Movies: Popular Movies of the 1890s (1890-1899)

Movies in chronological context: The 1890s (pronounced "eighteen-nineties") was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on January 1, 1890, and ended on December 31, 1899. In American popular culture, the decade would later be nostalgically referred to as the "Gay Nineties" (Gay as in 'carefree', 'cheerful', or 'bright and showy'). In the British Empire, the 1890s epitomised the late Victorian period. As European powers continued their colonial expansion, the decade saw the defeat of Edi (1890), Siam (1893), Morocco (1894), Dahomey (1894), Arab-Swahili warlords (1894), Lombork (1894), Pahang (1895), Merina (1895), Zanzibar (1896), Khaua and Mbandjeru (1896), Ashanti (1896), Matabeleland (1897), Pedir (1898), Sudan (1899), and various north-west Indian tribes and states. Whereas most colonial campaigns were successful, Italy faced a significant setback as it failed to conquer Ethiopia, being decisively defeated at Adwa (1896). Furthermore, the second half of the decade saw the final unravelling of Spanish America, which began with insurrections in Cuba (1895) and the Philippines (1896) and ended with the Spaniards' defeat at the hands of the United States in 1898. Following the sale of various Pacific islands to Germany in 1899, the Spanish colonial empire would be restricted to Africa. Further in the ea... ()

Movies of a single year: 1890 | 1891 | 1892 | 1893 | 1894 | 1895 | 1896 | 1897 | 1898 | 1899

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The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat(1897)

3.5/5 (with 202 votes)

Likely in June 1897, a group of people are standing along the platform of a railway station in La Ciotat, waiting for a train. One is seen coming, at some distance, and eventually stops at the platform. Doors of the railway-cars open and attendants help passengers off and on. Popular legend has it that, when this film was shown, the first-night audience fled the café in terror, fearing being run over by the "approaching" train. This legend has since been identified as promotional embellishment, though there is evidence to suggest that people were astounded at the capabilities of the Lumières' cinématographe.

Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory(1895)

3.4/5 (with 138 votes)

Working men and women leave through the main gate of the Lumière factory in Lyon, France. Filmed on 22 March 1895, it is often referred to as the first real motion picture ever made, although Louis Le Prince's 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene pre-dated it by seven years. Three separate versions of this film exist, which differ from one another in numerous ways. The first version features a carriage drawn by one horse, while in the second version the carriage is drawn by two horses, and there is no carriage at all in the third version. The clothing style is also different between the three versions, demonstrating the different seasons in which each was filmed. This film was made in the 35 mm format with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and at a speed of 16 frames per second. At that rate, the 17 meters of film length provided a duration of 46 seconds, holding a total of 800 frames.

Directed by Louis Lumière

The Sprinkler Sprinkled(1895)

1min | Comedy
3.5/5 (with 107 votes)

A gardener is watering his flowers, when a mischievous boy sneaks up behind his back, and puts a foot on the water hose. The gardener is surprised and looks into the nozzle to find out why the water has stopped coming. The boy then lifts his foot from the hose, whereby the water squirts up in the gardener's face. The gardener chases the boy, grips his ear and slaps him in his buttocks. The boy then runs away and the gardener continues his watering. Three separate versions of this film exist, this is the original, filmed by Louis Lumière.

The Astronomer's Dream(1898)

3min | Fantasy
3.4/5 (with 79 votes)

An astronomer has a terrifying dream.

The Haunted Castle(1896)

3min | Fantasy, Horror
3.2/5 (with 74 votes)

Le Manoir du diable or The House of the Devil, released in the United States as The Haunted Castle and in Britain as The Devil's Castle, is an 1896 French short silent film directed by Georges Méliès. The film tells the story of an encounter with the Devil and various attendant phantoms. It is intended to evoke amusement and wonder from its audiences, rather than fear. However, because of its themes and characters, it has been considered to technically be the first horror film, as well as potentially the first vampire film. The film opens with a large bat flying into a medieval castle, circling a room, and then suddenly changing into the Devil. Producing a cauldron, Mephistopheles conjures up a young girl and various supernatural creatures in an effort to scare two cavaliers, eventually succeeding in causing one to flee. Ultimately the remaining cavalier is confronted face-to-face by the Devil before reaching for and brandishing a large crucifix, which causes the Devil to vanish.

The Four Troublesome Heads(1898)

1min | Comedy, Fantasy
3.6/5 (with 67 votes)

One of the greatest of black art pictures. The conjurer appears before the audience, with his head in its proper place. He then removes his head, and throwing it in the air, it appears on the table opposite another head, and both detached heads sing in unison. The conjurer then removes it a third time. You then see all three of his heads, which are exact duplicates, upon the table at one time, while the conjurer again stands before the audience with his head perfectly intact, singing in unison with the three heads upon the table. He closes the picture by bowing himself from the stage.

Baby's Meal(1895)

2.8/5 (with 66 votes)

A father, a mother and a baby are sitting at a table, on a patio outside. Dad is feeding baby his lunch, while mum is serving tea.

Directed by Louis Lumière - With Auguste Lumière, Andrée Lumière

The Kiss(1896)

2.6/5 (with 54 votes)

They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time.

The Vanishing Lady(1896)

1min | Mystery
3.1/5 (with 49 votes)

Georges Méliès makes a woman disappear, then reappear.

Demolition of a Wall(1896)

3.2/5 (with 49 votes)

Auguste Lumière directs four workers in the demolition of an old wall at the Lumière factory. One worker is pressing the wall inwards with a jackscrew, while another is pushing it with a pick. When the wall hits the ground, a cloud of white dust whirls up. Three workers continue the demolition of the wall with picks.

Directed by Louis Lumière - With Auguste Lumière

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots(1895)

1min | History, Horror
3.1/5 (with 44 votes)

A short film depicting the execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots. Mary is brought to the execution block and made to kneel down with her neck over it. The executioner lifts his axe ready to bring it down. After that frame Mary has been replaced by a dummy. The axe comes down and severs the head of the dummy from the body. The executioner picks up the head and shows it around for everyone else to see. One of the first camera tricks to be used in a movie.

Directed by Alfred Clark - With Robert Thomae


3.1/5 (with 44 votes)

A fairy godmother magically turns Cinderella's rags to a beautiful dress, and a pumpkin into a coach. Cinderella goes to the ball, where she meets the Prince - but will she remember to leave before the magic runs out? Méliès based the art direction on engravings by Gustave Doré. First known example of a fairy-tale adapted to film, and the first film to use dissolves to go from one scene to another.

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A Nightmare(1896)

1min | Horror
3.0/5 (with 43 votes)

A man has a fantastical nightmare involving, among other things, a grinning malevolent moon.

Annabelle Serpentine Dance(1895)

2.9/5 (with 43 votes)

In a long, diaphanous skirt, held out by her hands with arms extended, Broadway dancer Annabelle Moore performs. Her dance emphasizes the movement of the flowing cloth. She moves to her right and left across an unadorned stage. Many of the prints were distributed in hand-tinted color.

Monkeyshines, No. 1(1890)

2.5/5 (with 42 votes)

Experimental film made to test the original cylinder format of the Kinetoscope and believed to be the first film shot in the United States. It shows a blurry figure in white standing in one place making large gestures and is only a few seconds long.

Poor Pierrot(1892)

3.0/5 (with 40 votes)

One night, Arlequin comes to see his lover Colombine. But then Pierrot knocks at the door and Colombine and Arlequin hide. Pierrot starts singing but Arlequin scares him and the poor man goes away.

Dickson Experimental Sound Film(1894)

1min | Music
3.2/5 (with 40 votes)

William K.L. Dickson plays the violin while two men dance. This is the oldest surviving sound film where sound is recorded on the phonograph.

Blacksmith Scene(1893)

2.8/5 (with 40 votes)

Three men hammer on an anvil and pass a bottle of beer around. Notable for being the first film in which a scene is being acted out.

Directed by William Kennedy Dickson - With Charles Kayser, John Ott

The Cabbage-Patch Fairy(1896)

2.6/5 (with 39 votes)

A brief fantasy tale involving a strange fairy who can produce and deliver babies coming out of cabbages. This film is lost or never existed. Copies of it online are actually the 1900 remake.

Directed by Alice Guy-Blaché

The Photographical Congress Arrives in Lyon(1895)

2.7/5 (with 39 votes)

Down the gangway, photographers leave the deck of a riverboat in large numbers.

The Sea(1895)

2.7/5 (with 37 votes)

Several little boys run along a pier, then jump into the ocean.

Directed by Louis Lumière

The Kiss in the Tunnel(1899)

3.0/5 (with 37 votes)

A humorous subject intended to be run as a part of a railroad scene during the period in which the train is passing through a tunnel.

A Terrible Night(1896)

1min | Comedy, Horror
2.6/5 (with 36 votes)

A man tries to get a good night's sleep, but is disturbed by a giant spider that leaps onto his bed, and a battle ensues in hilarious comic fashion.

Boat Leaving the Port(1895)

2.7/5 (with 35 votes)

In very bad weather and a stormy sea, a small boat manned by two men is trying to leave the harbor of La Ciotat, while several people are watching them from the nearby pier.

Directed by Louis Lumière

After the Ball(1897)

2.6/5 (with 35 votes)

A woman arrives home after the ball. Her servant helps her undress and bathe.

Directed by Georges Méliès - With Jehanne d'Alcy

Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze(1894)

2.5/5 (with 34 votes)

A man (Thomas Edison's assistant) takes a pinch of snuff and sneezes. This is one of the earliest Thomas Edison films and was the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the United States.

The Blacksmiths(1895)

2.5/5 (with 31 votes)

While his aide continuously turns the handle of the bellows, keeping hot a small furnace in front of him, a blacksmith is pounding a piece of metal on an anvil, then plunges the shaft into a tub of water, causing a cloud of vapor in the process.

Directed by Louis Lumière

Serpentine Dance(1896)

3.2/5 (with 30 votes)

Angelic and demonic serpentine dances from dawn of cinema. The dancer is Loie Fuller; the pioneer modern dancer. Recorded in Paris, and hand-colored frame by frame.

Directed by Leopoldo Fregoli

Snowball Fight(1897)

3.3/5 (with 30 votes)

Wintertime in Lyon. About a dozen people, men and women, are having a snowball fight in the middle of a tree-lined street. The cyclist coming along the road becomes the target of opportunity. He falls off his bicycle. He's not hurt, but he rides back the way he came, as the fight continues.

Directed by Louis Lumière

Fishing for Goldfish(1895)

2.5/5 (with 29 votes)

A man, holding a baby up in his hands, is standing next to a fishbowl. The baby is trying, in vain, to catch a goldfish with his bare hands.

Directed by Louis Lumière - With Auguste Lumière
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