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.
The best classic movies on Netflix
1) Silver Streak (1976)
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)
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) Blazing Saddles (1974)
It’s often said that Mel Brooks’ searing 1974 satire couldn’t get made today. But would you really want it to be? Part of the charm of Blazing Saddles is that it feels at once dated and timeless. It’s both a product of 1974 and an enduring send-up of the way race is portrayed in cinema. With the help of talent including stars Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, writer Richard Pryor, and many, many more, Mel Brooks crafted his masterpiece with this bawdy, ludicrous, razor-sharp critique of the American western. —Chris Ostendorf
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)
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.
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6) Young Frankenstein (1974)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Screengrab via LionsgateVOD/YouTube (Fair Use)
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) 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, whose probably better here than in any other movie he didn’t helm himself. —C.O.
12) 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.” —C.O.
13) The Shining (1980)
Stephen King’s award-winning novel differs quite a bit from Stanley Kubrick’s vision of it in film, but both are horror tales that will stick with you long after they’re over. Kubrick’s take is considered a visionary masterpiece to this day, loaded with incredible performances. A young Jack Nicholson is a standout as Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer fighting for sanity in a deserted hotel with his family in the dead of winter. —Colette Bennett
14) Annie (1982)
Screengrab via SonyPicsHomeEntSE/YouTube (Fair Use)
Although it was nominated for two Oscars and three Golden Globes, the 1982 adaptation of the musical Annie was not beloved by critics when it was first released. In fact, the film also received five Razzie nominations too. Today, however, most of the vitriol that was directed at Annie has been forgotten, and it’s become a beloved family favorite in the generations since. Although nobody is going to remember this as legendary director John Huston’s best picture, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, and Tim Curry all turn in memorable performances, and if nothing else, the musical’s well-known songs remain charming. —C.O.
15) 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. —C.O.
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16) Heathers (1988)
Screengrab via LionsgateUKMovies/Youtube (Fair Use)
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)
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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) The Verdict (1982)
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Unlike the other Paul Newman movie on this list, you may not have heard of The Verdict. That’s a shame because this drama from American master Sidney Lumet is a quiet masterpiece. As always, Lumet demonstrates remarkable control of his camera, keeping you at a distance from the characters until he absolutely can’t anymore. But the nexus of the film is Newman, who is typically remarkable as an alcoholic lawyer given one last chance at salvation. —C.O.
19) The Omen (1976)
Screengrab via 20th Century Fox/YouTube (Fair Use)
Remember that other movie on this list, where Gregory Peck plays iconic father and all around American hero Atticus Finch? This is basically the exact opposite of that. In Richard Donner’s 1976 horror landmark, Peck’s son is literally the antichrist. And yet, watching Atticus Finch try to murder his own child is still a trip. Skip the 2006 remake; the original incarnation of Damien is the scarier and stranger way to go. —C.O.
20) Patton (1970)
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Winner of seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, Patton became notorious when George C. Scott refused to accept his statue for that last category, unwilling to look at acting as a competition. Patton is a rare war movie in that it’s less focused on the act of war and more on the all-too-forgotten General George S. Patton himself and his place as a unique and controversial figure in American military history. Fun fact: Francis Ford Coppola won his first Oscar for the work he did on the screenplay. —C.O.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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