What old movies should I watch?

I was born in 1974 and as a general rule I don’t watch much in cinema prior to then. The only movies I’ve seen that predate that are kung fu movies, monster movies, and Disney movies. I’ve just never liked classic cinema all that much.

But now my horizons are expanding and I’m interested in trying some and I’d like to get opinions on what’s good. Here’s what I know I don’t care for:

Romances- I don’t mind modern romcoms but I just can’t put up with an old style romance flick like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Hitchcock-I’ve never had much of a love for suspense movies to begin with, and what little I’ve seen of Hitchcock tries my patience.

Gangster films- Don’t like the genre today, wouldn’t appreciate it back then.

Spaghetti Westerns- I’m not opposed to Westerns in general, but if I’m going to watch one it needs to be more than Cowboys and Indians and gun duels.

Here’s what I do like:

War movies
Dramas about important issues
Horror. Not suspense horror, but supernatural horror.
Disaster! Love disaster films, although cheesy stuff like invasions of giant spiders doesn’t really hold up for me anymore.
Political thrillers. Now that I think about it, I have seen Dr. Strangelove. Stuff like that is cool.
Scifi with good science. Not “message” scifi like the Day the Earth Stood Still, or camp sci fi like nuclear radiation making giant creatures.
Non-Disney animation I might not know about.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen a Sean Connery Bond movie. Except for Never Say Never Again, which was 1983.

I don’t think one can go wrong with a Jimmy Stewart movie. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Harvey, It’s a Wonderful Life, Glenn Miller Story, Flight of the Phoenix, Spirit of St. Louis, Anatomy of a Murder. And of course a bunch of Hitchcock but…

I don’t really like old movies. My dad watches them every day and I find them to be terribly slow. But for some reason I like almost every Stewart movie I’ve ever seen.

For westerns: The Big Country. Try some silents. Buster Keaton is (imho) the best. The General and Steamboat Bill Jr. are wonderful. Chaplin’s The Kid is also great. Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last is famous for the climb, but I like the scenes inside the department store more.

You didn’t mention how you feel about comedies. There was an era of literate, screwball comedies. I’m partial to the original My Man Godfrey and The Thin Man (try the original before the sequels) is good. William Powell was the man.

Every science fiction movie can trace a lineage back to Metropolis. It may be a bit too heavy on the message for your taste, but it’s mesmerizing to look at. If you think you can marvel at what the 1920s thought the future would look like, check it out.

The Big Sleep is good. I think that was the first pairing of Bogart and Bacall. It’s a detective movie where you don’t know who’s guilty, or even what crime was committed, and the dialog and characters are so good that it doesn’t even matter.

Agreed on Keaton; the Jackie Chan of his age.

Two of the great classic horror series were the Universal horror movies of the thirties and the Hammer horror movies of the sixties.

Dracula (1931)
Frankenstein (1931)
The Mummy (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Wolfman (1941)

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Dracula (1958)
The Mummy (1959)
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
The Devil Rides Out (1968)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Seven Days in May (1964)
Fail Safe (1964)
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
Executive Action (1973)
The Parallax View (1974)

No Blade of Grass (1970)
THX 1138 (1971)
Silent Running (1972)
Solaris (1972)
Dark Star (1974)
Rollerball (1974)

I don’t think you can go wrong with Casablanca. It’s sort of a war movie, though it more punches the “Dramas about important issues” button for you. It has an amazing cast, and you’ll be surprised at how many enduring catchphrases and ideas came out of it.

Good films, though most of them do share the dark, dystopian view of the future that was common in sci-fi in the early 1970s, before Star Wars ate the sci-fi film category. :slight_smile:

The Little Foxes, Bette Davis…great movie!!

Try the book Pictures at a Revolution. It covers these five movies from 1967 - nominated for Oscars in 1968.

Bonnie and Clyde
Doctor Doolittle
The Graduate
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
In the Heat of the Night

The following year, try 2001: A Space Odyssey

Another approach is to work your way through this list of the top 100.

So you’d probably enjoy Spaghetti Westerns. They were the post-“Cowboys and Indians” Westerns, the antidote to the stale formulaic Westerns that killed the genre, and they ushered in a grimmer, grittier, more realistic take on movies set in that time and place. Ironic, I suppose, because they got the name because they were directed by Italians with plots stolen from Japanese samurai movies and shot in southern Italy and Spain with a multilingual cast.

Metropolis is not a very good movie. The acting is over-the-top even by silent film standards, the plot is thin, and it ends by grabbing its message, rearing back, and beating you over the head with it. It’s Great, but not Good, except in terms of the special effects, which hold up very well. Forbidden Planet is a much better seminal Science Fiction film, and The Day The Earth Stood Still did socially-conscious “message” Science Fiction much better. (Yes, I know you mentioned it as something you didn’t like. My statement remains true.) As far as science fiction with good science, 2001: A Space Odyssey has good science except for the central conceits (the monoliths and all they do) and its message is very much subtext, not text. (I can’t imagine anyone not having seen it, but it is from before your 1974 cutoff date, so… )

For old horror, it’s hard to beat Nosferatu, the silent original, starring Max Schreck, who really did have a last name which translates to “Terror” in English. Speaking of, the Universal Dracula (1931) holds up well, but suffers from being the template all “traditional” vampire films were made in reference to, and therefore can never be as suspenseful as it was back then. Speaking of widely-copied templates, Night of the Living Dead (1968), the Romero original, is also still quite effective, and all the more so for being in black-and-white, which increases the sense of paranoiac dread.

Speaking of dread, I don’t know if you’ve seen The Andromeda Strain, based on the Crichton novel, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Stalag 17
The Third Man
The Manchurian Candidate (original)
On the Waterfront

I’ve said before that the golden age of science fiction movies ran from 1968 (with the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey) to 1977 (with the release of Star Wars). At least half of the worthwhile science fiction ever made were released in this ten year period.

2001 showed the science fiction was a legitimate film genre which could make movies with genuine ideas and deserved some respect. And Star Wars closed that door by turning the genre into sci-fi; mindless entertainment with big special effects budgets.

If you’re looking for a great western, I’d recommend The Searchers (1956).

Out of the Past

Maybe the best film noire ever. It has gangsters but it has so much more.

What constitutes an “old movie” is subjective. I was born nine years before you and still find it difficult to call films made during the late 60s and 70s “old” even though they are now older than most the movies I watched on local TV stations while I was growing up. That said, I think the main criteria for whether a movie is “old” or not is if it was made before 1967. That year represents the end of the Production Code which had put a tight rein on American film content since 1934 and the beginning of the MPAA rating system we have now.

How do you feel about film noir? I could recommend a few like The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, or** Touch of Evil** but I don’t know if you’d like movies of that type.

Spaghetti westerns were Italian homages and deconstructions of traditional American westerns. Of those, you can’t go wrong with Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and Once Upon a Time in the West. As for American westerns made during the Code period, there’s The Ox-Bow Incident which is about the tragic consequences of frontier-mob justice and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country which is about two aging western lawmen having to face life in the 20th century.

The problem with most old action movies is current audiences often find them too slowly-paced. One you might like, however, Bad Day in Black Rock (1956), a latter-day Western starring Spencer Tracy and host of familiar faces. It also counts as drama about important issues (in this case, racism and unfair treatment of Japanese citizens during WWII).

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) (part war movie and part courtroom drama) and Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front(1930)

There was a period from the late 40s to the 60s when Hollywood put out a number of “message movies” meant to address controversial issues of the time. The problem with these films is that many of them haven’t aged well and come across as preachy, heavy-handed, and naive. That said, **Crossfire **(1947) with Robert Mitchum still holds up (and also qualifies as a film noir) as does the classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

How about Cold War espionage films of the more realistic, non-James Bond variety? For that, you might like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) with Richard Burton.

This was going to be mine. It starts out as a traditional Western, but turns into something else.


Try True Grit (1969), with John Wayne as starring as a drunken, one-eyed, pot-bellied, has-been old marshal. He won an Oscar for the role. :slight_smile:

Some Like It Hot - a comedy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. I think the comedy holds up today.

Singin’ In The Rain - it’s a classic Hollywood musical.

Something I take away from seeing the old movies is the opportunity to see what established today’s standards. Gene Kelly was extremely talented. Marilyn Monroe was not just some blonde, she was a great comedic actress.

You could look at the list of past Academy Award winners for Best Picture. That narrows it down decades worth of work to what was considered the best (or one of the best) movies of each year. Not all of them will hold up, but you can compare how things changed from year to year.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Weird, unsettling, suspense filled, highly memorable.


Lawrence of Arabia - one of my all-time favorite movies. Great acting, great music, great story.

Gone with the Wind - worth a watch. Yes, it’s sort of a romance, but it’s a hell of a lot more as well.

(can’t quite believe I’m the first to say those two!)