A lost film is a feature film or short film that no longer exists in either studio archives or private collections, or is at lost cities. The phrase "lost film" is also used in a literal sense for instances where footage of deleted scenes, unedited and alternate versions of feature films, and recordings of early television programming are known to have been created but can no longer be accounted for.

Sometimes a copy of a "lost" film is rediscovered; these have been referred to as "Lazarus" films. A film that has not been recovered in its entirety is called a "partially lost film". One example of a lost film is the 1981 3-D comedy movie "Only When I Laugh", a sound film by Rastar and Columbia Pictures, One example of a rediscovered movie is the 1928 talking movie "On Trial" by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Reasons for film lossEdit

Most lost films are from the silent film and early talkie era, from about 1894 to 1930.[1] Martin Scorsese's Film Preservation Foundation estimate that 80 percent of the films from this era are lost.

Many early motion pictures are lost because the nitrate film used in that era was extremely unstable and flammable. Fires have destroyed entire archives of films. For example, a storage vault fire in 1937 destroyed the original negatives of pre-1935 movies from Fox Pictures.[2] In addition, film can deteriorate rapidly if not preserved in temperature and humidity controlled storage.

But the largest cause of silent film loss was intentional destruction. Silent films had little or no commercial value after the silent era ended in 1930. As film preservationist Robert A. Harris has said,

"Most of the early films did not survive because of wholesale junking by the studios. There was no thought of ever saving these films. They simply needed vault space and the materials were expensive to house."[3]

Many early talkies from Warner Bros. and First National were lost because they used a sound-on-disk process which utilized separate soundtracks on special phonograph records. These records were often lost or misplaced, thereby making a mute print virtually worthless and consequently they were often thrown away. This all changed by 1930, when those studios converted to a sound-on-film process.

Before the eras of home video and television, films were viewed as having little value after their theatrical run ended. Thus, many films were deliberately destroyed by the studios as a space-saving maneuver. Many old Technicolor two-color negatives from the 1920s and 1930s were thrown out as a space-clearing measure when the studios refused to reclaim their films still being held by Technicolor in its vaults. Many films were recycled for their silver content. Some prints were sold either intact or broken into short clips to individuals who bought early novelty home projection machines and wanted scenes from their favorite movies to play for guests or family members.

In order to preserve films with a nitrate base, they can be copied to safety film or digitized, although the former is preferred over the latter in the archival community because of its proven longevity and approximation of original format.

Particularly striking is the case of Theda Bara: of the 40 films she made, only three and a half survive. More typical is the case of Clara Bow; of her 57 movies, 20 are completely lost and five more are incomplete.[4] There are occasional exceptions. All of Charlie Chaplin's films from his entire career have survived as well as extensive amounts of unused footage dating back to 1914, save for one film, A Woman of the Sea, which he destroyed himself as a tax writeoff, and one of his early Keystone films, Her Friend The Bandit. (see Unknown Chaplin).

Later lost filmsEdit

35mm safety film was introduced in 1949; it was much more stable than early nitrate film and as a result, there are comparatively few lost films from after about 1950. However, color fading of certain color stocks and vinegar syndrome threaten the preservation of films made since about this time.

Most mainstream movies from the 1950s and beyond survive today, but several early pornographic films and some B-Movies are lost. In most cases these obscure films go unnoticed and unknown, but some films by noted cult directors have been lost as well:

  • Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s 1972 film, The Undergraduate, has been lost along with his 1970 film Take It Out In Trade, which exists only in fragments without sound. Wood's 1971 film Necromania was believed lost for years until an edited version resurfaced at a yard sale in 1992, followed by a complete unedited print in 2001.[5] A complete print of the previously lost Wood pornographic film The Young Marrieds was discovered in 2004.
  • Tom Graeff's first feature film, The Noble Experiment (1955), in which director/writer Graeff plays a misunderstood genius scientist, is considered lost.
  • Many short educational, training, and religious films of the 1940s through 1970s are also lost, as they were thought of as "disposable" or upgradeable.

Some aspects of more recent films may be lost, too. Early color films such as The Mysterious Island and The Show of Shows exist only partially or not at all in color because the copies that were made of the film that exist were done so on black and white stock. Two 3-D films from 1954, Top Banana and Southwest Passage, both exist only in their flat form because only one print made for either the left or right eye to see exists.

Almost lost filmsEdit

Many important silent-era films, and films which involve important actors, directors, and creative talent, exist in single prints in museums, archives, and private collections — single prints which have not been copied, digitized, or preserved in any way.

Lost film soundtracksEdit

Some films produced in sound-on-disc systems such as Vitaphone, where the sound disc is separate from the film element, are now considered lost because they were damaged or destroyed, while the picture element was not. Some surviving Vitaphone films exist in picture only, while the soundtracks, which were played from a disc, are lost. Conversely, some Vitaphone films survive only in the disc, with the film missing.

Many stereophonic soundtracks from the early-to-mid 1950s that were either played in interlock on a 35mm fullcoat magnetic reel or single-strip magnetic film (such as Fox's four-track magnetic, which became the standard of mag stereophonic sound) are now lost. Films such as House of Wax, The Caddy, The War of the Worlds, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, and From Here to Eternity that were originally available with 3-track, magnetic sound are now available only with a monophonic optical soundtrack. The chemistry behind adhering magnetic particles to the tri-acetate film base eventually caused the autocatalytic breakdown of the film (vinegar syndrome). As long as studios had a monaural optical negative that could be printed, studio executives felt no need to preserve the stereophonic versions of the soundtracks.

Commercially unavailable filmsEdit

The term "lost films" has also been applied erroneously to films that do survive in their entirety, but have never been made available to the public in consumer formats such as VHS and DVD and in some cases have never been broadcast on television. A few of these do circulate on bootleg copies of varying quality.

Lost television broadcastsEdit

See also: wiping.
  • Many early television series episodes were lost because they were aired live and no recording ever was made, because kinescopes that were made are now lost, or because the highly expensive early videotape — first used in 1956 after its introduction by Ampex Corporation — was erased and re-used by the network. Most episodes of important, popular shows like Captain Video and Your Show of Shows are presumed lost. Episodes of TV shows from the DuMont network are particularly difficult to find since DuMont went out of business in 1955 and its kinescope recordings of programming were supposedly dumped into Upper New York Bay.
  • This practice of re-using video tape continued well into the 1970s: many episodes of the pioneering Australian prime time soap opera Number 96 are lost.
  • Over 100 early episodes of the cult BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who do not exist in the BBC's archives, though they have an ongoing appeal for help from viewers who may have recorded the shows during their original airings. Audio recordings exist for all of the lost episodes, however, many of which have been released commercially by the BBC, and two episodes of the serial The Invasion which survive only in audio form were reconstructed using animation for the serial's DVD release in 2006[6].
  • Many other BBC shows are missing from the archives, including the BBC studio footage from the Apollo 11 moon landings. Many series are missing in their entirety, while others only survive in fragments, such as A for Andromeda a science fiction series that was Julie Christie's first major role and The Vampira Show, the first television horror movie show. Also missing are episodes of The Avengers, Dad's Army, Hancock's Half Hour, Doomwatch, Out of the Unknown, Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars, and many others.
  • Almost all of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and the first ten years (1962–1972) hosted by Johnny Carson were taped over by the network and no longer exist. This is why Carson's The Tonight Show picture looked muddy during broadcast in the late '60s: the videotape was being used repeatedly. A single episode from Carson's first year on The Tonight Show turned up in a closet a few years ago.Template:Fact Selected sequences from Carson's 1962–72 era do survive and were often replayed by Carson himself (particularly in the months preceding his retirement in 1992) and have been released to home video. Some Paar episodes also survive and have been released to DVD.
  • With home VCRs being uncommon until the mid-1980s, it is unlikely that lost television episodes exist in the collections of individuals, though this occasionally happens. One well-known example is a clip of John Lennon visiting the announcers booth during a 1974 Monday Night Football broadcast. ABC lost the footage of this event, but a private collector's copy of the event appears in the Beatles Anthology.
  • Many of the original master tapes of the controversial and anarchic British children's Saturday morning television series Tiswas were wiped after the series was canceled in 1983. This was apparently due to a television executive's belief that the series was an embarrassment to the network. When a series of Tiswas highlight compilation tapes were released on video in the early 1990s (followed in 2006 by a DVD), much of the footage appeared to have been culled from the off-air recordings of private archivists.
  • Super Bowl I was broadcast by both NBC and CBS, but no copies were kept of either broadcast. Super Bowl II is also lost. However, both were captured on film by NFL Films, and these have been released on DVD.
  • Many soap operas such as Search for Tomorrow and The Edge of Night have lost episodes. Owing to archiving policies, episodes of All My Children produced between 1970 and 1975 exist only as black-and-white kinescopes although all episodes were originally produced in color.
  • The original slow-scan TV footage of the first manned moon landing in 1969 — believed to be of significantly higher quality than the standards-converted version broadcast on TV — is missing from NASA's archives.[7][8]
  • The original black & white first episode of series one of the British series Upstairs, Downstairs does not exist in any form with the possible exception of a few stills and the location footage which features at the start of the episode. The original recording took place on November 13, 1970 and was in monochrome due to a dispute with studio technicians who refused to work with colour recording equipment as part of a work-to-rule. The following five episodes were also recorded in monochrome before the dispute ended with the recording of episode 6 in color on February 12, 1971. After the entire thirteen-episode season run had been recorded, it was decided to re-record the first episode in color to gain the highest possible audience for its first UK transmission and to help with overseas sales. The re-recording took place on May 21, 1971 and the series' UK debut was on October 10, 1971[9]. The original monochrome recording was never transmitted and has since been wiped. All of the other five black & white episodes from series one survive.
  • The original broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) was infamously lost when it was accidentally erased by a studio technician.
  • All but four episodes of the original 1964-1975 version of the game show Jeopardy! are said to be lost.

Recovered filmsEdit

Occasionally, prints of films and television broadcasts considered lost have been rediscovered. An example is the 1910 version of Frankenstein which was believed lost for decades until the existence of a print (which had been in the hands of an unwitting collector for years) was discovered in the 1970s. Similarly, a number of episodes of Doctor Who previously thought lost have been recovered from private collectors and various other sources over the years, such as Tomb of the Cybermen.

Sometimes a film believed lost in its original state has been restored, either through the process of colorization, or other restoration methods. The Cage, the original 1964 pilot film for Star Trek, only survived in a black and white print until the 1980s when color elements were discovered that allowed a full-color version to be recreated. And in the early 2000s, the 1927 German film Metropolis — which had been distributed in many different edits over the years — was restored to as close to the original version as possible by reinstating edited footage and using computer technology to repair damaged footage; even so approximately a quarter of the original film footage is considered lost, according to Kino Video's DVD release of the restored film.

List of selected lost filmsEdit





List of incomplete or partially lost filmsEdit

  • The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) - Only 17 minutes of this 70 minute feature survive; it is often considered to be the world’s first feature-length motion picture.
  • Raja Harischandra (1913) - Directed by D.G. Phalke; first Indian feature film, of which a fragmentary print still exists.
  • Neptune's Daughter (1914) - Starring Annette Kellerman; a reel of footage exists in Australia's National Film and Sound Archive.
  • Fanchon, the Cricket (1915) - Starring Mary Pickford.
  • Cleopatra (1917) - Starring Theda Bara. Approximately 40 seconds exist at George Eastman House.
  • The Secret Man (1917) - Directed by John Ford.
  • The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918) - Only 11 minutes of the original 90 minute film by Willis O'Brien remain, though it was later restored to 19 minutes.
  • The Scarlet Drop (1918) - Directed by John Ford.
  • A Gun Fightin' Gentleman (1919) - Directed by John Ford; only three reels of originally five or six are believed to have survived.[11]
  • The Miracle Man (1919) - Directed by George Loane Tucker and launched the careers of Thomas Meighan and Lon Chaney Sr.. Two clips exist as part of compilation films made in the 1930s.
  • Devil Dog Dawson (1921) - 38 seconds of footage from this Jack Hoxie Western, found in a mislabeled tin, were the subject of an investigation in a 2006 episode of the PBS series History Detectives.[12]
  • The Mechanical Man (1921) - Directed by Andre Deed. Originally around an hour long, only about 26 minutes of surviving footage remain.
  • Greed (1924) - Directed by Erich von Stroheim. Initially running ten hours, the film was cut by Von Stroheim to four hours, and then trimmed by the studio to 140 minutes of surviving footage.
  • The Lost World (1925) - It initially had a running time of 104 mins. Though partially restored, the longest cut runs at approximately 96 mins.
  • The Enemy (1927) - Starring Lillian Gish. The last reel is missing.
  • The Magic Flame (1927) - Starring Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky. The first five reels out of nine are preserved at George Eastman House.
  • Metropolis (1927) - Directed by Fritz Lang. The German premiere cut no longer survives. When the film was sent to the U.S., it was truncated greatly by Paramount Pictures. Subsequently, UFA re-cut the film after the financial success of Paramount's version. Both of these latter versions, as well as international versions and incomplete elements survive. Existing prints are cobbled together from these various sources, most notably a restoration from the early 2000s released by Kino International which added captions to explain the action of scenes that no longer survive from the original edit; documentation included on the DVD specifically refers to the as-yet unlocated footage as lost.
  • Beau Sabreur (11928) - Cast included Gary Cooper. A trailer exists with footage from the film.
  • The Divine Woman (1928) - Directed by Victor Sjöström and starring Greta Garbo, Lars Hanson, Johnny Mack Brown, Lowell Sherman and Polly Moran; one reel was found in a Russian film archive and has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.
  • My Man (1928) - Starring Fanny Brice — almost complete set of soundtrack discs plus soundtrack trailer survive.
  • The Patriot (1928) - Directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Emil Jannings and Lewis Stone. A few fragments and a trailer survive (at UCLA).
  • The Private Life of Helen of Troy (1928) - Academy Award nominated film with one reel of film existing in the British Film Institute.
  • The Terror (1928) - Starring Edward Everett Horton. Soundtrack exists.
  • Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 (1929) - With an all-star cast — partial soundtrack survives.
  • Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) - Directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Winnie Lightner, Nick Lucas, Ann Pennington and Lilyan Tashman; last 20 minutes survive, but are missing a bridging sequence and the last minute of the film.
  • Honky Tonk (1929) - Starring Sophie Tucker — complete soundtrack survives.
  • Married In Hollywood (1929) - Starring J. Harold Murray. The final reel survives (in color) at UCLA.
  • On With the Show (1929) - First all Technicolor, all talking feature. Survives only in black and white. A very brief clip of color footage was recently found in a toy projector.
  • Paris (1929) - Starring Irene Bordoni and Jack Buchanan — soundtrack discs survive.
  • Thunder (1929) - Directed by William Nigh, and starring Lon Chaney, Sr. (his last silent film). Several clips exist.
  • No, No Nanette (1930) - Starring Bernice Claire and Alexander Gray - soundtrack discs survive.
  • The Rogue Song (1930) - A Technicolor film directed by Lionel Barrymore and starring Lawrence Tibbett with Laurel and Hardy. Soundtrack, two reels and several clips survive.
  • Freaks (1932) - Because of disastrous test screenings 30 minutes out of originally around 90 minutes were cut out leading to a final length of only 64 minutes. These parts of Tod Browning's second and last big budget production are considered lost.[13]
  • King Kong (1933) - A famous scene following that in which Kong shakes several sailors off a log into a crevice, showing them eaten alive by a giant spider, a giant crab, a giant lizard, and an octopoid is only available in some stills. After the preview of the film, producer/director Merian C. Cooper was forced to cut the scene, since it caused horror among the test audience. In one of Cooper's notes, however, it is indicated that he might have cut the scene for pacing reasons.[14]
  • Lost Horizon (1937) - Directed by Frank Capra. Capra's initial 210 minute version was cut down to 131 minutes after a preview screening of the film went badly. In his autobiography, Capra claims to have personally destroyed the first two reels. In many currently used versions, still photos and individuals frames are used to replace missing footage that accompanies the soundtrack.
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Originally contained a musical number called "The Jitterbug", which was included in test showings of the film. The musical number was edited out of the film for general release, and the footage of this scene has been lost. The soundtrack recording, however, survives, as does behind-the-scenes home movies showing the cast either rehearsing or actually filming the sequence. This footage, edited together with stills, has been edited together to recreate the sequence and this has been included on numerous retrospectives and DVD releases of the film.
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) - Directed by Orson Welles. Fifty minutes were cut by RKO Pictures from Welles' version after an unsuccessful preview. A handful of shots from the original version exist in the film's original trailer, which has survived.
  • Sanshiro Sugata (1943) - Akira Kurosawa's first film is missing 17 minutes of its running time.
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) - had a song called "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" right after "The Trolley Song" but it was cut and is presumed lost. The soundtrack alone remains.
  • Ivan the Terrible, Part III (1946) - Approximately 20 minutes of the film was shot, but the USSR Communist Party disapproved of the production with its homosexual and political themes. About 16 minutes of the film was burned following the death of Director Sergei Eisenstein in 1948 leaving the trilogy unfinished. The remaining 4 minutes can be seen as a Special Feature on the The Criterion Collection DVD version.
  • A Star Is Born (1954) - Starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Originally premiered at 181 minutes, Warner Bros. cut the film down by about 27 minutes for general release. The 1983 restoration included soundtrack from this cut and a few establishing shots, with stills filling in the rest.
  • Southwest Passage (1954) - With Joanne Dru and John Ireland. Initially released in 3-D, this feature only survives in its flat form.
  • Top Banana (1954) - With Phil Silvers. Shot and edited in 3-D, the film was released flat. The film only exists in 16mm, and does not exist in 3-D at all.
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) - An All-Star comedy epic directed by Stanley Kramer; It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World originally premiered at 197 Minutes, then was edited to 162 minutes for general release. In the late 1980s, 20 minutes worth of the deleted footage was found in a warehouse which had been slated for demolition, and was edited back into the film. Stanley Kramer was technical advisor on this partial restoration project, and this 182 minute partial restoration was issued on Home Video in the early 1990s. This version is also the version shown on Turner Classic Movies. When the film was released on DVD in the early 2000s MGM chose to issue the 162 minute general release version and not the 182 minute partial restoration.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler (1964) - Richard Williams started out working on Nasruddin in 1964 only for Paramount Pictures after reading the books of the series, but in 1972, the company sued Richard and Paramount backed away from the deal, and redid everything, but was completely lost and unfinished that it took so long to make including when he hired a producer, Jake Eberts and in the late-1980's, this film made a deal to be finished by Warner Bros. Pictures, but backed away in 1992 when Walt Disney Animation Studios released Aladdin, and Warner Bros. finally backed away from the deal. As the Completion Bond Company own the film and had fired Richard Williams, so Completion Bond Company hired TV producer, Fred Calvert to finish the film quickly as possible, and was released in the United Kingdom, Australia & South Africa in the late-1993 or early-1994 with the company of both Majestic Films and Allied Filmmakers, but was released in United States in August of 1995 by Miramax Films, but was a flop because there were critisms of the movie ripping off Disney's Aladdin.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - After the original premiere, director Stanley Kubrick cut 24 minutes out of the film (also adding title cards and a small insertion at the "Dawn of Men" sequence). These trims are considered lost, albeit rumors of the cut sequences being in possession of Kubrick's family.
  • The Wicker Man (1973) - Starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. All original elements to the film (camera negative, etc) are thought to be lost after being destroyed in the late 1970s.
  • Taxi Driver (1976) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. Scorsese was obliged to desaturate the colors of the infamous climactic shoot-out scene in order to obtain an "R" rating. Meanwhile, the original full-color footage became lost.
  • Caligula (1979) - This much-maligned film was originally 210 minutes long. The content of the deleted footage is discussed here along with production stills.
  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, Jennifer Connelly, and Tuesday Weld; originally was six hours in length, Leone was forced to cut it down to four. Though some footage has been restored, Leone's full-length version has never surfaced.
  • The Breakfast Club (1985) - John Hughes wrote a script for a film of about 2-1/2 hours, but the film as released runs 97 min. Many of the cut scenes were filmed and the negatives destroyed. John Hughes says he has the only complete copy of the film.
  • The Land Before Time (1988) - The film originally featured much darker sequences, including extended footage of Littlefoot's mother fighting the Sharptooth, and a different ending which showed the main characters' demise. Around 10 minutes of scenes though to be too distressing were edited out, and the running time of the final film was cut down to 69 minutes. According to director Don Bluth, the cut sequences were thrown away.

Select list of rediscovered filmsEdit

Template:See also The following films were once thought to be lost but have now been recovered.

Lost film in filmEdit

Several films have been made with lost film fragments incorporated into the work. Decasia (2002) used nothing but decaying film footage as an abstract tone poem of light and darkness, much like Peter Delpeut's more historical Lyrisch Nitraat (Lyrical Nitrate, 1990) which contained only footage from canisters found stored in an Amsterdam cinema. In 1993, Delpeut released Forbidden Quest, combining early film footage and archival photographs with new material to tell the fictional story of an ill-fated Antarctic expedition.

The mockumentary Forgotten Silver purports to show recovered footage of early films. Instead, the filmmakers used newly-shot film sequences treated to look like lost film.

See alsoEdit



  1. Silent Era : Presumed Lost
  2. Little Ferry, New Jersey, July 18, 1937.
  3. Robert A. Harris, public hearing statement to the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., February 1993.
  4. Clara
  5. New Yorker:In the Vault
  6. List of missing Doctor Who episodes at the BBC
  7. The Search for the Apollo 11 SSTV Tapes - 21 May 2006
  8. The Saga Of the Lost Space Tapes
  9. Upstairs Downstairs programme guide [1]
  10. </span> </li>
  11. A Gun Fightin' Gentleman at </li>
  12. History Detectives . Investigations - Silent Film Reel | PBS </li>
  13. Freaks at Turner Classic Movies, by Jeff Stafford </li>
  14. A history of the long lost "spider pit scene" from King Kong and Peter Jackson's attempt to recreate it </li>
  15. Sinister Cinema </li>
  16. YouTube - Little Red Riding Hood (Disney, 1922) </li>
  17. The New York Times, February 12, 2008. Retrieved 2-21-2008. </li></ol>

External linksEdit