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30 Classic Movies That Are Truly Timeless

Whether you’ve seen them a million times or somehow missed them until now, these classic movies deserve a spot in your streaming queue

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30 Classic Movies That Are Truly Timeless FtRD.com, Getty Images, via Amazon.com (10)

The best classic movies of all time

Classic movies have a special place in our hearts. They’re trailblazers, of course—true originals that rank among the best movies of all time, have become cultural touchstones and set the bar for everything that follows. Whether they make you laugh, cry or want to sleep with the lights on, you’ll be thinking of them long after the credits roll. But the best thing about them is that you’ll happily watch them again and again (and again).

On this list, you’ll find time-honored dramas, comedies, romances, action movies and sci-fi movies, as well as a few classic family movies you probably watch every year around the holidays. There’s a good chance you haven’t seen some of them, but trust us when we say you should put them on your must-watch list ASAP.

How we chose the best classic movies

While people often toss around the phrase “instant classic,” true classics need to be around a while to see if they actually stand the test of time. And that’s exactly what you’ll find here: amazing films that were all made before 1970. (Sorry, ’80s and ’90s movies, though we love you too!) We based our choices on each film’s impact on cinematic history, its status as an award winner or cult classic, and its ability to transcend the decades since it was released.

So, settle in for a trip back in time as we explore the classic movies that really never get old.

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The Sound of Music

Released: 1965

Rated: G

Memorable quote: “Oh, no, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I could never answer to a whistle. Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children and definitely not for me. It would be too … humiliating.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t a huge fan of The Sound of Music. With the incomparable Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer at the helm, it’s become a time-honored family film. When a naval officer (Plummer) loses his wife, a young governess (Andrews) is sent to help care for his seven children. Singing, dancing and making clothes out of curtains ensues. The film won five Oscars, including Best Picture, and it’s hands down one of the best movie musicals of all time.

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Casablanca

Released: 1942

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

A winner of three Oscars, including Best Picture, Casablanca has so much going for it, not the least of which are stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Set against the backdrop of World War II, it centers on Bogart, an American living in Morocco, who has to decide whether to help a former flame and her new significant other flee the country. The characters are well-developed and alluring, taking us back in time to when Hollywood felt more glamorous than gawdy. Plus, it’s chock-full of memorable movie quotes.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Released: 1961

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is to classic movies what Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress is to classic fashion. They’re both utterly timeless. Even though social climber Holly Golightly’s tactics for marrying a wealthy man are less than ideal, Hepburn’s portrayal of the character makes us root for her all the same. She’s clever, funny and multidimensional, so we get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. The movie won two Oscars in music categories, and you’ll fall in love with Hepburn each and every time you watch it. While it was a critical and commercial success when it came out, these other classic movies got terrible reviews.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Released: 1969

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

The pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the movie’s lead roles contributed to the initial success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A winner of four Oscars, the film follows the title characters as they’re on the run in turn-of-the-century Wyoming. Between the pair’s narrow escapes and dry humor, it resonates with audiences old and new. While you’re taking a trip down memory lane, find out the most popular movie the year you were born.

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West Side Story

Released: 1961

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “I’m an American girl now. I don’t wait.”

West Side Story is magical in the way it adapts the original 1957 Broadway musical into a feature film extravaganza, attracting talent like Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood. It should come as no surprise that the 1961 version took home 10 Oscars and really set the bar for musicals brought to the big screen. The story of a young couple kept apart by two New York City gangs has that sort of Romeo & Juliet vibe that is relatable from generation to generation. And it easily has one of the best movie soundtracks.

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Singin’ in the Rain

Released: 1952

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “What’s the first thing an actor learns? ‘The show must go on!’ Come rain, come shine, come snow, come sleet—the show must go on!”

Icons Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds look like they’re having the time of their lives in this fun romp about silent-film actors who must pivot to the world of talkies. From a plot that makes you root for the underdogs to its clever physical comedy, Singin’ in the Rain features everything sweet and endearing about classic movies wrapped up into a single story. And those amazing song-and-dance numbers have been copied for generations. When you download this flick, also check out the best TV shows on Amazon Prime Video.

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Psycho

Released: 1960

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Psycho is one of those classic horror movies that, despite not having all the special effects we have today, keeps you covering your eyes from start to finish. Alfred Hitchcock’s film is so psychologically terrifying that moviegoers have been keeping one eye on the shower curtain since 1960. After embezzling from her employer, an unassuming secretary goes on the run, only to find herself at the Bates Motel. The motel is run by Norman Bates, who has a rather peculiar relationship with his domineering mother.

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Miracle on 34th Street

Released: 1947

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “Faith is believing things when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial—it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”

Only in the United States would Santa Claus be put on trial, and that’s exactly what happens in Miracle on 34th Street, when a man hired to portray ol’ St. Nick claims to be the real deal. It’s a sweet Christmas story in heavy rotation on television around the holidays, and with good reason. Sometimes, we all need a little reminder to put our beliefs in something as magical as Santa, even if that message is delivered all the way from 1947.

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The Grapes of Wrath

Released: 1940

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “I wouldn’t pray just for an old man that’s dead, ’cause he’s all right. If I was to pray, I’d pray for folks that’s alive and don’t know which way to turn.”

It’s a tale as old as time: books made into movies. John Steinbeck was reportedly so happy with Henry Fonda’s portrayal of his character Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath that he said it “made him believe his own words.” That’s high praise from a legendary author! Here’s the plot, in case you don’t remember it from high school English class: Hopeful for a new life in California, the Joad family finds that not everything is sunnier on the West Coast, and they’re faced with Depression-era homelessness, poverty and despair.

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All About Eve

Released: 1950

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “Fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Over the years, we’ve seen Hollywood turn the camera on itself quite a bit, letting viewers peek behind the curtain to watch the rivalries among celebrities. But All About Eve is arguably the best of the bunch—and definitely the original. It follows the vicious antics of an aspiring starlet (Anne Baxter) who’s desperate to take over the professional (and personal) life of a theater legend (Bette Davis). Thanks to its incredible cast, the film won a well-deserved six Oscars.

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Modern Times

Released: 1936

Rated: G

Memorable quote: “Buck up. Never say die. We’ll get along.”

Charlie Chaplin was king of the silent film era, and Modern Times marks the last film in which he played his infamous character “The Tramp.” He’s a factory worker who falls hopelessly in love with a young woman who’s down on her luck, and the two find strength in each other … and some comedy along the way. It’s a quintessential film from this period of cinema that all movie buffs can both appreciate and enjoy. For its day, it was considered quite the comedy.

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Frankenstein

Released: 1931

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!

One of the best classic Halloween movies, Frankenstein is pure monster-movie magic. It’s science-fiction and horror but quite simple at the same time. Based on Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name, it’s about a doctor who plays around with life and death, creating a new creature out of random body parts. Even in black and white, Frankenstein brought all the scares to the big screen back in the day, with Boris Karloff portraying Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. And here’s a fun bit of movie trivia: The makeup used to create the “monster” was considered so special for its time that it’s actually under copyright by Universal Pictures until the year 2027.

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A Hard Day’s Night

Released: 1964

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “We know how to behave! We’ve had lessons.”

Many musicians have tried their hand at acting, but not all have been as successful as the Beatles were in this music-filled feature film. Nominated for two Oscars, A Hard Day’s Night follows the Fab Four over a very hectic two days in which they have to prepare for a big television performance. Needless to say, the music is great. And John, Paul, Ringo and George are pretty hilarious playing themselves in this classic comedy.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Released: 1962

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “There may be honor among thieves, but there’s none in politicians.”

A sweeping epic, Lawrence of Arabia holds its own among classic movies because of the film’s dedicated approach to cinematography, art direction, music and overall quality. While not the first epic in movie history, it elevated what audiences have come to expect from these kinds of films. It centers on British officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) as he tries to unite the Arab tribes during World War I. Lawrence of Arabia won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, though O’Toole lost the Best Actor Oscar to Gregory Peck, who took home the top prize for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Rear Window

Released: 1954

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.”

It should come as no surprise that more than one Hitchcock movie appears on this list. There are so many great ones to choose from, but Rear Window really taps into everyone’s natural curiosities. After all, who hasn’t wondered what goes on in other people’s homes? A wheelchair-bound photographer, played by James Stewart, is convinced his neighbors are guilty of murder after witnessing something unusual through his apartment window, and he enlists the help of friends to get to the bottom of things. This thriller keeps you guessing until the end and features can’t-miss performances from Stewart and Grace Kelly.

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Sunset Boulevard

Released: 1950

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

The truth hurts, and Sunset Boulevard takes a brutally honest look at what often happens to actors and actresses once they’ve been deemed “past their prime.” Gloria Swanson is incredible as out-of-work silent film star Norma Desmond, who has turned into a bit of a recluse but is intent on plotting her Hollywood return. The rest of the cast meets Swanson’s talents with equally sublime performances. Heartbreaking and dramatic, the film won three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay.

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Seven Samurai

Released: 1954

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “Danger always strikes when everything seems fine.”

If you’re a movie buff with a penchant for action, Seven Samurai is likely on your list of cult-classic movies. Written and directed by renowned Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, the film isn’t just about its beautifully shot fight scenes; there’s also real meaning in the screenplay. The story focuses on an impoverished village that enlists the help of samurais to defend their homes from being pillaged. The movie introduced viewers to a different type of cinematic experience, as well as a different culture, and it influenced a wide range of movies, from cutting-edge films like The Matrix to animations like A Bug’s Life.

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Gone with the Wind

Released: 1938

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Gone with the Wind, as a classic book and movie, is problematic in its themes (namely that it’s on the wrong side of history ahead of and during the Civil War), but cinematically speaking, it is a feast for the eyes. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are two of literature and film’s most iconic characters, and the costuming and massive film sets take us back to a place and time we typically only read about in history books. O’Hara is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy plantation owner who is accustomed to getting what she wants. Butler is a roguish businessman who meets his match in O’Hara. Their romance seems destined in some ways and impossible in others, which makes their story line all the more intriguing.

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Cool Hand Luke

Released: 1967

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Yeah, well … sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”

Rebelling against authority isn’t a new concept, and Paul Newman exhibits that flawlessly in Cool Hand Luke. For his portrayal of Luke, a prison inmate in the South who refuses to conform to life behind bars, Newman was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar (though he lost out to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night). A man who rarely makes decisions that will benefit him in the long run, Luke is a fully fleshed-out character who, while an anti-hero, is relatable in some way to everyone.

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On the Waterfront

Released: 1954

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “Conscience—that stuff can drive you nuts.”

On the Waterfront‘s ensemble cast alone makes it an enduring piece of Hollywood history. With revered actors including Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint, the story of a former boxer/current dockworker who finds himself an accessory to murder will keep you completely transfixed. The taxi scene between Brando and Steiger is considered one of the most iconic in cinematic history. Reportedly, Brando wanted to improvise the scene, but the film’s director respectfully asked him to stick with the script. And, yes, this movie took home a slew of Oscars—eight, to be exact.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Released: 1956

Rated: Approved

Memorable quote: “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!”

Long before there was The Walking Dead, there was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When aliens invade a California town, its residents start acting … weird. They’re emotionless and literally not themselves because “pod people” have taken the forms of those residents. This classic black-and-white film provides an early look at the sci-fi genre and influenced a wide range of movies, from The Thing to Night of the Creeps. It also has an underlying theme of conforming to society’s expectations—whether you want to or not.

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Some Like It Hot

Released: 1959

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “It’s not how long you wait—it’s who you’re waiting for!”

If you’re looking for a funny classic movie, look no further than Some Like It Hot, starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and Marilyn Monroe. Filmed just three years before Monroe’s untimely passing, it’s about two musicians (Lemon and Curtis) who witness a murder and are on the run from the mob. In an effort to disguise themselves, they dress as women and join an all-female band. Monroe plays Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, one of the band members, and memorably sings “I Wanna Be Loved by You.” Chaos and comedy ensue, and the rest is movie history.

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Mary Poppins

Released: 1965

Rated: G

Memorable quote: ” In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and—snap—the job’s a game!”

Looking for one of the best family movies around? Mary Poppins still holds up today. Julie Andrews is a dream as the nanny who has a solution (and a song!) for everything. Watching Andrews and Dick Van Dyke bring their beloved characters to life on screen still brings as much joy now as it did back in 1965, when this classic was originally released.

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La Dolce Vita

Released: 1961

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “We must get beyond passions, like a great work of art, in such miraculous harmony. We should love each other outside of time … detached.”

Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini was known for his very distinct approach to cinema, full of surreal, fantastical images. La Dolce Vita is a sexy, voyeuristic look at Rome’s high society. The overarching message still holds today, as the film takes aim at our obsession with celebrities and the tabloids’ aggressive behavior. The story follows a tabloid reporter as he makes his living trying to catch the rich and famous in embarrassing, or even criminal, situations.

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Roman Holiday

Released: 1953

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “I have to leave you now. I’m going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you.”

Audrey Hepburn as a princess who falls in love with an American while vacationing in Rome? That premise alone has us sold. Roman Holiday is a delight. The script itself isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s how Hepburn and costar Gregory Peck bring it to life that makes the film so amazing. Their A+ chemistry makes it feel like a true escape, and the Academy apparently agreed, because Hepburn won a Best Actress Oscar for it.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Released: 1937

Rated: G

Memorable quote: “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

If you love classic Disney movies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs probably holds a special place in your heart. Artistically, Walt Disney achieved a huge feat with this animated film: It earned an honorary Academy Award in 1939 for being a “significant screen innovation.” Plus, the movie’s financial success allowed Disney to use its profits to build the company’s studios in Burbank, California, and proved that animation could be a major box office draw.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Released: 1967

Rated: R

Memorable quote: “I told you once, friend. If I ever get you down, you’re going to need a lot of help to get back up again.”

One of the great spaghetti Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has more going for it than just action. It depicts life in the West as it actually was—absolutely brutal. Clint Eastwood stars as Blondie, a gunslinger who forms an alliance with a wanted outlaw. When their partnership is no longer useful to Blondie, the two become pitted against each other. But when they learn they each hold the pieces to a puzzle that will result in a gold fortune, they must work together again … or die trying. The scenes are shot beautifully, and the film’s score is one of the best in movie history.

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Citizen Kane

Released: 1941

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “I can remember everything. That’s my curse, young man. It’s the greatest curse that’s ever been inflicted on the human race: memory.”

Citizen Kane isn’t just one of the best classic movies—it’s also considered one of the best movies of all time. Period. When publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane dies, his very last word (“rosebud”) perplexes reporters, and they embark on a search to find answers. Orson Welles wrote, directed and starred in the movie. A classic for its use of now-timeless film techniques such as “the wipe,” in which one image looks like it’s being wiped off the screen by another, it is ultimately enduring in its exploration of how absolute power can corrupt absolutely.

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King Kong

Released: 1933

Rated: Not rated

Memorable quote: “It’s money and adventure and fame. It’s the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o’clock tomorrow morning.”

No, you won’t get over-the-top special effects here, but the original King Kong is a cult-classic movie for a reason. It is among the first films that really put the horror genre on the map, showing what it could do and what the monster movie category was building to. The story follows a movie crew that travels to a tropical island. Here, they meet the titular ape, who is enamored by the production’s starlet. The crew captures King Kong and brings him to New York to put him on display, and let’s just say that no one ever looked at the Empire State Building the same way again. King Kong made $90,000 in its opening weekend, which was the highest-grossing film opener of its time.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Released: 1947

Rated: PG

Memorable quote: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s ironic that It’s a Wonderful Life has found a place in the holiday movie genre, because the story could actually land among Hollywood’s saddest movies. When a down-on-his-luck businessman is feeling like life is hopeless, he gets help from an angel who shows him that the world wouldn’t be the same without him. In the end, the movie is uplifting and a classic, thanks to the work of icons like James Stewart and Donna Reed.

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