As Netflix shifts its focus to original programming and wrangles with licensing deals, it has dumped hundreds of fantastic screen classics — some TV shows and many movies — in the past couple of years. From an initial shortlist of about 300 casualties, we selected the very best shows and films no longer available for binging on Netflix. In fairness, Netflix never had all of these titles at the same time; they've come and gone based on licensing deals. Some of these lost titles may return someday, at least for a while.
Few options are as economical as Netflix's unlimited streaming at $9 per month, but if you want to catch these old and recent classics, you can find them online (and legally), often at reasonable prices. (All prices are for HD versions, whenever available.)
1) 24, Seasons 1-8
Premiering in 2001 as the U.S. was gripped by the tragedy of terrorism, this real-time thriller follows Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), director of field ops for the counterterrorist unit of Los Angeles. Bauer was a hero to some and a warning to others of the extent that law enforcement might go to protect the homeland.
2) Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009 reboot)
A massive nuclear attack wipes out billions of humans living lives very much like our own, but light-years away — forcing the few thousand survivors to flee across the galaxy. A militaristic society of mechanical and humanoid robots is first portrayed as the villains. But as the treachery of the human survivors blossoms, the lines between good and evil blur. (Season "0," a four-part miniseries, is much cheaper than the others.)
3) Chappelle’s Show, Seasons 1-3
Comedian Dave Chappelle blew up television in 2003 with this boundary-obliterating show that used outlandish skits to probe deeply controversial topics, including sexual assault, racism and slavery. Chappelle had a personal breakdown at the beginning of Season 3 (hence the low price for its few episodes), unfortunately ending a brilliant comic run.
4) Desperate Housewives
Winning 60 awards, including Emmys and Golden Globes, this dramedy probes the dirty secrets of a group of friends living on a seemingly idyllic suburban lane. The show is narrated by the spirit of Mary Alice, whose suicide in episode one throws the whole community into turmoil.
5) Doctor Who (Seasons 1-9)
A reboot of the outlandish 50-year-old British sci-fi franchise, the "New Who" keeps some of the cheesy props and characters for camp effect but ups the quality with top-flight talent such as Royal Shakespeare Co. actor David Tennant and Sherlock creator Steven Moffat. Doctor Who can be schlocky at times, but its best episodes are deep meditations on death, humanity and the human propensity for both good and evil.
6) King of the Hill
This thoughtful dramedy about a lower-middle-class family in conservative Texas also happens to be a cartoon. Unlike so much animated fare (South Park, Family Guy) King of the Hill portrays lifelike characters dealing with real-world dilemmas. But it still has enough whacky neighbors and awkward situations to provide comic relief.
7) Law & Order
The seemingly eternal procedural crime drama is a staple of cable rerun marathons. But after Netflix dropped the seasons it had, it became not so easy to binge. No one seems to have all 20 seasons in online form, but Hulu provides all of the series' beloved spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU).
8) Pushing Daisies
The fittingly short-lived cult favorite follows Ned the Piemaker, a baker who solves murder mysteries by using his ability to bring victims back from the dead simply by touching them. A second touch, however, kills them forever. Ned succeeds in bringing back his childhood love, and they begin a bittersweet relationship in which they can never touch again.
9) Saturday Night Live
Not much needs to be said about the long-running sketch comedy series that is still a touchstone for commentary and lampooning of the events of the week more than 40 years later. SNL was the launchpad for generations of way too many comic superstars to list. For fans, the old episodes are like origin stories for their comic heroes.
10) South Park
This rude, dirty animated series uses outrageous situations and potty humor to make very clever critiques of culture and politics. It even bred a surprisingly good video game. Were it just a vehicle of crass humor, South Park might not have lasted nearly two decades (and counting); but its ability to get people thinking, as well as laughing and groaning, keeps it a favorite.
1) Being John Malkovich
Somehow, this incredibly absurdist tale got made into a mainstream movie with top-flight actors, and the world is a better place because of it. John Cusack and Cameron Diaz (made up so unattractively that they are hard to recognize at first) star as a hapless couple that finds a new perspective and capabilities by getting inside actor John Malkovich's head — literally.
2) Best in Show
Even the people he makes fun of often admire how Christopher Guest "gets" their subculture. In perhaps his best mockumentary, Guest lovingly spoofs the world of show dogs and their obsessive owners, played by Guest and regular collaborators, including Parker Posey, Eugene Levy and Fred Willard.
3) The Big Lebowski
This brilliant farce about a group of California losers obsessed with bowling introduced one of the most enduring cultural icons, The Dude. Mistakenly mixed up in a criminal plot, the stoned, drunken, absurdly dressed Dude and his pals are pulled into hilarious adventures.
4) The Breakfast Club
The defining film of Generation X is an unblinking view of the pressures and pettiness of high school life and the social stereotypes that seem impossible to escape from. Both comedic and melancholy, it's also a triumph of storytelling, as it's sustained almost entirely by the awkward conversations of five kids in an empty library.
Philip Seymour Hoffman earned the Academy Award for Best Actor for embodying eccentric, flamboyant writer Truman Capote during his descent into horror writing his true-crime masterpiece "In Cold Blood."
6) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director Ang Lee's epic of flying warriors in ancient China blew away concepts of the martial arts flick. It's curious that Netflix dropped this film, as it's just produced its own sequel to the film.
7) Donnie Darko
This kind-of-sci-fi cult favorite is almost impossible to describe, except that it devastates so many perceptions and myths of "normal" American life in its 1980s setting. It's even launched fan projects to try to decode the complex, fantastical scientific and spiritual plotlines.
While this is not the Coen brothers' first film, this very dark comedy about deceit and murder blasted the writer-directors to pop cultural fixtures. The story of a spineless car salesman whose lame-brained get-rich scheme leads to a spree of carnage casts doubts on the morals of society. It also inspired a brilliant new TV series.
9) The Fifth Element
Don't worry too much about the "logic" behind this story; just enjoy the crazy antics and gorgeous visuals in director Luc Besson's interstellar farce. A young Milla Jovovich plays supreme being Leeloo, who can save the Earth from destruction — but only if cabbie (and former military agent) Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) can keep her alive. Chris Tucker steals much of the film as hypersexual, androgynous radio host Ruby Rhod.
10) The Graduate
"There's a great future in plastics. Think about it." That often-quoted line from The Graduate is an encapsulation of the film's comical critique of middle-class America in the 1960s. The tale, focused on an affair between a college-grad slacker and a somewhat older woman tears the facade of normality off of suburban life.
11) Groundhog Day
In what could be a plotline from Doctor Who, a cynical weatherman (played by Bill Murray) gets stuck in a time loop and is forced to live the same day over and over again until he gets it right. His tasks include winning the love of his colleague Rita (Andie MacDowell). Murray's dry humor helps project an aura of cruel irony rather than sci-fi fantasy. Kudos to writer-director Harold Ramis for crafting so many variations on the same day and keeping each one interesting and hilarious.
12) The Hurt Locker
Jeremy Renner became an instant A-lister by playing this danger-addicted bomb diffuser in Iraq. Unlike American Sniper, The Hurt Locker doesn't attempt to impose any moral direction on the Mesopotamian quagmire. War is not only brutal but often meaningless. The hero's main purpose in life is to continually push his luck.
13) Million Dollar Baby
Yes, it pushes the boundaries of sentimentality, but this multi-Oscar winner features one of the most compelling tragic heroes of cinema in this young century. Hilary Swank earned her statuette playing a downtrodden athlete with unflappable determination and a dream of being the world's top woman boxer.
14) The Right Stuff
Based on the book by Tom Wolfe, this 1983 movie focuses on the men, rather than on the machines, of the early space program. The movie explores the prerequisite wealth of arrogance in test pilots such as Chuck Yeager and Mercury 7 astronauts such as Alan Shepard and John Glenn. Despite the shiny veneer created by the government and the press in the 1960s, NASA's early years were marked by confusion in the face of daunting challenges, and its astronauts, despite their celebrity status, were flawed. The great cast includes Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Barbara Hershey.
15) Sense and Sensibility
Based on Jane Austen's novel, this film tells the tale of societal constraints and star-crossed love as only 19th century bourgeois England can. Left impoverished by cruel rules of inheritance, Fanny Dashwood and her three daughters struggle to stay afloat. Mrs. Dashwood wants to marry off her daughters to the "right" suitors — but not necessarily the ones the daughters prefer.
16) The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins scared the bejesus out of audiences as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer so clever and perverse that he must (or, at least, really should) remain in an airtight cell in order to keep the world safe. Locked up, Lecter is not the perpetrator of a current string of murders but rather an adviser to detective Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster.
17) Star Trek II
The best of the early Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan pits Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) against his old foe — genetically engineered madman Khan Noonien Singh, played with malicious campiness by Ricardo Montalban. Emerging from an exile Kirk placed him in during the original series, Khan seeks revenge on Kirk and his crew with a plan to hijack the Genesis Project, a device that can seed life on dead planets.
You will believe a man can fly when you watch Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman. Long before the superhero movie renaissance of the modern day, the incomparable Christopher Reeve starred as Superman: the last son of a distant world known as Krypton, whose exposure to Earth’s yellow sun grants him fantastic powers. When Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) concocts a deadly real estate swindle, it’s a classic battle of good versus evil, complete with a script from Godfather scribe Mario Puzo.
19) Taxi Driver
Director Martin Scorsese laid bare the sleazy brutality of 1970s New York City and the psychological toll of the Vietnam War in this tale of mentally unstable cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). The Bickle character became a topic of fascination as the inspiration for Reagan attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr., who became obsessed with De Niro's young co-star, Jodie Foster.
20) Team America: World Police
South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone lambast the War on Terror with this elaborate puppet show about a super-paramilitary force. Team America fights stereotypical Islamist terrorists around the world — often doing as much damage in the process as the bad guys. Parker and Stone are equal-opportunity satirists, taking on both American jingoism and pacifism. Despite the puppets, Team America is not for kids. The characters drop as many F-bombs as conventional bombs. The movie features over-the-top puppet violence and, yes, puppet sex.
- Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
- Best Movies and TV Shows on Netflix Streaming Right Now
- How to Stream Video to Your TV