10 Famous Lost Films

There’s a long list of classic (or at least, significant) movies that might never be seen again: major films starring some of the most popular stars of the silent cinema; Saved from the Titanic (1912), the first drama about the sinking of the Titanic, starring real-life survivor Dorothy Gibson; The Life of General Villa (1914), a legendary Hollywood film starring the Mexican revolutionary as himself; most segments of the classic film serial The Perils of Pauline (1914), starring Pearl White; Alfred Hitchcock's second feature, The Mountain Eagle (1926); and the first movie versions of The Great Gatsby (1926) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928). Like up to 80% of movies from the first 30 years of cinema, they are now “lost” films.

Film buffs are thrilled, of course, when a lost film resurfaces. A recent discovery was 30 minutes of lost footage from the great German science-fiction epic Metropolis (1927), which had somehow materialized in Buenos Aires. Even after 80 years, these movies can show up in the most unlikely places. So if you see any of the following, hidden in a warehouse or under the floorboards, please let someone know…

1. The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)

Running over an hour, this Australian film was the world’s first feature film. Directed by Melbourne entrepreneur Charles Tait, it told of the exploits of Ned Kelly, the nation’s most famous outlaw (or “bushranger”), and toured England as “the longest film ever made.” A popular and critical success in its time, it led to a fashion in bushranger movies—until they were banned by various Australian states for making the criminals look good. Sadly, Kelly Gang vanished, along with most of Australia’s film industry, in the first half of the 20th century. Nine minutes of footage were discovered under a bed in a deserted house in 1979, and for years, that was all that existed.

As the centenary approached, however, Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive contacted archives around the world, asking if they might have something to add. The British Film Institute had another incomplete film labeled “Kelly Gang,” but nobody knew what this was. With some detective work, an archivist noticed that one of the scenes was in a photo on the original Kelly Gang promotional poster. The footage was promptly included on a special DVD release. Most of the film, however, still seems to be gone for good.

2. A Daughter of the Gods (1916)

Another film with an Australian connection, this Hollywood movie starred Aussie swimmer and movie star Annette Kellerman (who is mostly forgotten by film buffs today, except as the heroine played by Esther Williams in the 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid). It won notoriety for Kellerman’s nude scene (the first by a major film star), which she never lived down.

3. Cleopatra (1917)

The publicity photos from this movie, featuring the alluring Theda Bara in the title role, are so famous that you’d think it still existed. It doesn’t. In fact, almost every movie starring Bara, Hollywood’s first major exotic sex symbol (actually a Cincinnati gal named Theodosia Goodman), is now lost. Fox (now 20th Century Fox), which is now much more diligent about preserving their films, was less careful in the early years.

4. Hollywood (1923)

One of the first Hollywood dramas about Hollywood, this film was adored by the critics of the time… but still somehow went missing. It was a comedy about a girl who goes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star, only to find herself unemployed as her loved ones accidentally get movie roles. Like The Player (1992), it attracted cameos from dozens of top Hollywood stars playing themselves—from Charlie Chaplin to Gloria Swanson, and even Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, recently disgraced by a scandal, as an unemployed actor. Director James Cruze was left to find total unknowns to play the leads. Hope Drown, a 20-year-old from Illinois, played he heroine. Though she was very pretty, and (according to critics) gave an excellent performance, she never made another movie. Perhaps she took the film’s cautionary message to heart.

5. Greed – The Directors’ Cut (1924)

Greed, directed by edgy genius Erich von Stroheim, is known as one of the masterpieces of silent film. As there were no DVDs back then, however, we will never have a chance to see the most extreme Director’s Cut in history. While many director’s cuts are considerably lengthier than the release prints, this film was shown only once in its complete, nine-hour version, before MGM Studios ordered it to be edited to a more manageable 100 minutes, described by von Stroheim as “a mutilation of my sincere work.”

We will never know whether the full version was the greatest film ever made, or a load of long, self-indulgent tedium (which, according to at least one early review, is a fair description). Once the editing was complete, the remaining negative was melted down for its silver nitrate. It’s hard to put a film back together from that.

6. Humorisk (or Humor Risk) (1920s)

This was the Marx Brothers’ first film, and their only silent movie, in which (from the few reports that exist) they played quite different characters to the ones we all know. Groucho Marx was so disillusioned with Humorisk that, after one screening, he purchased the film, destroying all prints and negatives. The brothers would not make another movie until the all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing The Cocoanuts (1929), based on their popular stage show.

7. London After Midnight (1927)

This detective/horror movie featured the great Lon Chaney in two roles: both the detective and the chief suspect. Chaney’s mastery of character acting and disguise (he applied his own make-up) gave him the sobriquet “Man of a Thousand Faces.” Thanks to surviving studio photos, his chilling performance as a smiling vampire in this film is still a famous image. But though many of his performances survive, some of his most well-regarded films (including The Miracle Man and The Tower of Lies) are missing. The last known copy of London after Midnight was destroyed in a fire in an MGM vault in 1967. In 2008, a horror movie aficionado known as “Sid Terror” caused a lot of excitement by claiming to have spotted another copy, which (he insisted) had since been misplaced somewhere in the UCLA Film Archives. So far, he has not provided any proof.

8. My Man (1928)

Hollywood’s second musical (after the legendary The Jazz Singer), this starred the great Ziegfeld Follies singer-comedienne Fanny Brice (best known to anyone under 90 as the heroine of the biopic Funny Girl, played by Barbra Streisand). Many early Hollywood musicals have also gone missing, including Honky Tonk (1929), one of only three films to star the great Sophie Tucker (only the soundtrack survives); and the epic Rogue Song (1930), with Laurel and Hardy.

9. Convention City (1933)

Though studios were more careful to preserve their films once they started talking, there were a few notable (and notorious) exceptions. Convention City, about the hijinks at a salesman’s convention, was so risqué for its time that Warner Bros’ studio boss Harry Warner ordered every copy to be destroyed in 1943 to get on the good side of the Production Code (especially the powerful chief censor, Will Hays). We know, however, that it was a comedy with an amazing cast (Joan Blondell, Adolphe Menjou, Dick Powell and Mary Astor among them) and a series of witty one-liners laced with pure, unadulterated smut. There are many rumors that this film is in the hands of a private collector, but that seems unlikely.

10. Catch My Soul (1974)

Most lost films are from the early years of cinema, but there are some intriguing exceptions. The “indie” film Catch My Soul was the only feature film directed by the late Patrick McGoohan, the suave Irish-American actor and visionary behind the classic TV series The Prisoner. Filmed in New Mexico, it was rock-opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello. Folk singer Richie Havens, the opening act at Woodstock, played Othello. It opened in New York to low audiences and poor reviews. Vincent Canby in The New York Times said it was “pricelessly funny though seldom meaning to be,” though he added that the songs were pretty good: “Forget the movie and get the soundtrack album.”

According to McGoohan, one of the producers “found God” and recut the movie, adding 15 minutes of religious material. Appalled by the final product, McGoohan tried unsuccessfully to remove his name from the credits. Though it was on the 16mm stocklist the next year, retitled Santa Fe Satan, it now appears only on lost film lists. But come on! McGoohan? Richie Havens? Hippie-style Shakespeare? Unintentional hilarity? Cool soundtrack? Early-70s rock opera? Someone needs to find this!

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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