Movies By The Decade: Greatest Films of the 1930’s

The evolution comes into full effect with the formation of the talkie back in 1927 with The Jazz Singer revolutionizing how we hear and see film later on in history. We also get the creation of technicolor in our movies and we can see everything the way we would normally see it. The addition of color and sound made the possibilities open up like floodgates of creative ingenuity while forming some of the most iconic films in history. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Movies By the Decade: Greatest Films of the 1930’s.

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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There’s no place like home and there’s no film like The Wizard of Oz. Dripping with imagination and endless quotes throughout, even if you haven’t seen the film all together you know the quotes, and the unforgettable characters. With it being one the first films to get the most usage of technicolor technology, it became the fantastical, colorful film we have today. Oddly enough, the film lost to the film I rank just below it at the Oscars that same year and the director (Victor Fleming) finished with The Wizard of Oz to then aid the production of the much troubled Gone With the Wind.


2. Gone With The Wind (1939)

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It’s the film that takes four hours to watch and gave us the first swear word ever recorded on camera via talkies and “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable are magnifying and iconic in this is southern epic that centers around the Civil War and a love that burns as fiercely as the set did. As the time period of the real life production and the era it’s set in, yeah, it can feel pretty racist. That’s the dilemma we face when art imitates life and sadly that was life in both time periods, but regardless, Gone With the Wind was able to get Hattie McDaniel an Oscar as a woman of color in a time when it would surprising if there were ethnic actors at all.


3. King Kong (1933)

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The classic tale of a ginormous ape lost and hidden from humanity was given its first theatrical treatment back in 1933 to quickly fall into cinematic history with it’s special effects on Kong himself. It’s a tragic film, like most movies of the 30’s and below, but it also added to the fantasy genre thanks to Ray Harryhausen’s iconic stop motion work on the film. He would later do staple films such as Jason and the Argonauts and so much more. Maybe it’s just me, but looking back and seeing a stop motion ape eating and ripping people apart is still terrifying…


4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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One of the classic’s iconic Italian-American director Frank Capra gave us in the early years of cinema, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is a captivating and comedic underdog story that revolves around American politics. It’s a story that doesn’t choose to give you time to break everything down while you see, but instead chooses a more witty, fast talking directorial style to constantly keep you engaged with Mr. Smith and his fight against the corrupt nature of a Senator that hopes to tarnish Smith as the newest member of the Senate.


5. All Quiet On the Western Front (1930)

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This may have one of the most iconic posters in film history and that alone is worth noticing, but that could be a singular opinion on my part. The poster brings me into a story that is very well depicted through the face of our heroes will go through. It’s a tragic story with an anti-war message that takes away the glorification of the violent acts committed during war as well as the foolish reasons we have our boys fight in the first place. It’s an iconic American war-epic that holds up to this day. So well in fact, it is one of the few films that has been chosen to be preserved by the American Film Institute.


6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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There are titles in life that are just can’t be taken away and one of them is that of “First Animated Feature Film” which Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became back in 1937 for Disney Studios. We all know the tale of the girl as white as snow and lips as red as blood being the fairest in the land and it was captured gorgeously as Disney is now known for. The film is quite dark at some parts compared to today’s animated films, but it was set in motion with Snow White. It also racked up $418 million dollars at the box office (not sure if that’s inflated or not), but regardless that’s a crap ton of guap for a film period, let alone in that era.


7. Dracula (1931)

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Bela Lugosi is still mentioned and considered the definitive Dracula we picture in today’s pop culture. The stoic and frightening caped villain charms and bites his way through the audience’s psyche while making them slaves in their own right for at least 80 minutes. Lugosi plays Count Dracula, the iconic vampire who tricks a British soldier into being his slave to go across London and beyond to wreak havoc and turn beautiful young women into vampires. It’s a story we are all familiar with and unapologetically mimic and quote without even knowing its source. It’s a classic that raised the bar after the silent classic Nosferatu. 


8. M (1931)

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From the director who gave what is in my opinion the best film of the 20’s, Fritz Lang made yet another classic with his film simply known as M. The story centers around police trying to find a serial killer who preys on children and the madness and chase that ensues. It’s a fascinating cat and mouse story as the serial killer gets chased not only by law enforcers, but the dark and grim underworld of crime as well. It’s a story and film so well done it has rarely, if at all, been duplicated in it’s quality storytelling and narrative.


9. Scarface (1932)

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If you know who Howard Hughes is then you will know his significance to the world of cinema and it’s more violent nature later on in film’s history. Scarface is a timeless story on the ideals of taking a dream when the odds are against you, but it also means that taking will force a violent tendency on whoever is doing the taking. Hughs helped get one of the most violent films of that time made and allowed filmmakers to advance into a narrative that isn’t afraid of the grit and grime of a rise and fall gangster film.


10. Hell’s Angels (1930)

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As the poster says, this was one a big deal, and if you’ve seen or read on “The Aviator” himself, Howard Hughes wanted to be nothing short of perfect with his ambitions leading the way. The product from his ambition and large fortune was a film that required more private funds than any film of that time as well as more cameras than any film ever (probably broken now) and the end product is an aerial circus of epic proportions. Maybe I’m biased because I find the history of this film so fascinating, but that’s what makes the film so enthralling for me.



Honorable Mentions That You’ll Be Upset Weren’t On This List:

  • Duck Soup (1933)
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • The Public Enemy (1931)
  • Modern Times (1936)
  • City Lights (1931)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Animal Crackers (1930)
  • The Mummy (1932)
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