My Favourite Movies Of The 1930s


I haven’t seen all that many movies from the 1930s, one of the most important decades in cinematic history, but it’s an era that I should look to see a lot more from. Still, of the films that I have seen, here are the 10 best films of the 1930s in my opinion.

10. City Lights (1931)

One of the biggest stars of Hollywood during the decade, Charlie Chaplin’s films hit the big time following his move to United Artists in 1923, and City Lights is without a doubt one of his best.

Both a brilliantly funny comedy and an emotionally enthralling romance, the film is noted as one of the best of all time, following Chaplin’s Tramp and his adventures as he falls in love with a local flower girl, and makes friends with an unstable millionaire.

City Lights is more than just the silly walking stereotype that so many know Chaplin for nowadays, proving arguably his most moving film, complete with a stunning performance that culminates in a legendary final scene, and one that won’t ever be forgotten in a hurry.

Read a full review here.

9. It Happened One Night (1934)

Frank Capra’s romantic comedy¬†It Happened One Night was the very first film to win the so-called ‘Big Five’ at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay) – a feat that has only been repeated twice since – and it’s easy to see why.

Starring a dynamite leading duo in the shape of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the film is a riot throughout, with the turbulent romance between a rough reporter and a pampered socialite making for laughs and mishaps aplenty, which is made all the more delightful with the effortless chemistry and charisma of Gable and Colbert throughout.

It’s a smaller movie than what director Capra eventually came to be known for, but as one of the very last bastion’s of the raunchy world of Pre-Code Hollywood, It Happened One Night is an unforgettable and hugely entertaining movie right the way through.

Read a full review here.

8. Duck Soup (1933)

How can you not love Duck Soup? The most enduring of the Marx Brothers’ films, this absolute classic of comedy remains an absolute delight, with endlessly quotable quips and ridiculous gags making for a hugely funny watch throughout.

Starring Groucho Marx as a normal man who suddenly finds himself being appointed President of Freedonia, a small, bankrupt nation, Duck Soup is just over an hour of utter farce, with Marx’s legendarily crazed antics taking centre stage as chaos erupts in Freedonia.

There’s always a case to be said that comedy evolves over time, and that many movies of the genre from this period just aren’t quite as funny any more, but that doesn’t apply to Duck Soup in the slightest. Ridiculous, energetic and endlessly hilarious, it’s a real classic, and easily one of the most entertaining movies of the 1930s.

Read a full review here.

7. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)

For all of Disney’s antics in the 1920s and early 30s, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is genesis when it comes to textbook Disney, and an undeniable classic of the fairytale genre.

Featuring true traditional animation that remains absolutely gorgeous to this day, as well as some of Disney’s most hummable tunes, there are few films with the same beautiful fairytale innocence that can warm your heart in quite the same way as Snow White, while it even remains an intriguing watch today for its darker undertones that aren’t quite as recognisable when you watch it at the age of 5.

As the very first feature length animated film of all time, Snow White will forever remain a piece of cinematic history, and as such a wonderful piece of fairytale cinema, it will hopefully continue to be enjoyed and adored by all for generations to come.

Read a full review here.

6. King Kong (1933)

Every time I think about the original King Kong, I’m absolutely flabbergasted at just how they managed to make such a spectacular blockbuster with the technology of the age.

Sure, it might not be quite as polished as Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, but this legend of blockbuster cinema is remains an absolute thrill to watch even nowadays, with a very full-on and often really rather dark atmosphere that tells the timeless story of King Kong in enthralling fashion.

Complete with incredible special effects and production design that see Fay Wray’s abduction by the natives of Skull Island, Kong’s tussle with a dinosaur, and that unforgettable sequence atop the Empire State Building, the film is a truly exceptional piece of work. You know the story, now go back and watch it exactly how it was all meant to be told: in exciting, emotional and spectacular fashion from beginning to end.

Read a full review here.

5. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn starred together in four films over the years, and although they moved on to advance their careers to immense heights during the 1940s and onwards, Bringing Up Baby is arguably the greatest work of both.

By far the funniest comedy of the 1930s in my book, it’s a riotous watch from beginning to end, leaving me in a laughing fit from the very first scene, as we see a nervous scientist (Grant) get reluctantly dragged into a bizarre relationship with a clumsy heiress (Hepburn) and her leopard, Baby, and the utter chaos that unfolds over the course of just under two endlessly hilarious hours.

Grant and Hepburn’s chemistry is faultless throughout, putting Bringing Up Baby as a real candidate for the best screwball comedy of all time, while the jokes are rapid-fire from beginning to end, giving you barely a minute to breathe in between all of the hilarity, but providing one of the most entertaining comedies you’ll ever see.

Read a full review here.

4. The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

Everybody’s seen The Wizard Of Oz, or at least acted in it in a school play, so there’s no need for me to explain just how legendary a film it is.

Featuring electrifying use of Technicolor, with the film switching in thrilling fashion from the drab world of Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, the film is a technical masterpiece wherever you look, all of which is backed up with a delightful adventure that follows young Dorothy Gale on her voyage to see the wizard, accompanied by a group of eccentric friends she picks up along the Yellow Brick Road.

With an endless number of classic songs, as well as a wonderful lead performance from Judy Garland, The Wizard Of Oz is a film that will warm your heart like almost no other, and one that anybody of any age can absolutely love to Kansas and back.

Read a full review here.

3. Gone With The Wind (1939)

If someone had never seen a movie before, then I would direct them immediately to Gone With The Wind: unquestionably the biggest film of all time, and a stunning four-hour epic that encompasses all of the majesty and magic of cinema like no other film.

Following the story of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and her turbulent relationship with the dashing Rhett Butler during the American Civil War, Gone With The Wind is an exceptional epic that’s filled to the brim with enthralling drama, beautiful romance, riveting characters, immense action, legendary performances and so much more, it’s rare that a film so long can engross you so deeply for every moment, yet that’s exactly what you get with Gone With The Wind.

A film that broke the box office in a fashion that hasn’t been repeated to this day (taking in over $3.5bn adjusted for inflation), there is no movie quite like Gone With The Wind, and one that will deservedly be remembered as one of the very best forever.

Read a full review here.

2. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart’s most enduring work is It’s A Wonderful Life, but that doesn’t mean that it’s their best together, because 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is a truly brilliant piece of cinema that really deserves higher status than it has.

Following a new member of the US Senate who finds himself surrounded by corruption and political incompetence, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is arguably the most relevant and enduring film on this list, with an inspiring and rousing story that speaks volumes to this day, all topped off with one of Jimmy Stewart’s most delightful performances of all – and that’s among some incredibly tough competition.

Funny, heartfelt, enthralling and most of all passionate, it’s a film that would thaw even the coldest heart, and that’s why it must never be forgotten as one of the greatest films of all time, and most certainly of the 1930s.

Read a full review here.

1. Modern Times (1936)

We started this list with a Charlie Chaplin movie, now we end it with another, the spellbinding comedy-drama, Modern Times.

Following the Tramp as he struggles to fit into an increasingly brutal and industrialised world, the film looks at mid-Depression society in stunning and insightful fashion, making for a truly enthralling watch from beginning to end, all furthered by typically hilarious comedy, and one of the most wonderful romances ever shown on the big screen.

With yet another legendary performance from Chaplin, as well as a beautiful turn from Paulette Goddard as an orphaned young woman who joins with the Tramp as he travels from place to place trying to make ends meet, there are few films in history that are both quite so fun and quiet so moving, yet with an incredible comedic energy and powerful dramatic depth, Modern Times does just that, and makes for a truly brilliant watch throughout, and without a doubt my favourite film of the 1930s.

Read a full review here.


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: