The best from 9 years ago and older
What separates a good movie from a classic one? Whether you're seeking high art, unforgettable thrills or just something you can watch again and again, Netflix hosts dozens of movies with well-earned reputations for excellence. Wind the clock back a few years and discover which films, across a wide variety of genres, have captivated audiences for years, and will most likely do so for years to come.
Credit: Criterion Collection
Ip Man — Action — 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Donnie Yen stars as Ip Man, a real-life Wing Chun master, in Wilson Yip's film named after the legendary martial artist. During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, the Japanese occupy a Chinese town with a martial arts school. When an occupying colonel wants Ip Man, a gifted fighter and instructor, to teach Japanese soldiers, Ip faces both internal and external struggles for his honor.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — Romantic Comedy/Action — 81% Rotten Tomatoes
Director Edgar Wright is best-known for his Shaun of the Dead, but his best film is arguably this adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels of the same name. A romantic comedy that skews to the 8-bit crowd, the film focuses on Scott, who falls in love with Ramona, a sub-space-travelling messenger. But in order to date her, and figure out how he's kind of a bad boyfriend himself, Scott's given a nearly impossible test: beat her 7 evil exes in tests of combat. And if that's not enough of a story to get you to click play, you hear digital coins fall on the ground each time Scott wins a battle.
Credit: Universal Pictures
Coraline — Animated — 90% Rotten Tomatoes
Based on a Neil Gaiman novel, the wondrous stop-motion animation film Coraline captures the feeling of being a kid and wishing there was a better world to escape to. Its titular protagonist Coraline Jones finds this world in Ashland, Oregon of all places, thanks to a doll that convinces her to open a door in living room. Beyond that door, Coraline meets alternate universe versions of everyone she knows that convince her to stay, until she discovers the price for crossing over.
Credit: Galvin Collins/Laika
Moon — Science Fiction — 90% Rotten Tomatoes
Since Stanley Kubrick passed, many wondered who would take up the mantle for introspective sci-fi he left behind. Moon, a meticulously crafted, methodically paced drama, positioned director Duncan Jones as the heir to the throne. The film stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut on the far side of the moon, who lives a solitary life mining helium-3, with a robot named GERTY as his only companion. As the film progresses, audiences — and Bell himself — start to question his sanity and stability, as his reality starts to fray at the edges.
Credit: Sony Pictures
Burn After Reading (2008) — Comedy — 79% Rotten Tomatoes
Sci-fi feels much more real when it draws from reality, something we can see even in the aliens-filled world of District 9. Inspired by the events in Cape Town, South Africa's apartheid era, this film follows a race of insect-like aliens interned in a concentration camp. The story truly picks up and gets wild when an alien named Christopher Johnson escapes from captivity and looks to expose how his species is being exploited.
Credit: Sony Pictures
A farcical comedy exposing ineptitude at the CIA, Burn After Reading now reads as ahead of its time. Starring John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox, an Agency analyst who doesn't handle his firing well, the film is another hilarious romp into the absurd from Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski), and unravels an inside-industry affair gone wrong. Frances McDormand, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton also star, and the film features a ton of memorable moments from Brad Pitt, which have been immortalized in GIF form. Credit: Focus Features
No Country for Old Men (2007) — Drama — 93% Rotten Tomatoes
The middle chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight is a masterwork that redefined comic book movies. Not only is Heath Ledger's The Joker one of the greatest villains ever, imbued with an intensity that mesmerized audiences, but Aaron Eckhart works really well as Harvey Dent. While previous filmic versions of the conflicted District Attorney who becomes Two Face were weak and lacklustre, his struggle with the hard choices set up as crime runs rampant and a masked vigilante looks like Gotham's best bet tells a great story.
Credit: Warner Bros.
Leave it to the Brits to provide a pitch-perfect send-up of over-the-top American buddy-cop films. Edgar Wright directed Hot Fuzz, which stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as English policemen Nick Angel and Danny Butterman, respectively. When a terrorist starts blowing up high-profile citizens, Angel and Butterman will use every weapon at their disposal to find the criminal — even if they probably shouldn't.
The Coen brothers directed No Country for Old Men, an adaptation of the 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across a huge stash of drug money after a gunfight, he tries to get away with it. All that stands in his way is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), an unyielding contract killer with a surprisingly complicated moral worldview.
Zodiac — Drama — 89% Rotten Tomatoes
This film adds director David Fincher's signature haunting atmospherics to an already-terrifying tale. Everyone who lived through the late 1960s and early 1970s knows the story of the serial killer that terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area, but not from this angle. Driven by a cast of A-list stars including Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo, this instant classic drew in everyone from true crime addicts to those just looking to see more of their favorite stars.
Clearly not for the faint of heart, the film doesn't shy away from the blood-stained clothing left at the scenes of the crimes. Reviewers showered film's script with praise for its authenticity. Unless you're already an expert in this case, you'll be amazed by what you learn, as Fincher and his co-producers spent 18 months researching the case. Zodiac is the kind of film you'll spend weeks pondering and discussing after you've seen it.
Credit: Everett Collection
Heathers (1988) — Comedy — 95% Rotten Tomatoes
Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is the epitome of an instant classic. A dark fantasy film taking place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the movie centers around young Ofelia, who's sent (with her ill mother) to live with her new stepfather, Captain Vidal, a ruthless leader in the Spanish army. On his property, though, Ofelia meets a fairy, who introduces her to the old faun, a creepy brilliantly-designed entity that presents her with interesting news: she's a princess. But before the faun can help right Ofelia's life, and introduce her to her real dad, she has to perform a trip of dangerous tasks. Beautifully shot, emotionally strong and completely unique, Pan's Labyrinth is a must-stream.
Credit: New Line Cinema
The Wachowski's interpretation of Alan Moore's graphic novel V For Vendetta was instantly iconic upon release. Hugo Weaving attempts to steal the show, with a maniacal performance as the Guy Fawkes-masked vigilante known as V, but Natalie Portman doesn't let him get away with it. As Evey Hammond, Portman displays equal parts vulnerability and strength, and grounds this at-times campy film with an emotional core. Credit: Warner Bros
This blast of retro-action goodness gives the mighty Kong the CGI treatment that he's always deserved. Somehow, this Kong doesn't fall into the uncanny valley, and provides actual human emotion, thanks to the motion capture-based acting done by Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of The Rings). Jack Black brings a touch of manic energy as Carl Denham, the raconteur trying to make his millions off of Kong.
Credit: Universal Pictures
Howard Hughes, the famous director and pilot, comes to life in The Aviator, a big-budget biopic of the highest order, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Aviator. Instead of telling his life story, The Aviator starts with Hughes' time at RKO studios and then moves onto his overly-ambitious years trying to get his oversized plane off the ground. One of director Martin Scorsese's last great films, The Aviator is impeccably, and accurately, stylish, telling Hughes' life story, in that magnificent old-Hollywood style. DiCaprio imbues the role with an intense energy, and his delivery creates more than a few unforgettable lines, including the simple-sounding, but massively impactful "way of the future."
Kicking is key in both kung fu and futbol, so director/actor Stephen Chow made an excellent call and combined them in Shaolin Soccer. Chow plays "Mighty Steel Leg" Sing, a Shaolin kung fu master who's having trouble finding followers and spreading the good word. His fortunes improve when he meets a Golden Foot Fung, a soccer star who's also struggling. When the two unite to combine their complimentary skills and try and field a team trained with both of their expertises, you get a visually dynamic film to marvel at.
Credit: AF archive/Alamy
Twisting tales of hitmen, cleaners, boxers, dancers and robbers dance together marvelously in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. An instant cult classic worthy of multiple viewings, each story manages to crash into another at least once, in ways you may not expect. Never seen it before? stop everything to power your nose, pour a milkshake and enjoy this classic. This movie contains signature performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, and Christopher Walken delivers an insane monologue so perfectly that this movie belongs in a museum.
Even if you'd rather watch Hannibal Lecter with a beer than his prefered Chianti, director Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs is required viewing for all cinephiles. While Anthony Hopkins' performance as Dr. Lecter is the most iconic, Jodie Foster's work as Clarice Strong is equally powerful, as she sleuths out the truth behind Buffalo Bill, a serial killer performing disgusting, gruesome things to his victims. Keep an eye out for musician Chris Isaak, who has a small role as a SWAT commander.
Credit: Criterion Collection
What happens when you find out that your whole life has been a lie? That's the key question at the center of The Truman Show, which finds Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the unwitting star of an always-on live TV program. If you've been curious about Netflix's Black Mirror, but want something less jarring, this is a strong option.
Disney movies aren't long for Netflix's library — Disney Play will take them before you know it — so you better watch Mulan here while you still can. Its vivid animation allows the characters to practically leap off the screen, and its tale of rebellion against familial obligation will keep its story in your heart. And there's something for the even-younger kids, with Mushu, the colorful dragon.
If you've never seen SE7EN, and only heard people jokingly question each other, "WHAT'S IN THE BOX?" it's time for you to fire up Netflix. One of director David Fincher's finest films, it tracks detectives David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) as they organize the manhunt for a serial killer played by Kevin Spacey. The film's dark direction is balanced by Morgan Freeman's charisma as a too-old-for-this detective on the precipice of retirement.
Credit: New Line Cinema
Scandal simmers, and then erupts, as an investigation into a popular 1950's quiz show reveals a conspiracy of fraud. This Robert Redford-directed film does an excellent job of showing audiences the intricacy of the con performed behind the scenes. Its richest drama, though, comes from the process of squeezing confessions out of the contestants who benefitted from the lies.Credit: Everett Collection
High school can be murder. So asserts Heathers, a black comedy from director Michael Lehmann. Veronica (Winona Ryder) becomes disillusioned with her fellow clique members (all named Heather), and hatches a plot with her boyfriend to get back at them in the most lethal way possible. When popular students start showing up dead, Veronica must determine how far she'll go.
Jaws (1975) — Thriller — 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Before he was the most famous Knicks fan ever Spike Lee jump-started his film career with She's Gotta Have It, which he wrote, edited and directed. Lee also appears in the black and white film, which centers on Nola Darling, who's juggling constant male attention from a trio of suitors. Unable to decide between them, her fun comes crashing down when the guys meet.
Credit: Island Pictures/Everett Collection
You might know Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Terminator character as a hero, sent back in time to help humanity's only hope, but that's not how the story starts. In the first chapter of director James Cameron's series of dystopic sci-fi action films, we meet Arnie as a bad bot, sent to kill Sarah Connor, a key figure in humanity's fight against SkyNet, an artificial intelligence gains too much power. Yes, that's how ahead of its time The Terminator is: it already knew we should fear the AI that would seize control of our lives.
Credit: Credit: Allstar Picture Library /Alamy
If you think war is a hell worth learning about, then strap in for Apocalypse Now, a 2.5 hour long war epic of the highest breed. The film, which takes place during the Vietnam War, stars A-list actors in their prime, such as Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Lawrence Fishburne. Sheen plays Capt. Willard, who's tasked with finding Col. Kurtz (Brando), who's gone off the reservation, in a brilliant depiction of the madness created by times of war. Impressively, the film succeeded despite suffering a ton of issues: Brando arrived overweight, Typhoon Olga tore sets apart and shut down production and Martin Sheen had a heart attack during the filming of the movie.
Credit: Zoetrope Studios/United Artist/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty
The scariest monster is one you can't see. In Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, Amity Island owes its livelihood to a crowd of summer beachgoers. When a great white shark begins to terrorize and devour swimmers, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) takes matters into his own hands. The shark remains just out of sight for most of the film, building tension until the explosive climax.
The Third Man (1949) — Drama — 99% Rotten Tomatoes
If the legend of King Arthur wasn't wacky enough, the Monty Python comedy troupe pushed things further in Holy Grail. From the rudest Frenchmen you've ever met to a random police investigation to Castle Anthrax (yes, Castle Anthrax), this movie has it all. Watch it to either learn about the gags that inspired decades of imitations or to remember how much humor can be mined from the math behind flying foul.
Credit: EMI Pictures/Getty
If you're not a Bruce Lee nerd, it's time to get familiar. From fight scenes that dropped jaws to acting that made audiences respect the man wearing the iconic yellow tracksuit, Enter the Dragon is fantastic. The movie is also lauded for its stylistic brilliance thanks to its genre-defining visuals, including saturated colors that dripped off the screen and strong score.
Credit: Warner Bros/Getty
You can learn so much about the third James Bond movie from its character's names. From the titular baddie Auric Goldfinger, whose name is a pun wrapped in a literal statement of interest (he's an actual gold magnate), to the iconic 'Bond Girl' Pussy Galore, this movie doesn't know how to be subtle. This is also the first Bond movie to feature a trio of the franchises' signature tropes: fantastic gadgetry, campy humor and the cold-open scenes that show Mr. Bond on a mission unrelated to the central premise of the film.
Credit: Bettman Archive/Getty
Awarded the title of "greatest British film of all time" by the British Film Institute, The Third Man is a classic from 1949. Set in post-WWII Vienna, this film won a lot of critical applause with its expressionist style, and it won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Orson Welles stars as Harry Lime, whose death is a mystery that's central to the film.
Credit: Ullstein Bild/Getty
Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.