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These classics never go out of style.
Given its assembly line of new and original series and films, it’s easy to forget that you can also watch some of the best classic movies of all time on Netflix. The current lineup available to stream includes notable titles from directors Stanley Kubrick, Frances Ford Coppola, and Billy Wilder. Whether you prefer heist films, war movies, sci-fi, or adaptations of dystopian literature, there are plenty of old movies on Netflix for everyone—and even some black-and-white movies, too. Here are the best classic movies on Netflix.
The best classic movies on Netflix
1) The Third Man (1949)
Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles frequently worked together throughout their careers, but none of their collaborations is quite like this post-war noir from 1949. Cotten plays a novelist investigating the death of a friend (played by Welles) in Vienna. But the details surrounding that friend’s death only become more mysterious the deeper he looks. Directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene, The Third Man is especially enjoyable for Welles, who’s probably better here than in any other movie he didn’t helm himself.
2) Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Hey, you look like a person who’s got four hours! Why not watch this classic crime film from Sergio Leone? If you can get past the length, this epic starring Robert De Niro as prohibition-era Jewish gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson is worth it. The final feature he completed before his death, the film is filled with Leone’s classically cinematic imagery, not to mention another legendary score by his longtime collaborator, Ennio Morricone. Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino. Leone owns the “Once Upon a Time” thing forever.
3) Touch of Evil (1958)
Touch of Evil is Orson Welles’ great recovered masterpiece. Infamously butchered by the studio upon its initial release for being too dark, Welles’ film noir about about police corruption and murder in a Mexican bordertown was re-released in its original form in 1998. Since then, it’s gone on to earn the rightful reputation of one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s a lot to praise in Touch of Evil, from the tight script to the fantastic cast, which includes a strong supporting turn from Janet Leigh, memorable cameos from Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Cotton, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, and an iconic leading performance from Welles himself as Police Captain Hank Quinlan (pretty much everyone is great except Charlton Heston, unconvincingly playing Mexican.) But as always, it’s Welles’ direction that steals the show. The movie is worth watching for the opening crane shot alone.
4) Ghostbusters (1984)
The 2016 remake proved that some people love Ghostbusters a little too much. But seriously, who doesn’t live Ghostbusters?! That cast, that theme song, that Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! If it’s not the funniest comedy of the 1980s, but it might be the most iconic.
5) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Is there a better Stephen Spielberg movie than Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones movies have kind of worked on an every-other pattern, so given that logic, we’re due for a good one soon. Yet it’s hard for any of them to compare to Raiders, the original staple of what a modern action/adventure film should be. Netflix may have recently dropped The Godfather, but as far as uneven, classic franchises go, Indiana Jones is a good trade.
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6) Scarface (1983)
Scarface is a movie that has been so totally devoured by pop culture, it’s hard to approach it simply as a film. Yet beyond all the famous one-liners, there’s still a great movie there, one that both stands on its own and exists as the very embodiment of ‘80s excess. Brian De Palma, working from a script written by Oliver Stone, pushes everything to the limit and then a bit further. The performances from Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer are unforgettable, despite being reduced a thousand times to parody. The movie’s handling of race might not hold up so well, but if you’ve gone your whole life without seeing Scarface, you should finally find out what you’ve been missing.
7) Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 Oscar-winner remains beloved by fans of foreign films and fans of movies in general. Cinema Paradiso is nostalgic in the best way, telling the story of a filmmaker who recalls how he first fell in love with cinema at the local movie house while also making friends with the theater’s projectionist. It’s a lovely, undeniably likable movie with loads of heart.
8) The Stranger (1946)
Though he will always be best-known for Citizen Kane, serious cinephiles should also make an effort to check out Orson Welles’ less famous works. This film, from 1946, stars Edward G. Robinson as a war crimes investigator hunting down a former Nazi (Welles) living under an assumed identity in Connecticut. It’s fascinating to see Robinson, famous for portraying onscreen gangsters, ostensibly playing the good guy here. The Oscar-nominated script, which includes contributions from an uncredited John Huston, is also full of great dialog.
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9) Blazing Saddles (1974)
It’s often said that Mel Brooks’ searing 1974 satire couldn’t get made today. But would you really want it to be? Part of the charm of Blazing Saddles is that it feels at once dated and timeless. It’s both a product of 1974 and an enduring send-up of the way race is portrayed in cinema. With the help of talent including stars Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, writer Richard Pryor, and many, many more, Mel Brooks crafted his masterpiece with this bawdy, ludicrous, razor-sharp critique of the American western.
10) Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
British comedy nerds will tell you Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the funniest movie ever made, and they’re probably not wrong. From “I fart in your general direction” to “It’s just a flesh wound” to “We are the Knights who say… NI,” the movie’s absurdism is second to none, and set the tone for cinematic comedies for years to come. If you haven’t seen it, I just have one question for you: “What… is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
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11) Heathers (1989)
Heathers is a comedy about school shootings, and while that may be a hard sell, it’s still a great movie. You would think that growing sensitivity and cultural turmoil would’ve made it unwatchable in the years since it came out, but on the contrary, this black comedy works because of its take on today’s hot-button issue. Watching Heathers in the context of our national conversation about bullying actually makes it an even more interesting experience. And politics aside, Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as Veronica and J.D. are still the iconic misfit couple we all need.
12) Apocalypse Now (1979)
1970s Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola is like Jordan in his prime. The excellence of their collaborations is second to none. While Apocalypse Now will always play little brother to The Godfather and The Godfather Part ll, it’s still a masterpiece. Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is brimming with madness, just like Brando’s performance as Colonel Kurtz. The film’s vision of Vietnam is horrifying, thrilling, and essential. —Eddie Strait
13) White Christmas (1954)
Although the famous Irving Berlin song was first popularized in the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire vehicle Holiday Inn, many Americans more closely associate with this 1954 classic, with which it shares a name. Crosby is back, but this time he’s paired up with Danny Kaye. The two play a song-and-dance team who fall for two sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen). The plot is as silly as you might expect, but the songs, again supplied for Berlin, are wonderful, and the movie is a delightful old-timey treat to watch around the holidays.
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14) Sixteen Candles (1984)
Look, there’s a loooooooot about Sixteen Candles that doesn’t word today. The film’s sexual and racial politics are a mess, to say the least. But what does work, chiefly Molly Ringwald’s endlessly charming, star-making performance as Samantha, holds up as an accurate portrait of the insecurities everyone feels in high school. Netflix’s own recent teen rom-com hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, even shouted it out as a staple of the genre (while still acknowledging how crazy racist it is.)
15) Pumping Iron (1977)
Following future stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno as they prepare to compete in the Mr. Universe competition, Pumping Iron delves into the world of amateur and professional bodybuilders and their quest to obtain almost inhumanly chiseled bodies. It’s interesting to watch the movie from our current vantage point, where people are generally more health conscious but a select few still push themselves to this level of extremes.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.