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Essential viewing: The classic films to stream now

24 Jan 2024|By Luxury London

New to My Neighbour Totoro? Never seen Pretty Woman? Fill the gaps in your cultural knowledge with the classic films available on demand now

Think you finished Netflix over Christmas? Think again. While the streaming services may prioritise their latest releases and original films, take the time to dig deep into their libraries and you’ll find a veritable treasure trove of cult classics and vintage hits waiting to be discovered. From Fellini masterpieces to award-winning anime, here are the classic films to stream now.

Pretty Woman (1990)

Starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, Pretty Woman is regarded as one of the best American rom-coms of all time – and one which catapulted Roberts onto the world stage. Following Hollywood escort Vivian Ward and wealthy businessman Edward Lewis, the plot sees Ward become Lewis’ escort for the week, during which their relationship blossoms and previous misconceptions about class and sex work dissolve. The film’s title is based on the 1964 song Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison (we have no doubt you’ll be singing it all day long after watching) and saw the highest number of ticket sales in the US ever for a romantic comedy. Pass the popcorn…

Where to watch: Netflix

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Widely regarded as one of the best films ever made, Lawrence of Arabia has several accolades to its name, including being nominated for 10 Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards in 1963, winning seven including Best Picture and Best Director. The film is based on the life of T. E. Lawrence and his 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which details his experiences in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Strap yourself in for a long afternoon as, although this film is culturally iconic, it also lasts more than three hours. We think it’s worth it.

Where to watch: Netflix

Citizen Kane (1941)

An Orson Welles masterpiece that was nominated for nine Oscars, Citizen Kane has become something of a rite of passage in the world of film. In just under two hours, you’re transported to 1940s America where the death of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane sends the publishing world in a spin. As a series of reporters scramble to write the story, one reporter is intrigued by the dying Kane’s last word — rosebud — and aims to find a new angle and uncover more about the life of one of America’s most powerful men. As one of the most influential films of all time — in terms of cinematography and editing — Citizen Kane is a must-watch.

Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

There was always going to be a Spielberg flick on this list but perhaps Close Encounters of the Third Kind isn’t the one you were expecting – especially as Netflix has dozens of movies from the director available. Close Encounters, however, earns its place for being a brilliant showcase of a then-young Spielberg’s undeniable talent and for displaying the ease with which he side-steps Second Album Syndrome after the success of 1975’s Jaws. Telling the story of an ordinary man caught in extraordinary, extraterrestrial circumstances, it also created a sci-fi framework referenced by modern filmmakers to this day.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

8 1⁄2 (1963)

This multi-award-winning comedy-drama by Italian director Federico Fellini is often voted as one of the best films of all time – so if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? Following creatively blocked director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) as he attempts to create an epic sci-fi film, 8 1/2 is noted as much for its surreal, dream-like storytelling and exquisite costumes as it is for Fellini’s highly influential directorial choices.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

If you’ve yet to discover the fantastical world of Japanese anime, allow Netflix, and its extensive catalogue of Studio Ghibli films, to educate you. Widely considered to be one of the finest animation studios in history, you’ll likely recognise its signature style (even if only for its collaborations with Loewe). Regularly topping ‘Best Animated Film’ lists, My Neighbour Totoro is a brilliant entry point to the Studio Ghibli oeuvre and tells the story of a young girl who, after moving to a new home with her ill mother, befriends a tree-dwelling spirit named Totoro.

Where to watch: Netflix

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

Think a film has to be all big ideas, dramatic shots and challenging storylines to count as a classic? We couldn’t disagree more. If you’re looking for a little light entertainment that still falls squarely within the must-see category allow us to point you in the direction of While You Were Sleeping. This ‘90s rom-com garnered Sandra Bullock a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Lucy, a train fare collector mistaken for the fiancée of a man she saves from falling on the tracks. Hilarity, a struggle to maintain her new identity and an inevitable happy ending ensue.

Where to watch: Disney+

Taxi Driver (1976)

Thanks to its deal with Sky Cinema, Now TV is home to a huge cache of classic movies – from The Godfather trilogy to the complete Indiana Jones box set. It is Scorsese’s psychological thriller, however, that stands out as the must-watch. Admittedly, some aspects of the film haven’t aged well (particularly the casting of a 12-year-old Jodie Foster as a prostitute) and, if you’re averse to violence, this might not be the movie for you. As a piece of stellar filmmaking supported by Oscar-winning performances, however, this story of a troubled and lonely Vietnam vet (Robert De Niro) slowly descending into insanity has more than earned its place in the cinema hall of fame.

Where to watch: Now TV

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s small-budget, big-impact debut launched his career and has, so far, spawned no fewer than two television adaptations. Exploring the moral quandary of a woman dating three men, but refusing to commit to any one of them, the film was considered revolutionary for its centring of a female African-American voice and its progressive views towards female sexuality. A labour of love, Lee had to beg, borrow and steal the film’s $175,000 budget – and was rewarded with a picture that eventually grossed more than $7 million.

Where to watch: Netflix

To Catch A Thief (1955)

There are some Hitchcock greats available across the streaming services – The Birds, The 39 Steps and Psycho to name a few – but, for us, it will be the glamour, suspense and romance of To Catch A Thief every time. Starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, this timeless tale of a retired jewel thief on a mission to prove his innocence is quintessential Golden Age of Hollywood viewing. The sharp suits, breathtaking ballgowns and stunning French Riviera backdrop don’t hurt either.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Great Escape (1963)

This iconic Steve McQueen wartime adventure really needs no introduction but, if you live with a partner or have children yet to be introduced to its delights, may we suggest you rectify that with haste. Based on Paul Brickhill’s book of the same name, The Great Escape recounts the real-life events that led to a mass escape of British Commonwealth prisoners of war from the German Stalag Luft III camp during World War II. Undoubtedly an inspiring story, it's also worth watching for that famous motorcycle chase scene alone.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Princess Bride (1987)

A sleeper hit that only achieved modest box office success when it was first released, Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is now considered to be one the greatest comedy films of all time, having built an avid cult following over the past three decades. With a starry cast that includes a (very) young Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, André the Giant, Carol Kane, Wallace Shawn and Mandy Patinkin, this quirky take on the traditional fairytale is full of outsized performances, escapist plot lines and memorable catchphrases you’ll be quoting long after the credits have rolled.

Where to watch: Disney+

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