In this article:
- Classic movies become classics because of their influence on film as a medium or their genre as well as their technical, narrative, and artistic merits.
- But many of the so-called “good films” can be difficult to watch when you’re used to newer films that are in color, have advanced special effects, and an overall faster pace of storytelling. This makes it hard for aspiring film buffs to get into watching movies.
- That’s why this list includes multiple, totally-not-boring classic movies that you can watch without falling asleep.
- Some of the movies chosen aren’t exactly the kind you usually see on “Top Films of All Time.” lists
- That’s because this list is meant to introduce you to different genres and mediums so you can find films that you actually love watching, not just ones you watch because a “top” list tells you they’re great.
Classic movies are magical. They have their own special something that you can’t quite put your finger on despite instinctively knowing that they’re much better than typical films.
Now that could be because you aren’t used to picking movies apart, but with very special films, you get this sense of deja vu from realizing that a handful of classic films established the conventions of an entire genre.
Suddenly, no movie is entirely unique, even if fantastic in its own right, because it’s a descendant of an older, “greater” film.
But it takes forever to get to that point because classic films are, and let’s be honest here, super boring when you aren’t used to watching them. Like blue cheese and good wine, classic movies are acquired tastes.
If you’ve tried to develop a “good taste” in movies several times and failed because “Top Movies” lists always have challenging films on them, these eight classic movies can be your introduction to becoming a film buff.
Classic Movies That Will Help You Get Into Films
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane (1941) is a mystery that follows a reporter on his mission to uncover the true self of Charles Foster Kane, a recently deceased newspaper magnate whose dying word was “Rosebud.”
This classic movie was the first feature-length film directed by Orson Welles.
If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the same guy who made the nation panic about an alien invasion through what was essentially the first alternate reality game. Ever the prodigy, Welles’ inexperience with films doesn’t show in Citizen Kane.
The movie has some of the most breathtaking scenes you will see in a classic film. It’s a visually rich movie with smooth transitions and Welles’ use of deep focus, making everything in a shot clear, will have you feeling like you’re watching a period piece released earlier this year.
2. Psycho (1960)
Psycho (1960) is a horror movie that follows Marion Crane and her attempt to steal $40,000 from her sleazy employer so she can run off with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she ends up in the Bates Motel where she is brutally stabbed to death while taking a shower.
Everything else after that constitutes a spoiler.
The famous shower scene in Psycho cemented it as a horror classic because it was one of the first mainstream films to show graphic depictions of violence. There have been bloodier movies since, but the screeching violins and the cuts made by Hitchcock between each stab keep it as nauseating to watch today as it was decades ago.
3. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Animated films rarely get a spot in lists like this, but hey, the point is to help you explore genres and find something you like.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is an animated film set in Japan during the Second World War that tells the story of siblings Seita and Setsuko who are left to fend for themselves after the death of their parents.
Unlike many WWII films that focus on the heroic acts and tragedies of soldiers, this movie is centered on what happens to innocent children who are trapped in bleak situations.
It’s unflinching in its depictions of death and emotional callousness and it’s easily the most emotionally harrowing film on this list. It gets even worse if you watch it with the knowledge that it’s a true story based on the life of Akiyuki Nosaka, the story’s writer.
4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
If you enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune (2021), you’ll likely enjoy Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The movie is filled with beautiful footage of the Jordanian desert that gives you a sense of the scale of the setting and stakes.
According to travel writer Matthew Teller, the real-life Jordanian desert comes alive because of the Zalabia Bedouin. In Lawrence of Arabia, the desert feels like it’s a character in its own right, its presence always dwarfing the struggle between the Arabs and the Turks.
The plot revolves around the titular Lawrence, a British officer who goes to Arabia to facilitate the collaboration between the Arabs and the British against the Ottoman Turks. While there, he learns about Bedouin culture and local customs that give us a peep into life in the desert.
5. Seven Samurai (1954)
Japanese samurai films and the American Westerns have an odd relationship with each other. While the two genres couldn’t be set further apart, they’ve borrowed from each other so much over the years that it’s hard not to see the similarities.
Both genres tend to feature protagonists who are trying to follow their moral compass, even when it goes against the dictates of the societies where they live.
Whichever of the two you’re trying to familiarize yourself with, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) is a must-watch.
The film is about desperate “samurai” and desperate villagers coming together to protect a poor village from bandits. It’s as simple as it sounds, but it has several moving and thoughtful moments where the characters question their society’s morality and bond with each other.
6. Star Wars (1977)
Metropolis (1927) takes a while to get used to so if you’re looking to watch sci-fi classic movies, there’s no better place to start than with Star Wars (1977).
It’s a giant in the sci-fi genre and its influence stretches far beyond it. You have a princess organizing a rebellion against an evil empire, a classical young hero learning to use his powers, and a wise-cracking rogue all working together to save the Galactic Republic.
It’s infinitely rewatchable and the hints at a wider Star Wars galaxy will make you want to binge the rest of the trilogy (if you somehow haven’t already).
And if you’re wondering, yes, the special effects have held up well. You won’t be cringing through this one.
7. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Gone With the Wind (1939) is one of the best historical romance films of all time. The story is about the very tense romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.
As the beautiful and spoiled daughter of a wealthy slave-owning family, Scarlett has a headstrong personality that gets her out of trouble just as much as it gets her into it. Honestly, you’re either going to love her or hate her or, in Rhett Butler’s case, love her and hate her.
8. Les Diabolique (1955)
My personal favorite on this list, Les Diabolques (1955), is a French thriller film about two women plotting to kill the man in their lives. Yes, man, because Michel Delassalle sleeps around with both his wife, Christina, and Nicole, one of the teachers at the boarding school Christina and Michel run.
While you’re typical adultery film would have one of the women plotting to kill the other, Les Diabolique‘s protagonists share a mutual hatred of Michel that serves as their motive for killing him.
The film is plot twists upon plot twists.
Every time you start to feel like you know where it’s going, it pulls the rug from under you. It can get a little tiresome, but it’s still a fun movie with a surprisingly modern feel so you won’t doze off halfway.
How Do I Become I Film Buff?
While there’s no official definition of what it means to be a film buff, most of us have this mental image of what one should be like. For many, a film buff is someone who has watched a lot of films, has mastered the vocabulary of talking about film, and spends a lot of time thinking about classic movies.
But as with any hobby, there are gatekeepers in the world of cinephilia that make it harder, more boring, and more intimidating to start watching classic movies. Forget about them and give these steps a shot.
1. Think About What Movies You Already Like
Unless you’ve been living away from civilization, there’s no way you don’t have a few movies you already like. Think about those movies and write a list. Do not pressure yourself. They don’t have to be “good” movies.
Once you’re done, write notes on what genre those movies are, what they’re about, and what you liked about them.
You might notice that most of the movies you like are sci-fi films like Star Wars or maybe you prefer movies with a certain “look” to them. Try to pin down the things that you like about these movies as a whole.
2. Watch More Movies From That Genre
Forget the “Top Movies of All Time” list and look for classic movies in genres that you like. Google makes this super easy by giving you suggestions at the top that list movies similar to the ones you like.
Don’t worry about the reviews. What other people like may not be what you like. This is your film buff journey, not anyone else’s.
3. Think About What You Liked and Didn’t Like About a Movie
Ever wonder why some people are able to go on and on about how one movie is good and another movie is bad? They’re able to do this because they can actually identify what they like and didn’t like about a film, instead of a vague “that was okay” or “that was boring.”
If something in a movie strikes you as good, remember it and think about why you liked it later. Try to be specific. Was it because of how the scene looked? Was it the acting? Or was it something else? Only you can determine that.
Similarly, if you think a movie is “bad” despite it being on many “best” lists, think about why your opinion is different.
It’s normal to find some movies boring, but if it’s really just a matter of not being used to them, you may not be giving classic movies a fair chance of blowing you away.
4. Remember That It’s Okay to Like What You Like
Seriously. Just watch films, think about why you like them or not, and don’t sweat the details. There are no film buff police making sure you only watch “good” movies.