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11 must-see silent movies on National Silent Movie Day

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert embrace in "Flesh and the Devil"

In honor of 2023’s National Silent Movie Day on September 29, check out these silent film classics that are considered must-see favorites by silent film fans. 

This is a subjective list, geared toward newbies to the silent screen, and presented in no particular order. Included are a mix of big epic dramas, romantic comedies, action-adventure and more from some of the biggest silent movie actors and actresses of their time. 

What would you add to the list? What would you remove? Share your thoughts @ReelOldMovies on Mastodon and Instagram

** Related: Q&A National Silent Movie Day – when did it start, what is it and why should we watch silent movies?

** Now available: "Visual History of Silent Movies: A reissue of the 1927 pictorial survey 'Masters and Masterpieces of the Screen'"  — order your paperback at Amazon 

** See the movie posters for these films plus a lot more in the new coffee table ebook: Movie Posters from Silent Films – Pictorial highlights from early cinema and the silent movie era

‘Wings’ (1927)

The first Academy Award winner for best picture, “Wings” is the extravagant World War I production that is part drama, part comedy, part romance, but all good! Move over, “Top Gun: Maverick.” This silent film from almost 100 years ago also features aerial dogfights, male bonding and a sassy and sexy leading lady. 

‘Sunrise’ (1927)

“Sunrise” is the only movie to ever win the Oscar in the category of “Unique and Artistic Picture,” a category in the Academy’s first-ever awards, but dropped ever since. It’s easy to see why it took home the one-and-only Oscar: “Sunrise” features artistic scenery, groundbreaking cinematography, and other innovative techniques in the tale of a love affair gone very very wrong. Some consider it the apex of movie-making in the silent movie era. 

‘The Big Parade’ (1925)

Consider that this epic World War I drama was made only seven years after the War to End All Wars ended. The sweeping story set the benchmark for just about every war movie for the next hundred years in cinema. 

‘Safety Last’ (1923)

Harold Lloyd is at his most daring in this cliffhanger (clock-hanger??) action-comedy-romance. The silent movie, at just over an hour long, builds up to the iconic scene of Lloyd hanging from the clock face in the clock tower. Lloyd reportedly performed many of the stunts himself.

‘The General’ (1927)

Buster Keaton’s comedy chops are at its zenith with “The General,” considered by many to be among the best comedy movies ever. Keaton is a Civil War era soldier acrobatically chasing down a stolen train in this action-comedy vehicle.

‘Flesh and the Devil’ (1926)

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert simmer in this sexually charged romantic drama. The two created chemistry on screen and off in one of the era’s most fabled Hollywood romances that audiences (and the paparazzi) couldn’t get enough of.  (Pictured above)

‘Metropolis’ (1927)

In a plot that would find a home in today’s cinemas, “Metropolis” looks at how technology shapes society (not for the better) as a city in the future is thrown into chaos after the working class rebels against the uber-rich. With some romance between rich boy and working class girl to add to the mix.

‘City Lights’ (1931)

While “talkies” had taken over the industry, Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl in this 1931 classic silent movie. It’s considered by many to be Chaplin’s greatest work, if not one of the greatest movies of all time. 

‘Nosferatu’ (1922)

What lurks in the shadows is terror in this loose adaption of the Dracula tale. The atmospheric scenes, the tension, the haunting performances – “Nosferatu” is a silent horror movie classic that has shaped the genre – and all movies – even today. 

‘Pandora’s Box’ (1929)

Louise Brooks is the 1920s Jazz Age personified in “Pandora’s Box,” which follows her character Lulu’s downward spiral. The plot would be at home in any modern movie as – like the namesake from mythology – evil and chaos are let loose by Lulu.

Ben-Hur (1925)

Before the Charlton Heston 1959 pic, there was Ramon Novarro in 1925’s “Ben-Hur.” The silent movie featured a spine-tingling chariot race, pirate attacks and more extravagant movie sets that made it one of the most expensive movies to make up to that point. It was also one of the most popular of the decade with audiences, who flocked to see the big screen spectacle. 


Order your copy of "Visual History of Silent Movies: A reissue of the 1927 pictorial survey 'Masters and Masterpieces of the Screen'" —  available as paperback at Amazon.

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