1. City Lights (1931)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Why you should see it: What makes City Lights so appealing is the simplicity behind the story of a Tramp falling in love with a blind Flower Girl. Not only is the film filled with Chaplin’s famous sight gags, but it also hits you right in the feels with one of the most beautiful endings in cinematic history. Only Chaplin can make you laugh and cry at the same time.
2. Metropolis (1927)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Why you should see it: Metropolis is the science fiction film that started it all. The special effects in this blockbuster were incredibly ambitious and way ahead of their time. The unique visuals, compelling story about the working class vs. upper class, and Lang's attention to detail make Metropolis stand out from the other films released in that period.
3. The Last Command (1928)
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg
Why you should see it: The Last Command expertly depicts two very different worlds: Czarist Russia and the glitz and glam of old Hollywood. This drama about the fall of a Russian Czar is filled with stunning visuals and breakthrough performances. Emil Janning's role in the film even earned him the very first Academy Award for Best Actor.
4. The Cameraman (1928)
Directed by: Buster Keaton
Why you should see it: The Cameraman is arguably one of Buster Keaton's funniest films. It follows Buster as he attempts to pursue a career as an MGM cameraman in hopes of wooing over the company's secretary, Sally. Buster's killer stunts, brilliant comedic timing, and the film's outright ridiculousness will have you crying with laughter.
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
6. The Last Laugh (1924)
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Why you should see it: The Last Laugh is about an old doorman at a prestigious hotel who is fired and scrutinized by his family for his apparent failure. Despite being a silent film, there are no title cards in this picture that depict dialogue. This film is a great example of the magic of cinema and the wonders you can achieve by telling stories purely based on visuals.
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Directed by: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Why you should see it: The Passion of Joan of Arc is about the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. Renée Falconetti gives one of the most beautiful performances of all time as the tortured martyr. The stylized camerawork, impactful compositions, and the obvious depiction of violence make this film more like a classic Renaissance painting.
8. Napoléon (1927)
Directed by: Abel Gance
Why you should see it: This epic historical film is split into three parts as it depicts the story of the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. There's even a final 20-minute triptych sequence where different images play simultaneously on screen, showcasing Gance's directing techniques. With limited technology, Gance was still able to make a film that even Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg would be proud of today.
9. Battleship Potemkin (1928)
Who directed it: Sergei Eisenstein
Why you should see it: Battleship Potemkin focuses on the sailors of the Potemkin rebelling against unfair and severe conditions. Eisenstein revolutionized the way storytellers could edit their films by creating montages and juxtaposing images to create a greater meaning on screen.
10. Nosferatu (1922)
Who directed it: F. W. Murnau
Why you should see it: Nosferatu is a quintessential horror film based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. Murnau's haunting depiction of the famous vampire is intensified with its demonic characterization of the monster, clever use of shadows, and staging. Nosferatu is definitely the type of creature who will forever haunt your dreams.
11. Pandora's Box (1929)
Who directed it: G. W. Pabst
Why you should see it: Louise Brooks gives a breakthrough performance as Lulu, a showgirl who doesn't understand the costs of her vibrant sexuality until it's too late. Brooks’ eyes are so enchanting that you never want to look away when she's on screen. Pandora's Box is filled with style, super-modern themes, and steamy eroticism in nearly every frame.
12. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Who directed it: Robert Wiene
Why you should see it: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a horror film that exemplifies the styles of German expressionism by exploring the nightmarish world of a mad doctor and his sleepwalking "patient." This film stands out due to its set design, costumes, and makeup, and stellar performance from renowned actor Conrad Veidt.
13. Safety Last! (1923)
Who directed it: Sam Taylor, Fred C. Newmeyer
Why you should see it: Safety Last! is about a small-town man trying to make a name for himself in a big city. This film is renowned for Harold Lloyd's risky stunts, hilariously timed gags, and unique comedy that set Lloyd apart from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
14. The Phantom Carriage (1921)
Who directed it: Victor Sjöström
Why you should see it: The Phantom Carriage is a Swedish film that depicts a man trying to make amends with the people he encountered in his past life. This film's special effects and complex narrative structure involving flashbacks were incredibly advanced for the '20s. The climatic scene where the irate father is trying to get to his family inspired the "Here's Johnny!" moment from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
15. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Who directed it: Georges Méliès
Why you should see it: A Trip to the Moon is about a group of astronomers who decide to take an expedition to the moon. Méliès was a magician and stage producer who took his talents to new heights and changed cinema forever. Despite making this film in the early 1900s, Méliès used simple illusions to achieve unique special effects and rich atmospheres on screen.
16. The Lodger (1927)
Who directed it: Alfred Hitchcock
Why you should see it: A serial killer is murdering women in London, and after a strange man shows up at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Buntin, the landlady suspects he is the one responsible for the deaths. This silent thriller was only a glimpse of what the Master of Suspense would bring to Hollywood later on in his career. Hitchcock relied heavily on visuals to create tension that kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
17. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
Who directed it: Luis Buñuel
Why you should see it: Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist film and an epic collaboration between Buñuel and painter Salvador Dali. Despite having no plot, the dream-like sequences throughout the film make it incredibly appealing and brings Dali’s paintings to life.