A Trip to the Moon

1902 | Unrated
Directed by Georges Méliès
Filmmaking was brand-new, and already directors were stretching the technological boundaries. This fantastical sci-fi film, only 14 minutes long, gives us double exposures, flying creatures, explosions, and the man in the moon with a living face. Look for the color version—each frame individually hand-tinted, at 16 frames per second.

Nanook of the North

1922 | Unrated
Directed by Robert J. Flaherty
The first attempt at documentary filmmaking (though not as stringently objective as expected today) was this study of a Native American Inuit family. Though the frozen landscape is brutal, they cheerfully and capably work to find their daily food and shelter. You won't forget their smiles.

Safety Last!

1923 | Unrated
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
A man dangling from the hands of a giant clock? You've seen that iconic image; now fill in the rest of the story. As in all his films, Harold Lloyd performs astonishing physical feats, despite having lost his right thumb and index finger in an accident. He's the equal of Charlie Chaplin, any day.

Sherlock Jr.

1924 | Unrated
Directed by Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton was called "The Great Stone Face" for his utterly impassive expression even during the wildest comedic chaos. A brilliant sequence here shows him as a movie projectionist who dozes off, only to have his alter ego walk up to the screen and step into the story.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

1928 | Unrated
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Some historical dramas are flouncy and colorful; this one is austere. The script, based on official trial transcripts, moves inexorably forward, and we keep coming back to Joan's suffering face. Many consider Maria Falconetti's portrayal one of the finest performances in movie history, but she never made another film.

Related Elsewhere:

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.