The 20 best classic movies you can now stream on Netflix

Photo via Netflix

These classics never go out of style.

Given its assembly line of new and original TV shows 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, Alfred Hitchcock, and Robert Altman. Whether you prefer heist films, World War II dramas, sci-fi, or adaptations of dystopian literature, there’s something here for everyone. Here are the best classic movies on Netflix.

The best classic movies on Netflix

1) Silver Streak (1976)

best classic movies on netflix : silver streak Screengrab via YouTube Movies

Silver Streak is the original Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor team-up, and also probably the best (at least if you don’t count Blazing Saddles, which Pryor worked on as a writer). Directed by the legendary Arthur Hiller, the film’s Hitchcockian plot revolves around timid book editor George Caldwell (Wilder), who believes he witnesses a murder on the train from Los Angeles to Chicago. No one seems to believe him, except for an unlikely sidekick—a thief named Grover Muldoon (Pryor). Of course, while this pairing may have seemed unlikely on paper, Wilder and Pryor’s chemistry was instantly apparent, and it’s not hard to see why they went on to make three more films together. (Modern audiences beware, some of the humor is not what you would call politically correct.)

2) On Golden Pond (1981)

best sad movies on netflix : On Golden Pond Photo via Hampton Roads

Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn both took home Oscars for their work in this 1981 drama about a curmudgeon and his wife who end up forming a surprising bond with the son of their daughter’s (played by Jane Fonda) boyfriend. On Golden Pond is an earnest movie, with somewhat simple ambitions. But if you remember old Hollywood fondly, it’s impossible not to fall for Fonda and Hepburn’s performances. Watching these two titans, now in their twilight years, come together onscreen for one last bow is a natural conduit for the waterworks. Chris Ostendorf

3) Jaws (1975)

classic movies on netflix : jaws Screengrav via TrailersPlayGroundHD/YouTube

4) Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sunset Boulevard is both a swan song to the age of silent films and a love story. Silent film star Norma (Gloria Swanson) is wasting away in the era of talkies. She spends her days screening her old movies and being waited on by her former husband Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stronheim), who was once the greatest silent film director of his time and is now just Norma’s butler. When Joe, a failed screenwriter (William Holden) half her age stumbles into Norma’s life, she begins to fall in love and offers him a job. The sordid sequence of events that follow turn Sunset Boulevard into a fascinating and bleak tale of lost stardom and the perils of unconditional love. —A.K.

5) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

vintage movies on Netflix: The Day the Earth Stood Still Screengrab via idoru345/YouTube (Fair Use)

It’s tough to avoid the parallels this cold war era sci-fi pic has to the world today. Originally released in 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still tells the story of an alien sent to our world to investigate humans and hopefully prompt us into laying down our arms in service of the common good—or else. The premise is unsubtle, simple even. But the message, that total destruction of our enemies also means total destruction of ourselves, never stops being relevant. Like all great science fiction, The Day the Earth Stood Still holds up a mirror, and it finds us wanting. —C.O.


6) Young Frankenstein (1974)

best comedy movies netflix : Young Frankenstein Photo via IMDb

Of Mel Brooks’ three masterpieces, one could definitely make the argument that Young Frankenstein is the most beloved. It’s not quite as funny as Blazing Saddles, and it doesn’t have quite the legacy of The Producers. But it does have co-writer Gene Wilder at his manic best, and that alone is enough for many to put it over the top. Brooks also really commits to recreating the early horror films he’s spoofing, shooting in beautiful black-and-white, with ornate production design to match. And of course, who could forget the iconic “Puttin’ in the Ritz” number. C.O.

7) The Longest Day (1962)

best war movies on netflix: the longest day Screengrab via Danios12345/YouTube

Telling the story through Allied and German points of view, The Longest Day is a groundbreaking epic of old Hollywood. Its $10 million budget was nearly unheard of in 1962, and until Schindler’s List came out, it remained the most expensive film ever made in black-and-white. The gamble made by power producer Darryl F. Zanuck (The Grapes of Wrath, All About Eve) eventually paid off, as the film went on to gross $50 million and win two Oscars. Not everyone was such a big fan though; Dwight D. Eisenhower apparently walked out of a screening, upset over historical inaccuracies. In addition to John Wayne, look out for the insanely impressive supporting cast, including Paul Anka, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, George Segal, Rod Steiger, Peter Lawford, Robert Wagner and Robert Mitchum. C.O.

8) Fantasia (1940)

Best movies on Netflix: Fantasia Screengrab via cupcakes pwn!/YouTube (Fair Use)

Counter to what you may have heard, Fantasia is not just a movie to “trip balls” to. Sure, it may be that as well, but substances or not, Fantasia is a movie masterpiece for the ages. Although beloved for its artistry and ingenuity today, Walt Disney’s pet project was largely considered a failure upon its release. Thankfully, years later Fantasia has been reappraised and stands as one of Disney Studios’  most definitive and unique works. And if you watch it and want more, you’re in luck. Its sequel, Fantasia 2000, is currently streaming on Netflix too. —C.O.

9) Metropolis (1927)

free youtube movies: Metropolis Photo via IMDb

Metropolis, a silent German film, is essential viewing for science-fiction fans. The futuristic utopia that Freder, the son of the city’s master, lives in is heavenly until he learns about the workers who operate the machines vital to the city’s existence and strives to help them. —Michelle Jaworski

10) My Left Foot (1989)

sad movies on netflix : my left foot Photo via Blu-Ray

My Left Foot tells the story of Christy Brown, an Irish author with cerebral palsy. Through frustration and determination, he learned to write using only (you guessed it) his left foot, making his journey on screen one that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three Oscars for playing this difficult character, and while the casting of an able-bodied actor for the part might inspire some criticism today, at the time the film all but cemented his reputation as one of the greatest actors of his generation. —C.O.


11) To Kill a Mockingbird  (1962)

Best Classic movies on Netflix: To Kill a Mockingbird Screengrab via YouTube/Movieclips Trailer Vault

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.”  —C.O.

12) The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

classic movies netflix : panic in needle park Photo via IMDb

Long before films like Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, and Heaven Knows What tackled the subject, director Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park shined a gritty light on heroin addiction all the way back in 1971. Released just a year before The Godfather came out, The Panic in Needle Park stars Al Pacino as a charming junkie named Bobby and Kitty Winn as his impressionable girlfriend, Helen. Although Panic feels a bit dated and occasionally over the top now, it still paints a stark picture of New York street life at its bleakest. While Pacino was at his most ruggedly good-looking here, clearly a star on the rise, it was Winn who won the Best Actress award when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, despite appearing in few pictures since. Trivia time: The screenplay was co-written by Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, whose older brother, Dominick Dunne, produced the film. The elder Dunne would, of course, go on to become a famous writer himself, mostly for the major American trials he covered in the second half of his life. —C.O.

13) White Christmas (1954)

classic movies on netflix : white christmas Screengrab via andrew67ist/YouTube

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.

14) The African Queen (1951)

best old movies on netflix : the african queen Photo via B Plus Movie Blog

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.

15) Grease (1978)


best classic movies on netflix : grease Screengrab via LOS CHAVOS DEL 8 ON LINE / Youtube

Grease is a silly movie. It’s got silly songs, silly dancing, silly costumes, silly ‘40-year-olds playing teenagers. But silly doesn’t necessarily mean bad.  Yes, the ending feels a little regressive today. But if the rapturous reception of the 2016 live version is any indication, Grease may still be, if not the best or most important musical ever, perhaps the most popular. And if nothing else, the original film version is worth it for John Travolta’s performance as Danny Zuko alone. Travolta has had a lot of ups and downs in his career, but through it all Danny has remained a definite highlight. —C.O.


16) Heathers (1988)

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. —C.O.

17) Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

True Stories on Netflix: Young Mr. Lincoln Screengrab via YouTube/Criterion Collection

Many films have told the story of Abraham Lincoln, but few are as unique as Young Mr. Lincoln, a biopic that focuses solely on Lincoln when he was, well, young. Henry Fonda stars as the future president, portraying him during the period where his law career took off and political ambitions started to set in. Made by John Ford, who would go on to direct Fonda again a year later in what’s probably his most iconic performance, as Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln is a precursor to the great work both the star and the filmmaker would eventually become known for. C.O.

18) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Best movies on Netflix: E.T. The Extraterrestrial Screengrab via Movieclips Trailer Vault/YouTube (Fair Use)

For many, trying to pick a favorite Spielberg movie is like trying to pick a favorite child. But among all his pop culture cornerstones, few remain as transcendently magical and continuously beloved as E.T.. Even now, the references to this 1982 classic can be seen splashed all over film and TV (ahem, Stranger Things.) While some movies fall in and out of love, it seems the story of Elliot and his alien will live on and on, captivating one awestruck generation after the next. —C.O.

19) Full Metal Jacket

Classic war movies on Netflix: Full Metal Jacket Screengrab via Mocieclips Trailer Vault/YouTube

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. —C.O.

20) The Chase (1966)

old movies on netflix : the chase Photo via IMDb

Little-known and rarely talked about today, The Chase is a veritable buffet of big-time Hollywood talent. Robert Redford plays Charlie “Bubber” Reeves, an escaped convict who disrupts the lives of the residents in a small southern town. Jane Fonda plays his cheating wife, and Marlon Brando stars as the sheriff who’s determined to make sure he doesn’t fall victim to vigilante justice. Movie-lovers will notice a young Angie Dickinson and Robert Duvall in supporting roles, too. Released in 1966, one year before director Arthur Penn would have his biggest success with Bonnie and Clyde, you can see shades of the same daring style that would help change Hollywood forever in this film. Adapted by the great Lillian Hellman from a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Horton Foote, the ending is surprisingly bleak, and the movie is filled with paranoia and anger. C.O.

Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, 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, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

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