Honorary Oscar recipient Kevin Brownlow once wrote ‘the parade has gone by’, when describing silent films.  But maybe it hasn’t.  
Maybe it has stopped on our doorstep one last time, for us to honor the medium, before its final journey into the sunset. 

With the enticing prospect of a silent film (‘The Artist’) winning the Best Picture Oscar ; the time is ripe to look at the history of silent films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. 

The most famous of them all is Wings.


The only silent film (to date) to receive the ‘Best Picture’ Academy Award.

It did so without a single acting nomination, or a directing nomination.  

Its accolade was the result of outstanding aerial battle footage; which resulted in winning the ‘Engineering Effects’ category. Nominated for only two awards – it won them both. 

The film starred Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers and Gary Cooper in his fourth credited role.  
But it also starred Hedda Hopper,  – the 38 year old gossip columnist was uncredited as Mrs Powell – ‘Buddy’ Rogers’ mother.  

For a film that won the first Best Picture – it is surprising it has never received a DVD release. Late in 2011 – the film will finally receive a ‘restored’ Blu Ray release.




Purists will say that another film won the Best Picture Oscar that year –  F W Murnau’s ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ was the recipient of the “Unique and Artistic Picture” award- one that focused more on the artistic strength of the film. 

It failed to receive a Best Acting nomination and a directing nomination, however did receive the Best Actress Award for Janet Gaynor (the Academy awarded her for three roles that year – Street Angel, 7th Heaven, Sunrise – all silent films).
It also received the first ever ‘Cinematography’ award , and lost in the Art Direction category.

Murnau himself appears in the film – uncredited as a dancer. 
4 nominations for 3 wins.  



The Racket received just one Oscar nomination – ‘Best Picture’
Directed by Lewis MIlestone, who would win Best Director Oscar two years later, it was produced by Howard Hughes.
In his private collection he had the only known surviving copy, and it was from that a restoration was able to take place, and the film screened in the last ten years.  


7th Heaven won three of the major awards on Oscar night. 
Best Actress for Janet Gaynor (see: Sunrise entry above) , Best Director for Frank Borzage and Best Writing for Benjamin Glazer (he would win again 12 years later for writing ‘Arise , My Love’)
In any other year, that would have indicated a near lock for the Best Picture Award, but it was beaten by ‘Wings‘ and also lost the Art Direction category.
It received 5 nominations in total – currently the equal most by a silent film (along with ‘The Patriot’) 



Change: A Drama of Wilderness was effectively a staged documentary film that received a sole nomination for ‘Unique and Artistic Production’.
It was directed by two – Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack – who collaborated later for ‘King Kong’ 
The story was written by Achmed Abdullah – who earlier wrote the screenplay for ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (note: there is no ‘h’ in the Bagdad)


King Vidor’s famous The Crowd received two Oscar nominations – Best Director and ‘Unique and Artistic Production’ 
Vidor would receive 5 Best Director nominations and never win (he would lose three times to directors called ‘Frank), but received an Honorary Oscar in 1979.  
In 1981 he would present Best Director , along with George Cukor , to Robert Redford for ‘Ordinary People’. 

In 1989- The Crowd was one of the first 25 films chosen for the Library of Congress National Film Registry.  


The Patriot holds the distinction currently as being the last silent film nominated for Best Picture.
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it received 5 Academy Award nominations – losing Best Actor, Art Direction, Best Director and Best Picture. 
It did however win the Best Writing Oscar for Hanns Kraly. 

The Patriot’s status is as a ‘lost film’ – the only Best Picture nominee of which no complete print has been located. 


Academy Award – Best Picture – Silent Film – Statistics

Number of Silent films nominated for Best Picture:   7  (4 for ‘Best Picture’ / 3 ‘Unique + Artistic’)

Last Silent film nominated for Best Picture:   The Patriot 1928/1929 

Silent film which has the most nominations:  7th Heaven (5) , The Patriot (5).

Notable categories in which a silent film has yet to be nominated in:
Editing , Best Supp Actor , Best Supporting Actress (these were created after advent of sound films)

No silent film has ever won Best Picture and Best Actor in the same year.

No silent film has ever won Best Picture and Best Director in the same year. 

– By Rhett Bartlett