10 Rarest Movies Ever Made

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Motion pictures date back to the late 19th century and since then thousands of films have been made around the world. Of course, many of the earliest movies, have been lost, due to the vulnerability of the material they were printed on. Since hundreds of films have been lost over the years, this list contains some of the most notable lost, partially lost, and rediscovered films ever made. All of the movies on this list are rare because they either don’t exist anymore or only one original copy has survived.

  1. Frankenstein (1910)
  2. Reason for Rarity: lost until the mid-1970s
    Year Released: March 18, 1910
    Directed By: J. Searle Dawley
    Produced By: Thomas Edison
    Starring: Augustus Phillips; Charles Ogle; and Mary Fuller
    Frankenstein
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted into films countless of times, but the Frankenstein movie produced Thomas Edison was the very first. Frankenstein (1910) was a 14-minute short film, Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as Frankenstein’s monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor’s fiancée.

    Like many of the movies on this list Frankenstein was considered lost for several decades. In the early 1950s, a print of this film was purchased by a Wisconsin film collector, Alois F. Dettlaff, who did not realize Frankenstein’s rarity. The film’s existence was not revealed until the mid-1970s. Dettlaff had a 35 mm preservation copy made also issued a DVD release of 1,000 copies.

    Did You Know?

    On November 15, 2018, in recognition of Mary Shelly’s bicentennial, the Library of Congress completed a restoration of Frankenstein (1910) and made it available to the public via YouTube.


  3. Sherlock Holmes (1916)
  4. Reason for Rarity: lost until 2014; only William Gillette film
    Year Released: May 15, 1916
    Directed By: Arthur Berthlet and William Postance
    Produced By: Essanay Studios
    Starring: William Gillette; Edward Fielding; Ernest Maupain
    Sherlock Holmes 1916
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    William Gillette was a famous early 20th century stage actor best known for his portrayal of iconic literary character Sherlock Holmes – Gillette had played Holmes on stage over 1,300 times. Gillette had a long stage career, but only ever made one film, Sherlock Holmes, in 1916. All surviving prints of Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes were considered lost, before a complete copy turned up in a film archive in France. This copy of Sherlock Holmes was restored and it was shown in France in January 2015 and in

    the U.S. that May.

    Did You Know?

    Sherlock Holmes was adapted from the 1899 stage play of the same name, which was based on the stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Final Problem,” and A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.


  5. East Lynne
  6. Reason for Rarity: lost until 1971; one of the few extant Theda Bara films
    Year Released: June 19, 1916
    Directed By: Bertram Bracken
    Produced By: William Fox
    Starring: Theda Bara; and Ben Deeley
    East Lynne
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    East Lynne was a 1916 silent film staring one of the most famous actresses of the era, Theda Bara. Although, Bara had a prolific career, most of her movies were lost during a fire at Fox studios in 1937. For several decades, East Lynne was believed to one of these lost films until a 16mm print of the film was discovered in 1971. This copy of East Lynne was purchased from Fox by the Museum of Modern Art where it is currently preserved.

    Did You Know?

    The East Lynne film is based on the 1861 novel East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood.


  7. The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Leader Karađorđe
  8. Reason for Rarity: only known copy lost for several decades before found in 2003
    Year Released: October 23, 1911
    Directed By: Ilija Stanojević
    Produced By: Svetozar Botorić
    Starring: Milorad Petrović and Ilija Stanojević
    The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Leader Karađorđe
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Leader Karađorđe or just Karađorđe was the first feature length film produced and released in Serbia and the Balkans. The movie is about the rebel leader Karađorđe, who led the First Serbian Uprising of 1804–1813. While Karađorđe was a financial success in Serbia, it was never released internationally and the last known copy of the film was lost 1947 or 1948. However, a largely intact copy of Karađorđe was discovered in Vienna by researchers from the Yugoslav Film Archive. This copy of Karađorđe was immediately returned to Serbia and restored in time to be screened on the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising, in February 2004.

    Did You Know?

    The Life and Deeds of the Immortal Leader Karađorđe was digitally restored and screened on the film’s 100th anniversary in 2011 and in 2016, Karađorđe was placed into the Yugoslav Film Archive.


  9. Une Femme Coquette
  10. Reason for Rarity: Only shown half a dozen times since 1960s; only known stored in European film archive
    Year Released: 1955
    Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard
    Produced By: Actua-Film
    Starring: Maria Lysandre and Roland Tolma
    Une Femme Coquette
    photo source: AV Club

    Before the short film suddenly showed up on YouTube in 2017, Une Femme Coquette (A Flirtatious Woman in English) had been one of the most searched for rare films for several decades. The only reason why Une Femme Coquette has so much interest is because it was the first thing that iconic French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard ever filmed.

    Une Femme Coquette was never released and the film only shown a half a dozen times since the 1960s. Before the mysterious YouTube release, the only known copy of Une Femme Coquette was being stored in a national film archive in Europe for a private owner.

    Did You Know?

    Director Jean-Luc Godard appears in Une Femme Coquette, wearing his famous prescription glasses


  11. The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West
  12. Reason for Rarity: never publicly released; only two out of an estimated seven or eight reels exist
    Year Released: N/A; filmed c.1916 or 1917
    Directed By: Marion E. Wong
    Produced By: Marion E. Wong
    Starring: Violet Wong; Marion E. Wong; and Harvey Soohoo
    The Curse of Quon Gwon
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West was never actually shown to the public, but the movie is historically significant for being the first Asian American feature film. It is also one of the first movies directed by a woman, Marion E. Wong. Wong produced, directed, and wrote the screenplay for The Curse of Quon Gwon in an effort to present Chinese culture to Americans. The movie was thought lost for years, until two reels were recovered by Gregory Mark, the grandson of Wong’s sister-in-law, Violet Wong, who starred in The Curse of Quon Gwon.

    Did You Know?

    In 2006, The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West was deemed a culturally, historically and aesthetically significant film by the National Film Registry and a new original score was created and added to the film in 2010.


  13. Cleopatra (1917)
  14. Reason for Rarity: last two known copies destroyed in 1937 Fox studio fires; only fragments of the movie survived
    Year Released: October 14, 1917
    Directed By: J. Gordon Edwards
    Produced By: William Fox
    Starring: Theda Bara; Fritz Leiber, Sr.; and Thurston Hall
    Cleopatra 1917
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    While there have been numerous movies made about Cleopatra’s life, one of the most famous early Cleopatra films was released in 1917 and starred famous silent film actress Theda Bara. Cleopatra (1917) was the most expensive and elaborate movie Hollywood had produced up to that time period. According to the studio, the film cost $500,000 (equivalent to around $9.78 million today) to make. Like a few of the other movies on this list, Cleopatra wasn’t lost until decades later, when a fire broke out at Fox studios in 1937. Unfortunately, most of Bara’s other films were lost in the fire as well.

    Did You Know?

    Theda Bara’s costumes in Cleopatra (1917) were risqué for time and some scenes were censored in various cities in the U.S. However, this did not impact ticket sales and Cleopatra was one of the most successful films of 1917.


  15. London After Midnight
  16. Reason for Rarity: last known copy of the movie destroyed in 1965 MGM vault fire; only stills exist
    Year Released: December 3, 1927
    Directed By: Tod Browning
    Produced By: Tod Browning and Irving Thalberd
    Starring: Lon Chaney; Marceline Day; Conrad Nagel; Henry B. Walthall; Polly Moran; Edna Tichenor; and Claude King
    London After Midnight
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    London After Midnight was one of the highest grossing films of 1927 and was the most successful collaboration between director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney. Despite being such a famous and well-liked movie, the last known copy was destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire, making London After Midnight one of the most sought after lost films. In 2002, Rick Schmidlin used the original script and film stills to release a shortened reconstruction of London After Midnight.

    Did You Know?

    In 2014, the only known poster for London After Midnight sold for $478,000, making it the most valuable movie poster ever sold at public auction.


  17. The First Men in the Moon
  18. Reason for Rarity: only production stills and a plot synopsis exist
    Year Released: 1919
    Directed By: Bruce Gordon and J.L.V. Leigh
    Produced By: Unspecified
    Starring: Bruce Gordon; Heather Thatcher; and Lionel d’Aragon
    The First Men in the Moon
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    The First Men in the Moon was a 1919 silent black and white film adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. This was the first time that Wells’ novel had been made into a movie. Unfortunately, The First Men in the Moon is almost completely lost. Only production stills and plot synopsis of the movie exist today, but the British Film Institute is still on the search for a copy of the movie.

    Did You Know?

    The First Men in the Moon was the first full-length movie based entirely on a science fiction novel.


  19. The Mountain Eagle
  20. Reason for Rarity: only lost Hitchcock film; only a couple dozen stills exist
    Year Released: May 23, 1927
    Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
    Produced By: Michael Balcon
    Starring: Nita Naldi; Bernhard Goetzke; Malcolm Keene; John F. Hamilton
    The Mountain Eagle
    photo source: Wikimedia Commons

    Alfred Hitchcock is widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers in history. With a career spanning over six decades, Hitchcock directed over 50 films, and surprisingly, only one is considered lost, The Mountain Eagle. While many great movies have been lost over the years, none are more sought out than The Mountain Eagle, which makes its the rarest movie ever made in the world. Only a couple dozen still photographs from The Mountain Eagle have been recovered.

    Did You Know?

    The Mountain Eagle was the second film that Alfred Hitchcock ever directed and it was poorly received. Reportedly, Hitchcock was relieved that the movie had been lost.

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