April marks the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. originally founded by brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner. In 1918, the Warner brothers opened their first studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and gained popularity with low-budget, gangster films like Little Cesar and The Public Enemy. When Warner Bros. produced the first partial talkie in 1927, The Jazz Singer, the studio reached a pinnacle status becoming one of the Big Five Hollywood studios.
Through the years, the pioneering studio has produced countless notable films including A Streetcar Named Desire, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and while there are hundreds to choose from, there are some Warner Bros. films and stars who played a major role in the studio’s success. Classics like Casablanca andGoodfellas are just a few of the 10 essential Warner Bros. movies according to Rotten Tomatoes.
1 ‘The Public Enemy’ (1931)
Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend, Matt (Edward Woods) grew up in the slums of Chicago and worked their way up in the world of bootlegging and organized crime. Despite Tom’s criminal lifestyle, he tries to stay connected to his family and financially provide for them, but violence between rival gangs and self-pride pulls him away from them and down a deadly path of revenge.
At the time of The Public Enemy, Cagney had only played a few minor film roles and was originally, cast to play nice guy, Matt Doyle but after the first few days of filming, director, William A. Wellman swapped the roles giving Cagney the lead. According to Conversations with Classic Film Stars by James Bawden and Ron Miller, Cagney’s co-star, Joan Blondell said Cagney’s undeniable and “outstanding charisma” is what essentially landed the triple threat his breakthrough role.
2 ‘Casablanca’ (1942)
During World War II, nightclub owner, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) discovers his old girlfriend, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is in Casablanca with her husband, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). Nazi officers in the area also catch wind of Lazlo’s arrival, a well-known rebel and fugitive. With no other options, Ilsa turns to Rick for help and to save her husband before he’s captured.
Casablanca is a signature Warner Bros. movie starring another one of the studio’s iconic stars, Bogart. Born in 1899, Bogart was a Broadway actor from New York City who started out playing second-fiddle parts to other studio stars such as Edward G. Robinson and George Raft. He gained recognition for his performances in films like High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon and by 1946, Bogart was reportedly the world’s highest-paid actor.
3 ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938)
When King Richard is taken prisoner, his brother, Prince John (Claude Rains) attempts to take the throne in his absence. Outraged by the prince’s plan, Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) rounds up his group of men and with the support of the lovely Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), fights to protect the crown until the rightful king returns.
With an estimated production cost of over two million dollars, The Adventures of Robin Hood was the most expensive film Warner Bros. had ever produced and was also the studio’s first to use the three-strip Technicolor process. The movie also features frequent co-stars and longtime friends, Flynn and de Havilland who made a total of eight movies together. The Adventures of Robin Hood is undoubtedly Flynn’s most famous role, but the actor’s also known for other Warner Bros. classics including Captain Blood, Dodge City and They Died with Their Boots On.
4 ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941)
San Francisco private eye, Sam Spade takes a case that ends up involving several questionable characters (Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet) and a mysterious bejeweled statue known as The Maltese Falcon. When Spade becomes involved in their grand scheme, he realizes that his only chance of escaping this web of crime is to find the priceless falcon first.
After the success of their gangster films, Warner Bros. noticed the public’s growing interest in detective novels and started purchasing the rights to books by authors like Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, playing a major role in ushering the film noir genre into American cinema. John Huston‘s The Maltese Falcon stars Bogart as Chandler’s popular private investigator, Sam Spade and is considered to be one of the greatest film noirs of all time.
5 ‘The Searchers’ (1956)
At the end of the Civil War, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home and learns that his brother and his family were attacked by American Indians. Edwards soon discovers that his niece (Natalie Wood) is still alive and with the help of his nephew (Jeffrey Hunter), he sets out to bring her back home as well as avenge his family.
John Ford‘s The Searchers ranks as one of the greatest Westerns of all time and is also a favorite among award-winning filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. As part of promoting the movie, Warner Bros. produced and broadcast one of the first behind-the-scenes programs in movie history and for the first time, gave audiences a look behind the camera at how movies are made.
6 ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ (1962)
Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a promising child star who was left to care for her sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford) after an accident left her bound to a wheelchair. As Jane plans a career comeback, she worries that Blanche will spoil her dream again and becomes determined to keep her trapped in their old Hollywood mansion until she figures out how to make Blanche disappear.
Davis was a brilliant Broadway star who became a contract player with Warner Bros. in 1931 where she stayed for 18 years and affectionately nicknamed “the fifth Warner brother.” Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a psychological thriller starring Davis and Crawford who were notoriously known for their intense on and off-screen feud. While their real-life distaste for each other proved useful in the film, their rivalry caused frequent on-set drama including the women arguing over the number of close-up shots as well as Davis “accidentally” kicking Crawford in the head during a scene.
7 ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971)
When a madman kidnaps a little girl, officer, Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) tries to find her before the man kills her. Callahan manages to rescue the girl in time but when the officer violates the suspect’s civil rights, authorities are forced to let him go. As soon as he’s released, the suspect hijacks a school bus of children and with no other option, Callahan decides to take the law into his own hands to stop the man once and for all.
Dirty Harry is an iconic Warner Bros. movie that stars Eastwood in one of his most memorable roles. The movie paved the way for the loose-cannon cop genre as well as Eastwood’s character established the first real archetype of the action genre. Dirty Harry was a partial force in a pivotal turn in Eastwood’s career ranking as the 4th highest-grossing film of 1971 and the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Eastwood and Warner Bros.
8 ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
Clever railroad worker Bart (Cleavon Little) becomes the first Black sheriff for a small frontier town, Rock Ridge. At first, the townspeople aren’t fond of their new lawman but when they learn that the governor plans to build a railroad through the town, the people put aside their differences and rally behind their sheriff to save their home.
Mel Brooks‘ Blazing Saddlesis a hysterical slapstick comedy with an all-star cast consisting of Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn and Slim Pickins. The movie features a now iconic scene towards the end as the cast exits the film spilling onto the actual Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank resulting in chaos through the sound stages and an epic food fight in the studio’s commissary. The world premiere of Blazing Saddles took place at the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank and the guests including Little and Wilder all watched the movie on horseback.
9 ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) always wanted to be a gangster and at a young age, he started working for a local boss (Paul Sorvino) in his neighborhood. As he works his way through the ranks, Hill becomes one of the crew’s top earners and has no problem enjoying an extravagant lifestyle, but Hill fails to see the horrific reality of the life he has chosen and like most good things, eventually, it all comes to an end.
Scorsese’s Goodfellas is the ultimate gangster film that also stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Braco. Film critic, Roger Ebert, gave the movie four out of four stars stating that no finer movie about organized crime has ever been including The Godfather. The movie inspired writer, David Chase, to develop the groundbreaking drama series, The Sopranos, which stars a handful of actors from Goodfellas including Frank Vincent, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli and Bracowho plays Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi.
10 ‘The Matrix’ (1999)
Computer programmer, Thomas Anderson A.K.A. Neo (Keanu Reeves) encounters the cryptic phrase, “the Matrix” several times before meeting Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who informs him that a man named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) holds the answer to his question. As Trinity takes Neo into the underground world of Zion, they fight agents of a secret organization determined to keep the truth of the Matrix hidden.
The Matrix took the science-fiction genre to another level with innovative special effects and intricate action scenes that were inspired by Japanese animation and martial arts movies. It also introduced the visual effect known as bullet time which is a technique that makes the action in a shot move in slow-motion while the camera continues to appear moving at normal speed. The Matrix was Warner Bros.’s highest-grossing film of the year and today ranks as one of the greatest science-fiction films in history.
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