Best Charlie Chaplin Movies for Beginners in Classic Cinema

If you’re looking to step into the silent era of early cinema, there’s no name more important than Charlie Chaplin. The comedian, actor, writer and director is responsible for some of the funniest films ever made. Chaplin’s real life was littered with controversy and scandal. He is a figure who deserves both celebration for his cinematic achievements and the promotion of anti-fascism without bragging due to his scandalous real-life relationships. The Showtime Documentary The real Charlie Chaplin attempted to weigh in at least some of the reasons Chaplin’s legacy is so complex.

The 1992 biopic Chaplin featuring Robert Downey Jr. covers a good chunk of the life of “The Tramp,” but Chaplin’s work is now more readily available than ever thanks to streaming services like HBO Max and Kanopy. Before directing feature films, Chaplin made many short films. It’s fun to watch Chaplin’s early work and reflect on how the cinematic art form changed dramatically during his lifetime.


Chaplin was able to give himself a good start. He continued directing until his senior year and created moving films like Mr Verdoux and limelight which dealt with the consequences of aging. When limelight finally released in 1972, the film earned Chaplin a posthumous Oscar for Best Score, Original Dramatic Score. limelight explored the thoughts of an aging comedian and served as Chaplin’s commentary on how the film industry had evolved.

This can be overwhelming for moviegoers interested in exploring Chaplin’s films, as he was extremely prolific. These five films are a great starting point for new Chaplin fans.

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The Kid (1921)

Chaplin’s first feature film as a director was an early example of his heartfelt nature and showed how a simple story could be extended to narrative length. Chaplin had already succeeded with his “Little Tramp” character in short films and first series, but the child developed his crazy stunts into a real character who goes on an emotional journey. 100 years later, it’s still just as touching and entertaining.

Chaplin discovers an abandoned baby through a strange series of circumstances; the baby is left in an expensive car that is stolen, leaving the baby to live among poor working-class people like the tramp. The adventure picks up five years later when the boy has now grown into an exuberant child (Jackie Coogan) that the Tramp must protect from government services that try to separate them.

The Circus (1928)

The circus was among the most ambitious productions of Chaplin’s career, like a studio fire and many production delays nearly derailed production. Capturing circus performers was no easy task, as it required both the usual constraints of a live performance and the wacky chaos that The Tramp introduced. The circus was a significant development for Chaplin as a filmmaker on technical merit alone.

However, it was also a more emotionally mature film that introduced a bit of self-awareness to the stage performers that is surprisingly melancholic. The tramp is mistaken for a real thief and chased by the police, eventually earning a job at a run-down circus. Despite desperately seeking the ringmaster’s approval, The Tramp is only unintentionally funny.

City Lights (1931)

Although Chaplin’s later films explore more mature themes and develop more complex storylines, city ​​lights maybe is his most beautifully constructed work. It came at a critical time when Chaplin’s profession itself was in question; four years earlier, the success of 1927 The jazz singer meant that the era of silent movies might be over. city ​​lights was an act of defiance that garnered praise that inspired generations of other great filmmakers, including Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovskyand Damien Chazel. Chazelle continues her tribute to Chaplin with her next feature film, Babylon. Tobey Maguire would have been cast as Chaplin in the old movie of the Hollywood era.

Chaplin proved once again that even the simplest premises could be stretched to length, as the chaos of The Tramp introduced more than a few detours. In city ​​lights he is hopelessly in love with a blind girl (whom he comically adorns with flowers) and gets drawn into the indulgences of an eccentric billionaire. It is Chaplin’s most romantic film; the closing scene is one of the defining elements of pure movie magic.

Modern Times (1936)

Modern times was a breakthrough in many ways for Chaplin, as it was both the last time he portrayed The Tramp and the first of his films to incorporate audio dialogue (albeit briefly). He also responded to current events with a critical perspective, as the tramp was overwhelmed by the oppressive working conditions of industrialization. All it takes is a “flaw in the system” to create chaos, a role Chaplin was only too eager to play.

Modern times is an excellent time capsule for the Great Depression, and as a work of cinema it features the most tactile and ambitious stunt work in Chaplin’s entire filmography. The mechanical and rotating work facilities were brilliantly synchronized with Chaplin’s magnificent score, and the chaos Tramp introduced stood out even more amidst the automated environment. Yet the film is wrapped in a heartfelt narrative as the tramp woos orphan Ellen (Paulette Godard); it is this emotional quality that sets Chaplin apart from other silent film stars like Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

The Great Dictator (1940)

the great dictator is perhaps Chaplin’s most distinctive masterpiece, for it is difficult to exaggerate how brave he was to develop a parody version of Adolf Hitler even before the United States entered World War II. While movies like The Deadly Storm and casablanca came out around the same time and directly incorporated the Nazi menace, Chaplin’s unique blend of comedy was just as impactful. The simplest image of Chaplin playing with a bouncing globe conveyed the danger of leaving too much power in the hands of a leader.

Chaplin doubles roles expertly. He cast aside the character of Tramp for a role as an unnamed Jewish barber, who happens to be identical to Adenoid Hynkel, the fascist dictator of the fictional nation of Tomonia. The barber is naturally able to disguise himself as a ruthless leader in order to escape persecution, and while his misadventures in managing a war effort feature as many sight gags as his previous work, they came as a dark prophecy. world events. Chaplin’s final monologue in particular was both a brave political statement and proof that he was equally impactful with a voice.

the great dictator went on to serve as an inspirational satirical work for modern filmmakers. Writer/director Taika Waititi quoted Chaplin’s masterpiece as one of the main inspirations for his satirical World War II film JoJo Rabbit. Similar to Chaplin, Waititi made the bold choice to play the role of the fearsome dictator himself. The fact that JoJo Rabbit was surrounded by so much controversy due to his comedic take on fascism shows just how much of a breakthrough the great dictator continues to be. It’s not easy to construct a movie that’s as hilarious as it is insightful, but Chaplin pulled it off.

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