A few weeks ago, a new study reported that 75% of all silent films are lost. I’d often heard 80-90% as the figure, so while still a “staggering loss,” at least there’s now a comprehensive look at what is missing and what is extant.
From the Library of Congress:
The Library of Congress today unveiled “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929,” the first comprehensive survey of American feature films that survived the silent era of motion pictures. Previous documentation established that nearly 11,000 (10,919) silent feature films of American origin were released from 1912 through 1929. There was, however, no definitive, systematic study on how many of these films still existed and where any surviving elements were located in the world’s leading film archives and private collections.
The groundbreaking study reveals some startling facts about America’s endangered silent-film heritage. Only 14 percent—about 1,575 titles—of the feature films produced and distributed domestically from 1912-1929 exist in their original format. Five percent of those that survived in their original 35 mm format are incomplete. Eleven percent of the films that are complete only exist as foreign versions or in lower-quality formats.
“The Library of Congress can now authoritatively report that the loss of American silent-era feature films constitutes an alarming and irretrievable loss to our nation’s cultural record,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “We have lost most of the creative record from the era that brought American movies to the pinnacle of world cinematic achievement in the 20th century.”
“This report is invaluable because the artistry of silent film is essential to our culture,” said Martin Scorsese, film-preservation advocate and director of “Hugo,” a loving tribute to silent film. “Any time a silent picture by some miracle turns up, it reminds us of the treasures we’ve already lost. It also gives us hope that others may be discovered. The research presented in this report serves as a road map to finding silent films we once thought were gone forever and encourages creative partnerships between archives and the film industry to save silent cinema.” [more available at the link]
The new database is available at
Side note: WSU site is still down.