Cinema 1939: You Must Remember This…..Events, Trends, Movies, Stars

What You Need to Know about 1939 as a Movie Year

The year 1939 in film is widely considered one of the most outstanding years 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).


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Top-Grossing Films

Rank Title Studio Box office gross rental

1. Gone with the Wind Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Selznick International $18,000,000

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Columbia Pictures $3,500,000

3. Jesse James 20th Century Fox $2,335,000

4. Babes in Arms Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $2,311,000

5. The Wizard of Oz $2,048,000

6. Gunga Din RKO Radio Pictures $1,888,000

7. Goodbye, Mr. Chips Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $1,777,000

8. Dodge City Warner Bros. $1,668,000

9. The Rains Came 20th Century Fox $1,656,000

10. The Women, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $1,610,000


Historians often rate 1939 as “the greatest year in the history of Hollywood.” Hollywood films produced in Southern California were at the height of their Golden Age (in spite of many cheaply made or undistinguished films’ also being produced, something to be expected with any year in commercial cinema), and during 1939 there are the premieres of an outstandingly large number of exceptional motion pictures, many of which become honored as all-time classic films.

March 31 –

Release of the 20th Century Fox version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, first of a Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

June 10 –

MGM’s first successful animated character, Barney Bear, made his debut in The Bear That Couldn’t Sleep.

August 15 –

The Wizard of Oz premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

October 17 –

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington premiered in Washington, D.C.

December 15 –

Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, with a three-day-long festival.

Canada established a National Film Commission, predecessor of the National Film Board of Canada, with John Grierson as first Commissioner.

Best Picture: 10 Nominees

The year 1939 was one in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated ten films for Best Picture (from A to Z):

Dark Victory
Gone with the Wind (Best Picture winner)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Of Mice and Men
The Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights

These films came from various 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 a legendary film director with multiple acclaimed films to his credit: Frank Capra (previous winner of the award), Victor Fleming, John Ford (who won a record four Best Director awards), Sam Wood, and William Wyler (who leads all directors in nominations with 11 while having three wins).

Academy Awards

Best Picture: Gone with the Wind – David O. Selznick; Selznick International, MGM

Best Director: Victor Fleming – Gone with the Wind

Best Actor: Robert Donat – Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Best Actress: Vivien Leigh – Gone with the Wind

Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Mitchell – Stagecoach

Best Supporting Actress: Hattie McDaniel – Gone with the Wind (first African American to win an Academy Award)

Gone with the Wind receives in all ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary) from 13 nominations.


Best Actress (in various forms)

Oscar: Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind

N.Y. Film Critics Circle: Vivien Leigh

Venice Film Fest: No acting awards given