Pre-Academy Awards: The Nominees for the First Photoplay Medal of Honor

The Academy Awards will be handed out this Sunday and one of the aspects of that ceremony that has always irritated me is the fact that the people voting on the awards are not actually obliged to watch the films under consideration.

I think we amateur film nerds can do the Academy one better and learn something of film history along the way! The first Photoplay Medal of Honor for best picture was handed out for the year of 1920. That gives us almost an entire year to watch the surviving nominees and decide if the eventual selection of Humoresque was the correct one. And then we shall award the Movies Silently Medal of Honor to the eventual winner.

Here is how the prize was introduced in Photoplay Magazine:

War has its crosses, the exhibition its ribbons, the athlete his palm, and literature its Nobel prize. So far, there has been no distinctive commemoration of singular excellence in the held of the photoplay. After long consideration Photoplay Magazine has determined to permanently establish an award of merit, a figurative winning-post, comparable to the dignified and greatly coveted prizes of war and art. The Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor will be awarded for the best photoplay of the year. It will be awarded to the producer — not to the director, not to the distributor — but to the producer whose vision, faith and organization made the Best Photoplay a possibility.

Perhaps the most important feature of this announcement is the identification of the jury which will make the selection. Like Abraham Lincoln’s ideal government, the photoplay is by, of, and for the people; and any decision as to its greatest achievement can come only from the people. The million readers of Photoplay Magazine are to choose the winner — they and no critics, editors, or other professional observers. These million readers are the flower of fandom — the screen’s most intelligent public — yourselves.

Choose your picture because of merits of theme, direction, action, continuity, setting and photography, for these are the qualities which, in combined excellence, make great photoplays.

June 1920

The Films

Here is the list of suggested titles under consideration. Yes, some films on the list are missing and presumed lost but we can still do our best with what survives! Quite a few of these titles are on home video, so let’s get started!

Silent era release dates were wonky, so these 1920 films may not have official 1920 release dates. I will link to reviews and reasonably legitimate home video releases. (There’s one pricey company that I will be avoiding.) Surviving films on home video will be in bold. Lost films will be marked with an ** while films that are not yet on home video will be marked with a *.

Phew! Even with the many lost titles, this is still quite a list and it’s a good thing we’re starting early!

By the way, feel free to nominate your own movie picks from 1920. As Photoplay put it, “You do not necessarily have to choose one of these, but if your choice is outside this list, be sure it is a 1920 picture.” I know I will be writing in The Mark of Zorro for a start! Be sure to share your write-in picks so that other people can seek them out too. Please note that both features and shorts make Photoplay’s list, so select as long or as short a picture as you like.

I will be checking in on this project throughout the year and start the voting process during the 2020 awards season, so January or February of next year. Let’s get watching!


  1. David Steere

    Fritzi: I hate to seem stupid but what sort of response, if any, do you want from us now? Our favorite from your list? Nominees for additional films from 1920? Both? By the way, the link for EYES OF YOUTH is incorrect. This film is not on the two volume Flicker Alley DVD or Blu rays–I have both. See As to your comment about “reasonably legitimate home video releases,” you may want to reconsider your link for JUBILO The company behind this release is one of the bad players–an issue I know you don’t want to get into here.

  2. David Steere

    You are correct and I am dead wrong. Volume 1 has EYES OF YOUTH and MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY. I’ve had some problems with playing these Blu ray MOC’s on my US Blu ray player. Flicker Alley sent me repeated replacements to no avail. Finally, they would play on my second, all-region player. My recollection is that EYES OF YOUTH and Clara Kimball Young is a bit dull. MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY is terrific with a charming performance by Dorothy Dalton (whose “deportment” reminds me a bit of Lillian Rich in SOFT SHOES). I’m sorry for my error.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      No worries, I am really glad to hear that Eyes of Youth is included. I’ve been wanting to review it for a while due to the presence of Valentino AND Milton Sills. And a tinted print would be catnip for me.

  3. Glenn Miller

    My Favorite Films Of 1920: The Parson’s Widow by Carl Theodore Dreyer, Within Our Gates by Oscar Micheaux, The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari by Robert Wiene and The Golem by Paul Wegener. I hope this is what you were asking for, if not, please ignore.

    1. David Steere

      I totally agree, Glenn, about THE PARSON’S WIDOW. Love it. But, Fritzi, should we include foreign films on this list? If so, add ANNA BOLEYN, EROTIKON, THE SPIDERS, and SUMURUN. Domestic additions to the list might include: THE FLAPPER, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, OUTSIDE THE LAW, THE PENALTY, and STOLEN MOMENTS,

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