The 10 Best Buster Keaton Movies, Ranked

Among the early pioneers of film were a few great comedians. Using silent films in stride they made great advances in the visual art form. Early movies used actors from plays and vaudeville theater, who brought their brand of comedy to films. With a great influence over the film industry, we can see traces of Buster Keaton in Jackie Chan, Bill Murray, the works of Wes Anderson and so many more. Resonating greats like Orson Welles are the words of the great film critic Roger Ebert, “The greatest of the silent clowns is Buster Keaton, not only because of what he did, but because of how he did it. Harold Lloyd made us laugh as much, Charlie Chaplin moved us more deeply, but no one had more courage than Buster.” Here is the list of top Buster Keaton movies:

 

10. Cops (1922)

Like most of his other works, ‘Cops’ is also a short film. It shows Buster playing himself as a man whose love tells him to become successful before he asks for her hand in marriage. He steals some money in a slapstick moment to try to make it big. But he ends up disturbing a police parade in a crazy chain of events and hence gets persuaded by hundreds of cops. It makes for a brilliant ride in the regular Buster Keaton fashion. An example of his influence in modern comedy can be seen in how he uses a boxing glove at the end of a tie rack to build an extending arm that has been reused in Tom & Jerry and other comedies.

 

9. Convict 13 (1920)

Like a lot of Keaton’s films, it starts with a bumbling Buster Keaton trying to woo a girl, this time during a game of golf. He ends up being dressed as an escaped prisoner and the rest of the film explores him trying to escape again through innovative schemes. It uses many different devices that have been reused in so many movies and TV shows. When in prison he meets another inmate played by Keaton’s close friend and regular collaborator, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. Arbuckle tries his own escape rendering all the guards unconscious in his attempt. This is another staple of Keaton’s movies in which he and Arbuckle play opposing characters with a similar goal. It is a classic silent comedy piece.

 

8. The Play House (1921)

Buster Keaton has been instrumental in pioneering visual effects that were just as complex as those we see today but he did it nearly a century ago. And ‘The Play House’ is a testament to his achievement in visual effects. The entire film is hinges on multiplicity and the confusion that occurs because of it. The first quarter of the short film has multiple characters in the same frame, all played by Keaton himself. It is marvellous to see what was achieved in the early days of cinema. The remaining portion of the film uses effects to make identical twins of the girl Buster is pursuing. Every frame of this masterpiece is astonishingly well made and executed with brilliance like none other to achieve comedy.

 

7. The Cameraman (1928)

This is such a great comedy that MGM studios used it for many years as an example of the perfect comedy. The studio made all directors and producers watch and learn from it to make great movies. It follows Buster as a photographer who trades his tintype camera for a movie camera just to be close to a girl who works at MGM studios. He is insulted by officials and other cameramen but he perseveres to make videos. He makes a montage of unorthodox films and gets ridiculed. But the montage uses many techniques such as dissolves, reversed footage and double exposure that are staples in modern movies. It showcases Buster Keaton’s spirit to break the mould and innovate.

 

6. The Electric House (1922)

Another example of the futuristic vision of Buster Keaton, ‘The Electric House’ follows a botanist mistaken for an electrical engineer who is commissioned by a wealthy man to make an automated house. It is essential to remember that at the time, electricity was in its nascent stage. So the automation depicted in this film was very far-fetched in its day but seems quite normal to us. The comedy amplifies when an actual engineer tries to ruin the electric house and everything goes haywire. The entire set is created to serve the purpose of jokes. Escalators run at full speed, propelling people like slingshots and toy trains that bring around food get derailed. The movie is filled to the brim with jokes and gags that have since been used in many movies and cartoons.

Read More: Charlie Chaplin Movies

2 comments

  • Great list, but a quick correction: Roscoe Arbuckle was not in these films, as you mentioned, but rather it was actor Joe Roberts who played opposite Keaton in films from your list such as The Scarecrow and Convict 13.

    • While Roscoe and Buster did make movies together, Roscoe wasn’t in your top ten Buster Keaton films listed above. It’s Big Joe Roberts that co-stars in 8 of the 10: Cops, Convict, Playhouse, Electric House, Neighbors, The Goat, Scarecrow and One Week.