While there are plenty of exciting blockbusters hitting the silver screen this year (Black Panther, Deadpool 2, etc.), we’re mostly cringing at the 2018 movie lineup (*cough* Red Sparrow, Fifty Shades Free *cough*).
So we’ve reached into the archives to hand-select 18 classic films made before 1980 that you should watch or rewatch this year. Why? Well, 1) they’re a reminder of what real cinematic gold looks and sounds like, and 2) their leading men are the coolest of the cool, inspiring everything from our threads to our cars, beards, booze, sunglasses, and swagger.
How many can you mark off the list?
And when you’re done with your movie binge, check out our list of classic books to read in 2018.
This 1967 prison drama featuring King Cool, Paul Newman, sealed in our culture the reflective aviators aesthetic and timeless lines like, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Newman plays small-time criminal Luke Jackson who is sentenced to time on a Florida prison farm. Jackson is beaten down by the officers but earns respect for his perseverance and spirit. This film really does make you want to push harder and never give up, and it’s got a killer cover of “Plastic Jesus” courtesy Newman on the banjo.
Based on the brilliant Tennessee Williams play of the same title, the 1951 film adaptation is executed with perfection by a wild and brutish Marlon Brando playing the vigorous Stanley Kowalski, obsessed with work, fighting, and sex. Kowalski’s disturbed sister-in-law, Blanche DuBois, moves in with him and his wife and, as expected from Tennessee Williams, madness ensues. Hedonism and disillusion reign in this classic black-and-white film, worthy of a re-watch every year, if you ask us. If you don’t know where the line “STELLAAAA” comes from, get to watching.
Arguably Dustin Hoffman’s most iconic Role, The Graduate is the tale of an older married woman, Mrs. Robinson, seducing college graduate Ben Braddock (Hoffman). The affair takes place as Braddock is floating in uncertainty over what he will do now that school is over (I think we can all relate to that). Braddock then falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, and as the situation prompts, some issues arise. Scored by the folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel, the soundtrack of The Graduate is about as famous as it’s quote, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me!” A particularly poignant watch if you’re at a transition point in life, debating graduate school or a career change.
Alcatraz: the most secure and brutal prison in the world. Not for Clint Eastwood, who plays smart con Frank Morris in this drama/thriller based on the true-life prisoner escape documented in the 1963 non-fiction book of the same name by J. Campbell Bruce. As the title indicates, much of the film tracks Morris’ plan to escape with other inmates, however the cherry on top of this film is its old-school use of dramatic music and dated special effects. Honestly, we’ll take a papier-mâché hand over CGI any day. Eastwood’s gruff cool is spot on and double cool he performed his own stunts.
If you’re into dystopian crime films, none before — or since — the 1971 release of A Clockwork Orange will ever top this bizarre yet hypnotizing film. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, our star is a young Malcolm McDowell in the role of the sadistic lead Alex, who lives in a futuristic England and is hungry for violence with his young gang of “droogs.” Alex is jailed for a heinous crime and sentenced to a psychiatric rehabilitation program that makes him unable to inflict pain. The costumes, language, and music swirl together in a cult classic that will never be topped. If you haven’t seen it yet, listen to the song “Singin’ in the Rain” before and after. Your world will be destroyed.
Pick your poison. These Alfred Hitchcock classics redefined the psychological horror genre and continue to be copied, adapted, stolen from, and spoofed by modern-day movies. Vertigo follows a former San Francisco detective, Scottie, played by James Stewart, who suffers from acrophobia and vertigo. Scottie is hired as a private investigator to follow an acquaintance’s wife, who becomes the object of both his obsession and derailment. It’s been called the best film ever made, so … but there’s also Psycho, which is iconic for its shower murder scene, and Rear Window, another of our favorite film noirs of all time. To be safe, watch all three.
Two words: Steve McQueen. This 1968 film will not only persuade you to try turtlenecks (a la McQueen’s cool style), it’ll also get you itching to drive a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT through the hills of San Francisco— as is done in one of the best chase scenes in all of film history (sit down, Fast and Furious franchise, real men are at work). Frank Bullitt is a police lieutenant in pursuit of a kingpin that killed the only living witness in a high-profile Congressional investigation. Bullitt then follows the trail of corruption. It’s hard to describe why, but this movie just hits all the right spots and reminds us what a great action movie looks like.
One of two women to star on our list, Foxy Brown is a powerful and voluptuous Black woman who disguises herself as a high-class prostitute to get revenge on a murderous mobster. The Blaxploitation film released in 1974 stars a stunning and fierce Pam Grier, and remains timely even through 2018. Not only was the movie paramount in getting more Black actors on screen, it also represented a footing in the women’s power movement, with Grier as a new type of heroine everyone needed to see, representing African-American beauty, sexuality, and womanhood. Make sure to listen to the commentary from director Jack Hill.
No list of classic films is complete without a James Dean cameo, and none is so perfect as his role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. Having moved to a new town, teenager Stark tries to start fresh but his rebellious tendencies are tugged by violent bullies, love interests (Natalie Wood), and troubled friends. The film positioned the restless and misunderstood middle-class youth of America’s 1950s into a sympathetic view and committed Dean to stardom. Even as an adult, Stark’s struggle to cope is highly comparable. Watch with a red jacket, glass of milk, and handful of cake.
Preferably sometime in October, press play on this classic horror fantasy made way back in 1922. The term Nosferatu is synonymous with vampire or Dracula, and the film itself was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic novel, Dracula. The silent, black-and-white film tracks Thomas Hutter as he travels to a remote Transylvania castle owned by Count Orlok, who slowly reveals himself as a vampire. Rated a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (this compared to Rebel Without a Cause at 91 percent), Nosferatu is a long-forgotten gem in the history of cinema, particularly the horror genre.
A comedy! Yes, we do admit the bulk of our favorite classic films reign in the thriller realm, but Dr. Strangelove is powerful enough to function as the one classic comedy you can rely on. The fantasy film was released in 1964 and is eerily applicable today given the state of domestic and world politics. Sub-titled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” the film is a black comedy about what could happen if the wrong person has control of the nuclear weapons button. The power of the movie is largely credited to director Stanley Kubrick and comic genius Peter Sellers.
Before Jay-Z and Beyonce, Kim and Kanye, there was Bonnie and Clyde, the real-life bandits of the Great Depression who traveled the U.S. robbing and killing. The film is a dramatic and romantic interpretation of their journey as Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) falls in love with ex-con Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), and together embark on a violent crime spree. Their lore is jotted with theft and the harrowing events of their death. This is about as “romantic comedy” as we can get without puking; there is a very charming and loving sensibility to Bonnie and Clyde’s dynamic.
A small-time pool shark, Fast Eddie, seeks to enter the high-stakes world of professional hustling, but gets in over his head challenging a world-title pool player to a long, endurance game with plenty on the line. Paul Newman plays the young hustler in this black-and-white film that managed to change the game of pool from an unpopular, leisurely hobby to a common, respectable game. Given a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie made Newman a legend. Most notable was his mastery and realism in the role of Fast Eddie, which he reprised in 1986 for the Oscar winner The Color of Money.
The dawn of James Bond. The year 1962 saw the start of what would become a legendary film franchise still alive and thriving to this day. Sean Connery took the role of British spy, James Bond, based on writer Ian Fleming’s series of crime novels. Suave, brash, and deadly, Bond captured our attention as a character every man wants to be. All the elements of story, acting, setting, and script came together in the case of Dr. No and the result is that many Bond connoisseurs still consider it the best 007 film ever made. Quick plot: Bond travels to Jamaica to thwart the efforts of a megalomaniac villain set on destroying the U.S. space program.
You know those rare movies that take you to a place you never thought imaginable? None achieve this end with such precision and madness as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee’s play by the same name. Aging couple George and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) invite guests Nick and his timid wife Honey over to their house for a nightcap. George is a history professor and Nick a newly appointed instructor. It seems like a harmless, easy situation. Think again. Libations flow and a torrent of marital madness erupt across the screen. The witty and undercutting back-and-forth dialogue is razor sharp and brilliant, performed by acting powerhouses. Grab a drink and enjoy the hysteria of marriage.
At this point, you may have discovered we’re immovable Paul Newman fans. It’s hard to blame considering his work alongside Robert Redford in the western crime drama Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Based on the true story of Western train and bank robbers, this outlaw classic gives a likable face to the fabled Sundance Kid (Redford) and his frontier bestie Butch Cassidy (Newman). If Thelma and Louise is a film of sisterhood, this is our quintessential brotherhood flick, considering how the pair goes out guns blazing. The movie was the top-grossing film of 1969, captivating audiences with the charismatic due cast to play the historic anti-heroes.
If you don’t know the name Edward G. Robinson, shame on you. Perhaps the best film noir actor of all time, Robinson takes center stage in the 1944 thriller The Woman in the Window, playing psychology professor Richard Wanley who becomes infatuates with the femme fatal model Alice (Joan Bennett). Wanley kills Alice’s jealous boyfriend and attempts to cover up the crime, until his friend asks him to tag along on its very investigation. Expect all staples of a classic noir, executed to perfection. In fact, this film helped coin the genre classification itself.
James Cagney kills it (no pun intended) as Rocky Sullivan in the classic crime film, given a glimmering 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Buddies Rocky and Jerry Connolly grew up in the rough and tumble neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. While Rocky gets shipped off to reform school, Jerry becomes a priest and tried to stop gangsters from corrupting the youth of his neighborhood. The friends meet again and, to be honest, any 50-word explanation won’t do this film justice. Just watch it. It was the beginning of gangster-ism in film and is packed with brilliant characters, layers of social commentary, and much-needed Humphrey Bogart appearance in a world clogged with Matt Damons.
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