Top 10 Charlie Chaplin Films


Read my brief introduction to early silent films HERE

Charlie Chaplin was not just a silent movie actor, he was an icon of early cinema. Chaplin was a writer, director, performer, producer, as well as composer, and the co-founder of revolutionary studio United Artists.

He learnt his knack for comedy working in travelling vaudeville shows, performing with musicians, magicians, dancers, comedians, and even animals. His live material would be honed directly for the cinema when he started making films for Keystone Studios in the early 1910s. Early two-reel films, which Chaplin wrote and directed such as “The Tramp” and “Easy Street”, showed plenty of potential in the man who had yet to see his thirtieth birthday. His films were based on slapstick routines that were very carefully orchestrated and performed. His unique talent had a richness of character and a rebellious yet caring heart.

During the 1920s he would use his films as sounding boards for his own political and social criticism, winning him few fans from the conservative elite. He did, however, gain the popularity of the cinema-going public as a whole; emerging as the celebrity pin-up for a growing immigrant nation. Yet, as the growing pressure from his detractors increased, the quality of his work did also. His best films – “Modern Times”, “City Lights”, and “The Great Dictator” – were all conceived during the 1930s. “The Great Dictator”, released in 1940, was a damning satirical look at fascism and way ahead of its time. It was stoutly against the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler yet was made a full year before the American government ended its neutrality in World War 2. But, sadly, its warnings were not heard, and Chaplin’s career groaned to a halt amid political smear campaigns and conservative backbiting.

Ernest Mathijs, Assistant Professor of Film and Drama at the University of British Columbia, writes: “‘Modern Times’ and ‘The Great Dictator’ are timeless classics. Their comedic timing, originality of gags, evocation of emotions through the tiniest of movements and cinematography skill (especially in toying with the edges of the camera frame) push the boundaries of comedy limits, while their social concern for class consciousness and tolerance gave them a pressing topical relevance.” Of “The Great Dictator”, he says, “the world did not listen to the energetic antifascist warnings.” The few films he did make after “The Great Dictator” were reflective, honest accounts of a fall from grace with a melancholic undertone.

See also: Top 25 Films to make you happy

Charlie Chaplin - Essential DVD collection 50 films

From Amazon.co.uk: Charlie Chaplin – The Essential Collection Featuring 50 Films And An Exclusive Biographical Documentary

TOP 10 CHARLIE CHAPLIN FILMS

1. Modern Times (1936)
Chaplin’s most cherished movie is as much a celebration of silent film as it is a deconstruction of the modern industrial age. Chaplin overcame pressure (some might say it was the mark of how great an auteur he was) to make this silent film when “Talkies” were in full swing. “Modern Times” is also daringly political, displaying for the first time a political bent that would become a mark of Chaplin’s later work. The film features Chaplin’s Little Tramp struggling to come to terms with working in a production line factory. He has a mental breakdown which leads to several twists and turns as, firstly, Chaplin is sent to jail, and then on his release, hailed as a hero after accidentally knocking out the convicts. The film comments on the poor working conditions of many factory workers during depression era America, and fears modern production is the root cause. The film features the iconic scene that sees Chaplin’s character getting stuck in the cogs of one of the factory machines.

2. City Lights (1931)
Chaplin would continue making silent movies until 1934 with “Modern Times” but even “City Lights” was released when “Talkies” were the norm. This is one of Chaplin’s most delightful films. His Little Tramp meets a blind girl who mistakes him for a rich man. When he learns of an operation that can cure her, he sets out to raise the money but he ends up in jail. Whilst there, the girl has the operation, and hopes one day to meet the man that made her new sight possible.

3. The Great Dictator (1940)
Chaplin’s first “Talkie” is another one of those great forward-thinking films he wrote, directed, and performed in. “The Great Dictator” was the only movie at the time to display a deep-rooted anti-Nazi sentiment, which satirized Adolf Hitler’s leadership in Germany. Again, Chaplin went against the popular culture grain, conceiving and releasing the film while America was still neutral with Germany. Chaplin’s work here should not be underestimated in bringing to the attention of the mainstream American public the ills of Nazism, Hitler, anti-Semitism, and the fascist doctrine. The film was a massive success in both America and the UK. In the UK, it was especially successful, its anti-Nazi sentiment proving popular with a public ravaged by the blitz. The film was released in the UK during December of 1940 at the height of German air bombing in London and other UK cities.

4. The Gold Rush (1925)
“The Gold Rush” is the film Charlie Chaplin wanted to be remembered for. It’s a delightful romantic comedy as Chaplin’s Tramp sets out to find riches in the Alaskan Gold Rush.

5. The Kid (1921)
A touching, amusing early film outing for The Tramp. “The Kid” sees Charlie Chaplin’s titular character caring for a child he finds abandoned in an alley. As the child grows up, he begins following in The Tramp’s footsteps, scamming people in order to survive. Eventually, the authorities try to take the boy away which results in a desperate search and dramatic reunion. “The Kid” was one of the most popular films of 1921.

Charlie Chaplin in the film Limelight

6. Limelight (1952)
“Limelight” originally gained notoriety for the wrong reasons, released around the time Chapin was refused entry back into the United States. The film, subsequently, found many cinema chains refusing to show it, and it wasn’t until the re-release in 1972 that “Limelight” was finally able to find its audience.

The tale is loved for many reasons, not least, its bittersweet story that is infused by Chaplin’s heightening insecurities about his craft, and the pressure imposed by his detractors. In “Limelight” we see an aging Chaplin, who was once a performing stage-clown, now washed-up and drunk. He finds a young dancer-girl, nursing her back to health, and encouraging her to take up dancing once again. He, in turn, finds the stage calling him back, and in one final appearance, he wows the crowd with a triumphant performance, only to die of a heart attack shortly afterwards.

It’s a sad and yet uplifting film that has its moments of pure joy and down-to-earth drama. Many people remember it as the first and only teaming of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

7. The Immigrant (1917)
The oldest film in our list of Charlie Chaplin’s best, this short comedy sees the Little Tramp newly arrive in America.

8. The Circus (1928)
“The Circus” became the 7th highest grossing silent movie ever made. Those involved remember it, especially Chaplin, for the problems faced during production. There were numerous issues, including a long delay after the studio caught fire, and another as Chaplin faced a protracted divorce with then wife Lita Grey.

9. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
One of Chaplin’s most controversial films, “Monsieur Verdoux” struggled to find an audience in America with critics failing to see any good points in it. In Europe, the film fared a lot better, it’s dark, satirical undertones working better for an audience not weaned on Midwestern melodrama and feel-good romance. Much like “Limelight” however, it was on its re-release in 1964, that the film became more popular in the States.

10. A Dog’s Life (1918)
Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp plays alongside Edna Purviance and a little pooch named Scraps in this short silent film.

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Charlie Chaplin: A brief biography
By Pauline Go

Charles Spencer Chaplin, born on April 16, 1889 in London, England, is considered as the greatest entertainer the world has ever seen. He was not just a comedian, actor and a performer but also a thinker who had the power to realistically reflect and reasonably exaggerate contemporary issues that could draw people to witness and understand the issues through his performance.

He was, thus, a writer, a director and a producer who also acted and composed the music and rendered the sound effect that was so relevant during that silent era. Being the son of parents who were entertainers in their own right, Charlie Chaplin, as he is popularly known began his career as a performer at the tender age of eight. By the age of 25 he has traveled extensively and had already made over 35 films. By then he had gained considerable command over filmmaking. His craving for perfection made him one of the most demanding ones in Hollywood. In spite of being the star performer in his films he understood the importance of every character in the scene. He would shoot and print dozens of times before okaying on one or totally reorganizing or recasting the film over again. Though this was tough and arduous for his team, they would still admire every stage of this creative architect. They all knew that once the film was ready and released it would bring success and smiles for all.

Though later in life Charlie Chaplin and his contribution to art and cinema received world acclaim he had during his life his share of pain and controversies. He was charged of being disloyal to England, accused of spreading communism in America, discriminated on grounds of being un-American, indicted for aiding the Russian struggle, declared an undesirable alien and was also severely castigated for his caricature of Hitler in the Great Dictator. For all this he and his work did take a beating. Added to this was his discontented personal life. Joan Barry whom Charlie had momentarily dated sued him for pregnancy. This and later divorces from his wives ended up in him doling huge sums of money as compensation.

Of the four marriages he lost three wives, two by divorce and one lived only for three days. For all these stress it is said that his hairs had prematurely gone gray. Perhaps for all these reasons Charlie never was flamboyant or even fashionable in spite of being a celebrity and a millionaire all his life. After the failure of his last film “Limelight’ and expelled on political grounds by America, Charlie Chaplin gradually secluded himself and went into self exile. After leaving the United States in 1952, he lived in Britain and later in 1953 moved to Vevey, Switzerland where he died on Christmas day in 1977.

Decorated by Academy Awards, the Oscar for life time contribution and Knight Commander of the British Empire this legendary artiste still lives on to give enjoyment more that he himself could ever find.

The Magic of Charlie Chaplin’s Movies
By Victor Epand

In the spring of 1889, Charlie Chaplin was born to almost unknown music hall entertainer parents. The boy grew up to be the greatest international star of the American silent comic cinema. He also became twentieth century’s first media Superstar, the first artistic creator. Chaplin was the first acknowledged artistic genius of world cinema, recognized by the influential generation of artists and moviegoers.

While the public have forgotten many silent era stars, Charlie Chaplin remains a household name in most parts of the world.

Charlie Chaplin had to face a very turbulent childhood. His parents separated even before he was three. His mother, actress Lily Harvey, lived with Charlie. The small Charlie also lived in different places before he and his brother were sent to Kennington Road School and later on to a school for the paupers, because of their financial situation. These came as a shock for the sensitive child and the pain and agony of desperate poverty were reflected subsequently in the characters of his films. The themes of his films were much influenced by his childhood incidents and experiences.

His genius was essentially pantomimic, ideally suited to the silent cinema era. Chaplin’s early comedies used extreme physical comedy and exaggerated gestures. But his pantomime was subtler. The visual gags were pure fun. The tramp character would aggressively assault his enemies with kicks and bricks. People loved him though critics warned that his comedy bordered on vulgarity.

During the period of 1918 to 1922, he made films like A Dog’s Life, The Kid, The Idle Class and The Pilgrim. After some short films like Essanay, Mutual Film Corporation and First National he became involved in different facets of film making like acting, direction, and production. Some of his films were A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928). He also made the masterpieces City Lights (1931), as well as Modern Times (1936). Though they were silent films they were immensely popular and had his own music and sound effects. City Lights was by far his most balanced film, dealing with comedy and sentiments.

His talkies made in Hollywood included The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). While Modern Times (1936) is a non-talkie, it contains dialouges coming from inanimate objects such as a radio. The reason behind this was that during the period of silent films the viewers were not accustomed to the concept of listening to dialogues as well as watching a performance simultaneously. In fact, The Circus (1928) was the first film where Chaplin’s voice was heard.

Talkies became the dominant and popular mode of movie making since 1927 but Chaplin was reluctant to the idea as he considered cinema to be a pantomimic art. Now let us look at some of his films in detail.

Limelight tells the story of a once-great stage comedian, whose career has failed leading to alcholism. The man eventually saves the life of a despondent ballerina from a suicide attempt. Monsieur Verdoux is a blistering black comedy released in 1947. Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, a civilized monster who marries wealthy women, then murders them and uses their money to support his real family.

A Woman of Paris was written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. It was designed to launch Edna Purviance into a serious acting career. The Circus tells the story of a failing circus which recruits the little tramp who bursts into the tent’s center ring and wows the audience. The circus owner discovers he is only funny when he isn’t trying to be so. He tricks The Little Tramp into joining the circus as a prop man who wreaks havoc with whatever he does and who unknowingly becomes the star of the show.

The Gold Rush is one of his best works. The Little Tramp is a prospector who has ventured into Alaska in the search of his fortune. He gets involved with some quite frightening characters, while falling in love with a beautiful girl called Georgia. The Gold Rush has beautiful cinematography moments.

City Lights is considered his own child. He wrote the screenplay and set the music and also directed, produced and edited this classic movie. Made in 1931, City Lights was made as a film with no speech. The movie is about the ups-and-downs of the Little Tramp, in love with a girl who thinks him to be someone else.

Modern Times is a glorious film that is probably as relevant today as it was in 1936. The film makes incredibly clever use of sound with its rather sophisticated sound effects. Modern Times explores the dehumanization of labour. The film then goes on to describe the closure of the factories, reflecting on the Great Depression in the economy of US at that period.

The Great Dictator is much darker than most other comedies. It is a film with a serious message with satirical overtones. The Great Dictator explores the rising Nazi threat during the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Discover More:
Charlie Chaplin – Official site
The Charlie Chaplin Archive
Time Magazine Biography
Newly found film: Charlie Chaplin in Zepped – The Bioscope
A King Of New York: 1 More Film Blog
Movies Favorite: The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin – Artistry in Motion

About Contributing Authors:

“Charlie Chaplin: A brief biography” was written by Pauline Go. Pauline Go is an online leading expert in history and education. She also offers top quality articles like Famous People Who Died of Leukemia, and Biography Of Laura Ingraham

“The Magic of Charlie Chaplin’s Movies” was written by Victor Epand. Victor Epand is an expert consultant for used DVDs, used movies, and used car stereos. You can find the best marketplace for used DVDs, used movies, and used car stereos at these sites for used DVDs, and Limelight Times

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Morgan O. Reply

    A wonderful piece on an icon of Hollywood cinema. As a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin it is difficult to appreciate the man on just ten movies and I’d be hard pressed choosing just ten favourites. However, as an introduction to his films, his life, and his art, this is a great article.

  2. Peter E. Reply

    GREAT LIST!!! Each and every one here is a gem! Limelight has always been one of my all-time Top 10 movies. City Lights is extraordinary. The Immigrant and The Great Dictator – unbelievable. Mr. Chaplin would be pleased….well done, sir.

  3. Dan Reply

    Thank you Peter for such kind words. I’m glad you love Limelight as much as me (perhaps more so!). It’s one of Chaplin’s films that sometimes gets cast aside by his more well-known work.

  4. Chris Edwards Reply

    Good to see ‘The Circus’ on there, but I don’t know about ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ and ‘Limelight.’ I found them more memorable for a few scenes than as whole films.

    Given Chaplin’s output, it would be worthwhile to do a second list, just of shorts. ‘Sunnyside’ and ‘Pay Day’ should be on such a list. So should ‘A Woman,’ which is a great Essanay comedy that challenged my assumptions about the man and his style of comedy.

    • Dan Reply

      Thanks for the comment Chris. It was difficult compiling this list due the sheer volume of Chaplin’s work. It is almost unfair to choose just ten films. However, I think this Top 10 gives a good overview of Chaplin’s work taking into account his early stuff, his feature-length silent movies and his talkies. However, there’s always room for a Top 10 Charlie Chaplin shorts list – if you’d like to compile one I’d be more than happy to publish it.

  5. Chris Edwards Reply

    When I’ve worked my way through the Essanays and Mutuals, I’ll take you up on that!

  6. Danny Collins Reply

    dear sirs Im trying to find where I can purchase charlie chaplins film PAY DAY .I lIVE IN AN AREA OF, BLYTHE BRIDGE,STOKE ON TRENT ST11 9PD ENGLAND,UK CAN YOU HELP PLEASE.

  7. personal Reply

    such a funny man! i get to dress up as him and act like him for a day as a project. im so excited.

  8. Andy C Reply

    The Circus is a wonderful, funny film. But it is not the first to hear Chaplin’s voice. He did write and sing a theme song for the film, and this is on the modern releases of the film, but the original release was a purely silent film. In fact it was his last true silent film. City Lights and Modern Times had synchronised soundtracks.

    The first film we heard Charlie’s voice was Modern Times and that was during the nonsense song towards the end. The first film to hear him speak in dialogue was The Great Dicator (1940).

    For me, City Lights is his best film and The Circus his funniest. But there’s always something about The Kid which is magical and The Gold Rush has many wonderful moments (especially the New Years Eve section from the bread rolls to Auld Lang Syne).

  9. Rohit Reply

    That sequence in The Kid where everyone is kinda flying and Chaplin goes unbridled with his creativity is incredibly great.

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