Dances with Wolves and Do the Right Thing on Netflix. Pic credit: Orion / Universal
What are the best classic movies on Netflix?
Maybe the question should be, “what is a classic movie?” For some people, a classic movie is from the ’60s or ’70s and earlier, but for some younger audience members, it could be something from as late as the ’90s, since 20-year-olds weren’t even born during the last century.
With that said, Netflix has something for everyone, but in this case, we will stick with movies that are from no later than the early ’90s, and in the case of 2020, we will cut it off in 1991.
Here is a look at 15 great classic movies you can stream right now on Netflix.
Updated in October 2021: Every month, Netflix makes major changes to its streaming service. Several movies and TV shows leave the service, replaced by a new batch of shows and movies that replaces them. This means some of our picks are no longer available.
The good news is that we check in every month to ensure that the movies on the list are current. We remove any movies that are no longer on Netflix and replace them with movies of equal or better quality to keep this as the best Netflix picks on the Internet.
Sign up for our Movie newsletter!
Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in Awakenings. Pic credit: Columbia Pictures
Penny Marshall directed the 1990 drama movie Awakenings, based on the 1973 novel of the same name.
This was a rare Robin Williams drama movie, where the actor played a neurologist named Dr. Sayer who developed a drug he gave to catatonic patients who survived an epidemic that took place between 1917 and 1928.
However, the patients wake up in 1969, after decades in the catatonic state, and have to deal with living in a very different world. However, when they learn that their revival is only temporary, the movie takes a sad turn.
The movie, based on a true story, had an incredible cast, with Robert De Niro, John Heard, Penelope Ann Miller, and Max von Sydow joining Williams. A 23-year-old Vin Diesel also has a small role in the movie.
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing. Pic credit: Universal
In 1989, Spike Lee created his masterpiece in Do the Right Thing.
The movie had a day in the life of a Bed Stuy neighborhood when the intense heat and racial tensions reached a peak. It resulted in a huge riot in the streets that concluded with the police showed up and choked one black man to death.
The movie picked up Oscar nominations was added to the Library of Congress in its first year of eligibility, and picked up a pristine Criterion release.
It hit Netflix in September 2021, allowing people to rediscover this masterwork.
Blade Runner (1982)
Harrison Ford on the Blade Runner poster. Pic credit: Warner Bros
The movie considered the seminal science fiction movie and one of the greatest in film history hit Netflix in September 2021.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is on the streaming giant, and it is the Final Cut, adding in what Scott created but the studio edited out in the original release.
Harrison Ford is Deckard, a Blade Runner whose job is to hunt down replicants – androids created to serve humanity. The replicants he is sent to take out are ones that have developed an advanced level of being and consider themselves living beings.
The one he hunts down in this movie is Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, and the entire movie is the template for what smart sci-fi should look like.
Roy Scheider in Jaws. Pic credit: Universal
One of the best horror movies of all time arrived on Netflix in September 2021.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is the movie that popularized the idea of summer blockbusters and launched Spielberg’s massively successful directing career.
The movie was about a summer beach vacation town that refused to shut down the beaches despite a shark attack. This led to more deaths and three men were sent out to try to bring down the giant Great White Shark.
This movie resulted in business in beach towns dropping for years.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Pic credit: Paramount
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a teen comedy from 1986 starring Matthew Broderick in the lead role.
In this movie, Beuller decides to skip school and enjoy a day in the town. However, while it starts out good, his principal doesn’t believe he is really sick and sets out to prove otherwise.
The movie remains a beloved comedy classic to this day, with crowd-pleasing moments and a character it is almost impossible not to follow to the ends of the Earth.
My Girl (1991)
My Girl’s first kiss. Pic credit: Columbia
Fans know Macaulay Culkin from the Christmas movie Home Alone, but he was in another movie that might be the best one he starred in as a child actor.
This was My Girl in 1991.
In this movie, Culkin starred as Thomas, and he became best friends with a young girl named Vada, played by Anna Chlumsky.
Vada is a young girl who is a hypochondriac and believes she was responsible for her mother’s death because her mom died days after giving birth to her. Her father (Dan Akyroyd) does not understand her and avoids her as a response.
Shortly after Thomas and Vada share their first kiss, tragedy strikes and it changes everyone’s lives forever.
Total Recall (1990)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. Pic credit: TriStar
Released in 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in the sci-fi movie Total Recall, by acclaimed director Paul Verhoeven.
The film takes place in 2084, and Schwarzenegger stars as a man named Douglas Quaid, who is having strange dreams about Mars.
When he decides he wants to go to a company called Rekall, which can provide memory implants to simulate vacations, something goes wrong.
Soon, people are trying to kill Douglas, and he believes he might have a past life as a secret agent that was wiped from his memory. The answers to his questions rest on Mars.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Pic credit: Warner Bros.
Clint Eastwood directed and starred in The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1976, a movie in the midst of his long run as one of western cinema’s top stars.
Eastwood is Josey Wales, a farmer whose wife and young son died at the hands of pro-Union Kayhawker militants. He then sets out for vengeance after burying them.
When the way ends, the Union offers Josey amnesty if he turns over his guns, which he refuses to do. When the surrendering Confederates are gunned down in a massacre by Union soldiers, Josey escapes.
This causes a bounty to be placed on Wales’s head and he finds himself running from bounty hunters and the Texas Rangers.
Midnight Run (1988)
Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro on a bus in Midnight Run. Pic credit: Universal
Midnight Run is a 1988 comedy action thriller with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin electrifying the screen.
The plot has a bounty hunter (De Niro) trying to bring in a mob accountant (Grodin) after he embezzled $15 million from the mob.
However, as he tries to pull off this task, they two find themselves on the run from gangsters, corrupt federal officers, and rival bounty hunters.
The deadpan humor makes this a movie that is just as fun to watch today as it was over 30 years ago.
My Fair Lady (1964)
Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Pic credit: Warner Bros
My Fair Lady was a 1964 musical drama adapted from the stage musical of the same name by George Bernard Shaw.
In the movie, Audrey Hepburn played a poor flower seller named Eliza Doolittle who has an arrogant professor named Henry Higgins make a bet that he can teach her to speak proper English to make her more “proper” in high society London.
My Fair Lady won eight Academy Awards and was named one of the best movies of all time by the American Film Institute.
Rain Man (1988)
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man. Pic credit: United Artists
Released in 1988 by Barry Levinson, Rain Man is a movie starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.
Cruise is Charlie, a wealthy and successful businessman who returns home to settle his estranged father’s estate after his death. However, he then learns he has an older brother.
This brother is Raymond, an autistic savant who lives in a mental institution. He then tries to use his brother’s skills to make money in Las Vegas, but realizes that there is more to his brother than he expected.
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. Pic credit: Orion Pictures
Kevin Costner directed and starred in Dances with Wolves in 1990, based on the novel by Michael Blake.
In the movie, Costner is a Union Army lieutenant named John J. Dunbar who travels to the American frontier, searching for a military post. Along the way, he deals with the Native American tribe, the Lakota.
Dances with Wolves received 12 Oscar nominations and won seven of them, including Best Picture and Best Director.
She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Tracy Camilla Johns in She’s Gotta Have It. Pic credit: Island Pictures
Spike Lee has become one of the top voices in African American cinema for over three decades.
Netflix subscribers can watch his newest movie, Da 5 Bloods, and now they can also watch his very first feature-length movie on the streaming giant as well.
She’s Gotta Have It was shot in black and white in 1986 and tells the story of a young woman who is dating three different men. When she is forced to make a decision, things get complicated.
There is also a Netflix original series released in 2017 based on Spike Lee’s debut film.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Pic credit: Warner Bros
The second Monty Python movie on Netflix is the Christian satire Life of Brian.
The movie tells the story of a man named Brian, a child born in the stable next to Jesus Christ. This causes the Three Wisemen to find him and initially confuse him with the King of the Jews.
Brian then falls in love with a young rebel and joins the People’s Front of Judea, a freedom movement that spends as much time in-fighting as getting anything done.
The movie found protestors from every religious sect, but it might be the funniest movie from Monty Python.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Pic credit: EMI Films
The Monty Python comedy troupe was already a legend before they started making movies with a popular and hilarious British comedy sketch series.
In 1975, they made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was a re-telling of the King Arthur legend, but in a hilarious manner.
With everything from the Knights Who Say Ni to the Black Knight, there are so many legendary moments that this is one comedy classic that stands up well 45 years later.
This might be Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin’s finest moment.