Menu Close

11 Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks: Legacy of the King of Hollywood

Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks: Legacy of the King of Hollywood

Welcome to the Memorial Film Collection of Douglas Fairbanks

Douglas Fairbanks 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 First King of Hollywood, and to witness his incredible stunts, 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 11 Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks.

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 Douglas Fairbanks”, 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 Douglas Fairbanks 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 Douglas Fairbanks, the First King of Hollywood

(1883 – 1939)

Douglas Fairbanks is undisputedly the number one swashbuckler superstar of the Silent Era. He is known for impersonating legendary adventure figures, such as Zorro, Robin Hood and D’Artagnan, just to name a few.

According to legend, the idea of becoming an actor came to him when he fell off the roof as a child and hurt himself. He began acting at age 12 at an amateur theater in Denver.

By the time he was 20, he had made a name for himself on Broadway, and about a decade later, he went to Hollywood.

His charismatic on-screen persona and his excellent athletic abilities gained him wide attention among theater audiences and his popularity quickly escalated.

Fairbanks performed most of his incredible stunts himself, and he frequently requested that his name be listed last in the film credits.

The man that’s out to do something has to keep in high gear all the time.

Douglas Fairbanks

Fairbanks had such an influential onscreen presence, that the overall physical look of Superman, in his very first comic book appearance, was based on him. On top of that, his portrayal of Zorro served as an inspiration for creating Batman.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about, when it comes to Douglas Fairbanks, but this article concentrates on his Top 11 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, an actor is as good as his greatest achievements. Thus, the finest way to familiarize yourself with Fairbanks, is through watching his best films as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of Douglas Fairbanks carry you to the cinematic land of silent adventures!

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 11 Movies of Douglas Fairbanks?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! Fairbanks headlined 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 Douglas Fairbanks 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 Douglas Fairbanks’s life, following him from the start of his career to the end.



Presenting the 11 Best Films of Douglas Fairbanks

Chronologically


The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916), Top Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Short silent comedy film.

Fairbanks plays a cocaine-shooting detective called “Coke Ennyday”, who is a parody of Sherlock Holmes. Ironically, he is after a gang of drug smugglers.

Why is The Mystery of the Leaping Fish among the best movies of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ The most bizarre and most controversial movie of Fairbanks.
✓ Considered something of a cult film due its comedic dealings of drug use.


When the Clouds Roll by (1919)

When the Clouds Roll by (1919), Victor Fleming, Top Films of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent comedy film directed by Victor Fleming.

Story: Psychiatrist Dr. Ulrich Metz attempts to drive Daniel Brown to suicide. (IMDB)

Why is When the Clouds Roll by among the best films of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ Considered to be the best of all the contemporary Fairbanks comedies.
✓ It is the first movie of the legendary, Academy Award Winning American film director Victor Fleming.


The Mark of Zorro (1920)

The Mark of Zorro (1920), Fred Niblo, Greatest Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent swashbuckler adventure film directed by Fred Niblo.

Story: A seemingly idiotic fop is really the courageous vigilante Zorro, who seeks to protect the oppressed. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ With this motion picture, Fairbanks re-energized his career and made the transition from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered.

Why is The Mark of Zorro among the top movies of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ A genre-defining swashbuckler adventure and the first movie version of the legendary Zorro character.
✓ The United States Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


The Three Musketeers (1921)

The Three Musketeers (1921), Fred Niblo, Greatest Films of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent swashbuckler adventure film directed by Fred Niblo.

Story: Young D’Artagnan travels to Paris to fulfill his life’s desire of becoming one of the king’s Musketeers, to fight for France and the honor of the queen.

Between Frames:
✪ To prepare for the role, Fairbanks grew his own, real D’Artagnan mustache, and he loved it so much that he wore it for the rest of his life.
✪ He performed a one-handed handspring to grab a sword during a fight scene. This is considered as one of the greatest stunts of early cinema.

Why is The Three Musketeers among the top films of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ Its a hugely entertaining action-packed film, and it is the first on-screen version of Alexandre Dumas’s classic adventure novel of the same title.
✓ The role of D’Artagnan gave Fairbanks an excellent opportunity to show his athletic skills and to solidify his image, as a swashbuckler movie star.



Robin Hood (1922)

Robin Hood (1922), Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent swashbuckler adventure film.

Story: A nobleman becomes the vigilante Robin Hood who protects the oppressed English people from the tyrannical Prince John. (IMDB)

Why is Robin Hood among the greatest movies of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ It was one of the most expensive films of the 1920s, but it also became a smash hit and generally received favorable reviews.
✓ The film pays strong attention to the details of costumes, sets, and scenery in order to recreate the world of medieval England.


The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Best Films of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent swashbuckler fantasy adventure film.

Story: A recalcitrant thief vies with a duplicitous Mongol ruler for the hand of a beautiful princess. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ The flying carpet effect required a sheet of steel attached to piano wires and a crane that lifted Fairbanks above the crowd.
✪ The scene where Fairbanks jumps in and out of huge clay pots on the market was done by placing small trampolines inside each pot, which allowed him to bounce from one pot to another without difficulty.

It requires some viewing commitment, but this beautifully assembled showcase for Douglas Fairbanks’ acting offers some splendid treats for classic film fans.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Thief of Bagdad among the greatest films of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Widely considered one of the greatest and most visually stunning silent films, and Fairbanks’s greatest work.


Don Q Son of Zorro (1925)

Don Q Son of Zorro (1925), Top Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent swashbuckler adventure film directed by Donald Crisp.

Story: Don Cesar, son of Zorro, is framed for murder while visiting Spain, and becomes the whip-wielding outlaw Don Q. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Fairbanks spent six weeks learning fancy whipmanship for the role, and he paired his new tricks with his excellent acrobatic stunts. He uses the whip to lasso a bull, to light a cigarette, or to extinguish a candle, among other tricks.


The Black Pirate (1926)

The Black Pirate (1926), Greatest Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent Technicolor swashbuckler adventure film.

Story: Seeking revenge, an athletic young man joins the pirate band responsible for his father’s death. (IMDB)

Between Frames:
✪ Technicolor was only an experimental process at the time, with a limited but pleasing range of colors. Being one of the very few silent films shot using this process, this film is a true milestone in world cinema.

Why is The Black Pirate among the best movies of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ This was the most thoroughly planned and controlled work to be ever made by Fairbanks. He not only wrote, produced, and starred in the movie, but he also wanted it to be shot entirely in color.
✓ This movie has the most famous and widely copied stunt of Fairbanks’s entire career – riding down a sail, hanging on the edge of a knife as it cuts downward.



The Gaucho (1927)

The Gaucho (1927), Top Films of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent romantic adventure film.

Story: Gaucho, the charismatic leader of a band of outlaws, comes to liberate Miracle City from an evil and sadistic general.

Why is The Gaucho among the best films of Douglas Fairbanks?
✓ Its relative darkness of tone, setting, and character, makes it one of Fairbanks’s most fascinating pictures. Its more realistic and mature, than his other productions.


The Iron Mask (1929)

The Iron Mask (1929), Greatest Films of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Part-talkie swashbuckler adventure film.

Story: D’Artagnan and his fellow musketeers set out to save the rightful King of France who has been imprisoned in a remote castle dungeon by his brother and forced to wear an iron mask. (Amazon)

Between Frames:
✪ There is a prologue and an intermission, where the four Musketeers appear in a medieval stage booth and Doug speaks directly to the audience. This was the very first time Fairbanks ever spoke in a film.
✪ This was the only film in which Douglas Fairbanks dies on screen. It was done in an effort to appropriately symbolize his departure from silent films.


The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

The Private Life of Don Juan (1934), Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Where to Watch?   More info

Full-talkie British comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Korda.

Story: A middle-aged Don Juan returns to romantic Seville to try to hang on to his title as the world’s greatest lover. Unfortunately a young rival is threatening to earn it for himself. (Rotten Tomatoes)

This is the final theatrical movie of Douglas Fairbanks.


The end of Douglas Fairbanks’s Story

Fairbanks was one of the most successful and hardworking silent actors, but his enthusiasm for film-making greatly reduced when faced with the restrictions and difficulties of sound recording for the early talkies.

He was nearly 50 years old at the time and he had been a chain-smoker for years. So, his general health began to decline and his athletic abilities greatly diminished.

After a few poorly received talkies, his popularity began to fade, and following the release of The Private Life of Don Juan, Fairbanks retired from acting.

He continued to be lightly involved in the film industry due to his various partnerships, but there was a shift in his main focus. He spent his last years travelling abroad with his wife.

Fairbanks passed away in 1939 at age 56 due to a heart attack.

I never felt better in my life.

Last words of Douglas Fairbanks

If you’d like to dig deeper into the story of Douglas Fairbanks, you may want to read his biography, The First King of Hollywood by Tracey Goessel.



…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 11 Greatest Films of Douglas Fairbanks

If you want to take a look at the movies listed above, without all that info between the titles, here’s a quick recap:

11 Best Movies of Douglas Fairbanks
Legacy of the King of Hollywood
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish 1916
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)
When the Clouds Roll by 1919
When the Clouds Roll by (1919)
The Mark of Zorro 1920
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
*Part of the Collection: Douglas Fairbanks’s Zorro Duology
The Three Musketeers 1921
The Three Musketeers (1921)
*Part of the Collection: Douglas Fairbanks’s Musketeers Duology
Robin Hood 1922
Robin Hood (1922)
The Thief of Bagdad 1924
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Don Q Son of Zorro 1925
Don Q Son of Zorro (1925)
*Part of the Collection: Douglas Fairbanks’s Zorro Duology
The Black Pirate 1926
The Black Pirate (1926)
The Gaucho 1927
The Gaucho (1927)
The Iron Mask 1929
The Iron Mask (1929)
*Part of the Collection: Douglas Fairbanks’s Musketeers Duology
The Private Life of Don Juan 1934
The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

Is there a movie on the list you’d replace with another one? Share your thoughts below.


Related Posts

Your turn! Share your thoughts below...