When you’re not in the mood for a Marvel blockbuster or Netflix original, there’s one section you can turn to for a slice of classic pie. While there are fan favorites like Taxi Driver, Top Gun, and Forrest Gump easy to come by across the streaming universe, some 20th Century films are not as readily accessible. These films truly embody the best of cinema, rightfully deserving the “classic” label. Pulling from almost all genres, these films cover from upbeat musicals to terrifying horror films.
While not every film earned an Oscar nomination, they certainly made an impact on the genre and movie-goer experience. From extensive runtimes to originality, these films laid the foundation for the next century’s stories.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Directed by Sergio Leone, this almost four-hour film finds a home on Netflix, satisfying the classic movie lover’s bingeworthy needs in just one film. The film tells the story of a Prohibition-era former Jewish gangster who returns to Lower East Side Manhattan three decades later to confront his past.
The cinematic masterpiece stars Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Rose McGovern among other Hollywood legends. While the runtime was off-putting to some viewers, the film still earned high praise from critics and moviegoers alike. Leone’s crime drama proves to be well-rounded with its stunning visuals and ability to capture a wide range of emotions with its powerful performers.
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
A film that elevated Spike Lee’s filmmaker status, She’s Gotta Have It is a multi-genre film deserving of a stream now that it’s found a home on Netflix. Starring Tracy Camilla Johns as heroine Nola Darling, the non-standard romantic comedy follows Darling, an artist as she tries to remain true to herself while dating three men who are incredibly different.
Lee’s breakout film earned praise from critics and audiences for its unapologetic characters and narratives. Since its 1986 release, Netflix produced a series of the same name and concept with Lee signing on. The show starred DeWanda Wise as Nola Darling, but only lasted two seasons from 2017-2019.
My Fair Lady (1964)
A classic tale starring one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, My Fair Lady is readily available to rewatch or introduce to new cinephiles for the first time. In a rags-to-riches tale, Eliza Dolittle (Audrey Hepburn) begins a transformation from a crude flower girl to a picture of high society at the hands of linguistics and phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) in early 1900s London.
A musical, this film swept the 37th Academy Awards, winning eight of 12 nominations. With an almost three-hour runtime, this film is a commitment, but well worth the critic and audience praise it received during its release and continues to secure today.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Nothing resonates with horror fans like the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. A perfect installment in the Wes Craven terrifying filmography, this 80s slasher film brought to the screen an iconic movie monster who preys on a group of Midwestern teens in their dreams, torturing them in reality. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is a disfigured madman who wields blades on his hands.
The film starred young actors like Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp. Critics and audiences were enthralled with its originality and the franchise still emulates one of the most iconic cinematic boogeymen to grace the screen.
Blade Runner (1982)
A genre-defining film, Blade Runner is a sci-fi classic that still holds its place among Ridley Scott’s best films. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a former Replicant Hunter in a futuristic dystopian Los Angeles, who must return to the hunt when four Replicants escape their colony and return to Earth.
It was nominated for two Oscars at the 55th Academy Awards but did not take home a golden statue for either. The film was a lot for audiences to take in during its original theater release, but has since become a fan and critic favorite. A sequel was released in 2017, Blade Runner 2049, starring Ryan Gosling and featuring a brief return for Ford as well. The sequel earned just as much praise, taking home two of its five Oscar nominations that year.
Dirty Harry (1971)
It doesn’t get more classic Hollywood R-rated cop movie than Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. With the Scorpio-Killer (Andrew Robinson) menacing the streets of San Francisco, police inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Eastwood) will stop at nothing to take him down. Another iconic role for the legend, Eastwood delivers another epic, gritty character while director Don Siegel brings audiences a top-notch action film.
A genre-defining film, the tough-cop character fits Eastwood like a glove, enthralling audiences, and critics for generations. With various streaming platforms competing to house classic Hollywood films, Dirty Harry has earned a stable home on Netflix for new viewers to discover a movie that’s become ingrained in the cinematic landscape.
A drama, this film showcases Robin Williams in one of the best serious roles of his career. Williams stars as Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a physician who treats catatonic patients with a new drug, attempting to revive them. Co-starring De Niro, the two were cinematic magic in Awakenings, earning the film three Oscars at the 63rd Academy Awards.
An under-appreciated film, critics and audiences applauded the emotional range Williams brings in a non-comedic role. The film is based on a non-fiction novel by Oliver Stacks where he details his experiences in the 1960s as he tried to help patients who fell victim to encephalitis lethargica epidemic in the 1920s.
White Christmas (1954)
A holiday classic, White Christmas remains a go-to favorite when the season rolls around. Former soldiers Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are song-and-dance men who team up with a sister act to save their former commanding general’s Vermont inn just in time for Christmas. While the film earned only one Oscar nomination at the 27th Academy Awards, it did not take home the golden statue.
Co-starring Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the holiday musical is a highly rated film that remains relevant throughout the decades. While the titular song has been recorded by artists across the decades, the film version has not been touched or attempted to be remade, making the original all the more special to stream around the season.
The Professionals (1966)
After a Texas millionaire’s wife is kidnapped, he hires four soldiers of fortune to rescue her from a Mexican bandit only for them to learn she is not being held against her will, complicating their job. Starring western icons like Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster, this underrated Western is an excellent addition to Netflix’s library.
The film is praised for holding its own as a true western adventure film. With a close to two-hour runtime, The Professionals was nominated for three Oscars at the 39th Academy Awards, unable to secure any wins.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
A film of comedic ridiculousness, Monty Python and the Holy Grail still has audiences laughing decades later. A Middle Ages tale, King Arthur and his knights set out to find the Holy Grail, only to be faced a wave of outright bizarre and outlandish obstacles. With a cast of comedy stars like John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle, the film’s writers and directors Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones add to the madness with their own portrayals.
The second of the Monty Python movies, the films are inspired by a British sketch comedy show that aired on BBC in 1969 starring the acting troupe comprised of Cleese, Chapman, Palin, Idle, Gilliam, and Jones. Netlfix houses multiple Monty Python productions available for a binge after watching this film.
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