Why making this list Top Sci-Fi Silent Films.
Being a lifelong fan of sci-fi and cinema, I am always looking for those movies that I missed. Despite reading about the subject all my life, many films are waiting for me to discover. There are more films that I have not yet been able to enjoy than I thought. Time is precious and always try to give preference to those that are considered good movies. Usually, the Top listings always have the «usual suspects» and do not offer anything new. So I gave myself the task of going to the largest database of cinema that exists: IMDB,. Starting with Top 40 Sci-Fi Silent Films.
The intention is to have, in a single place, an extensive list of the best Sci-Fi films of each decade. Also, providing a little information about each movie; additionally giving options to the reader to where to watch the film. This time the top Sci-Fi Silent Films.
IMDB, which started on Usenet in 1990, and from 1993 in the world wide web (WWW) is recognized as the leading database online when it comes to world cinema. Furthermore, if you are a registered user, you have the opportunity to rate the movies you have seen in a range of 1 to 10. Doing a little searching on the site, you can get the best (or worst) listings according to this user´s rating. So I set out to identify the best science fiction movies for each decade.
Are these films the best?
Are these films with high ratings the best movies of the genre? Tastes and ratings are subjective, and while the public can recognize a flick as good, the most trained eye of a critic can say otherwise and vice versa: Fans will love a film hated by the critics. The IMDB ratings are from everyone: film buffs, critics, and for the most part, the general public, whom we can consider as casual fans. A recommendation is merely to take these lists as mere guides. A helpful reference to identify the best films of the genre each decade. According to the opinion and wisdom of the said general public.
A few rules
Just a few rules to consider to get the films in the list.
- Has to be a silent film.
- Have to be a feature-length film. Originally at least 40 minutes.
- Have worldwide reach and influence
- Tiebreaker is the number of votes received.
Sci-Fi in the silent era.
Science Fiction fans in the early 20th century were growing in numbers but still recognized as a minor genre. It would carry this label for some decades. Sci-Fi was in development since the 19th century and on that path until the appearance of cinema as a medium. We had influential work intended to shape the genre from authors such as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Vernes, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This somewhat budding genre began to attract people’s attention. In 1926 the leading publication Amazing Stories was created, becoming the initial showcase for many authors who would eventually become classics of the genre. This growing interest of people in the genre did not go unnoticed by the filmmakers who took the opportunity to attract that audience to the screens with many Sci-Fi silents films.
Why so many silent films are lost?
Sadly, most of the silent cinema is lost. The Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that of the films made in the US before 1929, more than 90% are lost. Why is this? The film industry considered that with the arrival of talkies, silent films were worthless after their initial release. They utterly discarded the negatives. This decision originated because the storage cost was notably expensive since the reels were extremely flammable and required special care. Other studios preferred to recycle the film reels to extract the silver they contained. Fires have also destroyed many films. Most infamous were the one from the Fox Pictures warehouses, which consumed all the originals made by the company before 1935, and the one from MGM in 1965, where hundreds of original prints were lost and no copies have been found to date.
Considered a lost film but has ratings?
Before we start, you might ask yourself, how is it possible for a lost movie to have ratings on IMDB? As we said, IMDB began in 1993, so this is technically possible. For example, in 1960, someone may have seen Blind Bargain in a special presentation before being consumed by the fire in 1965. Let’s say that person was 20 years old at the time. This person decides to input his rating in the year 2000, in which he would turn 60. We can play with the dates more, but you get the idea.
It is also common knowledge that there may be private collectors who own copies of these lost films. And for one reason or another, decide not to make them publicly available. Even more, they can be simple errors on those who give the rating on IMDB, confusing the lost film with a remake made at a later date.
With that said, let’s start with the Top 40 Sci-Fi silent films (According to IMDB) .
**Ratings may vary slightly on the future from the time of this investigation, August 2021.
Sci-Fi Silent Films Honorable Mentions
Le voyage dans la lune (1902) (A Trip to the Moon) France D: Georges Méliès
IMDB Rating: 8.2 Short
A group of astronomers travels to the moon in a rocket. One of the biggest influences for filmmakers of any era. Drawing inspiration from stories from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Melies revolutionized the nascent medium of cinema, with its intention to tell a story and not just show images, in addition to its spectacular production values and excellent special effects. For decades only an incomplete version was available. But copies were found in 1993 in Spain and 2002 in a barn in France, an almost complete version with 13 minutes. In 2011 a frame-by-frame restoration was premiered at Cannes. Available to watch here.
Frankenstein (1910) US D: J. Searle Dawley
IMDB Rating: 6.4 Short
13 minute short produced by Edison studios is considered the first movie adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic book. Considered lost for many years. But in the mid-70s, a copy was made public. A Wisconsin film collector bought the film in the early 1950s but realized the importance of the movie until many years later. In 2018, the Library of Congress made the latest restoration, having bought the copy to the Wisconsin collector. Watch it here
The Invisible Ray (1920) US D: Harry A. Pollard
IMDB Rating: 4.9
15 episode serial that revolves around a mineralogist that discovers a new mineral that emits powerful radiation. If concentrated, these rays could destroy the world. Of course, some bad guys want them for their mischievous purposes. Considered lost, some publications at the time gave positive reviews.
A léleklátó sugár (1918) (The Mind-Detecting Ray/The Necromanter Ray) Hungary D: Alfréd Deésy
IMDB Rating: 4.9
Andory creates a device that allows reading minds as the secrets of the soul. Dr. Monzen steals said device and locks Andory in an asylum. Rare Hungarian Sci-Fi film is considered lost.