1939 in film

For the film starring Romola Garai, see 1939 (film).
List of years in film (table)
In television

The year 1939 in motion pictures is widely considered the most outstanding one ever,[1] when it comes to the high quality and high attendance at the large set of the best films that premiered in the year (considered as a percentage of the population in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom at that time).


Nominations for the Academy Award for Best Picture

The year 1939 was one in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated ten films for Best Picture:

These films came from a wide variety of film genres and sources for their stories and settings, including: historical fiction (Gone with the Wind), contemporary affairs (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Of Mice and Men), love stories, classic novels (Wuthering Heights), fantasies/musicals, (The Wizard of Oz), tragic plays (Dark Victory), westerns (Stagecoach), and comedies (Ninotchka).

Each of the five nominees for Best Director of 1939 went on to become legendary film directors with multiple acclaimed films to their credit: Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, John Ford, Sam Wood, and William Wyler.

Top-grossing films

These figures, as reported in the Box Office Digest of March 1940,[4] are not necessarily the sums that were taken in during 1939 – and in particular for films that made their premieres in October, November, and December. Note that the number one film in this list premiered in mid-December, and it certainly did not take in $200,000,000 in December 1939. At the time, box office numbers were reported as a percentage of business for each theater in comparison to "normal" business. For example, Jesse James performed at 182% and The Wizard of Oz at 156%. This puts the astounding 388% that Gone with the Wind performed at in perspective for the time. This type of reporting is one reason that exact dollar grosses for films of this period are unreliable at best.

Rank Title Studio Actors Gross
1. Gone with the Wind MGM/Selznick Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen $198,676,459 [5]
2. Jesse James 20th Century Fox Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda $9,460,000 [6]
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Columbia James Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains $9,600,000 [6]
4. The Rains Came 20th Century Fox Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power and George Brent $9,400,000 [6]
5. Babes in Arms MGM Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney $9,240,000 [6]
6. Dodge City Warner Bros. Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Bruce Cabot $6,750,000 [6]
7. Goodbye, Mr. Chips MGM/Denham Robert Donat and Greer Garson $3,252,000
8. The Wizard of Oz MGM Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton $38,757,196 [7]
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame RKO Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara $3,155,000 [8]
10. Gunga Din RKO Cary Grant $2,807,000 [9]
11. Ninotchka MGM Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas $2,279,000 [10]
12. The Women MGM Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine $2,270,000
13. Drums Along the Mohawk 20th Century Fox Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda $2,000,000 [11]
14. Stanley and Livingstone 20th Century Fox Spencer Tracy $8,000,000 [6]
15. Union Pacific Paramount Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea $5,550,000 [6]
16. Another Thin Man MGM William Powell and Myrna Loy $6,090,000 [6]
17. The Old Maid Warner Bros. Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins $6,660,000 [6]
18. Hollywood Cavalcade 20th Century Fox Alice Faye and Don Ameche $4,000,000 [6]
19. Destry Rides Again Universal Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart $2,900,000[6]
20. Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever MGM Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone $6,240,000 [6]
21. Gulliver's Travels Paramount voices of Sam Parker and Pinto Colvig $3,270,000 [6]

Academy Awards

Main article: 12th Academy Awards

Notable films released in 1939

U.S.A. unless stated












Comedy film series

Animated short film series





  1. Giltz, Michael (February 15, 2008). "Michael Giltz: DVDs: 1939 – The Best Year For Movies...Ever!". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
  2. Fristoe, Roger. "Introduction to 1939, Hollywood's Greatest Year". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  3. Schwarzbaum, Lisa (October 2, 2009). "1939: Film's finest year". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  4. Box Office Digest, March 1940, p.18
  5. Bloomberg.com / Box Office Mojo.com
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 http://www.ultimatemovierankings.com/top-grossing-movies-of-1939/
  7. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=releases&id=wizardofoz.htm
  8. Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p56
  9. Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p57
  10. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031725/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus
  11. 52 FEATURE FILMS ON FOX '39-40 LIST: Five Will Cost $2,000,000 Each--Zanuck to Supervise 24 Large Productions 'THE RAINS CAME' ON BILL 'Drums Along Mohawk,' 'Little Old New York,' 'Brigham Young' Scheduled Edmonds's Story in Color Elsa Maxwell Featured New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 Apr 1939: 29.
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