Born in London, Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) became the biggest – and richest – silent film star of his generation. Today, several of his films, including “Modern Times”, “City Lights” and “The Kid” are considered cinema classics. (All three have been ranked among the 55 best movies ever made.)
Chaplin was born into a showbiz family, but his father was an alcoholic and his mother had a nervous breakdown, leaving him and his brother in the care of boarding schools and workhouses. In 1897 he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog dancing act. Eventually he made his way to the United States, where he made his debut in Mack Sennett comedies.
It is in these films that Chaplin creates the role for which he will become famous: the Little Tramp. With his tight jacket, his melon, his baggy pants and his cane, the tramp has starred in many Chaplin films. Early 20th-century audiences adored the character’s courageous optimism and apparent ability to overcome obstacles.
To determine the best Charlie Chaplin films, 24/7 Tempo has created an index based on the ratings of IMDban Amazon-owned online film and TV database, and Tomatormeter and Audience scores from rotten tomatoesan online film and television review aggregator, for the 11 feature films he made during his 53-year film career (in which he also starred in all but two).
Click here to see Charlie Chaplin’s best and worst films as a director
In 1919, Chaplin together with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and DW Griffith founded United Artists. Three of his most famous and beloved works – “A Woman in Paris”, “The Gold Rush” and “The Circus” – were released under this studio. (Here’s a look at life in the Roaring Twenties.)
Chaplin was in some ways ahead of his time. He ventured into political commentary in “The ‘Great Dictator,’ which pokes fun at Hitler and other dictators of the 1940s. The film ends with Chaplin’s searing monologue supporting democracy and imploring the people of love each other, words that still resonate today.” Modern Times is his satire on industrialization.
For all his success, however, Chaplin’s life was not without controversy. His bitter marriages and divorces to women much younger than him earned him rebuke from conservatives. In 1952 he was prevented from returning to the United States by opponents of his policies and moved to Switzerland. Chaplin’s only color film, “The Countess from Hong Kong” (1967), was a box office failure.
In 1972, however, Chaplin returned to the United States to receive an honorary Oscar. Three years later, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1977, Chaplin died, leaving behind a rich cinematic legacy and an incalculable influence on cinematic comedy to come.