The texts below are freely-available digitised printed catalogues and electronic databases that enable researchers to identify films from the silent era.

AFI Catalog Silent Film database

Publisher: American Film Institute, 1997 onwards

The American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films began in the late 1960s, with printed volumes covering 1893-1970 (excluding the 1950s) published up to 1997, when printing stopped and the online version began (which now incorporates the 1950s). For the silent period the online catalogue is free to all, covering 25,000 titles. The 1921-1930 period has feature films only. For 1893-1910 every kind of film, fiction and non-fiction is covered. 1911-1920 follows the 1920s in concentrating on feature films, so there are no short films despite their high level of production at this time. You can search across all manner of fields, including very thorough genre and subject terms.

Animatograph Films

London: Paul’s Animatograph Works, [1903]
Source: Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma

This 1903 catalogue covers the films and equipment sold by one of the leading British film producers of the early cinema period. It describes the company, it offices and services, then covers equipment (the Animatograph projector, arc lamps, lenses, limelight jets, perforators, cameras etc.) and films, described and illustrated with frame stills. They include dramas, the recruiting series Army Life, music hall acts, trick films, comedies, actuality subjects, Boer War films and ‘sensational films’. The volume is available as a 17MB word-searchable PDF.

British Board of Film Classification

Cinema Context

Publisher: University of Amsterdam, 2006 onwards

Cinema Context is a Dutch site created by Karel Dibbets and the University of Amsterdam. Describing itself as “an encylopedia of film culture”, the site documents film distribution and exhibition in the Netherlands in 1896. It does so through four data collections, on films, cinemas, people and companies, derived from painstakingly researched data on nearly all films exhibited in Dutch cinemas before 1960. The research team located film programmes from 1896 onwards in each of the major Dutch cities, entering all film titles, names, dates, cinemas etc, and then ingeniously matched this data to the records of these films on the IMDb.

Collections Search (BFI)

Publisher: British Film Institute, 2013 onwards

The British Film Institute’s Collections Search, for the first time combines its bibliographic, filmographic and technical databases. It lists over 800,000 films and TV programmes on its database it holds, as well as those titles for which it has secondary references only, such as journal references (which are provided to all on its database for the first time). The BFI also offers a general browsing version which links to some (but not all) of its database content and includes extra information, stills etc.:

Early motion pictures: the paper print collection in the Library of Congress

Publisher: Washington: Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, 1985

Digitised copy of the printed catalogue of the 3,000 or so early films held by the Library of Congress that were transferred from paper copyright records (paper prints) to 16mm film. Edited by Kemp Niver.


Publisher: Deutsche Filminstitut – DIF e.V. in co-operation with CineGraph – Hamburgisches Centrum für Filmforschung e.V, 2005 onwards

Filmportal documents some 73,500 German fiction films from 1895 to the present day, and is effectively the German national filmography. 7,000 of those records go into great detail, with synopses, reviews, posters and other illustrative material, photographs etc, but even the most basic records list title, cast, credits, and release information, taken from primary sources. There are also 165,000 names, 3,000 of which come with detailed biographies, and names and titles are extensively hyperlinked, making Filmportal eminently, indeed compulsively, browsable. It is also bi-lingual – the site’s primary language is German, of course, but all introductory and explanatory material is also available in English, with further English content promised for the future.

The George Kleine collection of early motion pictures in the Library of Congress: a catalog

Publisher: Washington: Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, 1980

Digitised version of a printed catalogue of just under 500 film titles 1898-1926 from the George Kleine collection held by the Library of Congress. Prepared by Rita Horwitz and Harriet Harrison, with the assistance of Wendy White.

Giornate Database

Publisher: La Cineteca del Friuli, 2010 onwards

The Giornate database lists every films featured at the Pordenone silent film festival (Giornate del Cinema Muto) festival from 1982. You can search by year, title, director, year of release, production company, country and archive. The information available varies, with no synopses for earlier years, though that’s because such data was not included in the festival catalogue/booklet. More recent records are richer in detail as the catalogue has become an ever more handsome production, with background information in both English and Italian. What every record does provide is title, any alternative titles, year of production, year in which it was shown at the festival, the production company, director (where known), format (i.e. 35m, 16mm etc), the film speed at which it was shown, its duration, and the archive which supplied the copy. You even get the name of the musician who played to the film.

Irish Film and Television Index

Publisher: Trinity College Dublin, 2003 onwards

The Index documents “all Irish-made cinema and major television productions as well as Irish-themed audio-visual representations produced outside of Ireland.” It covers nearly 40,000 titles, and includes important areas that other national filmographies often ignore, such as newsreels, interest films, and silents. It based on the book publication by Kevin Rockett, The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films 1896-1996 (1996), with additional material chiefly researched by Eugene Finn.

Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé

Publisher: Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé

The Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé site documents the rich heritage of the Pathé film company. It includes a filmography which will eventually document the entire Pathé output from 1896 to the present day. The available information comes chiefly from original Pathé catalogues and trade paper reviews, and varies from title to title. Some early records are little more than a title, while late entries have detailed descriptions. The catalogue is arranged by year, and from 1907 the years are broken down further into months. The filmography is in French, but with smatterings of English where English or American trade paper sources are quoted.

Internet Movie Database

The London Project

Publisher: Birkbeck, University of London, 2005

The London Project was a major study of the film business in London, 1894-1914, organised by the AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies. The project database documents nearly 1,000 cinemas and other film venues, and as many film businesses located in London before the First World War. The database allows searching by name of venue or business, address, London borough (as they were pre-1914), by business type (e.g. production, distribution, production, exhibition, venue), and by person (including notes relating to people).

Motion Pictures 1912-1939

Washington: Library of Congress, 1951
Source: Internet Archive

Rick Prelinger, of the Prelinger Archive, has made the Library of Congress Motion Picture Catalogs available for download from The Internet Archive. Five volumes have been put up, covering 1894 to 1969. This includes all 1,256 pages of the 1912-1939 volume, which is sensational news for anyone interested in the study of silent film. The Library of Congress Catalogs of Copyright Entries list all motion pictures registered for copyright in the USA (i.e. films not just made in the USA but shown in the USA). The entries give title, year, company, length, date of registration, and sometimes some credits. The printed volumes have long been the first port of call for anyone seriously engaged in identifying films from the silent period, but they have been restricted to a handful of research libraries. Suddenly they are available to all. The PDF is a huge size (157MB), but there is a 9MB text file of the word-searchable uncorrected OCR.

The 1894-1912 volume is also available, in DjVu (4.9MB), PDF (12MB), b/w PDF (5.8MB) and TXT (621KB) formats).

Spirograph Library of Motion Picture Discs

New York: Spiro Film Corporation, 1928
Source: Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma

Catalogue of the Spirograph disc-based projector, issued in 1928 after the main Spirograph business had collapsed (in 1924) before proper commercial exploitation could begin. The catalogue lists and describes the 400 discs in the Spirograph collection under such headings as Science, Literature, Government, Physical Activities and Our Government. There are no illustrations. Available in PDF format (40MB).


The Theodore Roosevelt Association film collection: a catalog

Publisher: Washington: Library of Congress, 1986

Digitised copy of printed catalogue of the Theadore Roosvelt Association film collection, held by the Library of Congress. Prepared by Wendy White-Henson and Veronica M. Gillespie with the assistance of Harriet Harrison.

A Synopsis of the Life-work of Alfred West

Portsmouth: Wessex Press, 1912
Source: Wessex Film and Sound Archive

Alfred West (1857-1937) was the man behind ‘Our Navy’ and ‘Our Army’, hugely popular multi-media shows comprising films, photographs, songs and dramas. West was active as a filmmaker from 1897-1912, based at Southsea, Hampshire, UK. His patriotic, militaristic and sentimental shows were popular across Britain and the Empire, and for many who came to see the shows they were their first experience of motion pictures. This text is a catalogue of his entire film output. It is available in PDF format (5.2MB), with a word-searchable transcription (178KB).

We Put the World Before You by Means of the Bioscope and Urban Films

London: Charles Urban Trading Company, 1903
Source: Internet Archive


7 responses

  1. In Spain, during the silent era and into the 1930s and 1940s, more than 6,000 films were novelized by printing the narrative in small booklets, complete with illustrations. The films featured included productions from major, minor and independent producers, including several from European countries.

    Spanish film historian, Juan B. Heinink, has created a website documenting these booklets. This has proven useful to UCLA and George Eastman House in reconstructing films which are missing many scenes and for which no continuity or detailed synopsis can be found.

    The website can be found at:

    The booklets are listed by Collection/Publisher and are normally numbered in order of publication. The titles of the booklets correspond to the film’s release title in Spain and also include the original title, country of origin and other data. To look for a specific title or any other data, one should use the search facilities of the system to navigate through the site or search externally by use of Google.

    A listing does not necessarily indicate that the booklet is extant, but many have been saved in public and private collections.

  2. The American Film Institute updated last week his film data-base and added new info. (cast, credits, plot summaries, notes and sources) to many 1921-30 feature films: “Just Plain Folks”, “That Girl Oklahoma”, “The Little Boss”, “Shackled Lightning”, “A Ridin’ Gent” and many more. Also added to the catalog some missing titles: Franklyn Farnum’s “Billy the Kid”.

  3. Here’s another database link for anyone working on Thanhouser materials: This page includes links to listings of the 1,086 films produced by the Thanhouser film enterprise, names of 1,000+ employees who worked with the company, plus a detailed filmography database for all Thanhouser films showing production company (New Rochelle, Southern, Jacksonville, Western, Niagara, Cape May, etc.), brand (Thanhouser, Princess, Falstaff, Majestic, Jewel, Syndicate Film Corp, Pathé, etc), type of film (fiction, non-fiction, serial), character of film (romance, comedy, drama, etc.), length of release in reels, release date, plus relevant notes…perfect for researchers interested in the change in production aspects from 1910 to 1917.

  4. I have rather neglected the Catalogues and Databases section, and need to augment it with a number of research resources, including the Thanhouser research page, which I shall add in due course. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. The AFI catalog project was considerably more ambitious at the outset. Their original plan was to produce a second series of volumes that would survey, decade by decade, short subjects in the same detail given to feature films. A third series, again decade by decade, would focus on newsreels. The plan with these was to include a breakdown, when possible, of the contents of each newsreel. These two projects were eventually shelved, which is a shame. If there is a detailed examination of Hollywood’s short subject output over the years, I am not familiar with it. Such a thing would be a valuable resource.

  6. Thanks for that information, Jon. The AFI feature books list short subject and newsreel volumes in the series, and it has driven me nuts that I couldn’t get ahold of them anywhere, not even through interlibrary loan. It was as if they didn’t exist. Turns out they don’t. I do wish AFI had been able to do them, though. There’s not that much out there on shorts, once you get away from cartoons, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges.