Every week Netflix is updating their streaming service with new releases from around the world. However, if you’re hankering for classic American cinema that’s over 30 years old, you’ll have to do some digging. Fret not. Whether you’re in the mood for twisted thrillers, charming musicals, iconic action heroes, kooky comedies, wondrous Westerns, or truly landmark cinema, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the top 10 classic titles now streaming on Netflix.
In one of the most acclaimed films in his storied career, Jack Nicholson brings grit and charisma as a private investigator in over his head. The scene is 1937 Los Angeles, where a beguiling dame (Faye Dunaway) tugs detective J. J. “Jake” Gittes (Nicolson) into a tangled web of lies, corruption, murder, and wretched family secrets. Screenwriter Robert Towne spun this neo-noir yarn after finding inspiration the real-life California Water Wars. The results is a tense film full of twists, violence, and sexual tension. Directed by Roman Polanski in his prime, this 1974 thriller was a box office hit that went on to earn an impressive 11 Academy Award nominations—including a nod for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture. However, only Towne walked away with an Oscar that night. You know what they say, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
How to watch: Chinatown is streaming on Netflix.
First a George Bernard Shaw play, then a wildly popular Lerner and Lowe Broadway musical, the unlikely romance of the snooty Professor Henry Higgins and cockney-speaking pauper Eliza Doolittle became a Hollywood hit in 1964. Directed by a master of classic rom-coms, George Cukor, this audacious adaptation is alive with rapturous song numbers, jaw-dropping costume designs, and the combined star power of enchanting ingenue Audrey Hepburn and the dashing Rex Harrison, who’d originated the role of Higgins on Broadway. Together, they danced into hearts of audiences and all the way to the Academy Awards, where this winsome film won 8 honors, including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture. Ever the gentleman, Harrison dedicated his win to his “two fair ladies.” He thanked not only Hepburn but also Julie Andrews, who was his Eliza on Broadway.
How to watch: My Fair Lady is streaming on Netflix.
After the smashing success of 1984’s The Terminator, James Cameron radically re-imagined the eponymous killer cyborg as a hero for a stupendous sequel. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. But instead of tracking down Sarah Connor (a returning and ripped Linda Hamilton), his mission is to protect her son (Edward Furlong), who is fated to save the human race from the rise of menacing machines. However, all his metal, muscles, and ammunition might not be enough to defeat the next generation of Terminator, the shapeshifting and seemingly unstoppable T-1000 (Robert Patrick). With outrageous action sequences, cutting-edge visual effects, iconic imagery, and a tender story of a boy and his bot, Terminator 2 became one of the rare sequels to outdo the original. It’s an action epic that defined its genre and its time.
How to watch: Terminator 2: Judgement Day is streaming on Netflix.
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.
How to watch: Monty Python and The Holy Grail is streaming on Netflix.
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 7 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
How to watch: Dances With Wolves is streaming on Netflix.
31 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.
How to watch: She’s Gotta Have It is streaming on Netflix.
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.
How to watch: Rain Man is streaming on Netflix.
If you’ve gotten into Netflix’s Cobrai Kai, now’s the time to revisit the coming-of-age gem that gave rise to it (as well as a pair of sequels also on Netflix.) In this 1984 offering, Ralph Macchio stars as 17-year-old Daniel LaRusso, a Jersey boy new to Los Angeles and struggling to find his place. That is until he crosses paths with the eccentric but wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who teaches him in the ways of karate and life. Rocky director John G. Avildsen helms another sports classic, which not only was a big hit at the box office but also earned Oscar attention. Following a warm response from critics and movie-goers, The Academy Awards honored Morita with a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Sure, he didn’t win, but the nod was “pretty okay too.”
How to watch: The Karate Kid is streaming on Netflix.
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.
How to watch: Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is streaming on Netflix.
By 1988, Robert De Niro had carved a robust reputation as a dramatic actor, bringing bravado to films like Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather: Part II, and Raging Bull. However, in this rowdy road trip movie, the Academy Award-winning actor got to show off his comedy chops, playing a bounty hunter on a hilariously out-of-hand mission. Jack Walsh needs to capture bail-jumping accountant Jonathan Mardukas (a hilariously grumbling Charles Grodin). But that’s the easy bit. Then, Jack must drag Jonathan across the country without losing his crooked quarry to the FBI, who wants Jonathan booked, or the mafia, who wants him dead. From Martin Brest, the director of Beverly Hills Cop, this outlandish action-comedy delivers car chases, gun fights, and biting banter that make it a raucous good time.
How to watch: Midnight Run is streaming on Netflix.
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