seduced and abandoned, her illegitimate child dies and she finds work on a farm, where she finds true love, but then her seducer returns and she is forced out into the cold where there is a truly spectacular ice rescue sequence. There is a lot of slapstick comic relief which I found tedious, but overall it is worth a watch. Plus Lillian Gish is so so beautiful.

Banned from Hollywood.
havent seen that many movies from this decade so i m gonna do a top 5:

5.The Wind

4.The Kid

3.The General


My 100 ALL-TIME FAVE Movies

I wanted to rejuvenate this thread to get some recommendations. I know i've seen more than these but I think in large part they were more of a one reel or shorts as there refered to by today.

The Kid
Sherlock Jr.
The Gold Rush
The General
City Lights
The Birth of a Nation
Nanook of the North
The Lodger

Anyways if you mofo's had to give me a few significent recommendations of feature length films made in the 20's what would they be ?

Probably my favourite '20's film.

And, as it isn't listed, I'd recommend this, too.

Also, anything with Greta Garbo in, especially The Flesh And The Devil, but that's just me.

Welcome to the human race...
Seeing as you've ticked it off on the "Best Picture winners" MoFo list, I'd say you are.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

I just got confused because I checked it off on AFI's 100 Greatest but then it didn't check it off for best picture, didn't know if there were two separate movies or something.

For everyone else that has seen it, what do you all think of Sunrise? Just curious to hear about other people's perspectives on it.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Sunrise won "Best Unique and Artistic Production" which was only given one year. Wings won "Best Production". The next Oscars had only one category labeled "Best Picture".

OK, that's enough crap already. I almost wanted to list all the films I was considering to make my list, but I think I'll add some more posts later on; at least if anybody ever responds to this one. (Sarah?)

Not that you care, but if anyone has any questions about 1920s or pre-20s flicks, please ask me here. I have a ton more crap to post, but it's no fun doing it in an echo chamber.
Oh this is awesome! I think I've only seen one pre-1930s movie, i.e., The Gold Rush. And I don't own any movies earlier than Casablanca(1942). So I got some catching up to do.
But If your offer is still open, i'd like to have the list of all the movies that you used to draw out your top 10. It might just help me through this era of movies, which I otherwise find rather difficult to watch.
Thanks much.

Oh this is awesome! I think I've only seen one pre-1930s movie, i.e., The Gold Rush. And I don't own any movies earlier than Casablanca(1942). So I got some catching up to do.
But If your offer is still open, i'd like to have the list of all the movies that you used to draw out your top 10. It might just help me through this era of movies, which I otherwise find rather difficult to watch.
Thanks much.
I agree. Watching Sunrise was my first 1920's or earlier film. I might have to check into a couple of the other ones that you have listed in your top 10.

will.15's Avatar
Semper Fooey
Listing only movies i have seen (not that many from the silent era) these were good:

The Gold Rush

The Strong Man



The Last Laugh

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Seven Chances

Safety Last

Son of the Sheik

The Crowd