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Best Silent Comedies: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Silent Era

Best Silent Comedies: Top 21 Comedy Films of the Silent Era

Welcome to the Hilarious World of Silence

So you are one of those keen comedy lovers, who like to travel back in time to experience the humor of earlier cinematic eras. So are we!

The Silent Era 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 miss the Silent Era and feel like laughing your heart out, all you have to do, is watching one (or more) of its best comedies.

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 21 of the greatest comedy films of the Silent Era.

This collection is an episode of FrameTrek’s Best Comedies of All Time. A mega-journey dedicated to identify the funniest films of each cinematic era, chronologically. It starts with the Comedies of the 1920s and wanders ahead decade-by-decade, all the way to our ever moving present.


So what was on-screen humor like in the Silent Era?

Silent comedy is one of the most powerful laugh makers ever invented by humanity. It’s an art form that’s simple, but universal, built primarily upon physical comedy, using slapstick and visual gags.

Many of the techniques of silent comedy were borrowed from vaudeville traditions, most of them being humorously exaggerated forms of violence.

Silent slapstick artists go the extra mile to make you laugh by getting soaked with water, slipping on a banana peel, getting pies thrown into their faces and countless other humorous feats.

There are three iconic comedians in feature length silent films; Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Each had his own unique onscreen character: The Little Tramp, The Great Stone Face and The Guy with the Glasses, respectively.

If you’d like to explore the best silent comedies one artist at a time, you may want to check out the collections below:

Their humor went far beyond pies in the face and slipping on a banana peel. These filmmakers developed the technique of using gags to reveal character and tell a story.

They were the masterminds shaping cinematic comedy not just for their time, but for the times to come.

So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to silent comedy, but this article concentrates on the best 21 of them, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

After all, the finest way to explore the on-screen humor of an era is, is through watching its funniest films as a marathon.

Ready? Buckle up then, and let the best silent comedies make you laugh out loud!

This Top 21 Silent Comedies list is a truncated version of our Little Black Book of Silent Laughter: The Tramp, the Stone Face and the Glasses. For the full experience, you may want to read the book.

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 21 Silent Comedies?

Well, it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t easy! While composing the Best Comedy Films of the Silent Era list, we tried to consider all of the factors mentioned in the ‘How to define Best’ paragraph, 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.



Revealing the Top 21 Comedies of the Silent Era

Chronologically


The Immigrant (1917)

The Immigrant (1917), Charlie Chaplin, Greatest silent comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

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 silent comedies?
✓ 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.


Easy Street (1917)

Easy Street (1917), Charlie Chaplin, Greatest comedies of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Short film co-written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: A reformed tramp becomes a police constable who must fight a huge thug who dominates an inner city street. (IMDB)


A Dog’s Life (1918)

A Dog’s Life (1918), Charlie Chaplin, Greatest comedy films of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Short 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)


Shoulder Arms (1918)

Shoulder Arms (1918), Charlie Chaplin, Funniest silent movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, directed by and starring 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.


One Week (1920)

One Week (1920), Buster Keaton, Funniest silent films
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-written, co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: A newly wedded couple attempts to build a house with a prefabricated kit, unaware that a rival sabotaged the kit’s component numbering. (IMDB)

Why is One Week among the best silent comedy films?
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ The film contains a high number of innovative visual gags largely pertaining to either the house or to ladders.



The Kid (1921)

The Kid 1921, Charlie Chaplin, Best silent comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, produced, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy. (IMDB)

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 best silent comedy movies?
✓ The Library of Congress selected The Kid for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ Innovative in its combination of comedic and dramatic elements, it is widely considered one of the greatest films of the Silent Era.


Cops (1922)

Cops (1922), Buster Keaton, Best silent comedy films
More info

Short film co-written, co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: A series of mishaps manages to make a young man get chased by a big city’s entire police force. (IMDB)

Why is Cops among the best comedies of the Silent Era?
✓ One of Keaton’s most iconic and brilliantly-constructed short films.
✓ Deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.


Safety Last! (1923)

Safety Last! (1923), Harold Lloyd, Best silent comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-written by and starring Harold Lloyd.

Story: Lloyd, the store clerk talks his manager into offering $1000 for a publicity stunt, in which a man called “human fly” would climb the face of the 12-storey store building, thus bringing customers nearby.

Persuasive enough to give audiences acrophobia when they aren’t laughing at Harold Lloyd’s antics, Safety Last! is a marvel of visual effects and slapstick comedy.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is Safety Last! among the best comedy films of the Silent Era?
✓ The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It features one of the most memorable scenes of the Silent Era (Lloyd hanging from the hour hand).
✓ Included in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.


Our Hospitality (1923)

Our Hospitality 1923, Buster Keaton, Best comedies of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: Buster falls in love with a girl on the train to his hometown and accepts her dinner invitation, only to find out that her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Why is Our Hospitality among the greatest silent comedies?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ It was a groundbreaking work for the comedy film genre, as Keaton included “careful integration of gags into a dramatically coherent storyline”, “meticulous attention to period detail” and “beautiful cinematography and extensive location shooting”.



Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr. 1924, Buster Keaton, Best comedy films of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-produced, directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Buster Keaton stars as a movie theater projectionist who dreams of becoming a super-sleuth and, in one breathtaking sequence, literally steps into the screen to bring his fantasies to life. (Amazon)

Why is Sherlock Jr. among the greatest silent comedy films?
✓ The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and it is also in the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.


The Navigator (1924)

The Navigator (1924), Buster Keaton, Greatest silent comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-written, co-directed, produced by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: Two spoiled rich people find themselves trapped on an empty passenger ship. (IMDB)

Why is The Navigator among the greatest comedies of the Silent Era?
✓ 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 American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.


The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush 1925, Charlie Chaplin, Greatest silent comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: A prospector goes to the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more. (IMDB)

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 comedy films of the Silent Era?
✓ Included among the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies and the 2000 list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ 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.


Seven Chances (1925)

Seven Chances (1925), Buster Keaton, Greatest comedies of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-produced, directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that same day. (IMDB)

Why is Seven Chances among the funniest silent movies?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ One of Keaton’s most successful films, and an all-time silent comedy classic.



The Freshman (1925)

The Freshman (1925), Harold Lloyd, Greatest comedy films of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Produced by and starring Harold Lloyd.

Story: A nerdy college student will do anything to become popular on campus. (IMDB)

Why is The Freshman among the funniest silent films?
✓ It was hugely popular at the time of its release, and it is widely considered one of Lloyd’s most hilarious and well-constructed films.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”
✓ Credited as being the very first “sports” movie ever produced, and as such, it inspired many college and sports themed movies of the future.


The General (1926)

The General 1926, Buster Keaton, Funniest silent movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-written, co-produced, co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: When Union spies steal an engineer’s beloved locomotive during the American Civil War, he embarks on a lone-wolf rescue mission that takes him behind enemy lines.

Brilliantly filmed and fueled with classic physical comedy, The General captures Buster Keaton at his timeless best.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus

Why is The General among the best silent comedies?
✓ It is included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies list.
✓ Selected into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
✓ In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked this as the #18 Greatest Movie of All Time.


The Circus (1928)

The Circus 1928, Charlie Chaplin, Funniest silent films
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

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)

Why is The Circus among the best silent comedy films?
✓ 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”.


Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. 1928, Buster Keaton, Best silent comedies
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-written, co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (Keaton) is the complete opposite of his father in every way. He is utterly inept as a crew member on the boat and he is dating the daughter of his father’s greatest rival.

Why is Steamboat Bill, Jr. among the best silent comedy movies?
✓ 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.
✓ Over the years, the film has become regarded as a masterpiece of its era.



The Cameraman (1928)

The Cameraman 1928, Buster Keaton, Best silent comedy films
Where to Watch?   More info

Co-produced, co-directed by and starring Buster Keaton.

Story: Buster is so obsessed with a charming office girl at MGM that he decides to impress her at all costs, so he becomes a cameraman only to photograph the film that would make the girl fall for him.

Why is The Cameraman among the best comedies of the Silent Era?
✓ Added to the National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
✓ Upon release, the film was a critical success and a box office hit.
✓ MGM’s writing department used the film to train new writers as a “perfectly constructed comedy” for decades.


City Lights (1931)

City Lights 1931, Charlie Chaplin, Best silent comedy movies
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

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.

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 comedy films of the Silent Era?
✓ 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.
✓ Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


I Was Born, But… (1932)

Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo (original Japanese title)

I Was Born, But… (1932), Best comedies of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Directed by Yasujirō Ozu.

Story: Two young brothers throw a tantrum when they discover that their father isn’t the most important man in his workplace. (IMDB)


Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times 1936, Charlie Chaplin, Best comedy films of the Silent Era
Where to Watch?   More info

Written, produced, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Story: The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. (IMDB)

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 greatest silent comedies?
✓ Included among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
✓ The American Film Institute ranked this as the #78 Greatest Movie of All Time.
✓ Selected by the Vatican in the “art” category of its list of 45 “great films” and it was also deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.



…end of the reel…

So there you have it: The 21 Greatest Comedies of the Silent Era

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 21 Comedies of the Silent Era
The Immigrant 1917
The Immigrant (1917)
Easy Street 1917
Easy Street (1917)
A Dog’s Life 1918
A Dog’s Life (1918)
Shoulder Arms 1918
Shoulder Arms (1918)
One Week 1920
One Week (1920)
The Kid 1921
The Kid (1921)
Cops 1922
Cops (1922)
Safety Last! 1923
Safety Last! (1923)
Our Hospitality 1923
Our Hospitality (1923)
Sherlock Jr. 1924
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
The Navigator 1924
The Navigator (1924)
The Gold Rush 1925
The Gold Rush (1925)
Seven Chances 1925
Seven Chances (1925)
The Freshman 1925
The Freshman (1925)
The General 1926
The General (1926)
The Circus 1928
The Circus (1928)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. 1928
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
The Cameraman 1928
The Cameraman (1928)
City Lights 1931
City Lights (1931)
I Was Born, But… 1932
I Was Born, But… (1932)
Modern Times 1936
Modern Times (1936)
*Click any title for more info or for Streaming / Disc Buying options

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.

The Tramp, the Stone Face and the Glasses: Best Laugh Out Loud Comedy Films of the Silent Era
Get the Book

…available on Amazon both as eBook and Paperback…


Ready for another journey?

Explore the best comedies of other decades too!

Next: 1930s

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