The 16 Best Classic Movies on Netflix

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The 16 Best Classic Movies on Netflix

Netflix’s library of classic movies (films released more than 25 years ago, by our definition) is not nearly as deep as it once was, before the streaming service shifted its focus to newer content, particularly original series. But there are some timeless treasures from the 1960s through the first half of the 1990s if you want to watch a bit of movie-making history. For a broader selection, visit our list of the 100 Best Movies on Netflix.

Here are the 16 Best Classic Movies Streaming on Netflix:

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Connie Booth
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

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It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler


2. She’s Gotta Have It

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Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Tracy Camila Johns, Spike Lee, John Canada Terrell, Tommy Redmond Hicks
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rating: R

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An explosively frank feature debut that immediately announced Lee’s brave, fresh new voice in American cinema, She’s Gotta Have It, shot like a documentary, is a levelheaded exploration of a young black woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) trying to decide between her three male lovers, while also flirting with her apparent bisexuality, in order to, first and foremost, figure out what makes her happy. What’s refreshing about the film is that Lee always brings up the possibility that “none of the above” is a perfectly viable answer for both Nola and for single women—a game changer in 1986. The DIY indie grainy black-and-white cinematography boosts the film’s in-your-face realism. —Oktay Ege Kozak


3. Apocalypse Now Redux

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Year: 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: R
Runtime: 206 minutes

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Let’s invoke Truffaut, because his spirit feels as relevant to a discussion of Francis Ford Coppola’s baleful adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as to a discussion of a war film like Paths of Glory, and to considering war films in general. Maybe, if we take Truffaut at his word, Apocalypse Now (and its remastered version with 49 more minutes of footage that’s streaming on Netflix) can’t help but endorse war merely through the act of recreating it as art. Maybe that doesn’t stop the film from conveying Coppola’s driving theses: War turns men into monsters, leads them on a descent into a primal, lawless state of mind, and war is itself hell, an ominous phrase now made into cliché by dint of gross overuse between 1979 and today. If the film innately sanctions war by depiction, it does not sanction war’s impact on the humanity of its participants. In fact, Apocalypse Now remains one of the most profound illustrations of the corrosive effect nation-sanctioned violence has on a person’s spirit and psyche. It’s cute that in 40 years later we’re OK with quoting this movie in gratingly awful AT&T commercials, or repurposing its period backdrop for the sake of making King Kong happen for contemporary audiences for a second time, but there’s nothing cute, or even all that quotable, about it. Apocalypse Now sears, sickens and scars, branding itself in our memories as only the grimmest displays of human depravity truly can. —Andy Crump


4. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Year: 1984
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, John Saxon, Johnny Depp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri
Rating: R
Runtime: 91 minutes

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Of the big three slasher franchises—Halloween, Friday the 13th and this—it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that arguably presented us with the most complete and perfectly polished of original installments. No doubt this is a factor of being the last to come along, as Wes Craven had a chance to watch and be influenced by the brooding Carpenter and the far more shameless and tawdry Cunningham in several F13 sequels. What emerged from that stew of influences was a killer who shared the indestructibility of Myers or Voorhees, but with a twist of Craven’s own demented sense of humor. That’s not to say Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a comedian—at least not here in the first Nightmare, where he’s presented as a serious threat and a genuinely frightening one at that, rather than the self-parodying pastiche he would become in sequels such as Final Nightmare—but his gleeful approach toward murder and subsequent gallows humor make for a very different breed of supernatural killer, and one that proved extremely influential on post-Nightmare slashers. The film’s simple premise of tapping into the horrors of dreaming and questionable reality was like a gift from the gods presented directly to the artists and set designers, given carte blanche to indulge their fantasies and create memorable set pieces like nothing else ever seen in the horror genre to that point. It’s a phantasmagoria of morbid humor and bad dreams. —Jim Vorel


5. When Harry Met Sally

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Year: 1989
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Rating: R

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Easily the most beloved romantic comedy of its decade, the story of Harry (Billy Crystal), Sally (Meg Ryan) and their 12-year journey to couple-hood boasts a solid script by Nora Ephron that feeds and feeds off of the unexpected chemistry between its leads. (And with each new generation of lovers watching the diner scene for the first time, another woman laughs and another man sits silently, wondering what’s so funny.) —Michael Burgin


6. The Other Side of the Wind

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Year: 2018
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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As gaudy and inexplicable as its title, The Other Side of the Wind nonetheless sings with the force of its movement whistling past its constraints. The wind blows: Orson Welles channels it through his studio-inflicted/self-inflicted torpor, in that process finding an organic melody—or rather, jazz. The making-of documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, released by Netflix to go with this film—the streaming giant’s finest moment—shows Welles, enormous and half-baked, describing what he calls “divine accidents.” These accidents were responsible for some of his oeuvre’s best details (wherein God resides), like the breaking of the egg in Touch of Evil; they were something he aimed to chase after (like chasing the wind) with this, his final project, released several decades after its shooting as Netflix opened their coffers to open the coffin in which the raw footage was locked. His former partners on the shoot, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, make good on their old oath to their master to complete the film for him, and in finding the spirit of the thing, deliver us a masterpiece we barely deserve. A divine accident. John Huston plays John Huston as Jake Hannaford who is also Orson Welles, trying to finish The Other Side of the Wind much like Welles tried to finish The Other Side of the Wind, over the course of years with no real budget and by the seats-of-everyone’s-pants. In contrast, the film’s scenario is set up over the course of one evening and night, Hannaford surrounded by “disciples” and peers who are invited to a party to screen some of the footage of what the director hopes will be his greatest masterpiece, in what Welles hoped would be his. The film within the film is a riff on art film, with perhaps the strongest winks at Michelangelo Antonioni and Zabriskie Point. Life imitates art: Hannaford’s house is just around the rock corner from the one Zabriskie blew to bits. Aptly, that house is the setting for most of the film about Hannaford, in theory constructed from found footage from the cineaste paparazzi. The density is dizzying, the intellect fierce. In terms of Welles’ filmography, it’s like the last act of Citizen Kane felt up by Touch of Evil, then stripped and gutted by the meta-punk of F for Fake. No art exists in a vacuum, but The Other Side of the Wind, more than most, bleeds its own context. It is about Orson Welles, showing himself. Killing himself. —Chad Betz


7. Blade Runner

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Year: 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: R

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Just as The Road Warrior set the look and tone for countless post-apocalyptic cinema-scapes to follow, so too did the world of Ridley Scott’s dingy, wet and overcrowded Blade Runner set the standard for the depiction of pre-apocalyptic dystopias. But he also had Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and a cast of actors who all bring this Philip K. Dick-inspired tale of a replicant-retiring policeman to gritty, believable life. Beneath the film’s impressive set design and inspired performances lies a compelling meditation on the lurking loneliness of the human (and, perhaps, inhuman) condition that continues to resonate (and trigger new creations, like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049) to this day. —Michael Burgin


8. Full Metal Jacket

Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Matthew Modine, Lee Ermey, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Baldwin
Rating: R

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It’s a non-controversial opinion that Full Metal Jacket’s worth extends as far as its first half and declines from there as the film nosedives into conventionality. But the second chapter of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam horror story is responsible for creating the conventions by which we’re able to judge the picture in retrospect, and even conventional material as delivered by an artist like Kubrick is worth watching: Full Metal Jacket’s back half is, all told, pleasingly gripping and dark, a naked portrait of how war changes people in contrast to how the military culture depicted in the front half changes people. Being subject to debasement on a routine basis will break a person’s mind in twain. Being forced to kill another human will collapse their soul. Really, there’s nothing about Full Metal Jacket that doesn’t work or get Kubrick’s point across, but there’s also no denying just how indelible its pre-war sequence is, in particular due to R. Lee Ermey’s immortal performance as the world’s most terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. —Andy Crump


9. Bonnie and Clyde

Year: 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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There was a short period in American film history just after the general public got sick of the mundane, cloying dramas and comedies the ‘60s, but before the studios discovered the lucrative benefits of franchises like Jaws and Star Wars that could pile sequel upon sequel, rake in merchandise proceeds, and guarantee a steady stream of big money regardless of artistic merit. In that odd little interval, studio executives had no better idea than simply throwing money at talented directors and hoping to get lucky. Movies like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde possess a gritty kind of realism that is every bit as clever and wise as the French New Wave, but infused with the freewheeling American spirit that hadn’t yet been stifled by a corporate agenda.—Shane Ryan


10. Taxi Driver

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Year: 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating: R

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Taxi Driver was Scorsese’s breakthrough: a seething condemnation of alienation—not to mention New York’s descent in the 1970s into a crime-ridden hellscape—delivered with such clinical coldness that when Scorsese’s star (and longtime collaborator) Robert De Niro finally explodes, it’s unspeakably upsetting. If Taxi Driver now feels slightly overrated, it’s only because the movie’s DNA has crept into so many subsequent filmmakers’ efforts. Scorsese grew up loving Westerns, and Taxi Driver could be his version of The Searchers—except his man-out-of-time finds no redemption. —Tim Grierson


11. Monty Python’s Life of Brian

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Year: 1979
Director: Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Pretty much made on George Harrison’s dime and considered, even if apocryphally, by the legendary comedy troupe to be their best film (probably because it’s the closest they’ve come to a three-act narrative with obvious “thematic concerns”), Life of Brian got banned by a lot of countries at the butt-end of the ’70s. As a Christ story, the telling of how squealy mama’s boy Brian (Graham Chapman) mistakenly finds himself as one of many messiah figures rising in Judea under the shadow of Roman occupation (around 33 AD, on a Saturday afternoon-ish), Monty Python’s follow-up to Holy Grail may be the most political film of its ilk. As such, the British group stripped all romanticism and nobility from the story’s bones, lampooning everything from radical revolutionaries to religious institutions to government bureaucracy while never stooping to pick on the figure of Jesus or his empathetic teachings. Of course, Life of Brian isn’t the first film about Jesus (or: Jesus adjacent) to focus on the human side of the so-called savior—Martin Scorsese’s take popularly did so less than a decade later—but it feels like the first to leverage human weakness against the absurdity of the Divine’s expectations. Steeped in satire fixing on everything from Spartacus to Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and buttressed by as many iconic lines as there are crucifixes holding up the film’s frames (as Brian’s equally squealy mother hollers to the swarming masses, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”), the film explores Jesus’s life by obsessing over the context around it. Maybe a “virgin birth” was really just called that to cover up a Roman centurion’s sexual crimes. Maybe coincidence (and also class struggle) is reality’s only guiding force. Maybe the standard of what makes a miracle should be a little higher. And maybe the one true through line of history is that stupid people will always follow stupid people, whistling all the way to our meaningless, futile deaths. —Dom Sinacola


12. The Exorcist

Year: 1973
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

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The Exorcist is a bit of a safe pick, but then you wrestle with whether any other film on this list is more disturbing, more influential or just plain scarier than this movie, and there simply isn’t one. The film radiates an aura of dread—it feels somehow unclean and tilted, even before all of the possession scenes begin. Segments like the “demon face” flash on the screen for an eighth of a second, disorienting the viewer and giving you a sense that you can never, ever let your guard down. It worms its way under your skin and then stays there forever. The film constantly wears down any sense of hope that both the audience and the characters might have, making you feel as if there’s no way that this priest (Jason Miller), not particularly strong in his own faith, is going to be able to save the possessed little girl (Linda Blair). Even his eventual “victory” is a very hollow thing, as later explored by author William Peter Blatty in The Exorcist III. Watching it is an ordeal, even after having seen it multiple times before. The Exorcist is a great film by any definition. —Jim Vorel


13. Forrest Gump

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Year: 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Sally Field, Rebecca Williams
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13

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Few films infiltrate the collective American psyche quite the way Forrest Gump managed. You’ve undoubtedly heard someone make reference to this 1994 classic—whether it was a classmate sarcastically yelling “Run, Forrest, run!” as you hustled to catch the bus, or someone busting out their best drawl to deliver, “Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates.” The entire film is full of dialogue that’s both moving and funny (my personal favorites include “But Lt. Dan, you ain’t got no legs” and “I’m sorry I had a fight at your Black Panther party”). Forrest may be a simple man, but his story is our nation’s story, and we all are run through the emotional gauntlet as we watch him hang with Elvis and John Lennon, fight in Vietnam and encounter many a civic protest—all while in pursuit of his true love, Jenny. Tom Hanks delivers an Oscar-winning performance, and Gary Sinise is heartbreaking as Lt. Dan. —Bonnie Stiernberg


14. The Guns of Navarone

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Year:1961
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn
Genre: War, Action
Rating: TV-14
Runtime: 156 minutes

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Depending on who you ask, The Guns of Navarone is a work of pure artifice, historical fiction that’s all fiction and no history. True, its source work, Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel of the same name, was inspired by the Battle of Leros during World War II, but J. Lee Thompson’s film feels like its own beast, beholden to neither MacLean’s novel nor the war itself. Guess what? That’s fine. The Guns of Navarone is a stunner, no matter where it draws the pieces of its “men on a mission” plot from. Not incidentally, it’s also the first (one of, anyway) of many such movies to emerge during the 1960s, a niche in the war movie genre that multiplied over the course of the next twenty year following its release. You may cite the film’s cast, which starts with Gregory Peck, continues with Anthony Quinn, and fills out with Anthony Quayle and David Niven (among many others), as well as its character development, as the two key ingredients to its success; you may instead single out the action scenes, each as fluid and thrilling and as varied as the others; or you may choose to cheer for Thompson himself, whose second-to-none pacing keeps the film on rails without ever flagging or dragging or otherwise growing repetitive. Whatever. The truth is that you can’t take one of these elements away without affecting the others, and ultimately, that signifies The Guns of Navarone’s excellence as a harmonized piece of top-drawer action filmmaking. —Andy Crump


15. Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

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Year: 1988
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Stars: Toru Furuya, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Maria Kawamura, Nozomu Sasaki, Koichi Yamadera
Genre: Anime, Sci-Fi, Action
Rating: TV-14
Runtime: 119 minutes

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The first Gundam theatrical film and final chapter in the original saga begun in 1979 with the “Universal Century Timeline” of the Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, Char’s Counterattack has the weight of three seasons of TV behind it. Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of the Gundam series, directed and wrote the film, adapting it faithfully from his novel, Hi-Streamer. Widely considered the best film in the Gundam franchise, Char’s Counterattack is most successful at wrapping up the 14-year rivalry between the “hero” of the Earth Federation, Amuro Ray, and the leader of Neo-Zeon, Char Aznable. The story involves a classic Gundam dilemma: Char’s Neo-Zeon force attempts to drop an asteroid filled with nuclear weapons onto Earth, which would free the colonies from the yoke of oppression by their rivals, the Earth Federation, and kill everyone on Earth in the process. As with all of the best Gundam tales, Tomino approaches the story from a hard sci-fi point of view, clearly laying out the science behind things like giant mobile suits and “newtypes” (humans that have evolved to acquire psychic abilities). Tomino carefully lays out the reasoning behind Char and Amuro’s passions and hatreds, not allowing the viewer to choose a clear side. Gundam series have always been willing to take on discussions about the horrors of war and how mankind, for all its advancements, never seems to be able to free itself from humanity’s baser instincts. Char’s Counterattack attempts this as well, yet it’s mostly concerned with wrapping up the rivalry between Amuro and Char—and on that note, it succeeds wildly. Featuring gorgeous, tense fight sequences set in space, an excellent soundtrack by Shigeaki Saegusa, and some of the most lauded Gundam designs in the history of the franchise, the film is inarguably one of the high points of the Gundam Universe. One downside: If you don’t have the investment of spending hundreds of episodes of television with these characters, the plot can be confusing, and Char/Amuro’s ending will likely not resonate as strongly. Regardless, Char’s Counterattack remains a key moment in the Gundam universe, one still worth checking out almost 30 years later. Hail Zeon!—Jason DeMarco


16. My Fair Lady
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Year: 1964
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Genre: Musical
Rating: G
Runtime: 173 minutes

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We love the opulent, two-story library in which Audrey Hepburn learned to lose that pesky Cockney accent, modeled after the Château de Groussay library in France. All the singing just makes it that much better. Directed by the legendary George Cukor and shot by 17-time Oscar nominated (and two-time winner) Harry Stradling, the recently restored 1964 musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play is a marvel to behold (and to hear). —Staff