Nostalgic Delights: 15 Must-See Films from the Golden Era of the 1930s

a star is born 2 1

The 1930s were historical for numerous reasons- especially in film. Silent movies were no more, and the Golden Age of Hollywood launched into an America rife with political and economic troubles. Iconic film stars rose, film techniques were created, and some of the nation's most memorable movies were made. Here are the 15 best films that came out of the 30's for your viewing enjoyment as discussed by members of an online forum. 

1. Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game
Image Credit: DPF.

Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game is a social satire set in French upper-class society before the outbreak of World War II. The film follows a group of aristocrats and their servants who gather for a weekend at a country house, where they indulge in various love affairs, dramas, and manipulations. Through its nuanced characters, witty dialogues, and intricate plot, Rules of the Game offers a scathing critique of the hypocrisy and corruption of the bourgeoisie class.

2. It Happened One Night (1934)

It Happened One Night (1934)
Image Credit: Colombia Pictures.

It Happened One Night is a romantic comedy directed by Frank Capra. The film follows the story of a spoiled heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), who runs away from her father's control and falls in love with a down-on-his-luck journalist, Peter Warne (Clark Gable).

3. King Kong (1933)

Image from King Kong movie
Image Courtesy of IMBD.

King Kong is a pioneering horror-adventure film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film follows the story of a giant gorilla named Kong who is taken from his jungle home to New York City, where he escapes and wreaks havoc. The film's groundbreaking special effects and thrilling action sequences, along with its underlying themes of power, control, and exploitation, have made it a timeless classic and a defining moment in the history of cinema.

4. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

bringing up baby
Image Credit: RKO Pictures.

Bringing Up Baby is a screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks. The film follows the story of a scatterbrained heiress, Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn), who falls in love with a stuffy paleontologist, David Huxley (Cary Grant). The two embark on a series of madcap adventures involving a leopard named Baby, a missing dinosaur bone, and a jailbreak. The film's fast-paced humor, zany situations, and impeccable performances have made it a beloved genre classic.

5. Ninotchka (1939)

Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Ninotchka is a romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The movie follows the story of a stern and humorless Soviet envoy (Greta Garbo) who travels to Paris on official business and falls in love with a charming and carefree Count (Melvyn Douglas). The film explores themes of love, culture clash, and the consequences of strict adherence to ideology.

6. The Thin Man (1934)

The Thin Man
Image Credit: MPTV Images.

This detective comedy follows the story of a retired detective, Nick Charles (William Powell), and his witty wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), who get involved in a murder case while visiting New York City. The movie is praised for its sharp humor, sparkling chemistry between the lead actors, and expertly plotted mystery, and it has spawned a successful franchise of sequels and adaptations.

7. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Image Credit: Loew's, Inc.

The Wizard of Oz is a musical fantasy film directed by Victor Fleming. The film follows the story of a young girl named Dorothy (Judy Garland) who is transported to a magical land called Oz, where she embarks on a quest to meet the Wizard and find her way home. With its unforgettable songs, iconic characters, and dazzling Technicolor visuals, The Wizard of Oz is considered a timeless classic of family entertainment.

8. Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)
Image Credit: Universal.

Frankenstein is a horror film directed by James Whale. This horror classic follows the story of a scientist named Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) who creates a living being (Boris Karloff) out of human parts. The movie explores themes of science, morality, and the consequences of playing god. This film is revered for its iconic creature design, atmospheric visuals, and haunting performance by Karloff and is considered a landmark of the horror genre.

9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a horror film directed by Rouben Mamoulian. The movie is based on the famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and follows the story of a scientist named Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) who invents a potion that unleashes his darker side, Mr. Hyde. The film explores themes of duality, identity, and the consequences of repressing one's desires. March's dual performance as Jekyll and Hyde is considered one of cinema's most remarkable acting feats.

10. Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone with the Wind
Image Credit: Loew's Inc.

This epic historical romance film directed by Victor Fleming follows the story of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), a strong-willed Southern belle who falls in love with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film explores themes of love, loss, and the consequences of war and is known for its sweeping scope, lavish production design, and iconic performances.

11. M (1931)

M (1931)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

M is a psychological thriller directed by Fritz Lang. The movie follows the story of a serial killer (Peter Lorre) who preys on children in Berlin and the police and criminals who hunt him down. The film explores themes of crime, punishment, and the consequences of societal neglect. M is known for its groundbreaking use of sound, cinematography, and editing, and Lorre's haunting performance as the disturbed killer.

12. Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup 1933
Image Credit: Hulton Archive.

Directed by Leo McCarey, Duck Soup is a satirical comedy that follows the story of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), the new leader of a fictional country called Freedonia, who gets caught up in a ridiculous war with a neighboring country. The film is known for its irreverent humor, sharp political commentary, and iconic Marx Brothers performances, and it is considered a classic of the comedy genre.

13. A Night at the Opera (1935)

A Night at the Opera
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Another Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera is a fun musical-comedy about a sly business manager and a group of friends who are trying to help two Italian opera singers make a name for themselves in America, all while making fun of those who are trying to bring them down.

14. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The classic tales of Robin Hood have been passed down for years, but the 1938 movie has been a classic film for a long time as well. This movie follows the tales of our favorite thief, as he steals from the rich to give to the needy, all while he falls in love with Maid Marian. The Adventures of Robin Hood won a number of Oscars in 1939 and was nominated for Best Picture that year as well!

15. A Star is Born (1937)

a star is born 3
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Before Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Lady Gaga all starred in their own versions of this movie, Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were the first ones to bring this haunting tale to the screen. The 1937 follows a similar plot line with Gaynor playing Esther, a young farm girl who moves to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a famous movie star, and March playing Norman Maine, an alcoholic star who is watching his light fade.

Source: Reddit.  

Film & Culture Writer | Website | + posts

Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.

At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.