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The best black and white films of all time

  • The best black and white films of all time
    1/ Liberty Films (II)

    The best black and white films of all time

    The process for creating moving color film was patented by Edward Turner and Frederick Marshall Lee in 1899. Their first test films, rediscovered only recently, debuted between 1901 and 1903 as the world's first color movies.  

    This ingenious breakthrough hardly signaled the end of the black-and-white film era, however. In fact, Hollywood would release almost exclusively black-and-white movies for decades to come. Even after 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" dazzled audiences with the magic of Technicolor—which had actually been around since 1917—directors, producers, and studio shot-callers continued to opt for the comparatively inexpensive artistic charm of black-and-white film.

    Even in the modern era, some filmmakers—like Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg—continue to rely on the simplicity, nostalgia, and anachronistic value of black and white over the computer-generated graphics, 3-D, IMAX, and dazzling special effects that are available today.

    If you're a film buff, you may want to brush up on your black-and-white classics. From early groundbreaking silent films to modern masterpieces, here are the best black-and-white movies ever to appear on the big screen, according to data from IMDb. Stacker used the data to determine the top 50 English-language movies that received at least 5,000 votes and ranked them in order from lowest number of votes to highest. In case of a tie, the win went to the film that received more votes.  

    ALSO: Do you know your movie trivia for the top 100 films of all time?

  • #50. Touch of Evil
    2/ Universal International Pictures (UI)

    #50. Touch of Evil

    IMDb rating: 8.1

    IMDb votes: 86,856

    Release year: 1958

    Director: Orson Welles

    Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh lead the cast in this tale of murder, crime and corruption. Orson Welles also wrote the screenplay for the film, which is based on the novel "Badge of Evil" by Whit Masterson.

  • #49. 8½
    3/ Cineriz

    #49. 8½

    IMDb rating: 8.1

    IMDb votes: 94,712

    Release year: 1963

    Director: Federico Fellini

    Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale star in this dramatic exploration of a movie director's psychological journey into his own mind. The Italian movie won two Oscars, one for Best Foreign Language Film and one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.

  • #48. Rebecca
    4/ Selznick International Pictures

    #48. Rebecca

    IMDb rating: 8.1

    IMDb votes: 104,949

    Release year: 1940

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine portray the de Winter couple in this Hitchcock mystery, which tells the tale of a woman who is psychologically tortured by the thoughts of her widower husband's late wife. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as for Best Cinematography, Black and White, while picking up nine other nominations.  

  • #47. Roman Holiday
    5/ Paramount Pictures

    #47. Roman Holiday

    IMDb rating: 8.1

    IMDb votes: 113,062

    Release year: 1953

    Director: William Wyler

    In "Roman Holiday," Audrey Hepburn plays a frustrated princess in Rome who falls in love with an American journalist (played by Gregory Peck) after escaping the boring confines of her royal obligations. Hepburn's Oscar for Best Actress was among the three Academy Awards the movie won.

  • #46. The Maltese Falcon
    6/ Warner Bros.

    #46. The Maltese Falcon

    IMDb rating: 8.1

    IMDb votes: 133,984

    Release year: 1941

    Director: John Huston

    One of history's most celebrated film noir mysteries, "The Maltese Falcon" stars Mary Astor, Gladys George, and Humphrey Bogart in a tale that involves a private eye, a gang of crooks, and a gorgeous manipulator on the hunt for a valuable statue. It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture.

  • #45. The Little Foxes
    7/ Samuel Goldwyn Company, The

    #45. The Little Foxes

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 8,683

    Release year: 1941

    Director: William Wyler

    This dramatic romance is a tale of betrayal, wealth, and poison in the Deep South. The film, which was nominated for nine Oscars, is one of the most celebrated films of Bette Davis' career.

  • #44. Trouble in Paradise
    8/ Paramount Pictures

    #44. Trouble in Paradise

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 11,031

    Release year: 1932

    Director: Ernst Lubitsch

    Jealousy and romance complicate matters in this film, which follows a pair of thieves who join forces to con a rich business executive. Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall lead the cast.  

  • #43. The Heiress
    9/ Paramount Pictures

    #43. The Heiress

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 11,177

    Release year: 1949

    Director: William Wyler

    Ralph Richardson, Montgomery Clift, and Olivia de Havilland lead the cast of "The Heiress," which chronicles the life of a sheltered woman who falls for a man her overbearing father believes is only in it for her money. Among the four Academy Awards it picked up was an Oscar for Best Actress, taken home by de Havilland.  

  • #42. A Face in the Crowd
    10/ Newtown Productions

    #42. A Face in the Crowd

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 11,306

    Release year: 1957

    Director: Elia Kazan

    When a vagrant becomes a celebrity, he overplays his hand and runs the risk of being exposed as a charlatan in "A Face in the Crowd." Budd Schulberg wrote both the story and the screenplay for this film, which stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, and Anthony Franciosa.

  • #41. Safety Last!
    11/ Hal Roach Studios

    #41. Safety Last!

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 15,189

    Release year: 1923

    Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor

    This comedy, starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, and Bill Strother, tells the story of a store owner who tries to drum up business with a outrageous stunt. It was filmed at the Atlantic Hotel on Broadway in Los Angeles.

  • #40. Viridiana
    12/ Unión Industrial Cinematográfica (UNINCI)

    #40. Viridiana

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 18,659

    Release year: 1961

    Director: Luis Buñuel

    In "Viridiana," tragedy ensues when a young nun makes a detour to see a relative before taking her final vows. The film, which stars Silvia Pinal and Francisco Ranal, was selected in 1996 by critics and reviewers as the best Spanish film in history.

  • #39. To Be or Not to Be
    13/ Romaine Film Corporation

    #39. To Be or Not to Be

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 21,953

    Release year: 1942

    Director: Ernst Lubitsch

    This movie, which was remade by Mel Brooks more than 40 years later, stars Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, and a young Robert Stack. The Oscar-winning film portrays a Polish acting troupe during World War II tasked with tracking down a German spy during the country's Nazi occupation.

  • #38. Ace in the Hole
    14/ Paramount Pictures

    #38. Ace in the Hole

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 22,757

    Release year: 1951

    Director: Billy Wilder

    Kirk Douglas, Robert Arthur, and Jan Sterling star in this Oscar-nominated film noir drama about a frustrated journalist who gets more than he bargained for when he seeks some excitement in his career. An uncredited actor, however, is a boy named Iron Eyes Cody. The Native American would grow up to star as the "crying Indian" in the famous "Keep America Beautiful" public service ad years later.

  • #37. Sweet Smell of Success
    15/ Norma Productions

    #37. Sweet Smell of Success

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 22,957

    Release year: 1957

    Director: Alexander Mackendrick

    Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis star in this film about a powerful and ethically challenged Broadway journalist who uses his clout to interrupt a romance. The part played by Martin Milner was supposed to go to Robert Vaughn, but he was drafted into the Army before filming started.

  • #36. White Heat
    16/ Warner Bros.

    #36. White Heat

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 23,308

    Release year: 1949

    Director: Raoul Walsh

    This Oscar-nominated James Cagney classic portrays a mother-obsessed crook who breaks out of prison before embarking on one last caper. Olympic legend Jim Thorpe makes a cameo as a con in the telephone game scene.

  • #35. Inherit the Wind
    17/ Stanley Kramer Productions

    #35. Inherit the Wind

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 23,342

    Release year: 1960

    Director: Stanley Kramer

    This film was based on the real-life Scopes "monkey trial," during which a teacher was arrested and tried for teaching the theory of evolution—a crime in Tennessee at the time. Legal giants Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan famously squared off in the courtroom. In the movie, which was nominated for four Oscars, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, and Fredric March lead the cast.

  • #34. Sherlock Jr.
    18/ Buster Keaton Productions

    #34. Sherlock Jr.

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 28,195

    Release year: 1924

    Director: Buster Keaton

    Buster Keaton not only directed "Sherlock Jr.," but he played the lead role as well. The movie portrays a humble projectionist with big-time dreams of being a real-life detective. That ambition is put to the test when he's framed by a romantic rival.

  • #33. Tokyo Story
    19/ Shôchiku Eiga

    #33. Tokyo Story

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 39,485

    Release year: 1953

    Director: Yasujirô Ozu

    "Tokyo Story" is a remarkable journey into Japanese culture and generational conflicts as they were in the early 1950s. The film stars Chishu Ryu and Yasujiro Ozu.

  • #32. Sunrise
    20/ Fox Film Corporation

    #32. Sunrise

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 40,134

    Release year: 1927

    Director: F.W. Murnau

    "Sunrise" tells the age-old tale of a man waging an internal battle between right and wrong—one in the form of his wife, the other takes the shape of a woman he desires. George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston star in this romantic drama, which won three Oscars.

  • #31. Judgment at Nuremberg
    21/ Roxlom Films Inc.

    #31. Judgment at Nuremberg

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 57,341

    Release year: 1961

    Director: Stanley Kramer

    This movie chronicles the trial of Nazis for their war crimes in American-occupied Germany. The film, starring Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Maximilian Schell, and Burt Lancaster, won two Oscars and was nominated for an impressive nine others.

  • #30. The General
    22/ Buster Keaton Productions

    #30. The General

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 67,040

    Release year: 1926

    Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

    Like so many of his other movies, Buster Keaton directed, wrote, and starred in this classic. The plot twists and turns as a train conductor trudges through dangerous territory to reclaim his stolen locomotive.

  • #29. The Gold Rush
    23/ Charles Chaplin Productions

    #29. The Gold Rush

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 83,664

    Release year: 1925

    Director: Charles Chaplin

    Mack Swain and Tom Murray star in "The Gold Rush" alongside Charlie Chaplin, who also wrote and directed this tale of prospectors who head to the Klondike in search of gold. It won Oscars both for Best Sound Recording and Best Music.

  • #28. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    24/ Columbia Pictures Corporation

    #28. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 92,961

    Release year: 1939

    Director: Frank Capra

    James Stewart and Jean Arthur star in this tale of an unlikely hero who winds up in the United States Senate and relentlessly battles political corruption. It won an Oscar for Best Writing and was nominated for an impressive 10 others.

  • #27. On the Waterfront
    25/ Columbia Pictures Corporation

    #27. On the Waterfront

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 121,527

    Release year: 1954

    Director: Elia Kazan

    "On the Waterfront" was part of a wildly successful three-year run in Marlon Brando's early career, which also included "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Wild Ones," and "Julius Caesar." The movie, which portrays a former fighter who is disgusted with union corruption in his new job as a longshoreman, won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director.

  • #26. The Third Man
    26/ London Film Productions

    #26. The Third Man

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 135,597

    Release year: 1949

    Director: Carol Reed

    Orson Welles, Alida Valli, and Joseph Cotten star in this classic film noir thriller. The plot follows a writer who chases a story to post-war Vienna, where he winds up investigating the death of a former friend.

  • #25. The Elephant Man
    27/ Brooksfilms

    #25. The Elephant Man

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 190,186

    Release year: 1980

    Director: David Lynch

    One of the greatest examples of black-and-white film utilized in the modern era, "The Elephant Man" stars Anthony Hopkins as a well-intentioned surgeon who rescues a deformed man from a tortured life as a side-show exhibit. The film was nominated for eight Oscars.

  • #24. Raging Bull
    28/ Chartoff-Winkler Productions

    #24. Raging Bull

    IMDb rating: 8.2

    IMDb votes: 272,657

    Release year: 1980

    Director: Martin Scorsese

    Another example of black-and-white film successfully adapted in the modern era is "Raging Bull," which is widely considered to be a masterpiece in the careers of both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The movie chronicles the life of Jake LaMotta, a real-life boxer whose viciousness earned him stardom in the ring and infamy in his private life.

  • #23. The Wind
    29/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

    #23. The Wind

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 5,289

    Release year: 1928

    Director: Victor Sjöström

    Culture clash, family drama, and mental illness collide in this sweeping drama. Lillian Gish, Lars Hanson, and Montagu Love combined to lead the cast in this epic—enduring notoriously brutal filming conditions in the Mojave Desert to get it done.

  • #22. Make Way for Tomorrow
    30/ Paramount Pictures

    #22. Make Way for Tomorrow

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 5,939

    Release year: 1937

    Director: Leo McCarey

    This sad tale profiles an elderly couple who learn the true meaning of hardship when none of their adult children will take them both in, forcing them to split up after a lifetime together. The cast is headed by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi.

  • #21. The Cameraman
    31/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

    #21. The Cameraman

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 8,737

    Release year: 1928

    Directors: Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton

    Buster Keaton once again spends time on both sides of the camera in "The Cameraman." His character takes a crack at a life in Hollywood to impress his love interest while making a name for himself with the bigwigs at MGM Studios.  

  • #20. The Kid
    32/ Charles Chaplin Productions

    #20. The Kid

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 88,418

    Release year: 1921

    Director: Charles Chaplin

    Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in this movie, which portrays a kindhearted, down-and-out tramp who takes in an abandoned baby who turns out to be the child of a celebrity. It's one of IMDb's 100 top-rated films of all time.

  • #19. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    33/ Warner Bros.

    #19. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 96,002

    Release year: 1948

    Director: John Huston

    Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, and Tim Holt star in this Western classic about prospectors on a dangerous journey to find gold. It won all three Oscars for which it was nominated.

  • #18. All About Eve
    34/ Twentieth Century Fox

    #18. All About Eve

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 100,973

    Release year: 1950

    Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

    "All About Eve" follows a girl who infiltrates the exclusive world of her Broadway star idol. It’s one of history's most celebrated movies—as well as the crown jewel in Bette Davis' career—winning six Oscars and nominated for eight more.

  • #17. Double Indemnity
    35/ Paramount Pictures

    #17. Double Indemnity

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 119,129

    Release year: 1944

    Director: Billy Wilder

    An everyday insurance man allows himself to be manipulated into participating in a scheme that turns out to be more than he can handle in "Double Indemnity." The movie, which stars Fred MacMurray, was nominated for seven Oscars.  

  • #16. The Apartment
    36/ Mirisch Corporation, The

    #16. The Apartment

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 133,629

    Release year: 1960

    Director: Billy Wilder

    Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine had enough chemistry in "The Apartment" to net the movie five Oscar wins. The plot follows the exploits of a man who stirs up trouble by loaning his apartment to his company's executives for illicit romps.

  • #15. Some Like It Hot
    37/ Ashton Productions

    #15. Some Like It Hot

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 207,312

    Release year: 1959

    Director: Billy Wilder

    This Marilyn Monroe classic features Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in a fast-moving tale about musicians who pose as women in an all-female troupe to hide from gangsters who want them dead. The movie won an Oscar for Costume Design.

  • #14. To Kill a Mockingbird
    38/ Universal International Pictures (UI)

    #14. To Kill a Mockingbird

    IMDb rating: 8.3

    IMDb votes: 256,609

    Release year: 1962

    Director: Robert Mulligan

    This movie is widely considered one of history's greatest films, based on a book of the same name that’s often mentioned among history's greatest novels. The Gregory Peck classic portrays a lawyer trying to free an unjustly accused black man in the Jim Crow South. It won three Academy Awards.

  • #13. Witness for the Prosecution
    39/ Edward Small Productions

    #13. Witness for the Prosecution

    IMDb rating: 8.4

    IMDb votes: 83,780

    Release year: 1957

    Director: Billy Wilder

    Marlene Dietrich was at her best in "Witness for the Prosecution," which picked up six Oscar nominations. The movie follows a shocking murder trial and the efforts of the British lawyer tasked with defending the accused.  

  • #12. Paths of Glory
    40/ Bryna Productions

    #12. Paths of Glory

    IMDb rating: 8.4

    IMDb votes: 145,741

    Release year: 1957

    Director: Stanley Kubrick

    Ralph Meeker and Kirk Douglas team up in this World War I tale of righteous men accused of cowardice after refusing to lead an assault on an enemy position. Stanley Kubrick directed "Paths of Glory" and wrote the screenplay.

  • #11. Citizen Kane
    41/ RKO Radio Pictures

    #11. Citizen Kane

    IMDb rating: 8.4

    IMDb votes: 345,408

    Release year: 1941

    Director: Orson Welles

    This Orson Welles masterpiece earned not only unrivaled critical praise, but the wrath of the powerful and vindictive William Randolph Hearst—on whom the film was loosely based. "Citizen Kane" is often listed as the greatest movie ever made.

  • #10. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
    42/ Columbia Pictures Corporation

    #10. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

    IMDb rating: 8.4

    IMDb votes: 395,229

    Release year: 1964

    Director: Stanley Kubrick

    Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, and George C. Scott star in this startling classic about the realities of nuclear annihilation. It was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

  • #9. Sunset Boulevard
    43/ Paramount Pictures

    #9. Sunset Boulevard

    IMDb rating: 8.5

    IMDb votes: 168,094

    Release year: 1950

    Director: Billy Wilder

    "Sunset Boulevard" features William Holden and Gloria Swanson in a tale about a man who becomes embroiled in a toxic relationship when he's hired to polish up a script for a former star losing her luster. It won three of the 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.

  • #8. The Great Dictator
    44/ Charles Chaplin Productions

    #8. The Great Dictator

    IMDb rating: 8.5

    IMDb votes: 168,197

    Release year: 1940

    Director: Charles Chaplin

    "The Great Dictator" comedically parodies Adolf Hitler, a move Charlie Chaplin began to regret as details started to emerge about the true horror of the Nazi conquest of Europe. Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which was nominated for five Oscars.

  • #7. Modern Times
    45/ Charles Chaplin Productions

    #7. Modern Times

    IMDb rating: 8.5

    IMDb votes: 176,259

    Release year: 1936

    Director: Charles Chaplin

    Ranked by IMDb as one of the 40 top films of any genre, this Charlie Chaplin masterpiece follows a man trying to adjust to modern life in the industrialized world. Here, too, Chaplin is credited as writer, director, and star.

  • #6. Casablanca
    46/ Warner Bros.

    #6. Casablanca

    IMDb rating: 8.5

    IMDb votes: 450,048

    Release year: 1942

    Director: Michael Curtiz

    Starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, "Casablanca" is one of the most celebrated films in Hollywood history. The plot involves a jaded club owner who protects his former love and her husband from marauding Nazis. It won three Oscars.  

  • #5. Psycho
    47/ Shamley Productions

    #5. Psycho

    IMDb rating: 8.5

    IMDb votes: 500,720

    Release year: 1960

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in Alfred Hitchcock's seminal work of horror. The groundbreaking film—in which a woman on the run lands at the (now) infamous Bates Motel—broke industry rules, terrified audiences, and defined the genre.

  • #4. City Lights
    48/ Charles Chaplin Productions

    #4. City Lights

    IMDb rating: 8.6

    IMDb votes: 135,322

    Release year: 1931

    Director: Charles Chaplin

    Yet another Charlie Chaplin film finds its way high onto the list, and once again, Chaplin not only directed the movie, but wrote it and starred in it. This time, he plays a tramp who leverages his connections with a wealthy man to come to the financial rescue of a blind woman who he loves.

  • #3. It's a Wonderful Life
    49/ Liberty Films (II)

    #3. It's a Wonderful Life

    IMDb rating: 8.6

    IMDb votes: 331,159

    Release year: 1946

    Director: Frank Capra

    James Stewart and Donna Reed star in this inspiring tale, which has become a standard holiday staple. The story focuses on a man who is fed up with life until he meets an angel who reveals what the world would be like without him. It was nominated for five Academy Awards.

  • #2. 12 Angry Men
    50/ Orion-Nova Productions

    #2. 12 Angry Men

    IMDb rating: 8.9

    IMDb votes: 548,495

    Release year: 1957

    Director: Sidney Lumet

    Nominated for three Oscars, "12 Angry Men" examines the American criminal justice system through a high-pressure case and a stressed-out jury who holds the life of a potentially innocent young man in their hands. The cast of the classic movie is led by Henry Fonda.

  • #1. Schindler's List
    51/ Universal Pictures

    #1. Schindler's List

    IMDb rating: 8.9

    IMDb votes: 1,015,134

    Release year: 1993

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    In the Steven Spielberg masterpiece "Schindler's List," Liam Neeson portrays a real-life hero of the Holocaust: a well-connected industrialist and member of the Nazi party who switches allegiances and uses his factory as a safe haven for Jews in occupied Poland. It won seven Oscars and was nominated for six more.

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