Why is 1939 Considered the Greatest Year in Movies?

If we talk about the golden era of Hollywood, the year that glistened brighter than any other year in history is 1939. The nominees of 1940 for Best Picture prove 1939 as the greatest year in movies. These blockbuster movies of 1939 include: “Dark Victory,” “Love Affair,” “Ninotchka,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “Wuthering Heights.”

Not only this, but four of mentioned movies also make their way more than that. They got a place in the original list of the American Film Institute of the significant 100 American movies (list compiled in 1998).

A few movies of 1939 did not get nominated for Best Pictures, but they did a good business over the box office.

Some of these movies were: “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” “Intermezzo,” “The Roaring Twenties,” “Stanley and Livingstone,” “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “Gunga Din,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Son of Frankenstein,” “The Private Line of Elizabeth and Essex,” and “The Women.”

Released in December 1939, “Gone with the Wind” has the highest estimated box office gross out of all these all-time great movies. Since the release of this movie in 1939, “GWTW” sold 201 million tickets over seven times, as per Comscore (a media measure and analytics company).

Moreover, the estimated adjusted gross of “Gone with the Wind” was $1.81 billion. That puts it ahead of box-office blockbusters “E.T the Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Star Wars.” 1939 was exceptionally special for filmgoers because of rising stars, an enhancing economy, several films released, and artists escaping fascism in Europe for America.

The author of the book 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year, Thomas Hischak, said in an interview with 24/7 Tempo that the record of several classic movies was a result of all the right forces converging in 1939. During this year, 80 million a week was the tickets buying rate of the moviegoers as there were many films to watch. It was because 365 movies got released in 1939.

1939 may not be the best year for peace, but it was sure the golden year for the movies.

Top Grossing Movies of 1939

Movies Names


Released Date

Box Office


The Rules of The Game

Mila Parely, Paulette Dubost, Nora Gregor, Julien Carette, Gaston Modot, Jean Renoir, Marcel Dalio, Roland Toutrain, Pierre Magnier

7th July 1939



The Wizard of Oz

Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Charley Grapewin, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton

25th August 1939

$29.7 million


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains

17th October 1939

$9 million



John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, Louise Platt, John Carradine, George Bancroft, Berton Churchill, Donald Meek, Tim Holt

2nd February 1939

$1.10 million



Ina Claire, Melvyn Douglas, Greta Garbo

3rd November 1939

$2.3 million


Gone With the Wind

Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard

15th December 1939

$390 million


Only Angels Have Wings

Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell

15th May 1939

$1 million


Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Robert Donat, Greer Garson

15th May 1939

$3.2 million


The Women

Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer

1st September 1939

$2.27 million


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maureen O’Hara, Alan Marshal, Charles Laughton, Thomas Mitchell, Edmond O’Brien, Walter Hampden

29th December 1939

$3.15 million

1. Ninotchka 

Director and producer of Ninotchka Ernst Lubitsch made this movie for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Moreover, it is an American romantic comedy, and it stars Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo. The writers of Ninotchka are Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett, and Billy Wilder.

The movie, Ninotchka, is based on a screen story by Melchior Lengyel. Greta Garbo received a nomination for Best Actress, and it was her first full comedy movie. Ninotchka was the first American film depicting the Soviet Union.

2. The Rules of the Game

The director of La regle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), the French satirical comedy-drama, is Jean Renoir. The movie is in the period just before the beginning of World War II, and it presents the individuals of the upper-class French society and their servants. The writers of The Rules of the Game movie are Jean Renoir and Carl Koch (was a collaborator).

The original budget of The Rules of the Game was 2.5 million francs and further increased to 5 million francs, making it the most expensive French movie. The Rules of the Game is an appreciable movie in all cinema. But when it was first released, it got flop among Parisian audiences.

3. Stagecoach 


John Ford is the director of an American Western film, Stagecoach. Dudley Nichols wrote it, and this screenplay is an adaption of a short story by Ernest Haycox, The Stage to Lordsburg.

The cast of Stagecoach includes John Wayne as Ringo Kid, Thomas Mitchell as Doc Boone, Donald Meek as Samuel Peacock, Tom Tyler as Luke Plummer, Claire Trevor as Dallas, John Carradine as Hatfield, George Bancroft as Marshal Curley Wilcox, Tim Holt as Lieutenant Blanchard, Andy Devine as Buck, Louise Platt as Lucy Mallory, and Berton Churchill as Henry Gatewood.

Stagecoach won two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell) and Best Music (Scoring)- W. Franke Harling, Leo Shuken, Richard Hageman, John Leipold. It also got nominated for Best Director (John Ford), Best Cinematography (Bert Glennon), Best Picture, Best Art Director (Alexander Toluboff), and Best Film Editing (Dorothy Spencer, Otho Lovering).

4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra, is an American political comedy-drama film. The movie is based on “The Gentleman from Montana” (unpublished story of Lewis R. Foster). Sidney Buchman was the writer of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and its story is about a newly appointed United States Senator.

Despite being controversial at the time of release, this movie did amaze at the box office. Not only, the movie was a success, but it also made Stewart a star. Moreover, the film got nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a leading role, Best Director, and Best Picture. Moreover, this movie won the Best Original Story award. And it is considered to be the best movie of all time.

5. The Wizard of Oz 

The Wizard of Oz

American musical fantasy movie, The Wizard of Oz is an adaption of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900 children’s fantasy novel of L. Frank Baum). Edgar “Yip” Harburg wrote the songs of this movie, and Harold Arlen was the composer. The Wizard of Oz, characterized by its storytelling, memorable characters, use of Technicolor, and musical score, was moderately successful upon its release.

Moreover, the movie got nominated for six Academy Awards and won in two categories: Best Original Score and Best Original Song.


1939 was a glorious era in movies history. That year gave movie lovers a substantial number of movies of every genre. If you sit and decide to watch movies of 1939, you will have several options to choose from, and you will find a film of your favorite category.

The movies mentioned above are only a few top ones that ruled the cinema; there are many others too that did an excellent business at the box office. Some of the films of 1939 were controversial too for depicting some sensitive issues, but they were still blockbusters.