On June 26, 1925, Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Gold Rush premiered at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre along Hollywood Boulevard to a full house. The 95-minute movie was later received with several minutes of applause from an appreciative audience.
Starring as his iconic alter ego The Tramp, Chaplin plays a gold prospector braving the biting cold blizzard, hunger, and loneliness during Alaska’s Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. Chaplin also drew from 1846’s Donner Party Disaster, which forced snowbound immigrants in the Sierra Nevada to eat their leather shoes and the corpses of dead companions. It was from these tragic events that Chaplin sought to make a comedy, as he believed tragedy and comedy were not far from each other.
“Silent films were the first to teach about the storytelling and narrative economy,” says an article on why silent movies are essential learning tools for film students. “[They] were the founding fathers of film editing techniques and helped us understand the importance of movement and stillness.”
To honor Chaplin’s seminal film that premiered 96 years ago, here are four classic silent movies that capture our attention and imagination— all without uttering a single word. (Read: 3 Dog YouTube Channels to Watch For Good Vibes)
The Kid (1921)
Another Charlie Chaplin classic, this comedy-drama stars him as the Tramp opposite a young boy (Jackie Coogan) abandoned by his mother in a charity hospital. The US Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The General (1926)
Known for his deadpan expression and highly physical acting, Buster Keaton stars as Johnny Gray, a train engineer with two loves: his sweetheart Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) and his train called The General. When the Union army steals The General (with Annabelle as passenger), Johnny crosses enemy lines to save them both. Critics regard this comedy as Keaton’s best work ever.
Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922)
Before there was Count Dracula and Edward Cullen, there was Nosferatu (the archaic Romanian word for “vampire”), in the person of Count Orlok (Max Schreck). (Read: 3 YouTube Documentaries About Filipino Catholic Traditions)
In the market for a house, Nosferatu purchases one across the street from real estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) who, together with his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder), becomes Orlok’s unwitting victims. The German Expressionist horror film earned an approval rating of 97 percent from review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.
Girl Shy (1924)
This early rom-com stars Harold Lloyd as a stuttering tailor’s apprentice who writes a how-to book on conquering women. Looks like he could use his own advice when he hits it off with the pretty Mary Buckingham (Jobyna Ralston), only to botch things up. Can he stop her from marrying her older and arrogant fiancé Ronald?