Usually, when I look for good movies to watch, I have a bias towards films released within the past couple of years. Those are simply the films I would most likely enjoy. It’s hard to find time to watch a lot of movies while raising three small kids and holding a full-time job, so I can’t afford to look at a movie that I don’t enjoy.
On the flip side, some vintage movies are still worth watching. These are films that have stood the test of time, and there are still good reasons why these movies have not been forgotten. What I’ve done here was compile the best vintage movies from IMDb’s Top 250 list.
The hardest part about compiling this list was defining what “vintage” means. If I used a self-centric definition, then it would simply mean any movie produced before I was born. But instead, I chose a nice round number. Here I define vintage to mean any movie released more than 50 years ago.
City Lights (1931)
City Lights was one of the greatest accomplishments of Charlie Chaplin’s celebrated career. In the film, Chaplin’s Tramp character struggles to help a blind girl he has fallen in love with while developing a friendship with an alcoholic millionaire. The final scene in the film was referred to by critic James Agee in 1949 as the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.”
Modern Times (1936)
Another Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times depicts Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp character struggling to live in a modern industrial world with the help of a young homeless woman. The film is commentary about the desperate conditions people faced during the Great Depression.
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Great Dictator was Charlie Chaplin’s first true talking picture, and also his most commercially successful film. It is a satirical political comedy-drama about a fictional dictator who tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution. The film was released before the United States’ entry into World War II and produced a controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler and antisemitism.
Casablanca has been made timeless by its iconic characters, lines, and theme song. Set in northern Africa during World War II, the film is about an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her husband escape Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis. Casablanca won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1944.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
A staple film for the American Christmas season, It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. The film is about a frustrated businessman whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, who shows him what life would have been like if he never existed.
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Sunset Boulevard was praised by critics when it was first released and is now regarded as an American classic. It was nominated for all four Academy Awards acting categories (and won three of them). The film is about an unsuccessful screenwriter and a faded silent movie star who dreams of making a triumphant return to the stardom.
Seven Samurai (1954)
Seven Samurai was one of the most influential Japanese films of all time. The film takes place during the Warring States Period in Japan. It follows the story of a poor village that hires seven samurai to defend themselves against bandits who are trying to steal their crops.
12 Angry Men (1957)
This film is about a dissenting juror in a murder trial trying to build a consensus with the other jurors. Nearly the entire film is set in the courtroom, and no names are used. A remake of the movie was produced under the same name in 1997.
Paths of Glory (1957)
Based on a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Paths of Glory is an anti-war film set during World War I. When a group of French soldiers refuses to continue a suicidal attack, they face charges of cowardice in a court-martial while their commanding officer attempts to defend them.
Psycho is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and it set a new level of acceptability for violence, deviant behavior, and sexuality in American movies. It is about a secretary who embezzles money from her employer and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
Loosely based on Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert, Dr. Strangelove is a satirical black comedy that satirizes the nuclear scare. In the film, an insane general orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, prompting politicians and generals to try to prevent a nuclear apocalypse frantically.
An epic Spaghetti Western film starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. The film is about three competing gunslingers racing to find a fortune in Confederate gold buried in a remote cemetery. It is the third movie in a trilogy following A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. It is probably the most famous Western ever produced.