Best Decade for Film: 1920s

Gavin Schmitt’s stats: Highest Rated Decade for Film

Based on my Letterboxd stats, I rated the 1920s the highest on average, followed by the 1910s and 1930s. We can make a broad observation from this: clearly I prefer older film, maybe even things 100 years old or more! Perhaps not surprising for someone who works professionally as a historian.

Letterboxd Screen Capture

1980s Films

There is some clarification I would add to this observation, however. Despite what the stats say, if someone asked me what decade of film I enjoy the most, I would invariably say the 1980s. There was a real sense of fun and adventure in that decade, special effects were at just the right level (compare the original Star Wars trilogy to the re-released versions). There was a little bit of risk in what could be called PG (see Goonies (affiliate link)). Some of it hasn’t aged well, such as the homophobia and the way sexual assault was presented (see John Hughes films). But as a whole, the films of this decade have remained a part of pop culture in a way nothing before had and few films since have.

Why the 1920s was the best decade for film

So why does Letterboxd think I prefer the 1910s-1930s? The answer is simple. Because we’re working with averages. Some of the most enjoyable movies may have come out in the 1980s, but there was also an overwhelming amount of forgettable garbage as the VHS era arrived. Movies could be made cheaper, get distribution easier, and the quality (on average) fell. If anything, this is more true today, as the outlets have increased – 100s of streaming channels, and the ability to film and edit a movie from your smart phone. We are ALL directors now, and frankly most of us are terrible.

This is not to say cheap movies are bad, or independent movies are bad, or movies made with a phone are bad. Most are, but the real geniuses will shine through. Some of my all time favorite movies were made on a shoestring budget, by amateurs and without permits.

Getting back to the early decades, the scores on average are high because of the inherent skill involved. Were there bad movies in the silent era? Without a doubt. But in general, you probably didn’t get financed if you didn’t know how to operate a camera (all manual, hand-cranked) and you didn’t know how to edit (none of this digital stuff, but endless yards of film that was literally cut and re-assembled). Only the best made it, and only the best have been preserved for time.

Innovation gets a Higher Rating

Finally, I’m willing to give someone’s film an extra star for innovation. In the 1920s, each new camera angle was an innovation. The stunts were bolder and often without stunt doubles (see Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton). And in the silent era, an actor had to express every range of emotion on their face without any verbal cues or even non-verbal indicators (sighs, groans, and other emotive body language).

How often does a film in 2022 say or do something that’s never been done before? Hardly ever, if at all.

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