On December 11, 2019, the Library of Congress announced the latest additions to the National Film Registry, its compendium of motion pictures that have been judged to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important and worthy of preservation for future generations. In addition to Hollywood studio classics and box office hits, the Registry also protects independent films, documentaries, experimental works, cartoons, music videos, educational and training films, ads, and even home movies, in what is the most democratic, and American, of all film lists.
Scroll through our gallery to read about the 25 films added to the Registry this year, including the film debut of Prince, "Purple Rain."
Credit: Warner Brothers
Based on Peter Shaffer's play, Milos Forman's opulent Oscar-winner "Amadeus" (1984) portrayed 18th century musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a foul-mouthed man-child, with lesser composer Antonio Salieri as his shadowy, jealous nemesis. The movie was filmed in Prague, and marked the first time the Czech émigré director had returned home since the Soviet-backed communist regime crushed the Prague Spring movement in 1968. The movie captured seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham (whose aging was masterfully assisted by makeup artist Dick Smith).
Credit: Orion Pictures
Director Rouben Mamoulian's "Becky Sharp" (1935), inspired by William Makepeace Thackeray's novel "Vanity Fair" about a social climber at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, starred Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke and Billie Burke. But it is best remembered today as the first feature shot in three-strip Technicolor, the color process that would gleam in "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "Gone With the Wind," and countless other Hollywood films through the 1950s. Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from the original 35mm nitrate three-strip negatives, YCM separation positives, and release prints (to cover footage from negatives that were lost), it has recently been remastered in 4K by Paramount Pictures Archives.
Credit: Paramount Pictures
The 1969 police raid on the Greenwich Village gay bar, The Stonewall Inn, and the riot which erupted when the gay community fought back, was the spark of the modern day LGBTQ civil rights movement. The documentary "Before Stonewall" (1984) traced what it meant to live in America as a homosexual before the closet door was broken down. Narrated by author Rita Mae Brown, the film featured interviews with activists such as Martin Duberman, Barbara Gittings, Mabel Hampton and Harry Hay, writers Ann Bannon, Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Richard Bruce Nugent and Allen Ginsberg, and others. Recently restored and re-released for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Credit: First Run Features
"Body and Soul"
In his first film appearance, famed stage actor Paul Robeson starred in "Body and Soul" (1925) as twin brothers – one an escaped convict pretending to be a clergyman who schemes to defraud a small Georgia parish. Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951), the first African-American producer of feature-length films, already faced difficulties due to the extremely low budget that a black-oriented "race film" would be subjected to; when submitting his original cut of "Body and Soul" to state and local censorship boards, it was blocked owing to charges that the film was sacrilegious, scandalous, or might incite violence. He cut the nine reels to five in order to gain a release, and from a preserved nitrate print of this cut version, the George Eastman Museum has restored the film, and incorporated color tinting. It has recently been released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection.
Credit: George Eastman Museum
"Boys Don't Cry"
Born female in Lincoln, Neb., in 1972, Teena Brandon chose to live as a boy, Brandon Teena – cross-dressing, dating girls, even proposing marriage. Once his secret was exposed, he was raped and killed. Hilary Swank, a struggling actress who'd been fired from "Beverly Hills 90210," would win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Brandon in "Boys Don't Cry" (1999), the first feature from director Kimberly Peirce (who'd previously shot documentary footage of the trial of the men who were convicted of Brandon's murder). In this account (which costarred Chloe Sevigny), Peirce delicately explored the character's sexual identity, and the homophobia that made such self-expression dangerous, as expressed in the film's shocking conclusion.
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Kevin Smith reportedly sold his comic book collection and ran up credit card debt to help finance this, his first film – a foul-mouthed comedy about slackers working behind the counters of a convenience store and video shop in an Asbury Park, N.J. strip mall. "The movie has the attitude of a gas station attendant," wrote critic Roger Ebert. "It's grungy and unkempt." That shaggy-dog charm, in a film about dudes who don't really do much over the course of a day (but engage in some memorable conversations that almost got the film slapped with an NC-17 rating), turned out to be a pretty good investment of $27,000; "Clerks" (1994) won prizes at Sundance and Cannes, and became a cult favorite, grossing more than $3 million. Since then, Smith directed "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Clerks II," and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." But the affection for his debut is strong: It garnered the most public votes in this year's balloting for new National Film Registry entries.
"Coal Miner's Daughter"
A music biography that also treated its Appalachia characters with dignity, "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1980), directed by British documentary maker Michael Apted, starred Sissy Spacek as country singer Loretta Lynn, a child bride from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, who rose to music superstardom on such hits as "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," and "You're Lookin' at Country." Spacek, who sang vocals in the film, won an Academy Award for her performance. The film, which co-starred Tommy Lee Jones, Beverly D'Angelo (as Patsy Cline) and Levon Helm, was also nominated for six other Oscars, including Best Picture.
Credit: Universal Pictures
"Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island"
Shot by a cameraman from Thomas Edison's studio, the actuarial "Emigrants Landing at Ellis Island" (1903) showed the steam ferryboat William Myers arriving at the dock of the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York harbor, before discharging passengers newly-arrived from Europe. In the year that this footage was taken, more than 490,000 immigrants passed through Ellis Island, the most common nationalities being Italian, Polish, Scandinavian and German.
Credit: Library of Congress
In the years before Hollywood's Production Code was instituted, aimed at cleaning up depictions of immorality, sex and violence on screen, major studios were cleaning up at the box office with films like "Employees' Entrance" (1933), a Depression-era romantic melodrama in which a young woman (Loretta Young) allows herself to be seduced to get a job, then marries a store executive eager to climb the corporate ladder himself. There's a suicide, a sexual assault on a drunk woman, a drug overdose, and gunfire – a typical day at a department store.
Credit: Warner Brothers
"The Fog of War"
In 2003 documentary filmmaker Errol Morris ("Gates of Heaven" "The Thin Blue Line") put former Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara under the lens of his camera to explore the remembrances and complicated moral history of the man who helped Presidents Kennedy and Johnson prosecute the war in Vietnam. "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara" featured McNamara, then 85, discussing his role in U.S. foreign policy in the 1960s, from the Cuban Missile Crisis ("It was luck … Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies"), to America's involvement in Southeast Asia, as viewed by one of the most consequential figures in American history. Morris' film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
In the psychological thriller "Gaslight" (1944), based on Patrick Hamilton's play (and previously filmed in Britain in 1940), Ingrid Bergman starred as the wife of a man (Charles Boyer) who is trying to drive her slowly insane by manipulating what she believes to be the truth, causing her to doubt her own reasoning. Bergman won an Academy Award for her deft performance. Also recognized with Oscar nominations were Boyer and, in her first film role, 17-year-old Angela Lansbury as a flirtatious, conniving cockney maid who adds to the intrigue. Directed by George Cukor, the story gave rise to the term "gaslighting," which has come into vogue recently with the spread of conspiracy theories and fake news.
"George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute"
Famed inventor and botanist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was photographed, in color, at his home, office and laboratory, and at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama c. 1937. The amateur footage, shot in 16mm Kodachrome by African American surgeon C. Allen Alexander, has been preserved by the National Park Service, and can be viewed on YouTube.
Credit: National Archives
Documentary filmmaker Claudia Weill's first fiction feature, the independent film "Girlfriends" (1978), starred Melanie Mayron (left) as Susan, a New York photographer who loses her roommate when Anne (Anita Skinner) announces she is getting married. Critically praised for its observations about female friendship and the struggles of an artist adrift in New York City, the movie costarred Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Eli Wallach and Kenneth McMillan. Weill went on to direct the Jill Clayburgh film "It's My Turn," and episodes of such TV series as "Cagney & Lacey," "Thirtysomething," and "Girls."
Credit: Warner Brothers
"I Am Somebody"
Activist and documentary filmmaker Madeline Anderson directed "I Am Somebody" (1970), which captured the drama of the 1969 Charleston, S.C., hospital workers' strike, in which female African American workers fought to unionize. Featuring Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and Charles Abernathy, the film examined the labor fight as it touched on women of color and social justice. Recently preserved by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Credit: American Foundation of Non-Violence
"The Last Waltz"
With "The Last Waltz" (1978), director Martin Scorsese helped redefine the modern documentary-concert film, with his record of the final performance of the rock group The Band at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Joining the group were such music luminaries as Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Neil Young. "I love music films," the director told Mary Pat Kelly, author of "Martin Scorsese: A Journey." "And in 'The Last Waltz' the main thing to consider was that we were sick and tired of all these shots of the people in the audience in most concert films. So, we said we were going to stay on the stage. And we stayed on the stage. You see the intensity of the interrelationship of the performers, and you see how they work as a group."
Credit: United Artists
"My Name is Oona"
In the nine-minute short subject, "My Name is Oona" (1969), avant-garde filmmaker Gunvor Nelson created a lyrical portrait of her nine-year-old daughter, incorporating shots of her at play and riding a horse with surreal negative footage and superimposed imagery with a repetitive soundtrack. The effect is of a child's landscape in which innocence is on the verge of being left behind.
Credit: Gunvor Nelson
"A New Leaf"
After her comedic pairings with Mike Nichols on stage and in recordings, Elaine May would earn several hyphenates, as writer-director-star of "A New Leaf" (1971), playing a socially-awkward heiress who marries a conniver (Walter Matthau) plotting to do her in. The winning black comedy became a hit (even though May tried to have her name removed from the final release version), and she followed by directing Neil Simon's script for "The Heartbreak Kid." Despite a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for "A New Leaf," and Oscar nominations for writing the Warren Beatty fantasy "Heaven Can Wait" and "Primary Colors," May's Hollywood track record suffered from writing and directing the unjustly-dissed "Ishtar," which would become shorthand for box office bomb.
Credit: Paramount Pictures
It was the boy-and-his-dog story to end all such stories. The 1957 Disney adaptation of Fred Gipson's Newbery Honor-winning novel "Old Yeller" starred Fess Parker, Dorothy McGuire and Tommy Kirk, whose Texas family is saved more than a few times by his faithful dog, but who then must make a terrible decision that has echoed in the hearts of audiences, and pet owners, ever since.
Credit: American Humane Association/Disney Enterprises, Inc. via AP
"The Phenix City Story"
B-moviemaker Phil Carlson directed this film noir based on real-life events of the namesake Alabama city, whose corruption and vice had been splayed on the pages of newspapers after an attorney fighting a local crime syndicate that ran gambling and prostitution rackets was murdered. "The Phenix City Story" (1955) used a rough documentary style to capture the graphic and violent tale, which starred John McIntire, Richard Kiley, Edward Andrews, Kathyrn Grant and Lenka Peterson. Carlson would later direct "Hell to Eternity," "Kid Galahad," and the pilot of "The Untouchables."
Credit: Allied Artists
With its graphic depiction of heroism and honor struggling to rise above the madness of war, Oliver Stone's "Platoon" (1986) became a cathartic experience for many Vietnam vets, who were often portrayed in Hollywood and TV dramas as mentally unbalanced, vengeful and violent characters. Charlie Sheen starred as an idealistic soldier caught between two feuding sergeants (Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger). Stone, a veteran of Vietnam, based the story on some of his own experiences in the war, which became one example of his films (others include "Wall Street," "Born on the Fourth of July" and "JFK") that show the transformation of a generation through violence, greed and disillusionment. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Credit: Orion Pictures
The loss in 2016 of the singer-musician Prince Roger Nelson was devastating for music lovers who'd come to know the artist for his compositional genius, prodigious performance abilities, energy, and showmanship. All those qualities were on vivid display in his first film, the semi-autobiographical "Purple Rain" (1984). The film's soundtrack album, featuring "Let's Go Crazy," "I Would Die For U," "When Doves Cry" and the title song, sold 2.5 million copies before the movie's opening, and spent 24 weeks at No. 1, while the film itself would become a box office hit. And in a rarity for the rock-averse Motion Picture Academy, Prince won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score.
Credit: Warner Brothers
"Real Women Have Curves"
At 18, America Ferrera, who would later star in TV's "Ugly Betty," made her film debut (it was her first professional acting job) in this 2002 comedy-drama about Ana, a first-generation Latina teenager in East Los Angeles maneuvering young adulthood, family responsibilities, independence, body image, and the politics of immigration. "What's so kind of beautiful about the whole thing was that everything that made me not right for all of those hundreds of commercial auditions that I went on and no one ever wanted me for, is what made me perfectly right for 'Real Women Have Curves,'" Ferrera said in 2010. Directed by Patricia Cardoso, and costarring Lupe Ontiveros as Ana's mother, Carmen, this crowd-pleaser won the Audience Award (Dramatic) and an acting prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Credit: Newmarket Films
"She's Gotta Have It"
Writer-director Spike Lee's first theatrical feature, "She's Gotta Have It" (1986), was a comedy centered around Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), a young woman with three very eager suitors. One of the first entries in the burgeoning 1980s independent film movement, Lee's movie provided a fresh take on feminism and sexual politics, as well as a then-rare-on-screen representation of African Americans as mature adults who were not criminals or drug users. Lee himself co-starred as the desperate Mars Blackmon ("Please, baby, please, baby, please, baby baby baby please!"), a character who would later appear alongside Michael Jordan in a series of Nike commercials.
Credit: Island Pictures
Having produced the timeless tales "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Bambi" and "Cinderella," Walt Disney went all-out with his 1959 animated rendition of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," adapting the story to accommodate fairies and cute animals – Disney mainstays – and introducing a truly malevolent villain, the wicked Maleficent, who would lay a curse upon the young Princess Aurora. Shot in Super Technirama 70, "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) took full advantage of the panoramic widescreen, and George Bruns' score, liberally borrowing from Tchaikovsky's ballet music, received an Oscar nomination. But the expense and production delays (a steady progression of directors had labored for nearly a decade), and the disappointing box office (unable to offset what had been Disney's most expensive film to date), caused the studio to curtail some of its ambitions, and animated features in the 1960s ("101 Dalmations," "The Sword in the Stone" and "The Jungle Book") would be considerably less lush and more stylized, while incorporating xerography to reproduce animators' sketches onto cels.
Credit: Walt Disney Studios
The first Chicano Broadway musical, set in the barrios of Los Angeles in the 1940s, "Zoot Suit" opened in New York in 1979, and earned a Tony nomination for its star Edward James Olmos as Pachuco. Director Luis Valdez brought a stylized filming of a theatrical performance to his 1981 film, in which the drama of a murder trial, skewed by social injustice and racial profiling, was mixed with romance and boisterous period music. Olmos recreated his stage role, as did many other members of the original production. [Trivia: "Zoot Suit" was the last theatrical release to employ a variation of the Sensurround sound system (used in "Earthquake" and "Rollercoaster") to enhance the "live" aspect of the filmed-on-stage presentation.]
Credit: Universal Pictures
F. Murray Abraham as Salieri in "Amadeus": "This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God."