Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about the National Film Registry.
What is the National Film Registry?
It is a list of films deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" that are recommended for preservation by those holding the best elements for that film, be it motion picture studios, the Library of Congress and other archives, or filmmakers. These films are not selected as the 'best' American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.
How many films are on the National Film Registry?
As of December 14, 2020, there are 800 films on the National Film Registry. Each December, the Librarian of Congress announces another 25 films that are added to the Registry.
What's the oldest movie on the Registry?
A film fragment called "The Newark Athlete" made in 1891 is the oldest title on the Registry. It runs just a few seconds in length.
What's the newest?
"Freedom Riders," a 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson was added in December 2020. The riveting story from 1961 is told without narration using archival film, stills and testimonies of the Freedom Riders, journalists who followed their trail, federal, state, and local officials, and southerners who challenged state-sanctioned segregation on buses and in bus terminals in the Deep South.
Who set up the National Film Registry and why?
Congress established the National Film Registry with passage of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-446); the genesis for the legislation arose from various developments. The 1980s had proved a transformational decade in American cinema: Multiple cross-currents changed the landscape in production financing, distribution channels, home-entertainment markets, artist rights, technical alteration of movies and color film preservation. These oft-conflicting trends led to congressional involvement over the issue of "material alteration," notably the colorization of black-and-white films.
Who selects the films on the Registry?
The Librarian of Congress makes the annual selections to the Registry after reviewing thousands of titles nominated by the public and conferring with the distinguished members of the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) and Library film curators.
When are films selected for the Registry?
Each year, usually in December, the Librarian of Congress selects 25 films to be added to the Registry.
Can the public participate?
Absolutely! In fact you're encouraged to submit your nominations. You may nominate up to 50 films each for consideration each year. The deadline for nominations occurs in early fall, typically around September 15. Submit your recommendations through our online nomination form External.
What's on the Registry?
The National Film Registry historically has included only those films that were produced or co-produced by an American film company or individual, typically for theatrical release or recognized as a film through film festivals or film awards. If in doubt, check the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for country of origin. Registry criteria does not specifically prohibit television programs, commercials, music videos or foreign productions, however, the original intent of the legislation that established the Registry was to safeguard U.S. films, which the legislation defines as "originally created on film stock." Consequently the National Film Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress give first consideration to American motion pictures.
Here's a complete list of the titles currently included on the National Film Registry.
How many films by women directors are on the Registry?
Over 70 films directed or co-directed by women have been added to the Registry since its inception. Here's a list of those titles and their directors (PDF, 141KB).
How many films directed by Persons of Color are on the Registry?
Over 50 films directed or co-directed by persons of color have been added to the Registry since its inception. Here's a list of those titles and their directors (PDF, 444KB).
Do many people nominate films to the Registry?
We receive around 2,000 public nominations each year. In 2017, the public nominated over 5,200 individual titles.
How do I know if a film is on the Registry?
Have all of the Registry films been preserved?
Working with motion picture studios, independent filmmakers, archives, museums and historical societies, the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress seeks to ensure that a selected title either has already been preserved or will be in the future.
Does the Library of Congress own the films on the Registry?
No, the Library does not own the films on the Registry. The films are generally owned by the individuals, studio or company that produced and/or distributed the film. According to U.S. copyright law, films made prior to 1923 are generally considered public domain and may be reproduced and distributed freely. Sometimes, a film enters the public domain because its copyright has not been renewed and is no longer owned by any individual or organization.