The Visionaries, Madmen, and Tinkerers Who Created the Future That Never Was
SILENT F&SF MOVIES ON YOUTUBE 1895 - 1929
Silent movies did more to shape the public's mental image of fantasy and science fiction than anything other than a few famous names and books until the 1930s. More than 200 such films were made worldwide, most of them original, many of them adaptations of those famous names and their books. The fragility of the film stock and the pervasive attitude that films were as ephemeral as newspapers resulted in the loss of more than half of these films. Others survive only as carefully guarded prints in the temperature and humidity-controlled vaults of archival sites.
Want to see the rest? YouTube has them, by the dozens. (Other sites do as well, but YouTube is hugest, adds more treasures every minute, and works easily with this software.) YouTube isn't catalogued. There are many lists of silent films, but all seem to be individual and idiosyncratic rather than comprehensive. Nor is the information provided about the films systematized. What is needed is an index, and that's what I'm doing here.
I'm using as my primary sources A Reference Guide to American Science Fiction Films, volume 1, by A. W. Strickland and Forrest J. Ackerman (T.I.S. Publications, Bloomington, IN, 1981) and the more global Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies by Phil Hardy (Woodbury Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1986). I've supplemented their entries with more up-to-date information and tried to reconcile contradictions, omissions, and errors. Complete information on many older, foreign, and obscure movies is impossible to find. I warn everyone that this is a handy short guide to viewing, not a completist reference source.
A more difficult problem is that what should be included as "science fiction" is a subjective and slippery notion. The very earliest films Hardy includes are more trick photography than anything moderns would consider f&sf. Georges Méliès, for all his importance, did dozens of films with actors costumed supernaturally that in the end are just vanishes or appearances created by cutting film. Their importance to give some historical context demanded the inclusion of a few early ones, but I left out numerous others by Méliès that are easily findable. Most filmmakers quickly went past such basic tricks and into plotted stories as audiences grew more sophisticated every year. Horror stories would move past science fiction as a prime source over time but most would argue they are a separate genre. Some had an entry in one of my sources: I've excluded the others. Even so, a full 82 titles remain.
This index is in chronological order by year, and alphabetical within a year. The exact date of first release is sometimes not known or is disputed among sources. I've tried to give the best current information. Titles are given in the language of origin, with English translations or American titles as appropriate. Many movies were re-released with new titles, sometimes officially, sometimes not: I've tried to list all variants. Who gets credit for the movie is oddly arbitrary. For the very earliest movies, roles that we consider distinct and important today were frequently blurred. The producer, director, cinematographer, and screenwriter could sometimes be one and the same. Actors, however, were frequently anonymous and interchangeable. That changed tremendously by the end of the silent era. Producers are another problem, with only the production company and not the individual known for many films. Go to IMDb.com for more complete information.
When more than one copy of a film is available on YouTube, I've arbitrarily picked only one. That one should be watchable and is likely to have the most footage - and I've given preference to those with English intertitles or added subtitles - but don't take my link as an endorsement or an opinion in any way, and certainly not as a disparagement of the ones not linked. I thank all the people who have done the hard work of getting these films before the public. Nothing should be implied by my including a posting here. This page is a convenience only. If you know of a movie I've overlooked, please let me know. Additionally, movies I've linked to sometimes disappear from YouTube. I check periodically to update these pages, but if you see a blank screen please go to the contact tab and send me a note.
I needed to subdivide the listing into four pages, because of the loading time from YouTube. You can get from any page to any other through links at the bottom, as well as the menu.