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The classic movies on Amazon Prime everyone needs to see

How many of these have you seen?

 

Chris Osterndorf

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Published May 24, 2018   Updated Nov 1, 2020, 10:13 pm CST

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

It’s a Wonderful Life

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

My Man Godfrey

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.

The Stranger

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.

Clue

Children’s game adaptations don’t have a great track record in cinema history, but Clue is a staggering exception. Mrs. Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mr. Green, Professor Plum, Mrs. White, and Col. Mustard are summoned to the home of Mr. Boddy for dinner. After Boddy threatens to blackmail the entire party, he turns up dead. Who killed Mr. Boddy? Find out in this hilarious comedy classic starring Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry, and Lee Ving from California hardcore punk band Fear. —John-Michael Bond

Of Human Bondage

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.

Roman Holiday

Overwhelmed by her jampacked schedule during a state visit to Rome, a young princess (Audrey Hepburn) leaves her country’s embassy and runs into an American journalist (Gregory Peck) on assignment to cover her press conference. After he recognizes her, he secretly arranges a photographer to take photos while simultaneously allowing the princess to experience a carefree day without anything scheduled for a change.

Night of the Living Dead

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.

The Conversation

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.

A Place in the Sun

Based on the novel and play (which are both titled An American Tragedy), a poor man (Montgomery Clift) travels to California to work for his wealthy uncle at his factory. As he works there, he begins a romance with both a fellow employee (Shelley Winters) and an upper-class socialite (Elizabeth Taylor) that results in a deadly love triangle.

To Catch a Thief

A retired cat burglar (Cary Grant) is lured out of retirement after another thief copies his style to rob the rich. After police suspect him and his retired crew in the robberies, he deduces potential future victims and uses the skills to attempt to catch the copycat thief in the act before his reputation is ruined.

His Girl Friday

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

The African Queen

After the death of her brother at the hands of German soldiers at the start of World War I, a British missionary (Katharine Hepburn) volunteering in an African village convinces the captain of a steamboat to destroy a German gunboat so they can escape while also aiding British forces.

Harold and Maude

There are few movies quite like Harold and Maude, a perfect blend of pitch-black comedy and heartbreaking warmth. Harold is a 20-year-old obsessed with death and running from his impending life obligations—until he meets Maude at a funeral. The 80-year-old woman lives unlike anyone Harold has ever met, sparking a surprising romance that will leave even the worst cynic in tears. Brilliantly funny, yet deeply sentimental, Harold and Maude is one of the best romantic comedies ever made. —J.M.B.

Stop Making Sense

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!)

Sunset Boulevard

Considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, Sunset Boulevard is a classic Hollywood movie looking in on itself that also felt achingly prescient at the time. An aging silent film star (Gloria Swanson) who hires a young screenwriter (William Holden) to write her a starring role to give her the comeback she wanted, but returning to a much different Hollywood than the one that made you isn’t as easy as it looks.

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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

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*First Published: May 24, 2018, 6:00 am CDT