50 Greatest Films of the 1930s

by DanielBamberg | created - 25 Mar 2011 | updated - 25 Mar 2011 | Public

Following the addition of sound, the film industry was only just exploding in the 1930s. Though the overall film library of the the decade is relatively small compared to the decades which followed, some of cinema's greatest accomplishments came from the 1930s. Here is the ordered list of what I feel are the 50 best films from the 1930 - 1939 era in motion pictures.

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1. Of Mice and Men (1939)

Approved | 106 min | Drama

Two itinerant migrant workers, one mentally disabled and the other his carer, take jobs as ranch hands during the Great Depression to fulfill their shared dream of owning their own ranch.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., Burgess Meredith, Betty Field, Charles Bickford

Votes: 4,886

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Passed | 238 min | Drama, History, Romance

97 Metascore

A manipulative woman and a roguish man conduct a turbulent romance during the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods.

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood | Stars: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O'Neil

Votes: 256,004 | Gross: $198.68M

3. M (1931)

Not Rated | 99 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller

When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Otto Wernicke

Votes: 122,227 | Gross: $0.03M

4. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

PG | 102 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

100 Metascore

Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home to Kansas and help her friends as well.

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, King Vidor | Stars: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr

Votes: 341,512 | Gross: $22.20M

5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

G | 83 min | Animation, Family, Fantasy

95 Metascore

Exiled into the dangerous forest by her wicked stepmother, a princess is rescued by seven dwarf miners who make her part of their household.

Directors: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen | Stars: Adriana Caselotti, Harry Stockwell, Lucille La Verne, Roy Atwell

Votes: 158,115 | Gross: $184.93M

6. La Grande Illusion (1937)

Not Rated | 113 min | Drama, War

During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.

Director: Jean Renoir | Stars: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim

Votes: 30,317 | Gross: $0.17M

7. The Blood of a Poet (1932)

Not Rated | 55 min | Fantasy

A young artist draws a face at a canvas on his easel. Suddenly the mouth on the drawing comes into life and starts talking. The artist tries to wipe it away with his hand, but when he looks... See full summary »

Director: Jean Cocteau | Stars: Enrique Rivero, Elizabeth Lee Miller, Pauline Carton, Odette Talazac

Votes: 4,937

8. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Not Rated | 129 min | Comedy, Drama

73 Metascore

A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold

Votes: 94,873 | Gross: $9.60M

9. Modern Times (1936)

G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

96 Metascore

The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford

Votes: 181,170 | Gross: $0.16M

10. Dracula (1931)

Not Rated | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror

The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye

Votes: 39,861

11. Dangerous (1935)

Approved | 79 min | Drama

An alcoholic actress who is considered a dangerous jinx is rehabilitated, but she then shows that she's as dangerous as ever.

Director: Alfred E. Green | Stars: Bette Davis, Franchot Tone, Margaret Lindsay, Alison Skipworth

Votes: 2,415

12. Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

TV-PG | 86 min | Drama, Romance, Adventure

On the South Pacific island of Bora Bora, a young couple's love is threatened when the tribal chief declares the girl a sacred virgin.

Director: F.W. Murnau | Stars: Anne Chevalier, Matahi, Hitu, Bill Bambridge

Votes: 4,232

13. Hell's Angels (1930)

Passed | 127 min | Drama, War

Brothers Monte and Ray leave Oxford to join the Royal Flying Corps. Ray loves Helen; Helen enjoys an affair with Monte; before they leave on their mission over Germany they find her in still another man's arms.

Directors: Howard Hughes, Edmund Goulding, James Whale | Stars: Ben Lyon, James Hall, Jean Harlow, John Darrow

Votes: 4,335

14. A Night at the Opera (1935)

Passed | 96 min | Comedy, Music, Musical

A sly business manager and two wacky friends of two opera singers help them achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies.

Directors: Sam Wood, Edmund Goulding | Stars: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kitty Carlisle

Votes: 27,944

15. Frankenstein (1931)

Passed | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, John Boles

Votes: 56,892 | Gross: $12.00M

16. Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

Passed | 97 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

A priest tries to stop a gangster from corrupting a group of street kids.

Director: Michael Curtiz | Stars: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan

Votes: 17,941

17. Vampyr (1932)

Not Rated | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror

A drifter obsessed with the supernatural stumbles upon an inn where a severely ill adolescent girl is slowly becoming a vampire.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Stars: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz

Votes: 13,262

18. Animal Crackers (1930)

G | 97 min | Comedy, Musical

Mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding.

Director: Victor Heerman | Stars: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, The Marx Brothers

Votes: 11,946

19. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Passed | 63 min | Action, Adventure, Thriller

An insane hunter arranges for a ship to be wrecked on an island where he can indulge in some sort of hunting and killing of the passengers.

Directors: Irving Pichel, Ernest B. Schoedsack | Stars: Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong

Votes: 8,623 | Gross: $0.97M

20. City Lights (1931)

G | 87 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers

Votes: 139,406 | Gross: $0.02M

21. Duck Soup (1933)

Not Rated | 68 min | Comedy, Musical, War

Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale.

Director: Leo McCarey | Stars: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx

Votes: 51,281

22. Port of Shadows (1938)

Not Rated | 91 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

A military deserter finds love and trouble (and a small dog) in a smoky French port city.

Director: Marcel Carné | Stars: Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur

Votes: 7,161 | Gross: $0.03M

23. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Not Rated | 136 min | Drama, War

A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy

Votes: 52,339 | Gross: $3.27M

24. Gulliver's Travels (1939)

Passed | 76 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

In 1726, Lemuel Gulliver arrives to Lilliput, He wonder to lied down on the beach to sacrifice looks a great royal court to save the world.

Director: Dave Fleischer | Stars: Jessica Dragonette, Lanny Ross, Pinto Colvig, Cal Howard

Votes: 3,252 | Gross: $0.55M

25. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Not Rated | 132 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

A tyrannical ship captain decides to exact revenge on his abused crew after they form a mutiny against him, but the sailor he targets had no hand in it.

Director: Frank Lloyd | Stars: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, Herbert Mundin

Votes: 18,458

26. Jezebel (1938)

Approved | 104 min | Drama, Romance

In 1850s Louisiana, a free-spirited Southern belle loses her fiancé due to her stubborn vanity and pride, and vows to win him back.

Director: William Wyler | Stars: Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Margaret Lindsay

Votes: 10,351

27. The Rules of the Game (1939)

Not Rated | 110 min | Comedy, Drama

A bourgeois life in France at the onset of World War II, as the rich and their poor servants meet up at a French chateau.

Director: Jean Renoir | Stars: Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Mila Parély

Votes: 23,557

28. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Not Rated | 96 min | Mystery, Thriller

While travelling in continental Europe, a rich young playgirl realizes that an elderly lady seems to have disappeared from the train.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, May Whitty

Votes: 41,313

29. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Not Rated | 122 min | Crime

A new crime wave grips the city and all clues seem to lead to the nefarious Dr. Mabuse, even though he has been imprisoned in a mental asylum for nearly a decade.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Otto Wernicke, Gustav Diessl, Rudolf Schündler

Votes: 9,960

30. The Petrified Forest (1936)

Not Rated | 82 min | Drama, Film-Noir, Romance

A waitress, a hobo and a bank robber get mixed up at a lonely diner in the desert.

Director: Archie Mayo | Stars: Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Genevieve Tobin

Votes: 10,939

31. Pygmalion (1938)

Not Rated | 89 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

A phonetics and diction expert makes a bet that he can teach a cockney flower girl to speak proper English and pass as a lady in high society.

Directors: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard | Stars: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr

Votes: 6,908 | Gross: $3.05M

32. The 39 Steps (1935)

Not Rated | 86 min | Mystery, Thriller

A man in London tries to help a counter-espionage Agent. But when the Agent is killed, and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to save himself and stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle

Votes: 45,484

33. You Can't Take It with You (1938)

Passed | 126 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

A man from a family of rich snobs becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold

Votes: 20,519 | Gross: $4.66M

34. King Kong (1933)

Passed | 100 min | Adventure, Horror, Sci-Fi

90 Metascore

A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition.

Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack | Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher

Votes: 72,164 | Gross: $10.00M

35. Sabotage (1936)

Not Rated | 76 min | Thriller

A Scotland Yard undercover detective is on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. But when the detective's cover is blown, the plot begins to unravel.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder

Votes: 12,794

36. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Passed | 117 min | Drama, Horror, Romance

In 15th century France, a gypsy girl is framed for murder by the infatuated Chief Justice, and only the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame Cathedral can save her.

Director: William Dieterle | Stars: Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell

Votes: 9,028 | Gross: $3.27M

37. Tower of London (1939)

Approved | 92 min | Drama, History

In the 15th century Richard Duke of Gloucester, aided by his club-footed executioner Mord, eliminates those ahead of him in succession to the throne, then occupied by his brother King ... See full summary »

Director: Rowland V. Lee | Stars: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Ian Hunter

Votes: 1,549

38. The Ghoul (1933)

Not Rated | 77 min | Action, Drama, Horror

An Egyptologist returns from the dead to take revenge on those who have violated his tomb.

Director: T. Hayes Hunter | Stars: Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, Ernest Thesiger, Dorothy Hyson

Votes: 1,907

39. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Not Rated | 102 min | Comedy, Family, Romance

While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby.

Director: Howard Hawks | Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett

Votes: 49,861

40. Freaks (1932)

Not Rated | 64 min | Drama, Horror

A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to marry the leader of side-show performers, but his deformed friends discover she is only marrying him for his inheritance.

Director: Tod Browning | Stars: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Votes: 37,279

41. Stagecoach (1939)

Not Rated | 96 min | Adventure, Western

A group of people traveling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process.

Director: John Ford | Stars: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine

Votes: 36,668

42. The Invisible Man (1933)

Not Rated | 71 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.

Director: James Whale | Stars: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers

Votes: 25,193

43. The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Approved | 72 min | Comedy, Horror, Mystery

When an eccentric family meets in their uncle's remote, decaying mansion on the tenth anniversary of his death for the reading of his will, murder and madness follow.

Director: Elliott Nugent | Stars: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery

Votes: 2,205

44. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932)

Approved | 88 min | Drama, Romance, War

A Chinese warlord and an engaged Christian missionary fall in love.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori, Walter Connolly

Votes: 2,997

45. Fury (1936)

Not Rated | 92 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

When a wrongly accused prisoner barely survives a lynch mob attack and is presumed dead, he vindictively decides to fake his death and frame the mob for his supposed murder.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Sylvia Sidney, Spencer Tracy, Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot

Votes: 9,998

46. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Approved | 80 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigate the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate.

Director: Sidney Lanfield | Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie

Votes: 8,302

47. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

Unrated | 114 min | Drama, Romance

An aged teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school recalls his career and his personal life over the decades.

Directors: Sam Wood, Sidney Franklin | Stars: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills

Votes: 8,816

48. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Not Rated | 98 min | Horror, Sci-Fi

Dr. Jekyll faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde.

Director: Rouben Mamoulian | Stars: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert

Votes: 11,074

49. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

PG | 102 min | Action, Adventure, Romance

97 Metascore

When Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard's absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army.

Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley | Stars: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains

Votes: 42,907 | Gross: $3.98M

50. Werewolf of London (1935)

Not Rated | 75 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

6.5