F.W. Murnau's Sunrise & 20 Other Movies from 1927 Entering the Public Domain in 2023
January 12, 2023
On January 1, 2023, all copyrighted works from the year 1927 entered the public domain in the United States and are now free to watch. For classic movie fans, there are quite a few prominent movies that have entered the public domain and are now available for free on YouTube and other streaming sites. The first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture Wings (1927) has entered the public domain. Also the first ever feature film to have synchronized music and synchronized speech The Jazz Singer (1927) is now in the public domain. German director Fritz Lang's sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis (1927) is now in the public domain. And also one of the best films to enter the public domain is German director F.W. Murnau's silent romance Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927).
Watch Sunrise (1927) for Free on YouTube
In the past week, I watched Murnau's Sunrise. After Murnau came to prominence with his German Expressionist films like Nosferatu (1922), he was invited by William Fox to the United States to join the Fox Studio to make an Expressionist film in Hollywood. Murnau created massive stylized sets to frame his fairy tale story of a feuding married couple. The result was a lauded spectacle that won the Academy Award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture. This was the only time this award was given. Wings (1927) won Outstanding Picture that year and it was eventually decided that this was the highest honor and would be considered Best Picture. But the greatness of Sunrise endures with it often being cited in lists and polls as one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Here's my review of Sunrise (1927) which I give four out of five stars:
Director F.W. Murnau's tale of a country couple having marital troubles stars George O'Brien as The Man and Janet Gaynor as The Wife. The Man has become obsessed with a vacationing Woman From the City played by Margaret Livingston. She encourages him to drown his wife and come live in the city. The film's Expressionist lighting and dark plot in the early going make it feel like a precursor to film noir. But when The Man is faced with the actual deed of killing his wife, he snaps out of his psychotic murderous state and begs forgiveness. The married couple is whisked off by train to the city where she quickly and ludicrously forgives him and they rekindle their marriage. And this is basically the climax of the marriage story at the mid-point of the movie. The rest of the film plays out as a romantic comedy in the city with some very impressive set pieces including a spectacular carnival. And there is an adventurous and stormy ending as they return to their small country town. Sunrise won three Oscars at the 1st Academy Awards including Best Unique and Artistic Picture (an award only given out once), Best Actress for Janet Gaynor, and Best Cinematography by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss. The cinematography award seems the most deserved as Murnau and the cinematographers attained an ethereal fairy tale beauty with their dissolving shots and other visual innovations. For its many memorable shots and camerawork, the movie remains an essential silent film to be seen.
On FreeGreatMovies we feature about twenty other films from 1927 that are in the public domain now. I'll list them all below:
7th Heaven (1927) - Director Frank Borzage's silent romance film also starring Janet Gaynor which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Borzage took home the Best Director Academy Award. The film eventually made $2.5 million (big money in those days!).
Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927) - A "city symphony" documentary directed by Walter Ruttmann. It stands alongside other city symphony films like Paul Strand's Manhatta (1921) and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929).
College (1927) - Underrated Buster Keaton silent feature film which he directed and stars in, and features a lot of funny sports shenanigans.
Downhill (1927) - British silent film directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It's a drama before he started up with thrillers in The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog which we'll talk about below.
It (1927) - The film that made Clara Bow a major star in this box office hit! The phrase "it girl" became very popular after the film's release noting a young woman with personality and sex appeal.
London After Midnight (1927) - Actually a lost silent film when the last known copy burned in the 1967 MGM Vault fire. This YouTube version is a 2002 Turner Classic Movies reconstruction using production stills and the original script. Directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney.
Metropolis (1927) - Fritz Lang's aforementioned German Expressionist sci-fi epic. A great achievement of the silent era and hugely influential on sci-fi films for all time.
October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1927) - Sergei Eisenstein's cinematic celebration of the 1917 October Revolution in the Soviet Union. The film features Eisenstein's trademark Soviet montages. Vasili Nikandrov plays 'ol Vladimir Lenin.
The Beloved Rogue (1927) - John Barrymore is French poet and patriot Francois Villon. He takes on Conrad Veidt as King Louis XI in this adventure film.
The Cat and the Canary (1927) - German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni directed this silent horror comedy about a family in a haunted mansion. An early Universal Pictures horror movie for a studio that would come to be known for horror.
The End of St. Petersburg (1927) - While Eisenstein was making October, Pudovkin was commissioned to make this silent film to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Part of Pudovkin's revolutionary trilogy with Mother (1926) and Storm Over Asia (1928).
The Jazz Singer (1927) - "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!" At the 20-minute mark of this film, Al Jolson sings "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face' and afterward he says the immortal first spoken words in cinema history. Sound films were born!
The Kid Brother (1927) - Silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd considered one of his best. Also starring the leading lady in five of his previous films Jobyna Ralston.
The King of Kings (1927) - Cecil B. DeMille's silent 155-minute biblical epic. It depicts the final weeks of Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. H.B. Warner plays Jesus. The resurrection is in Technicolor.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) - Alfred Hitchcock first thriller about the hunt for a serial killer in London. Many of Hitchcock's trademarks show up in this film including the famous Hitchcock cameo appearance.
The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927) - German silent film by G.W. Pabst starring Brigitte Helm who falls in love with a Bolshevik.
The Ring (1927) - Romantic boxing movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. At 28 years old, Hitchcock was busy this year!
The Scar of Shame (1927) - Early example of a race movie featuring an entirely black cast performed specifically for a black audience. Produced by the Colored Players Film Corporation of Philadelphia.
Uncle Tom's Cabin (1927) - Silent film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852 novel. Directed by Harry A. Pollard and starring James B. Lowe as Uncle Tom.
Underworld (1927) - Silent crime film directed by Josef von Sternberg and written by prolific and successful screenwriter Ben Hecht. The film is sometimes credited with launching the gangster film genre.
The Unknown (1927) - Thankfully this 1927 Tod Browning film was not lost. This silent horror movie stars Lon Chaney as a carnival knife thrower and a young Joan Crawford as his carnie girlfriend. Tod Browning would go on to direct Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932).
Upstream (1927) - Silent film directed by John Ford that was thought lost, but was found in 2009. It's a backstage drama that also features a knife-throwing act. Very popular in 1927!
Wings (1927) - And of course the first Best Picture ever Wings (1927) directed by the great William A. Wellman and starring Clara Bow. The World War I film features a cast of thousands and many realistic air-combat sequences. I really gotta watch it this year.
So those are some new free movies to watch in 2023. Looking forward to 2024 when Mickey Mouse enters the public domain! At least the 1928 version of Mickey Mouse enters the public domain which is featured in his first animated short films Plane Crazy (1928) and Steamboat Willie (1928). Somebody needs to start working on a Mickey Mouse horror movie now! Unless Disney creates another Mickey Mouse Protection Act (which they might!).