Movie List

20 Best Classic Movies on Netflix Right Now

Updated April 7, 2020
16 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 The Cinemaholic, we have tried to compile a list of such important classics that you can watch on Netflix sitting at the cozy 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 films on Hulu or Amazon Prime. The list includes 60s classic movies, 70s classic movies 80s classic movies and even 90s classic movies.

20. 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 valor and the zeal of the forces and how odds have favored them over the years.

19. 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.

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18. 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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17. 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 film 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.

16. 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.

15. 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.

14. Howards End (1992)

This film with an ensemble cast broke all stereotypes associated with historical dramas and brings forth an engaging drama that 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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13. 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 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.

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12. 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 counseling. 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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11. 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 centered 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.

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10. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore feature film has now entered pop culture folklore. ‘Pulp Fiction‘ is one of the most quotable movies ever made, and soon upon its release, it made the world aware of the fact that a new master is in town. This movie was actually conceived as three different stories with major characters from one story playing minor roles in the others. However, this perception soon took a backseat and Tarantino made it about the lives of a few people in Los Angeles and how they interact with each other at various points of time. The film begins with two mob hitmen, Vincent and Jules going to an apartment where they seize a mysterious briefcase from naive criminals. Then we see Vincent taking his boss Marcellus’ wife Mia out to dinner and helping her survive an overdose of heroin. Later, Butch, a prizefighter, also comes into the picture.

9. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese began the 1980s with a movie that captures his brilliance unlike any other and shows us why he is one of the greatest directors to ever walk this planet. ‘Raging Bull‘ is centered on the life of the boxer Jake LaMotta, but instead of focusing on his career and important matches like any other director would have done, Scorsese makes this film about his tormented and violent self. The film is a character study more than anything else and shows us the journey of a man who has been through numerous struggles over the years. The boxing scenes are stylistically shot, at times from a first-person perspective, and will make you grimace at the violence Jake unleashes on his opponents. ‘Raging Bull’ is one of the greatest films ever made, and definitely deserves a place on this list.

8. Bonnie And Clyde (1967)

This 1967 film by Arthur Penn is the one which opened the floodgates for the film movement know popularly known as “New Hollywood”, where the director’s vision became much more important than what a studio wants. The film is based on two real-life characters who went around America looting banks and killing numerous people along the way. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway play the two eponymous characters with style, and it is their performances that contributed a lot in making this film the cultural icon that it is today. Penn dared to show sex and violence in a way it was never shown before, and this resulted in a lot of criticism from the mainstream media when the film first released.

7. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

An epic film in the truest sense of the word, ‘Doctor Zhivago’ will offer you a film-watching experience which is bound to take your breath away. The central character of the film is Dr. Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) who has been raised by his aunt and uncle after his father passed away. The film chronicles Yuri’s personal life while we see him suffering the effects of World War I and then the October Revolution in Russia. On his personal front, we follow Yuri’s love story with a girl called Lara Guishar (Julie Christie). But despite the relationship, Yuri ends up marrying his cousin. Years later, when the two lovers find themselves face-to-face once again, remnants of their feelings for each other start surfacing. Hauntingly beautiful cinematography along with extraordinary performances by legends of the screen like Sharif and Christie, ‘Doctor Zhivago’ will transport you to another world altogether.

6. Frances Ha (2012)

Greta Gerwig might now be famous as the writer-director of movies like ‘Lady Bird‘ and ‘Little Women‘, but she really broke into the indie circuit with the 2012 Noah Baumbach film ‘Frances Ha’ where she plays the central character, Frances Halladay. Frances is an aspiring dancer living in New York who shares an apartment with a friend. However, when her friend decides to move out, Frances has to leave the apartment as well since it will not be possible for her to pay the rent on her own. Frances goes through numerous struggles in order to stabilize her life and improve her financial condition. The film is a brilliant portrayal of an outsider trying to work out her life in New York and going through various trials and tribulations in the process.

5. The Irishman (2019)

One of the best films of 2019, Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman‘ is the filmmaker’s return to the gangster genre. Robert de Niro plays the central character of the film, Frank Sheeran, in what is his 9th collaboration with Scorsese. The film follows Sheeran’s journey as he starts off as a truck driver and later becomes a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. His association with Teamster Union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) is the main focus of the film. Scorsese shows us how Sheeran became a close associate of Hoffa and later proceeded to kill him as claimed by Sheeran himself in the book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and the Closing of the Case on Jimmy Hoffa’. A digital de-aging process was used to de-age De Niro and Pacino for several scenes where they have to appear younger than they actually are. Despite its 209 minutes running time, the film is not boring for even a second and offers us an experience we are not likely to forget anytime soon.

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The British comedy group Monty Python became a huge sensation after the release of their Tv series ‘Monty Python And The Flying Circus’, and it was during a hiatus from shooting the show that they decided to come out with the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. A hilarious satire, this film centers around King Arthur’s journey along with a number of knights in order to find the Holy Grail. During the course of the journey, this contingent comes across numerous hilarious hurdles which are bound to crack you up. Despite getting mixed reviews when it released, the film later went on to be regarded as one of the greatest comedy movies of all time.

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3. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Sergio Leone became a huge sensation when he came out with the ‘Dollars’ trilogy and made the Spaghetti Western a highly popular film genre. This 1968 film is one of his best works and casts the legendary Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in leading roles. Notably, the story of this film was written by Leone himself, along with other notable Italian directors like Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci. Fonda plays the character of Frank, a henchman working for a rail baron who has to scare a man called McBain into selling off a piece of land which he owns. However, instead of just threatening him, Frank ends up killing him and frames someone else of the same. With strong performances by the actors and an amazing background score by Ennio Morricone makes this film a classic which film lovers will remember forever.

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2. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

James Dean is not merely a movie star. He is a cultural icon who has become the symbol of teenage disillusionment and angst. If not for his untimely death at the age of 24, the world would have taken his name in the same breath as other 50s icons like Marlon Brando. This 1955 film remains Dean’s most popular project where he plays the character Jim Stark who has recently come into a town and has enrolled himself into a new school there. Being unable to connect with anyone at first, he slowly becomes friends with a guy called Plato (Sal Mineo) and falls in love with a girl called Judy (Natalie Wood). But the problem is the fact that Judy is the girlfriend of a tough guy called Buzz who gets furious when he finds out about this affair. A film which exposes the frustrations of suburban kids unlike any other, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ has surely made its way to the history books.

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1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski’s masterpiece, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made. The film centers around the eponymous character who has just moved into a new apartment building with her husband. Rosemary is pregnant and finds her elderly neighbors to be a bit too friendly with her as if they are eager to establish a rapport with her and her husband. As the days go by, Rosemary starts growing more and more paranoid and suspicious of everyone in the building, including her husband. She believes that all of them are concocting a plan against her and that they want to kill her child. The film comes with a massive twist at the end which will leave you stunned.

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