The Top Ten Films of 1935
At the end of the year, as we do every year, we’ll be counting down the Top Ten Films of 2015 according to Flickchart’s global rankings. In the months leading up to that, we’re going to be taking a look-back and seeing what Flickchart users think are the best movies of ten, twenty, thirty years ago and so on.
Previously in this series, we’ve tackled 1945, 1975, 1985, and 2005. Now it’s time to jump back eighty years and look at 1935.
In 1935, the United States (and much of the world) was still struggling through the economic hardships of the Great Depression, which was exacerbated in some parts of the country due to the severe drought known as the Dust Bowl in 1934-1936. With US unemployment reaching 25% in 1933 (lowering to 9% by 1937), going to the movies was a relatively cheap pastime and 1930s audiences flocked to the theatres to see escapist musicals, prestige dramas, and screwball comedies – the star system was in full swing here, offering Depression-era audiences glimpses of a more glamorous and well-off life.
Top box office stars in 1935 were cheery moppet Shirley Temple, folksy Will Rogers, hunky Clark Gable, sparkling dancers Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, and working-girl-who-could Joan Crawford. Several of these stars are featured in Flickchart’s Top Ten from 1935, which highlights the era’s interest in both light and serious fare – Anna Karenina and Mutiny on the Bounty were big box office hits alongside the more escapist Top Hat and China Seas. Mutiny on the Bounty also has the distinction of being the most recent film to win a Best Picture Oscar without winning any other award – yep, that’s never happened in the 80 years since. All three main actors were also nominated for Best Actor, but all lost to The Informer‘s Victor McLaglen.
The second-biggest box-office hit of the year, after Mutiny, was Becky Sharp, which isn’t even near Flickchart’s Top Ten. It is historically notable, though, as being the first full-color feature film, a technical novelty that undoubtedly contributed to its popularity in 1935. In other big film firsts, Porky Pig was introduced as the first enduring member of the Looney Tunes cast – the cartoon series had been around for five years, but such stars as Bosko, Buddy, and Foxy were phased out mid-decade and have been largely forgotten.
What other films have endured throughout the past 80 years and made their way into Flickcharter’s hearts? Read on to find out!
#10. Anna Karenina
The 1935 Anna Karenina was MGM and Greta Garbo‘s second stab at Tolstoy’s tragic romance. The first was a 1927 silent film called Love, which had paired Garbo with John Gilbert. By the mid-1930s sound had taken over, and expensive, star-studded “A” pictures were MGM’s stock in trade. The dusky, husky-voiced Garbo was still a draw, but Gilbert’s career had not survived the recent technological revolution in the industry, and he was replaced as the love-struck Count Vronsky by Fredric March, an Academy Award-winning talkie star. Also joining the cast was the alluring Maureen O’Sullivan, well-known to audiences for her role as Jane in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. Basil Rathbone completed the principle cast, and Anna Karenina gave him a typically imperious, but unusually sympathetic, role as Anna’s nervous, cuckolded husband. Most David O. Selznick productions have at least one “how did they do that?” shot, and in Anna Karenina it comes right at the beginning: a reverse dolly shot down a very long dinner table packed with fine dishes and candlesticks. Later in the film there is some spectacular work with lighting — a swaying nightlight for the child played by Freddie Bartholomew (Captains Courageous), and candelabras that burst into flame when their dangling wicks are lit from below. The story doesn’t always sparkle, being too condensed at 95 minutes to do justice to the source, but as a study in star power and an example of the MGM house style it is a fine achievement. – David Conrad
- Currently ranked #3559 of all time
- Ranked 1331 times by 174 users
- Wins 34% of matchups
#9. A Tale of Two Cities
Once upon a time, when you wanted to adapt a work of classic literature, you just adapted a work of classic literature. No post-ironic winking, no Romeo and Juliet with guns, no Johnny Depp singing. Just a straightforward translation of the book to the screen. Twice in 1935 the legendary Selznick did just that: once with our number 10, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and again with Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The latter works a bit better, as its higher Flickchart position suggests. In a sprawling sequence midway through, the camera looks down from a great distance as hundreds of extras storm the Bastille. Probably this is a prototype of the famous crane shot in Selznick’s Gone with the Wind (1939), but don’t dissect this costume pageant looking for pieces of film history. Instead, let its simple tragedy and romance sweep you away, because they don’t make them like this anymore. A Tale of Two Cities features fully committed performances from Ronald Colman as the lovably-misanthropic Sydney Carton, Blanche Yurka as the deliciously demoniac Madame Defarge, and the peerless Basil Rathbone as a smirking, perfume-wearing marquis. A solid and representative product of the studio era, this is Flickcharters’ favorite Tale of Two Cities adaptation by a wide margin. – David
- Currently ranked #3174 of all time
- Ranked 1873 times by 208 users
- Wins 37% of matchups
#8. The Informer
You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see German Expressionist stylistics in a John Ford film, who tends to be more naturalistic and, well, American in his styles and themes, but this simple story of Gypo (Victor McLaglen), an Irish man who informs on the IRA for the £20 reward, is filled with shadows and formalism and fog and hopelessness to the point that if this had been made 10 years later, it would’ve been considered a straight-up film noir without any hesitation. In 1935, its closest analogue is Fritz Lang‘s M (1931, also considered a proto-noir), right down to the underworld trial at the end with their respective impassioned pleas for understanding. Of course, an informer is not much compared to a child murderer, but the very mundanity of Gypo’s crime adds to its poignancy. Where the film feels the most like a John Ford film is in the loving portrayals of the Irish working class, especially when Gypo gets careless with his new-found informer cash and goes out on the town with a buddy – this kind of everyman camaraderie turns up often in Ford, and he would return memorably to the Irish milieu without the Expressionist veneer in the well-beloved The Quiet Man. – Jandy Hardesty
- Currently ranked #2710 of all time
- Ranked 3898 times by 229 users
- Wins 40% of matchups
#7. Mad Love
The one-sentence description of this film from Warner Archive reads: “Insane Dr. Gogol grafts the hands of murderer onto a pianist in order to steal the musician’s alluring wife.” Because really, what else would you do if you were in love with someone else’s wife? When Dr. Gogol is played by Peter Lorre, you know you’re REALLY in for a treat, and that’s exactly what this is. It’s directed by Karl Freund, who isn’t a well-known name as a director (this was actually the last of only a handful of features he directed), but glance over a partial list of films that credit him as cinematographer: The Golem (1920), The Last Laugh (1924), Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931). Freund was a clearly a major force in German Expressionism, and Mad Love is like a fever dream of Expressionist style, with extreme shadows, heightened acting, and a satisfying sense of the poetic complementing its crazed story perfectly. – Jandy
- Currently ranked #2545 of all time
- Ranked 2856 times by 175 users
- Wins 43% of matchups
#6. Mutiny on the Bounty
The first American film adaption of the famous Bounty mutiny remains the best. Directed by Frank Lloyd, this film represents the peak of his career. Pitting Clark Gable, ever the rebel and fierce spirit, against the domineering performance of Charles Laughton was simply put a genius move. The two actors clash beautifully as the tension of the HMS Bounty keeps the audience engrossed for the majority of the running time. Historical inaccuracies aside, the film makes good on the promise of the poster by presenting the classic tale of freedom struggling against tyranny. The final victory of the mutineers will fill your heart with joy, though the film begins to meander following the success of the mutiny. This film is a must see for any fan of Clark Gable and a definite cornerstone of cinema having managed to capture the Best Picture Award for 1935. – Connor Ryan Adamson
- Currently ranked #1145 of all time
- Ranked 11102 times by 582 users
- Wins 50% of matchups
#5. Captain Blood
Errol Flynn was the clear successor to Douglas Fairbanks‘ dormant swashbuckling crown, and Captain Blood unleashed his derring-do upon the world. It also paired him with leading lady Olivia de Havilland for the first of eight films they made together. Set in the late 16th century, the film follows Dr. Peter Blood, a man whose apolitical stance is tested and broken thanks to being lumped in with the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II of England and deported as a slave to the West Indies. He maintains a sense of honor when he escape and turns to piracy, but that doesn’t keep him from becoming one of the most feared and hunted pirates in the Caribbean. Flynn’s charisma, de Havilland’s charm, a solid script with inspirational speeches that actually inspire, a healthy dash of bravado humor, and exciting action sequences combine to make this a worthy template for the rest of Flynn’s swashbuckling career. – Jandy
- Currently ranked #819 of all time
- Ranked 9176 times by 507 users
- Wins 54% of matchups
#4. Top Hat
To get to the core of the great musical, I don’t think there’s any better place to start than with the classic team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and their finest film Top Hat. Top Hat works so well in that it’s primarily a fantastic screwball of the 1930s that would work without all the singing and dancing, but it just so happens to have one of the greatest dancers of all time in it and music from the legendary Irving Berlin. Top Hat features some of Berlin’s best songs, especially “Cheek to Cheek” and the ridiculously catchy “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails.” Top Hat is beginning-to-end charming, as Rogers and Astaire’s meet-cute actually works and their romance is incredibly believable. It’s a simple story, but it features some of the best aspects of the musical at the top of their game. If you want to get into the genre, there’s no better place to start than with the best. – Ross Bonaime
- Currently ranked #369 of all time
- Ranked 13883 times by 969 users
- Wins 51% of matchups
#3. The 39 Steps
You can mount a convincing argument that Alfred Hitchcock spent the rest of his career reworking this biggest hit of his British career, returning to its elements of cross-country chase and espionage again and again, from The Lady Vanishes (1938) to Saboteur (1942) to North by Northwest (1959). Robert Donat‘s Richard Hannay is a template for many of Hitchcock’s spy movie “wrong men,” an innocent bystander pulled into an espionage plot through mistaken identity who decides to see it through to the end after all, and Madeleine Carroll‘s Pamela, initially forced to join Hannah against her will but eventually convinced of his trustworthiness, is one of Hitchcock’s earliest quintessential cool blondes. This type of film was second nature for Hitch, and he’d “run and cover” films like this as bread and butter while working out details on more difficult projects. That’s not to take anything away from The 39 Steps or its spiritual successors – it remains among the most entertaining films Hitchcock ever made, and that’s no mean feat. Hitchcock was a huge fan of author John Buchan (despite his many changes from the novel) and tried several to times to bring other Buchan novels to the screen, though none of his other Buchan projects managed to come to fruition. – Jandy
- Currently ranked #206 of all time
- Ranked 38628 times by 2632 users
- Wins 48% of matchups
#2. A Night at the Opera
While 1933’s Marx Brothers offering Duck Soup sits all the way up at #117 on the global charts, their next film is a close contender for Flickcharters, less than a hundred spots further down. A Night at the Opera is far less satirical and far more reliant on plot than its predecessor, with a story revolving around a group of non-comic characters and the comedic gags spread throughout in between dramatic scenes. As might be expected from the title, there are also plenty of operatic musical performances. If you go into the movie expecting nothing but nonstop laughs from beginning to end, the recurring storyline might seem like a drag, but the songs are nicely done, and the drama acts as the movie’s straight man, giving viewers a break so that when the Marx Brothers come back on screen, we’re ready to laugh all over again. This movie also includes some of the Brothers’ best bits, such as a now-iconic scene where a tiny cruise ship cabin fills with people and a bizarre chase in and out of two hotel rooms. Even if you don’t get pulled into the dramatic storyline, the comedic gags are well worth the wait, and anyone who likes their comedies goofy and absurd will find more than enough laughs to concur with the movie’s well-deserved inclusion on this list. – Hannah Keefer
- Currently ranked #197 of all time
- Ranked 33336 times by 2285 users
- Wins 52% of matchups
#1. Bride of Frankenstein
Of all the Universal monsters, Frankenstein’s monster has always been the most sympathetic, never fitting into the world that he was forced back into. He’s literally a freak of nature and his reactions from others only further that belief. While Frankenstein (1931) is largely about a monster who can’t find his place, Bride of Frankenstein is even more heartbreaking in the monster’s search for someone that can truly understand him, thinking he finds that, then is sorely mistaken.
Frankenstein’s monster is a character of solitude, reaching for a human connection that he will never find because he’s so different. In Frankenstein, he tries to befriend a little girl, which goes horribly wrong and in Bride of Frankenstein, his quiet scene with a blind hermit has him once again getting so close to finding what he searches for, only for it to fail him again. But Bride of Frankenstein is also brilliant in its subversion, with the film focusing on creating a partner for the monster, only to have her reject him immediately. Much like the monster didn’t ask to be brought into the world again as a lonely experiment, the eponymous “bride of Frankenstein” never asked to be brought into the world as a prize for the monster.
Director James Whale takes Mary Shelley’s original book and adds a layer of loneliness and sadness that was lacking, while adding depth and fleshing out Universal’s finest monster. With Bride of Frankenstein, Whale made not only of the best early horror films, but also created a beautiful story of searching, love not returned and female empowerment. It’s also surprisingly funny given its deep themes, making it rare treasure of thoughtful entertainment. – Ross
- Currently ranked #193 of all time
- Ranked 35547 times by 2226 users
- Wins 56% of matchups
The above list is Flickchart’s Global Top 10 for 1935, calculated based on the rankings of all users. We wanted to showcase some of our own personal favorites, so each of us picked a favorite film (or two) of 1935 NOT included in the Global Top 10.
Ben Shoemaker – Ruggles of Red Gap
Ruggles of Red Gap is a delightful comedy-of-manners that starts off in cultured Paris and then shifts to rural America. Charles Laughton stars as a stuffy butler who is transferred when his British Lord loses him in a poker game. His new employers are two nouveau riche Americans who don’t quite see eye-to-eye: Effie (Mary Boland) is hopeful that Ruggles and his upper-class background will straighten out her uncouth husband while Egbert (Charlie Ruggles) would rather sneak off and drink a few beers with his buddies. Ruggles is caught in the middle and tries to navigate the situation as best as he can (with some amusing results). Eventually, the three all head to the frontier town of Red Gap, Washington. In the United States, Ruggles is mistaken for a retired colonel and he becomes a local celebrity. While adapting to life in a totally new environment, he gets a taste for independence. After a time, he is receptive to his employer’s urging to lighten up and live like an American. He even falls for an American love interest (played charmingly by ZaSu Pitts). Ultimately, his false identity is found out, throwing all of his relationships into disarray. He must decide what he wants to make of his life, and whether to return to England or stick it out in America. The highlight of the film is Laughton’s recitation of the Gettysburg Address, which strikes a serious and inspiring note in the midst of the film’s comedic kerfuffle.
- Currently ranked #3611 of all time
- Ranked 1713 times by 68 users
- Wins 52% of matchups
Jandy Hardesty – The Little Colonel
Though Shirley Temple was the top box office star in 1935, her highest 1935 film on Flickchart is only ranked #38 for the year – and it’s The Littlest Rebel, not The Little Colonel). This is my favorite Temple film, though, and it’s well worth a look. It’s a post-Civil War era story playing on the continuing rifts between North and South as Temple’s mother in the film left her Southern estate to marry a northerner, gaining the ire of her very Confederate father. When the young family, now with child in tow, return to live nearby, little Temple forges a contentious friendship with crotchety grandfather, played by the always entertaining Lionel Barrymore. There’s a predictable third act dramatic climax to bring the family back together, and there’s the unfortunate systemic racism you’d expect in a 1935 film set in the South in the 1870s, but along with that we get to see wonderful performances from Hattie McDaniel (three years prior to Gone With the Wind, but also playing a mammy) and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who performs the first on-screen interracial dance number with Temple. To give you an idea of what racism was like in 1935, this innocuous number of a black man dancing up the steps with a little white girl was cut out of the film when it played in the South. Sometimes in classic-era Hollywood it was possible to be both racist and progressive at the same time.
- Currently ranked #12517 of all time
- Ranked 971 times by 69 users
- Wins 38% of matchups
David Conrad – Triumph of the Will
A quiet critical rift sprang up around Triumph of the Will when Roger Ebert entered it into his Great Movies list. It was a great movie, he said, not because it was good, but because of its reputation. Ebert seemed strangely, perhaps uniquely conflicted: while he gave it four stars, he harshly criticized Leni Riefenstahl’s directing and editing choices. It is “a terrible film,” he said, and not just because it worships Hitler — it fails as propaganda because “I doubt that anyone not already a Nazi could be swayed by it.” Ebert flew in the face of longstanding critical consensus, which held that Riefenstahl had artfully and powerfully documented the fiery rhetoric that made Hitler so popular in 1930s Germany. An orthodox appreciation of the film still holds sway among many critics. Just this year, the website Little White Lies named Triumph of the Will one of the 100 best films by a female director and said “it’s hard to conceive of cinematic modernity without” it. Both views are correct in their own ways. The key is to recognize that it is not a movie about Hitler. He rants and raves and shakes his finger as the camera looks up at him, but then, very smartly, Riefenstahl cuts away to the crowd. She shows the militarized German population, including workers and children, preparing for the event, and she shows the officious, robotic standing ovations that Hitler receives between his lines. Ebert saw “merely” a bunch of Nazis. Little White Lies recognizes the “ornamental” value of the masses. Few, perhaps, have recognized what Riefenstahl really gave us: an answer to the question “How did this happen?” It happened because the people let it happen.
- Currently ranked #3994 of all time
- Ranked 5527 times by 365 users
- Wins 36% of matchups
Ben – China Seas
China Seas is equal parts B-movie adventure and A-list melodrama. A steamship sets out from Singapore headed for Hong Kong. The rugged captain (Clark Gable) has his hands full with a pair of former girlfriends: one fiery (Jean Harlow) and one refined (Rosalind Russell). They all spar lightly with each other (and some of the other passengers) as the voyage gets underway. Love triangles are all about unequal sides – and unequal relationships. Sparks fly when they all sit down for dinner together. The captain tries to keep it all under control, as there is a shipment of gold aboard the ship. After weathering a typhoon (an impressive display of special effects for the time), they are attacked by pirates, which pushes the relationships to the breaking point. While the typhoon and pirate attack are entertaining, the big draw is the on-screen chemistry of Gable and Harlow, who sizzle despite the restrictions of the Hays Code (the Code was adopted in 1930 but wasn’t strictly enforced until about 1934.)
- Currently ranked #9904 of all time
- Ranked 201 times by 21 users
- Wins 38% of matchups
Jandy – Roberta
We already have one Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film in the Top Ten, and Top Hat is generally considered one of their best films (usually ranked either first or second to 1936’s Swing Time), but Roberta, made the same year, barely registers except for die-hard Astaire-Rogers fans. The film definitely has its charms, though – Astaire and Rogers basically play second leads here to Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott, who were major stars in the 1930s and play partners in a European dress shop (it’s more convoluted than that). Without the need to carry the plot, Fred and Ginger can let loose a bit, and Ginger’s turn as an American girl impersonating a Polish countess is a bit of a scream. The other major selling point is one of Jerome Kern’s most beautiful scores, with songs including “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (no, The Platters didn’t do it first) and “Yesterdays,” and two that became #1 hits in 1935, “I Won’t Dance” and “Lovely to Look At” (which would also become the name of a 1952 remake which is fun, but not as much fun as Roberta). Likely only Fred and Ginger completists have checked out Roberta, and more people definitely should.
- Currently ranked #5221 of all time
- Ranked 1339 times by 127 users
- Wins 34% of matchups