10 Movies You Watch in Film School That Are Streaming Right Now

We’ve all seen Star Wars, Fight Club, and The Godfather but, whether we’d like to admit it or not, everyone has some gaps in their film knowledge. So, rather than spending a bunch of money on a film education & theory course, we’ve compiled a list of ten legendary movies which you can stream right now, to hopefully bolster your grasp on what makes a classic film.

By Justin Brown

best movies available on streaming right now

Some Like It Hot

Where to Stream It: Prime Video

Accolades: Academy Award win, 6 nominations; 3 Golden Globes

For better or worse, most comedies are very much “of their time” and do not age particularly well (if you’ve revisited beloved movies from your childhood, you’ve probably realized this before). However, Billy Wilder's writing does not fall into that category and Some Like It Hot is maybe the best representation of his enduring talents as a creator. While this comedy is now over 60 years old, it still plays exceptionally well with modern audiences because the story is simple but not unimaginative, the characters are relatable but not generic, and the jokes are sharp, bright, and charming.

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Marilyn Monroe’s performance in this movie really showcases just how talented she was, as an actor (something which tends to be forgotten amidst her reputation as a posthumous icon of vintage sexuality). She’s funny and emotional and, in a very modern way, subverting the expectations for what a character like Sugar Kane could be.

Apocalypse Now

Where to Stream It: HBO

Accolades: 2 Academy Awards, 8 nominations

On the surface, Apocalypse Now is a distinct, visually stunning, and compelling war film from one of America’s most accomplished filmmakers, Francis Ford Coppola. But there’s another reason it’s a must-watch: how it was made. Understanding the arduous (and dangerous) process behind the making of the movie is an even more instructive exercise, from a film school perspective. Battling everything from the elements and actual warfare to psychological issues and Marlon Brando not only informed the way the cast and crew made the movie but also how we as audiences are able to appreciate the sort of work that goes into the creation of a film which shaped how the Vietnam war was depicted in American culture.

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The reason a number of Marlon Brando’s scenes are shot in heavy darkness or silhouette was partially due to the fact that Brando did not show up physically prepared to play a lean, special forces soldier. Coppola and Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro adapted and created some of the most iconic images in film history, in an attempt to obscure Brando’s physique.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Where to Stream It: Netflix | Amazon Prime

Accolades: #47 of IMDb’s top rated films

Any study of western films must include Sergio Leone in some form or another. And while his work with Clint Eastwood in the Man with No Name trilogy has since become the more popular hallmark from Leone’s career (largely thanks to Eastwood’s prominence as a star in his own right), Once Upon a Time in the West is truly the pinnacle of Leone’s work as a director. After cutting his teeth in the Dollars films, Leone perfected his craft, identified his own style, and created a polished-but-still-unforgiving-and-gritty magnum opus of a standalone western which takes advantage of its larger budget and cast of stars featuring Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson to create one of the greatest examples of the genre ever made.

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If you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work and his obvious affinity for westerns, you should know that he holds a lot of love for Leone, meaning this film is vital for appreciating things like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight (a very obvious connection between the two is that both directors love silence/quiet punctuated by bursts of violence).

Sunset Boulevard

Where to Stream It: Prime Video

Accolades: 3 Academy Awards, 11 nominations

Often, black and white films from the 50s can feel more like homework rather than an enjoyable movie night experience but Sunset Boulevard is one of the greatest exceptions to that rule. If you’ve ever loved the tropes of: a murder mystery, a noir thriller, a clever movie about making movies (which gets extra meta at times with appearances from real industry people), or a tale about a once-great star now clinging to former glory, you will find something to love in this film. And one of the most ingenious parts of this cruel and darkly funny story? Its characters critiques of the movie business regularly become relevant again whenever Hollywood enters a less-wonderful phase (say, in an era of uninspired sequels, 3D adaptations, and remakes).

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The two main characters (Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis) represent the old and new Hollywood, respectively and the lead actors chose to play their roles in ways which reflect the eras from which their characters came. Norma is a melodramatic, theatrical, over-the-top performer (a style which was much more necessary in the silent era) while Joe is very grounded and realistic (which had become the standard by 1950).

It’s a Wonderful Life

Where to Stream It: Prime Video

Accolades: 5 Academy Award nominations

When it was first released, It’s A Wonderful Life was definitely not a hit and audiences regarded it largely as “fine but nothing special” despite the involvement of two Hollywood legends, star Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra. But when, due to a clerical error, the film entered the public domain earlier than expected and it was suddenly airing on television everywhere around the Christmas season, audiences and critics alike grew to appreciate it far more not just a classic holiday film but as an expertly scripted and directed portrait of America in the wake of World War 2. Both Stewart and Capra had served in the war and its impossible not to feel that experience contributed to the film’s simple message and symbolism.

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Capra excelled at telling a story visually, particularly when it came to the number of characters in a frame. Sometimes it is packed with a lot of actors (all with something to do) but sometimes it’s an extended shot with just two characters, where Capra trusts the actors to justify their space on screen by keeping the story going (most famously, the scene where Mary and George speak to Sam on the phone together).

There Will Be Blood

Where to Stream It: Netflix

Accolades: 2 Academy Awards + 8 nominations;

It’s rare for modern movies to immediately and unequivocally earn the title of “masterpiece” from many but There Will Be Blood accomplished that with its powerful portrait of American capitalism, set amidst the oil rush of the early 20th century. It’s no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis is a revelation as Daniel Plainview but what makes this performance most memorable is that he’s compelling as an absolute villain who only grows more and more deplorable as the story progresses and he grows further embroiled in conflict with Paul Dano as Eli Sunday (in another excellent performance). The movie features plenty of moments to pause and breathe but never loses its intensity — even the quiet dialogue scenes feel like they could explode with fury, at any moment. Paul Thomas Anderson combines that mood with a truly distinct and haunting score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood to create a film which, despite being released in 2009, feels like it could have been made in 1950 (a true achievement).

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There Will Be Blood was made amidst the quasi-western renaissance of the early 2000s (alongside the 3:10 to Yuma remake, Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James, and No Country for Old Men) and ironically, many have compared Daniel Day-Lewis’ vocal choices as Plainview to those of classic director John Huston, who helmed one of the most decorated American westerns, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

The Shawshank Redemption

Where to Stream It: Netflix

Accolades: 7 Academy Award Nominations

Though it famously had the misfortune of being released at the same time as both Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction in 1994 (and as a result, didn’t win any Oscars), The Shawshank Redemption has quickly become one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed films of all-time with its blended themes of time, patience, and determination. Not unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, Shawshank’s story endures because of its simplicity and universality in telling an uplifting, morally satisfying story which does not sanitize reality (coincidentally, Shawshank also developed most of its popularity due to specific circumstances which allowed it to air on TV quite often in the years after its theatrical release). On top of that, being a period piece set largely between the 1940s and 80s, the story is able to capitalize on some of the best of Stephen King’s qualities as a storyteller and as a result, the film feels like a sharply-directed, well-acted, timeless fable that could have been made in almost any era. It is also the exceptional, sincere movie centered around a genuine, truly kind and platonic male friendship, which is something all men should take time to appreciate.

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In the scene where Red and Andy first meet in the prison yard, Red is playing catch with another inmate. Morgan Freeman had to play catch for the entire day of shooting (upwards of 8 hours) and was forced to put his arm in a sling the next day, as a result.

Goodfellas

Where to Stream It: Netflix

Accolades: 6 Academy Award nominations, Best Supporting Actor Win by Joe Pesci

While he has made excellent movies both before and after (and still, to this day), Goodfellas stands as one of the most undeniable arguments that Martin Scorsese is among American history’s greatest filmmakers. Uniquely combining a crime movie, a love story, a legitimate comedy, and a satire of the American dream, it’s a film that hits the ground running and never lets up, thanks to the experience of the artist behind it. Between the excellent performances, the beautiful language (crass and otherwise), the chemistry of the characters, the eye for detail, and his energetic style, Scorsese made a movie that nobody else could make at the time and almost everyone else has been trying to replicate, since (including the creators of some of your favorite TV shows).

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Though he didn’t pioneer the trend of using needle-drops (where pre-existing music is played to really add mood to a moment or scene), Scorsese definitely popularized it and Goodfellas remains his crowning achievement, with a dazzling mixture of pop hits from the 50s, 60s, and 70s to track the timeline of one gangster’s life.

City of God

Where to Stream It: Netflix

Accolades: 4 Academy Award nominations

While City of God is absolutely a colorful, energetic, darkly funny, and truly entertaining multi-generational gangster film, the most remarkable thing about it is its authenticity. Co-directed by a man who primarily worked in television commercials and a woman who has mostly worked as a documentarian, the movie is fictional and terrifically stylized but still feels very real. Part of this is due to the cast (comprised of non-actor children from Rio who were trained by the directors in a special acting school set up just for them) but also because of the setting and the powerfully personal stories that came from it (the film is based on a book which chronicles the real-life stories of those who lived in the City of God).

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This movie is regularly compared to Goodfellas, as both are crime stories which span decades with dazzling camerawork, charismatic narration, and the filmmakers’ incredible ability to tell totally pleasurable stories about rather harsh and horrible things.

Blade Runner 2049

Where to Stream It: Prime Video

Accolades: Academy Award for Best Cinematography

While the original Blade Runner obviously came first and dramatically influenced a film industry which would then grow to eventually allow a big-budget sequel to a cult sci-film film to be made 35 years later, that sequel may in fact be the more impressive and satisfying film. Though Blade Runner 2049’s achievements with effects, production design, and art direction may not have blindsided the film world quite as much as its predecessor’s, the sequel still packs all of that world-class futurist artistry AND deftly expands on the original film by growing its themes and concepts inside an excellent, thoughtful, compelling story which repeatedly makes the case for its own existence. Plus Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford give some of the best performances of their career, which is always entertaining to watch.

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Roger Deakins finally won his first Oscar for his cinematography work on this film, after being nominated (and losing) 13 times prior. Though he was deserving plenty of other times (his work with the Coen Brothers is legendary), it’s hard to dispute that Blade Runner 2049 may be the most beautiful movie he’s ever shot. By the way, Deakins’ first nomination was for a movie called The Shawshank Redemption.

Well, you've got your watch assignments: Now write a 20 page paper double-spaced, 1 inch margins about mise-en-scène and the implications each director has on auteur culture.

Just kidding, but keep the list going in the comments! Be sure to include where you can stream your pick.

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Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook