There's something inherently romantic about old silent movies. They're transcendent. Made a long time ago, but somehow connected to the world we see every day because of the silence. Their visual language transcends the era. And some of the best movies ever made are silent. 

There are many famous silent films, but which ones are the best? And how do you watch silent movies

Today, we're going to talk about the silent era of films. We'll look at its famous actors, directors, and films. And I'll try to compile a list of silent films that you should definitely watch. But don't look for them on Netflix. Their selection is lacking.  

So let's get started. 

Mary-pickfordMary Pickford

The Best Silent Films of All Time 

To find the best silent films of all time, I scoured the internet and Criterion collection. I wanted to share my personal favorites, but also I wanted to spend some time seeing new movies as well. Along the way, I learned a lot about the silent era. 

What Is a Silent Film? 

silent film is a film with no audible dialogue. They tell stories using emotion visually. Dialogue and beats can also be conveyed using title cards to signify important events or pieces of information. Sometimes they are called "mute films."

Many of these movies had musical accompaniment. Either piano players in movie houses or even small orchestras in larger cities. 

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraBuster KeatonCredit: Criterion

When Was the Silent Era?

The so-called silent era of cinema was from 1894 to 1929. It occurred simultaneously with German Expressionism, French Impressionism, Soviet Montage, and Classical Hollywood.

We classify silent films by the era in which they were made. They must have no dialogue or sync sound but may have musical accompaniment. 

History of Silent Films 

The silent era was when the camera angles and camera movements we expect from Hollywood today were invented. There was three-point lightingclose-upslong shots, and even continuity editing. We saw stars like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Mary Pickford. 

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraChaplinCredit: Criterion

When Did Silent Movies End?

Of course, as soon as synchronized sound was invented, this all came to an end. Talking pictures, or "talkies," came into the norm with The Jazz Singer in 1928. And the silent film era officially ended in 1929. 

A List of Famous Silent Film Actors

  • Fatty Arbuckle 
  • Laurel and Hardy 
  • Buster Keaton 
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Wallace Reid
  • Douglas Fairbanks
  • Mary Pickford
  • John Gilbert
  • Greta Garbo
  • Jackie Coogan
  • Clara Bow
  • Norma Shearer
  • Rudolph Valentino
  • Harold Lloyd
  • Lillian Gish

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraGreta GarboCredit: BBC

A List of Silent Movie Comedians

  • Roscoe Arbuckle
  • Monty Banks
  • Spencer Bell (actor)
  • Brooks Benedict
  • Henry Bergman
  • Billy Bevan
  • Charles Bowers
  • John Bunny
  • Eric Campbell (actor)
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Charley Chase
  • Chester Conklin
  • Lige Conley
  • Clyde Cook (actor)
  • Claude Cooper (actor)
  • Mae Dahlberg
  • Max Davidson
  • Reginald Denny (actor)
  • Fred Evans (comedian)
  • Will Evans (comedian)
  • W. C. Fields
  • James Finlayson (actor)
  • Anita Garvin
  • Raymond Griffith
  • Charlie Hall (actor)
  • Lloyd Hamilton
  • Oliver Hardy
  • Otis Harlan
  • Gale Henry
  • Alice Howell
  • Igor Ilyinsky
  • Buster Keaton
  • Edgar Kennedy
  • Madge Kirby
  • Lupino Lane
  • Harry Langdon
  • Laurel and Hardy
  • Stan Laurel
  • Max Linder
  • Harold Lloyd
  • Fred Mace
  • Curtis McHenry
  • Joe Murphy (actor)
  • Mabel Normand
  • James Parrott
  • Marcel Perez
  • Léonce Perret
  • Snub Pollard
  • Charles Prince (actor)
  • Charles Puffy
  • Pugo (comedian)
  • Pugo and Togo
  • Edna Purviance
  • Billy Quirk
  • George Robey
  • Tiny Sandford
  • Larry Semon
  • Al St. John
  • Ford Sterling
  • Mack Swain
  • Togo (comedian)
  • Ben Turpin
  • Billy West (silent film actor)

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraLaurel and Hardy

A List of Famous Silent Film Directors

  • Charlie Chaplin 
  • King Vidor
  • Sergei Eisenstein
  • D.W. Griffith 
  • Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  • Buster Keaton
  • Abel Gance
  • Fritz Lang 
  • Victor Sjöström
  • Paul Leni
  • Ernst Lubitsch 
  • Cecil B. Demille 

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraSergei Eisenstein

Silent Movies List

  1. The General - 1926 - Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
  2. Metropolis - 1927 - Fritz Lang
  3. Sunrise - 1927 - F.W. Murnau
  4. City Lights - 1931 -Charles Chaplin
  5. Nosferatu -1922 - F.W. Murnau
  6. The Gold Rush - 1925 - Charles Chaplin
  7. La Passion et la mort de Jeanne d’Arc [The Passion of Joan of Arc] - 1928 - Carl Theodor Dreyer
  8. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] - 1920 - Robert Wiene
  9. Bronenosets ‘Potyomkin’ [The Battleship Potemkin] - 1925 - Sergei M. Eisenstein
  10. Greed - 1924 -Erich von Stroheim
  11. "Die Büchse der Pandora [Pandora’s Box] - 1929 - G.W. Pabst
  12. The Crowd - 1928 - King Vidor
  13. The Wind - 1928 - Victor Sjöström
  14. Napoléon - 1927 - Abel Gance
  15. The Birth of a Nation - 1915 - D.W. Griffith
  16. Intolerance1916D.W. Griffith
  17. Sherlock, Jr. - 1924 - Buster Keaton
  18. The Big Parade - 1925 - King Vidor
  19. Safety Last - 1923 - Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
  20. The Phantom of the Opera - 1925 - Rupert Julian
  21. Broken Blossoms - 1919 - D.W. Griffith
  22. Der letzte Mann [The Last Laugh] - 1924 - F.W. Murnau
  23. The Kid - 1921 - Charles Chaplin
  24. Steamboat Bill, Jr.1928Charles F. Reisner
  25. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ - 1925 - Fred Niblo
  26. The Thief of Bagdad - 1924 - Raoul Walsh
  27. Flesh and the Devil - 1927 - Clarence Brown
  28. Our Hospitality -1923 - Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
  29. Wings -1927 - William A. Wellman
  30. Chelovek s kinoapparatom [Man With the Movie Camera] - 1929 - Dziga Vertov
  31. Nanook of the North - 1922 - Robert J. Flaherty
  32. Faust -1926 -F.W. Murnau
  33. Way Down East - 1920 - D.W. Griffith
  34. Häxan [Witchcraft Through the Ages] - 1922 -Benjamin Christensen
  35. Das Tagebuch einer Verlorenen [The Diary of a Lost Girl] - 1929 - G.W. Pabst
  36. The Unknown -1927 - Tod Browning
  37. The Cameraman 1928 -Edward Sedgwick
  38. The Circus - 1928 -Charles Chaplin
  39. Show People - 1928 - King Vidor
  40. Un chien Andalou [The Andalusian Dog] - 1928 - Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali
  41. The Hunchback of Notre Dame1923Wallace Worsley
  42. Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler [Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler] - 1922 - Fritz Lang
  43. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - 1921 - Rex Ingram
  44. The Sheik - 1921 - George Melford
  45. Die Nibelungen [Kriemhild’s Revenge]) - 1924Fritz Lang
  46. The Freshman -1925 - Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer
  47. The Mark of Zorro - 1920 - Fred Niblo
  48. Tol’able David1921Henry King
  49. He Who Gets Slapped - 1924 - Victor Sjöström
  50. Girl Shy - 1924 - Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor
  51. The Wedding March - 1928 - Erich von Stroheim
  52. The Man Who Laughs - 1928 - Paul Leni
  53. The Lodger -1926 -Alfred Hitchcock
  54. Seven Chances - 1925 - Buster Keaton
  55. The Last Command - 1928 - Josef von Sternberg
  56. Foolish Wives - 1922 -Erich von Stroheim
  57. Orphans of the Storm - 1921 - D.W. Griffith
  58. Sparrows -1926 - William Beaudine
  59. The Navigator - 1924 - Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp
  60. Zemlya [Earth] - 1930 - Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  61. Tabu - 1931 - F.W. Murnau and Robert J. Flaherty
  62. Les Vampires - 1915-16 - Louis Feuillade
  63. The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg - 1927 - Ernst Lubitsch
  64. Beggars of Life - 1928 - William A. Wellman
  65. My Best Girl - 1927 - Sam Taylor
  66. Cops - 1922 - Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline 
  67. Der Golem [The Golem] - 1920 - Paul Wegener
  68. Le Voyage dans la lune [A Trip to the Moon] - 1902 - Georges Méliès
  69. The Son of the Sheik - 1926 - George Fitzmaurice
  70. 7th Heaven -1927 -Frank Borzage
  71. It - 1927 -Clarence Badger
  72. The Lost World -1925 -Harry O. Hoyt
  73. The Kid Brother1927Ted Wilde and J.A. Howe
  74. The Immigrant - 1917 - Charles Chaplin
  75. Queen Kelly - 1928 - Erich von Stroheim
  76. Oktiabr [October] - 1928 - Sergei M. Eisenstein
  77. Cabiria - 1914 -Giovanni Pastrone
  78. Robin Hood - 1922 -Allan Dwan
  79. The Docks of New York - 1928 - Josef von Sternberg
  80. Stachka [Strike] - 1924 - Sergei M. Eisenstein
  81. The Great Train Robbery - 1903 -Edwin S. Porter
  82. Der müde Tod [Destiny] - 1921 - Fritz Lang
  83. Speedy -1928 -Ted Wilde
  84. Sadie Thompson -1928 -Raoul Walsh
  85. Tess of the Storm Country -1922 -John S. Robertson
  86. A Woman of Paris - 1923 - Charles Chaplin
  87. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - 1920 - John S. Robertson
  88. The Last of the Mohicans - 1920 - Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown
  89. The Unholy Three - 1925 - Tod Browning
  90. Mat [Mother] - 1926 - Vsevolod I. Pudovkin
  91. The Cheat - 1915 - Cecil B. DeMille
  92. "Variété [Variety] - 1925 - E.A. Dupont
  93. Die Freudlose Gasse [The Joyless Street] - 1924 - G.W. Pabst
  94. Big Business - 1929 - James W. Horne
  95. The Iron Mask -1929 -Allan Dwan
  96. The King of Kings - 1927 -Cecil B. DeMille
  97. The Iron Horse - 1924 - John Ford
  98. The Penalty - 1920 - Wallace Worsley
  99. Stella Maris - 1918 - Marshall Neilan
  100. Underworld - 1927 - Josef von Sternberg

What Are The Best Silent Films of All Time? History and Silent EraWingsCredit: RKO

Silent Movies on Netflix

One of my deepest worries about the future of Hollywood is how these streamers have no sense of history. There are no silent movies on Netflix. And it's hard to find a movie on the platform that was made before the 1970s. 

Part of this is because major studios have their own platforms and hold the rights to these films, but also part of it is because they assume their audience is not interested. Tell them it's not so!  

You can order the DVDs from Netflix, which has a deep library, but I want them to have easier access. 

Can you imagine if Netflix just paid to put every Chaplin movie on there and exposed the world to his genius again? Or Keaton? Or Pickford? 

Put them on that front page. Give them a category. Celebrate them. Partner with someone to restore some or to have a month showcasing them. Do anything that proves you love the history of movies, and not just new ones. 

I hope it happens someday. 

What Are the Greatest Silent Films? 

So here we are. The big list. What do we think are the greatest silent films ever? I don't want to belabor you with another long list. What I decided to do was pull the ones I thought were incredibly important to film history. 

The first is Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film, Strike. This is a special movie because it has the perfect example of the intellectual method of montage.

That's an editing theory established by Eisenstein. It also is a movie that changed his world. It was a powerful statement regarding relations between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie. 

And he did it all without words. 

You can't make this list without Charlie Chaplin, and City Lights is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. It has everything—action, romance, suspense, and Chaplin doing things that made us all hold our breath in awe. 

It is a must-watch if you appreciate this era. 

One that's special to me is Buster Keaton's The General. I remember my professor Roy Grundmann showing it to my class when I was in grad school.

As soon as Keaton hit the screen everyone was laughing and got incredibly invested in the story. Still one of the best viewing experiences of my life as we all gasped and clapped at Keaton's insane stunts and cinematography.

Another landmark movie that's so important is The Great Train Robbery. 

When I talked to No Film School's Charles Haine, he said this about the film, "Combining two of my favorite genres, the Western and the Crime movie, directed by a former DP, with composites, a moving camera, and that amazing shot of Justus D. Barnes shooting straight down the barrel of the lens (foreshadowing the Bond opening by 60 some odd years), and driven by a plot surrounding the importance of the mail, The Great Train Robbery really fires on all cylinders for me.​"

Summing Up the Best Silent Films of All Time 

What are your favorite silent-era films? What are the ones you think everyone should watch? The ones you think are the best ever made? a

We are always looking to add to our lists and to broaden our horizons. There are so many excellent movies out there for us to enjoy. 

Let us know in the comments!