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30 Best Classic Movies on Netflix Right Now

January 3, 2019
25 min read

Netflix has a wide range of choices including classic movies. But what really defines a classic movie? A classic is a timeless piece of cinematic art that will be remembered for as long as moviemaking and its lovers exist. Starting from the ’30s, to date, we’ve had a countless number of classic movies which have stood the test of time and have appealed to all the generations alike.

At Cinemaholic, we have tried to compile a list of such important classics that you can watch on Netflix sitting at the cosy comfort of your home. After all, what better than to experience a fragment of history millions of people have seen, admired, praised and respected? Find out why these important movies are as great as they’re said to be with this list of some really good classic movies on Netflix. You may also find many of these classic film on Hulu or Amazon Prime. The list includes 60s classic movies, 70s classic movies 80s classic movies and even 90s classic movies.

30. Prelude to War (1942)

A Frank Capra’s masterpiece, a highly regarded one at that, ‘Prelude to War’ is one of those propaganda films that was “commissioned” to inculcate a sense of patriotism among Americans concerning war and why the Americans have been fighting the countless wars, the cause if you will. Although I don’t see how the heroics depicted in the movie can’t be put to use even today, almost 80 years hence, this documentary also effectively uses the comparison of the valour and the zeal of the forces and how odds have favoured them over the years. Because the second world war was at the peak during the time of the film’s release, and alas there couldn’t have been a better time to release this, having a documentary which educates young and dynamic Americans to enlist as a “war hero” was more than a tool of entertainment – a necessity. If you have Netflix, this is one of the documentaries for the history buff within you.

29. Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

A perfect concoction of tragedy and romance, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ is the narrative of Tita, the youngest daughter of a family living in rural Mexico during the 1900s. The tragedy of her life began right from her birth when her father passed away immediately after, leaving herself and her siblings without one. Moreover, owing to the strange tradition of her family wherein the youngest daughter never marries and should serve her mother till the end of the latter’s life takes her by storm. Things take a violent turn when she falls in love with a young lad named Pedro, who agrees to marry her elder sister instead in order to stay closer to Tita for the rest of their lives. Following the death of her mother and a breakdown after another affair with a doctor, Tita and Pedro finally get to unite only in vain. ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ is the epitome of a classic movie, combined with the perils of traditions and customaries.

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28. Heathers (1988)

“Heathers” is definitely one of the classics from the coming-of-age black comedy genre. It’s a cult film and an influence to all those films set in the agitated high-school world, a topic often seen on the big screen throughout time. Its title relates to the names of three characters of a four-person clique. Three Heathers and one Veronica, the last one being the teenager who will shake the story and bring the conflict to life. She becomes tired of the popularity and superficial reputation of her group and wants to retreat into a normal good-girl status, however, the means she uses soon entangle her into a tricky situation that’ll cost the lives or more than one youngster. The interesting aspect about this movie is that its theme and story not only entertain and serve its purpose but also introduce a wider idea of American life and culture, portrayed as a metaphor in this eventful and engaging narration.

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27. The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944)

Another documentary right from the ’40s, ‘The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress’ is the eye-opening documentary on the famed Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, which served during the second world war. A movie that was shot “on the battlefield” in the air, while the fortress was still in operation and which took the life of one of the filmmakers. One of the primary ideas behind the making of this films was to inculcate the heroics of the U.S. Armed Forces in the minds of Americans and I must say, it pretty much does stand up to the intent. This inspiring movie and the inspiring “Flying Fortress” have forever been registered in the epics of American history of greats.

26. The Stranger (1946)

Set in the aftermath of World War II, ‘The Stranger’ begins with the establishment of the Allied War Crimes Commission, a commissioned forged to look into the heinous war crimes committed during the era. Wilson, the head of the commission, is looking for a war criminal named Franz Kindler, a notorious one who had chalked out plans to annihilate scores of the human populace. As the movie progresses, we witness an elusive Kindler who is now in Connecticut in a boys’ school, teaching there as one professor Charles. Kindler is traced with the help of one of his previous assistants Konrad, who apparently has turned against him. The enticing cat and mouse play, combined with the never-ending quirk and simplicity forms the crux of the film. If you’re thinking there weren’t many rib-tickling comedies back in the day, you might have been mistaken.

25. Lincoln (2012)

This Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance powerhouse has to be one of the timeless classics of all time, that too is the rare one on Netflix. The movie begins with the end of the American Civil War, one of the worst civil wars in the history of humanity itself. Maybe ‘Lincoln’ is the second best coming out from the house of Spielberg, the first being the none other than ‘Schindler’s List’. As the Confederate States are on a verge of depletion, Lincoln is wary about the Emancipation Proclamation, the one that would free the United States from slavery and his only prerogative is to get it through the Republicans who aren’t very keen on the 13th Amendment. The movie ends with Lincoln being shot, thus marking the end of an era. ‘Lincoln’ was the recipient of two Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Production Design. Needless to mention why Daniel Day-Lewis was the most deserving candidate for his role of the legendary Abraham Lincoln.

24. The English Patient (1996)

At the brink of World War II, an English Patient is a centre of all attention in an Italian monastery, who is presently taken care of by Hana, a nurse of the French-Canadian descent. Owing to the highest degree of burns the patient has sustained on his body, he is unable to speak or doesn’t remember who he really is. Over time, it is revealed that Hana herself is in love with Kip Singh, the army Sapper responsible for the safety of his allies. David Caravaggio, a shrewd and slick intelligence officer knows there’s more to the story than what it appears to be. ‘The English Patient’ is the tale of Almasy, a cartographer working for Britain, who falls in love with a fellow married colleague Katharine. Apparently, Katharine’s husband gets to know of their affair and there begins a series of events that lead to the death of Katharine and her husband and leads Almasy in a precarious situation. ‘The English Patient’ proved to be a benchmark movie

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23. Howards End (1992)

This film with an ensemble cast broke all stereotypes associated with historical dramas and brings forth an engaging drama which isn’t worth a miss. ‘Howards End’ revolves around the lives of the social classes in the neo-modern era of Britain – namely the Wilcoxes, Schlegel, and the Basts. ‘Howards End’ begins with the demise of a family head followed by a property dispute, amidst an endearing love story and a lot of complex, interrelated characterizations and the unending lust for power and possessions. ‘Howards End’ not only boasts of a stellar star-cast but also of scintillating performances and realistic depictions, thus making it one of the unforgettable classics on Netflix today.

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22. Quiz Show (1994)

Yet another historical drama based upon the true story of Charles Van Doren and his scandalous yet extremely successful quiz show called ‘Twenty-One’ that used to air in the late ’50s. Basically, the said quiz show revolved around Van Doren answering tough, unanswerable, bizarre questions and win the minds and hearts of millions of people across the nation. A television show which took everyone by storm, making “Twenty-One” one of the most popular shows of all time, even ‘Quiz Show’ has a turning point. Apparently, Van Doren was doing what the producers of the show wanted him to, thus leading to a bubble of false appreciation around him and the show. The onus of bursting the said bubble was taken upon by Herbie Stempel, a disgruntled contestant, and another congressional investigator, thus leading to a great expose. ‘Quiz Show’ was a revelation that also went on to become one of the highest rated classics in Hollywood’s history.

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21. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The classic unforgettable tale of ‘Dracula’ that has widely been told, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ is the directorial venture of none other than Francis Ford Coppola. The story begins in the 1400s and pans through the early 1900s. Gary Oldman is the formidable Vlad The Impaler/Count Dracula of the present, who has met with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor who is in Transylvania to arrange for Dracula’s London’s real estates. When Dracula sees Harker’s fiancee Mina’s photograph, he is reminded of Elisabeta, his old squeeze. As a blood-thirsty Count Dracula pursues an unaware Mina, Lucy, one of Mina’s friends is his victim. Dr Abraham Van Helsing then comes to the rescue and there begins an epic tale of the good vs. the evil. ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ is the unaltered rendition of the novel which is a timeless classic that was.

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20. White Christmas (1954)

The movie is set around two song and dance men – Bob Wallace and Phil Davis. They are apparently very good in their song and dance act and have become top Broadway producers over the time. Meanwhile, Betty and Judy are two beautiful sisters who’re into the same business as Bob and Phil. When Betty and Judy agree to perform at a Vermont lodge to perform for a Christmas show, Bob and Phil follow them, for Bob is attracted to Betty. When they reach the so-called lodge, they find out that the owner of the lodge is none other than Major General Thomas F. Waverly, the commanding officer of Bob and Phil during the second world war, who is also in massive debt. Bob and Phil hatch a plan to help the Major General out, amidst the snow and the rift between Bob and Betty. ‘White Christmas’ is a perfect mashup classic for the holiday season that you can watch on Netflix right away.

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19. Let There Be Light (1946)

A documentary film which perhaps is one of the earlier movies made around the subject of PTSD, featuring many soldiers from the U.S. Armed Forces, ‘Let There Be Light’ is the transformation of the war veterans from a state of delusion, trauma, fear, hopelessness and depression to belongingness, and a state of mental and physical well-being. The movie features a psychiatric hospital run by the military wherein all the war veterans are stationed and healed over a period of a couple of months with therapy, medicine, support groups and counselling. Despite being reflective of the state of the U.S. servicemen after the second world war, the movie was surrounded by controversies, as it apparently led to lesser recruitments in the army due to the psychological distress conditions portrayed in the film.

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18. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

A movie that was the poster-boy of all the Hollywood flicks released during the era, especially those related to alien invasions and the lores surrounding them, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ was also one of the early works of directorial genius Steven Spielberg, which was followed by many other greats. Having said that, this is also the third Spielberg’s movie on this list that can be rendered a “classic” status. The story revolves around a group of people in Indiana who witness strange phenomenon and associate it with paranormal activity. Based on the three kinds of encounters – sighting, evidence followed by the contact, the movie is essentially a narrative of how the contact happened while a bunch of baffled scientists, cartographers and UFO experts try and figure out the reasons behind such happenstances. A well-made movie if we consider the available technology in the ’70s, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ is a must-watch for all alien movie buffs.

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17. Blazing Saddles (1974)

A movie for which one can rightfully say – as the name suggests, ‘Blazing Saddles’ is set in the wild wild west, or rather, it won’t be folly to call it an exhilarating spoof of the same. The story begins in the 1870s with Hedley Lamarr, a land developer and a greedy, cunning persona who hires one Mr Mel Brooks to grab the land from the locals in order to help Lamarr build a railroad. When Rock Ridge, a chunk of land that has been weirdly and funnily occupied by a group of people known as Johnsons, Lamarr deploys his henchmen to rage the place and make it unlivable. The governor then appoints Bart, an Afro-American as the new Sherriff of the town, hoping he would bring more chaos to the place, while the exact opposite happens. ‘Blazing Saddles’ is quirky, wild and weird – perhaps a deadly combination back in the day to make movies work.

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16. Ghostbusters (1984)

Only a few of us would know that the original ‘Ghostbusters’ featured Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver in leading roles before we saw Chris Hemsworth take the charge. The story is primarily set around three scientists – Peter, Raymond and Egon, who investigate paranormal activities under the garb of a paranormal activity detection and elimination service named Ghostbusters. They presently use a run-down fire station for their business and use high-end and high tech equipment to take on ghosts, who are even the flashier. The story of them being despised initially to being hailed as heroes who save the city, ‘Ghostbusters’ is one heck of a story we should be talking about. Moreover, the idea of seeing various bad guys a.k.a. ghosts burst into pieces is a satisfying watch, more often than not.

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15. The Breakfast Club (1985)

Primarily, the story revolves around a group of five students who have reported to the principal Richard Vernon’s office for all-day detention. The five high school students – Claire, Andrew, Brian, Allison and John come from different walks of life, have different familial backgrounds and share different interests, but there is an eerie similarity between all of them, precisely the reason why they’ve been put together for all-day detention. As Vernon asks them to spend the day in the library while writing an essay on “who do you think you are”, they open up with each other and reveal the nasty secrets behind their otherwise popular and more or less successful stint in the school so far. A teenage drama that brings the dearth of social awareness the age group usually faces, ‘The Breakfast Club’ is an eye-opening flick which would get you mesmerised by the performances and the overall setting.

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14. Touch of Evil (1958)

Perhaps it won’t be wrong to brand ‘Touch of Evil’ as a version of yesteryear’s Narcos if you will. ‘Touch of Evil’ is set around the drug peddlers across the US-Mexico border and the ace narcotics officer from Mexico’s side – Ramon Vargas. While Ramon Vargas is holidaying with his other half, a vicious murder happens on the US side of the border. As Vargas gets himself on a mystery-solving spree, on the US side, Captain Quinlan and Sargeant Menzies are busy planting evidence against a Mexican named Manolo Sanchez. While Vargas knows Sanchez might have been innocent and everything is a doing of Quinlan and Menzies, Vargas’ wife on the US side of the border might have been in danger. ‘Touch of Evil’ made it to Roger Ebert’s list of the greatest movies back in 1998.

13. The Sixth Sense (1999)

The master of the ending twist, of the “surprise” effect and the impulse to watch the movie again with a different set of eyes. “The Sixth Sense” is a true classic of the psychological thriller genre where horror and supernatural meet in the perfect balance for a timeless story made to stay. This is the most well-received film by Indian American director M. Night Shyamalan and it recounts the suspenseful story of child psychologist seeking to help a young boy claiming to have the ability to see dead people. Prepare for emotions, goosebumps and a lot of excellent performances coming from Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment and enter the classic world of “The Sixth Sense”.

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12. The Third Man (1949)

During the allied occupation of Vienna close to the second world war, Holly Martins is a pulp fiction novelist who has been looking for work from quite some time. Apparently, after Vienna’s occupation, there’s been a dearth of almost everything, leading to black marketeering and counterfeiting. Holly has been invited by his childhood friend Harry to take up a job which the former has been looking for quite a while. Before the two could meet up, Harry is killed in an accident, which everyone believes to be an accident. To Holly’s surprise, there’s a lot of inconsistency in every eye-witness’ narrative and he sets himself on a spree to find the truth out. A typical murder-mystery film, perhaps one of the very firsts in its genre, ‘The Third Man’ is worthwhile even today, almost 70 years hence.

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11. Scarface (1983)

We all have been through this one. Apparently one of the best films ever made around the crime-drama genre, ‘Scarface’ witnessed the rise and rise of Al Pacino as an established character-actor after the release of the film. The story begins with the Mariel Boatlift Crisis of the 1980s when close to ten thousand Cubans were boat lifted to the American soil. Tony Montana, the protagonist, manages to emigrate from Cuba and lands up in a refugee camp in Miami, Florida. With the help of his friend Manny, who introduces Tony to the criminal underbelly of Florida, Tony manages to find work under a drug dealer named Frank and starts growing in the ranks whilst dealing with many Colombian drug lords. Tony brings a certain vigour to the profession and his soaring ambitions know no bounds. Soon, he himself becomes a target of all the viciousness he’d been peddling. ‘Scarface’ is undoubtedly a cult movie and a must watch for the fans of movies like ‘Pulp Fiction’.

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10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

One of those near-perfect trail mixes of a science fiction, romance and drama, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ has often been hailed as one of the most beautifully narrated classics of all time. Featuring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in leading roles, the movie is the narrative of Joel and Clementine who’re travelling on a train and are apparently shown to everyone as strangers. In a non-linear narrative, it is then revealed that they were lovers and in a relationship two years ago. When Clementine had troubles in her relationship with Joel, she underwent a procedure to erase her memories and so did Joel. Apparently, the process of erasing memory works in chronologically reverse order, beginning with the recent memories first (which were the bitter ones), followed by the ones formed earlier (the sweeter memories of their relationship). One of the first memories they had was to meet in Montauk and travel on a train which was precisely what they were doing. The movie breaks all ceilings and is one of the most scintillating and engrossing romance-dramas that will move you from the inside.

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9. L.A. Confidential (1997)

A movie that surrounds all the flaunt, sleaze and the corruption of the ’50s in the L.A., ‘L.A. Confidential’ follows a multi-layered premise which is centred around three policemen bearing differing persona and ways to approach the criminal psyche – Officer Bud White, Sergeant Edmund Exley, and Detective Jack Vincennes. While all the three stories are narrated from their individual perspectives, they are into uncovering a conspiracy amid the crime setting of the ’50s, they are also biased by their personal motives and inhibitions towards the perpetrators of the crime. ‘L.A. Confidential’ is a perfect crime noir drama which couldn’t have been any better. Watch it while it lasts on Netflix.

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8. Good Will Hunting (1997)

A movie that won Robin Williams an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the movie is set around Will Hunting, a twenty-year-old janitor who works at the MIT but has a penchant for mathematics. Initially, he solves all mathematics problems anonymously, thus gaining his fame as a genius nobody. Hunting is protective of his construction worker identity and can’t imagine living out of the slums. A Fields Medal winner, professor Gerald Lambeau and a psychotherapist Sean Maguire set Hunting on a course correction that would impact his life in a dramatic way and changes the way he believes in everything around him. Matt Damon, Stellan Skarsgard and Robin Williams are great finds for their roles in the movie and ‘Good Will Hunting’ is an emotionally appealing and enriching drama that everyone must be watching. Have you?

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7. Once Upon a Time In America (1984)

Directed by Sergio Leone, ‘Once Upon a Time In America’ spans across five decades in the New York City and is a telltale of four dreaded gangsters and criminals, who also were childhood friends. The highlight of the movie is the unbreakable bond they share among one another and are mostly inseparable. The Jewish gangsters’ inseparability is challenged by David “Noodles”, who broke away from the group and has returned to the same neighbourhood 35 years later, only to find the hidden demons of regret and guilt – around a course of events that happened four decades before. Although upon its initial release, the movie was met with criticism, over a period of time, it has developed a cult affinity. And psst…Robert De Niro is to watch out for.

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6. The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s wondrous masterpiece, ‘The Shining’ is set around one Mr Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer who is on the verge of success in his writing career. Being unable to fend for his finances, Torrance accepts a job for being an offseason caretaker for the historic yet isolated Overlook Hotel. He lands up in the hotel with his family – his wife Wendy and son Danny. Danny is the bearer of “The Shining” – an ability to know about a place’s past and what transpired over there and incidentally, Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook also has this ability. As they connect through telepathy, they come to know of the horrifying fact that the previous caretaker of the hotel had gone crazy and killed his own family. Soon, Jack Torrance also exhibits a similar behavioural pattern, thus putting everyone’s life in the hotel in extreme danger. The movie was widely praised for Jack Nicholson’s performance and remains to be a widely popular flick among critics and audiences alike.

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5. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Set in the village of Giancaldo, Sicily, Italy and Rome, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ follows two timelines – the childhood and the present of the now-famous Italian film director Salvatore Di Vita. One day, Salvatore receives news that Alfredo has died, turns out, Alfredo was his mentor in the initial days as a projectionist. Back in the day, when Salvatore was a child, he befriended Alfredo, a projectionist at ‘Cinema Paradiso’. Because of restrictions from the Church and the Government, Alfredo had to censor a lot of stuff from his movies and it is here where Salvatore learns the nuances of film projection. After a fire at the theatre when Alfredo loses his eyesight, and Salvatore becomes the new projectionist of ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’, Alfredo advises him to move to Rome in order to pursue his dreams. Rags to riches story, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ is all about care, love and mentorship above everything else.

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4. Se7en (1995)

The film is set around detectives David Mills and William Somerset. While David is a rookie, Somerset is a veteran who is nearing his retirement. Both Somerset and Mills are on an investigation spree to get to a serial killer whose murders have been inspired by seven deadly sins – gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, wrath and envy. Their idea is to track him based on his pattern before he commits the crime, but luckily he escapes every single time. The twist of the tale comes when (spoiler alert) Mills kills the serial killer, representing the seventh and the last sin – wrath. ‘Se7en’ is an engaging and captivating psychological thriller which would keep you on the edge of your seat, both because of the premise as well as because of the performances.

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3. Schindler’s List (1993)

Yet another Steven Spielberg movie on the list, a man who has truly dedicated his life to amazing films so great they’ve become today’s contemporary classics – ‘Schindler’s List’ is often regarded as one of his greats. From incredible fantasy to breathtaking horror, he’s done it all as well as give his contribution to the period drama genre by going back in time and recounting an important historical event that will make you cry for the past and admire the figure it’s centred on. Liam Neeson portrays Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in the factories he created. Black and white are in its visual form as Spielberg wanted to demonstrate the lifeless world of the Holocaust and bring us into the dark and heartbreaking times that took away many lives it shouldn’t have. However, there is the red-coat girl, the iconic and only coloured element in the whole movie, that holds another key meaning to the story’s transition and ability to engrave on the viewer’s mind and heart. See for yourself!

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2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Set immediately in the aftermath of the events of the first movie, ‘The Godfather: Part II’ carries forward the story of the Corleone family, especially, Michael Corleone, along with the premise flashbacks which also show Vito Corleone in the early ’20s as a founding man of the Corleone legacy. The movie starts with the funeral of Vito’s father and the murder of his brother by Don Ciccio, followed by a lookout for a young Vito, who apparently has moved to New York and registered his name as Vito Corleone. Fifty years later, in the present day, Michael Corleone could be seen taking care of the family legacy and dealing with his business and family problems. ‘The Godfather: Part II’ not only boasts of a stellar star cast including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert DuVall to name a few, but its screenplay also has been stored in many museums along with the preservation of the movie’s copy in the U.S. National Film Registry and Library of Congress.

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1. The Godfather (1972)

Arguably the greatest crime drama ever made, ‘The Godfather’ is also been often deemed as the second greatest American film ever after Citizen Kane. This Francis Ford Coppola’s film begins in 1945 with Don Vito Corleone’s daughter’s wedding where he could be seen playing the role of a parallel government, hearing pleas and discussing “gangster” matters. The demeanour and the dialogues done by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino are as memorable as they could get and as Vito Corleone who is on an older side now decides to transfer his power to his reluctant but able son, unforeseen things start happening in his family and he needs to take things in control yet again. If you haven’t watched ‘The Godfather’ yet, then perhaps this is the first task you need to do before drawing your next breath. And that’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse.

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