What Are The Top 10 Oldest Films? (That Still Survive)

This is a version of an article I wrote for Classic Movie Hub a few years back. I hope you find it as interesting as I did while researching it! And if you’re interested, I also published a piece on Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) back in the early days of Silent-ology.

We’ve all seen clips of scratchy, very early films showing women dancing or blacksmiths at work, films that are more like experimental documentaries than anything else. But have you ever wondered: what were the top 10 earliest films ever made?

Today in History - August 31 | Library of Congress
Image credit: Library of Congress

It’s not an easy list to make, anymore than it’s easy to decide which of the many Victorian inventors receives the most credit for the cinema (Marey? Edison? Muybridge? Friese-Greene??). First we have to determine what counts as “film.” After all, before the use of light-sensitive paper and celluloid several photographers had invented cameras capable of taking multiple photos in quick succession. These could capture, say, an animal’s precise movements one quick shot at a time. (Eadweard Muybridge pioneered this method.) But it’s often agreed that the earliest true films were the ones shot on light-sensitive strips of material much the way they are today (or were, until digital started taking over).

Lumiere Cinematographe, 1895. at Science and Society Picture Library
The Lumière cinematograph.

It’s also tough to determine an exact chronology for the earliest films since every studio would’ve had a period of experimentation, and presumably many of those experiments didn’t survive. So the following list should be considered a little less Gospel than guideline on what we know exists. In cases where a “series” of brief films were shot by the same studio in the same vague time frame, I’ll be counting them as a single entry.

So let’s start with the very oldest surviving film in the entire world:

Continue reading