Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin may have passed away in the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, he will never be really gone.
Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to meet the Little Tramp, and to witness his heartwarming humor, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of his movies.
But which ones should you watch?
Well, if that’s the very question lurking in your mind right now, then you came to the right place. We’re just about to present the 13+1 Best Movies of Charlie Chaplin.
If this is your first ride on the time-travelling FrameTrek Wagon, here’s what this is all about:
We choose a topic, in this case: “Best Movies of Charlie Chaplin”, and we set sail for a journey, where the bricks of the trek are made of movie frames, and each stop represents a magnificent achievement in Film.
The Best Movies of Charlie Chaplin is an episode of FrameTrek’s Hall of Legends: A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest artists of World Cinema, and their most significant works.
Meet Charlie Chaplin, the Little Tramp
(1889 – 1977)
Charlie Chaplin is considered one of the most significant artists in the history of world cinema, and if we look exclusively at the Silent Era, he is the absolute number one.
Who else’s name is still remembered by the general public?
His lovable on-screen character The Little Tramp quickly found his way into the audience’s hearts – as a humble guy with a toothbrush moustache and bowler hat, who had that funny walk and dangled a bamboo cane.
He was a simple chap, who somehow made everyone smile.
A day without laughter is a day wasted.Charlie Chaplin
Being hilarious was one thing, but he also had a curious way of eliciting the feelings of the audience, often evoking tears, not only laughs.
His stories have a moral too, something that makes you realize a great truth about being human, and the nature of your soul.
Apart from starring, he wrote, produced, directed and edited his films, while also composing the music for them.
Chaplin’s financial freedom gave space to his perfectionism, so he spent years on the development and production of a single motion picture.
So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Charlie Chaplin, but this article concentrates on his Top 13 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
After all, a comedian is as good as his greatest achievements. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Chaplin, is through watching his best films as a marathon.
Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of Charlie Chaplin carry you to the silent lands of slapstick comedy!See FrameTrek's definition of 'Best' and the story behind this List (click to expand) ↴
How to define ‘Best’?
That’s a pretty good question, since ‘Best’ is relative. A movie can be considered being among the best for multiple reasons, such as: Critical Acclaim, Audience Feedback, Box Office Performance, Awards and Nominations, Iconic Status, Popularity, Watchability, and even Personal Preference, or for being part of a famous list such as the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die or Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies list – or because that particular movie defined its era, or because it was a defining achievement of the artist(s) involved.
So how did we pick the Top 13+1 Movies of Charlie Chaplin?
Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! Charlie Chaplin made so many excellent films, that it’s almost impossible to build a “Top List”, without leaving some of his great movies out of the spotlight. We did our best though.
While composing the Best Films of Charlie Chaplin list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph above, and then some.
We believe that the movies that made the cut should not compete with one another any further, so we will just present them in the order they were released in.
If you watch these movies in a chronological order, you will embark on a cinematic journey through Charlie Chaplin’s life, following him from the start of his career to the end.
Presenting the 13+1 Best Films of Charlie Chaplin
The ‘+1’ is a Bonus Movie. Wait for it!
Story: Charlie is an immigrant who endures a challenging voyage and gets into trouble as soon as he arrives in America. (IMDB)
✪ Chaplin’s female costar, Edna Purviance was required to eat so many plates of beans during the many takes to complete the restaurant sequence that she became physically ill.
✪ The scene in which Chaplin’s character kicks an immigration officer was cited later as evidence of his anti-Americanism when he was forced to leave the United States in 1952.
✪ Chaplin edited the film for four days and nights without sleep in order to release it on schedule.
Why is The Immigrant among the best movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1910s, and a timeless silent classic.
Story: The Little Tramp and his dog companion struggle to survive in the inner city. (IMDB)
✪ The dog in this film became so attached to Chaplin during filming that when Chaplin went on a Liberty Bond tour immediately after production, the dog died three weeks later of a supposed broken heart.
Why is A Dog’s Life among the best films of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1910s, and a timeless silent classic.
Story: The Tramp is a boot camp private in the awkward squad during World War I. He has a dream of becoming a national hero by going on a valiant mission behind enemy lines.
The movie was released just before the end of WWI, so there was a risk of how the audience would react to a parody of the bloodshed that still goes on. Fortunately for Chaplin, it performed quite well both critically and commercially.
Why is Shoulder Arms among the top movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Chaplin’s most popular and most successful film, up to that date.
✓ It is the first feature film that Chaplin directed, and it’s also the shortest full-length movie he ever made.
Story: The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy. (IMDB)
✪ To portray poverty on screen, Chaplin used his childhood memories from the streets of London.
✪ The relationship between Chaplin and the boy was just as strong in real life, as on screen. During the weeks of filming, Chaplin took the kid to amusement parks, pony rides and similar activities, regularly.
Charles Chaplin’ irascible Tramp is given able support from Jackie Coogan as The Kid in this slapstick masterpiece, balancing the guffaws with moments of disarming poignancy.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is The Kid among the top films of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Innovative in its combination of comedic and dramatic elements, it is widely considered one of the greatest films of the silent era.
✓ The Library of Congress selected The Kid for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Story: The Tramp is an escaped convict who is mistaken as a pastor in a small town church. (IMDB)
This was Chaplin’s second-shortest feature film, and the last film he made for First National. After this movie, he co-founded United Artists, where he would have unlimited artistic freedom.
Story: A prospector goes to the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more. (IMDB)
✪ An actual American Black Bear was used for the scene where “The Lone Prospector” encounters the beast. This was unusual for the time, when it was normal for very phony-looking costumed men to play large animals.
✪ It took 63 takes to film the famous “a boot for supper” scene perfectly. The boot was made of licorice, but Chaplin ate so much that he ended up being rushed to a hospital suffering from an insulin shock.
A delightful blend of slapstick humor, poignant emotion, and social commentary, The Gold Rush encapsulates Chaplin’s strengths as a writer, director, and star.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is The Gold Rush among the greatest movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and it is also selected for the National Film Registry, Library of Congress.
✓ One of Chaplin’s most celebrated works, and he himself declared several times that it was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered.
✓ It is the fifth-highest-grossing silent film in cinema history.
A little tramp accidentally falls in with a down-on-its-luck circus and his acrobatic and comedic skills start drawing audiences to the big-top in droves, but not without a bittersweet brush with romance for the gentle clown. (Amazon)
✪ Before filming, Chaplin practiced tightrope walking for weeks, as a preparation.
✪ The production of this film was the most difficult experience in Chaplin’s career. A combination of numerous business and personal issues arose simultaneously. His studio burnt down, his mother died, he was sued for owing back taxes and his wife just served him the divorce papers and made their sexual life public.
Why is The Circus among the greatest films of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Featured in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ It became the seventh highest grossing silent film in cinema history.
✓ Chaplin was nominated for four Academy Awards, but the Academy took him out of the running by giving him a Special Award “for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus”.
Story: The Little Tramp is in love with a sightless flower girl, whose blindness could be cured by an expensive operation. He decides to raise the money, even if that means being a prize fighter or worse.
✪ Winston Churchill visited the set, and Chaplin took a break to make a short film with him.
✪ Chaplin had interviewed several actresses to play the blind flower girl, but was unimpressed with them all. Virginia Cherrill was the first actress to subtly and convincingly act blind on camera, because she was very near-sighted.
One of the best underdog romance movies ever, with an ending that will light up any heart.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is City Lights among the best movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #1 Romantic Comedy of All Time, and the #11 Greatest Movie of All Time.
✓ Upon release it became a critical success and a box office hit, and today many critics consider it not only the highest accomplishment of Chaplin’s career, but one of the greatest films of all time.
Story: The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. (IMDB)
✪ This is the first time the Tramp speaks on camera. He speaks in the form of a song, and the language is gibberish, however it can be understood by following the Tramp’s body language and hand gestures.
✪ The very last title card of the entire Silent Era is in this film. It belongs to the Tramp, who says “Buck up – never say die! We’ll get along.”
A slapstick skewering of industrialized America, Modern Times is as politically incisive as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is Modern Times among the best films of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Selected by the Vatican in the “art” category of its list of 45 “great films”, and also selected into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #78 Greatest Movie of All Time and it is included in their list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
Charlie Chaplin’s first all-talking, all-sound film.
Story: Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel’s regime. (IMDB)
✪ Chaplin spent hours studying films of Adolf Hitler to perfect an imitation of his style.
✪ Chaplin said wearing Hynkel’s costume made him feel more aggressive, and those close to him remember him being more difficult to work with on days he was shooting as Hynkel.
Charlie Chaplin demonstrates that his comedic voice is undiminished by dialogue in this rousing satire of tyranny, which may be more distinguished by its uplifting humanism than its gags.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is The Great Dictator among the top movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies, and also part of Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1940s Cinema and an influential, timeless classic.
✓ Selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Story: A suave but cynical man supports his family by marrying and murdering rich women for their money, but the job has some occupational hazards. (IMDB)
Charles Chaplin adds an undercurrent of malice to his comedic persona in Monsieur Verdoux, an unsettling satire that subverts the tramp’s image to perversely amusing effect.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
Why is Monsieur Verdoux among the top films of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Charles Chaplin regarded the film as “the cleverest and most brilliant film of my career.”
Story: A fading comedian and a suicidally despondent ballet dancer must look to each other to find purpose and hope in their lives. (IMDB)
Why is Limelight among the greatest movies of Charlie Chaplin?
✓ The film’s reputation has slowly grown over the decades. Now it is often regarded as one of Chaplin’s best and most personal works, and has attained a cult following.
Story: A recently-deposed European monarch seeks shelter in New York City, where he becomes an accidental television celebrity and is later wrongly accused of being a Communist. (IMDB)
The first film that Charles Chaplin made in the UK after his exile from America, and his last leading role in a movie.
…and as promised: The BONUS Movie!
Biographical comedy-drama film starring Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin.
Story: The biography of Charlie Chaplin, filmmaker extraordinaire. From his formative years in England to his highest successes in America, Chaplin’s life, work, and loves are followed. (IMDB)
✪ Chaplin’s real life daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, plays her own paternal grandmother.
✪ Robert Downey Jr. prepared for the role by watching all of Chaplin’s movies. When asked about his feelings about those films, he said, “They scared the hell out of me.”
Chaplin boasts a terrific performance from Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, but it isn’t enough to overcome a formulaic biopic that pales in comparison to its subject’s classic films.Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
The end of Charlie Chaplin’s Story
The peace monger speech delivered by Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator, where he pleads against war and fascism, was very unpopular.
It generated controversy around his public image in the United States. He was accused of being a communist. He faced several lawsuits, while his popularity rapidly declined.
But Chaplin didn’t back down. He continued to express his political views publicly, insisting on being a peace monger, not a communist.
This debate ended in 1952, when Chaplin was banned from the US and he settled in Switzerland with his wife. His future movies were talkies, which did not feature his Tramp persona.
However, none of these films created the kind of impact his silent pictures had in their time.
In 1972, he was invited back to the US where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered him an Honorary Award “For the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.”
Chaplin passed away due to a stroke in his sleep at age 88 in 1977 on Christmas day.
If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Charlie Chaplin, you may want to read his autobiography book.
…end of the reel…
So there you have it: The 13+1 Greatest Films of Charlie Chaplin
If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:
Legacy of the Little Tramp
|The Immigrant (1917)|
|A Dog’s Life (1918)
|Shoulder Arms (1918)
|The Kid (1921)
|The Pilgrim (1923)
|The Gold Rush (1925)
|The Circus (1928)
|City Lights (1931)
|Modern Times (1936)
|The Great Dictator (1940)
|Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
|A King in New York (1957)
| Bonus Movie: Chaplin (1992)
Is there a movie on the list you’d replace with another one? Share your thoughts below.
Are You in Love with Silent Comedy?
Check out FrameTrek’s Little Black Book of Silent Laughter
It presents the life stories of the the top three comedians of the Silent Era, their greatest achievements, and a few, little known facts about their private life, work and style.
…available on Amazon both as eBook and Paperback…