Classic Movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime: a rant

Given I have been so damned nice about pretty much everything and everyone I have written about on this blog so far, I think I should get a pass for one day of grumpy-middle-aged-man.

So, it’s a beautiful bright autumnal Sunday morning – perfect for a long countryside ramble or, if you’re like me, to close the curtains to keep that damned sunlight out, get the fire going, prep some chestnuts and slob out on the sofa with a classic movie.

I’ve got quite a few classics on my shelf- I just got myself restored editions of To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, Harold and Maude, and Ashes and Diamonds on Blu ray .I consider all of them ‘classics’, but you know…they’re soooo far away on that shelf. So I thought I’d see what Netflix suggested as ‘classic movies’. (Note this is in the UK – your Netflix/ Amazon Prime viewing experience may be different.)

Here’s what Netflix brought up as top choices in drama: Ten Commandments  – okay: fits the bill, and it is a ‘Sunday afternoon’ flick in many ways: but god, I hate that film. in fact I think God probably hates that film. After that? Scarface (the De Palma version), Full Metal Jacket, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Fighting Seabees, Howard’s End, Houdini, The Stranger, Plaza Suite and Mississippi Burning.  

And their comedy classics? Hatari! She’s Gotta Have It, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Court Jester, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future, Plaza Suite, The Pink Panther, Play it Again Sam, and The Muppets Take Manhattan

Generally not a bad set of films by any stretch of the imagination, but there are at least a half dozen of those I think are a long way from being ‘classics’.

Let’s take a moment just to consider what it means to be a ‘classic’ movie.

I am a long way from suggesting it has to be any or all of: ‘black & white’, ‘foreign language’, ‘serious’, or ‘meaningful’

I think amc film site gives a pretty good definition and I’m happy to go with it:

“Classic films are often universal favorites that hold up after repeated rescreenings. Classics are renowned films of first rank, reference points in film mythology, or films that have become a part of American cultural folklore.”

The site also gives a good list of what it considers classics on the same page. Included in those it lists (and it’s a nice long list to get your teeth stuck into), are, to name but a few (and each links to the amc site which gives pretty fantastic summaries of each:

Frankenstein (1931). The Public Enemy (1931) King Kong (1933) It Happened One Night (1934) Bringing Up Baby (1938) The Wizard of Oz (1939) The Philadelphia Story (1940)  Vertigo (1958) Some Like It Hot (1959) The Apartment (1960)  Psycho (1960)
Hud (1963) Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Bonnie and Clyde (1967) The Graduate (1967) In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Star Wars (1977)

Now, I don’t even like all of those movies, but I think they all fit into amc‘s succinct definition.

And of that list of 16 films above, only one of them is available on Netflix. 

I then started thinking about directors responsible for ‘classic’ films. And, quite lazily, took the top ten directors of all time as ranked by IMDB. Now, I’m not saying that IMDB is right in everything it says, and some of the rankings in its top 250 movies are…interesting to say the least, based as much as they are on user opinion.

So, ten great directors: there’s got to be some good stuff there to settle down to on a Sunday afternoon without that long, treacherous trek to the shelf, right?

Orson Welles: Netflix (N from this point on): has 2: Touch of Evil and The Stranger. Amazon Prime (AP) also has 2: it also has The Stranger plus Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report). That’s a total of 3 films, from a man considered the greatest director in history by IMDB (pesonally I disagree, but he’s no slouch…). 54 directed projects…a few little things like Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, F is for Fake…hey, why go on? The name is linked to his filmography, and you get the point….

Alfred Hitchcock: you cant’ accuse Hitch of being elitist, can you? Fun, thrilling movies, that just happen to be great as well. N has none. Not a one. The closest? The Psycho remake. AP does better with 8, including a number of the older, out of copyright ones. But they’ve got North by North West, The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn…so, minor points to them. (He has got 70 director credits to his name mind… )

Stanley Kubrick I think I’ve probably made my own personal feelings towards Kubrick clear elsewhere: ie that I’m not a fan. However, I understand why so many of his movies are considered ‘classics’. N not so much: Full Metal Jacket and Doctor Strangelove. AP – Lolita, Fear and Desire and FMJ.

Federico Fellini – meh, foreign. N says no. AP – a bit better, Orchestra Rehearsal and The Clowns. Not his best or best known, but at least there’s two there.

John Ford – like Hitchcock, able to be crowd pleasing and brilliant in ‘low-brow’ dramas. The man directed over 147 pieces. Rich pickings…right? N has 2 – Battle of Midway and Undercover – and let’s be clear: Undercover was a propaganda doc he made for WW2. AP has one: Stagecoach.

Jean Renoir: so Netflix does a ‘titles related to’ if it doesn’t have anything in it’s archives of what you’re looking for. After trying to get me to accept Jean Reno a few times (don’t get me wrong, I like Victor the Cleaner v. much, but not what I’m looking for here…) it suggests movies ‘close’ to Renoir start with Jason Bourne – not Netflix’s finest algorithm moment…AP – The Golden Coach and The Southerner. Ok, one  US production, but hey, it’s not Jason Bourne…

Akira Kurosawa: N offers me Kill Bill (okay, it has swords if we’re really going to be so reductive…) and Star Trek Next Generation. This is getting a bit ridiculous. AP – a big fat old ゼロ

Francis Ford Coppola: okay, back on safer ground: lots of US movies, relatively recent. Over 30 to choose from. Should be good. N has Dracula. AP has Dracula and The Rainmaker. Okay then…

Ingmar Bergman: N offers me Life of Brian as it’s closest suggestion. I shit you not. AP blows a raspberry (and there’s a soft fruit joke in there for the pretentious)

and last in the top ten, Jean-Luc Goddard: N offers me 6 choices…unfortunately they’re all Jean Claude Van Damme movies. AP has nowt.

Ok, I’m not saying the teens are lining up for release day of a new Hitchcock series to binge watch ala Strange Things – although if any of these directors were still alive (fill your own Francis Ford Coppola joke in here), it would be interesting to see how many of them would get involved: Hitchcock was no stranger to TV, after all.

BUT, when N and AP are spending billions on new stuff, how much would it cost them to put a few more classics up there – and no, Netflix, I don’t consider Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, In the Line of Fire or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to be true ‘classics’ – fun flicks, sure, all of them, but come on…

Two final thoughts:

  1. Maybe it’s time the likes of Total Film and Empire – the two most popular movie magazines in the UK, started encouraging their reader bases to investigate and request from the major streaming providers more of these classic films…just a thought.
  2. Friday I wrote a piece in the immediate aftermath of the news of William Goldman‘s passing. I used the word ‘classic’ several times in that piece, as in ‘the man wrote a lot of them’… I checked on Netflix today: a search on his name reveals 1 movie; Misery. After that we were into How I Met Your Mother and Friends….Amazon Prime has ‘All the President’s Men’.

Rant over for this Sunny Sunday. I’m going to spend this afternoon with the new season of Narcos: Mexico, cups of tea, chestnuts, a roaring fire and a side dish of hypocrisy.



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