Netflix is a decidedly modern way to watch a movie, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great way to enjoy a timeless flick. For a tech company, Netflix seems to have a healthy appreciation for the films that Hollywood made in its Golden Age. And among the black-and-white marvels and Humphrey Bogart classics are a few gems that are particularly great, which is why we’re here to share the best classic films on Netflix with you. These are the movies that have been waiting decades for you to watch them, and we think you will find that they’re worth the wait.
The Best Classic Movies on Netflix
The African Queen is a John Huston-directed action flick based on a C.S. Forester novel. Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are both superb in this film (though neither is the titular African Queen — that’s Bogey’s boat), which pits the personality of an uptight Brit against that of a rough and rude boat captain. Do they fall in love? Well, it’s classic Hollywood — what do you think?
The Battle of Midway was a turning point in World War II, and was actually captured on film by director John Ford. If you think that filming a major naval battle sounds like a dangerous job, you’re right: Ford was wounded by shrapnel and earned a Purple Heart in the battle. This is a documentary film (not to be confused with 1976’s Midway). It’s short- just 18 minutes — but it marks a historic moment in documentary film-making. Some of John Ford’s Hollywood buddies, including Henry Fonda, provide the voice-overs.
Classic sci-fi is wonderful to watch. Vintage costumes and old-school futurism look fantastic and oddly compelling in black and white, and it’s incredible to see the ways in which our visions of the future have changed, stayed the same, been proven wrong, or come true. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a 1951 sci-fi classic about a messenger from another world who arrives to tell mankind to stop being so violent. A soldier shoots the visitor, which is not the best way to react when you’re being told to be less violent. For the rest of the plot, you’ll have to watch the film.
Fantasia is Disney’s classic musical film, which features a series of animated shorts set to music from different classical composers. Fantasia includes some of Disney’s most iconic scenes, including “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (that’s the one with Mickey enchanting the mops and carry buckets). Fantasia has aged quite well, and it’s hard to believe that it was really made way back in 1940.
Classic sci-fi doesn’t get any more classic than Metropolis. The 1927 film envisions a dystopian future filled with robots and oppression — and all shot in 1920s black and white film, of course. Metropolis is one of the most influential films of all time, which is why scholars and fans have long lamented the loss of the original version. A series of cuts have attempted to replicate the version that premiered in the 1920s, and the version that Netflix has in its catalog — Metropolis Restored — is considered the most accurate ever put together. You’ll find the film titled that way (with the “Restored” in it) in Netflix’s menus, though the film itself is still called just Metropolis.
Hollywood loves looking at itself. That’s nothing new: there are plenty of movies about Hollywood’s glitzy appeal and depressing dark side that are almost as old as the Hollywood sign. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps the most famous of all of them. The characters are a struggling screenwriter trying to build his career and a past-her-prime actress trying to revive hers. But Hollywood is a cutthroat place, and director Billy Wilder — a Hollywood legend who began his career by making film noir classics and tackling tough subjects like alcoholism — isn’t afraid to show its ugly side.
Before the Lindsay Lohan re-make, this 1961 classic introduced the world to the story of two long-lost twins who meet and concoct a plan to get their parents back together. The Parent Trap was a hit from the start, giving Walt Disney and his company yet another big success and setting up the re-make that children of the 90s may remember well.
White Christmas is probably not streamed very often during the summer months, but it’s a must-watch in winter. Bing Crosby is, of course, the star of this film. Bing plays one of two soldiers who try to woo a pair of sisters, following them to a resort that seems a world apart from the snowy Christmases that many of us are used to. White Christmas is great, so check it out — and if it’s July when you read this, well, who’s going to know?