Born in London, Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) went on to become the greatest – and wealthiest – silent film star of his generation. Today, several of his movies, including “Modern Times,” “City Lights,” and “The Kid” are considered cinema classics. (All three have been ranked among the 55 best movies ever made.)
Chaplin was born into a showbiz family, but his father was an alcoholic and his mother had a mental breakdown, leaving him and his brother in the care of residential schools and workhouses. In 1897 he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing act. Eventually, he made his way to the U.S., where he got his start in Mack Sennett comedies.
It was in those films that Chaplin created the role he would become famous for: the Little Tramp. With his signature tight jacket, bowler, baggy pants, and cane, the Tramp starred in many of Chaplin’s movies. Audiences in the early 20th century loved the character’s plucky optimism and seeming ability to overcome the odds.
To determine Charlie Chaplin’s best movies, 24/7 Tempo created an index based on ratings from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and Tomatormeter and Audience scores from Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, for all 11 of the feature films he directed over his 53-year cinematic career (all but two of which he also starred in).
In 1919, Chaplin along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith founded United Artists. Three of his most famous and praised works – “A Woman in Paris,” “The Gold Rush,” and “The Circus” – were released under that studio. (Here’s a look at what life was like in the Roaring Twenties.)
Chaplin in some aspects was ahead of his time. He ventured into political commentary in “The “Great Dictator,” which pokes fun at Hitler and other dictators of the 1940s. The movie ends with Chaplin’s searing monologue supporting democracy and imploring people to love one another, words that resonate even today. “Modern Times” is his satire of industrialization.
For all his success, Chaplin’s life was not without controversy, however. His marriages to and bitter divorces from women much younger than him brought rebukes from conservatives. In 1952, he was blocked from re-entering the U.S. by opponents of his politics and moved to Switzerland. Chaplin’s only color film, “The Countess from Hong Kong” (1967), was a box-office bust.
In 1972, however, Chaplin returned to the U.S. to receive an honorary Oscar. Three years later, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1977, Chaplin died, leaving behind a rich cinematic legacy and an incalculable influence on film comedy to come.
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