Charlie Chaplin movies are some of the most touching, brilliant, sarcastic, satiric, funny, and charming movies you could ever hope to see. During the course of his career, he wrote at least 87 movies, directed at least 73, and acted in at least 86 – and those are just the Charlie Chaplin movies listed on IMDb. His movies were largely silent; similarly, most of his best known films were silent. You might think that takes away from their entertainment value but, if anything, the lack of sound adds to the brilliance of his movies. Here are some of my favorite Charlie Chaplin movies, ranked in no particular order. Keep reading, and then let me know some of your favorites, too!
1. City Lights
City Lights is one of my most favorite Charlie Chaplin movies ever. It's just a beautiful film all around, from the story to the cinematography. It involves that iconic character, the adorable Little Tramp. In this movie, he falls in love with a beautiful blind girl who sells flowers. It's filled with classic Chaplin antics, but the love story between the two is one of the most romantic things you'll ever see.
2. The Kid
This is a great Chaplin film for several reasons. For starters, it was his first attempt at a full feature length movie. Secondly, it was thus also the first feature appearance of the Little Tramp. Thirdly, the tale is somewhat biographical, in that it describes the poverty Chaplin himself experienced as he was growing up. It's also notable for the performances of and the chemistry between Charlie and little Jackie Coogan.
3. Modern Times
This is one of the best Charlie Chaplin movies for several reasons, but mainly because it was a bold choice. He made this silent film almost ten years after talkies had finally been introduced. That made it a huge risk, but thanks to an incredible plot filled with social commentary that was nothing less than brilliant, it was a huge success as well. The movie itself is whimsical, even fantastical, in the midst of a largely mundane situation. In several ways, it echoed Chaplin's own life philosophies with true elegance. The rollerskating scene with Paulette Godard, for instance, perfectly illustrates Chaplin's wish to move quickly and take advantage of every day.
4. Monsieur Verdoux
I absolutely love this movie, which was a marvel for its time. It's a very black, almost morbid comedy – which just happens to be my favorite kind of comedic venture. The main character is Henri Verdoux, and he's a bit of a sociopath, especially in terms of how he makes money. To earn money after being laid off, he essentially seduces and marries very rich widowed women (and mind, he's married with children himself at the time), and then kills them. It may not surprise you to know that Orson Welles helped give Chaplin the idea for this film, which is inspired by the true story of Henri Landru. This movie also marked Chaplin's departure from America.
5. The Great Dictator
There is simply no way I can write anything about the best Charlie Chaplin movies without discussing The Great Dictator. Made in 1940, this, too, was a bold, daring choice, due to its subject matter and its lead. This film was not a silent movie; it was Chaplin's first real attempt at making a talkie. The movie was a brilliant satire, aimed at both Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Although a comedy, it is still considered one of the most poignant war pictures of the time. It was filled not only with sharp social commentary but also with moving, brilliant dialogue. Famously, even eloquently, Chaplin called the Nazis «machine men with machine minds and machine hearts.» Mind you, this film premiered when the United States had not yet gone to war with Germany, yet Charlie eviscerated Hitler, the Nazi party as a whole, antisemitism, and fascism.
6. The Pilgrim
This movie, which takes on both religion and politics, is classic Chaplin as well. His commentary is spot on, and his performance as an escaped prisoner who poses as a minister is absolutely genius. The nuances in this film are subtler than you might expect – you just have to look beneath the obvious.
7. A King in New York
This is unquestionably one of the most important Charlie Chaplin movies on this list. Why? For one thing, it earned Charlie an Oscar, won for the film's musical store. Notably, it was also his last leading role. In many ways it echoes his own exile from the United States, since King Igor Shahdov himself is basically exiled to New York City. The result is a stunning satire that skewers societal rules and politics in America. Fans and critics are largely torn about this film, but I love it to death.
8. A Woman of Paris
Given my love of all things Parisian, this early film naturally captured my attention. It's also a dramatic work, a step outside the box for the darkly comedic Chaplin. When it first came out, it did terribly, but gained popularity in later decades. It's a classic tale of love versus money, with brilliant performances – though not by Chaplin himself. This one's an anomaly on the list, because Charlie didn't star in it, beyond a very brief appearance. He did everything else, however, and his aesthetic shines through.
Charlie Chaplin movies are something special. Because the majority of them are silent, the audience really has to work, too; it's a collaborative effort because you have to pick up on his nuances, his expressions, and his gestures, rather relying solely on the dialogue. That's the real genius behind Charlie Chaplin movies – behind all silent movies, I think. However, even Chaplin's talking pictures were socially brilliant, which makes him doubly successful – it was notoriously difficult for many silent film stars to transition into the world of talking movies. If you're a fan of that era, tell me about your favorite Charlie Chaplin movies, or your favorite silent films in general.
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