Ten Great Classic Films to Get You Started

Warner Bros Pictures

You can't go wrong with any of these terrific classic movies. Beloved by critics and fans alike, each has earned a well-deserved place in the ranks of the most influential classic films ever to come out of Hollywood.

Casablanca (1941)

It has Nazis, pickpockets, spies, Jewish refugees, a Russian bartender, a Bulgarian beauty and a blue parrot. Most of all, Casablanca has a great love story. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are lovers torn apart by duty in Paris, and reunited by desperation in Casablanca as World War II begins. "Round up the usual suspects" and watch it for the first time or the 50th.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

A black comedy that deftly disembowels the idea that nuclear war is winnable, Dr. Strangelove is a Cold War film that transcends its time. Bleak, suspenseful, quirky and hugely funny, it's a reminder that not so long ago, we all stood at the brink of global destruction -- and that it wouldn't take much to bring us right back.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Jimmy Stewart as the naïve young man appointed to the Senate and Claude Rains as the corrupt old pol can make you believe in democracy all over again, no matter how jaded you've become. Okay, so Mr. Smith feels a little corny these days, but what's wrong with integrity, love of country and the kind of patriotism that puts principle above profit?

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

In a great American film from a great American novel, Gregory Peck is small-town lawyer Atticus Finch, battling racism, injustice, poverty, ignorance and even a rabid dog in the rural South. Beautiful and hauntingly sad, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those movies that shows us who we want to be, even when we fail.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Everybody's at their best in this fine little piece of comic fluff,  Some Like it Hot, with Marilyn Monroe proving her comic chops as a dizzy blonde -- and showing her assets in some of the slinkiest screen outfits ever. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are hilarious as buddies in drag, hiding out from the mob in an all-girl orchestra. Priceless.

Ben Hur (1959)

One of the great sword-and-sandal epics,  Ben Hur is three-and-half hours of terrific cinematography, a gripping plot set against the bold sweep of history and an absolutely thrilling chariot race at its climax. The most expensive movie of all time when it was made, and the first film ever to be blessed by the Pope, it's a feast for the eyes and a must-see classic.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Film noir at its darkest height,  Sunset Boulevard is a sour take on old Hollywood, faded grandeur and ugly fate. Gloria Swanson is mesmerizing as an aging film goddess, and William Holden is fatally flawed as a gigolo who starts the movie face down in a swimming pool, narrating the story as a dead man before it even begins.

Psycho (1960)

Not Hitchcock's best movie, but probably his most famous. The sex and violence seem tame today, but with Psycho, Hitchcock broke longstanding Hollywood taboos and invented the psychological thriller. Groundbreaking then, it's dated and a little campy now, but still fun. Janet Leigh is gorgeous, Anthony Perkins is creepy, and Psycho still delivers some satisfying shocks.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

In a fantastic example of early science fiction, a single alien and his all-powerful robot invade the Earth and demand cooperation in the cause of interstellar peace. Tense and chilling, helped set the Cold War sci-fi archetype, with strange aliens standing in for the Red Menace and the threat of Communist invasion.

It Happened One Night (1934)

In the best of the "zany rich people" comedies so popular during the Great Depression, Clark Gable caused a sensation by taking off his shirt on-screen. Heavens! Claudette Colbert is the willful heiress pursued by Gable's wise-cracking reporter on a cross-country romp.  It Happened One Night is the charming great-grandma of all the screwball romantic comedies -- and she's still got great legs!