10 Best Classic Movies From Hollywood’s Early Years | TheReviewGeek Recommends

You’ve probably heard of classic films like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz. But have you explored the early days of Hollywood, back when the studio system was just getting off the ground and silent films were transitioning to “talkies”? The 1920s to 1940s were a magical era that produced many timeless movies you need to check out.

From swashbuckling adventures and screwball comedies to sweeping epics and film noir, these classics feature some of the biggest stars of the time and showcase a masterful use of visual storytelling. If you want to understand the roots of modern cinema and be entertained by stories as moving and hilarious today as when they first debuted, look no further than these 10 movies that defined the early days of Hollywood.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
The Birth of a Nation (1915)

The Birth of a Nation is a controversial but important film in Hollywood history. Released in 1915, it helped establish many of the techniques that would become standard in film for decades.

Directed by D.W. Griffith, the movie pioneered camera techniques like panning shots, close-ups, and cross-cutting that heightened drama and emotion. The movie also made history by being the first 12-reel film ever made. At over 3 hours long, it demonstrated that audiences had an appetite for epic, big-budget films.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The 1920 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a classic of the early horror genre and one of the most influential films in cinema history.

Directed by Robert Wiene, this silent film tells the twisted tale of the sinister Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesare, who sleepwalks and carries out the doctor’s evil deeds. The bizarre and unsettling style of the film is instantly recognizable.

With its strange sets, unnatural angles, and dark atmosphere, Caligari helped establish some of the key conventions of film noir and the horror genre. The exaggerated and geometrical sets were designed to evoke a sense of madness and chaos. This radical and stylized design dominated the German Expressionist movement and shaped the development of film as an art form.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
Nosferatu (1922)

Released in 1922, Nosferatu is a classic silent horror film that helped define the vampire genre in cinema. Directed by F.W. Murnau, this unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel follows the sinister Count Orlok as he preys on the citizens of Wisborg.

If you’re a fan of vintage horror, Nosferatu is a must-see. As one of the first vampire films ever made, it established many of the tropes we now associate with the genre. The pale, creepy Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck, serves as a precursor for later iconic vampires like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. With his pointed ears, long fingernails, and rodent-like teeth, Orlok is a genuinely unsettling villain that will give you chills.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
Safety Last! (1923)

One of the most iconic silent films from the early era of Hollywood is 1923’s Safety Last!. This romantic comedy starring Harold Lloyd is famous for its thrilling climax featuring Lloyd dangling from the hands of a clock tower.

Safety Last! follows the story of Harold Lloyd’s character, referred to as The Boy, who moves to New York City to become a big success so he can propose to his girlfriend, referred to as The Girl.

To impress his boss and earn a raise at the department store where he works, The Boy arranges for his friend, referred to as The Pal, to climb the outside of the 12-story Bolton building where the store is located as a publicity stunt. However, The Pal backs out at the last minute, forcing The Boy to make the perilous climb himself.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

One of the most innovative and influential films of the silent era, Sherlock, Jr. showcases Buster Keaton at his comedic best. As a movie projectionist who enters the film he’s screening, Keaton explores ideas of reality and illusion that were groundbreaking for the time.

Keaton plays a movie projectionist and amateur sleuth who’s in love with a woman whose father forbids her from seeing him. When a valuable pocket watch is stolen, he attempts to solve the crime to prove his worth. After being knocked unconscious, he enters the film he is projecting and interacts with the characters onscreen.

The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush (1925) is one of Charlie Chaplin’s most iconic films. Set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s, the movie follows the Little Tramp as he travels to Yukon, Canada to prospect for gold.

Once there, the Tramp gets into all sorts of hijinks and adventures. He befriends Big Jim, a kindhearted prospector, and together they stake a claim and build a cabin. However, their neighbour, Black Larsen, has more sinister plans. After Larsen and his men attack Jim, the Tramp comes to the rescue using some unorthodox but clever methods.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
The General (1926)

The General (1926) is one of Buster Keaton’s most cherished silent films. Set during the American Civil War, Keaton stars as Johnnie Gray, a Confederate railroad engineer who tries to prove his worth to his girl, Annabelle Lee. When Union spies steal his beloved locomotive, The General, Johnnie sets off on an adventure to get it back.

This cinematic gem is filled with thrilling chase scenes and stunts performed by Keaton himself. His deadpan expression and physical comedy shine in every scene. 

Sunrise (1927)

Sunrise (1927) is a seminal film from the silent era that showcases director F.W. Murnau’s masterful use of cinematic techniques to tell a story without dialogue. Set in a fictional city, the plot revolves around a farmer who travels to the city to sell his farm. He meets a woman in the city and they fall in love, but she is married to another man.

Murnau was a pioneer of film as an art form and used innovative camera techniques to create a visual symphony on screen. In Sunrise, he employed tracking shots, crane shots, superimpositions, and other methods to convey emotion and drama. For example, in one scene a camera moves swiftly along a row of buildings to show the bustling city. In another, a superimposition makes a ghostly image of the woman appear over the bed where she lies ill.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood

Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and based on the unpublished stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The story is set during World War II and revolves around an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

Best Movies from Early Hollywood
Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday is a 1953 romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Set in Rome, the film follows Princess Ann on her escapades after sneaking away from her royal duties for a day of adventure.

Ann is on a highly scheduled goodwill tour of European capitals when she grows weary of her regimented lifestyle. She decides to slip away from her handlers for some freedom and anonymity in Rome. After a sedative causes her to fall asleep on a bench, American reporter Joe Bradley stumbles upon the princess and offers to show her around the city.

There we have it, our list of 10 best movies from early days of Hollywood. What do you think about our picks? Let us know in the comments below:

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