Are you looking for the best classic movies to watch? For film lovers, discovering older movies that have gone overlooked is pure joy! For the purposes of this list, we’ve found some hidden gems to share with you along with well-known classics that every cinephile should see. These movies tell powerful stories in innovative and provocative ways all while dazzling audiences and asking them to think more deeply about this world.
We have curated a very fine list of classic movies to watch on a rainy day or whenever you are in the mood for something potent. Most of these films were intended for the cinema so do yourself a favor and put away your phone, remove as many distractions as possible, and really focus on these mesmerizing movies. Let’s get rolling!
Check Out These Classic Movies to Watch for Film Lovers
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
One of the classic movies to watch if you’re interested in Film Noir, The Maltese Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart as a detective who is in search of a priceless statuette along with some eccentric and unsavory criminals. As you watch the movie, you’ll quickly realize that hundreds of other movies have referenced this film and its mysterious shots.
Rear Window (1954)
Starring Grace Kelly and James Stewart, Rear Window is one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s finest films. The film centers around a wheelchair-bound photographer who watches his neighbors from his apartment window. After a series of events, he becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. Do yourself a favor and watch this thriller if you’ve never seen it before. It’s delightful.
Nights of Cabiria (1957)
One of Italy’s most celebrated filmmakers, Federico Fellini, gets a great deal of attention for his films 8 1/2 & La Dolce Vita but his most intimate work, Nights of Cabiria, proves the most touching. The film follows a prostitute in Rome who is looking for love but only finds heartache. This gorgeous film is vibrating with life, music, and romance – all the things that Cabiria (played brilliantly by Giuletta Masina) searches for but never obtains.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Boogie Nights is one of the classic movies to watch when you want to see a train crash in slow motion. It has so many bright actors in it from Burt Reynolds to Julianne Moore that it’s easy to forget just how dark the film becomes by its conclusion. The Adult Entertainment industry of 1970s California is just as wild as you’d expect in this drama from Paul Thomas Anderson.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
One of the classic movies to watch when you want to sleep with the lights on for a few nights is The Silence of the Lambs. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins deliver some of the best performances of their careers in this horror movie that went on to sweep at the Academy Awards in 1992. You likely know about Hannibal the Cannibal even if you’ve never seen this film because it’s such a cultural touchstone.
Easy Rider (1969)
One of the classic movies to watch if you’d like to understand the ethos of the 1960s, Easy Rider delivers commentary on American culture at the time and the rise of counterculture movements that go against the grain and flourished at the time. The soundtrack, visuals, and performances are truly iconic. Give it a shot!
The Graduate (1967)
The word “dramedy” gets thrown around a lot today but it feels particularly appropriate for The Graduate, which is hilariously biting yet full of certified drama. We find Benjamin played by a young Dustin Hoffman who has no particular aim in life after college graduation. He begins an affair with an older woman only to become obsessed with her daughter. The movie is widely regarded as one of the best American films ever made, making it one of the classic movies to watch!
Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
A disillusioned restaurant server named Bonnie falls for an ex-con named Clyde. Together, the young, passionate pair embark on a violent crime spree that finds them stealing cars, robbing banks, and causing chaos in rural America. This movie from 1967 is surprisingly sexy and it should be lumped in with other edgy dramas released in the decade like Easy Rider and The Graduate even though it has not received the same acclaim.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Perhaps one of the best movie adaptations of a book ever made, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stars Jack Nicholson as Randle, a criminal who pleads insanity to avoid a prison sentence. He’s admitted into a mental institution and despite the watchful eye of Nure Ratched, he manages to stir up plenty of trouble.
The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) (1959)
The 400 Blows is François Truffaut‘s directorial debut and one of the entries of the French New Wave canon. The film is widely regarded as one of the most influential French films ever made. The film follows a rebellious boy living in Paris who clashes with just about every other character in the movie. This is one of the classic movies to watch with a mature young person (we imagine if this film were rated today it would be PG-13) as they will likely connect deeply with the main character.
Masculin Féminin (1966)
Another extremely influential director whose films also fall into the French New Wave category, Jean-Luc Godard knocked it out of the park with his film Masculin Féminin when it premiered in 1966. The movie loosely follows Paul a fighter who has returned to France following his service. We get a look into the love lives of young Parisians at the time as they share their views on the topic. Highly political and charged with the essence of the 1960s, it’s one of the classic movies to watch if you want to get tangled up into the personal lives of Parisians of the day.
Mamma Roma (1962)
One of the very best Italian films that many Americans have never had the pleasure of seeing is Mamma Roma written and directed by the celebrated poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. Like his poetry, Mamma Roma feels lyrical and operatic. The film follows a single mother who has made a better life for herself after working as a prostetute to stay afloat. Her son finds out about his mother’s secret and film deals with the fallout. The film was picketed by fascists at its premier and Pasolini was attacked by them!
“Snap out of it!” Cher is a dream in this 80s romance film that also stars Nicolas Cage. Cher plays Loretta Castorini a bookkeeper who falls for the brother of the man she is engaged to marry. Come for Cher and stay for the legendary Olympia Dukakis. It’s one of the best classic movies to watch for fun.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Another one of the great classic movies to watch for tons of fun is My Big Fat Greek Wedding which was a sleeper hit following its premiere and it became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time! It’s full of laughs and plenty of heart. Nia Vardalos is absolutely on fire in the movie, which she also wrote. It’s one that will never let you down!
Double Indemnity (1944)
If you watched The Maltese Falcon and are craving more Film Noir, try Double Indemnity next! Barbara Stanwyck plays a seductive housewife who talks an insurance representative into involving himself in a murder plot that would see a big insurance payout. If you’d like a textbook definition of Noir it’s one of the classic movies to watch for those dark shadows and steamy conversations.
One of cinema’s most influential filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa, delivered a masterpiece when Rashomon premiered in 1950. It’s a psychological thriller about a heinous crime that’s seen through four different character’s perspectives. It takes the idea of an unreliable narrator and runs with it! It’s one of the best classic movies to watch if you loved Fight Club.
Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) (1985)
For all the attention that directors Truffaut and Godard get for their contributions to French New Wave cinema, no other director innovated and worked in the space so tirelessly as Agnes Varda. If you haven’t seen her films yet, consider starting with Vagabond. The film begins with a young woman’s frozen body being discovered in a ditch. Then, through flashbacks and interviews, the story of how she met that fate is told. After you fall in love with this movie, try Cleo from 5 to 7 next.
The Shining (1980)
If you’re looking for classic movies to watch and have yet to watch all of Stanley Kubrick‘s major films, you better remedy that! The Shining is considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Kubrick himself is considered one of the cinematic world’s most influential artists, so you know you’re in for a chilling treat. The movie follows a family who moves to a hotel to care for it during the off-season. Supernatural events begin to haunt members of the family of three and the hotel itself begins to feel like an antagonist. If it doesn’t scare you to death, you will love this film for years to come.
2001: A Space Oddysey (1968)
Let’s keep with Kubrick for a moment as he has so many classic movies to watch. 2001: A Space Oddysey is a touch arty in comparison to The Shining. However, both are rather terrifying. 2001 is a meditation on evolution and humanity. Are the two things inextricable? Do computers also have a desire to survive and evolve? This forward-thinking film tries to answer those questions all while delivering some of the most iconic imagery ever put to film.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Audiences weren’t ready for A Clockwork Orange when it premiered in 1971. In the UK, Kubrick even had the film pulled from cinemas following an outcry over its graphic violence. Needless to say, it’s one of the classic movies to watch for adults only as it does get very rough. The film follows an evil gang leader in the near future who is imprisoned and undergoes a violence-aversion treatment that does not go as planned.
If you love classical music, Amadeus is one of the classic movies to watch. The film follows the troubled life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as told by his rival Antonio Salieri, who claimed he murdered the genius composer. This film is somehow timeless and perfectly indicative of the 1980s.
West Side Story (1961)
If you’re craving a musical then you’ve got some classical movies to watch! So many of the best movie musicals were filmed decades ago. West Side Story is one such film that captures all of the energy of youth. Two star-crossed lovers from rival New York City gangs try their best to honor their feelings for one another despite the external forces that want to tear them apart. If you’ve never seen this treasure, something’s coming, something good.
The Sound of Music (1965)
We could just write “Julie Andrews” and be done with it, but The Sound of Music is a landmark musical movie that deserves further praise. The film follows a nun who gets a job as a nanny for a wealthy, widowed, Naval officer. Her quirky antics endear her to the children in her care and garner reluctant attraction from said officer. The music and scenery are lush and Andrews is dynamite.
We’re not sure what we did to deserve Frances McDormand but if you have not yet seen her in one of her best-known performances as Marge Gunderson, get your eyes in front of a screen that’s playing Fargo. If you’re looking for classic movies to watch that have it all, look no further than Fargo. It’s funny, thrilling, at times surreal, and most importantly it is told with tons of heart.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
If you are looking for classic movies to watch with a lot of moving parts look no further than The Grand Budapest Hotel. One of Wes Anderson‘s most ambitious films, TGBH recounts the history of a high-class European hotel and the people who once ran it and kept their eccentric clients happy. There’s intrigue, art theft, family infighting, and so much action mixed with plenty of laughs in this amazing movie.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
An important film that felt timely during the Civil Rights Era and, unfortunately, still does, In the Heat of the Night tells the story of a Black detective from Philadelphia who becomes involved with the investigation of a murder in a small town in Mississippi. Sidney Poitier is unshakable in this drama that shows the difficulties Black Americans face in certain small towns full of people with small minds. In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Billy Elliot (2000)
We’re not sure how this coming-of-age dance drama manages to lodge itself so deeply in your heart but it has stuck with us for decades. The film follows a young boy from a working-class family in Northern England who discovers a passion for dance. As he grows up and gets serious about the art, he is torn between pursuing dance or appealing to his disintegrating family. It’s one of the classic movies to watch to remind you to always follow your dreams.
Chances are you fell in love with Moonlight instantly after seeing it. But, we encourage you to revisit this drama and really take a deeper look at the amazing cinematography, lighting, and editing that have been expertly employed. Another coming-of-age drama, Moonlight is one of the classic movies to watch for the characters but stay for the exquisite filmmaking. We imagine this movie will age into the title of one of the most important, beautiful, and insightful ones ever made.
The Hours (2002)
The Hours tells the story of the lives of three women from three different generations all connected by Virginia Woolf‘s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The sense of longing is palpable in this film that finds Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore showcasing their very best acting chops. Try and find a better-acted movie, we dare you!
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Mulholland Drive is one of the classic movies to watch if you want to understand how dream logic can inform the structure of a narrative film. To try and describe the plot of this film would be a disservice as no two people will see it the same way. Beautiful, disarming, puzzling, and chilling, Mulholland Drive is a movie that defies convention while playing into it.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Another film by David Lynch, Blue Velvet is slightly more tethered to reality but ever so. It’s one of the classic movies to watch if you would like to be thoroughly creeped out. After finding a severed head, a young man investigates a beautiful nightclub singer who is mixed up with a group of unhinged criminals who he discovers have kidnapped her child. The movie is as much an indictment on the idealization of small-town America as it is a look into the darkest desires of men.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Kathryn Bigelow, who had a background as a painter before trying her hand at filmmaking, became the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director for her incredible work on the war drama The Hurt Locker. It’s one of the classic movies to watch if you want to break a sweat as it contains some of the most tension-filled scenes in cinematic history. The movie follows an elite squad of soldiers in Iraq who are tasked with disarming bombs. It’s a remarkable movie and unlike any war film you will ever see.
The Piano Teacher (La pianiste) (2001)
One of the world’s greatest living actors, Isabelle Huppert, plays a masochistic piano teacher in this bleak drama from Micahel Haneke. If you’d like to see how a long take is done, The Piano Teacher is one of the classic movies to watch. The teacher becomes “romantically” involved with an attractive young man who insists on taking piano lessons from her. However, her own personal struggles make it impossible for the affair to continue.
Just watch everything Micahel Haneke has ever directed. You won’t be disappointed with his style of filmmaking which feels so casually European and open to interpretation. Amour is one of his more straightforward movies about an aging couple, Anne and Goerges, who live in Paris. After Anne suffers a stroke, their bond is severely tested. The film is a meditation on aging, romance, and how love can change the roles we play in a relationship overnight.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo) (1970)
In Italy, there is an entire genre of film and literature called Giallo. These murder mysteries are slightly campy, slightly smutty, and a whole lot of fun for audiences to try and solve. One of the genre’s most prolific directors, Dario Argento helmed The Bird with the Crystal Plumage which is a slick crime caper with one very good twist ending. It’s one of the best whodunnit movies you will ever lay eyes on.
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Set in 1902, Daughters of the Dust explores the African folkways that persisted off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia well into the 20th century. Learn about the Gullah culture in this meditative film written and directed by Julie Dash.
When was the last time you watched a silent movie? Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang is one of the finest ever made and a perfect example of German Expressionism. Despite being released almost 100 years ago, this film feels extremely relevant today as it deals with class, wealth inequality, and many other themes that modern societies still grapple with. Metropolis proves one of the most important and influential films that is still referenced today!
Another film from Lang, M, was the director’s first sound film. It’s one of the earliest examples of a crime procedural and it holds up incredibly well. The film follows the hunt for a murderer who preys on children. It’s one of the classic movies to watch if you really want to understand film history and why we love crime dramas so very much.
Dancer In the Dark (2000)
One of the most haunting and original movie musicals you will ever see comes from Lars von Trier who wrote and directed Dancer in the Dark. The film stars Bjork who gives one of the most heartbreaking performances ever put to film. She plays Selma, a single mother, who travels to the US from Eastern Europe for work and to support her son. She works in a factory but that opportunity begins to fade as her failing eyesight makes it impossible for her to perform her duties. What will she do to survive? It’s unlike any musical you have ever seen as it is not all happy songs and chorus numbers (although there are some to be enjoyed).
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The Wizard of Oz (1939)
We recommend a few heavy-hitters up to this point and we’d like to lighten up with a movie that’s one of America’s most beloved classics. The Wizard of Oz is the gold standard as far as movie musicals go. The film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy a young girl who is transported from her Kansas home to the magical Land of Oz. She teams with a ragtag group to confront the Wizard and ask to return her home. It’s one of the classic movies to watch if you’re craving escapism and fantasy.
There you go! We hope you enjoyed these classic movies to watch and found some titles that you might not have heard of before. These classic films were not all instantly considered must-watch movies. But, by today’s standards, they are regarded as important works of art worthy of your time. For the love of movies, please give some of these a shot and you might be surprised how they will help you perceive the world we live in new ways.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
- 1 Check Out These Classic Movies to Watch for Film Lovers
- 1.1 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- 1.2 Rear Window (1954)
- 1.3 Nights of Cabiria (1957)
- 1.4 Boogie Nights (1997)
- 1.5 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
- 1.6 Easy Rider (1969)
- 1.7 The Graduate (1967)
- 1.8 Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
- 1.9 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
- 1.10 The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) (1959)
- 1.11 Masculin Féminin (1966)
- 1.12 Mamma Roma (1962)
- 1.13 Moonstruck (1987)
- 1.14 My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
- 1.15 Double Indemnity (1944)
- 1.16 Rashomon (1950)
- 1.17 Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi) (1985)
- 1.18 The Shining (1980)
- 1.19 2001: A Space Oddysey (1968)
- 1.20 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
- 1.21 Amadeus (1984)
- 1.22 West Side Story (1961)
- 1.23 The Sound of Music (1965)
- 1.24 Fargo (1996)
- 1.25 The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
- 1.26 In the Heat of the Night (1967)
- 1.27 Billy Elliot (2000)
- 1.28 Moonlight (2016)
- 1.29 The Hours (2002)
- 1.30 Mulholland Drive (2001)
- 1.31 Blue Velvet (1986)
- 1.32 The Hurt Locker (2008)
- 1.33 The Piano Teacher (La pianiste) (2001)
- 1.34 Amour (2012)
- 1.35 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo) (1970)
- 1.36 Daughters of the Dust (1991)
- 1.37 Metropolis (1927)
- 1.38 M (1931)
- 1.39 Dancer In the Dark (2000)
- 1.40 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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