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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1932 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for film debuts and the birth of future actors and directors.

 

Making Their Film Debuts:

  • Ingrid Bergman – Landskamp,
  • Robert Donat – Over Night,
  • Cary Grant – This Is the Night,
  • Katharine Hepburn A Bill of Divorcement,
  • Alan Ladd – Tom Brown of Culver,
  • John Mills – Midshipmaid Gob,
  • David Niven – There Goes the Bride,
  • Dick Powell – Blessed Event,
  • Kate Smith – The Big Broadcast,
  • Shirley Temple – Runt Page, and
  • Mae West – Night After Night.

 

Among those born in 1932:

François Truffaut, French film director; Miloš Forman, director; Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds; Anthony Perkins; Omar Sharif; Peter O’Toole; Roy Scheider and Robert Vaughn.

 

The top grossing films of 1932

1.

Shanghai Express

Paramount Pictures

$3,700,000

2.

Grand Hotel

MGM

$2,594,000

3.

Emma

MGM

$2,000,000

4.

Movie Crazy

Harold Lloyd Corporation

$1,439,000

5.

As You Desire Me

MGM

$1,363,000

6.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Paramount Pictures

$1,250,000

7.

Strange Interlude

MGM

$1,240,000

8.

Red Dust

MGM

$1,223,000

9.

Arsène Lupin

MGM

$1,110,000

10.

Scarface

United Artists

$600,000

 

Academy Awards

The best Picture of 5th Academy Awards: Grand Hotel – MGM

Note: Prior to 1933 awards were not based on calendar years, which is how there are no ‘Best Actor’ or ‘Best Actress’ awards for 1932 films. The 1931-32 awards went to 1931 films.

 

The Greatest Films of 1932

Top Grossing doesn’t always always mean greatest all though several of them did make the list.

 

***POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR ALL***

 

Poster for the movie "A Bill of Divorcement"

© 1932 RKO Radio Pictures − All right reserved.

A Bill of Divorcement

Director: George Cukor

Hillary Fairfield (John Barrymore), who had been living in a mental hospital for 15 years, escapes. He returns home to his wife and family on the day his wife Margaret (Billie Burke) is divorcing him so that she can remarry. His strong-willed daughter Sydney (Katharine Hepburn, in her film debut) has always been told that he had been shell-shocked from the Great War, but now discovers from him a family history of hereditary mental illness, and she started to believe that she was next.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Blonde Venus"

© 1932 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

Blonde Venus

Director: Josef von Sternberg

A camp classic and the most outlandish of the Dietrich/von Sternberg pictures. Helen Faraday (Marlene Dietrich), a nighclub-cabaret singer, is a loving mother and wife who prostitutes herself to a nightclub owner and wealthy playboy Nick Townsend (Cary Grant) in order to pay for her scientist husband Edward’s (Herbert Marshall) expensive ($1,500) medical bills, so that he can go for cancer treatment in Germany. Her husband is an American chemist dying of radium poisoning. Helen (taking the name Helen Jones) begins a glamorous career as a cabaret singer on the German stage. She was billed as the “Blonde Venus.” The film’s highlight is her bizarre, gorilla-suited “Hot Voodoo” number, to the beat of an African drum, in which she first takes off her gorilla head and suit to reveal herself. She then sing the throaty song wearing a blonde Afro wig, while surrounded by ‘black’ dancers. As the Hays Code required, she has to suffer the consequences as a ‘fallen woman.’ Upon her husband’s return from treatment, he discovers her liaison with Townsend and files for divorce and custody of their five year-old son Johnny (Dickie Moore). Forced to surrender Johnny to authorities, she eventually become an impoverished and destitute prostitute. In the end, however her estranged husband realizes that her sacrifice was for his cure, and they are reconciled.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Cabin in the CottonCabin in The Cotton

Director: Michael Curtiz

A rich, young and wicked Southern woman Madge Norwood (Bette Davis) entrances a poor sharecropper’s son Marvin Blake (Richard Barthelemess), who works at her father Lane Norwood’s (Berton Churchill) general store as a night clerk. When promoted to bookkeeper, he learns how Norwood is cheating the tenant farmers, caught in the conflict between his loyalty to his employer, his love for Madge, and his roots as a farmer. The film was known for Madge’s famous line: “Ah’d like to kiss ya, but ah jest washed ma hair.”

 

 

Poster for the movie "A Farewell to Arms"

© 1932 Paramount Pictures − All right reserved.

A Farewell to Arms

Director: Frank Borzage

A sentimental, romantic, and moving film version of Ernest Hemingway’s tragic love story. A wounded American ambulance driver Lt. Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) falls in love with British volunteer nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes), while both are serving in the war in WWI Italy. They are both brought together and separated by the circumstances of the war, and the manipulations of jealous womanizer Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou).

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Freaks"

© 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Freaks

Director: Tod Browning

A bizarre horror film, and a cult favorite. This is an amazing masterpiece about a group of grotesquely deformed circus freaks (the film features many real-life circus sideshow freaks, including “pinheads,” the “living torso” Prince Radian, Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and the half-bodied Johnny Eck, and others). A beautiful but heartless high-wire artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) marries a wealthy circus midget Hans (Harry Earles), but then plots with her strongman lover Hercules (Henry Victor) to poison him to death for his money. In revenge, the group of freaks protects the midget from his bride and gets even with the high-wire artist. The freaks seek retribution against strongman Hercules by crawling and slithering in the mud under the carnival wagons, with knives in their hands, as they pursue him. Off-screen, they transform the tall and sexy Cleopatra into a legless, feathered chicken with a scarred and bruised face, and a squawking mouth as punishment for her greed, cruelty and duplicity toward one of the freaks.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

 

Poster for the movie "Grand Hotel"

© 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Grand Hotel

Director: Edmund Goulding

World War I was over, and Berlin’s beautiful, art-deco Grand Hotel was busy with the intersecting lives and destinies of its glamorous guests in a 24-hour period. The dramatic ensemble cast includes a weary, unloved and lonely ballerina Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a financially-destitute nobleman and jewel-thief Baron Felix von Gaigern (John Barrymore) who she fasll in love with, a sexy hotel stenographer Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) who meet a dying clerk Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) searching for a last fling, and crude industrialist Gen. Director Preysing (Wallace Beery).

It won the Best Picture Oscar in the year of its release – its only nomination

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Horse FeathersHorse Feathers

Director: Norman Z. McLeod

One of the Marx Brother’s greatest, most zany films, with numerous one-liners. Groucho is Professor Wagstaff, president of Huxley College, who mistakenly hires Chico, the local speakeasy bootlegger and iceman, and his assistant Harpo, a dogcatcher, as professional football players, so Huxley College can beat their rivals at Darwin. In the big game, Huxley wins through madcap maneuvers.

The film, a zany take-off on college education and football, is known for its fast-paced, non-sequitor, inconsistent nature as is typical of all Marx Brothers films. The plot affords many opportunities for the comedic team to show off their anarchic style of humor, with many pun-filled, nonsensical bits of dialogue, insults, idiosyncrasies, and one-liners.

 

Poster for the movie "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang"

© − All right reserved.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

The powerful, realistic drama of an innocent man, a World War I veteran James Allen (Paul Muni) who has been convicted, and sentenced to ten years of hard labor for a crime he didn’t commit. He is trapped in a brutal Southern chain gang. Prisoners are treated inhumanely by the guards. After a prison escape through the swamps, he reestablishes himself in Chicago with a normal life, but is discovered and voluntarily returns to the South, with a promise that he will be pardoned. Upon his return to prison, he is again brutalized. The film is known for its chilling climax (“I steal!”), and for its effectiveness in promoting social reform.

The harsh and grim melodramatic film was one of the first of Warner Bros.’ films of social conscience, reform and protest during the early 30s. One of the film’s taglines described his second escape: “Six sticks of dynamite that blasted his way to freedom…and awoke America’s conscience!”

To appease southern film exhibitors and the state of Georgia, there is no mention or hint of the state of Georgia (it was omitted from the title of the picture), but it’s clear that the character is imprisoned in a southern state (with large numbers of blacks on the chain gang) and its penal system were being implicated. The film was actually banned in Georgia.

The film earned three Academy Award nominations (with no wins): Best Picture (it lost to Cavalcade), Best Actor (Muni lost his second nomination to Charles Laughton for his performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII), and Best Sound.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

 

Love Me Tonight

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

This is the romantic tale of a Parisian tailor Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) who tried to wins the heart of a princess, Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). Includes the songs “Lover,” “Mimi,” and “Isn’t It Romantic?”

An adaptation of Rodgers and Hart’s Broadway musical, this was a pivotal musical in that it shaped the technical language of movie musicals in the sound era, by smoothly integrating the songs into the film’s plot line. It also featured the first zoom shot (into a window) and the first asynchronous sound, and also other dazzling special effects such as slow-motion, fast-motion, and split-screens.

 

Me and My Gal

Director: Raoul Walsh

In this low-budget, fast-talking, pre-Code streetwise romantic comedy, with crime drama elements, fresh young New York pier beat-cop Danny Dolan (Spencer Tracy) falls in love with sarcastic, strong-minded waterfront cafe waitress Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), while Helen’s newly-married sister Kate (Marion Burns) still harbors feelings for an ex-boyfriend – gangster fugitive Duke Castenega (George Walsh, the director’s brother), and hid him in her attic. As a pre-Prohibition film, it celebrates drinking. One drunken character, the father of the bride, approached the camera and asked: “Who’d like a drink, huh?”

 

Night after Night

Director: Archie Mayo

Mae West’s first talking film, full of her notable wisecracks and one-liners in a secondary role. Joe Anton (George Raft), a reformed thug, who has many uncouth, low-life acquaintances from his past, opens up a night club, and attempts to woo Park Avenue, upper-class beauty Jerry Healy (Constance Cummings). During a dinner party, blonde Mandie Triplett (Mae West), one of Joe’s former girls, bursts in and disrupts the proceedings with her inimitable presence and dialogue.

 

 

The Old Dark House

Director: James Whale

Notable as one of James Whale’s bizarre horror films, with Boris Karloff in his first film role. A theatrically creepy story of a group of stranded travelers who take shelter in the mysterious, haunted dark old house of the Femm family. The assorted collection of guests included Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey), his wife Margaret (Gloria Stuart), their friend Roger Penderell (Melvyn Douglas), Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his companion Gladys DuCane (Lilian Bond). The residents of the house included 102 year-old bedridden Sir Roderick Femm (Elspeth Dudgeon), a son Horace (Ernest Thesiger), daughter Rebecca (Eva Moore), and a psychotic mute butler (Boris Karloff).

 

Poster for the movie "Red Dust"

© 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Red Dust

Director: Victor Fleming

A steamy classic drama, with hot-blooded chemistry between the two stars. The film was remade as Mogambo (1953), starring Clark Gable (21 years older), Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly. Dennis Carson (Clark Gable), head of a Indo Chinese rubber plantation, takes in a female house guest – a flirtatious, glib, and earthy platinum blonde Saigon hooker named Vantine (Jean Harlow), running from the authorities. His lusty relationship with the wisecracking Vantine is put to the test when a boat arrives with newlyweds, an engineer Gary Willis (Gene Raymond) and his cultured, upper-class attractive wife Barbara “Babs” (Mary Astor), and Carson turned his attentions toward Barbara. Eventually torn between the two in a love triangle, he returns into the arms of his bawdy girlfriend Vantine, when wounded by a shot-gun blast from a jealous “Babs.”

It is the earliest of the Clark Gable/Jean Harlow films. One of the film’s slogans proclaimed: “He treated her rough – and she loved it!”

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Poster for the movie "Scarface"

© 1932 United Artists − All right reserved.

Scarface (aka Scarface, the Shame of the Nation)

Director: Howard Hawks

Released by United Artists, a violent, fast-paced, intense gangster/crime melodrama, the ‘first’ of the great gangster films, although its release was delayed due to censorship battles. One of the boldest, most potent, raw and violently-brutal gangster-crime films ever made. Based on Al Capone’s life, the film chronicled the rise and fall of Roaring 20’s tough Chicago gangster and bootlegger Tony Camonte (Paul Muni). Tony was a brutish, primeval character, and the film portrays scandal, violence, and 28 on-camera murders, as he confronts both his rivals led by Johnny Lovo and associates such as Guino Rinaldo (George Raft). The film was also considered controversial because of hints of incest between Tony and his sexy sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak).

The controversial film was in the planning stages in 1930 – to be produced by versatile co-producer/director Howard Hawks and co-producer Howard Hughes. A working script was readied by January 1931, and after about three months of filming, it was completed later in the year. Although the film was scheduled for release in January 1932, its opening was delayed for a few more months due to Hawks’ and Hughes’ continuing squabbles with industry censors over its sensationalism and glorification of the gangster menace, and issues regarding the film’s re-titling. Therefore, this tough, pioneering film could not claim to be at the forefront of the gangster talking film craze in the early 30s. That honor fell to two earlier Warner Bros., director Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar and William Wellman’s sociological treatise Public Enemy. These films defined the genre and formed a trilogy, of sorts.

To give the violent, tragi-comedy film respectability, to deglamorize the folk-hero nature of the gangster, and to appease the forces of censorship, a number of restrictions or changes were imposed before the film could be released with the MPAA seal of approval

The film was heralded as an example of the kind of protection the Hollywood Production Code of Ethics could provide to the movie-going public when implemented in 1934. Due to squabbles over the film’s release and the hue and cry over its depiction of the world of gangsters, the film ultimately didn’t do well at the box office. It was banned in several states, versions varied from state to state (due to varying boards of censors) and showings were delayed over a year in Chicago. Foreign sales were also limited, and Nazi Germany permanently prohibited the film’s showing. After Hughes withdrew it from circulation, it was rarely seen in the United States for almost fifty years, and wasn’t widely available until it was reissued by Universal Studios in 1979.

Once again, a Howard Hawks-directed film was ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – the film received no nominations.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Shanghai Express

Director: Josef von Sternberg

While on the Shanghai Express train traveling through civil war-torn China, a couple falls into the hands of revolutionaries led by a cruel war lord Henry Chang (Warner Oland). Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich), the mysterious and erotic temptress, meets her ex-lover army surgeon, Captain Donald “Doc” Harvey (Clive Brook), and they rekindled their relationship when they are interrupted by rebels who attack the train. With Shanghai Lily’s famous line of dialogue: “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

One of the best-remembered films of Marlene Dietrich, it was the fourth of seven films the actress made with director Josef von Sternberg, following The Blue Angel (1930), Morocco (1930) and Dishonored (1931), and later followed by Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935).

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), and won Best Cinematography (Lee Garmes). It became Dietrich’s biggest US box-office hit, taking in a record amount of $3.7 million for Paramount.

 

 

Poster for the movie "Tarzan The Ape Man"

© 1932 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.

Tarzan, the Ape Man

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

The first sound Tarzan film, and one of the best renditions of Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic jungle tales. An expedition searching for elephant ivory treasures in a graveyard is met in the wilds of Africa by ape man of the jungle, Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller). He kidnaps English girl Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), the daughter of the leader of the British expedition, and the two discover their love for each other.

Film production costs reached $1 million for the studio. This film introduced the chimpanzee Chetah, and provided the Weissmuller yodel yell (produced by MGM’s sound department), although the ape-call originated in a 1929 part-talkie serial (starring Frank Merrill). It also marked the first of six Tarzan movies starring both Johnny Weissmuller and Irish-born actress Maureen O’Sullivan (between 1932 and 1942). They are universally acknowledged as the most loved and famous of the many Tarzan characters.

This entertaining film, directed by W.S. Van Dyke, used extensive, left-over African jungle location footage from MGM’s early talking adventure film Trader Horn (1931), also by Van Dyke.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Trouble in Paradise

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

A sophisticated, witty, comedy farce. The story of two jewel thieves Gaston Monescu/LaValle (Herbert Marshall) and Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins), who fall in love as they worked together to fleece widow Mme. Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) of her fortune, by posing as her secretary and maid. However, things didn’t go as planned, as Gaston falls in love with Mariette, and is recognized by a former victim.

This treasured comic film masterpiece, a pinnacle of sophisticated romantic comedy, beautifully epitomizes the “Lubitsch Touch” with its flair for pre-Hays Code sexual comedy, witty innuendo-filled, suggestive dialogue, orchestrated grace and charming style, subtle use of details, and sardonic humor. Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise was his first non-musical sound comedy.

 

 

Poster for the movie "White Zombie"

© 1932 Victor & Edward Halperin Productions − All right reserved.

White Zombie

Director: Victor Halperin

The grand-daddy of all modern-day zombie films of the sound era, with effective, atmospheric horror, although dated. This was Bela Lugosi’s follow-up film to Dracula (1931), and his second most important movie role. The low-budget film was the archetype and model for many subsequent zombie movies. Wealthy planter and plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) invites an American couple in Haiti, Neil Parker (John Harron) and his fiancee Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy), to his plantation for their marriage. On the way, they encounter the white sorcerer-master of the Haitian sugar mill, evil voodoo master Murder Legendre (Béla Lugosi), who has stocked the plantation with an army of hollow-eyed zombies under his voodoo spell. Beaumont is the lusting admirer of Madeline, but his unrequited love is rebuffed by her plans to marry Neil. With no other alternative, jealous Beaumont hires witch-doctor Legendre to use a potion to temporarily turn Madeline into a zombie. After the marriage ceremony, Madeline is slipped the potion, apparently dies, and is buried in a tomb. The plan is to have her declared legally dead and have Neil return to the US. Then, Charles could secretly revive or raise Madeline from the dead and romance her. Regretful of his evil deed and due to Legendre’s own dark plans for him, Charles is also transformed into a semi-zombie figure, imprisoned in Legendre’s fortified, cliff-side castle. Neil joins with missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) to rescue Madeline from the castle, where they battle both Legendre and his threatening zombie guards. During the violent confrontation, a repentant Charles break through the voodoo spell he is under and attacks Legendre. Both Legendre and Charles fall from the fortress tower to their deaths far below on the beach. After Legendre’s death, Madeline is released from her zombie state, and returns to the arms of her loving husband Neil.

Learn more and watch the trailer here.

 

Did your favorite 1932 movie make our list?

 

Greatest Films from 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | 1934 | 1935 | 1936 | 1937 | 1938 | 1939

1940 | 1941 | 1942 | 1943 | 1944 | 1945 | 1946 |1947 | 1948 | 1949

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