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) Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Like all of Stanley Kubrick’s work, Full Metal Jacket is cold, distant, and often disturbing. But Kubrick’s iciness works perfectly for examining the horrors of Vietnam. One of only two films he made in the 1980s (the other was The Shining), Full Metal Jacket redefined the war movie by suggesting that the training process could actually be one of the worst parts of the whole experience. The first half of the story, which finds a group of Marines going through a dehumanizing boot camp, is so good that people often forget the portion that’s actually set in Vietnam. The entire film is expertly crafted and sure to make an impression. Full Metal Jacket is the rare war movie that refuses to make war look even remotely cool, and it’s all the better for it.
2) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Although there are elements of To Kill a Mockingbird that feel dated today, the book and the film’s core principles continue to ring true. Perhaps it’s hard not to look at Atticus Finch differently in light of the 2015’s controversial Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps the text has lost some of its relevance as more black artists have gotten the chance to shape their own narratives over the years. Nevertheless, the film adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic tale of Boo Radley, Scout, and Atticus Finch still tugs at heartstrings all these years later. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus, in particular, remains an archetype for cinematic “good guy.”
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. —C.O.
4) The African Queen (1951)
John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Katharine Hepburn teamed up to make this WWI film about a romance between a riverboat captain and a missionary to regain public favor after their public support of free speech during the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist. Their efforts worked, and the picture became a huge hit, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Actor, which Bogart won, marking his first and only Oscar victory. This despite the fact that virtually everyone got sick with dysentery or worse while on set, and Huston was supposedly more preoccupied with shooting an elephant rather than shooting a movie, as later dramatized in the Clint Eastwood film, White Hunter Black Heart.
5) The Godfather Saga (1972-1990)
It’s difficult to even talk about The Godfather without considering the monumental impact it had on cinema and pop culture at large. The first film defined the gangster genre and gave us icons in Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone and Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone. The second film subverted and redefined the expectations set by the first one while also making newcomer Robert De Niro a star. The third film… well, the less said about the third film the better. Regardless, Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy still stands as one of the finest American movie epics of all time. A defining immigrant story, a revelatory take on the nature of violence, and a profound meditation on family and power, The Godfather is all it’s cracked up to be and more.
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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. —C.O.
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) Benji (1974)
Netflix recently resurrected this beloved canine hero, so it makes sense that it would throw up the original from 1974 too. Joe Camp’s family classic is not what you’d call a great film, but it’ll still entertain the young children in your life. Plus, the Academy Award-nominated “Benji’s Theme: I Feel Love” is still kind of a jam, and the dog that plays Neji is super cute. What else do you need?
10) Vernon, Florida (1981)
Vernon, Florida is the second film of Errol Morris’ groundbreaking career, and it would set the template for much of the work he would do later. Following the eccentric residents of the town the film shares its name with, Vernon, Florida walks a fine line between curious and exploitative. In the end, it’s clear that Morris has affection for his subjects, even though he can’t help but point his camera at their strange lives.
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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) Trading Places (1983)
John Landis’s Trading Places is essentially ‘80s, spoofing Wall Street just before it reached the apex of “greed is good” mentality. But the Reagan-era politics which helped inform the movie never really went away. One needs only to look at the campaign of Bernie Sanders to see that people have caught on to this, making now the perfect time to give Trading Places another look. In the movie, Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd play an investor and a con artist who, well, look at the title. But what starts off as a sick bet between two millionaires becomes a lesson in empathy. Although the film is certainly looking at class and race struggles through rose-colored glasses, it still manages to be a fun take on serious issues.
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) The Endless Summer (1966)
Bruce Brown’s 1966 documentary remains the gold standard for iconic images of a surfing culture. Following two young men around the world in search of the perfect wave, Brown opened America’s eyes to the coolness and skill of surfers. It’s still a gorgeous, breezy watch over 50 years later.
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.