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) 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.
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) Dead Poets Society (1989)
Although occasionally lampooned for dumbing down literature, it’s hard to deny that Dead Poets Society is a pretty emotional movie. Peter Weir’s film about a teacher (Robin Williams) who uses poetry to connect with his students is incredibly earnest, wearing its heart on its sleeve and daring you not to cry. While the movie’s pseudo-intellectualism doesn’t play as well as “serious drama” today, Williams’ performance is lovely, and the young actors, including Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles, all do solid work. You have to be a real scrooge not to feel something during the “O Captain! My Captain!” scene.
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) On Golden Pond (1981)
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.
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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? —C.O.
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 (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.
12) Grease (1978)
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.
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.
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, film noir, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, 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 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.