It has been estimated that 90% of silent films made in the United States were lost while it was estimated that 75% of all silent films were lost, and it's been estimated that half of all movies made from 1927 to 1950 were lost. Valeska Suratt, pictured to the right, made eleven films in her career, all of which are now lost.
Though extremely rare, a lost film can still be rediscovered years later, though sometimes footage is lost or is incomplete. The reason some silent and early talkies still exist today were because some actors, such as Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, became early champions of film preservation allowing for most of their work to survive, although a fire near Harold Llyod's mansion destroyed one of his film vaults, destroying a large number of his silent films.
Reasons For a Lost Film
- Intentional Destruction: This was the largest reason why most silent films are lost today. In 1927, the first talkie, The Jazz Singer arrived and by 1930, most film companies concluded that silent films no longer had any monetary value at all and destroyed the prints for vault space. In addition, because television and home video were not created yet, it was widely believed that most films would lose value once their theatrical runs ended so many talkies were also destroyed.
- Nitrate film: Before 1952, nearly all 35 mm and prints were made of nitrocellulose, which was a very flammable material. In poor conditions, this film could easily catch fire and even destroy a vault full of films which have occured. In addition this material was highly unstable and could decay into a powder similar to gunpowder. Some nitrate films are still in very good condition while some decayed within twenty years.
- Separate Soundtracks: Some of the early talkies required a sound-on-disk with separate soundtrack that played on special phonographs. If these sound-on-disks could not be found, it was believed that the film's chance at success would be less successful and would be scrapped.