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How many of these have you seen?
There are a ton of great classic movies on Amazon Prime. It’s finding them that’s the hard part.
Amazon Prime has a better selection of old movies than Netflix or Hulu, but you might not know it just by browsing the site. Its search function can be difficult to navigate unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. But thankfully, we’ve combed through Amazon’s vaults to find the best old movies available, from iconic black-and-white films to ‘80s masterpieces.
Here are the best classic movies streaming on Amazon Prime right now.
The best classic movies on Amazon Prime
1) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s seen its share of parodies, but Frank Capra’s 1946 film remains a bittersweet classic. It has some of the same narrative elements of A Christmas Carol, as an angel tries to stop George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from taking his life by showing him all the good he’s done. But it’s also a movie about family, second chances, and goodwill. —Audra Schroeder
2) My Man Godfrey (1936)
This Depression-era comedy about a socialite (Carole Lombard) who hires a tramp named Godfrey (William Powell) to be her butler is still considered one of the funniest classic films ever. Powell, who began is run as the drunken detective Nick Charles in the Thin Man franchise two years earlier, already had plenty of experience flexing his funny bone by this point, but it was My Man Godfrey that cemented his legacy as a comedic genius.
3) 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 1946 film 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.
4) The Apartment (1960)
The holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year, which is spelled out in Billy Wilder’s 1960 film. But The Apartment is still one of the best NYC Christmas films, and it parallels the feeling of loneliness that accompanies the holidays with hopefulness. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are charming in this Mad Men-era rom-com about the slog of the corporate ladder and finding love. —A.S.
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5) Of Human Bondage (1934)
This adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel is significant for one reason: Bette Davis’s performance. Davis knew the character of ferocious English waitress Mildred Rogers could be her breakout role and reportedly begged studio chief Jack Warner to let her out of her contract to play the part. When he finally acquiesced and Davis got the acclaim she knew she was destined for, Warner began a spite campaign to prevent her from winning the Oscar. She ultimately lost to Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night (another role Davis herself had wanted), but she became the first and last person in Academy history to receive a write-in nomination, pulling off a coup so big that the rules were changed after 1934 to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. Davis would go on to win the Oscar the next year for her role in Dangerous, and again in ‘38 for Jezebel, in addition to receiving eight more nominations over the course of four decades. But it was Of Human Bondage that kicked off her career as one of Hollywood’s most talented and legendary actors.
6) The Blues Brothers (1980)
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd brought the Blues Brothers to Saturday Night Live as a musical sketch long before they starred in this cult classic about the brothers’ quest to try and raise enough money to save the Catholic orphanage where they grew up from being foreclosed. Between run-ins with the police, neo-Nazis, and a mystery woman (Carrie Fisher) who’s set on killing them, the Blues Brothers truly have something to sing about. —Eddie Strait
7) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Because of copyright issues that put the film in the public domain, Night of the Living Dead has long been one of the easiest classic horror films to get your hands on. But that doesn’t make it any less worth seeking out. A movie that invented a genre, spawned numerous sequels and remakes, and eventually grossed 250 times its production budget (which was just a little over $100,000), Night of the Living Dead really is as great and as important as you’ve heard. George A. Romero’s accidental tackling of race gives the film added subtext, and the way it approached violence in a year like 1968 makes Night of the Living Dead a key snapshot of its time. Reviled upon its release, it would go on to be a cult classic, before receiving a critical re-appreciation and even being selected by the Library of Congress to be a part of the National Film Registry.
8) The Conversation (1974)
Released in 1974, Francis Ford Coppola was in the middle of an epic run when The Conversation arrived. The Godfather: Part II was just months away from coming out, after the release of the first installment two years earlier. He would follow these titles up with Apocalypse Now in 1979, completing a decades-worth of masterpieces the likes of which he nor few other Hollywood directors would never come close to replicating. Yet for as much success as Coppola had during this time period, it often feels like The Conversation gets left out of, well, the conversation. Despite winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes and receiving three Oscar nominations, it’s a movie that’s overshadowed today by Coppola’s other ‘70s classics. It shouldn’t be, though, as its one of the best classic movies on Amazon Prime. This Gene Hackman-led drama about a surveillance expert plagued by guilt is not only an excellent encapsulation of the paranoia of its time but an increasingly relevant exploration of privacy and conspiracy.
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9) Sophie’s Choice (1982)
You could probably look up “sad movies” in an encyclopedia and find a picture Sophie’s Choice. The Oscar-winning Meryl Streep film, based on the novel by William Styron, has become a kind of cultural touchstone, evoked whenever someone has to make a hard decision (i.e. “that’s a real ‘Sophie’s Choice’”). Whether most people who use the phrase have actually seen the film is debatable, but for those who haven’t, let’s just say it’s about a woman struggling to overcome the trauma she suffered in a Nazi concentration camp and leave it at that.
10) Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
The recent remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express might’ve been a fun popcorn movie, but the 1974 version from Sidney Lumet is an old school chamber piece in the spirit of the novel. In this version of the classic mystery story about a group of murder suspects trapped together on a train, Albert Finney plays the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot. He’s supported by a ridiculously stacked cast, including Jacqueline Bisset, Michael York, Martin Balsam, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman.
11) His Girl Friday (1940)
This pitch-perfect screwball comedy captures the classic Hollywood era at its finest. Cary Grant stars as a hard-nosed New York City newspaper editor trying to win back his ex-wife and star investigative reporter, played by Rosalind Russell, and still get the paper out the door. Based on the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play The Front Page, 1940’s His Girl Friday takes place almost entirely in a newsroom, which gives the movie a certain intensity, while Howard Hawks (the titan behind The Big Sleep, Red River, and Bringing Up Baby, another Grant essential) ensures the dialogue and laughs come faster than print deadlines. —Austin Powell
12) The King of Comedy (1982)
Martin Scorsese’s movie about a mentally unstable man, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who dreams of being a famous comedian. Pupkin goes as far as kidnapping his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). The King of Comedy is still relevant today for its fame-obsessed protagonist’s at-all-costs mentality. There’s a sense of danger and sadness to Pupkin, and DeNiro threads the needle to make him a sympathetic character without sugarcoating anything. The King of Comedy isn’t as well-known as other Scorsese-De Niro collaborations, but it is on par with Raging Bull and Goodfellas. —E.S.
13) 1984 (1984)
Michael Radford’s adaptation of this George Orwell classic is not nearly the masterwork that the novel is. But for those who have less time to read or want to see how they turned the book into a movie, it’s still worth seeing. Set in a dystopia where “newspeak” and “thoughtcrime” are used to keep the population oppressed, a man named Winston Smith (John Hurt) dares to commit the sin of falling in love. He is eventually caught by the Thought Police and brought to the Ministry of Love, where he is systematically tortured and brainwashed by an Inner Party official named O’Brien (Richard Burton). To say the obvious, it is not a happy or hopeful story. But in an age of fake news and data mining, 1984 remains a necessary reminder of what can happen when we just accept that Big Brother is watching.
14) Stop Making Sense (1984)
In many ways, Stop Making Sense is the defining concert film. But at the very least, Stop Making Sense has to be the defining concert doc of the ‘80s. The way director Jonathan Demme captured The Talking Heads at the height of their powers, using a raw and unconventional approach unlike anything this genre had ever seen before, is both fundamentally of its time and completely timeless. You don’t have to be a Talking Heads fan to enjoy Stop Making sense, you just have to enjoy great movies. (Fans of the film should also check out the excellent parody from IFC’s Documentary Now!)
15) Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch’s landmark film revolves around an all-American college kid named Jeffrey played by Lynch surrogate Kyle MacLachlan, whose life changes when he discovers a severed human ear in his quiet suburban neighborhood. With the help of the local detective’s daughter, Sandy, played by fellow Lynch regular Laura Dern, Jeffrey begins to investigate a conspiracy involving a mysterious nightclub named Dorothy Vale (a memorable Isabella Rossellini) and a psychotic criminal named Frank Booth (an even more memorable Dennis Hopper.) Of course, the plot is always less important with Lynch movies than the way they make you feel, and this one is likely to make you uneasy. Roger Ebert famously hated this movie. But while Blue Velvet isn’t an easy watch, it is a captivating descent into a fascinating if not nightmarish underworld.
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Brian De Palma went on to make plenty of other iconic films (Scarface, The Untouchables), but 1976’s Carrie may still be his best. For one thing, De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel has more interesting female characters than pretty much any movie he’s ever made. All of De Palma’s usual hyper-stylization is still here, from split-screen to slow-motion, but Carrie doesn’t let any of that style get in the way of the characters. Sissy Spacek’s performance as Carrie White is an iconic portrait of pent-up teenage sexuality gone awry, and Piper Laurie remains one of the horror genre’s scariest, non-supernatural monsters. Skip the 2013 remake. If you’ve never seen the original Carrie, do yourself a favor and watch this masterpiece about the horrors of high school today.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The spaghetti western to end all spaghetti westerns. The third and final film in director Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s Dollars Trilogy follows three lawless gunslingers in their own personal gold rush during the American Civil War. Between the tense duels and dramatic long shots, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has everything you’re looking for, including another iconic score from Ennio Morricone. —A.P.
Still not sure what to watch on Amazon? Here are the best Amazon originals, the best documentaries on Amazon Prime, what’s new on Amazon, the best 4K movies, thrillers on Amazon Prime, alien movies, and the sexiest movies you can stream right now.
Looking for something more specific? Here are the best comedies on Amazon Prime when you need a laugh, sad movies to make you cry, kids movies for the whole family, the best thrillers to get your heart racing, and the classic movies on Amazon Prime everyone should see.
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.