10 Best Charlie Chaplin Movies

10 Best Charlie Chaplin Movies

Charlie Chaplin needs little introduction. He was one of the three great silent-era comedians — along with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He is perhaps known best for his character “the Tramp,” a well-intentioned but hapless vagrant who stumbles through life in ways that are comedic for the audience. His timeless physical comedic sensibilities continue to excite audiences of any age — but Chaplin had range well outside comedy. His films—no matter how funny — often had a sizeable heart to them. In his later years his films frequently featured more dramatic tones. However, he will probably continue to be best remembered for his comedy — and rightfully so, as he was a groundbreaking figure in the genre. Comedy, drama or both — here are his ten best films.

 

City Lights (1931)

Of his continuing series of films featuring Chaplin’s “Tramp” persona — City Lights is arguably his most beloved. A romantic comedy in a way only Chaplin could pull off, “the Tramp” falls in love with a blind woman but struggles to woo her due to his low social status and hilariously poor luck. Chaplin frequently toes the line between funny and sweet, especially in this film.

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Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times marked the final appearance of “The Tramp” on screen. As an industrial worker, he struggles to survive on the assembly line. The machines abuse him — which results in a nervous breakdown. The poor goofball is subjected to a series of ensuing comedic mishaps, which result in continuing run-ins with the law. It is one of Chaplin’s funnier films, if not the funniest.

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The Great Dictator (1940)

After years of resisting the rise of sound in film, Chaplin released The Great Dictator, his first “talkie.” In the film — one of the greatest satires in the history of cinema — a Jewish barber (Chaplin) is mistaken for the fascist dictator of the fictional nation of Tomainia (a parody of Adolf Hitler, also played by Chaplin), due to their similar appearance. It carefully and expertly walks a line of slapstick and serious drama.

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The Gold Rush (1925)

Chaplin’s transports his timeless “Tramp” persona into the late-nineteenth century Klondike Gold Rush in his aptly-named film The Gold Rush. The unlucky gold prospector finds himself snowed in a cabin with a more-successful prospector and a wanted criminal. Typical Chaplin silliness ensues as the trio struggles to stay alive with a shortage of food. It is yet another hilarious silent film from one of the masters of the genre.

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The Kid (1921)

The Kid was Chaplin’s first feature-length film. In it, “the Tramp” finds an abandoned child and reluctantly takes him as his own. Together they run schemes — breaking windows and then fixing them — until a run-in with the police threatens his guardianship of the boy, forcing them to go on the run. It is one of Chaplin’s most emotionally affecting pieces, at least of the silent era.

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The Circus (1928)

Chaplin’s impoverished “Tramp” stumbles his way into a circus and accidentally becomes a huge hit. The “Tramp” — like Chaplin himself, to an extent—is unlucky in love but continues to try. Nonetheless, “The Tramp” has an unsinkable spirit — and it is on clear display in this film.

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Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

In the years of his waning popularity, Chaplin released a black comedy called Monsieur Verdoux. The eponymous Henri Verdoux makes ends meet by marrying wealthy widows and subsequently murdering them. While not initially popular in the United States, it did well in Europe and has since been given praise worldwide.

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Limelight (1952)

Limelight is as near a tragedy as Chaplin gets. He plays a washed-up old stage comedian in 1914, at the cusp of the First World War. He, a drunkard, forms a bond with an unsuccessful and suicidal young dancer. Together they work to support each other. The film features the only collaboration between Chaplin and fellow silent-era Goliath, Buster Keaton, who plays Chaplin’s characters old stage partner. It is an oft-forgotten but worthwhile piece of Chaplin’s oeuvre.

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A Woman of Paris (1923)

Chaplin as an actor is featured in a small role in the film A Woman of Paris, but considering he wrote and directed the film, it deserves mention. During a trip to Paris, a young woman finds herself torn between her wealthy fiance and her old flame — who has a more modest social standing and a history of being hesitant to commit. It is a sturdy film and one of Chaplin’s few cut-and-dry dramas.

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A King in New York (1957)



At the height of the McCarthyist anti-communist movement, Chaplin was denied re-entry to the United States. A King in New York — which he produced in Europe — was a satire of this affair. Chaplin plays a king exiled from his home country (the fictional Estrovia) due to a revolution and ends up in America. The king stumbles into the public eye and he draws both ire and adoration. It is an important film which illustrates Chaplin’s view of the United States.

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Weekend: May. 23, 2019, May. 26, 2019

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