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12 Best Black & White Movies on Netflix Right Now

March 20, 2019
11 min read

Black-and-White movies are never just black and white, but hundreds of shades between them. The gradations of grey in black and white made it a darling of filmmakers ever since the silent era. In the 1930s and 1940s, Technicolor made everything in Hollywood looks pretty. Those filmmakers who wanted to explore the shades of characters, the range of emotions, the depth of drama, and the mercurial nature of human persona, went for black-and-white. Movies like Citizen Kane (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), and film-noir movies made black-and-white a niche at the time of color prominence.

The black-and-white movies have developed a unique aesthetic of their own over time. During our era of digital revolution, black-and-white are still on high demand among filmmakers for its aesthetic or political potentials, and also among moviegoers for its unique cinematic experience, because gradations of grey are practically infinite, and so are human emotions. The characteristic grain and shadows of black and white movies evoke a nostalgia in moviegoers.

A key advantage of black-and-white cinematography is that it allows the viewers to see the light more clearly, from diverse perspectives in the absence of color. In other words, we are entitled to see the internal world of the characters in another light. As we get to know the characters and their emotional space closer, it enhances our cinematic experience in general. Netflix is keen to maintain and update a resourceful list of black and white movies. Here’s the list of really good black-and-white movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now.

12. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

the magnificent ambersons (1942)

Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons‘ is a love triangle told in black and white. Orson Wells made the movie as a follow-up piece to his masterpiece ‘Citizen Kane.’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ unfolds in the backdrop of Amberson Mansion, an ostentatious set piece where the irresistibly beautiful Isabel Amberson, the widow of Wilbur Minafer and her son living. When Eugene Morgan, the beau from Isabel’s past returns to their life, the bond of love between the mother and her son, a spoiled rich kid, is strained. Complications further arise as George becomes jealous of Morgan’s intimacy with his widowed mother. The Ambersons Mansion witnesses a series of terrible events in the days followed.

11. The Stranger (1946)

the stranger 1946

Tagged as Orson Welles’ most ‘Hollywood’ movie, ‘The Stranger‘ has the director playing the lead role of a college professor named Charles Rankin. He lives with his beautiful wife, Mary, played by Loretta Young, in the countryside. When a seemingly nervous German, Meineke arrives in town, Professor Rankin becomes very disturbed. When he takes Meineke for a stroll through the woods, it becomes a long walk to an unpleasant past and dangerous present. The ideal Professor is revealed to a notorious Nazi chief of staff and Meineke was his orderly. A wounded and guilty conscience brought Meineke into the small town to beg his ex-superior let him go his own way. But, the professor murders Meineke and buries his dirty secrets. But when the war crimes commissioner Wilson arrives in the town, in disguise as an antique dealer, the professor has his buried secrets under the threat of exhumation.

10. The Third Man (1949)

the third man

This time Orson Welles restricts himself to acting and plays the key role in the mystery-thriller-drama, ‘The Third Man.’ Holly Martins, a pulp writer with some published western to his credit, finds himself in a muddled state of affairs after learning about the death of his childhood pal, Harry Lime. Martins’ arrival to a war-torn Vienna was triggered by Lime’s invitation as his host. Shortly after the funeral and other rituals, Martins begins to smell a conspiracy behind Lime’s sudden death after he finds out that there was a ‘third man’ present at the scene of Harry’s death. Things become more tangled when he falls for Harry’s beautiful lover, Anna.

9. Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Strangers on a Train‘ is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The movie follows an intriguing premise of two strangers meeting on a train and sharing their respective murder plots. When an established tennis star meets a psychopath, both learn that each of them has someone to eliminate in their life. The two discuss their murder theories and come up with crooked plans to evade the law. The psychopath keeps his word and executes his part of the deal and starts nagging the tennis player to do his part of the murderous deal.

8. Frances Ha (2013)

Frances Ha (2013)

‘Frances Ha’ follows Greta Gerwig’s Frances, a dance apprentice in the hostile city of New York. She is in dire need of an apartment. Her only friend in the city is Sophie, who stop talking to Frances anymore. After being fed up with setbacks and negligence in personal and professional fronts, she throws herself into a whirlwind of talent in the city. Soon, Frances would realize that she desires for things beyond her reach. ‘Frances Ha‘ is an urban folk that ponders deeply on friendship, class, ambitions, setbacks, and resilience.

7. Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List (1993)

Based on a true story, Steven Spielberg’s World War 2 movie, ‘Schindler’s List,’ is a saga of pain, loss, suffering, cruelty, empathy, and human endurance. The movie, which is considered as a modern classic, follows Oskar Schindler, a German businessman operating in Nazi-occupied Poland. Oskar, who sees the Nazi terror as an opportunity to make his fortune, starts a factory to make cookware, utensils and ammunition for the German military units fighting elsewhere. He generously uses connections and bribes to win military contracts and hires a Jewish accountant to keep his account books intact. He employs the unpaid labour force of Jews from Krakow’s ghetto supplied by Nazi troops.

For Stern and other Jews, working in the factory means extending their lifespan a day or two. But in 1942, the Nazis decide to move all the Jews in Krakow to the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp. With an arrangement with the corrupt Nazi Commandant, Schindler manages to run his factory using the unpaid Jew labourers. But after witnessing the horrible plight of his employees, he realizes that the job is the only thing preventing them from being sent to the face of death. Schindler makes a plot of demanding more Jewish workers and gives out more bribe to the Nazi chiefs to strike off his employee names from the lists. By the end of World War 2, Schindler has spent almost all his wealth to safeguard his Jews, saving 1,100 innocent lives from the gas chambers of the Nazis.

6. Gandu (2010)

Gandu (2010)

‘Gandu’ means ‘a**hole’ in Bengali. The movie is written and directed by one of the modern provocateurs of Indian Cinema, Kaushik Mukherjee. ‘Gandu‘ explores the chaotic life of the 20-year-old Gandu, who is an aspiring rapper. Gandu lives in an internal surreal world of drugs and music. Obviously, his depressing external world is monochromatic, in which he steals money from the purse of his sex workers mother’s client. Rap functions as a safety valve for Gandu to flush out his hatred, wrath, desperation, and depression embedded with his existence. Eventually, he plunges headlong into a bizarre world of drugs, porn and ultra-violence along with his Bruce Lee-obsessed rickshaw driver friend. We see ‘Gandu‘ mixing his reality with his surreal visions to make his own hyper-reality to counter the hostile external world.

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5. Nazi Concentration Camps (1945)

Nazi Concentration Camps (1945)

The 1945 movie ‘Nazi Concentration Camps‘ is a heartbreaking human document of unparalleled war crimes and genocide. The movie is presented as a piece of crucial evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial of the notorious Hermann Göring and other Nazi leaders. The movie is an official documentary compiled from over 80,000 feet of footage canned by Allied military photographers who manage to enter the concentration camps abandoned by the German troops soon after the fall of the Hitler regime. The footage shows shocking and disturbing scenes of Jewish prisoners and the killing machines used to execute mass executions.

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4. Let There Be Light (1946)

Let There Be Light (1946)

‘Let There Be Light’ is the final instalment in a series of four films directed by renowned filmmaker John Huston for the government of the U.S. Houston closely follows the lives of U.S. soldiers after the World War 2 and the impacts like the mental trauma and other psychiatric problems. The movie documents several war veterans who are going through the ordeal at the hospitals. Houston shows how soldiers are haunted by the horrible sights and sounds they experienced in the war fronts. Most of them suffer from depression, various phobias and antisocial behavior.

Let There Be Light’ ends with a positive note as many patients return to normal life. As the soldiers undergo treatment, many of them make progress and slowly begin to reclaim their lives. But Houston’s approach towards the aftermath of war on soldiers provoked the U.S. government which concluded that the movie is counterproductive to postwar PR campaigns. So, it was forced to be kept under seal and not shown publicly until 1981.

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3. Roma (2018)

roma

Director and writer Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ is the festival darling of the season with multiple winnings and widespread critical acclaim. The movie follows Cleo, a domestic worker from the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. Cuaron uses his own childhood memories and experiences to weave a heart-touching tale of the women who raise a generation. The movie also sheds light on the social status of the women in a male-dominated Mexican society of the 1970s. Set in the backdrop of the political uprising that shook the country in the 70s, ‘Roma‘ is one the best black-and-white movies in recent times.

2. Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

Mughal-e-Azam-film-still-010

Being one of the most celebrated movies in the history of Indian Cinema, ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, is known for its relatively higher production quality for an Indian movie and a record-breaking grossing figure from the box office. No movie can earn more than the benchmark set by ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ for the next 15 years from the box office. The movie tells the epic love story of the Mughal Prince, Salim, and a beautiful court dancer named Anarkali. The movie features an ensemble star cast including the superstars of Indian Cinema, Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. The movie has one song in colour, which was a surprise for the Indian moviegoers at the time. The movie repeated its success streak when it was digitally coloured and re-released in 2004. The movie tops many lists of Indian Cinema even four decades after its release.

1. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

 The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

‘The Eyes of My Mother’ is Nicolas Pesce’s gory feature film debut. The movie follows a young woman living in isolation in a remote place. Raised on tragedy and anti-social tendencies, she imitates and improvises them into a full-fledged horror experiment on other people. But she has no clue that her actions are sheer insanity and way too gory. So she remains casual, even looks innocent, calm and content for the most part. But she cuts her victims into neat shapes with a ritualistic dedication and packages them in her refrigerator. One of the things that makes ‘The Eyes of My Mother,’ horribly chilling is the placid and pleasant manner of the woman when she delivers the creepiest of acts. It makes her character more creepy and disturbing. The black and white visuals add mystery and fear to the gore on the screen.

At the beginning of the movie, we see the little girl Francisca, who is living with her parents on a rural farm. Her mother, who is a former surgeon, shows the details of a dissection process to the girl. Her father is an introvert who treats his wife and daughter as some strangers. When a stranger with a glee on his face arrives, the house turns into a horror opera house.

Even though director Pesce only implies the horrendous acts that followed, we realize that Francisca’s mother has been killed and the stranger is brutally mutilated and chained in the barn. When he asks, ‘You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?’ to the young Francesca, she replies, ‘Why would I? You’re my only friend.’ By keeping the worst part of violence and gore off-screen, the movie manages to have a deeply devastating psychological impact on you. Much of the horror that follows after the stranger’s visit is implied in an effective way rather than showing explicitly, and the movie leaves us sleepless, imagining those acts of horror according to our tolerance level.

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