10 Best Famous Players Movies

Friday, February 4 by Nina St. John

The 10 best Famous Players movies make up a time period between 1912 and 1921. The Famous Players movie company was established by Adolph Zukor, Edwin Porter and Daniel Frohman. It was “famous players in famous plays.” The point was to entice great stage actors onto the silverscreen at a time when working in the movies was looked down upon. It became Famous Players-Lasky Films in a 1916 merger and went on to become Paramount Pictures in 1935. This was the infancy of the motion picture industry when it went from “flickers” to Paramount movie studios. Here are ten of the best Famous Players movies from people that took a chance on new ideas and new technology.

  1. “The Prisoner of Zenda” was the Famous Players’ first production in 1913. It’s based on an adventure novel by Anthony Hope. The king of Ruritania is saved from a takeover by the intercession of his look alike cousin, who unfortunately falls in love with the king’s fiancée. It was critically acclaimed, although it didn’t make any money.
  2. “Queen Elizabeth” starring Sandra Bernhardt is considered one of the best Famous Players movies. It opened in New York in 1912 to an elite crowd to give it legitimacy. Famous Players had not gotten a permit to air the film because industry didn’t think the time was, or might not ever be, right for features.
  3. “Hearts Adrift” starring Mary Pickford opened in 1914. This is one of the best Famous Players movies because it was a huge commercial success and launched the career of Pickford. Nina and Jack are marooned on a deserted island and fall in love. Then Jack’s wife comes to rescue him. This Famous Players movie is lost now.
  4. “Tess of the Storm Country” was released in 1914 starring their new sensation Mary Pickford. It was directed by Edwin Porter and is one of Pickford’s most successful movies. It was the first to move away from male dominated industry thinking. The Famous Players movie was based on a novel by Grace White, starred a female and was sold to a female market.
  5. “Gretna Green” opened in 1915 based on the popular novel by Grace Furniss. It starred a 30 year old Marguerite Clark who convincingly played a teenage ward of a British aristocrat.
  6. “The Little Princess” is one of the best Famous Players movies because it was adapted to screen by Frances Marion, a female screenwriter. It was released in 1917 starring Mary Pickford and based on the novel by Frances Burnett.
  7. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” starred John Barrymore in one of the earlier film renditions of this horror story in 1920. What makes this one of the best Famous Players movies is the expert personal transformation of John Barrymore. The studio chose not to use make up for the initial transformation scene. They relied completely on Barrymore’s acting ability and physical discipline to make the figure of Mr. Hyde emerge convincingly.
  8. “The Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino was released in 1921. This Famous Players movie is the one that made Valentino’s image and style a brand.
  9. “Blood and Sand” is another Rudolph Valentino and Famous Players movie company hit. It was made in 1922, and Valentino himself considered it the best Famous Players movie in which he worked.
  10. “Passion Play” is included on this list because although it was released in 1910 as a venture project by Adolph Zukor alone, it was groundbreaking. This film was 90 minutes long. Adolph Zukor took a big chance on buying the rights to this religious piece. His colleagues and the industry at large never thought an audience would sit through a 90 minute feature film. The average runtime then was ten to fifteen minutes. Zukor took a chance, and feature films were born.