Each year, the Library of Congress inducts 25 motion pictures into the National Film Registry, which are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant to the story of America. Films are selected by the National Film Preservation Board from nominations made both internally and from the general public, to preserve gems from the past 120+ years worth saving.
In 2021, there were 6,100 nominations from our passionate, film-loving, public.
Films awarded preservation stand the test of time and are not always the ones showered with prestigious awards. 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example, is a lauded staple of cinema that was awarded its spot in the registry in 1991 — it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture by the Academy.
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Preservation for these films is a labor of painstaking love executed by film historians, filmmakers, and restoration artists alike. All of which come together to speak on the details of their work in the 2011 documentary These Amazing Shadows, alongside Christopher Nolan, Rob Reiner, Tim Roth, George Takei, John Singleton, Gale Anne Hurd, Charles Burnett, Zoey Deschanel, John Waters, Leonard Maltin, and many more.
One of the more harrowing takeaways from the film is this — prior to the registry’s creation in 1988, along with the passing of the Film Preservation Act, nearly 80% of the silent film era was already lost to time. Which is just a portion of the countless others whose film hardened from neglect on the back-room shelves of studios, stored as product rather than art.
They’re referred to as “hockey pucks,” by restoration artists.
All films selected to the National Film Registry are stored in vaults located at the Library’s Packard Campus in Culpeper, Virginia, at a state-of-the-art facility. Within this facility, there currently resides over 9.2 million collection items, including films, television programs, radio broadcasts, and sound recordings. Not all of which, of course, hold national registry status.
“Films help reflect our cultural history and creativity — and show us new ways of looking at ourselves — though movies haven’t always been deemed worthy of preservation. The National Film Registry will preserve our cinematic heritage, and we are proud to add 25 more films this year,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “The Library of Congress will work with our partners in the film community to ensure these films are preserved for generations to come.”
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2021 Official Selections to the National Film Registry
According to the Library’s official press release, 2021’s National Film Registry selections “represent one of the most diverse classes of films to enter the registry, with movies dating back nearly 120 years and representing the work of Hollywood studios, independent filmmakers, documentarians, women directors, filmmakers of color, students, and the silent era of film.”
Categorically, the lion’s share of films selected this year “reflect a diverse nation,” “address racially motivated violence,” and/or “challenge stereotypes.”
Those selections, which bring the total National Film Registry inductee count up to 825, are as follows:
1. Chicana (1979)
From the pre-Columbian era to the present of 1979, the roles and lives of women within Mexican and Mexican-American history were predominantly unrepresented in its films. Chicana was produced and directed by Sylvia Morales to counter this egregious misrepresentation of her culture’s narrative. According to the Library of Congress, the film is a “22-minute collage of artworks, stills, documentary footage, narration, and testimonies” that serves as a “brilliant and pioneering feminist Latina critique.” Chicana‘s “best surviving” bits of film have been digitally preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, with the hope to turn this provisional effort into a full restoration.
Chicana is unavailable to stream online.
2. Cooley High (1975)
Cooley High is described as “a coming-of-age comedy about African American friends making the most of their halcyon high school days.” It’s lauded by NPR as a “classic of black cinema” and “a touchstone for filmmakers like John Singleton and Spike Lee,” according to the Library of Congress. The film was made on a micro-budget, yet became of the most substantial “critical and commercial successes of 1975.”
Cooley High is available to stream for free on YouTube.
3. Evergreen (1965)
Evergreen is actually a student film — made by one of the co-founders of the celebrated band The Doors, Ray Manzarek. Before he became a world-renowned musician, the Library of Congress explains he was a filmmaker. Manzarek was attending the UCLA Film School when he made Evergreen; which co-stars Dorothy Fujikawa, his future wife, and is said to be a “time capsule” of Los Angeles in the 1960s. The film has been digitally restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Evergreen is unavailable to stream online.
4. Flowers and Trees (1932)
Disney’s Flowers and Trees was a Silly Symphony short film initially made to distract movie-goers from the gloom of the Great Depression. The Library of Congress cites the film as the very first made with three-strip Technicolor film, and due to the glowing response sung by audiences, Walt Disney decided that all Silly Symphony films would be made with Technicolor film.
Flowers and Trees can be streamed on Disney+, with a subscription.
5. The Flying Ace (1926)
The Flying Ace is a “romance-in-the-skies” drama starring Kathryn Boyd; she portrays a character inspired by the first African American female pilot, Bessie Colman. This film was produced by the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, a white-owned film production studio based in Jacksonville, Florida, that made films “specifically for Black audiences.” Their films center on black relationships and depict a world void of racism.
The Flying Ace can be streamed for free on Kanopy, with a valid public library card or university login.
6. Hellbound Train (1930)
Hellbound Train is described by the Library as a “surreal and mesmerizing allegorical film” that required “painstaking” measures to resurrect from neglect. This “overlooked milestone in Black cinema” was recently reassembled by filmmaker S. Torriano Berry from over 100 reels of 16mm film.
Created by James and Eloyce Gist, the film stands as one of the earliest examples of independent filmmaking as we know it today. Originally, it was shown in Black churches “accompanied by a sermon and religious music.” The film itself depicts Satan as a train conductor, luring unsuspecting victims onto a hellbound train.
Hellbound Train can be streamed for free on Kanopy, with a valid public library card or university login.
7. Jubilo (1919)
Preserved by the Museum of Modern Art, Jubilo is the second-oldest film inducted into the national film registry in 2021. Will Rogers, the film’s star, was a “multiracial member of the Cherokee nation who often portrayed a comic trickster common in both African American and Native American cultures.”
The film was accompanied in theatres by the song “Kingdom Coming,” also known as “The Year of Jubilo,” written by Henry Clay Work. It’s a Civil War song “in which enslaved people using stereotypical dialect celebrate their hopes for emancipation.” According to Public Domain Music, Work’s family home in Quincy, Illinois, became a “way station on the Underground Railroad,” which housed “thousands” of slaves pursuing freedom in Canada.
Jubilo can be watched online solely through Silent Hall of Fame, with a tax-deductible donation.
8. The Long Goodbye (1973)
The National Society of Film Critics awarded The Long Goodbye‘s cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, as best of the year, right at the outset of his career. From here, Zsigmond would go on to win Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and at the BAFTAs for The Deer Hunter. “The Long Goodbye employs unsettling, ever-moving camerawork and compositions that masterfully utilize the transparent and reflective surfaces common in southern California modernist architecture,” states the Library of Congress.
The Long Goodbye is available to stream through Xfinity On-Demand, or can be rented for $3.99 across most commonly-used platforms.
9. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
All selections for the National Film Registry make the case for cinema as an art form, but few do so with the same kind of majestic spectacle as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. With adaptational respect, the film weaves the story of its written counterpart faithfully while balancing the weight of a mammoth and soulful cast; due in large part to masterful direction from Peter Jackson. These notes played seamlessly with stunning cinematography and sound design make it a selection that isn’t the least bit a shock.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is available to stream on HBOMax, with a subscription.
10. The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)
During the production of The Murder of Fred Hampton, initially meant to document the efforts of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, the chapter’s leader was killed in a police raid. From there, the film becomes “an investigation of their deaths and the motives of authorities local and beyond,” states the Library of Congress. Fred Hampton was 21-years-old when he was killed. Through the first half of the film, he is seen “passionately urging armed militancy, as well as non-violent advocacy, to confront poverty, protest police brutality, and build coalitions to broaden the message of the party.”
The film was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The Murder of Fred Hampton is available to stream on Vimeo, courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives.
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare on Elm Street was made on a shoestring budget in 1984 for $2 million, which only equates post-conversion to about $5 million today. Yet, by the hands of Wes Craven, it has stood for close to 40 years as a juggernaut of horror and cult classic cinema. Freddy Krueger is burned into our collective nightmares, new generations and old, with “numerous sequels, a 2010 remake, a TV series, books, comic books, and video games,” states the Library of Congress. Furthermore, it launched New Line Cinema into the stratosphere with the studio often referred to as “The House That Freddy Built.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street is available to stream on HBOMax, with a subscription.
12. Pink Flamingos (1972)
Pink Flamingos, directed by John Waters, is lauded by the Library of Congress as a “cult classic embraced by a generation of filmmakers.” They describe the film’s memorable poster with the “drag icon, Divine, resplendent in a red gown, hair and makeup at glorious extremes, perched on a cloud and brandishing a pistol, beneath the tagline ‘An Exercise in Poor Taste.’” Without a doubt, the film is “considered a landmark in queer cinema.”
Due to the film’s NC-17 rating, Pink Flamingos is not available to stream online.
13. Requiem-29 (1970)
Initially, Requiem-29 was intended to be “the UCLA Ethno-Communications Program’s first collective student film,” documenting the East Lost Angeles Chicano Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam — a march that took place on August 29th, 1970. Instead, it became “a requiem for slain journalist and movement icon, Ruben Salazar,” states the Library of Congress. While the film does show footage from the march, it documents the “brutal police response and resulting chaos” that became the day’s lasting mark upon history.
Currently, the film’s preservation is provisional, with most of the original 16mm print lost to time. What survives of it has been preserved and scanned into 4K by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and they hope to launch a “full restoration effort.”
Requiem-29 is unavailable to stream online.
14. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)
In Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, the titular comedian delivers a “shocking, thought-provoking, proudly un-PC, and undeniably hilarious” recounting of the time, filmed live at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, California. For the Library of Congress, this film “cemented Pryor’s status as a comedian’s comedian and one of the most vital voices in the history of American humor.”
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is available to stream on Netflix, with a subscription.
15. Ringling Brothers Parade Film (1902)
In its release, the Library of Congress credits the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, for first restoring the Ringling Brothers Parade Film in 2020 — it is 2021’s oldest inductee into the National Film Registry. Its cultural significance comes from its “rare glimpse of a prosperous northern Black community at the turn of the century.”
With gratitude to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, the film is available to watch on YouTube in its entirety. Its presentation includes an introduction from David Kiehn, the film historian and programmer responsible for identifying the film.
16. Selena (1997)
Officially authorized by the family of the late Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, the biographical Selena is hopeful, playful, and devastating, just as a film — as a depiction of legacy, it’s a triumph. As stated by the Library of Congress, the role is played by Jennifer Lopez, whose own career was paved, long before her arrival, by Selena. A woman who bravely and relatably pursued her dreams while weathering the onslaught of fame, the sometimes turbulent dynamics of family and relationships, and the cultural challenges of being Mexican-American.
Selena is available to stream on HBOMax, with a subscription.
17. Sounder (1972)
Set in the rural South during the Great Depression, Sounder is praised by the Library of Congress for its “understated brilliance and love for the humanity of ordinary folks.” Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield star in the film as a couple trying to raise a family during one of the most difficult eras of history, with a son (Kevin Hooks) prematurely required to become the “man of the family.” Nominated for Best Picture in 1973, it’s a moment-in-time film that eloquently speaks the truth of it.
Sounder is available to stream on Prime Video, with a Fandor subscription.
18. Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi (1983)
Concluding a trilogy that would all but pass fetally from generation to generation is Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. All of the original and beloved characters return “on a new series of adventures, which take fans from the planet of Tatooine to the deep forests of Endor,” reads the Library of Congress’ synopsis; with new characters introduced, such as the Ewoks and the slimy Jabba the Hutt. “Though perhaps not quite up to the lofty standards of its two predecessors,” states the Library, Return of the Jedi “still ranks as an unquestioned masterpiece of fantasy, adventure, and wonder.”
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is available to stream on Disney+, with a subscription.
19. Stop Making Sense (1984)
An “iconic concert film,” Stop Making Sense depicts the born and raised New York band, The Talking Heads, at the pinnacle of their ascent to becoming legends of punk rock. Within this 88-minute performance, songs that have echoed through the halls of four decades are performed live, including: “Burning Down the House,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Psycho Killer,” and “Life During Wartime.” The Library of Congress commends the film for being “as inventive visually as it is sonically,” and cites Leonard Maltin‘s praise of the film as “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.”
Stop Making Sense is available to stream for free via Tubi, Vudu, and PlutoTV, with commercial breaks.
20. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Alfred Hitchcock films are, of course, a beloved staple of not just American cinema, but global cinema — their inspiration ripples far and wide across the artform. Strangers On a Train is one of many, and as the Library of Congress puts it, has been “wildly imitated but never topped.” The National Film Registry’s synopsis of the film reads, “This riveting 1951 Hitchcock classic tells of two men who, having met on the titular train, hatch a plan to ‘swap’ murders, each killing someone the other knows and, thereby, giving the other an air-tight alibi.”
Strangers On a Train isn’t currently available to stream for free, or with a subscription service but can be rented for $3.99 across most commonly-used platforms.
21. Wall-E (2008)
Wall-E weaves an “ecological cautionary tale” and a “charming robot love story” into a stunning animated masterpiece for which there are few arguable rivals. With almost no dialogue, the Oscar-winning film masterfully seizes the heart of its audience with “two deeply affecting characters who transcend their ‘mechanics’ to tell a universal story of friendship and love,” praises the Library of Congress. They further describe the film as a “triumph even by Pixar standards.”
Wall-E is available to stream on Disney+, with a subscription.
22. The Watermelon Woman (1996)
The Watermelon Woman both stars and is directed by Cheryl Dunye, who is valued by the Library of Congress as “one of the most important African American and queer” directors. Within the film, titled after Melvin Van Peebles’ The Watermelon Man, a young lesbian pursues crafting a documentary about Fae Richards, an actress from the 1930s known as ‘The Watermelon Woman.’ Through her efforts, she “explores the erasure of Black women from film history” as well as her own identity as a “Black lesbian seeking love and validation.”
The film was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The Watermelon Woman is available to stream for free on Kanopy, with a library card or a university log-in. Additionally, it can be viewed on Showtime, or on other Showtime-supported platforms, with a subscription.
23. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are two classic icons from cinema’s earliest days, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the one and only film they appeared in together. Not due to happenstance, mind you, but due to a “long-running feud,” states the Library of Congress. They describe the film as “vivid and often uncomfortably terrifying.”
Furthermore, the Library of Congress credits the film, directed by Robert Aldrich, for bringing about the “psycho-biddy” subgenre, described as “films featuring older female stars in similar, grand ghoul enterprises.”
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? isn’t currently available to stream for free, or with a subscription service, but can be rented for $1.99 across most commonly-used platforms.
24. Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987)
Restored by The Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, Who Killed Vincent Chin? is a documentary exploring the full scope of responsibility in racially-charged killings. Vincent Chin was 27-years-old when has viciously slain with a baseball bat in Detroit by two white workers of the automobile industry. In the back half of the 80s, Americans were purchasing Japanese-made cars over American-made ones, creating racial tensions — Vincent Chin was Chinese. Directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña, the film explores the media’s role in exacerbating these tensions, the aftermath of Chin’s death within the larger civil rights issues of America, and why his killers were found guilty but were served no jail time.
Who Killed Vincent Chin? is available to stream for free on Vimeo.
25. The Wobblies (1979)
Restored by the Museum of Modern Art, The Wobblies is a documentary film about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as ‘The Wobblies.’ This coalition of both skilled and unskilled workers was founded in 1905, in Chicago, and was comprised of everyday workers from “factories, sawmills, wheat fields, forests, mines, and docks.” Regardless of age, gender, and ethnicity, this group unionized to demand “better wages, healthcare, overtime pay, and safer working conditions,” creating the standards and rights we fight to maintain today, in the face of the same greed and corruption.
The Wobblies is currently unavailable to stream online.
If you would like to take part in the historic process of nominating films for the National Film Registry’s 2022 selections, you may do so here, until August 15th, 2022. Select titles from 30 years of preservation can be watched for free online in the National Screening Room.