Do you still enjoy watching the movies of the 40s or 50s?
Can you name a few of your favorites?
Over the last few decades, we don’t really talk much about the black and white movies of that golden era.
There is something unique about the classic old black and white movies. But now in recent years too, filmmakers are creating a modern black and white film to recreate the old vibe of cinema.
Below I have listed down a massive collection of best black and white movies in the history of cinema. Many names are prevalent and popular, and there are many of which you haven’t even heard of.
So, here is the exciting list:
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
Well, this wasn’t the first film based on a vampire. ‘Nosferatu’ is a German Expressionist horror film, was an adaptation of 1897 Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
The movie is considered as one of the great classics of German Expressionist cinema.
The term “Nosferatu” meant “vampire” in Romanian. The actor who played the vampire Max Schreck’s performance was so vivid and compelling that if you still watch the movie, it will give you a chill.
The movie was mostly filmed in Germany, and a few shots were taken in northern Slovakia and Romania.
Many say the movie was an unauthorized adaptation of “Dracula,” but still “Nosferatu” is one of the earliest fabulous vampire black and white movies.
City Lights (1931)
Charlie Chaplin’s directorial movie “City Lights” is the first silent film. He tried to tell the audience his story of struggle that he faced in the late 1920s through pictures without words.
It depicts a sad story in a funny manner if you see the movie you will understand why the legendary Charlie Chaplin is the most celebrated filmmaker ever. He’s so spontaneous, quick and fresh.
He is the clown in the movie, who happens to make us laugh hilariously but deeply sad.
He gambled everything on City Lights and the movie become the masterpiece of his work. Also, labelled as one of the best comedy black and white movies.
Shanghai Express (1932)
A movie created by Josef von Sternberg in the 1930s will always be known for its delectable cinematography. The visual and costumes are so overpowering in the movie. It was one of the best commercial and adventure films of that era.
The Kid (1921)
“The Kid” is yet another silent in the comedy-drama work of art of Charlie Chaplin. ‘The kid’ is said to be the most personal film of Charlie Chaplin.
The story opens with The Woman, “whose sin was motherhood”. The distraught mother left her poor baby with a note “to love and care for this orphan child.”
It continues with collective stories of Chaplin and the kid.
The story relates to his marriage. He was married to a 17-year-old actress, and their baby died after three days. He went into a deep mental trauma, and the idea of the story of “The Kid” came from his mental block.
The movie got released in February 1921, and it was a great hit.
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial “The Lady Vanishes” is a British mystery thriller film based on the 1936 novel “The Wheel Spins” by Ethel Lina White.
The story is about a tourist who is traveling by train in continental Europe and discovered her companion’s missing from the train. The movie was a great success.
The Lady Vanishes was Hitchcock’s work in pre-war Britain. The movie is special because of its spellbinding plot and thrilling factor.
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Have you read the novel Wuthering Heights?
It is a fantastic story we have from Emily Bronte. The novel is read by almost every English major student in college.
It is a story of life and tragedy, and the film with the same name is the adaptation of the novel.
The Great Dictator (1940)
A political satire comedy-drama genre of movie, which is created by Charlie Chaplin in 1940. The Great Dictator was nominated for five academy awards.
The story of the movie is about Chaplin Jewish Private fighting for the nation of Tomainia.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The film is about a socialite whose wedding plans are in a complicated state due to the arrival of her ex-husband and a journalist. Nothing extraordinary in the story but it explored the genre of comedy with the notion of remarriage during that period.
The movie was quite a big hit featuring three stars in their extraordinary appeal.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
The movie is a classic, post-war film noir woman-centric movie which brought a tremendous hit in the box office.
The movie was nominated for six Academy Award including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Black and White Cinematography.
Casablanca is one of the evergreen love, and thriller movie loved by everyone. Not just the best love story, the film is the best remembered of all times.
People still use love quotes from “Casablanca.”
Movies like “Play it Again, Sam (1972) by Woody Allen, “The Usual Suspects” (1995) are the movies where creators referred “Casablanca.”
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” is the portrayal of a forgotten star, who lives in her mansion screening her old films, dreaming of a comeback, of her desperation and frustration.
Gloria Swanson gives the best performance of her life portraying the character Norma Desmond. An unusual and realistic film, which will always remain the best drama ever made in the history of cinema.
“Sunset Boulevard” always comes under the list of best black and white drama films.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
John Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is the ideological journey of the hero, Tom Joad. The movie is based on a novel of Steinbeck in 1939. The movie is often considered as one of the greatest American films.
The movie did have a sad ending about Tom Joad. The character grows into something significant and valuable.
1931 American horror film “Frankenstein” is about a scientist who digs up corpses to experiment with the bodies. One of their experiment gone wrong and accidentally gives the creature a murderer’s brain.
This movie is one of the oldest black and white thriller movies which inspired many modern film makers to create scientific thriller movies.
The movie is based on Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” in 1818.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” is high because it’s about a couple who have achieved tragic heroism because of the great father-son relationship and a touch of romance.
It is a good film to watch. The movie is based on an unbelievable murder of the 1920s. The movie has depth, solid story development, and great performances by the actors.
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
The movie is a masterpiece because of its freshness in the story. This was voted one of the greatest films of all time and given an honorary Oscar award in 1949.
The story is simple; the character Ricci, who is looking for work. Every morning he joins the long queue hoping to get a job. One day he got a bicycle which allows him to go to work as a poster hanger.
The character Ricci is realistic, social and economic.
The movie “Rebecca” was Alfred Hitchcock’s first venture into American film and won the best picture at the Academy Awards.
The story of a young woman who married into luxury, how she was murdered and the symbolic drama of the magnificent mansion burning down towards the ending of the film.
The movie is more about abusive relationships than thriller and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock adapted the story of Rebecca from stories by Daphne du Maurier.
On the Waterfront (1954)
On the Waterfront is based on a series of articles by Malcolm Johnson. The movie was directed by Elia Kazan who through this movie had tried to justify himself. He made this violent and powerful movie which eventually influenced the American film acting in the 50s.
Sullivan’s Travel (1941)
1941 American Comedy film “Sullivan’s Travels,” the movie satirizes Hollywood pretentiousness and extremes with the use of dialogues, wit, and satire. The film received a good critical response and named it as one of the most brilliant pictures of that year.
The Third Man (1949)
The Third Man is a near perfect movie. The story of an evil and charismatic anti-hero who fakes his death and ends up being a perplexed leading man who got ridiculed by the beautiful young heroine in a deserted cemetery.
Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” is a brilliant combination of cinematic tricks and expressionistic technique. The best movie the history of cinema has.
Harvey is a quirky best comedy film about friendship and kindness. The story goes about Elwood the character who lives a perfectly contented life, and his happiness is boosted by his best friend, an invisible white rabbit named Harvey.
The movie revolves around them. It is not just any film; it is a film with deeper meaning.
Tokyo Story (1953)
The Japanese art film directed by Yasujiro Ozu. A story about a couple Shukishi and his wife Tomi who traveled from the village to visit their children, who don’t have time to spend with their parents.
The movie is like poetic and heart-tearing story. You see it’s a simple story but immensely soulful. It’s about solitude, abandonment, and death.
Modern Times (1936)
We have seen a lot of films but Chaplin’s “Modern Times” is an ageless classic movie. The film continues to delight the audience and still America’s best movies of all time.
Through the movie, the character of Chaplin tried to show the struggle to survive in the new industrial world. The desperate economic condition that so many people faced during the Great Depression.
The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945)
Did you read Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Grey”?
The movie is about a good-looking, handsome and wealthy young man who got manipulated and spent his entire life into pleasure. Dorian wishes his portrait could age not him and it happened eventually.
He continues to live a more hedonistic lifestyle and never gets old. But his portrait turned into a monster which he kept hidden from the rest of the world — the picture of his shows his true color.
The story of the movie is very captivating and indeed one of the best.
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men is a classic courtroom drama film about jurors who are convinced of a man’s guilt. The movie is based on a play of the same name and its one of the best black and white film of all time. The movie deserves to be in the list of top 10 best black and white movies.
To kill a Mockingbird (1962)
To kill a Mockingbird is a highly memorable and successful movie in the literary world. Robert Mulligan’s sensitive direction and exceptional performances by his team.
The movie is based on the novel by Harper Lee of the same name. Just like the book, the movie is impressive too.
Woody Allen’s middle-period masterpiece shot in black and white by cinematographer Gordon Willis.
The film is a rom-com genre of movie, the character of Isaac and Mary is complicated and tricky. Manhattan is the place which Woody Allen loves personally and the idea of being in love in this city brings a hymn. The relationship that Isaac and Mary’s shares is so poignant and beautiful.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
A movie that everyone has heard of, another ageless movie like “Casablanca” and “The Third Man.” The movie had the best cast and the best work of James Stewart. The story is full of positivity and hope. You can watch it during Christmas, or whenever you want, one will always love watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Great Expectation (1946)
Great Expectation is a 1946 British film which had won 2 Academy Awards, and it is based on a novel by Charles Dickens. It’s a story about an orphan. If you have read the book, or if you are a Dickens’s fan then you will surely be going to love the movie.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
A classic drama film which explains the whole relationship of man and woman; love and hate; tenderness and cruelty. The movie is one of the most outstanding elements of Warner Brothers’ production of Edward Albee’s stage play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
The Apartment (1960)
One of the incredible film “The Apartment” is all about a man who is making an effort to rank in his company by letting the others using his apartment for romantic flings.
The movie had an interesting story, and it took home five Oscars.
Roman Holiday (1953)
William Wyler’s movie “Roman Holiday” is a modern fairytale, where the female character turned out to be a Princess from an imaginary European country, who escaped into the town.
All About Eve (1950)
All About Eve is one of the most excellent black and white movies of that era. Bette Davis plays the character who is an actress, but the onset of young actress threatens her reign.
It’s a great movie about the theatre with a touch of reality.
Alfred Hitchcock’s work of artistry and skill made “Psycho” another great movie. The movie is a psychological thriller and a masterpiece in the history of cinema. The monochromatic mode of the film evokes a dark and pessimistic tone.
Do watch the movie if you haven’t yet.
The Big Sleep (1946)
The movie is one of Raymond Chandler’s best detective mystery classic film. The story of a quintessential private detective, where the story revolves around a dark and full of suspicion theme.
The Big Sleep is a sophisticated crime drama movie which is complex but amazing.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg’s most appreciated and best work “Schindler’s List,” is based on a true story. It’s about the destructive power of humanity and the strength of the human spirit.
It tells the story of a German businessman in Poland, who protect the Jews by keeping them in his factory. The movie offers the audience a deeply emotional story.
Raging bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” in which Robert De Niro played the role of a boxer. He had given a brilliant performance, based on the autobiography of La Motta the movie shows the life of a fighter.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
The story of “Dr. Strangelove” explores a man who is mentally unstable and starts the path to a nuclear holocaust. The deeper meaning that the movie represents is the absurdity of nuclear war. The film makes us think about our irrational behavior towards the world.
Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” explores a person’s full day on the job. The character Dante Hicks, who is a clerk in a convenience store and his friend Randal works in the video store. Both are poorly paid and disappointed with their work condition. The entire movie is so realistic all the shots taken in and around the convenience store.
Some Like it Hot (1959)
“Some Like it hot” is the best comedies created by Billy Wilder. One of the best because it has witty humor and casting characters are near to perfect in their role. Movies like this will continue to win the hearts of millions.
The legendary film critic Robert Ebert described the movie “Notorious” as “some of the most effective camera shots in anyone’s work.” Once again Hitchcock proved his film making skill with this movie. The movie is a psychologically complex love triangle and a cinematic gem in film history.
Dead Man (1995)
Jim Jarmusch’s Johnny Depp stars “Dead Man” showed up Depp playing a weird role William Blake who is a geeky accountant found himself in a situation where he felt like an outsider.
Perhaps “Dead Man” is Depp’s most brilliant performances of his career playing the role of a Native American in the world of whites. The movie beautifully depicts the cultures of the Native Americans in black and white cinematography to make it more vivid and intense.
La Haine (1995)
The movie “La Haine” opened in a selected theatre, got some serious appreciation from the film fraternity and audience.
The movie is about the lives of three young adults living in the impoverishment and followed the riot in a French suburban. The film is dark and expresses the social and political unrest during that period.
The movie is inspired by a real-life event where a young Zairian man died in police custody along with the death of other protesters which flickered the riot.
The intense camera work in the movie, the story and more importantly the acting makes the film unconventional then and, in the future, too.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
James Stewart is playing the role of Jefferson Smith, who fights against political corruption. Jean Arthur assembled a great supporting actor.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Joel and Ethan Coel direct the British-American noir crime film. Billy Bob Thornton played a mournful, chain smoker barber who is so unhappy in his life. He cut the hair of people all day with the cigarette dangling off his lips, an expression in his face which is speechless.
The plot of the movie is adultery, where a man is convicted of a wrong crime.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2007)
A movie where the story begins before sunset and ends after sunrise, telling the story of a pretty young girl and a handsome young man. A film that celebrates romanticism, the leading characters chasing dreams in a big city and states the story of a moment through the night.
The intention of shooting the entire movie in black and white mode was to portray the mundane life of individuals and the image of the city.
Much to say, the story is greatly influenced by Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”
Frances Ha (2012)
“Frances Ha” where Greta Gerwig played the title character. Frances is an aspiring dancer in Brooklyn. The movie portrays her downward cascade life, a fall in relationship, unemployed, limited cash in hand, and friendless. But throughout the movie, we see her smiling putting away her agony of life.
The movie is one of the best “modern black and white movies” to watch.
The Artist (2011)
A movie of such beauty and cinematic that uniquely celebrates the power of filmmaking. The film isn’t wholly a silent movie; it has a lot of music in the background. The concept of the movie is alluring, ensuing clever blend of silence and black and white effect.
Director Michel Hazanavicius has created a dazzling high-spirited movie that will be called as “ageless” in the history of cinema and art.
Computer Chess (2013)
“Computer chess” is a movie all about chess. A bunch of nerds who has no distractions in their life whatsoever, they only care and think of computers. It’s a great movie, but all won’t entertain a film like this. There is an excellent work of camera in the movie focusing on each expression and movements.
The movie talks about the father-son relationship. Woody Grant, the character is an alcoholic Korean War veteran whose life is in dismay. His son David, who is likely to spend time with his father. It’s a movie which goes deep into an old man psyche and how he rejoices the company of his son.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma has been nominated in the 91st Academy award and has won several awards in the different category.
The movie is shot in black and white beautifully, set during a period in Mexico shortly after the 1970 Football world cup. The film takes us in the life of a middle-class family who lives in the Roma district of Mexico City. A tale of two women.
Roma is one of the best movies on Netflix and currently streaming on Netflix, so don’t miss it, if you haven’t yet watched the film.
These are some of the great black and white movies that I have listed. If you have any suggestion, please feel free to contact us or comment in the section below.
I am Paulomi Dutta stay in Pune, India with my loving husband. I love to read, travel and cook. I have been thinking about blogging for the past three years and now finally all is set to start my World Up Close. I will be writing about places, relationships, good and smart living and lastly, will be writing on money and financial tips. My motive is to help others through whatever knowledge I have and can share with you all. Being an introvert person, two things I love the most painting and writing. Both involve sharing thoughts with the outer world.
I hope my little effort to help through my articles will be appreciable and noticed.