Netflix is mostly concerned with offering its subscribers new and original content. However, there are also lots of classic movies on Netflix. From black and white dramas from the 1930s to the best movies of the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s, there’s plenty of critically-acclaimed films on Netflix. Let’s take a look at the best ones.
The best classic movies on Netflix:
Editor’s note: We will regularly update this list of the best classic movies on Netflix.
This 1974 film is set in 1937 Los Angeles. It centers on private detective J.J. “Jake” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson. He’s hired by a woman who wants him to look into the activities of her husband. However, things quickly take some interesting twists as Jake gets involved in more than a simple infidelity case. It’s a great film, even though it only won one of its 11 Oscar nominations (for Best Original Screenplay). It’s definitely one of the best classic movies on Netflix.
My Fair Lady
This 1964 musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, was a huge hit. It tells the story of Henry Higgins, a college professor in Edwardian London, played by Rex Harrison. He believes he can take a girl off the streets and turn her into a “real lady.” The woman turns out to be Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn. Higgins works with Doolittle and actually does achieve his goal, but at what cost. The movie went on to win eight Oscars that year, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Harrison.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Clint Eastwood has made many Western films, and this 1976 movie may be one of his best. Set during and after the Civil War, he plays a farmer who witnesses his wife and son get murdered by a group of Union militia members. He naturally wants revenge and joins a Confederate supporting group to go after those killers. After the war, all of his former Confederate team members are murdered after they turn themselves in. Eastwood is now on his own, an outlaw who has to fight off bounty hunters who want his head. This is a gritty Western where the traditional good guy isn’t around.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Considered one of the best comedy films of all time, Monty Python and the Holy Grail takes the Arthurian legend and turns it on its head. That means King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot, and even God are all accounted for.
However, this isn’t a simple retelling of King Arthur’s journey to find the Holy Grail. From the projectionist accidentally putting the wrong film in the projector during the beginning of the movie to Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, Monty Python, and the Holy Grail messes with your expectations from the very beginning and never lets up. It’s a lock for one of the best classic movies on Netflix.
This 1988 drama was both a box office and a critical hit. It also won a ton of Oscars for that year, including Best Picture, and Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman. He plays Raymond, an autistic man who has been in a mental institution for most of his life. He’s discovered by his younger brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, who also finds out that Raymond can recall huge amounts of facts and numbers inside his head. At first, Charlie just sees Raymond as a way to get rich quickly in Vegas by using his talents. However, the two brothers soon begin to bond with each other truly. It’s definitely one of the best classic movies on Netflix.
Dances With Wolves
This 1990 film is another example of a non-traditional Wester. Kevin Costner directed and stars in this Best Picture Oscar winner. He plays a Union Civil War soldier who, after the war, is assigned to handle a small base far out in the frontier. He encounters a tribe of Native Americans, and he slowly starts to become friends with the tribe. Later on, that friendship turned into much more. It’s one of the best classic movies on Netflix you can watch.
The Karate Kid
If you haven’t watched Netflix’s hit TV series Cobra Kai yet, you might want to start with this 1984 film. The Karate Kid gives you all the backstory you need before you watch the series. You can see Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso as a teenager. You see him encountering his mentor “Mr. Miyagi,” played by the late Pat Morita. Daniel learns how to “wax on, wax off” in his quest to become a karate champion and beat his main rival, Johnny Lawrence, played of course by William Zabka.
The original movie is still very effective in telling the story of an underdog who discovers a different way to overcome his obstacles. It’s one of the best classic movies on Netflix.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since James Cameron’s sequel to The Terminator hit theaters. However, this epic action flick was truly a film that not only topped the original but has some action set pieces that still impress even today. As with the first film, this sequel has an evil AI Terminator from the future that’s sent back to the past to kill the leader of the human resistance movement. However, we soon learn that the Terminator we think is going after John Conner is not who we think it is.
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play two former WWII soldiers in this 1954 musical who become successful music producers. They tag along with two singers played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen to a holiday inn in Vermont, only to discover it’s owned by Crosby and Kaye’s former military commander.
The inn is in danger of shutting down due to a lack of snow and guests. The foursome tries their best to stage a musical at the inn to save it. The storyline doesn’t matter much; what matters are the Irving Berlin songs that are featured in White Christmas and sung by the cast, including the title tune (which actually debuted in an earlier movie, Holiday Inn).
Howard’s End takes a look at the English class system in the turn of the 20th century. It tells the story of a husband who refuses to go through his wife’s deathwish. On a wider spectrum, though, the film analyzes three social levels and how they interact with each other. It’s a fascinating take on socio-economic struggles and perspectives.
Classic movies on Netflix – Honorable mentions
Here are a few more classic movies on Netflix that didn’t make our top 10 list:
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – A young man, played by Johnny Depp, has to take care of his mentally impaired brother, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in this touching 1993 film.
- She’s Gotta Have It – Spike Lee made his feature directing and writing debut with this black-and-white 1986 comedy.
- Streets of Fire – This cult classic film from 1984 is described as “A Rock & Roll Fable,” and that’s exactly right.
- Mobile Suit Gundam – This 1981 Japanese anime movie is the start of the long-running Gundam sci-fi franchise.
These are our picks for the best classic movies on Netflix. We’ll update this post with new titles once they hit the streaming service.