Essential viewing: The classic movies to stream now

Zoe Dickens

25 January 2021

New to My Neighbour Totoro? Never seen She’s Gotta Have It? Use those long lockdown hours to fill the gaps in your cultural knowledge with the classic films available on demand now

25 January 2021 | Zoe Dickens

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 Hitchcock thrillers and Fellini masterpieces to award-winning anime, here are the classic movies to stream now.

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: Netflix

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 it’s 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 recent collaboration 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 Film 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 before lockdown ends. 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: Netflix

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+

Trading Places (1983)

An Eddie Murphy prince-and-the-pauper movie about trading orange juice futures on the New York Stock Exchange? Stay with us because this is an economics-based comedy we guarantee you’ll enjoy. Starring Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy commodities broker who trades places with Murphy’s poor street hustler, with each intent on proving they can thrive in the other’s shoes, the film heavily references the tropes of the screwball comedies of the ‘30s and 40s to great effect. It was also responsible for launching the career of Jamie Lee Curtis (then best known for her roles in the derided horror genre) who, alongside Denholm Elliott, received a BAFTA nomination for her supporting role.

Where to watch: Now TV

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