Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Annie Oakley (1894)


In my review of “The Great Train Robbery,” I alluded to the ongoing debate over what is “the first Western.” I include this movie to demonstrate that Western tropes were explicit in American cinema even before narrative film or, for that matter, the film projector, had been introduced. It is a short kinetoscope of the famous Wild West performer doing her rifle act. The mythos of the “Wild West “ developed in a variety of media, including art, literature, and live performances, all of which contributed to what would become one of the most beloved American film genres. This little film is also interesting as one of the first movies made in the “Black Maria” studio, the first purpose-built motion picture studio in the world. From a Women’s History perspective, it’s interesting to note that the first person shown shooting a gun on film was a woman, although I’ve always felt that the nineteenth-century fascination with Oakley was because she was a kind of freak. Like a dog that is taught to “speak” or a horse that can do math, a woman who can shoot is entertaining because it contradicts nature for her to do so.


Director: William Heise

Starring: Annie Oakley

Run Time: 21 seconds

You can watch it for free: here

King John (1899)

King John

This is the first known example of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s work to moving pictures. It is, of course, silent, and so doesn’t do much justice to the brilliant dialogue of the Bard. It exists today in a two-minute clip from what was probably a rather longer film. Watching it is sort of like looking at an artist’s interpretation of Shakespeare on canvas, or like the above illustration. If you’re familiar with the play, it is a sort of snapshot of a key scene, but it isn’t really a reenactment of the play. It was produced through the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, an affiliate of the US Biograph studio.


Directed by: WKL Dickson & Walter Pfeffer Dando

Starring: Herbert Beerbohm Tree

Run Time: 2 min.

You Can Watch it for Free: Here