We are living in strange and utterly unprecedented times. Just weeks ago, the title of this article would have been jarring and hilarious, but now, with the government urging us all to stay home, it seems entirely appropriate. While many of us still have work to do, it’s becoming difficult to know how to spend our downtime — increasingly so as we eat through the available selection of online entertainment, eventually being left with the least appealing Netflix options. Although for now we can’t venture outside to get our culture fill, there are plenty of ways to make your home a more worldly place. Below, in no particular order, are 15 iconic movies that might make your isolation a little more enlightening.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Plot: After years of separation, fate reunites jaded nightclub owner Rick (Bogart) with his old lover, Isla (Bergman). The former, despite his cool manner, never got over the latter, who has since married prominent renegade Victor Laszlo. Isla asks for Rick’s help in escaping the country with her rebel husband, but soon discovers that her previous love story is far from over.
Genre: War, Drama
Fun Fact: Bogart was several inches shorter than his costar, meaning he had to stand or sit on boxes to look taller than her!
Watch it for: Stunning film noir aesthetics, countless iconic quotes, and a dose of film history.
Director: Blake Edwards
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard
Plot: Spritely socialite Holly Golightly (Hepburn) is working as a high-class escort in New York City when she meets her new neighbour, Paul Varjak (Peppard). Paul is an aspiring writer, grudgingly reliant on his relationship with an older woman for money, while Holly is on the hunt for a rich husband. Dark pasts resurface as the pair grow closer, but will love conquer all?
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Fun Fact: Despite this being one of Hepburn’s most recognisable roles, her part was originally written for Marilyn Monroe, who turned it down.
Watch it for: A heavy touch of class, brilliant on-screen chemistry, and Hepburn’s heart-melting rendition of ‘Moon River’.
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Orson Welles, Dorothy Comingore
Plot: On his deathbed, newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane utters one last word before his demise: ‘Rosebud’. Seeking an explanation for this enigmatic utterance, a reporter delves deep into Kane’s past, revealing his sheer determination to make it to the top amid myriad personal struggles and painful childhood memories.
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Fun Fact: Citizen Kane is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, yet it was Welles’s first. He was just 25 years old when we wrote, directed and starred in the movie.
Watch it for: Enthralling story-telling, groundbreaking cinematography, and a chance to see a genius at work.
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell
Plot: Richard (Ewell)’s wife and children have gone on vacation during an intense New York heatwave, leaving him alone in their apartment. He soon encounters the model who recently moved in upstairs (Monroe), and, never even asking her name, is instantly infatuated. As the heat rises, the tension mounts; will Richard stay faithful to his family or give in to temptation?
Fun Fact: The famous scene in which Marilyn Monroe’s dress is blown upward by a subway grate was originally shot on a New York street, but onlookers were so noisy that the scene had to be reshot in a Hollywood studio!
Watch it for: Monroe’s ditzy delightfulness, a hysterical script, and one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time.
Director: Fritz Lang
Starring: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm
Plot: In the far-flung future, society is neatly divided in two. Perched in gleaming skyscrapers and lounging in pleasure gardens are the elite classes, while deep beneath the surface reside the immense and underprivileged working classes who power the city. When privileged Freder (Fröhlich) discovers the truth behind the façade, he befriends another dissident, Maria (Helm), and takes on his powerful father in a bid to liberate the masses.
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Fun Fact: At the time, this was one of the most expensive films ever made, nearly running the studio into bankruptcy. It included over 37,000 extras.
Watch it for: Extraordinary special effects, breathtaking set design, and a timeless message.
Director: Jacques Demy
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Plot: Geneviève (Deneuve) works at her mother’s umbrella shop in the colourful harbour town of Cherbourg, and is in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a kindly mechanic. Their romance is cut short when Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War. The pair write to one another, but life gets complicated as the years go by. Geneviève’s mother is desperate for her daughter to marry a wealthy man, but she is adamant to wait for Guy’s return.
Genre: Musical, Romance
Fun Fact: This film’s striking visual and musical similarities to La La Land (2016) are by no means coincidental, ‘Cherbourg’ is La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s favourite movie!
Watch it for: Mesmerising colour coordination, an impressive all-singing script, and a moving story about growing up.
Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter
Plot: When doe-eyed fan Eve Harrington (Baxter) shows up outside Broadway superstar Margo Channing (Davis)’s dressing room, the actress happily introduces herself and her innermost circle. Eve convinces Margo to take her on as an assistant, but intends on undoing her career from the inside and taking her place in the spotlight. Will Margo catch on before it’s too late, or will Eve use her connections to rise to the top?
Fun Fact: All About Eve is the only film in history to earn four female acting Oscar nominations: Davis and Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress.
Watch it for: Killer dialogue delivered with break-neck intensity, a nail-biting plot, and phenomenal performances from Davis and Baxter.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz
Plot: Amélie (Tautou) is a shy young waitress who largely keeps to herself in her Montmartre apartment. But upon discovering a relic from her home’s previous tenant and stealthily returning it to him, she decides to dedicate herself to bringing joy into the lives of those around her. While others glow from her secret acts of kindness, Amélie's own life is far from perfect, and she struggles to shake her timidity in the city of love.
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Fun Fact: After the film’s release, the name Amélie surged in popularity in the UK. Where before only around 12 baby girls per year were given the heroine’s name, since 2001 there have been approximately 1,100 new Amélies per year!
Watch it for: A refreshingly offbeat directing approach, a charmingly peculiar protagonist, and a whirlwind tour of sun-kissed Paris.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly
Plot: Temporarily wheelchair-bound in his apartment after an accident, photographer Jeff (Stewart) is left with nothing to do but spy on his neighbours across the courtyard. Sensing suspicious activity from one occupant in particular, he becomes convinced that the man has murdered his wife. He and his girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) set to work cracking the case, but get much more than they bargained for when the suspect realises he's being watched.
Fun Fact: Rear Window boasted the largest and most intricate indoor set at Paramount Studios. It comprised many detailed apartments, complex lighting systems to simulate different times of day and temperature, and a drainage system to accommodate epic weather effects.
Watch it for: Hitchcock’s incomparable knack for suspense, Kelly’s regal magnetism, and Stewart’s contagious desperation for answers.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman
Plot: In the shady underbelly of sunny Los Angeles criss-cross the paths of numerous disreputable characters. Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Jackson) are bantering hitmen, Mia (Thurman) is an impish actress, Butch (Bruce Willis) is a struggling boxer, and ‘Pumpkin’ (Tim Roth) and ‘Honey Bunny’ (Amanda Plummer) are amateur robbers. Played out in startling non-chronological order, it’s just a waiting game to see who makes it out alive.
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Fun Fact: Pulp Fiction crams a staggering 265 ‘F Words’ into its script, but this still doesn’t beat Tarantino’s record of 269 in Reservoir Dogs (1992).
Watch it for: A mind-bending, time-warping structure, a star-studded cast, and the most stylish violence you’ll ever see.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford
Plot: A former silver screen legend, Blanche (Crawford) is confined to her bedroom in a wheelchair after a car accident leaves her paralysed. Her sister Jane (Davis), whom she blames for her condition, is left to care for Blanche, but makes every day a living nightmare. Bent on reviving her career long after her child acting years, Jane hatches a plot to get rid of her inconvenient sister once and for all.
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Fun Fact: Davis and Crawford’s real-life feud affected ‘Baby Jane’s production. In a scene where Davis attacks Crawford, the latter was kicked so hard that she needed stitches. In return, Crawford put weights in her pockets so Davis would would strain her back when had to pick her up.
Watch it for: Erratic plot twists and turns, palpable rivalry between the stars, and a chillingly human tale of jealousy and resentment.
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Plot: Jesse (Hawke) is an American travelling to Vienna by train. When an argument between a nearby couple forces him and French student Celine (Delpy) to seek refuge further down the carriage, the strangers get to talking. Quickly forming a deep bond, Jesse convinces Celine to alight at Vienna with him, and the pair wander the streets discussing life, the universe, and everything, dreading the moment they have to part. But will the stars one day align again?
Fun Fact: The screenplay way written in just eleven days, with significant contributions from leads Hawke and Delpy, but they were not credited for their work.
Watch it for: A gentle, easy-going pace, Hawke and Delpy’s casual philosophising, and a precious period of tranquility and reflection.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb
Plot: As a murder trial nears its end, a jury of twelve must deliberate and agree upon a verdict. Though at first the accused looks undeniably guilty, one man (Fonda) is not convinced. It is up to him to persuade each of the eleven other men, using facts and evidence, that the case is not as simple as it seems. But threatened masculinities, stifling heat, and sheer exhaustion make this no mean feat.
Genre: Crime, Legal Drama
Fun Fact: The film’s sense of tension and claustrophobia is largely thanks to Lumet’s camera techniques. The first third of the movie was shot above eye level, the next at eye level, and the final third below. This amplifies the feeling of the walls and ceiling closing in.
Watch it for: Lumet’s harrowing cinematography, Fonda’s inspiring tenacity, and a still-relevant critique of the US legal system.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Plot: Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling) both moved to LA to follow their dreams. Their paths inevitably cross in the small world of Hollywood, and they become drawn by one another’s ambitions and talents. But as each begins to achieve the success they hoped for, every step towards their goal is another away from their soulmate. Each decision becomes harder, and each lover learns what it means to be a star.
Genre: Musical, Romance
Fun Fact: Ryan Gosling’s character is a talented pianist, but this was actually the actor's first time playing; he took two-hour piano lessons six days a week to learn his pieces off by heart. Costar John Legend says he was jealous of how quickly Gosling was improving his skills!
Watch it for: Earworm musical numbers, spectacular dance sequences, and a down-to-earth story about lovers and dreamers.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain
Plot: While Dr. Dave Bowman (Dullea) and his team are on a mysterious outer space mission, their computer assistant, HAL, starts exhibiting some alarming behaviour. Offended by the astronauts’ judgement and distrust of him, HAL brings the crew to their knees and takes control of the operation. Trapped in space with this wily and unpredictable machine, the fate of the Discovery One spacecraft rests on Dr. Bowman’s shoulders.
Genre: Science Fiction, Epic
Fun Fact: Worried that extraterrestrial beings might be discovered before ‘Space Odyssey’s release, Kubrick tried to take out ‘Alien Insurance’ in a bid to protect himself from box office failure. Lloyd’s of London declined his request, explaining that his concerns were unfounded.
Watch it for: Astronomical landscapes accompanied by sweeping classical pieces, ageless special effects, and 60's psychedelia in space.
These movies may be harder to track down than Netflix originals, but their quality and ongoing impact on popular culture means they’re well worth seeing; they more than make up for any hassle you face in trying to find them! If you feel like watching with friends but are stuck at home, there are many free browser extensions that allow you to share your screen and chat with others at the same time. Happy screening!
Text by Tau Nell
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