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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) 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.
4) Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. “Miserlou” and “Jungle Boogie.” Royale with Cheese. Great vengeance and furious anger. “Bad Motherfucker.” Few movies have an impact on pop culture the way Pulp Fiction has. Twenty-five years later, we’re still quoting, referencing, and stealing from it, much like Quentin Tarantino stole from others to create his great cinematic pastiche back in 1994. The story consists of three non-linear, interwoven narratives, largely focusing on the grisly exploits of two hitmen, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). As with all of Tarantino’s best films, Pulp Fiction is twisted, darkly hilarious, and incessantly entertaining. Now, say you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction again. I dare you, I double dare you, motherfucker.
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 dialogue.
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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) Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Calling Silence of the Lambs a horror film may be tough, but how many suspense films feature crucifixion, cannibalism, and skin suits? The misconception that this isn’t a horror film is part of what helps make it so terrifying—viewers come in with basic expectations and end up surrounded by unspeakable evils. While much has been written about Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, the real joy of the film is Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill. Whether driving home the importance of lotion or dancing to new wave, each of his scenes helps build a sense of dread that will stick with you long after you’ve run out of Chianti. —John-Michael Bond
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) Bull Durham (1988)
Often heralded as one of the greatest sports movies of all time, this 1988 comedy stars Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis, a longtime minor league baseball catcher who gets sent to the Durham Bulls to groom rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) for the majors. Naturally, Crash finds himself romantically entangled with Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who originally sets out to woo Nuke but finds herself falling for Crash. Deftly combining comedy, romance, and of course, some grade-A baseball, Bull Durham is a home run. —Bryan Rolli
15) Terminator (1984)
Could this be the best time-travel story ever? Forget about how convoluted the franchise’s mythology became with each successive entry; the original Terminator is so elegant in its core concept, so economically executed, its punches land harder than in any of its sequels. The action is exhilarating, the special effects were state-of-the-art for their time, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s captivating, villainous performance rightfully launched him to movie stardom with one of the most iconic catchphrases in film history: “I’ll be back.” —Eddie Strait
16) Schindler’s List (1993)
Schindler’s List is the kind of movie that is so famously wrenching, it’s increasingly harder to find anybody who has actually seen it. Hopefully its presence on Netflix fixes that, because Steven Spielberg’s 1993 epic may still be the defining film about the Holocaust. In addition to winning best picture, Schindler’s List cemented Spielberg’s place as not only the populist favorite among his generation of directors, but a true master of the art form as well.
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) Carrie (1976)
You know how when people look back at older movies, they sometimes shrug them off or say, “I’m sure it worked better when it first came out”? Well, this one retains its creepiness and has sacrificed none of effectiveness even four decades after its release. Brian De Palma was the first to adapt a work by Stephen King, and he set a bar few have matched with Carrie, the still-horrifying story of a bullied teen girl with telekinesis. If you only know this classic from the prom scene, it’s worth experiencing in its entirety. —E.S.
19) Quiz Show (1994)
In the 1950s, TV quiz shows ruled the airwaves. That is until a lawyer discovered proof that they might all have been rigged. Robert Redford directed this riveting account of the original quiz show scandal, crafting a film that’s genuinely riveting without any life-threatening drama. John Turturro doesn’t get enough leading roles in movies, but his Herbert Stempel is a tragic figure despite playing a man willing to compromise his morals for fame. Quiz Show gazes at a time in America where people still trusted what they saw on TV, but this tale of corruption feels oddly timely. —J.M.B.
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) Benji (1974)
Netflix recently resurrected this beloved canine hero, so it makes sense that it would put 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?
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) Poltergeist (1982)
Finally, a film the whole family can watch. Tobe Hooper’s classic haunted house tale was co-written by Steven Spielberg and features the scariest clown in cinema history. There are plenty of films about families that move into homes only to discover something evil already lives there. Where Poltergeist shines is its execution. At first the ghosts almost seem playful—stacking chairs and sliding children across floors. It’s all good fun, at least until the tree tries to eat your son and a portal sucks your daughter into another dimension. Utilizing brilliant practical special effects, Poltergeist delivers a funhouse of horrific PG set pieces from the era where PG meant someone’s face could melt off. Horror films rarely feature a family this believable or tightly knit. Their problems are relatable, so when hell breaks loose, you’re invested far beyond the standard group of hot teens. All-ages horror exists, but none of it comes close to Poltergeist. —E.S.
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.