Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

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?

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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/
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

2018 All rights reserved.