The Greatest Silent Films

by finger-prince | created - 12 Aug 2012 | updated - 14 Jun 2015 | Public

Despite the occasional sluggish feeling, plot holes and cliches present in silent films, they have an atmosphere that is absolutely incomparable. These directors were the true innovators of cinema.

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1. Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

Not Rated | 197 min | Drama, History

8.0
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

The story of a poor young woman, separated by prejudice from her husband and baby, is interwoven with tales of intolerance from throughout history.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, F.A. Turner

Votes: 11,829 | Gross: $2.18M

Although not as well known as Birth Of A Nation, it is superior in a number of ways. In response to accusations of being racist (although not unfounded, as Birth Of A Nation portrayed the KKK as the heros of the story), DW Griffith intricately weaves 3 stories of love and tolerance from 3 different eras and settings. Although it seems that it would fall apart, with such a layered and ambitious story being made at such an early stage in the history of film, it is actually more focused, interesting and emotionally appealing than Birth Of A Nation.

2. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Not Rated | 67 min | Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

8.1
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

Hypnotist Dr. Caligari uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders.

Director: Robert Wiene | Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover

Votes: 45,008

One of the first truly excellent German horror films. With it's unforgettable atmosphere, this movie has the potential to scare the audience more than contemporary horror films.

3. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Not Rated | 100 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

8.1
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

On New Year's Eve, the driver of a ghostly carriage forces a drunken man to reflect on his selfish, wasted life.

Director: Victor Sjöström | Stars: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm

Votes: 7,761

A swedish expressionist film telling the tale of a drunkard and what may be his last night alive.

4. Seven Years Bad Luck (1921)

TV-G | 62 min | Comedy

7.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

After breaking a mirror in his home, superstitious Max tries to avoid situations which could bring bad luck-- but in doing so, causes himself the worst luck imaginable.

Director: Max Linder | Stars: Max Linder, Alta Allen, Ralph McCullough, Betty K. Peterson

Votes: 811

Max Linder's finest full length film. He was an extremely popular and successful comedian, and although he is unjustly overlooked today, he was a direct influence on Charlie Chaplin (And it shows).

5. The Kid (1921)

Not Rated | 68 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

8.3
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The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan, Carl Miller

Votes: 81,544 | Gross: $5.45M

The Tramp's first absolute classic, a funny yet also timeless and heartwarming tale.

6. Nanook of the North (1922)

Not Rated | 78 min | Documentary

7.7
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In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Allakariallak, Nyla, Cunayou, Allegoo

Votes: 8,782

7. Nosferatu (1922)

Not Rated | 81 min | Fantasy, Horror

8.0
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Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter's wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder

Votes: 75,044

Obviously one of the greatest and most influential silent films of all time. The grand reveal of Nosferatu in the doorway still sends a chill down my spine every time I see it.

8. Safety Last! (1923)

Not Rated | 70 min | Comedy, Thriller

8.2
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When a store clerk organizes a publicity stunt, in which a friend climbs the outside of a tall building, circumstances force him to make the perilous climb himself.

Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor | Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young

Votes: 14,687 | Gross: $0.62M

Full of hilarious gags as well as real life, death defying stunts by Harold Lloyd himself. A must watch for fans of slapstick and early film stunts.

9. Greed (1924)

Not Rated | 140 min | Drama, Thriller, Western

7.9
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The sudden fortune won from a lottery fans such destructive greed that it ruins the lives of the three people involved.

Director: Erich von Stroheim | Stars: Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt, Dale Fuller

Votes: 7,666 | Gross: $0.16M

Originally a 7 hour epic, a large portion of the film has since been lost. Still, due to it's length, method of storytelling and usage of partial colour, it was very groundbreaking for it's time, and it shows, even today.

10. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Approved | 155 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

7.9
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A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess.

Director: Raoul Walsh | Stars: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher

Votes: 4,576 | Gross: $1.59M

Another classic epic, with incredible sets and acting. It has been remade several times, but this original version is unforgettable.

11. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Not Rated | 66 min | Drama, History

8.0
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In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel's officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.

Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein | Stars: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barskiy, Grigoriy Aleksandrov, Ivan Bobrov

Votes: 44,544 | Gross: $0.05M

12. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Unrated | 93 min | Horror

7.7
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A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer.

Directors: Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick | Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry, Arthur Edmund Carewe

Votes: 13,722 | Gross: $0.72M

13. The General (1926)

Not Rated | 67 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

8.2
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When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.

Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton | Stars: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender, Jim Farley

Votes: 61,291

14. Metropolis (1927)

Not Rated | 153 min | Drama, Sci-Fi

8.3
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98 Metascore

In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Votes: 127,184 | Gross: $0.03M

15. Napoleon (1927)

240 min | Biography, Drama, History

7.5
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A film about the French general's youth and early military career.

Director: Abel Gance | Stars: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële, Alexandre Koubitzky

Votes: 5,866

16. Sunrise (1927)

Not Rated | 94 min | Drama, Romance

8.2
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston, Bodil Rosing

Votes: 34,974

FW Murnau moves from German expressionism to a more conventional, American love story, but this artfully shot masterpiece's messages still resonate deeply today.

17. The Crowd (1928)

Not Rated | 98 min | Drama, Romance

8.0
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The life of a man and woman together in a large, impersonal metropolis through their hopes, struggles and downfalls.

Director: King Vidor | Stars: Eleanor Boardman, James Murray, Bert Roach, Estelle Clark

Votes: 6,242

18. The Wind (1928)

Not Rated | 95 min | Drama, Romance, Western

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

A frail young woman from the east moves in with her cousin in the west, where she causes tension within the family and is slowly driven mad.

Director: Victor Sjöström | Stars: Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, Montagu Love, Dorothy Cumming

Votes: 5,160

19. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Not Rated | 114 min | Biography, Drama, History

8.2
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In 1431, Jeanne d'Arc is placed on trial on charges of heresy. The ecclesiastical jurists attempt to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Stars: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz

Votes: 31,670 | Gross: $0.02M

20. Pandora's Box (1929)

Not Rated | 109 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

8.0
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

The rise and inevitable fall of an amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her.

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst | Stars: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Francis Lederer, Carl Goetz

Votes: 8,170 | Gross: $0.01M

21. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Not Rated | 16 min | Short, Fantasy, Horror

7.8
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí present seventeen minutes of bizarre, surreal imagery.

Director: Luis Buñuel | Stars: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí

Votes: 38,645

22. City Lights (1931)

G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

8.6
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers

Votes: 126,870 | Gross: $0.02M

23. I Was Born, But... (1932)

Not Rated | 100 min | Comedy, Drama

8.1
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91 Metascore

Two young brothers throw a tantrum when they discover that their father isn't the most important man in his workplace.

Director: Yasujirô Ozu | Stars: Tatsuo Saitô, Tomio Aoki, Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Hideo Sugawara

Votes: 3,782