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good classic movies on amazon prime - night of the living dead

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15 classic movies on Amazon Prime everyone needs to see

How many of these have you seen?

Jul 8, 2020, 8:22 pm*


Chris Osterndorf 

Chris Osterndorf

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) Clue (1985)

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

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) 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.  

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.

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. —Eddie Strait

13) Harold and Maude (1971)

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.

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

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