Weekly essays for each of the films on this list can be found at https://medium.com/@trettleman.
I’ve recently undertaken a strange, impossible quest to watch all the films created since the beginning of the medium that interest me. I began in 1900 (after doing some research into film pre-20th century), and at the time of this writing, just finished 1920.
For some reason, I’m compelled to share my top five picks from each year beginning in 1900, which I see as a reasonable starting point as the earliest year in which films resemble the art form we know today. This living list will be updated as I slowly but surely make my way through the history of film. Enjoy!
NOTE: I decided that I wanted to include five films pre-1900 because I’m wishy-washy and am never satisfied. Also, I discovered there were some truly exciting films from that era. So, the 1888-1899 period will be treated as one entry.
Number of films per director:
Georges Méliès: 22
Charlie Chaplin: 11
Walter R. Booth: 6
Edwin S. Porter: 6
Segundo de Chomón: 5
J. Stuart Blackton: 4
J. Searle Dawley: 4
Buster Keaton: 4
Fritz Lang: 4
Winsor McCay: 4
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: 3
Edward F. Cline: 3
D.W. Griffith: 3
Wallace McCutcheon: 3
Sidney Olcott: 3
Francesco Bertolini: 2
Charles Kent: 2
Henry Lehrman: 2
Giuseppe de Liguoro: 2
F.W. Murnau: 2
Willis H. O’Brien: 2
Adolfo Padovan: 2
Charles-Émile Reynaud: 2
Charles le Bargy: 1
John G. Blystone: 1
Carl Boese: 1
Herbert Brenon: 1
André Calmettes: 1
Mario Caserini: 1
Émile Cohl: 1
Cecil B. DeMille: 1
William K.L. Dickson: 1
Allan Dwan: 1
Jean Epstein: 1
Robert J. Flaherty: 1
Dave Fleischer: 1
George S. Fleming: 1
Louis Feuillade: 1
Charles L. Gaskill: 1
Enrico Guazzoni: 1
William Heise: 1
Lucius Henderson: 1
Cecil Hepworth: 1
F. Richard Jones: 1
J. Farrell MacDonald: 1
Frank Marion: 1
Clément Maurice: 1
Otto Messmer: 1
Ashley Miller: 1
Albert Mullens: 1
Willy Mullens: 1
Marshall Neilan: 1
Fred C. Newmeyer: 1
Fred Niblo: 1
Yakov Protazanov: 1
Eleuterio Rodolfi: 1
Frank Oakes Rose: 1
Stellan Rye: 1
Scott Sidney: 1
Victor Sjöström: 1
F. Percy Smith: 1
Wladyslaw Starewicz: 1
Mauritz Stiller: 1
Percy Stow: 1
Erich von Stroheim: 1
Charles Tait: 1
Sam Taylor: 1
Otis Turner: 1
Gaston Velle: 1
Paul Wegener: 1
Hans Werckmeister: 1
Robert Wiene: 1
James Williamson: 1
William Worthington: 1
James Young Deer: 1
Ferdinand Zecca: 1
10/3/16: Began creating the list, adding films from 1900-1911.
10/4/16: Added films from 1912 and 1913.
10/5/16: Added films from 1914-1920.
10/22/16: Added tentative first form of 1921 top five, including THE KID, DESTINY, THE HAUNTED HOUSE, THE FIRST CIRCUS, and HARD LUCK.
10/25/16: Iterated with second 1921 top five, placing THE IDLE CLASS in fourth and bumping HARD LUCK from the list.
10/26/16: Iterated with third 1921 top five, placing THE HIGH SIGN in third and bumping THE FIRST CIRCUS from the list.
11/1/16: Iterated with fourth 1921 top five, placing A SAILOR-MADE MAN in fifth and bumping THE IDLE CLASS from the list.
11/27/16: Finalized the 1921 top five with fifth iteration, placing THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE in first and bumping A SAILOR-MADE MAN from the list.
12/22/16: Added tentative first form of 1922 top five, including JUMPING BEANS, COPS, GRANDMA’S BOY, FIRE FIGHTERS, and THE FOUR MUSICIANS OF BREMEN.
12/24/16: Added tentative second form of 1922 top five, placing THE BURNING SOIL in first and bumping THE FOUR MUSICIANS OF BREMEN from the list.
12/26/16: Added tentative third form of 1922 top five, placing DR. JACK in first and bumping FIRE FIGHTERS from the list.
1/2/17: Added tentative fourth form of 1922 top five, placing BLOOD AND SAND in third and bumping GRANDMA’S BOY from the list.
1/4/17: Added pre-1900 films.
1/8/17: Added tentative fifth form of 1922 top five, placing NOSFERATU in first and bumping COPS from the list.
1/19/17: Added tentative sixth form of 1922 top five, placing DR. MABUSE THE GAMBLER in first and bumping JUMPING BEANS from the list.
2/4/17: Added tentative seventh form of 1922 top five, placing ROBIN HOOD in third and bumping BLOOD AND SAND from the list.
2/7/17: Added tentative eighth form of 1922 top five, shuffling ROBIN HOOD to first, placing PHANTOM in fourth, and bumping THE BURNING SOIL from the list.
2/13/17: Finalized the 1922 top five with ninth iteration, placing NANOOK OF THE NORTH in fifth and bumping DR. JACK from the list.
4/25/17: Added tentative first form of 1923 top five, including THE EXTRA GIRL, DOGS OF WAR, THE COVERED WAGON, BED TIME, and THE LOVE NEST.
4/30/17: Added tentative second form of 1923 top five, placing FALSE ALARM in third and bumping THE LOVE NEST from the list.
5/1/17: Added tentative third form of 1923 top five, placing SAFETY LAST! in first and bumping BED TIME from the list.
5/5/17: Added tentative fourth form of 1923 top five, placing OUR HOSPITALITY in first and bumping THE COVERED WAGON from the list.
5/7/17: Added tentative fifth form of 1923 top five, placing A WOMAN OF PARIS in fourth and bumping FALSE ALARM from the list.
5/12/17: Added tentative sixth form of 1923 top five, placing THREE AGES in fifth and bumping DOGS OF WAR from the list.
5/27/17: Finalized the 1923 top five with seventh iteration, placing FAITHFUL HEART in first and bumping THREE AGES from the list.
8/2/17: Added tentative first form of 1924 top five, including DIE NIBELUNGEN: SIEGFRIED, DIE NIBELUNGEN: KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE, AELITA, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, and THE MOON OF ISRAEL.
8/22/17: Added tentative second form of 1924 top five, placing MICHAEL in fourth and bumping THE MOON OF ISRAEL from the list.
9/22/17: Added tentative third form of 1924 top five, placing THE SAGA OF GOSTA BERLING in third and bumping HE WHO GETS SLAPPED from the list.
9/27/17: Added tentative fourth form of 1924 top five, placing SHERLOCK JR. in fifth and bumping MICHAEL from the list.
10/11/17: Finalized the 1924 top five with fifth iteration, placing GREED in first and bumping SHERLOCK JR. from the list.
10/31/17: Added tentative first form of 1925 top five, including GO WEST, GRASS: A NATION’S BATTLE FOR LIFE, THE JOYLESS STREET, MASTER OF THE HOUSE, and ALICE THE JAIL BIRD.
11/13/17: Added tentative second form of 1925 top five, placing THE FRESHMAN in second and bumping ALICE THE JAIL BIRD from the list.
11/30/17: Added tentative third form of 1925 top five, placing THE LOST WORLD in first and bumping MASTER OF THE HOUSE from the list.
12/6/17: Added tentative fourth form of 1925 top five, placing OROCHI (SERPENT) in first and bumping THE JOYLESS STREET from the list.
12/30/17: Added tentative fifth form of 1925 top five, placing THE BIG PARADE in third and bumping GRASS: A NATION’S BATTLE FOR LIFE from the list.
1/20/18: Added tentative sixth form of 1925 top five, placing BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in fourth and bumping THE FRESHMAN from the list.
2/10/18: Added tentative seventh form of 1925 top five, placing STRIKE in first and bumping GO WEST from the list.