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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) She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Dramatically deciding whether someone is right or wrong for you is a common trope in the dating world (and in romantic comedies), but having to choose between three people is another story. Directed by Spike Lee, She’s Gotta Have It follows Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) who is in the middle of choosing between three men on totally different ends of the personality spectrum. One man is a total narcissist, another a controlling alpha male, and the third a shy geek who seems the most genuine. Darling’s process of trial and error is pretty laughable, but it also leads her to discover much more about herself than she knew before. —Kristen Hubby
7) Cool Hand Luke (1967)
This 1967 film starring Paul Newman as a Christ figure in a southern prison is just as the title promises. The story is pure ‘60s culture war angst, the dialogue is rife with iconic lines (“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”) and speeches about rebelling against authority, and no one ever made prison blues look as good as Newman. More than half a century after it was first released, it still doesn’t get much cooler that Luke.
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) East of Eden (1955)
James Dean is doing a lot in this film. Like, A LOT. The iconic movie star’s performance in Elia Kazan’s John Steinbeck adaptation is not complex or nuanced. But even if “method acting” isn’t his strength, Dean has enough raw charisma that you can why see why he became a teen heartthrob forever.
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) Jaws (1975)
It’s often been said that Steven Spielberg’s seminal 1975 film about a killer shark effectively killed the more serious era of the “new Hollywood,” ushering in the age of the blockbuster, which continues to reign supreme today. But while Jaws may have been the original summer smash, it shouldn’t be disregarded as silly or frivolous. Jaws is methodical and exacting. Today, it stands as the first real example of Spielberg’s impeccable filmmaking craft, not to mention the source of one of the craziest behind the scenes stories in Hollywood history. In fact, not one but two scripts about the movie’s production recently landed on the much buzzed about Blacklist, which complies the best un-produced screenplays.
16) Enter the Dragon (1973)
If you haven’t seen any Bruce Lee before, Enter the Dragon is the place to start. Lee plays a spy trying to take down a crime lord through a martial arts tournament, though the plot isn’t what anyone remembers about the film. More than anything, Enter the Dragon is just a vehicle for awesome fight sequences, where Lee gets to do what he does best: kick a lot of ass.
17) The Graduate (1967)
Roger Ebert once said that The Graduate does not meet the requirements of a great film, as it is too much of its time to hold up over multiple generations. Yet the movie’s themes of angst, anxiety, and existential ennui are likely to hold up for anyone who has ever gotten out of college without knowing what they want to do with their life. Granted, the relationship between Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson (Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft) doesn’t translate as well today, and the romance between Benjamin and her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Robinson) is straight up creepy. The Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack though, remains perfect. Most of us have had one of those lost, “Sound of Silence” moments at some point.
18) West Side Story (1961)
The music. The dancing. The performances (particularly from Oscar-winners Rita Moreno and George Chakiris.) Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s riff on Romeo and Juliet is about as powerful as classic Hollywood musicals get.
19) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Spielberg’s ‘77 sci-fi masterpiece about a group of people drawn to Devil’s Tower because of their experiences with UFOs is kind of the anti-Star Wars. While both films came out the same year, where George Lucas’s movie was big, bombastic, and hopeful, Spielberg’s feels intimate by comparison, even subtle, and it ends on a striking note of ambiguity. It’s weird to think now that a movie this methodical came from the guy who basically invented the modern blockbuster. Spielberg has stated in subsequent interviews that he regrets the choice to have Richard Dreyfuss’s character leave his family in the end, but while this particular detail has always been troublesome, it’s also part of what makes Close Encounters unforgettable and bold.
20) Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Man, David Lean liked his movies long. Like, reaaaaaaally long. Clocking in a 3 hours and 17 minutes, Doctor Zhivago would’ve been an endurance test for people even before the days where our attention spans had all been shortened by technology. On the other hand, Julie Christie! Omar Sharif! Alec freaking Guinness! And the most beautiful vistas this side of Lawrence of Arabia. It’s called an epic for a reason, people.
21) The Wild Bunch (1969)
Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 western was notoriously violent in its time, though it looks comparatively tame by today’s standards. What does still stand out about the film is the sheer nihilism of it. Gone is the romanticism of the American west from Golden Age Hollywood, swapped out instead for the cynicism of ‘70s-era New Hollywood, and a generation already burned out by Vietnam, political upheaval, and assassinations. Like all of Peckinpah’s movies, it’s more than a little heavy, yet it manages to be a bloody good time.
22) Stripes (1981)
Though not as beloved as many of Bill Murray’s hits from the same era, Stripes will appeal to fans of Caddyshack and Ghostbusters. Starring Murray, frequent collaborator Harold Ramis, and fellow ‘80s comedy icon, John Candy, this Ivan Reitman film finds an inept group of army recruits bumbling through basic training and accidentally becoming heroes. It also contains one of the all-time great non-comedic performances in a comedy, from Warren Oates as the fearsome Drill Sergeant Hulka.
23) The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Not as well-known as Citizen Kane but debatably just as good, The Magnificent Ambersons is Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece. Not lost because you can’t see it, but because his original cut was butchered by the studio. Yet even in the hour-and-a-half version available on Netflix, Welles’ tale of one wealthy family’s fall from grace in early 20th-century America remains a powerful and vital piece of classic American cinema.
24) The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Long famed for being a true “man’s movie,” Lee Marvin stars in The Dirty Dozen as a rebellious army major assigned to lead a battalion of convicted murderers in a suicide mission behind enemy lines in Nazi-controlled Germany. It’s a fantastic premise, one which continued to influence dozens of war films and other movies in the years that followed. Man’s man crap be damned, The Dirty Dozen is a great is movie for everyone.
25) Annie Hall (1977)
It is increasingly hard to get past the Woody Allen of it all, but if you can, it just may be possible to appreciate Annie Hall for what it is: one of the most influential romantic comedies of the last century. Without Annie Hall, there’s arguably no When Harry Met Sally…, no Four Weddings and a Funeral, no The Big Sick. The film serves as a template to show that the much-maligned genre can feel serious and even real, while still being entertaining. Plus, Diane Keaton remains perfection, as she is in all of Allen’s movies. Thankfully, you don’t need to be an Allen fan to be a Keaton fan.
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.