The Greatest Charlie Chaplin Films, Ranked

One of the most influential auteurs in film history, Charlie Chaplin remains to this day the most well-known figure from cinema’s silent era. Throughout most of his career, Chaplin played The Tramp, one of the most iconic characters of twentieth-century cinema. An actor, writer, director, producer, editor, and composer, Chaplin created an instantly recognizable aesthetic that combined world-class slapstick comedy with pathos related to poverty, industrialization, and war.

Chaplin’s film career began during the early days of Hollywood in 1914 and lasted through the sound era until his final directorial effort in 1967. Six of Chaplin’s films, Kid Auto Races at Venice, The Immigrant, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator reside in the National Film Registry. Many of Chaplin’s best works rank among cinema’s most treasured films.

10 Chaplin Directs Edna Purviance In A Woman Of Paris: A Drama Of Fate (1923)

Edna Purviance in A Woman of Paris


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Silent film actress Edna Purviance appeared in nearly 40 films with Charlie Chaplin. In 1923, Chaplin directed Purviance in A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate. Chaplin desired to both make a serious drama as a filmmaker and wanted to help boost Purviance’s career as an actor. The film tells the story of a woman who must choose between a life of comfort or reuniting with the true love she left behind.

Upon its release, A Woman of Paris was a box office flop. Audiences rejected a Chaplin film that did not feature comedy and that did not star Chaplin himself. Purviance’s career never took off and she essentially retired from Hollywood by 1927. However, Chaplin always kept Purviance on his payroll, and later in life, she made cameo appearances in Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight. The film did earn critical praise at the time of its premiere, and over time, A Woman of Paris’s reputation continues to grow, with many citing it as a prime example of Chaplin’s directorial prowess.

9 The Immigrant Is Chaplin’s Greatest Short Film (1917)


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Between 1914 and 1923, Chaplin directed himself in over 50 short films. Of all these works, The Immigrant reigns supreme as Chaplin’s greatest accomplishment in the short film medium. The Immigrant features The Tramp enduring a voyage to the United States, upon which he finds both mischief and love.

An obsessive perfectionist, Chaplin famously shot 90,000 feet of film for The Immigrant, a movie that runs roughly 25 minutes in length. D. W. Griffith shot the same amount of footage for Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, which is a three-hour and twenty-minute epic. Ironically enough, the House Un-American Activities Committee used The Immigrant as evidence against Chaplin as proof of his anti-Americanism when forcing him out of the country during the Red Scare. Chaplin believed The Immigrant was the most touching film he ever made.

8 Chaplin Attempts Black Comedy With Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

After taking seven years off from filmmaking, Chaplin returned with Monsieur Verdoux, a black comedy with a drastically darker sense of humor compared to Chaplin’s other works. Chaplin stars as Henri Verdoux, an unemployed banker who marries and murders wealthy widows for their money. The basis for Chaplin’s character came from Henri Désiré Landru, a French serial killer who murdered an estimated seven women between 1915 and 1919.

By 1947, American audiences had lost interest in Chaplin, whose controversial personal and political life severely damaged his reputation. Despite being named the year’s best film by the National Board of Review, Monsieur Verdoux was a box office failure. Retrospectively, Monsieur Verdoux’s critical standing has increased over time. The Village Voice and Cahiers du cinéma have both named Monsieur Verdoux to their list of best films.

7 Limelight Is Chaplin’s Last Great Masterpiece (1952)

Chaplin’s final Hollywood feature, Limelight is a comedy-drama about a washed-up comedian who saves a young dancer from suicide. The comedian, Calvero, helps nurse the dancer back to health and regain her self-confidence.

Due to Chaplin’s alleged communist sympathies, many theaters boycotted showing Limelight, resulting in another box office bomb for Chaplin. Eventually, the United States revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit, and he moved to Switzerland, not returning to the United States until 1972. That same year, Limelight premiered in Los Angeles for the first time, making it eligible for the Academy Awards. At the 45th Academy Awards, twenty-one years after Limelight’s initial release, Chaplin won his only competitive Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score. Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance hailed Limelight as “Chaplin’s most deeply personal and introspective film.”

6 The Circus Was The Seventh Highest-Grossing Film Of The Silent Era (1928)


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Chaplin began production of The Circus in January 1926 and by the time the film was finally released after its turbulent production in January 1928, “talkies” had taken Hollywood by storm. In The Circus, The Tramp finds work and love at a circus. The film faced many difficulties including a massive fire at Chaplin’s studio, the death of Chaplin’s mother, his high-profile divorce from Lita Grey, and tax issues with the IRS.

Despite the chaos, The Circus was a box office smash, ultimately becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of the silent era. Some of The Circus’ most memorable scenes include The Tramp trapped in a cage with a lion, The Tramp performing on a tightrope, and the final shot of The Tramp walking alone away from the camera. At the first Academy Awards, The Circus originally earned three nominations, however, the Academy decided to remove Chaplin’s name from competitive categories, instead gifting him with a Special Award “for acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.”

5 The Kid Revolutionized Comedy Feature Filmmaking (1921)

During the 1910s, comedies, for the most part, existed in the short film format. These movies focused more on slapstick antics and zany situations rather than forming a cohesive plot. The Kid, Chaplin’s first feature-length film, attempted to add an expanded narrative structure and character development into the comedy genre. In The Kid, The Tramp raises a boy after his mother abandons him.

Opening with the title card “A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear,” The Kid combines brilliant physical comedy with an emotionally gut-wrenching examination of poverty and parenthood. Jackie Coogan co-stars with Chaplin, giving one of cinema’s all-time great performances by a child star. Despite being over 100 years old, the sequence where the authorities take the boy away from The Tramp still retains its dramatic potency and easily belongs among the most heartbreaking scenes in film history.

4 The Gold Rush Was Chaplin’s Biggest Silent Era Success (1925)


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Following the financial disaster of A Woman of Paris, Chaplin brought back his Tramp character for The Gold Rush, a comedy set during the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. In the film, The Tramp is a prospector looking for gold who fights Black Larsen, teams up with Big Jim McKay, and falls in love with Georgia.

A monumental success, The Gold Rush was the fifth highest-grossing film of the silent era. The Gold Rush features some of Chaplin’s trademark screen sequences, including the “Roll Dance,” a scene where Chaplin uses forks and rolls of bread to simulate the legs of a dancer. Prominent publications such as The Village Voice, Sight & Sound, the BBC, Cahiers du cinéma, and Entertainment Weekly have all voted The Gold Rush as one of the greatest films of all time. At the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, The Gold Rush placed second in an international film poll of cinema’s best works. The Gold Rush fell short of the top ranking, which went to Battleship Potemkin, by five votes.

3 The Great Dictator Is Chaplin’s Most Controversial Film (1940)

Produced during the early stages of World War II, The Great Dictator sparked immense controversy due to its sensitive subject matter. Chaplin’s first true sound film, The Great Dictator sees Chaplin in a dual role, playing both a Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, a parody of Adolf Hitler. The film features a parallel narrative in which Hynkel tries to expand his empire while the Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution.

Although banned in many countries around the world, The Great Dictator became Chaplin’s highest-grossing film, earning $5 million at the worldwide box office. Nominated for five Academy Awards, The Great Dictator is a biting political satire that uses black comedy to explore themes related to war, racism, and corrupt governments. Chaplin skewers Hitler in The Great Dictator, portraying Hynkel as insecure and intellectually inept while also mimicking Hitler’s intense speech style with multiple scenes of Hynkel screaming German-sounding gibberish into a microphone. Throughout the film, Chaplin also pokes fun at the inconsistencies of Nazi ideology. The Great Dictator concludes with one of cinema’s greatest speeches, a triumphant achievement for Chaplin, who, like many silent film stars, struggled with fears related to whether or not audiences would accept their voices in the sound era. The Guardian, the BBC, and the American Film Institute all named The Great Dictator one of the 50 best comedies of all time.

2 City Lights Is A Romantic Comedy Masterpiece (1931)

Charlie Chaplin in City Lights Film

City Lights

With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

Release Date
January 30, 1931

Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin


1 hour 27 minutes

Main Genre

Charles Chaplin

Silent Film

Production Company
Charles Chaplin Productions

Rebellious against humanity’s newfound obsession with “talkies,” Chaplin took a major financial risk by making City Lights a silent film. It had already been over three years since the premiere of The Jazz Singer, cinema’s first talking picture. City Lights is a romantic comedy in which The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl while simultaneously developing a hectic friendship with an alcoholic millionaire.

Chaplin’s gamble paid off, with City Lights becoming a box office hit. City Lights proved so successful that Chaplin embarked on a world tour to promote the film. Essentially a perfect film, City Lights contains countless classic moments, including the initial meeting between The Tramp and the flower girl, which required 342 takes for Chaplin to complete to his liking. However, no scene is more memorable than City Lights’ tear-jerking conclusion where The Tramp and the Flower Girl reunite. Famed writer James Agee declared Chaplin’s performance in this sequence “the greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” In Sight & Sound’s inaugural film poll, City Lights ranked as the second greatest film of all time. The American Film Institute voted City Lights the 11th best American movie ever made and Hollywood cinema’s top romantic comedy.

1 Modern Times Is Chaplin’s Magnum Opus (1936)

An Illustration of Charlie Chaplin on the Modern Times Poster

Modern Times

The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.

Release Date
February 25, 1936

Charles Chaplin

Charles Chaplin , Paulette Goddard , Al Ernest Garcia , Tiny Sandford


87 minutes

Main Genre

Charles Chaplin

Modern Times is Chaplin’s magnum opus, the quintessential example of his mastery of comedy and pathos. While on his world tour promoting City Lights, Chaplin observed the effects the Great Depression and industrialization were having on society. This inspired him to produce Modern Times, a comedy that follows The Tramp as he attempts to adjust to living in an industrialized world. Released nine years after the advent of “talkies,” Chaplin again opted to make Modern Times a mostly silent production.

A box office success, Modern Times contains numerous foundational Chaplin scenes such as the assembly line opening, the lunch machine debacle, and The Tramp’s blindfolded rollerblading. Modern Times also features what might be Chaplin’s greatest score. The film’s love theme, nowadays known as “Smile,” became a hit song for Nat King Cole in 1954. One of Hollywood cinema’s most important works, Modern Times was among the first twenty-five films preserved in the National Film Registry. The Village Voice, the American Film Institute, the BBC, Time Out, Sight & Sound, and Cahiers du cinéma are a few of many publications to have included Modern Times on their list of the best movies of all time. Jeffrey Vance wrote of the film, “Modern Times is perhaps more meaningful now than at any time since its first release. The twentieth-century theme of the film, farsighted for its time—the struggle to eschew alienation and preserve humanity in a modern, mechanized world—profoundly reflects issues facing the twenty-first century.”

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