On December 14, 2021, the Library of Congress announced the latest annual additions to the National Film Registry, its compendium of motion pictures that have been judged to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important and worthy of preservation for future generations.
In addition to Hollywood studio classics and box office hits, the Registry also protects independent films, documentaries, experimental works, cartoons, music videos, educational films, advertisements, and even amateur home movies, in what is the most democratic - and American - of all film lists.
Scroll through our gallery to read detailed descriptions about the 25 films added to the Registry this year (listed in alphabetical order), including the conclusion of George Lucas' original "Star Wars" trilogy, "Return of the Jedi."
Through the use of documentary footage, interviews and artwork, producer-director Sylvia Morales traces the role of women in Mexican and Mexican-American history, from the pre-Columbian era through the Mexican revolution to contemporary civil rights and labor struggles, examining their cultural and political contributions through a decidedly feminist viewpoint.
"Cooley High" (1975)
In the wake of the success of George Lucas' "American Graffiti," Michael Schultz's "Cooley High" (written by Eric Monte, creator of the sitcom "Good Times") follows the hijinks and low jinks of Black high school students from a Chicago housing project in 1964. Starring Corin Rogers, Joseph Carter Wilson, Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, the coming-of-age comedy became a resounding commercial success, birthing a spin-off TV series ("What's Happening!!"), and inspiring a generation of filmmakers, from John Singleton to Spike Lee.
Hilton-Jacobs went on to star in "Welcome Back, Kotter," while Turman would star in "The Wire" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." The cast also included Garrett Morris (who would help launch "Saturday Night Live") and Steven Williams ("21 Jump Street," "The X Files").
Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison were attending UCLA's film school when they worked on a student film, "Evergreen," about the romance of a jazz musician (played by Henry Crismonde) and an art student (Dorothy Fujikawa, Manzarek's then-girlfriend and future wife). Heavily influenced by the French New Wave and Beat literature, the film was a cinematic form of jazz, according to Manzarek, and featured music by Herbie Mann and the Bill Evans Trio, and the Jazz Crusaders.
The following year, Manzarek and Morrison transitioned from cinema to rock, as founding members of The Doors.
"Flowers and Trees" (1932)
Two-color Technicolor had already been employed in several Hollywood features in the late 1920s and early '30s (including "The Vagabond King," "King of Jazz," and "Under a Texas Moon"), but it paled against the rich hues available through the new three-strip Technicolor process. Walt Disney was the first filmmaker to utilize it with this short "Silly Symphony" cartoon, whose vibrant hand-drawn animation charmed audiences, and presaged Disney's transition to full color in all his shorts – and, later, his groundbreaking feature-length cartoon, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." "Flowers and Trees" is also notable for being the first animated film to win an Oscar.
"The Flying Ace" (1926)
A daring mid-air transfer between two biplanes caps "The Flying Ace," a silent drama from the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, of Jacksonville, Fla., which produced movies specifically for Black audiences. This story of a Black World War I pilot who returns home to find both romance and a plot involving a gang of payroll thieves stands out as a more modern representation of race on screen than was typical of the time.
"Hellbound Train" (1930)
Evangelists James and Eloyce Gist didn't truly know their way around a 16mm camera, but the budding filmmakers used this new tool as a means of spreading the Word as they traveled to churches and religious gatherings. This 1930 silent production, recently reconstituted from fragments stored at the Library of Congress, is a surreal allegory about sin, in which Satan himself drives a train carrying carloads of people drinking, dancing to jazz music and otherwise having a good time. And what is their fate? As the railroad ticket's fine print declares, "No Round Trip Tickets – One-Way Only!" An early milestone in African American cinema, restored by Howard University professor and film producer S. Torriano Berry.
In Will Rogers' third film, he plays a tramp looking for work in a farm community, who encounters a woman he realizes is his own daughter. A vaudeville star known for his rambunctious commentary, Rogers wasn't helped by early films' lack of sound, but he made up for it by writing his own title cards, where his humor shone through. With the advent of sound, his career truly took off.
Directed by Clarence C. Badger, who would direct Rogers in several films, as well as Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson and Colleen Moore during his career.
"The Long Goodbye" (1973)
Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe, so memorably brought to the screen by Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep," returns in the counter-cultural countenance of "MASH" star Elliott Gould, in director Robert Altman's whodunit based on Chandler's 1953 novel. Written by "Big Sleep" screenwriter Leigh Brackett and translated to contemporary Los Angeles, Altman's take on the detective genre, with improvised dialogue and Gould's paranoia-tinged performance, resulted in a seeming satire of film noir, which pleased some critics, but not those expecting Bogey's world-weariness.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001)
Previous attempts to capture J.R.R. Tolkien's sweeping fantasy epic were either scuttled or, in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 rotoscoped animation, half-hearted. When director Peter Jackson sought to translate Tolkien's three books constituting "The Lord of the Rings" into two movies, New Line Cinema in its infinite wisdom (and to its extraordinary financial benefit) suggested three films. Makes sense!
The first, "The Fellowship of the Ring," was a stunner, artfully crafting a fantasy world of elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, demons and men battling over the fate of the One Ring, whose mystical creator, the Dark Lord Sauron, sought to control all life in Middle-Earth. The performances are terrific (beyond what one would hope for from a widescreen action spectacle), and the New Zealand locations are jaw-dropping. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, it won four Oscars, including for its ravishing cinematography and visual effects, and for Howard Shore's lustrous music – the first chapter of his "Rings" trilogy, which is still the best film score of the 21st century.
"The Murder of Fred Hampton" (1971)
Howard Alk's 1971 documentary starts as a profile of the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, following the 21-year-old Fred Hampton as he advocates both non-violence and armed militancy, building a coalition to tackle poverty and fight police brutality. But during production, Hampton and fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were killed by police, and so Alk turned his camera onto the crime scene to investigate their deaths. The finished film would contradict the official version of the shooting, exposing a police cover-up.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
Wes Craven had already made a name for himself in the horror genre with "The Last House on the Left," "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Swamp Thing," when he directed this imaginative slasher film about a child killer murdered by neighborhood vigilantes. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) would then reappear, armed with quips and razor-blades, in the dreams of victims to exact his revenge.
With a cast that included Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley and Johnny Depp, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was a smash that scared up a stream of sequels, while establishing Freddy as a true icon of horror cinema. He even went toe-to-toe with another horror franchise star, Jason of "Friday the 13th," in a 2003 matchup.
"Pink Flamingos" (1972)
Not all entrees in the National Film Registry are what you would call in good taste. In fact, Baltimore filmmaker John Waters would run from such a description, as his 1972 underground cult comedy is a celebration of really bad taste, exhilaratingly so. "Pink Flamingos" tells the tale of Babs Johnson (played by the drag queen Divine), who has been named "the filthiest person alive" by a tabloid paper, and about the other aspirants to the title who scheme to dethrone her. But as the film's final, scatalogical scene demonstrates, no one can out-filth Babs. You have been warned.
A student film from UCLA's Ethno-Communications Program (directed by David García and produced by Moctesuma Esparza) was intended to document an anti-war demonstration in East Los Angeles in August 1970, the National Chicano Moratorium March. It would instead capture the chaos of the police's brutal response, during which L.A. Times journalist Ruben Salazar – an icon of the Chicano movement – was killed. The film became a requiem for Salazar, and a rueful examination of the inquest into his death. Because the original elements had long been lost, the UCLA Film and Television Archive created a 4K scan of a surviving, faded 16mm print – an early step towards a full restoration effort.
"Return of the Jedi" (1983)
The concluding chapter of one of the most successful film trilogies of all time, "Return of the Jedi" echoed the gee-whiz space battles of the first film, "Star Wars," and resolved the haunting hero's quest put upon Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the thrilling second chapter, "The Empire Strikes Back." Would the young Jedi follow his father, Darth Vader, and join the Dark Side of the Force? Or would he defeat the evil Emperor Palpatine and save the struggling rebellion?
"Return of the Jedi" now joins those two earlier epics on the National Film Registry, which is charged by law to preserve the original versions of motion pictures ("special editions" notwithstanding).
"Richard Pryor: Live in Concert" (1979)
Richard's Pryor's second filmed standup performance, recorded at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, Calif., is raw, very un-PC, and over-the-top hilarious. His routine features his observations on the differences between Blacks and Whites cussing, guard dogs, hospitals, death, sex, machismo, and his own run-in with the police after shooting his wife's car with a Magnum. It's a show that every succeeding standup comedian aspires to match.
"Ringling Brothers Parade Film" (1902)
It is estimated that 70 percent of all films made before the advent of sound are gone – lost, deteriorated due the fragility of nitrate stock, or destroyed because of neglect or lack of commercial interest. Which makes early 20th-century newsreels (also known as actualities) all the more fascinating, as documents of life in an earlier age.
This single reel of film, unmarked and with non-standard perforations, was found in the basement of a couple, who brought it to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, in Fremont, Calif. Research by film historian David Kiehn determined it was of a Ringling Brothers Circus parade in Indianapolis in May 1902. The three-minute film has been restored by the Museum, and can be viewed on their YouTube channel.
It's a reminder that many "lost" films have been recovered when reels were discovered in attics, basements, barns, vaults, or buried under permafrost in the Yukon. [Here is a list of 7,200 lost silent feature films.]
Female Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was rising to be one of the biggest stars in the world, when her 1995 album, "Dreaming of You," became the first predominantly-Spanish language album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. But her life was cut short, murdered by the president of her fan club, when she was just 23. Gregory Nava's biopic starred Jennifer Lopez in her first leading role, and Edward James Olmos as Selena's father/producer. The film traces not only the artist's rise but also her tragic end – and is capped with footage of the real Selena in performance.
Nava's 1983 film, "El Norte," was also inducted in the National Film Registry, in 1995.
Martin Ritt's moving drama about the struggles of a sharecropper family in Louisiana during the Depression features Academy Award-nominated performances by Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield. The film was also nominated for best picture, and for its screenplay by Lonnie Elder III.
Film critic Roger Ebert hailed "Sounder": "It is one of the most compassionate and truthful of movies, and there's not a level where it doesn't succeed completely," he wrote. "It's one of those rare films that can communicate fully to a child of nine or ten, and yet contains depths and subtleties to engross any adult."
"Stop Making Sense" (1984)
Considered one of the greatest concert films ever made, Jonathan Demme's recording of a 1983 performance by Talking Heads (front man David Byrne, guitarist-keyboardist Jerry Harrison, bassist Tina Weymouth, and drummer Chris Frantz) is an ebullient showcase for the theatrical band's fiery energy, with a setlist that includes the classics "Psycho Killer," "Burning Down the House," "Life During Wartime," and "Once in a Lifetime."
This isn't the Talking Heads' first rodeo with the Library of Congress. In 2017 the group's 1980 album, "Remain in Light," was inducted into the Library's National Recording Registry, which preserves audio recordings for future generations.
"Strangers on a Train" (1951)
One of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest, most diabolical thrillers follows a chance meeting between tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and the psychopathic Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), who proposes the perfect murder: killing acquaintances of each other's with no trace to the actual culprit. Haines takes this as idle chatter, until his cheating wife is found strangled – and Antony is ready for Haines to fulfill his reciprocating murder. The race to stop Antony from planting incriminating evidence – a cigarette lighter – at the scene of the crime, intercut with a high-stakes tennis match, is top-notch Hitch.
Pixar's gift at producing animated features that both push the boundaries of cinematic art and tug at deep wellsprings of human emotion, with a bounty of humor, was at its zenith with this Chaplinesque tale of an environmentally-ravaged Earth, where a lone robot, WALL-E, rummages through the detritus of civilization. His encounter with a robot, EVE, sparks romance – and triggers a desperate race to save the remnants of humanity on board a space ark. An Oscar-winner for best animated feature film, the movie stars the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Fred Willard, and (in a tip of the hat to the Nostromo's guiding computer Mother in "Alien") Sigourney Weaver.
"The Watermelon Woman" (1996)
In this fake documentary by Cheryl Dunye, the Liberian-born filmmaker stars as a fictionalized version of herself: Cheryl, a twenty-something lesbian video store clerk in Philadelphia making a documentary about a Black 1930s actress known as the Watermelon Woman. The first feature film by and about a Black lesbian, the scrappy "Watermelon Woman" was a landmark in queer cinema and helped establish Dunye as a director pushing to expand representation on screen.
Dunye said the inspiration of the film came from a Q&A with director Spike Lee about his 1986 film, "She's Gotta Have It" [which was itself added to the National Film Registry in 2019]. When audience members complained about Lee's depiction of an African American woman, he responded by challenging them to make their own films. Dunye did. She now has 40 features, shorts and TV episode credits to her name.
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962)
Two grand dames of Hollywood – Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who famously feuded throughout their careers – teamed up for this psychological horror about two faded film stars, tormenting each other as they are holed up in a decaying mansion, serving up heaping helpings of jealousy, spite and cruelty. Based on a novel by Henry Farrell and directed by Robert Aldrich, the film earned Davis her 11th Academy Award nomination. (Victor Buono also was nominated, for Best Supporting Actor.) It also launched a mini-genre of similar Grand Guignol entertainments, including "Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte," which starred Davis and Olivia de Havilland (who replaced Crawford after shooting began).
"Who Killed Vincent Chin?" (1987)
In 1982, when the success of Japanese car makers was having a punishing effect on America's auto industry, Chinese American Vincent Chin was seemingly mistaken for a Japanese by two White auto workers, who beat the 27-year-old to death with a baseball bat. As awful as this racially-motivated murder was, the two assailants, found guilty of manslaughter, were given probated sentences, and served no jail time. Directors Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña's Oscar-nominated documentary follows the story of this miscarriage of justice, and how the case raised awareness of violence against ethnic minorities.
"The Wobblies" (1979)
Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird's documentary, which premiered at the 1979 New York Film Festival, tells the dramatic story of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union in 1905, which fought for safer working conditions and better wages and healthcare in factories, farm fields, mines and on docks. Many former members, in their 80s and 90s, recount the struggles that the IWW, and the labor movement in general, faced before and after World War I.
"The Lord of the Rings"
Frodo: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
– Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001).
Want to nominate a movie to the National Film Registry? Visit the Library of Congress' nomination page here.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan