10 best classic movies on Netflix for a trip down memory lane
For years now, Netflix has been dedicated to bringing subscribers a plethora of new releases from around the world. But as other streaming services have emerged, this groundbreaking platform has seen its old-school library dwindle. So, if you’re hankering for classic American cinema that’s over 25 years old, you’ll have to do some digging.
But don’t fret! Whether you’re in the mood for charming musical numbers, dashing action heroes, kooky comedies, rapturous fantasy, wondrous Westerns, or landmark cinema, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the top 10 classic titles now streaming on Netflix.
1. White Christmas
There are two classic movies starring Bing Crosby where he plays a former stage performer who decides to reinvigorate his career by putting on shows at an isolated hotel and/or resort. Both of the movies have someone singing the song “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. The important thing to remember is that one of those movies is the terribly racist film Holiday Inn and the other is the charming 1954 classic White Christmas. Always double check to make sure you’re watching the right one.
In addition to Bing Crosby as soldier-turned-performer-turned-producer Bob Wallace, Danny Kaye plays his partner, and best friend since the war, Phil Davis. While scouting a new double-act, the pair find themselves drawn into a scheme to save their former general’s independent hotel by staging a live holiday showcase, featuring themselves and the Haynes Sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). Cue the hijinks, the romance, the overflowing Christmas spirit, and the only Bing Crosby performance of “White Christmas” anyone should watch, ever. —Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
2. The Piano
Credit: Jan Chapman Prods/Miramax/Kobal/Shutterstock
Acclaimed Kiwi writer/director Jane Campion won her first Academy Award for this stirring and steamy drama, which centers on a turbulent love triangle.
Holly Hunter stars as a mid-19th century single mother, who’s shipped from her native Scotland to the shores of New Zealand to wed a rich gentleman (Sam Neill) with a cruel streak. She takes comfort in her young daughter (a 10-year-old Anna Paquin), her beloved piano, and in the arms of a burly but sensitive sailor (Harvey Keitel). Bold colors, shocking turns, and passionate performances had critics and the Academy cheering Campion’s unique vision of romance. In 1994, The Piano was nominated for eight Oscars, and won three: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.
Despite its prestige and period setting, time hasn’t made the heat of The Piano fade one bit. So, this one may be a great pick for a Netflix and Chill night.* —Kristy Puchko, Deputy Entertainment Editor
3. Dances With Wolves
In the thick of his heyday as America’s favorite leading man, Kevin Costner made his first foray into directing with this 1990 Western, in which he also starred. Based on Michael Blake’s novel of the same name, Dances With Wolves follows a distraught Union soldier through a life-changing assignment on a remote Civil War outpost. While other white men fear the indigenous Sioux who reside nearby, 1st Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Costner) makes mindful strides to communicate. Soon welcomed into their circle, he is awed by their community, culture, and compassion. But when ignorant soldiers threaten the tribe, Dunbar and his new friends must fight for survival. With an epic story, awe-striking cinematography, and poignant performances, this powerful period piece was a box office smash that went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. —K.P.
Credit: Jim Henson Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock
For some, it’s an enchanting musical, bubbling with fantasy, adventure, and puppets. For others, it was a sexual awakening, swaddled in velvet and stardust. Jennifer Connelly stars as a spirited girl, who travels into a magical realm to rescue her brother from the treacherous Goblin King (played by a beguiling David Bowie). Written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and directed by Muppets creator Jim Henson, Labyrinth was a kids’ movie so trippy that it should have come with a parental warning. Decades later though, we look back on this 1986 gem with nostalgia and unreserved awe for the mythical world made real with impeccable practical effects and grandiose star power. — K.P.
5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Credit: Python / Emi / Kobal / Shutterstock
The titular British comedy troupe first dominated television with Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Then they took their surreal brand of sketch comedy to the big screen with And Now For Something Completely Different. But in 1975, Monty Python took a bold step, making a feature-length narrative that gleefully made a mockery out of Arthurian legend. Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, this outlandish comedy follows King Arthur (Graham Chapman) on a noble quest for the Holy Grail. Along the way, he and his knights (John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin) will face fearsome foes like a tenacious warrior, the dreaded Knights Who Says Ni, and a rabbit with nasty, big, pointy teeth! As unapologetically goofy as it is irreverent, this parody has earned a place as one of the greatest comedies of all time. —K.P.
6. Léon: The Professional
Following the success of La Femme Nikita, French writer-director Luc Besson spun a surprisingly tender tale about a hitman with a gentle heart.
Jean Reno stars as the titular killer, who keeps to himself when he’s not murdering for money. That is until happenstance finds him befriending Mathilda, a street smart young girl who has been orphaned by crooked DEA agents. With a shiver-inducing snarl, Gary Oldman plays the lead agent, who will slaughter any and all who pose a threat to his crooked operation. Where Reno is cool and glistening with a childlike love of old movies, Oldman crackles with fire and demon-like fury. Yet, The Professional‘s most poignant performance is delivered by the pint-sized sidekick, who is played by Natalie Portman in her astounding film debut. Besson’s ice-cold kills are cool, but this ensemble proves outright explosive. —K.P.
7. She’s Gotta Have It
Credit: Forty Acres And A Mule Filmworks/Kobal/Shutterstock
Thirty-one years before it was a Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It was the daring comedy that launched Spike Lee’s career and became a landmark in America’s emerging independent film scene. Filmed on a tight budget and on black-and-white stock, this Lee joint centers on Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), a charming Brooklyn-based graphic artist who is juggling three male lovers. When these jealous men demand she choose just one of them, Nola is pushed to consider what she wants from love, sex, and relationships. Critics championed how Lee captured a side of Black experience rarely shown in mainstream movies. The prestigious Cannes Film Festival honored him with “The Award of Youth,” and the Independent Spirit Awards gave him the award for Best First Feature, and Johns the honor of Best Female Lead. —K.P.
8. Rain Man
Credit: United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock
Director Barry Levinson’s most celebrated film stars Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman as a pair of long-lost brothers who are polar opposites. Smooth-talker Charlie Babbitt (Cruise) is an aggressive yuppie, always on the hunt for his next big payday. Meanwhile, meek Raymond Babbit (Hoffman) is an “autistic savant,” who has no interest in money but a great head for numbers. In need of quick cash, Charlie takes Raymond on a cross-country road trip that steers them both out of their comfort zones but into a better understanding of each other. With a crackling screenplay, moving story, and plenty of star power, this 1988 drama not only proved a major hit at the box office but also won four Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Hoffman. —K.P.
9. Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers
Want a crash course in the female trailblazers who put their stamp on early cinema? Then indulge in this incredible collection of films from the early 1900s. Ranging from 11 to 72 minutes long, these sensational selections include slapstick comedy, bracing action, and daring dramas that dive into taboo topics including birth control, abortion, and sex work. Filmmakers like Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, and Dorothy Davenport Reid weren’t afraid to make films that exposed the highs and lows of the female experience. And now you can easily enjoy the awe-inspiring fruits of their labor, all of which have been carefully remastered to reflect their original glory. —K.P.
10. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
Credit: Morgan Creek/Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock
Kevin Costner might seem an unlikely casting for the role of folk hero Robin Hood, in no small part because the American actor couldn’t stir up an English accent worth a schilling. But accuracy was far from the point of the Kevin Reynolds-directed re-imagining, which put the eponymous avenger in a scenario of vicious violence, lusty romance, and epic scale.
Packed with action sequences of archery, escape, and flames, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves pulled audiences to the edge of their seats. While critics debated over its merit, the public swooned over the love blooming between Costner and his maid Marian, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Supporting players like Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, and Michael McShane brought plenty of bravado to the mix. But the starkest standout was the deliciously wicked Alan Rickman as the Sherriff of Nottingham, who chided he’d cut a man’s heart out with a spoon, “Because it’s DULL, you twit. It’ll hurt more.” —K.P.
*This blurb originally appeared in a previous Mashable list.