25 Essential Silents


To celebrate eight years of blogging, Bish Denham is hosting the Listing Hop. Participants will make lists on any topic they so desire, except adult-related content. I’m also participating on my names blog.

Since most of my October posts are about silent horror films with landmark anniversaries this year, I’m going with 25 silent films one most needs to see. If you see no other silents in your lifetime, these are the ones I feel are most important to your education and development. Obviously, this list is based on my own personal experience, and I admittedly have a rather large gap in terms of Asian silent cinema.

In no particular order:

1.  Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang

2.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), directed by Rex Ingram, written by June Mathis, starring Rudy Valentino and Alice Terry, and based on the excellent novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

3.  The Big Parade (1925), starring John Gilbert and directed by King Vidor

4.  The Crowd (1928), directed by King Vidor

5.  City Lights (1931), by Charles Chaplin

6.  Ben-Hur (1925), starring Ramón Novarro (and worlds better than the Charlton Heston version, in my opinion)

7.  Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902), by the legendary film pioneer Georges Méliès

8.  The Great Train Robbery (1903), directed by the early film legend Edwin S. Porter

9.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925), starring Lon Chaney, Sr.

10. The Birth of a Nation (1915), directed by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish

11. Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), starring comedy legend Max Linder

12. The Last Laugh (1924), directed by F.W. Murnau

13. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

14. Modern Times (1936), by Charles Chaplin

15. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), animated by Winsor McKay

16. Safety Last! (1923), starring Harold Lloyd

17. Leap Year (1921), directed by and starring Roscoe Arbuckle

18. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), directed and animated by Lottie Reiniger

19. Faust (1926), directed by F.W. Murnau

20. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), directed by and starring Buster Keaton

21. Tess of the Storm Country (1922), starring Mary Pickford

22. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), starring Conrad Veidt and Lil Dagover

23. Battleship Potemkin (1925), directed by Sergey Mikhaylovich Eisenstein

24. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), directed by Walter Ruttmann

25. Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov (né David Abelevich Kaufman)

I freely admit the majority of silents I’ve seen to date (951) are American, German, Russian, French, Scandinavian, and British, with a couple of Italian, Chinese, and Japanese films. I really ought to do a list focusing exclusively on Asian silents when I have more than five or six under my belt, particularly considering they’re from a much different culture and were also made until the early Thirties. The Far East didn’t move into the sound era the same time as the West transitioned.


On Wednesday and Friday, I’ll conclude my October series on silent horror films with posts about The Phantom of the Opera. I’m already thinking ahead to which silent and early sound horror films to spotlight next October, with landmark anniversaries in 2016. On the docket so far are Dracula, Dante’s Inferno, The Phantom Carriage, The Bat, Faust, Der Müde Todand a few Georges Méliès films from 1896.

Author: Carrie-Anne

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

23 thoughts on “25 Essential Silents”

    1. I think Metropolis was the first silent I ever saw, when I was maybe 11 or 12. PBS played it a lot when I was a preteen and in my early teens. That was before the full-length version was available, but what was available was still awesome.


    1. I’ve seen most through Netflix and TCM, and some from the library and YouTube. I count features, shorts, newsreels, home movies, and movie trailers. My goal is to get to at least 1,000, which hopefully isn’t that far off.


  1. Excellent list!

    I’ve seen about half of these. I would have included Intolerance (which was actually on my 25 all time movies list) and Sunrise. So many great ones from which to choose! Too many people neglect the great artistic heritage of silent film making.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out


    1. I’m probably overdue for revisiting Intolerance, which I must’ve last seen in 2006 or 2007, when I still didn’t have the positive attitude I now have about D.W. Griffith. I really wish I’d started with his Biograph shorts instead of the long epics, but I can’t change what already happened or how I used to feel. A lot of films go a lot better after some time has passed, and one has more perspective or experience.


    1. TCM has Silent Sunday night at midnights (at the start of Monday/end of Sunday), and sometimes plays them at ungodly hours like 6 AM or 3 AM. It’s always nice when they play silents in an all-day marathon or more normal hours, like 6 or 8 PM. Netflix also has a lot of silents, and most good public libraries.


    1. It’s pretty much the same as any other silent, with intertitles for speech where needed, and everything else acted with body language. The lack of sound actually makes it feel more gripping and frightening.


  2. I haven’t seen all of these, but I did love Metropolis. Back when I was teaching, I’d show silent films to the class. They started off moaning and groaning about the black and white and well…everything, but they always ended up loving them.

    Great list!


    1. The types of silents I designate as highly recommended for newbies are the ones which don’t feel dated, boring, or clunky. There are definitely a few on my master list which I strongly disliked and feel would negatively influence someone unfamiliar with silents. The best silents are the ones that go by in the blink of an eye, where you lose track of time and don’t even miss dialogue.


    1. The vast majority of the silents on my list are ones I’ve seen starting in 2004, when I began actively pursuing the hobby. I count feature-length films, short subjects, movie trailers, surviving fragments of lost films, home movies, and newsreels. I’ve never done a breakdown of what percentage of my list comes from which category, though I’m sure feature-length films would be the majority.


  3. Wow, that’s a list. I don’t care for silents, as I like to do other things while the television is on. Sitting still for that long just watching a screen is very hard for me. Even in a movie theater I always know when the film should have ended – usually long before it does! Probably why I don’t go very often. 🙂


  4. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I’ve seen any of these. I have seen some silent films, but I couldn’t name them, as it’s been awhile. I multi-task too much, like Yolanda mentioned. And when I’m wanting to fully engage with something, it’s often a foreign film with subtitles.


  5. Thanks so much for this list. I’ve seen a couple, I’ve known about a few others, but many were completely unknown to me.

    I agree Metropolis is fantastic. I loved the book even more than the film 🙂


  6. Stopping over from Bish’s list. Wasn’t this a fun blog hop?
    Of the films, I’m certainly heard of Metropolis and Gertie the dinosaur.
    But to be honest, I have no idea where I would even find a silent film to watch.
    I think silent films would be fun to watch.


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