Given the incredibly large number of movies on Netflix, it may surprise you to learn that the streamer doesn’t have a lot of classic movies. Only a handful of Netflix’s cinematic lineup played in theaters during the ’70s, and only three of Netflix’s current films come from the ’60s. Netflix does a better job with its selection of ’80s movies, but even those titles don’t have many options.
Regardless, we believe that it’s long overdue to put the spotlight on the best classic movies on Netflix from the ’70s and ’80s. As you can in the list below, several of these titles have already cemented their place in the history of Hollywood. The films have also held up extremely well despite the passage of decades between their theatrical release and their reemergence during the streaming era.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, all four of the Jaws movies are on Netflix. But of course, the first film is clearly the best, and it’s also the movie that made Steven Spielberg into a superstar among directors nearly five decades ago. Off the coast of Amity Island, a great white shark has decided to hunt and devour any people that it catches in the water. And it’s killing the local tourism industry.
When Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) refuses to close the beaches, Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) takes it upon himself to go kill the shark alongside a professional shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw). Unfortunately for both men, the shark has its own ideas about who the hunter is, and who are the prey.
Watch Jaws on Netflix.
Steve Martin made his start as a movie star in The Jerk, in which he plays a complete moron named Navin R. Johnson. Navin is so oblivious to reality that he doesn’t initially realize that his Black adoptive parents, Mother (Mabel King) and Father (Richard Ward), aren’t his biological parents. Or that he isn’t Black himself.
When Navin leaves home to find his destiny, he manages to fall backwards into money and success only to lose it all. The lone redeeming aspect of Navin’s journey is his love for Marie Kimble (Bernadette Peters). But even that connection may not last thanks to Navin’s careless bumbling.
Watch The Jerk on Netflix.
The Deer Hunter was 1978’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, but it’s not always easy to sit through. It’s the story of three friends, Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro), Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken), and Steven Pushkov (John Savage), who go off to war in Vietnam and never really come home as the same men. All three are captured and tortured while in Vietnam, and their collective PTSD is so intense that Nick can’t even bring himself to return to his wife, Linda (Meryl Streep).
If you’re looking for some life-affirming message, you won’t find it here. The Deer Hunter is about as bleak as movies get, but it remains a powerful film 45 years after its release.
Watch The Deer Hunter on Netflix.
Monty Python is a group of comedy legends, and their second film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, may be one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s the relentlessly silly story of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights, Lancelot (John Cleese), Robin (Eric Idle), Bedevere (Terry Jones), and Galahad (Michael Palin) as they stumble across the countryside in search of the Holy Grail.
On their journey, Arthur and his servant, Patsy (Terry Gilliam), encounter the Black Knight (Cleese) in a sequence that’s still hilarious and quotable nearly five decades later. The rest of the movie is also amazingly funny, and it’s one of the rare films that never seems to get old as long as you’re willing to embrace the Pythons’ brand of bizarre comedy.
Watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Netflix.
At the time that Fast Times At Ridgemont High was released, director Amy Heckerling couldn’t have known that several of the film’s primary actors would breakout into larger stardom. Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, and Phoebe Cates rode that wave, while even some of the supporting players like Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, and Forest Whitaker went on to bigger things.
The irony is that the most engaging storyline in the film doesn’t directly involve any of those performers except Leigh. Her character, Stacy Hamilton, is loved from afar by Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer). That doesn’t stop Rat’s best friend, Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), from making a move on Leigh himself and getting her pregnant. When Rat finds out, their friendship may not survive.
Watch Fast Times At Ridgemont High on Netflix.
There have been a lot of terrible Stephen King adaptations over the last four decades, but sometimes, the combination of King’s story with the right director (in this case, Rob Reiner) and the cast deliver an instant classic. That was the case with Stand by Me, a coming of age story set in 1959. After learning about the location of a missing boy’s body, 12-year-old Gordon “Gordie” Lachance (Wil Wheaton), and his friends Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) decide to find the body in the hope of being recognized as heroes.
However, the boys’ journey to the body is anything but smooth, as they run afoul of a local gang leader, John “Ace” Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland). There are no supernatural elements to be found in this story. But it is a beautifully affecting film that ranks among the all-time greats.
Watch Stand by Me on Netflix.
Among ’80s films, Scarface is in a class all by itself. Brian De Palma directed this remake from a script by Oliver Stone, which features an unforgettable turn by Al Pacino as the title character, Tony Montana. At the beginning of the ’80s, Tony and his friends arrive in the United States as refugees from Cuba. But Tony believes that he’s meant for greater things, and he chooses to pursue wealth in the world of illicit drugs.
Tony succeeds in becoming a rich drug lord, but he has no shortage of enemies that he made along the way. Tony’s self-destructive streak is so powerful that his downfall begins almost as soon as he gets the power that he so desperately wanted.
Watch Scarface on Netflix.