30 Best Movies Turning 100 in the 2020s – MovieWeb

Movies from the 1920s effectively set the stage for cinema as we know it. Here are 30 of them that will turn 100 this decade.
There is a film scheduled for release in 2115 starring John Malkovich titled 100 Years. This ambitious project is being advertised as “The Movie You Will Never See.” The mere thought of such a picture, forbidden to us by time is enough to evoke science-fiction-styled thoughts of a future that lies before us. It makes you appreciate just how long 100 years can be.
That’s why looking back at the films of the 1920s can be so amazing. The appreciation of whom those people were and the lives they lived isn’t lost on viewers today. The idea that the art they created so long ago can be enjoyed today truly captures the beauty of filmmaking and the fragile mortality of us all. These are 30 movies turning 100 in this decade. For any movie buff, they’re like stepping into a time machine.
It’s pretty jarring to realize that there were curmudgeons who attended the 1938 release of Judy Garland’s The Wizard of Oz and complained about it being a remake. Similar to The Karate Kid of 2010, the “classic” version of Oz we know today was a remake from the version released over a decade earlier. The true original was actually a silent film with Dorothy Dawn playing Dorothy Gale. The most notable star? Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame played the Tin Man.
An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu is one of the true horror originals of cinema. The classic movie saw Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck, call Thomas Hutter, played by Gustav von Vagenheim, to his mountain castle in Transylvania. It would be a blueprint for vampire films to come for decades.
Buster Keaton’s silent comedy, Sherlock Jr, taps into the underlying desire we all have to be more than we are. Keaton’s character is a film projectionist by trade, but turns in his reels for a magnifying glass. Longing for detective work, he trails a thief who had tried to frame him. It was delicate balance of comedy and drama for the legendary star.
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A beloved love story, The Crowd continues to garner great reviews a century after its release. Starring Eleanor Boardman, James Burray, and Bert Roach, this glimpse of early-20th-Century romance have remained timeless. Selected in 1989 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, The Crowd was called "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Written by the great Salvador Dalí and Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou is a short French film that goes beyond the common tropes at the time. Featuring bizarre imagery and surreal design, it comes off more like a Nine Inch Nails video at times than a 100-year-old movie. Purposely grotesque and haunting in many ways, it was decades ahead of its time.
Based on the 1491 transcripts of Joan of Arc’s trials for heresy, 1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered a masterpiece of silent cinema. Through the haunting facial expressions of Renée Jeanne Falconetti and the faithful adherence to the source material, Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer produced an unforgettable lesson in history that audiences still applaud today.
Directed and starring Buster Keaton, the 1923 silent comedy, Our Hospitality, was a true gem of slapstick. Keaton’s comedic timing was on full display in this satire of the Hatfields vs. McCoys. The feuding family story was one that many audiences could gravitate to at the time and allowed Keaton to tell his tale through sight gags and historic settings. The movie itself was best described by Turner Classic Movies as “a silent film for which no apologies need to be made to modern viewers.”
Nearly a hundred years before Will Smith cracked Chris Rock for joking about his wife’s head, Russian Author Leonid Andreyev penned He Who Gets Slapped, a story that explored the themes that come with revenge and loss. When the evil Baron Regnard, played by Marc MacDermott, steals his wife and livelihood, Lon Chaney, as Paul Beumont, joins a circus sideshow. It’s here that he finds love in this psychological silent thriller.
The classic precursor to the modern-day Joker franchise, The Man Who Laughs delves into the horrors of exploitation while embracing the love that we all deserve. Starring Conrad Veidt as the romantic and disfigured lead, this silent film explores many themes. 12 years later, the first appearance of the Joker for DC Comics was titled “The Man Who Laughs” — a nod to the classic tale.
The 1927 science fiction film, Metropolis, attempts to imagine a distant future. Like many prediction pieces at the time, the future comes with sky highways, robots, and other unrealized technology. Regardless, the story of a city planner’s son falling in love with a blue-collar prophet of the people tapped into the heartstrings while presenting a vision of days to come.
The silent Soviet film, Battleship Potemkin, was a dramatization of an actual mutiny from 1905 on a Russian battleship. The story, directed and co-written by Sergei Eisenstein, could have been complete fiction, given the political climate at the time. However, it remained surprisingly faithful to the real-life events it recounted. Considered by some to be one of the greatest films of all time, Battleship Potemkin has been featured at the top of many lists for a century.
Buster Keaton’s The Boat in 1921 might be short in duration compared to others on this list, but it has held up for over a century. At just 23 minutes, Keaton’s classic slapstick performance has stood the test of time. The silent story of a family encountering issue after issue while trying to sail on a homemade vessel became a classic piece of early cinema comedy.
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There is something eerily haunting about the 1920 silent German film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. From the disturbing poster to the cinematic setting, it set the pace for many terrifying tales to be told over the next century. Considered a major influence on the genre and “the first true horror film”, as per film critic Roger Ebert, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari showed the depth in which movies can evoke a visceral reaction of horror.
Released by United Artists in 1926, The General is yet another major piece of work from Buster Keaton. The comedic adventure wasn’t considered a major success during its release due to its enormous budget of $750,000 and meager return of one million worldwide. The fallout was a hit to Keaton’s standing as an independent filmmaker and led to him signing a somewhat one-sided deal with MGM. Today, however, The General is seen as a true masterpiece of cinema. In 1989, the Library of Congress included it in its first class of preserved films with the National Film Registry.
There is a reason why Lon Chaney is considered a pioneer of film horror. His emotional expressions and looming presence were important during the silent era, and The Phantom of the Opera might be the greatest example. Based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, the tale of a masked man haunting the halls of the Paris Opera House struck fear into the hearts of audiences. 100 years later, the story is still one that people retell today.
Considered one the true pioneers of war sagas, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has stood the test of time. Produced by Metro Pictures and based on the 1916 Spanish novel of the same name, this movie featured Rudolph Valentino in one of his most beloved roles as Julio, a French man returning home during World War 1. Added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1995, The Four Horsemen has been applauded for its cultural relevance. In 2000, nearly 75 years after the theatrical run, it was released on DVD.
One of the most emotional dramas of its time, The Docks of New York tells the story of a sad blue-collar worker in New York saving a woman’s life. The silent film, starring George Bancroft and Betty Compson, was also one of the earliest film controversies. Compson’s role as a sex worker, while legal at the time, was not widely accepted. Because of this, parts of her character’s career were left out of the final cut. The edit affected the storyline for some with the missing pieces causing later parts of the movie to feel ambiguous. Regardless, many consider this release to be the finest work of Josef von Sternberg.
Another example of the iconic roles Lon Chaney made famous, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was nearly a century away from getting the Disney treatment when it was released in 1923. The silent tale of Quasimodo takes place in Paris and held up as a remarkable piece of cinema. Through the years, the original 35mm negatives of the film have been lost. Today, the movie is available on DVD, but is missing 15 minutes of footage originally shown in theaters. The current copies have been cultivated from 16mm prints released in the mid-to-late 20th Century for home viewing.
It is amazing to think that, at the time of its release, the 1927 film Napoleon was just over 100 years after the French commander’s death. The silent French film stays faithful to the source as it retells the life of Napoleon Bonapart, played by Albert Dieudonné. Hailed for its fluid camerawork and stunning visual effects at the time, Napoleon has truly stood the test of time. While cut in time and edited through the years, many fans clamored to see its original production. In 1981, after 20 years, they got their wish as British cinema historian Kevin Brownlow restored the movie for release.
Directed by King Vidor, 1925’s The Big Parade is another story from World War I that highlights the true horrors of war. Unlike other movies and pop culture depictions of battle, this saga was not one to present a heroic or romantic view of life on the front lines. Rather, John Gilbert’s portrayal of James Apperson was applauded for its realism during a time of global strife. In 1992, it was added to the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

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