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Public Domain Day

Public Domain and Movies

Nearly all the films entering public domain this year are silent films. Jazz Singer, released in 1927, is the first film with synchronized dialogue and marks the beginning of the end for the silent film era. [1] Silent films are particularly precious because many silent features were lost to history when movie studios chose not to preserve much of their silent film footage as we transitioned to sound films and film formats continued to change. Wings and the original cut of Metropolis, both entering public domain this year, were once thought lost before they were recovered from archives.

Duke's Center for the Study of Public Domain has a longer list of movies that are entering public domain this year!

Exhibit Panel

7th Heaven

7th Heaven movie poster: a man and woman holding eachother against a blue background

7th Heaven is a compelling story about a worker who saves a woman from arrest by claiming they are married. The film traces their love story as it develops from pretending to be spouses to evade arrest into something more meaningful. Though 7th Heaven lost to Wings at the first Academy Awards, Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for Best Actress.

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Fans of Ex-Machina, Parasite, and Blade Runner would be remiss not to add Metropolis to their movie list. Metropolis, widely regarded as one of the first and best sci-fi films of all time, enters the U.S. public domain on January 1, 2023. Released in 1927, the silent film is an urban dystopian masterpiece that features biting (silent) commentary on class disparities, breathtaking architecture, and a son rebelling against a parent to fight for oppressed workers. 

Watch the Public Domain version of Metropolis hosted by the Internet Archive.

The Cat and the Canary

For an old house horror movie only slightly less jaunty than Knives Out, check out The Cat and the Canary! A classic tale of a family vying for their relative’s estate, Cyrus West mandates that his family must wait 20 years to open his will. When they gather at his former home, chaos ensues. The Cat and the Canary is credited with launching the beloved eerie old house trope.