The Best Pre-Code Movies

Over 300 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Pre-Code Movies
Voting Rules
Vote for your personal favorite Pre-code films, regardless of how popular or successful they were at the box office.

Here it is, ladies and gents, a list of all the best pre-code movies of all time, many of which are streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The pre-code Hollywood movie genre refers to films made between the widespread use of sound in movies in 1929 and the enforcement of the Hays Code in 1934 (also known as the Motion Picture Production Code), and featured stars such as Clark Gable, Joan Blondell, and Barbara Stanwyck.

The films on this list cover the top pre-code movies of all time and is currently ordered from best to worst, according to your votes, so be sure to thums up movies like The Gay Divorcee or Hold Your Man if you like them -- or vote them down if they weren’t your cup of tea. This list has everything from Wonder Bar to The Wet Parade, and more, but if we missed any pre-code films on this list by famous directors like Cecil B. DeMille, please add them yourself, as this is an open list, which means you can add any movies whenever you like (choices are subject to moderation).

So whether you're at home and want to watch these pre-code Hollywood movies on DVD or streaming… or if you're seeing them at an Indie theatre for the first time, this list of the best pre-code films will help you decide what to watch. So from the latest, to the greatest pre-code movies, here is the full list of pre-code films, ordered from best to worst.

Ranked by
  • Gold Diggers of 1933
    Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell
    60 votes
    • Released: 1933
    • Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy

    This musical extravaganza showcases the desperation and determination of three aspiring Broadway actresses during the Great Depression. The film is famous for its opulent Busby Berkeley choreography, featuring extravagant costumes and surreal set pieces. Additionally, the movie's biting social commentary offers a striking portrait of the era's stark economic realities.

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  • Footlight Parade
    James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler
    53 votes
    • Released: 1933
    • Directed by: Lloyd Bacon

    A fast-paced musical comedy, this film tells the story of a former stage director who resorts to creating elaborate "live prologues" for movie theaters in order to survive the onslaught of talkies. Directed by Lloyd Bacon and featuring Busby Berkeley's stunning choreography, it captures both the glamour and hardship of show business. Stars like James Cagney, Joan Blondell, and Ruby Keeler shine as they navigate a cutthroat industry.

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  • Baby Face
    Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook
    38 votes
    • Released: 1933
    • Directed by: Alfred E. Green

    Starring the iconic Barbara Stanwyck, this gritty drama follows the rise of a determined young woman who climbs the social ladder by using her sexuality to manipulate those around her. Through an unapologetic portrayal of womanhood, the film challenges audiences with themes of power, ambition, and amorality. It is remembered for its provocative subject matter and the fearless performance by Stanwyck.

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  • Duck Soup
    Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx
    37 votes
    • Released: 1933
    • Directed by: Leo McCarey

    This beloved Marx Brothers comedy offers a biting satire on politics and war, presenting the absurdity of government and diplomacy through the anarchic antics of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo. Directed by Leo McCarey, it ridicules aristocratic traditions and international relations with its zany humor and unforgettable musical numbers. Considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, it has inspired generations of comedians and filmmakers alike.

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  • Red Dust
    Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Mary Astor
    32 votes
    • Released: 1932
    • Directed by: Victor Fleming

    Directed by Victor Fleming, this steamy romantic drama stars Clark Gable as a plantation owner and Jean Harlow as a sultry femme fatale caught in a love triangle. Set against the backdrop of the Indochinese rubber industry, it explores themes of desire, power, and betrayal. The undeniable chemistry between the two leads elevates it to a classic of its era.

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  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
    Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson
    24 votes
    • Released: 1932
    • Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy

    Based on the true story of Robert E. Burns, this hard-hitting social drama depicts a man wrongly convicted of a crime and who later escapes from a brutal chain gang. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, the film shines a spotlight on the abuses within the American penal system. Its searing portrayal of injustice led to widespread outrage and sparked calls for reform.

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