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) 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.
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.
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) 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?
5) The Great Gatsby (1974)
Much like the version from 2013, the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby is kind of a mess. Despite a screenplay that was written by Francis Ford Coppola and a cast comprised of a murderer’s row of talented actors, including Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, and Bruce Dern, the movie falls flat. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work just wasn’t meant for the silver screen. However, the ‘74 version is worth watching, more as a relic of the ‘70s than anything. The actors at least look great, and it’s fascinating to compare it to Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation in the different ways they fetishize the jazz age.
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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) 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.
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)
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.
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11) 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.”
12) 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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
17) Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s hasn’t aged especially well, even for a movie made in the early ‘60s, but it’s still one of the must-see classic movies on Netflix. Legendary director Blake Edwards’ take on Holly Golightly falls somewhere in between infantilizing and fetishizing, and the complete erasure of Paul’s sexuality as it’s written in Truman Capote’s novella obscures much of the original work’s importance. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more iconic image in cinema than Audrey Hepburn in those sunglasses and that little black dress. And despite the liberties the film takes with Capote’s story, George Peppard’s Paul and Audrey Hepburn’s Holly have undeniable chemistry together. It may be an adaptation of its time, but it’s an undeniable classic nonetheless.
18) 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.
19) 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.
20) 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.
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.