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Top 10 Lost Films

A lost film is one for which there is no known print to exhibit. Most of these films come, roughly, from around the turn of the century into the fifties, when less flammable film stock was adopted by the motion picture industry. It is estimated that more silent pictures are lost than survive, and there are scores of talking pictures from the thirties that are missing, as well. There are many reasons that a film becomes lost. The early film stock was flammable, and film warehouse fires were not uncommon. Sometimes studios destroyed the films themselves, through neglect, silver recovery processes or simply throwing them away. Additionally, old film stock turned to goo, even when properly stored, and films have been lost to film degradation. This is especially true of silent pictures. There are exceptions: Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton have only one or two lost films each.

Lost films turn up, usually in a forgotten closet in an old motion picture theater. A good example is the silent movie Wings, which won multiple Academy Awards.

Here is a list of the most sought-after lost films. There are dozens of others that could have made the list.

10

London After Midnight
1927

London After Midnight

This silent movie is, arguably, the most sought after lost film. The interest here is Chaney’s portrayal of a vampire. It’s directed by Todd Browning, who later directed Dracula, with Bela Lugosi. Turner Classic Movies recreated the film using the script and still photographs a few years ago, and has shown the re-creation as recently as 2011. Lon Chaney was a great actor (maybe the greatest), and his other lost features include The Tower Of Lies (1925) and The Big City (1928). These would be as important a find as London After Midnight.

9

The Mountain Eagle
1926

Themountaineagle1

A silent movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it was lost during Hitchcock’s lifetime, and he apparently seemed pleased that it was. It’s the only lost picture Hitchcock directed, and it’s number one on the list of lost British films.


8

Convention City
1933

Convention City Filmposter

Convention City was scandalous enough that, after the motion picture production code was passed, further screenings were banned. It had name stars like Joan Blondell, Dick Powell and Mary Astor. It pushed the boundaries of 1930’s morality and, in fact, this movie could have hastened adoption of the code. Warner Brothers apparently destroyed this one deliberately. It competes with London After Midnight as the most sought-after lost film. The plot revolved around drunk and sexed-up employees of the Honeywell Rubber Company, at a convention in Atlantic City. Dr. James Wingate, chair of the Motion Picture Division of the State of New York Department of Education — which oversaw the state’s censorship board — described it as “a pretty rowdy picture, dealing largely with drunkenness, blackmail and lechery, and without any particularly sympathetic characters or elements.”

7

Charlie Chan Carries on
1931

Earlderrbiggers Charliechancarrieson

This isn’t on many top lost film lists but it should be. The first Chan film starring Warner Oland, it started the long running popular detective series, which was very profitable for Fox Films. While today some find the idea of a Caucasian actor (Oland was Swedish) portraying an oriental distasteful, the character of Chan was portrayed as an honest, hard working family man who was always the smartest guy in the room. This Charlie Chan film, as well as most of Fox Studio films made before 1935, was lost in a warehouse fire. Of the first six Chan films with Oland, only one survives.

6

Cleopatra
1917

Cleopatra1917

Cleopatra starred Theda Bara, a popular silent screen star. Of forty movies that she made, only six survive. Cleopatra was an expensive film for the time, and stills from it suggest a lavish spectacle. Theda Bara’s costumes, alone, received quite a bit of press coverage. Other lost Theda Bara films are Camille (1917), Romeo and Juliet (1916), The Two Orphans (1915), The Serpent (1916) and Salome (1918).

5

The Life of General Villa
1914

Pancho Villa Horseback

Pancho Villa (the Mexican revolutionary general) was raising money for his revolution, and D.W. Griffith paid Villa to star in this film. A few seconds of the film survive.


4

This Man Is Dangerous
1941

James Mason %281971%29 By Erling Mandelmann

This James Mason film was shown on British television, in 1987, and has since gone missing from the British movie archives. Hard to believe no one videotaped this, even back in 1987. It is included here as the film most likely to be found.

3

A Daughter of the Gods
1916

Kellerman 1916

This film is said to be the first feature to cost more than a million dollars, and to feature complete nudity by a major star, actress Annette Kellerman. In the film, a sultan agrees to help an evil witch destroy a mysterious beauty, if the witch will bring his young son back to life.


2

The Patriot
1928

Image Patriot

Nominated for Best Picture at the second Academy awards, it’s the only lost best picture nominee. It starred Emil Jannings, who also starred in the picture next on this list. The film is a 1928 semi-biographical film that was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and released by Paramount Pictures. It depicts the life of Tsar Paul I, of Russia.

1

The Way of All Flesh
1927

The-Way-Of-All-Flesh-1927

The only lost Academy Award winning performance. Emil Jannings won the first best actor Oscar for this film and another made the same year, under rules that were then changed the following year. No known copies of this film in its entirety survive. This makes Jannings the only Oscar-winning performance with no copy of the film in any private collection or film archive. This may also be Victor Fleming’s only missing film.



  • Mythomaniac

    Convention City looks interesting. Emil Jannings just seems dodgy in that particular photo.

    • FREEDOM

      goddam chinese did this, they took our films next they will take our FREEDOM

      • Gouki

        Is the racism really needed?? Next we’ll have people saying blame Bush or blame Obama….

        • badjokebob

          These are BLACK and WHITE films were talking about? right?

  • Mira Bel

    Wow! I’ll say they’re lost! I’ve old B&W movies and silent films and never heard of these. Wonder if Netflix has them :-p (j/k)

    • Sid

      Wonder if netflix has them? Are you a moron or just making a feeble joke?

      • Chineapplepunk

        As you can see by the ‘ :-P ‘ symbol used, it was a joke. I knew it was a joke. Lighten the hell up.

        • Mira Bel

          LOL Wow, I’ve been called a lot of names but moron is a new one. Thanks for coming to my defense everyone. Apparently sarcasm isn’t easy to read for some people…

      • Jubbs

        If anyone, its you that just came off as a moron, to be honest.

        • TROLL

          It’s a troll, and you are feeding it.

        • Rich

          eh?? just you on that one i think

      • Pavla

        Troll alert. Please ignore this comment.

  • Mira Bel

    dang typo!! meant to say I love, lol I’m typing in the dark!!

  • kame

    good list.

  • lookastar

    Omg im the 5th person to comment :D haha and good list

  • fraterhater

    Dammit! now I want to see some of these.

  • Jack Belcastro

    very nice list, i’m really interested in lost films, so thanks for sharing :)

  • chela

    this list is really good. i have only heard of #10 before. i hope these films will be discovered and digitized. :D

  • necropenguin

    I saw that reconstruction of London After Midnight on TCM just a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t as good as I expected it to be.

    Good list, I was wondering if something like this would pop up on here sometime after seeing LAM.

    • QDV

      I remember, years ago, when they found a print of the Doctor Who story “Tomb of the Cybermen” in Hong Kong. This one was near the top of our list as one of the greatest DW stories ever, one we’d love to see recovered. When I finally saw it, I thought “Eh, it’s pretty good, but it’s no ‘Tomb of the Cybermen,” if you get my drift (Any time a lost DW story is recovered, that’s good news anyways.).

      I felt the same way you do about “London After Midnight.” If anything, I’d love to see it for Chaney’s performance and makeup, and one wonders what our perception of The Vampire would be had he lived and played Dracula in the movie that made Lugosi famous (and yes, I know it’s a matter of controversy as to whether or not the studios had Chaney in mind for that part). Aside: While it’s not a lost film per se, I’d love to hear that they’ve found the test footage that Lugosi did for ‘Frankenstein.’

  • Otter

    I love the “lost and forgotten” types of lists on here. I’ve never heard of any of these except number 7. Good list except the repetitiveness of #6, “of the 40 films she made, only 6 exist”. :)

  • Would have liked more information on some of these, but I suppose not a lot is available. Very interesting, nonetheless.

  • manuel

    Great list!!

  • Armadillotron

    Dante`s Inferno? Where the Devil looks like Saddam Hussein?

  • itswinston

    Seems interesting those films

  • Metalwrath

    The entry from Cleopatra contains the repetition of the sentence “Of forty movies that she made, only six survive.”…. I fail to understand how this mistake could have passed. Don’t you proofread? It’s a tiny paragraph.

    Anyway, regardless of my b-itching, I liked this list :) Very interesting but also quite sad that some important movies have been lost.

    This list seems to include only full length feature films. What about some of the first couple-minute films when it was a very new invention? I know many of these pioneer short skits have been lost.

  • Charlie O.

    How come Lost Horizon didn’t make this list? Is it because a print exists? It is not a COMPLETE print, so I thought it might qualify. Good list though… Lon Chaney…Best Actor Ever? I dunno, but I suppose he should be part of that discussion…

    • Smaug

      I am still hoping they find the rest of the missing footage for Lost Horizon.

  • dealeut

    The Marx Brothers also starred in a lost silent movie called Humor Risk, made around 1920. They allegedly destroyed all the copies themselves after viewing them.

  • sleep

    at number 6.. you said, “Of the forty films Theda Bara made, only six survive”, twice. good list though. two thumbs up!

  • Chineapplepunk

    It’s a shame that so much is lost to history, I don’t think I would personally appreciate these films but I’m sure there are a lot of people who would. It was a good list :)

  • loapaja

    Amazing, scintillating list!

  • Julius

    What about Metropolis, the most expensive silent film ever made?`Admittedly it is only partially lost but still.

    • QDV

      It’s a good thing that ‘Metropolis’ is no longer worthy of inclusion on this list. The whole thing was recovered in Argentina a few years ago (and a print from New Zealand was used as part of its restoration), is available on DVD, and has been shown on TCM a few times. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater in Houston (just as Tropical Storm Hermine rolled in), and they filled in the few damaged missing frames (said to be in “deplorable” condition) with title cards. Today, we see a completely different movie than we did when we all first saw this one during childhood.

      • Wow that is great to know – I didn’t know that at all. I am definitely going to buy a copy.

  • heitham

    Summer is over why did you have to post this list NOW?
    SPLENDID!

  • WafflesWafers

    In #6, the sentence “Of the forty films Theda Bara made, only six survive.” is repeated twice (the 2nd sentence and the last sentence).

  • polaris12

    I want to watch a few of these now haha. Although I personaly would of liked more information for number 9 “The Mountain Eagle” such as what the film was about. But a realy nice list :)

  • vanowensbody

    Good list.

  • oouchan

    Of course since they are lost, now I want to see them all. I’ve only heard of Hitchcock’s film being lost before and a few others not on this list.

    Good list.

  • Darthnixa

    Interesting list, maybe you can still save Listverse

  • Prowler420

    I though you could have put more info into this list. It’s an interesting subject but it seemed rushed. #9 and #5 were two lines. Were you in a rush or late to get somewhere the day you made this list?

  • kira

    Great list!

    While not “officially” a lost film(yet), “Laughter in the Dark” is impossible to find, which is shocking considering the cast and the popularity of the source material. I would (literally)pay an arm and a leg to get hold of that film.

  • Hercules321

    Very interesting! So there is absolutely no way I can watch any of these movies? Wow!

    Today, with digitalisation of movies, it’s impossible for them to become lost. Downloading movies has become incredibly easy and anyone can make unlimited copies. Good list!

  • Lifeschool

    Very good list today, despite the short texts – many certainly deserving their place in the top 10. Looking at the list of lost films on wiki I see there are so many lost films out there – many 1920’s movies starring Louise Brooks (for example). I’m not going to come up with a list of alternatives as I think the list did a good job with that.

    I think it is also worth mentioning that there are still thousands of movies which still exist but were never given a VCR/DVD release – and are increasingly unlikely to appear as digital processing is so expensive – and never seem to appear on TV either. Such examples include ‘Navy Blue and Gold’ and ‘Fools Parade’ (the ONLY Jimmy Stewart movies I haven’t seen). Then there are the ‘half lost’ movies such as ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’; where some portions remain (but not the best parts).

    #7 – Charlie Chan – appearantly a Spanish version of this movie exists (when they used to film the English and Spanish version in the same location but with a different cast).

  • StardustPanda

    Great list! I really want to see these films now. Too bad they’re all lost. D=

  • Ryan

    Ivan the Terribble Part III is one I’d like to see too.

  • Tryclyde

    We lost something with all of these, but I would LOVE to see Convention City.

  • major harris

    amazing that films can become lost. reminds me some of the library of alexandria in that knowledge and parts of our culture can become lost to the ages and we will never know what we are missing. a few of these may have been victims of fires or accidents. wonder how much they would be worth if some one were to find one of them.

  • Film_Fan

    I enjoyed reading this, but wouldn’t necessarily say these are the “top ten” of all lost films.

    As you noted, there are dozens–out of tens of thousands of lost films–that could have made the list.

    For example, one very famous film you overlooked was the 1930 all-color (2-strip Technicolor) musical, “The Rogue Song” which starred Lawrence Tibbett, along with Laurel and Hardy in the supporting cast. Tibbett was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

    Only a few fragments of the film, itself, exist, though the 101 minute audio track, recorded on separate discs, DID survive and is accessible today.

    For those interested, there are a number of websites devoted to lost films. A good starting place for research is the Wikipedia page —

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lost_films

    Another is the Vitaphone Project website.

  • OmegaMan

    Good list! This list reminded me of Jack McDevitt’s Post-apocalyptic novel, “Eternity Road”.

  • Alliewalliewoo

    WINGS a lost movie???? I have seen it several time in my lifetime, it was on a movie channel on cable about 3 years ago…

    • Film_Fan

      He actually wrote: “Lost films turn up, usually in a forgotten closet in an old motion picture theater. A good example is the silent movie Wings, which won multiple Academy Awards.”

      Wings WAS considered lost for many years, as he noted, until a was nitrate copy was located in the Cinémathèque Française film archive in Paris .

      Oftentimes, as old movie palaces were demolished, copies of films were found in closets or other storage areas. Most of the classic movie theaters are now long gone, but there are a few left — some closed for decades — in various states of decay, so perhaps…..

    • Maggot

      Read the intro again. It doesn’t say that Wings is lost.

  • Nicosia

    I think it’s really funny that all the people complaining about the repetition of the Theda Bara article didn’t bother to notice that they were repeating previous comments. :D

    • britexan

      THANK YOU! I was thinking the exact same thing.

    • Pacha

      My thoughts exactly!

    • Slappy

      Thanks, Nicosia. I found it more depressing than funny, but your point is very well taken.

  • keyshock

    It’d be nice if the captions would describe what the movie is about. :p I mean some of the entries do but not all. Still, this was a very interesting list! I love movies, old and new!

    My country has lots of lost films, mainly because we didn’t have the technology to store our early films back then. Apparently, some of these “lost” films were sent to other countries for storage but eventually forgotten. It’s always a treat though when one of these lost films pop up.

  • QDV

    I expected to see Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” atop the list. I was thinking that the list author was writing this from a point of view of “Completely lost, no footage,” but then I saw the comment about a few seconds of footage remaining for the Villa film (and a few seconds of “Cleopatra” survive, too).

    I mentioned in another comment that I thought “London After Midnight” is probably overhyped, given its missing status, but I’d sure love to see Chaney’s performance. I don’t know about “greatest” and “ever” together for Chaney, but he was certainly one of the best of the silent era, without question. We’re fortunate to have a clip of Chaney’s performance in “The Miracle Man” (probably the one that put him on the map), but I’d love to see a full print of that one, “Treasure Island,” and “A Blind Bargain” (which burned in the same fire as “London After Midnight”), just to see Chaney in action. Also, the odds of it appearing are probably slim to none, but there was plenty of discarded footage for “Phantom of the Opera,” including the original ending where they found the Phantom dead at the organ (I’ve seen photo or two from this.).

    “While today some find the idea of a Caucasian actor (Oland was Swedish) portraying an oriental distasteful,”

    Usually, it’s the use of the term “oriental” that folks find distasteful. :-) Incidentally, Oland appears the leader of a group of Chinese bandits in Chaney’s “Tell It to the Marines,” one of Chaney’s best performances (and no fancy makeup), IMHO.

    • Nicholas Stix

      And why do they find the term “Oriental” distasteful? Because they can? And how many years will it be before the same race hustlers who now scream bloody murder start using some variation on it, like the black race hustlers who insisted that “colored” was “racist,” only to then start using the synonym, “people of color,” and calling whites “Caucasian,” with a sneer when they say it?If non-whites can choose to call themselves and whites whatever they want, whites may do likewise.

    • Nicholas Stix

      P.S. Asian race hustlers today do indeed scream bloody murder about white actors like Oland playing Asian characters as much as 70 years ago.

    • Dave

      I also expected to see Greed on the list. A 9-hour epic, lost forever.
      I read an incredible article about it in a book in the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series, but I can’t remember which book it was exactly.

  • John Sherman

    Very good list. I might have placed London After Midnight at the #1 spot, but that’s me. Now, how about a list of Lost Films that have been recently found? That would be a good follow-up.

    • QDV

      They can start it with “The White Shadow,” a 1924 Hitchcock film whose first thirty minutes were found earlier this month in the New Zealand Film Archive.

      • fred

        Huh-huh, Hitchpenis

  • eduardo jaramillo

    I’ve never heard of any of these films… lol. Impressive list, it looks as though it took quite a bit of research, nice job man!

  • Clive

    Very interesting List, thank you!

  • freckledsmile99

    Okay, the guy in The Way of all Flesh looks like a pedophile – what was this movie about?

  • freckledsmile99

    I want to see The Daughter of the Gods. Was this a silent flick?

    • QDV

      Given the year it was released, it’s a pretty safe bet that it was a silent. :-)

  • Jazzy

    What about Nosferatu? The studio was ordered to destroy all copys when Bram Stokers estate won a lawsuit claiming it was a Dracula rip off.

    • Maggot

      Apparently not all copies were destroyed, as it is widely available in the public domain, including online, now. The entire movie is on YouTube. It was also featured in an early Listverse list:

      https://listverse.com/2007/09/24/10-brilliant-comp

  • Matt

    Emil Jannings was the man- incredible to believe that the first best actor film has been lost. Who knows though, they recently found an old Hitchcock silent film in New Zealand of all places, maybe they’ll find one of these?

  • Triptrip

    The Mountain Eagle looks awesome! D: I’d watch it! Actually all of them look interesting! ^^ Great list!

  • I adore old movies, so this list is fascinating to me.

    Years ago I saw an old movie which has since been taken out of circulation, and may be among the missing. “Hellzapoppin'”. It was an extremely funny movie, a story about imps coming to the earth from hell. Lots of funny effects (good for the time), and silly costumes.

  • Tony Zamora

    Enter your comment here.

  • sneak beagle

    i’d just say that the lost hours of Greed could be on this list

  • NLjaan

    #1 looks like a pedo.

  • moopersoup

    Never heard of any of these movies, I guess that’s why their lost

  • qarstala

    Theda Bara looked amazing in the Cleopatra stills. Such a shame that only a few of her movies are available today :(

  • AlphaBase1

    A fascinating list. Kudos.

  • JimNEPA

    Why do I remember having seen “Charlie Chan Carries On” on TV when I was a kid in the 70’s? I recall that Charlie didn’t appear in it until nearly half-way through. It was also one of the few films to feature the extended Chan family.

  • puroresupride18

    WTF!! No Blood Circus??!?!?

  • aws4cable

    I have to agree with ODV about #7 :: I didn’t think you should call Asians “orientals”. I thought that only applied to rugs and vases??

  • g3nov3s3

    I’m pretty sure you can find all these films on piratebay! They have even the most obscure B&W films ever made.

  • Evan

    Did anyone watch the presentation of ‘Fragments: Surviving Pieces of Lost film’ on TCM last spring? It had some found segments of a lot of films considered lost… including a reel of “The Way of the Flesh”. Be sure to watch if and when they ever re-air it.

  • cforeroo

    The first animated movie ever is a lost film: ‘El Apóstol’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Ap%C3%B3stol

  • mrprocrastinator

    Nice list. Checks netflix. =)

  • Gabryel

    wow . i didnt know much of these movies ! i love listverse !

  • Nicholas Stix

    I guess I’m naïve, but I assumed that those Jannings performances were available, and though I wasn’t aware of the Chaney pictures, I know how famous he was at the time, and am thus equally shocked that they were not preserved.

    The Bara pictures must have been among the most famous of those years, but that was so early that it is more understandable. But The Way of All Flesh?! The Patriot?! Chaney times three?!

  • Gothic

    D.W. Griffith 1916’s film INTOLERANCE should be number 1 in this list. It was considered ‘lost’ because of massive editing.

  • Jesse

    As offensive as it would be to have a white actor playing a “oriental” character, they should find it equally offensive that you are using the word “oriental”. The correct term is Asian. Oriental should only be used when describing objects, when it is used to describe a person it is archaic and derogatory.

  • I have been a huge fan of Lon Chaney all my life. West of Zanzibar and The Monster are my favorite Chaney films.Very intriguing list!

  • Vamp Lover

    Re the Theda Bara film, “Cleopatra”: I understand her costume was very skimpy in this, exposing nearly the entire breasts. Could this be part of the reason this film is lost? Did some overzealous censorious type choose to destroy the remaining copies because of Bara’s near nudity?

  • jason Smith

    What about The Rogue Song(sp?)? Or The Golum? Or HumorRisk, the only silent film that The Marx Brothers made?

  • in 1917 ty cobb became the first pro athlete to be featured in a movie “somewhere in georgia” no copies seem to exist.

  • Evan

    I have most of these on DVD. ;)

    • YouRang?

      You should upload them somewhere. A lot of people can’t find these.

  • Nice article; I’m a little disappointed that Von Stroheim’s original cut of GREED did not… errr… make the cut. Not only for the loss of the material, but for the drama that surrounds it.

  • Parad0xfool

    Great list. Very interesting.

  • Rick

    What about “I’ll Say She Is!”, the lost first Marx Brothers movie?

  • Lucia

    King Kong Appears in Edo