10 Most Expensive Silent Films Ever Made
1- Ben Hur
This film, directed by the cutely named Fred Niblo and starring the exotic talents of Roman Navarro, it cost $3.9million to make in 1925. This makes it the most expensive silent film ever made. Most people are probably familiar with the 1959 remake, but this version is every bit as good.
2. The General
Perhaps the great Buster Keaton’s finest masterpiece. This film alone holds the record for one of the most expensive scenes in silent film history. The train crash sequence alone cost $42,000 at 1926 prices, in modern money this equates to $1.7million. Just for one scene! Like many other Keaton films, it went vastly over allotted budget and took much longer to film than anticipated due to wild fires in the woodland areas they were filming in and an outbreak of measles amongst the younger members of the cast.
Fritz Lang’s German silent masterpiece cost $1.3 million dollars to make in 1927. In German Marks, this equated to around 5 million and by today’s standards would be around $24million. Unusual for an era that loved it’s slapstick comedy, it showed a frightening dystopian future, set in 2026 and was one of the great films of the Weimar era.
DW Griffith’s 1916 film which starred Lilian Gish and Constance Talmadge, lasted three and a half hours, by far the longest film at the time in the newly founded medium of cinema’s history. It cost around $2million to take at the time, which in new money is $46 million!
5.The Gold Rush
This film, shot in 1924 was considered Charlie Chaplin’s finest ever comedy by many critics of the time. By the standards of some of the others in this list it seems relatively inexpensive at $923,886; however, most silent films were shot on very poor budgets with only thirty or so days for completion. This film took seventeen and a half months to make and used two hundred and thirty thousand feet of film. Chaplin himself commanded a weekly wage of $10,000 and the film grossed $6million dollars in total.
Eric Von Stroheim’s money based film was not only expensive, costing $546,883 to make in 1925, it was overly long. Stroheim wanted to leave the film uncut in it’s entirety. It ran to ten hours! Against his wishes, the film was edited down to a more manageable but still long two and a half hours. The plot was about becoming money obsessed in a time before things like 0% credit cards and debit cards existed. It examines how winning the lottery changes people’s personalities.
7. The great Dictator
The Great Dictator was made in 1940, ten years after the last major silents had been made. It was Chaplin’s last major hurrah as he’d steadfastly refused to believe that the talkies would take off. It cost $2,000,000 to make and took $2,000,000 at the box office, so only broke even. It was a stern condemnation of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany and still stands up to scrutiny today.
8.Birth of a Nation
Costing a slimmer budget of $110,000 in 1915, it actually ended up grossing an absolutely staggering $50,000,000 at the Box Office from the period it was released up until the year 1949. It was a controversial film, that faced stern criticism on account of the fact many people believed it was racist, and that it’s director DW Griffith seemed to be glorifying the Ku Klux Klan as a supreme force. Still controversial now, it polarises opinion.
9. The Phantom of the Opera
This film made in 1925 and adapted from the horror novel by Gaston Leroux, starring the inimitable Lon Chaney, looking like a scary thing from scaryville, and directed by Rupert Julian cost $632,357 plus $50,000 in retakes. It grossed $2,014,091 in revenue and earned Universal studios a net profit of $539.682
10. City Lights
Filmed in 1931, still in silent mode although talkies were well underway, City Lights is classed as a comedy, but has an ending that is till regarded as one of the most emotive and moving in the entire history of cinema. When it was filmed, in typical Chaplin style it went over budget and took well over the allotted time frame to complete. Overall it cost $1.5million and took $5million gross at the box office.