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(Credit: Doctor Macro)

Film

Ranking the 10 greatest films of Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin was one of those few pioneers who mastered the art of universal comedy, conducting unforgettable treatments of serious subjects with the deft touch of a comedic genius. While many insist that the essence of the human condition can only be captured through “serious” dramatic work, Chaplin’s endless legacy continues to launch a defiant resistance against such superficial claims.

Enduring a childhood that was characterised by constant hardship and poverty, Chaplin found an inclination towards the performing arts and participated in multiple productions. After being recruited by the Fred Karno company, Chaplin got the opportunity to travel to the US where his talent was recognised by scouts.

Embarking on a journey that would make him one of the most famous men in the world, Chaplin did not just create masterpieces but he also set a welcome precedent by co-founding the famous company United Artists. Due to his attention to details and his obsessive pursuit of absolute perfection, Chaplin remains one of the greatest filmmakers of the last century.

10 greatest films of Charlie Chaplin:

10. The Immigrant (1917)

An outstanding silent short from Chaplin’s early years, this 1917 gem stars him as an immigrant journeying to the US. A striking portrait of the arduous process of immigration, The Immigrant shows us how difficult it is to hold onto our humanity in the face of increasing hostility.

Facing accusations of being a pickpocket and falling in love with a co-passenger, The Tramp’s journey is incredibly funny and the humour is almost always compassionate. This film was actually used as evidence for Chaplin’s supposed anti-American views because it has a scene where he kicks an immigration officer.

9. A Dog’s Life (1918)

A heartwarming precursor to The Kid, A Dog’s Life is a delightful story about a moving friendship between The Tramp and a stray dog named Scraps. Unemployed and down on his luck, The Tramp struggles with the onslaught of daily life until this cute puppy.

Displaying his ability to weave together visually powerful scenes, the parallels between bigger dogs bullying Scraps and more “well-adjusted” individuals picking on The Tramp are hard to miss. If we all had friends like Scraps, the world would be a better place.

8. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

An extremely funny black comedy by Chaplin, Monsieur Verdoux is a sociologically charged commentary on issues that are still relevant. Leaving behind the persona of The Tramp, Chaplin dons the attire of a serial killer in this 1947 classic.

Based on the real serial killer Henri Désiré Landru, it was Orson Welles who had approached Chaplin with the idea. Monsieur Verdoux was an important milestone for Chaplin’s incredible filmography because it was the first feature where no trace of The Tramp could be found.

7. Limelight (1952)

A truly moving film in the latter half of Chaplin’s career, Limelight stars Chaplin as a washed-up artist who was once a famous clown. Struggling with the decline in his career, he finds refuge in the deadly embrace of alcohol abuse and addiction.

In this condition, he ends up saving a suicidal dance and the two of them try to make sense of life together. Some researchers have claimed that Chaplin’s character was based on his own alcoholic father but Chaplin said it was based on Frank Tinney. Having lost significant portions of his audience due to his alleged communist sympathies, Limelight came from a very personal place.

6. The Circus (1928)

One of the most successful films in the history of silent cinema, The Circus is another accomplishment of Chaplin’s iconic Tramp. After being hired as a circus clown, the people around the Tramp soon realise that he is at his funniest when he isn’t trying.

Although the production process was subjected to multiple disruptions, The Circus is still cited among the greatest comedies by Chaplin. An incredible commentary on his own position in the landscape of cinema, the contextualisation of The Tramp within the circus is a remarkable spectacle.

5. The Kid (1921)

Chaplin’s first feature-length film showed the world what he was capable of in terms of narrative power, conjuring up an emotionally devastating story about a child who is abandoned by his mother. He is nurtured and guided by The Tramp until the world conspires to separate the two.

The combination of dramatic sequences and comedic outbursts works perfectly, creating a cinematic experience that is as close to being timeless as it gets. An insightful take on the definition of family and fatherhood, The Kid is an essential Chaplin classic.

4. The Great Dictator (1940)

Arguably the most famous film that Chaplin ever directed, The Great Dictator is subversive comedy at its finest. The logical conclusion of The Tramp, Chaplin is fantastic as Adenoid Hynkel – a bumbling dictator whose stupidity is limitless.

Ranging from the magical scene where the dictator dances with the world in the form of a balloon to the inspirational final speech of the film, there are some truly iconic moments in The Great Dictator that will continue to be a huge part of the discourse of cinema.

3. The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush follows The Tramp as he searches for gold in the vastness of Alaska. Instead of getting lucky immediately, he runs into all kinds of obstacles as he navigates the labyrinthine world around him while encountering criminals and blizzards.

During the production of this film, Chaplin was largely inspired by photographs of the gold rush in north-western Canada and the stories of the Donner Party who were forced to resort to cannibalism under extreme circumstances. According to many accounts, Chaplin considered this film to be his finest.

2. City Lights (1931)

Among the most brilliant romantic comedies ever made, City Lights chronicles the bizarre adventures of The Tramp as he falls in love with a blind flower girl and takes it upon himself to gather enough resources in order to ensure that no harm comes to her.

While doing so, he ends up befriending an alcoholic millionaire who only recognises him when he is drunk. However, he is eventually arrested by the police for a crime he never committed. The final scene of the film is definitely one of the greatest ending scenes in cinematic history.

1. Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times might just be Chaplin’s magnum opus because of the incredible visual comedy as well as the subtextual commentary on the socioeconomic conditions that people were subjected to during the years of the Great Depression.

Delving into subjects like the dehumanisation of the labour force by rapid industrialisation, rampant unemployment, the persecution of Communists and much more, Modern Times feels even more modern now due to the rapid accelerationism of contemporary society.