The Best Films of 1925 According to Critics of the Time (And All But One Survive)

We’re back with another list of top 10 films as published in the Film Daily. This lists were created by asking top critics to vote on the best films of the year, though wonky release dates sometimes mean that years don’t always match. First, we took a look at 1922 and then on to 1923 and then 1924. It’s time for 1925!

The original list was published from highest number of votes to lowest and I will be replicating that format here. Enjoy!

The Gold Rush

Charlie Chaplin’s comedy is funny, dark and touching in all the right ways, so it’s no surprise that it would appear at the top of this list. Chaplin later re-released the film with severe edits and spoken narration and this is the version that is considered “official” by the Chaplin estate.

Read my review here, I compare both versions.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

The Unholy Three

Another popular classic, this crime film featured Lon Chaney who played a gangster posing as a little old lady in order to rob wealthy homes. Obviously, it’s meant to be a fun caper picture and it is but it’s also interesting because Chaney remade it as his only talkie.

Read my review here, I cover both versions.

Available on DVD.

Don Q Son of Zorro

Douglas Fairbanks made a direct sequel to his 1920 smash The Mark of Zorro, which established him as a costumed swashbuckler. True to its title, the son of Zorro heads to Spain and rights wrong, romances a lovely lady (Mary Astor) and shows off his whip cracking tricks.

Available on DVD.

The Merry Widow

Erich von Stroheim toned himself down a bit and ended up delivering a financial success based on the beloved operetta. Not that he was entirely tamed (I really hope the story of Irving Thalberg calling him a “footage fetishist” is true) but definitely more in the mainstream.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

The Last Laugh

Released in 1924 in Germany, this picture was a big hit with American critics and helped raise the profiles of star Emile Jannings, cinematographer Karl Freund and director F.W. Murnau, all of whom were imported to Hollywood.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

The Freshman

Everybody who was anybody made a collegiate comedy, it seemed, and Harold Lloyd’s football picture was one of the most popular. It fit his go-getter persona perfectly and was even given a sequel of sorts decades later in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

The Phantom of the Opera

Easily one of the most popular and iconic silent films of all time, the version that most of us have seen was actually a sound reissue from 1929/1930, which featured extensive retitling, reshoots, and sound sequences. Universal junked the original 1925 cut.

Read my review here, I cover the differences.

Available on DVD and Bluray. The Kino edition includes the 1925 cut.

The Lost World

The hits keep coming! This adventure picture featured some advanced special effects that brought dinosaurs to life in modern London. It’s a grand bit of fun and it’s nice to see that it was appreciated when it was first released.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD and Bluray.

The Big Parade

John Gilbert, Renee Adoree, the Great War and a stick of chewing gum made for one of the most iconic war pictures of the silent era and it remains a beloved classic.

Released on DVD and Bluray.

Kiss Me Again

We were doing so well. Alas, this Ernst Lubitsch film is missing and presumed lost. Check those attics and friendly neighborhood former Soviet archives.

What do you think? Does this list reflect the best of 1925 or did they leave off some of your favorites? What is your personal favorite among the films of 1925? I have to say that I agree with the critics and think that The Gold Rush gets my vote.

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20 Comments

  1. Katie M

    I agree about the top pick, but as a Chaplinophile I’m biased 😉

    I also agree with Phantom of the Opera and The Lost World being on the list. I’ve seen The Big Parade, but I honestly can’t remember it well enough to make a judgement.

  2. Shari Polikoff

    I love them all, but my absolute top pick of the bunch is ‘The Gold Rush,’ one of the first silents I ever saw, back in the day when treasures like this could still be found on local TV stations.

  3. Kerr Lockhart

    Surprised THE BIG PARADE is not higher on the list, because I believe it made more money for a longer time than all of them except THE GOLD RUSH (and it’s hard to say about PHANTOM, because the 1929 reissue muddies the waters). It was truly a blockbuster and set the rules for the WWI romantic melodrama for decades.

    1. Movies Silently

      Money wasn’t necessarily a factor. I wager The Last Laugh didn’t make much cash outside major metropolitan centers. Plus, there was likely still war picture fatigue to a certain extent and The Big Parade’s influence would not be felt for quite some time.

  4. Stephen Robertson

    I agree completely – that was an extraordinary year for excellent film making! I also would rate the Gold Rush as my favourite in a particularly strong field. I know “1925” probably refers to the year of release in the US – perhaps Master of the House and Battleship Potemkin didn’t receive US release until 1926? Or perhaps the critics didn’t like them as much as I do. I would also have liked to see Ben Hur on the list, and I’m a little saddened that the Iron Horse didn’t feature in 1924 or 1925. Thanks for another interesting and stimulating post.

    1. Movies Silently

      In fairness, Ben-Hur was released at the very, very, very end of 1925 and (spoiler) placed very high on the 1926 list. Actually, Potemkin was another end-of-1925 picture even in Europe so I doubt anyone in the USA could have seen it even if they wanted to. I don’t think The Master of the House was even released in the USA during the silent era. Regarding The Iron Horse, I don’t think I recall seeing any westerns on these lists, at least during the silent era. Genre bias, perhaps?

      1. Stephen Robertson

        Thanks for clearing up the release dates. That makes very good sense. As does your suggestion of anti-western bias. I admit that I generally find westerns uninteresting, but even so, the Iron Horse is one of my favourite films. I am looking forward to 1926!

  5. Overseas Visitor

    I agree about The Gold Rush, but there are also other very good films.

    There seem still to be cultural differences for the fame. I wouldn’t list The Phantom of the Opera as famous. I had not heard at all about it before browsing American silent sites, where it seems to be a big thing. I’m not critisizing the film, this difference was just a strange surprise. It’s also sometimes surprising which European films are famous in US.

    1. Movies Silently

      Yes, Phantom is definitely something of a Halloween tradition at many venues but I think its continued popularity owes more to the general Universal horror brand (it is often placed alongside Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy) as well as the enduring popularity of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom musical. Phantom definitely has some major issues, which I think were even more pronounced in the original 1925 release. Universal actually was hesitant to lean into the horror elements and made the production team cut a scene with Erik throwing skulls at Raoul in a graveyard. Ironic considering that scary pictures essentially saved the studio at the height of the Great Depression. Interesting that it’s not as ubiquitous in Europe, I always like to hear about what does and does not translate.

  6. popegrutch

    Amusingly, when I first read your headline for this post I thought all but one of the critics had survived. That would really be something!
    For once, the critics seem to have been pretty prescient.

  7. Meme

    I am going throw in for The Unholy Three, since searching for the sound version introduced me to Lon Chaney, who I adored, which led me to discover silent film, which I immediately became obsessed with. (I searched for the sound version since I wanted to find the movie where a little person with a strong German accent said, “I like it! It’s unholy!”. It was for my grandma.)

    I also love the Lost World since I love Professor Challenger and his hairy anger. He is, to me, one of the funniest scientists in fiction, and more accurate than the typical “mad” version for that matter. Look up Tycho Brahe to see for yourself. As someone who grew up knowing a few scientists I can assure that when they are crazy it’s usually in the “They threw out the old planetarium projector so I installed it in my garage!” way, rather than the “My ex died in childbirth so I’m going to make a mechanical simalcrum of her!” way.

  8. R Michael Pyle

    I’m a Lon Chaney, Sr. nut, yet “The Unholy Three” no where near reaches either “The Goose Woman” or “Smouldering Fires”. And “Battleship Potemkin” is considered one of Russia’s greatest films ever made. And I’m partial to “Seven Chances” with Buster Keaton, too. Still, it’s a good list, and I understand critics views of that time. “The Big Parade” is clearly the best picture of that year, though, hands down. Just the battle scenes alone and the mise-en-scene are Academy Award. Same goes for “Battleship Potemkin” as far as mise-en-scene. In some ways, both are history lessons.

    1. Movies Silently

      As as I mentioned in another comment, it would be highly unlikely that many people outside of Europe could have possibly seen Potemkin before 1926. It didn’t premiere in the USSR until Christmas Eve of 1925 and wasn’t shown in the USA until December of 1926. Silent movie release dates were pretty fluid and some films actually ended up on lists two years in a row because of it.

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