Films are time capsules that record the fashions, hairstyles and concerns of society at the time. That’s why it’s a tragedy when any film becomes lost. The reasons a film can go missing are many—vault fires, film cans being misplaced or stolen, or just general indifference in preservation.
An astonishing 75% of the earliest movies, the silent filmsToday, they are considered lost. There are also independent filmmakers. missingmovies.org are highlighting the problem of how more recent movies—even from the 21st century—can go missing due to rights issues, effectively hiding away the elements required to produce new copies. Every year, lost films can be found and restored. Let’s take a look at ten lost films that were found recently.
10 The Horror Maestro’s Public Service Film
George A. Romero is a legend within the horror film genre. His 1968 independent production Night of the Living Dead kickstarted both his directing career and his “Dead” series, which grew to include the acclaimed Dawn of the Dead(1978) and fan favorite Day of the Dead(1985) Land of the Dead (2005). So if you’re a charity looking to commission a public service film, Romero may not have been your first choice.
But in 1973, The Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania (an early forerunner to the “meals on wheels” service to the elderly) did, in fact, hire Romero to make a film on the theme of aging. (LINK 3) It was a success. The Amusement ParkA hellish film about the struggles of the elderly. For example, the “freak show” is a young audience gawking at completely ordinary older people. Unsurprisingly, the charity was horrified with the work and didn’t release it. Romero displayed the film at the 1975 American Film Festival. After a few more festivals showings, the film was eventually lost.
Then in 2017, weeks before Romero’s death, he was sent the last known copy of the film. This led to his widow having a 4K scan and reconstruction made of the film. finally released in 2021, to the delight of Romero’s legion of fans.
9 The Film Saved from the Nazis
A Polish husband-and wife filmmaker duo, Stefan And Franciszka Themerson, made a surrealist short in 1931 with strong anti-fascist themes. It was called EuropaIt was created to reflect the fear and horror they felt when Europe was moving towards World War II. The Themersons moved to Paris in 1938. EuropaAmong them were four films from the Vitfer film laboratory in Warsaw. The films were later confiscated by the Nazis. Europawas assumed to have been lost forever
The film became a legend over time and many in the film industry mourned its loss. The couple died in 1988 and a remake was made using surviving still photographs. They believed their film had been lost forever. Then in 2019, researchers notified the Themersons’ niece, Jasia Reichardt, that they believed Europa was actually housed in one of German’s national archives, the Bundesarchiv. The Themerson estate gifted the film to British Film Institute (BFI) when they proved correct. It premiered at the BFI London film fest on October 6, 2021 after a restoration.
8 The Pandemic leads to a lost film being found
It’s hard to find any positives about the coronavirus pandemic, but perhaps more free time at home is one of them. Olivia Babler is the director of film transfers operations at the Chicago Film ArchivesBabler would most likely say so. Babler was stuck at home in early 2020 and took the extra time for a thorough review of film reels from a basement in Peoria. Among those reels was the previously undiscovered 1923 Universal Pictures murder investigation The First Degree.
Described as “a film about sheep farming and blackmail” and featuring “a villain with a great mustache,” The First Degree hadn’t been seen since its initial theatrical run. It was thought to have been lost for close to 100 years. The find also brought to light Chicago’s past as a major hub for film production in the early days of the movie industry. It was premiered at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center on September 29, 2021.
7 A Controversial 1960s Crime Drama
In the days before the Motion Picture Association of America’s now-familiar rating system (G, PG, R etc.The Catholic Legion of Decency was a powerful force in the film industry. The group was formed in 1934 to identify objectionable content in films, and a “C” rating (a condemnation) by the Legion could hurt a film’s box office potential. This was the case with Private Propertya 1960 crime drama featuring Corey Allen and Warren Oates. Warren Oates is a frequent Sam Peckinpah collaborator. The Legion’s condemnation kept distributors and audiences away from the film, and it eventually became lost.
In 2015, the UCLA Television & Film Archive finally tracked down Private PropertyThis led to the film’s restoration and a 2016 rerelease. Modern audiences loved the film. So did critics—it now holds an impressive 89% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic for rogerebert.com wrote that Private Property “is a terrific example of the spell that a confident film can weave by placing a handful of troubled characters in a confined location.” (LINK 12) 
6 The Unknown Mickey Rooney Film
Mickey RooneyHe is an actor legend. He first appeared onscreen as a young child and has racked up 343 credits in his long and varied career. With so many films under his belt, it’s understandable that some might slip through the cracks. And that’s what happened to the 1975 slasher film The Intruder.
Harry Guerro traveled to California in 2016 from New Jersey to see a storage facility that contained old films. He found The IntruderThere are many films there. Guerro is the owner of Garagehouse Pictures, a DVD/Bluray label that makes obscure films viewable again. The most surprising aspect about The IntruderIt was so obscure, that no one seemed to have heard about it. “I was not familiar with the film at all—no one was! The film had no Internet Movie Database entry and didn’t appear on any filmographies of the principals,” Guerro told The Life and Times of Hollywood about his find. After a six-month restoration, the film was finally restored. The IntruderBlu-ray was released in 2017 making this a lost film.
5 Home Movies From the Altamont
The Rolling Stones’ performance at San Francisco’s Altamont Speedway in 1969 is notorious due to an interaction between the Hell’s Angels (who had been hired for security) and a fan that ended with the fan being stabbed to death. The film captured the incident. Gimme ShelterBut, new footage from that date has emerged.
In 2002, The Library of CongressRick Prelinger, an archivist, purchased 200,000 reels. Prelinger purchased the reels himself from Palmer Films, a San Francisco-based company that went out of business in 1996. The Library slowly worked through the reels. In January 2022 they announced that they had found previously undiscovered home movies taken at the Altamont Free Concert. It includes candid shots not only of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger but also footage of sights that were not seen before. Gimme ShelterCarlos Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Young. The National Screening Room has the footage available online.
4 A Lost Orson Welles Curio
While home video is something we now take for granted, it was exciting technology in the 1970s. An early home VCR, Avco’s Cartrivision, went on the market in 1972 and commissioned some original productions to entice buyers. Six short films were produced by Orson Welles. Unfortunately, when Cartrivision flopped, these and the rest of Avco’s original tape productions were bulk erased, leaving them unseen.
Incredibly, in early 2022, the Welles’s estate purchased at auction two surviving Cartrivision titles that he made: Two wise old men: Socrates, Noah, American Heritage Vol. Clarence Darrow. Unfortunately, the Clarence DarrowThe tape was removed. Socrates and NoahTape survived and was recently digitized by Los Angeles. The short is being made available to the public through plans. While surely a modest production, Welles’s standing as one of the all-time great American filmmakers makes the Socrates and NoahFind out the latest news.
3 A Long-Lost Critic Favorite
Joe Anderson, a young film professor at Ohio University in the 1960s, was an inspiration to many. Anderson, a lover of international cinema, especially Italian Neorealism and a passionate film-maker, recruited students to film in rural Appalachian communities with European flair. The result was Spring Night, summer NightThe tender drama of two step-siblings that fall in love, titled. Anderson secured a spot at the 1968 New York Film Festival for his movie’s premiere, only for it to be bumped at the last minute to make room for a milestone in independent American cinema, John Cassavetes’s Faces.
Those who saw. Spring Night, summer Night at the time were big fans, though—including Martin ScorseseIt was praised by a number of people, including a director named John Ford. The film was lost to the world after it was re-edited into an exploitation drive-in movie in the 1970s. Miss Jessica Is Pregnant. The original version was lost until director. Nicolas Winding RefnHe was able to locate the original film elements and restored them for free viewing on his website. The restored film also got its showing at the 2018 New York Film Festival—only 50 years after it almost premiered there.
2 A House Clearance Uncovers The Gold Diggers
The Gold DiggersIt was a Broadway play that was popular in 1919 and which led to a Warner Bros. movie series. The first film in the series, 1923’s The Gold Diggers, was long considered one of the many silent films that have been lost. Amazingly, a poster posted on the silent film forum Nitrateville in 2019 claiming that he had found it near his home in central England. According to the seller, he originally purchased it at an estate sale.
This is an example of how many lost films are found—in the homes of collectors. It is a costly hobby to buy theatrical film prints, but it gives hope that many films are missing from attics or closets. As for The Gold DiggersIt has now been uploaded to YouTube, so you can view it there.
1 Hollywood’s Earliest Sex Symbol
Theda Bara was Hollywood’s original sex symbol, wearing risqué outfits for her time while pioneering the “Vamp” image of a man-hunting woman. Unfortunately, many of her films have failed to survive. Her 1917 version CleopatraOne of the most sought-after films is this one, with the last known prints falling victim to vault fires.
It was therefore with excitement that it was announced that fragments from her 1918 salome were found in a Spanish archive in late 2021. The complete film was not found. But considering the extreme rarity of any Theda Bara footage, this is major news for the many fans Theda still has today—and many hope that more footage is still out there waiting to be found.