While Netflix is mostly concerned with offering its subscribers new and original content, the streaming service offers a lot of classic movies as well. From black and white dramas from the 1930s to the best movies of the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990’s there’s plenty of critically acclaimed films to watch on Netflix.
Here’s a look at our top 10 picks for the best classic movies on Netflix that are currently available.
Best Netflix classic movies
- Shindler’s List
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- The Terminator
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Wild Bunch
- All The President’s Men
- Doctor Zhivago
Editor’s Note: We will be updating this list as more classic movies are added to Netflix and others are removed from the service.
An Academy Award winner for best picture, this classic Netflix movie had a huge impact on pop culture when it was released in 1986. Director and writer Oliver Stone drew from his own experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War and created a film about the conflict.
It was fictional, but Stone’s storytelling and direction made Platoon feel a bit like a documentary. At the time it was called the first movie about the Vietnam War to depicted how it really was for the ordinary soldier. It also has amazing performances from Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger, who play Army sergeants on opposite moral sides, each trying to win over a new private played by Charlie Sheen.
Director Steven Spielberg wanted to make a movie about the terrible events of the Holocaust during World War II, but also wanted to somehow make something ultimately hopeful. The result was 1993’s Schindler’s List, which chronicles the real-life efforts of German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) to save as many Jews from the Nazi’s extermination camps as he could. It’s not easy to watch, but it’s one of the best classic movies on Netflix. It’s powerful and emotional and proves the human spirit can overcome even the worst atrocities.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
After gathering a cult following for their work on the BBC comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus and a movie based on it, this group of sketch comedians blew audiences away with their first original film.
1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains one of funniest movies ever made and certainly deserves to be on our 10 best classic movies on Netflix list. If you have never watched it, prepare to start quoting a ton of its lines. This may be the best movie ever made about the myth of King Arthur as well, and that’s saying something.
This 1984 film is one of the best action films on Netflix, and a truly classic piece of filmmaking. Co-written and directed by James Cameron, this movie established a new high in how action movies are filmed and paced. Arnold Schwarzenegger portrays the cyborg Terminator, who travels from a nuclear holocaust future back to the present. His mission: Kill the mother of the human resistance leader that has managed to defeat the AI that started this mess.
Cameron almost never lets up with the action, and he’s helped by Schwarzenegger’s performance as a killing machine who will never stop, even when it looks like he’s been beaten. It’s a must-see for any classic action movie fans.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The 1981 film may have officially renamed as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, but we all know the true title of this classic action movie. Harrison Ford seems born to play the role of Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who risks life and limb to find the greatest historical relics in the world. In the debut film of the series, directed (as all of them are) by Steven Spielberg, Jones has been recruited to find The Ark of the Covenant in 1936 before the Nazis get a hold of the container where the Ten Commandments were kept. The film was described as an homage to the Saturday afternoon serials of the 1930s. In truth, this classic Netflix film blows all of them away in action, humor, and entertainment.
Netflix also has the three other films in this series for streaming currently; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
A Clockwork Orange
The 1971 movie based on the novel by Anthony Burgess is easily one of the best classic movies on Netflix. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film takes place in a near-future version of Britain, where a group of thugs led by Alex (Malcolm McDowell) go on a huge “ultra-violence” crime spree. Eventually, Alex is caught, sentenced to jail, and finally forced to participate in an extreme form of therapy to cure him of his violent tendencies.
Kubrick’s film takes on themes like how whether or not we can be forced to conform to the morals of a government entity. While Alex is indeed a horrible human being, A Clockwork Orange also seems to condemn the need of certain people to forcibly “cure” him, effectively making their efforts as violent as Alex’s actions.
The Wild Bunch
Before the 1970s, the Western was one of the most popular genres in movies. One of the last great westerns of that period, The Wild Bunch is also one of the best classic movies on Netflix. Released in 1969, the movie’s storyline in an odd way reflected the Western genre’s loss of popularity as a whole.
A group of outlaws in the early 20th century sees the modern world slowly closing in, and rides down to Mexico to pull off one last major job. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, the movie was criticized by some for its high degree of violence (at the time), but it has since staked a claim as one of the best westerns, and one of the best movies, of all time.
All The President’s Men
The 1970s saw many great thrillers, but it was a real-life team of journalists that had their story turned into one of the best thrillers, and one of the best classic movies, currently on Netflix.
The President’s Men, released in 1976, starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The two mismatched reporters for The Washington Post broke the story about how a robbery at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. in 1972 was tied into the Nixon administration. Their work led to Nixon resigning as President in 1974. It’s not the most exciting foundation for a movie, but Redford and Hoffman’s performances and a great script elevate this film and make it highly entertaining. It also is still relevant today, as we see how a good and honest news media can bring to light corruption and wrongdoing even at the highest levels of the government for all to see.
You may never want to go camping again after you see this classic movie on Netflix. This 1972 movie follows four Atlanta residents who go deep, deep into the woods of northern Georgia on a rafting trip. They think this will just be a weekend adventure, but it quickly turns into a full-blown nightmare. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight are excellent as the two lead men in this movie, with Voight’s family man dealing with Reynolds’ character’s massive ego. We also have to mention Ned Beatty and his performance as he experiences one of the worst things ever put on film (no spoilers, but wow).
This over three-hour epic is not only a classic movie on Netflix, it’s a film of a type we may never see again in this era of special-effects-driven superhero entries. Released in 1965, this is one of the great films from director David Lean; it was not only a box office success, but also won five Academy Awards (losing to The Sound of Music for best picture). It tells the story of Yuri Zhivago and his life before and after the Russian Revolution of 1917. There’s tons going on here, as we see this storyline move through lots of supporting characters and plotlines, but it all centers on Zhivago, played by Omar Sharif, and his romantic entanglements, all happening as his country plunges into chaos. Hollywood took a risk making this movie even then, and it’s highly unlikely major film studios would make such a project today. Just enjoy this movie for what it is; a masterpiece of filmmaking.
Best classic movies on Netflix – Honorable mentions
Here’s a look at a few classic movies on Netflix that didn’t make our final top 10 cut:
- The Graduate – This 1967 movie turned Dustin Hoffman into a star, playing a young student who is seduced by an older woman.
- East of Eden – The legendary James Dean was at full force in this 1955 movie, showing how he helped to create the “rebel” role in films.
- The Third Man – A true classic thriller, this 1949 movie stars Joseph Cotten as a man who gets caught up in a murder plot.
- Network – If you watch TV news, you need to see this 1976 satire that seems to predict how the TV news media has evolved into more of an entertainment.
Those are our picks for the best Netflix classic movies. Which ones are your favorites?
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Author: John Callaham