The 1930s was a crucial decade in our history; developed economies were coming out of the Great Depression that began late in the previous decade and many new technologies were becoming available.
Although cinemas had existed since the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s that they became more widespread across the UK and United States.
A few decades earlier, the first Hollywood film was produced. Known as In Old California, this silent movie was just 17 minutes long and set in the period when California was under Mexican control.
By the 1930s, Hollywood as we know it today was taking shape. Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures were all founded in the 1910s and 1920s and were churning out great content by the time the 1930s rolled in.
While they look and feel very different to the type of film produced by major movie studios these days, many 1930s films are timeless classics that are definitely worth a watch.
A Day at the Races
Released in 1937, A Day at the Races stars the Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont, Maureen O’Sullivan and Allan Jones in the story of a struggling sanitarium. A local racetrack and nightclub owner wants to take control of the sanitarium to turn it into a casino.
A vet, a race-horse owner and their friends begin fighting to keep it open, getting into all kinds of capers along the way. They try to raise some funds by borrowing a horse and entering it into a horse race with a big purse.
The film captures many elements of American society at the time. The love of horse racing, which lives on today at the race track through online sports betting sites and on TV, is a key part of the story.
It’s also packed with lots of slapstick comedy, singing, and dancing; all hallmarks of early 20th-century cinema.
Gone with the Wind
Winner of eight Academy Awards, Gone with the Wind is an American classic that is still watched by many to this day. Its popularity is so strong, almost half of US homes tuned in to watch it the first time it aired on television in the 1970s.
Even today, more than 30,000 people per year flock to Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta to see artefacts and memorabilia from the movie.
The Wizard of Oz
A universal favourite, The Wizard of Oz was first released in 1939 and is still shown on TV every year in the United States, United Kingdom, and many other countries. It received two Oscars and was nominated for two more in 1940 and has been shown at several film festivals in the decades since, including the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 and the Berlin International Film Festival in 1985.
It’s no surprise though, since the musical fantasy movie is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever created.
It was one of the first films to use Technicolor and its implementation through switching from black and white to colour when Dorothy’s house lands in Munchkinland is iconic.
The Wizard of Oz’s popularity has not waned over the years. Instead, it’s received several remakes, parodies, theatre versions, TV shows, comics, sequels, and even a Muppets version of the movie.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, King Kong is the fourth-best horror movie of all time and one of the best films ever created. Even today, King Kong is still a culturally significant character thanks to countless references in pop culture and several remakes and sequels.
The film contains the famous scene featuring King Kong standing on the top of the Empire State Building, being attacked by planes before he falls to his death.
As a demonstration of the impact that King Kong has had, in 1991 the US Library of Congress added the movie to its list of films that are significant for their cultural, historic and aesthetic elements.
Part of this significance comes from the combination of live-action and stop-motion animation in one film. While King Kong wasn’t the first film to do this, it demonstrated that the two could go together well. Today, dozens of films that use this technique are released by Hollywood studios each year.