Film as we know it (sound, normal camera speeds, etc.) wasn't around until the 1930s. Up until that point, there was no dialogue, and the film was choppy and rough. By the time of the Depression, however, films were almost entirely "talkies" and the quality of the cameras had increased dramatically. It truly was the beginning of modern film. But what were the ten best films from that decade? My goal is to show you just that. I've taken some of the highest-ranked from the era from IMDB, and then I've looked at their importance to society, genre, and audiences today and have attempted to compile an accurate and objective list. With that out of the way, let's begin!
10. The 39 Steps (1935)
IMDB Rating: 7.8
Starring: Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll
Many of you may not be familiar with this film, but it was one of Alfred Hitchcock's first works, and probably the best film he made during this decade. It tells the tale of an agent accused for a murder he did not commit, who must both avoid capture, and stop the bad guy from carrying out his evil schemes. Pretty cliche, but this was the first of its kind. The movie was something of a spy thriller/mystery, and Hitchcock brilliantly takes the audience through the Scottish highlands in a chase film that, even though it is old, is exciting and enjoyable.
9. Gunga Din (1939)
IMDB Rating: 7.6
Starring: Cary Grant, Victor McLagen, Douglas Fairbanks, Sam Jaffe
This was one of Cary Grant's first "big" films. He'd been performing for nearly seven years, but besides Holiday, everything had been small. Gunga Din, based on the Rudyard Kipling poem, changed that. This war film, set in 1800s India, has comedy, drama, and romance, making it a total package. Three soldiers and a water carrier discover a revival of a dangerous sect, and try to stop it. The only thing that they could've improved upon was Cary Grant's accent. Even though he was British, his voice was so distinct that he just sounded funny saying things like "cheerio" and "blooming".
8. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains
One of Flynn and de Havilland's many films together, The Adventures of Robin Hood was not only the greatest of the swashbuckling films of its day, but also the template for those films for decades. Flynn is often considered to be the definitive Robin Hood in the oft-told tale of an outlaw and his followers outwitting an evil prince and sheriff. The story nowadays would seem bland, but like with many plot lines from this day, this film was the first of its kind.
7. Frankenstein (1931)
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Though Bela Lugosi's Dracula came out the same year, this movie wins for best horror picture of the decade. Based on a play that was based on a book, Colin Clive's Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates the horrible monster Boris Karloff...I mean played by Boris Karloff, and then has to try to stop his creation as it destroys the things Victor holds dear. It was so intense for its time that much of the U.S. wanted it censored. Granted, throwing a girl into a lake and watching her drown wouldn't be anything in today's society, but back then it was unbearable. This film not only kick-started the monster genre, but was also the closest Frankenstein film to the novel.
6. King Kong (1933)
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Speaking of monsters, no modern creature may be more famous than the forty foot ape King Kong. A film team travels to a tropical island where they find a primeval beast, then have the stunning intellect to capture it, and take it to New York. Brilliant. If you look past the aged effects (which were state of the art when first introduced), you get a really good story, impressive acting, and good cinematography. And yes, there is a dinosaur/Kong fight, if you were wondering.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
IMDB Rating: 8.1
Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Ber Lahr, Jack Haley
I'm pretty sure Frank Baum was high on something when he wrote The Wizard of Oz, but at any rate, it made for a very popular film. Dorothy (Garland) finds herself in a strange world, and has to find the Wizard to get back home. There's witches, and munchkins, and talking stoves, and flying monkeys. It's weird. But it had one of the most recognizable songs in cinematic history. And it used techniques (like the black and white to color) that were unused up to that time. The reason this film makes it to the fifth place on our list is because of its popularity and lasting remembrance. Of all the films so far, The Wizard of Oz is probably the most well known. It has survived the test of time.
4. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
IMDB Rating: 8.1
Starring: Louis Wolheim, Lew Ayers, John Wray
This timely World War I epic received two Academy Awards for Outstanding Production and Best Director, the first movie to do so. Based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque, this movie follows Paul Baumer (Ayers) and the 2nd Company as they fight for the Fatherland during the Great War. It was a dark, disturbing fiction of the horrors of war, and both the film and novel did their duty - At least to a point. This story never stopped war completely, but it has been remembered in history as one of the greatest epic films ever made.
3. You Can't Take it With You (1938)
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Starring: Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart
If you have not seen this play-adapted comedy, then you have missed out. A girl (Arthur) is in love with her young boss (Stewart) whose father is trying to get the house of the girl's family, which belongs to her grandfather (Barrymore). Madness ensues in this hilarious film. Like many on our list, it was the first "big film" for an actor: James "Jimmy" Stewart. And though Jean Arthur had been in pictures for a solid decade, this too was one of her most memorable films. If we were picking the best of each genre, this would certainly win for best comedy.
2. Gone with the Wind (1939)
IMDB Rating: 8.2
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable
Many consider this to be one of the greatest films of all time, and though I would disagree, it has become a classic of classics in movie history. Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh) has to deal with war, love, and her own selfish pride as her world falls in around her. This book-to-film based on Margaret Mitchell's famous work was considered to be one of the most ambitious works of its time, and it won ten Academy Awards (two were honorary), including Hattie McDaniel's Best Supporting Actress...the first Oscar won by an African American. Though highly received, Gone with the Wind suffered from length, but the fault for that lies with the author of the novel. Then there was the last line, which goes without saying...
1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
IMDB Rating: 8.3
Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains
Of all the films of the 1930s, this was IMDB's highest rated. It's a classic dealing with a young senator (Stewart) who is placed in his position solely to progress certain agendas, but the new politician has other plans. Small-town hero collides with big government in a David and Goliath fight of political intrigue. Despite bribery, scandal, and foul play, Mr. Smith remains true and faithful. This movie is brilliantly acted and filmed, and though it isn't as famous as some, it certainly has cemented itself as one of the greatest films of both the 1930s and all time.
So, what do you think? Should there be another film on this list? Should the list be rearranged? Let me know in the comments section. I probably should also mention that this is the start of a new series, each article dealing with another decade. So next up: the 1940s. Till next time, movie fans!