Over the last few decades, black and white films have been somewhat abandoned. Yet when it comes to the history of cinematography, the medium encapsulates numerous masterpieces and continues to define the film genre today. From horror to science fiction, drama to romance, monochrome features have given us some of cinema’s finest moments. Here is a list of ten of the best black-and-white movies of all time.
Sunset Boulevard, an extraordinary tale about Hollywood, is an insightful combination of film noir and black comedy. It portrays an ageing silent-film star, Norma Desmond, who traps a young screenwriter who accidentally stumbled into her seedy mansion. Ultimately the movie portrays Tinsel Town as nothing but a land of dreams. It lives to be a scathing meta-criticism of the film industry’s predisposition to abandon discarded actors. Wonderfully over-the-top, the story is rife with fantastic performances and comedic moments, ensuring that this is one of the greatest black-and-white films ever made.
Steven Spielberg injects his signature cinematic talent into Schindler’s List, a harrowing exploration of the experience of the Holocaust. Filmed in black-and-white for respectful, as well as aesthetic, purposes, the haunting masterpiece is based on a true story, giving an insight into the destructive power of humanity and the strength of the human spirit. Focusing on a German businessman in Poland, who staffs his factory with Jews in order to protect them, the movie explores brutal themes with a deeply emotional poignancy. With painstaking accuracy and an exceptional narrative boldness, this is a cinematic must-see.
Fritz Lang’s legendary masterpiece has defined the science fiction genre since its entrance onto the film scene in the first half of the twentieth century. In a futuristic city divided between the working class and the city authorities, the son of a city planner falls in love with a working class prophet. Metropolis is perhaps one of the most influential silent movies ever made and has spawned the futurism genre. With stunning images and timeless themes, Metropolis is greatly regarded as marking the beginning of modern cinema and is a cautionary tale of a future dominated by machines.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is perhaps his most frightening and infamous feature on this list. The monochromatic palette evokes a dark and pessimistic tone. The plot follows a secretary who steals a large amount of money, ends up in a motel and is then mysteriously murdered. To this day, the shrieking shower scene is famous throughout cinematic history. This scene is produced with a flawless execution and exhibits Hitchcock’s trademark dark humor that is often recognizable at the core of his most haunting features. Repeatedly imitated, parodied, analyzed and referenced, it is no wonder that Psycho remains ahead of the game in the horror genre even to this day.
All About Eve is one of the greatest screenplays ever written. It is a drama about female companionship, the value of ambition, back-stabbing manipulation and betrayal. The Hollywood classic is an elegant and terribly funny story about an aspiring actress, which remains one of Bette Davis’ most famous roles. The feature is impervious to the rigours of time and is an inspiration for the modern soap operas of today. For those looking for a hilarious insight into the nature of show business, this movie is a witty classic that explores the psychology at the core of theatrical life, whilst painting an honest and raw portrait of the strength of female influence.
In Robert Mulligan’s drama about racial unrest in the Deep South, Harper Lee’s literary classic is brought to life with a wonderful accuracy and dedication to the original work. To Kill A Mockingbird focuses upon a lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends a black man against a false rape charge. Wonderfully echoing the social issues of 1960s America, this movie combats themes of racial discrimination, moral tolerance, childhood innocence and human resilience. With nail-bitingly tense legal scenes observed through the eyes of a child, the movie remains one of Hollywood’s most moving experiences. A classic black-and-white film of its generation, few motion pictures have come close to matching the phenomenal feat that To Kill A Mockingbird has achieved.
Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish masterpiece concerns an exhausted and disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades to play a game of chess with Death. The Seventh Seal is a dream-like epic which questions the meaning of life, death and the existence of God against the chilling backdrop of the Black Plague. With powerful cinematography that will ensure Bergman’s mesmerising vision remains with you forever, the strong performances and stunningly executed themes succeed in creating a darkly beautiful work that exposes the struggles of mortals. An undisputed masterpiece, this is a remarkable accomplishment in the world of cinema.
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca is a timeless love story and a thrilling adventure that is set in Moroccan Casablanca during the early part of the Second World War. Today, it remains one of the most quotable movies of the period and its artistic influence continues to impact the cinematic tradition. Despite being made in the 1940s, the movie remains one of the greatest romantic dramas ever produced and follows the story of an American expatriate who reunites with a former lover. The film contains a beautiful complexity that will live with you long after the credits roll.
Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove explores the story of a mentally unstable general who triggers the path to a nuclear holocaust, much to the distress of a room full of political figures and military leaders. During the height of paranoia, when nuclear destruction was a very real and possible issue, the movie makes us reconsider the situation from an entirely different perspective, throwing light upon our own absurd behaviors. In this hot-line suspense comedy, the idiocy of nuclear war is satirized using the backdrop of an impending Cold War. Since its release, few movies have been able to deal with such a serious issue by submerging it into the comedy genre with such success.
Rebecca was Alfred Hitchcock’s first foray into American film and also his only feature to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The Daphne du Maurier adaptation is a masterpiece of black-and-white cinema, combined with Gothic thrills and a haunting atmosphere. It follows the story of a self-conscious young woman who marries the charming Maxim de Winter, played by the brilliant Lawrence Olivier. Having moved to his luxurious Mandalay estate, the house staff take a great disliking to her, due to their loyalty to their master’s late wife. What ensues is a suspenseful drama which is overshadowed by the unsettling presence of the dead wife.