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15 classic movies on Amazon Prime everyone needs to see

GreatBritish Trailers/YouTube

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 (1947)

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

free christmas movies 2018 on amazon prime - it's a wonderful life ioLanche/YouTube

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.

amazon prime classic movies : my man godfrey Athena Cinema

3) His Girl Friday (1940)

His Girl Friday is famous for having some of the fastest and wittiest dialogue of any American movie. Howard Hawks’ comedy, based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, is a mile-a-minute laughfest and one of the great romantic comedies. The chemistry between newspaper editor Cary Grant and ace reporter Rosalind Russell is as good as it gets.

Classic movies on Amazon Prime : The Wizard of Oz Movieclips/YouTube

4) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967)

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. —Austin Powell

best amazon prime movies - the good, the bad and the ugly Rotten Tomatoes

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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.

old movies on amazon prime : of human bondage KanaXGRv8/YouTube

6) 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 easy to relate to, 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. —Eddie Strait

Scariest movies of all time: Poltergeist Photo via Poltergeist/IMDb

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.

good classic movies on amazon prime : night of the living dead Tiff trailers/YouTube

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.

Classic Films on Amazon Prime : The Conversation Movieclips/YouTube

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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.

sad movies on amazon prime sophie's choice Movieclips Classic Trailers/YouTube

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.

Best Classics on Amazon Prime : Murder on the Orient Express YouTube/SkyTV

11) Carrie (1976)

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.  

Best Classics on Amazon Prime : Carrie Screengrab via YouTube/MovieClips

12) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Originally just titled Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first entry in the Indiana Jones series is streaming on Amazon Prime along with all the sequels. But if you can watch just one, first of all, for the love of God, don’t pick Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and second of all, keep it simple and start with where it all began. The perfect action-adventure movie in almost every sense, Raiders may not be Steven Spielberg’s best film, but it’s probably his most fun. Harrison Ford has had a lot of luck lately revisiting his most iconic roles, and if previous entries are any indication, we’re due for a good one in this franchise, should he and Spielberg decide they want another go-around. But even if they don’t, it doesn’t matter, because the heights they achieved with the first installment in the series are still at the pinnacle of they’re very illustrious careers.

Best Classics on Amazon Prime : Raiders of the Lost Ark YouTube/Movieclips Trailers

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.

best classic movies amazon prime - 1984 GreatBritish Trailers/YouTube

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!)

Best Classics on Amazon Prime : Stop Making Sense YouTube Movies

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.

Best Classics on Amazon Prime : Blue Velvet YouTube/Movieclips

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

Chris Osterndorf

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.