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Best Movies of the 1910s: Top 15 Films from 1910 to 1919

Welcome to the 1910s, the Dawn of Cinema!

The 1910s may be a thing of the distant past, but thanks to an enthralling, good old invention called Film, it will never be really gone.

Whenever you feel like traveling back in time to relive the glamours of the decade, all you have to do, is to watch one (or more) of its 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 15 of the greatest cinematic gems of the 1910s.

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 the 1910s”, 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 the 1910s is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Movies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the greatest films of each decade, chronologically. It starts with the Dawn of Cinema and goes all the way to our ever moving present.


So what was Cinema like in the 1910s?

The 1910s were an exciting period of technological and stylistic experimentation for movie makers. During this decade, Cinema matured as an artistic medium and transformed into a popular method of storytelling.

Sound recording was not yet invented, so movies of the 1910s were silent. They were basically black and white, although some of the scenes were tinted in a specific color in order to heighten the dramatic impact.

Title cards were only used to tell the more complex parts of the story, but the backbone was pantomime – gestures and body language. The mute performance of the actors was emphasized by a background music, usually played by an orchestra.

So yeah, there’s is plenty to talk about, when it comes to the Cinema of the 1910s, but this article concentrates on its Top 15 Films, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

A cinematic era is as good as its greatest achievements. Thus, the finest way to explore a decade in film history, is through watching its best movies as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best movies of the 1910s carry you to the Cinematic era they came from!

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.

So how did we pick the Top 15 movies of the 1910s?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! While composing the Best Films of the 1910s 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.



Presenting the Top 15 Films of the 1910s

Chronologically

Keep reading if you want more info than what’s in the video!


Dante’s Inferno (1911)

L’Inferno (original Italian title)

Dante’s Inferno (L’Inferno) 1911, Best movies of the 1910s, Top 10 Films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Italian silent fantasy horror film.

The story is loosely based on the narrative poem Divine Comedy, first published in 1472, written by the legendary Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Would you like to read the book?

It is the first film to show full male front nudity; something that didn’t happen again for over half a century.

Why is Dante’s Inferno among the best movies of the 1910s?
✓ The oldest surviving feature-length film.
✓ It is arguably considered the world’s first blockbuster.
✓ The first (and possibly finest) adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.


The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912)

Mest kinematograficheskogo operatora (original Russian title)

The Cameraman's Revenge (1912), Władysław Starewicz, Best Movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Russian experimental stop-motion animated short film directed and written by Władysław Starewicz.

Story: Mr Beetle seeks companionship from a statuesque dragonfly dancer, unaware that her ex-boyfriend, a slender grasshopper and an industrious cameraman, watches their every move. Will Mrs. Beetle forgive him? Will he get away with adultery? (IMDB)

Why is The Cameraman’s Revenge among the best movies of the 1910s?
✓ It stands out in the history of stop-motion animation for its use of actual dried insect specimens (beetles, grasshoppers, dragonflies, etc.) as articulated stop-motion puppets portraying all of the characters.


The Student of Prague (1913)

Der Student von Prag (original German title)

The Student of Prague (Der Student von Prag) 1913 by Paul Wegener, Best movies of the 1910s, Greatest films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent fantasy horror film directed by Paul Wegener.

Story: A sorcerer makes a deal with a poor student to give him fabulous wealth, and anything he wants, if he will sign a mysterious contract.

Why is The Student of Prague among the Top 10 Films of the 1910s?
✓ Considered to be the first German art film.
✓ It is sometimes considered to be the first horror movie ever made.
✓ It’s not just the film debut of Paul Wegener, but it is generally deemed to be the first independent film in history.


Cabiria (1914)

Cabiria 1914, Best movies of the 1910s, Top 10 films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Italian epic silent adventure film directed by Giovanni Pastrone.

The plot of the movie is loosely based on the classic historical novel Salammbô, first published in 1862, written by the influential French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Would you like to read the book?

Story: Young Cabiria is kidnapped by pirates, during an eruption of Mount Etna and is sold as a slave in Carthage. When she is prepared to be sacrificed to god Moloch, the giant slave, Maciste shows up to save her, together with his master, a Roman noble.

Why is Cabiria among the greatest movies of the 1910s?
✓ This is the earliest film included on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ The first film to use the revolutionary tracking shot and the zoom technique.
✓ One of the most influential movies of the 1910s, and a timeless classic.


Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), Winsor McCay, Top Films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Animated short film by American cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay.

Story: Winsor McCay draws a prehistoric scene that eventually comes to life as Gertie the dinosaur emerges from a cave.

Why is Gertie the Dinosaur among the greatest movies of the 1910s?
✓ The first film to use animation techniques such as keyframes, registration marks, tracing paper, the Mutoscope action viewer, and animation loops.
✓ Preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.



The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation 1915 directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish, Best movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent epic historical drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish.

The story takes place during the American Civil War. It is based on the groundbreaking historical novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, first published in 1905, written by american author Thomas F. Dixon Jr. Would you like to read the book?

Racial depictions aside, The Birth of a Nation is a landmark film whose achievements and pioneering techniques remain fully relevant today.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The Birth of a Nation among the greatest silent movies of the 1910s?
✓ Its one of the most controversial movies of all time, due to its racist overtones and for being responsible for the revival of the long-dead Ku Klux Klan.
✓ It pioneered close-ups, fade-outs, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands.
✓ The earliest feature-length film among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and it’s also on Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.


Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)

Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages 1916 directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish, Best movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Epic silent historical drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish.

The movie tells four parallel stories of intolerance in four different historical eras. These stories revolve around a mountain girl of ancient Babylon, Jesus Christ, two Huguenots in 1572 and a young couple in modern America.

A pioneering classic and one of the most influential films ever made, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance stands as the crowning jewel in an incredible filmography.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Intolerance among the best movies of the 1910s?
✓ In the years following its release, this movie would strongly influence European film movements.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and selected by the Vatican in the “values” category of its list of 45 “great films”.
✓ It was one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


The Immigrant (1917)

The Immigrant (1917), Charlie Chaplin, Greatest Movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Romantic comedy short film written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: Charlie is an immigrant who endures a challenging voyage and gets into trouble as soon as he arrives in America. (IMDB)

Why is The Immigrant among the best movies of the 1910s?
✓ 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.


A Dog’s Life (1918)

A Dog's Life (1918), Charlie Chaplin, Best Movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Short comedy film written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: The Little Tramp and his dog companion struggle to survive in the inner city. (IMDB)

Why is A Dog’s Life among the best movies of the 1910s?
✓ One of the most popular movies of the 1910s, and a timeless silent classic.


Shoulder Arms (1918)

Shoulder Arms 1918 by Charlie Chaplin, Best movies of the 1910s, Top 10 films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent comedy war film starring, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin.

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 best silent films of the 1910s?
✓ 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.



The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (original Swedish title)

The Outlaw and His Wife (1918), Victor Sjöström, Best Films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Swedish drama written, directed by and starring Victor Sjöström.

Story: A stranger comes to work at widow Halla’s farm. They fall in love, but when he is revealed as an escaped thief forced into crime by his family’s starvation, they flee and become two of the many outlaws of Iceland’s mountains. (IMDB)

Why is The Outlaw and His Wife among the best silent films of the 1910s?
✓ Groundbreaking for its portrayal of wild nature, and an influential silent classic.


Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)

Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl 1919 directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish, Best movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent romantic drama film directed by D.W. Griffith, starring Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, and Donald Crisp.

It is based on the romantic short story The Chink and the Child written by British author Thomas Burke, in his collection of Chinatown tales, entitled Limehouse Nights, first published in 1916. Would you like to read the book?

The heartbreaking story of a waterfront waif from the Limehouse district of London who escapes the abuse of her father through a doomed relationship with a Chinese immigrant. (Amazon)

Thought-provoking and beautifully filmed, D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms presents a master at the top of his form.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Broken Blossoms among the Top 10 movies of the 1910s?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.


The Doll (1919)

Die Puppe (original German title)

The Doll (Die Puppe) 1919 by Ernst Lubitsch, Best movies of the 1910s, Greatest films of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

German romantic fantasy comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda.

Story: Lancelot wants to escape a marriage forced on him by his uncle, so he decides to buy a lifelike mechanical doll and fool everyone by marrying it.

The movie’s unique charm comes from exaggerating everything, to a point where it becomes what it is meant to be – a fairy tale in a world that appears to be a dollhouse.

Why is The Doll among the greatest silent films of the 1910s?
✓ It is one of the best movies of the prestigious German American director Ernst Lubitsch.
✓ A charming all-time classic and a cinematic masterpiece.


When the Clouds Roll by (1919)

When the Clouds Roll by 1919 directed by Victor Fleming and starring Douglas Fairbanks, Best movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

Silent comedy film directed by Victor Fleming and starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Story: Daniel becomes the unfortunate subject of a mad psychiatrist’s psychological experiments. The Dr. want to drive him mad so that he would commit suicide, but Daniel is not an easy man to break.

Why is When the Clouds Roll By among the top movies of the 1910s?
✓ 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 Oyster Princess (1919)

Die Austernprinzessin (original German title)

The Oyster Princess (1919), Ernst Lubitsch, Ossi Oswalda, Best Movies of the 1910s
Where to Watch?   More info

German silent comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ossi Oswalda.

Story: An American heiress seeks the hand of an impoverished German prince. (IMDB)

Why is The Oyster Princess among the top movies of the 1910s?
✓ Earned fame from his intangible use of style and sophistication.



…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 10 Best Silent Movies of the 1910s.

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

Top 15 Movies of the 1910s
Chronologically
Dante’s Inferno 1911
Dante’s Inferno (1911)
The Cameraman's Revenge 1912
The Cameraman's Revenge (1912)
The Student of Prague 1913
The Student of Prague (1913)
Cabiria 1914
Cabiria (1914)
Gertie the Dinosaur 1914
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
The Birth of a Nation 1915
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages 1916
Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)
The Immigrant 1917
The Immigrant (1917)
A Dog's Life 1918
A Dog's Life (1918)
The Outlaw and His Wife 1918
The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)
Shoulder Arms 1918
Shoulder Arms (1918)
Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl 1919
Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)
The Doll 1919
The Doll (1919)
When the Clouds Roll by 1919
When the Clouds Roll by (1919)
The Oyster Princess 1919
The Oyster Princess (1919)
*Click any Title for more Info and for Streaming / Disc Buying options.

Is there a movie on the list you’d replace with another one? Share your thoughts in comments section bellow.


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