Following our recent Shudder article listing the 100 best horror films on the streaming service, we now turn our attentions to FilmStruck.
Associated with Curzon Home Cinema, FilmStruck is chocked to the gills with classic cinema, both American, Far Eastern, European and beyond, so we decided to compile a list of 30 essential films on the service in case you were thinking of subscribing. Some of these you may see pop up on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Some, however… no chance!
30. Pale Rider (1985)
In 1953, the deceptively tall Shane (Alan Ladd) descended from the idyllic paradise of the Western plains and mountain ranges to join a small community, subsequently save them from the greed and avarice of their oppressors, before ascending back into the wilderness, possibly dead or dying. And then, in 1985, Clint Eastwood (as star, director and producer) did much the same thing, only much, much gruffer. Although Pale Rider was made in a decade where post-modernism was rampant, its core themes of pitting the heavenly Preacher against the evil’s of man is as Classic Western as it is possible to get. It’s a story of man versus man’s nature, of the little guy standing up to the bully, of the American dream resisting the suffocation of corporate greed.
Pale Rider became the highest grossing Western of the entire decade, further highlighting Eastwood’s ability to continually re-purpose the genre to tell contemporary tales to great success throughout the decades.
by Owen Hughes
29. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
The seventies was a trying time for the Western. Sergio Leone had effectively shot a bullet through its rawhide hat and run it out of town. You couldn’t just have Gary Cooper walk around town as the world turned its back on him any more, or have Gregory Peck pass his undesirable reputation onto the first upstart youth who challenges him. In 1971, Robert Altman found the perfect antidote. He took the pretty-boy Warren Beatty and turned him into the habitual liar, gambler and drunk McCabe; and teamed him with the opium addicted prostitute Mrs Miller (Julie Christie), whose reputation built on a foundation of lies would be their ultimate undoing.
Altman exposes the grime, filth and deceit in McCabe and Mrs. Miller that the myths and legends of the Wild West were almost probably all based on in this absorbing slow burn drama.
by Owen Hughes
28. eXistenZ (1999)
Can anybody do “weird” quite like David Cronenberg? His meta-psychological espionage-come-sexually-invasive thriller is dripping atmosphere from every swollen bio-port orifice. Rife with visually disgusting imagery, Cronenberg complex science fiction horror snags onto the late 90s fear of violence in games; and in particular where the line blurs between what is real and of consequence, and what is fiction and pure fantasy. Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh lead a stellar cast in a plot about a virtual reality game designer on the run from assassins that constantly tries to trip its viewer up.
There’s no point second guessing eXistenZ. Whenever you think you have a firm grasp on it, Cronenberg is there to make things weirder and leave you checking the back of your neck for holes that shouldn’t be there for weeks afterwards.
by Owen Hughes
27. Before Sunset (2004)
One of the few sequels with a genuine claim for superiority over its predecessor, writer-director Richard Linklater’s classic follow up to Before Sunrise gives us the achingly beautiful, real time Paris reunion of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), nine years after their first and only previous encounter several hundred miles away in Vienna. Welcoming us back almost like old friends, Linklater executes a masterful blend of technical direction (including a number of spectacular long takes) and cautious emotional build up, the crescendo of which is suddenly upon us in a flurry of raw, painful adoration; part of one of the most intense, yet satisfying finales in the history of romantic cinema.
by Nicholas Lay
26. Force Majeure (2014)
Ruben Östlund’s gleefully uncomfortable relationship drama Force Majeure is a merciless depiction of the fragility of the family unit and the male ego. Östlund focusses on the ripple effects caused by one moment of weakness as Swedish holidaymaker Tomas flees the scene of a controlled avalanche at a resort in the French Alps, leaving his wife and two young children behind. Östlund slowly ramps up the discomfort as Tomas realises his attempts to laugh off the incident are only making things worse, poisoning the holiday and curdling his sense of manliness.
The germ of the story was based on a real viral video giving the increasingly heightened scenario a queasy plausibility that will force the viewer to question just how they would act in a similar situation.
by Kevin Wight
25. Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005)
This 2005 third instalment in Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s cult classic Vengeance Trilogy sees a female protagonist out for revenge this time as Lee Young-ae plays Lee Geum-ja, a woman released from prison after serving time for a murder she didn’t commit. As with Chan-Wook’s previous two films in this trilogy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and the best of the bunch, Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (or simply Lady Vengeance) doesn’t hide when it comes to brutality and stylish fights and bloodshed. But what sets Park Chan-Wook apart from a lot of other directors is his ability to throw in expertly thought out and written twists and turns and he certainly does this here but in a way that often leaves you with your jaw on the floor instead of scratching your head in confusion.
Chan-Wook’s ability to use black humour even in a films darker moments is also to his, and his casts credit as Lady Vengeance becomes an epic and exciting end to a quite brilliant trilogy.
by Adam Massingham
24. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Little Shop of Horrors is a story about cycles. The 1986 Frank Oz-directed comedy horror musical was an adaptation of a 1982 Broadway show, itself a reworking of Roger Corman’s overlooked 1960 black comedy, which was further influenced by short stories stretching back to the turn of the century.
As it winds through the tragic tale of a strange and unusual plant that has a taste for blood, throwing out Motown-infused songs as infectious as the alien spores that brought Audrey II and his malicious compatriots to Earth, the crescendo – in the theatrical ending, at least – has events doomed to repeat once again, leaving you the viewer similarly compelled to rewatch the movie (and track down the original, superior finale) whilst reciting one simple mantra: don’t feed the plants.
by Lee Chrimes
23. Best in Show (2000)
The hilarious and mostly-improvised Best in Show features five pure-bred dog owners and storied eccentrics (the narrative suggests these descriptors might be redundant) as they prepare for the 125th Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Co-writer (with co-star Eugene Levy) and director Christopher Guest edited 60 hours of footage into an 89-minute mock-documentary style film showcasing the plights and fortunes of uptight lawyers fighting over the countenance of their sullen Weimaraner, Beatrice, a Floridian couple that, when not running into her old boyfriends and dealing with his (literal) two left feet, compose odes to their beloved Norwich Terrier, Winky, the most popular of which is “God loves a terrier,” and a fishing aficionado and would-be ventriloquist with his beloved Bloodhound, Hubert. Not to be outshone are Tribeca couple Stefan and Scott, who elaborate their room in Philadelphia’s Taft Hotel with a Tibetan Thangka while grooming Miss Agnes, their prize Shih Tzu, and Leslie and Sherri Ann Cabot, a one-foot-in-the-grave at-least-octogenerian and his very blonde, buxom, and intellectually absent wife, who partners in more ways than one with dog trainer Christy Cummings (played by perfectly-cast Jane Lynch) to show their standard poodle, Rhapsody in White.
If this all sounds outlandish, remember that the real show hasn’t even begun. Christopher Guest dismisses the popular label “mockumentary” to describe the film, saying that his intent as a filmmaker is not to mock, but to attempt in his films to explore the peculiarities of personalities within niche communities. The purebred dog community portrayed in Best in Show is an exceptional, expectation-subverting parade of humanity, and caninity, in fine form.
by Marlene Stemme
22. Logan’s Run (1976)
Set in the 23rd Century, in a computer-run utopia where every hedonistic urge is catered for, citizens are forced to undergo the ritual of ‘Carousel’ at the age of 30. Whilst most believe that Carousel leads to a rebirth, it’s actually a method of population control that kills those who enter it. Logan, accidentally stumbling upon information that he shouldn’t have, is forced to become a Runner, attempting to escape the city in order to preserve his life.
A classic and well-loved piece of science-fiction, Logan’s Run is a beautiful take on the utopia-is-actually-a-dystopia story that still plays well despite being 42 years old and well past the age that its light would start blinking.
by Wendy Attwell
21. The Searchers (1956)
Nuance, subtlety, raucous fisticuffs, romance, humour, drama, action, all the familiar conventions and motifs associated with a Classic Western can be found, deliberated, argued and absorbed in John Ford’s masterpiece. The Duke shines at its centre providing a career best performance as Ethan (the racist who hates himself but doesn’t know how to process it) on a mission to, one assumes, save his niece who has been taken by the “savage” Indians. If the ultimate aim of a Western is the narrativisation of the American frontier spirit and its approach to conservatism and masculine individualism, then John Wayne’s damaged hero who returns to violence as a means to prove his heroism – and partly because he knows no other way to behave – is the perfect encapsulation of the genre at its absolute best.
The Searchers is one of the most iconic features ever produced in Hollywood replete with one of its most enduring images as Ethan walks off into the sunset in the final scene, no longer relevant to the modern world. Plus, Ford sure knows how to make a pretty picture, doesn’t he?
by Owen Hughes
20. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Getting a well-deserved resurge in interest after last year’s Feud TV series, which dramatised the lives of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a psychological horror about the disturbing and abusive relationship between two sisters: former child-star ‘Baby Jane’ Hudson, and former movie-star Blanche, now confined to a wheelchair after the sibling rivalry between them resulted in a horrific accident. Jane dresses and acts like a child, but with the cunning of an adult. She is clearly mentally ill, but is everything really what it seems?
It’s creepy and it’s camp, genuinely disturbing, and with a definite sense of pathos about it. An absolute must-watch.
by Wendy Attwell
19. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
“Raunchy” might be the most suitable way to describe Bob Rafelson’s remake of the 1946 original. “Sexy”, “erotic” and “downright filthy” are possibly more apt. A drifter (Jack Nicholson) finds work at a roadside cafe and promptly engages in exceptionally explicit extramarital affairs with the manager’s wife (American Horro Story‘s Jessica Lange), as events conspire to murder her old man. Rafelson’s movie boasts elements of a neo-noir, most notably the femme fatale character who corrupts and is corrupted by the exotic drifter. The most notable and controversial scene in the entire film is the sex scene; most notably because of the manner in which it is instigated as Lange is physically forced to engage in the act before succumbing.
It is an uneasy film to watch as each of the characters in turn makes the other worse on this spiral downwards, but is elevated by the performance of its star actors.
by Owen Hughes
18. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
How many times have you heard, “I like Full Metal Jacket, but only the first half”? If the answer is zero, consider yourself lucky. If the answer is too many, you’re not alone. Stanley Kubrick’s ode to the terrifying mental anguish inflicted by the conveyor belt “process” of the Vietnam War is built on the simplicity of contrast. Private Pyle’s grim detachment from reality inside a dim barracks’ bathroom is nothing without the sudden Nancy Sinatra-infused transition to the bright and sultry, soon to be bombed and blood-soaked streets of South Vietnam, now populated by an army of Pyles at different stages of dead-eyed transformation, surviving solely on black humour.
Despite being shot entirely in England, with a disused London gasworks substituting for Huế, Kubrick’s penultimate feature still plagues the imagination with its stark, haunting imagery.
by Nicholas Lay
17. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Even if you’ve never seen Sergei Eisenstein’s silent masterpiece, you won’t have escaped its influence. The Odessa Steps sequence alone is one of the most iconic in the history of the medium, referenced and parodied endlessly in the likes of The Untouchables and Naked Gun 33 1/3. Eisenstein’s revolutionary editing techniques are now standard but the film retains a pace and power that will still satisfy modern audiences nearly a century after its release. The story of a 1905 mutiny that proved a catalyst for the first Russian revolution is a perfect example of cinema functioning simultaneously as both art and as a vehicle for propaganda.
This uneasy balance has been attempted countless times since, often with the darkest of intentions.
by Kevin Wight
16. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Tennessee Williams’ play has lent itself to many an adaptation, but not many like the 1958 film version. Part of that is from the substantial changes from the play (like removing all the references to Brick’s sexuality or adding a more cheerful ending), but an even bigger part is from stars Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
The stars give incredible performances as Brick and Maggie, and watching two of the hottest and most talented stars of their day work opposite one another is always a treat.
by Jenn Reid
15. Stalker (1979)
Sci-fi at its most oblique and philosophical, Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic arthouse depicts an expedition into the nebulous “Zone”, a place which warps the laws of reality, in search of a room which will grant the wishes of anyone who enters. Tarkovsky’s stately, meditative classic won’t get the adrenaline pumping, but is another considerable achievement in the genre from the great director, after the similarly existential Solaris. It’s also a visual marvel captured in long, languid shots, yet the bleakly evocative locations came at a terrible cost.
The crew shot downstream of a leaking chemical plant, which has been blamed for the subsequent deaths from lung cancer of several of the cast and crew, including Tarkovsky, actor Anatoly Solonitsyn and assistant director Larisa Tarkovskaya.
by Kevin Wight
14. Oldboy (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is one of those films that elevates a genre to a whole new level and the continuation of Park’s Vengeance trilogy really brought the attention of the world to South Korean cinema. South Korean revenge thrillers are a well worn genre but Oldboy not only shows the incredible endurance and horrendous treatment of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) over the 15 years he is imprisoned but incorporates some incredibly well crafted scenes along with a really thrilling plot.
The mystery and subsequent investigation around his prolonged imprisonment is shocking and, at times, brutal but it saves the best until last with its shocking ending. If you only watch one South Korean revenge thriller, make it this one.
by Gavin McHugh
13. Magnolia (1999)
Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson had already proved himself to an extent with Oscar nominated drama/thriller Boogie Nights in 1997 but he exceeded expectations in 1999 with epic comedy/drama Magnolia. An expertly woven story set in one day that will bring a dying father, a young wife, a caretaker, a famous lost son, a police officer, a boy genius and an ex-boy genius, a game show host and estranged daughter together all through fate and coincidence as they weave through each other’s lives in the San Fernando Valley. Sound a lot?
It certainly is but the likes of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly help bring Anderson’s epic vision to life here, making Magnolia a gripping and powerful piece of cinema.
by Adam Massingham
12. All The President’s Men (1976)
The best movie ever made about shoe-leather journalism. A compelling detective story except these detectives are playing with real consequences that affects every citizen of the United States. Robert Redford has never been better as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman is a perfect Carl Bernstein. Sure, some of the investigative procedures are outdated (spending all day in a library sifting through thousands of documents to find a name that could easily be done with Google and two clicks today) but in terms of getting sources to actually speak once you found them is another thing. Only Spotlight has ever came close to getting it as right as it is here.
All The President’s Men is as important as ever – just ask Bob Woodward who is still fighting that good fight.
by Jason Sheppard
11. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Don Pearce’s semi-autobiographical novel and script of life in a Florida prison is transformed through Frank Pierson’s work on the screenplay into the chronicle of good-natured iconoclast Luke Jackson (Paul Newman), who, after impishly defacing parking meters while drinking beer, is cast into a two-year prison sentence working on a chain gang. Cool Hand Luke is the standard bearer for prison movies whose protagonist bucks the system by at first clashing with and then being revered by his fellow inmates and challenging the hard-nose authorities not with violence but with independence and his free-spirited sense of humor. Paul Newman is characteristically charming as Cool Hand Luke, bluffing his way through hard service, solitary confinement, and an egg-eating contest that is cinema legend by the method of not quite following the rules. As with other classic films of its decade, Cool Hand Luke’s humorous free spirit is called in to the gravity of its finale, reflecting both the tension between the seemingly free-spirited American 1960s versus the Vietnam War, as well as the Christian allegory of the redemptive figure of “Saint Luke” as an authority-defying Christ symbol whose eventual punishment is exponentially more severe than his purported offense.
Along the way is a cast of sharp characters and sharp dialogue that suits the mood of its era while both entertaining and provoking far beyond its own time.
by Marlene Stemme
10. Blow-Up (1966)
Michelangelo Antonioni trades in scenic, rocky, coastal Italy for the gray, wet streets of London in this (maybe) mystery set in the late 60’s. Antonioni continued his tradition of casting wide-eyed blondes as his lead but instead of Monica Vitti, here we have baby-faced, tossle-haired David Hemmings playing a fashion photographer who may (or may not have) captured a murder on film. He’s not sure himself as this amateur detective isn’t even sure there is anything to detect. He’ll go through a few motions to investigate his findings – until a three-way with some eager fashion models beckons.
Blow-Up is a classic with the most ambiguous ending since La Dolce Vita.
by Jason Sheppard
9. American History X (1998)
1998’s story of Edward Norton’s reformed skinhead is one for the ages. As sickening and violent as it is heartbreaking and life-affirming; the tale of Derek Vineyard (Norton), how he found himself in prison and, more importantly, how he’s trying to protect his family from his past and his brother Danny’s future is one that should be required reading for everyone. Guaranteed to have you clenching your fists in anger from the opening scene; this is a film that grabs hold early on and doesn’t let you go until the final, tear-jerking frame.
Possibly more relevant today than it was when it got Norton his Oscar nomination nearly 20 years ago, American History X is equal parts ugly, scary and poignant.
by Andrew Brooker
8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Shane Black movies are cool. It’s an ineffable, unknowable word, more a feeling than a specific set of variables, but the knowing pastiche of neo-noir tropes, witty, self-referential dialogue and fourth wall breaks so frequent you might mistake them for a director’s commentary all make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang inescapably ‘cool’, its cast quipping their way through a cartoonish rendition of LA’s underworld. At its heart is a gritty crime story more Chinatown than Tinsel Town, but wrapped around that hard centre is a cosy blanket of lovable douchebags for ‘heroes’, industry in-jokes to bed the tale in the real world, and a redemptive arc for both Robert Downey Jr’s career and central protagonist Harry Lockhart.
It’s just… cool.
by Lee Chrimes
7. Dial M for Murder (1954)
The suspense thriller about a murder for hire gone wrong may not be Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous or celebrated film, but it’s still a classic. Dial M for Murder is a tight, well-executed and well-acted by stars Grace Kelly and John Williams. The end sequence, where the real killer is found out by a simple test from the detective, is smart and unforgettable.
by Jenn Reid
6. Solaris (1972)
Ludwig Wittgenstein said: “If a lion could speak, we couldn’t understand it.” Essentially, language and communication extends beyond simply a commonality between the sounds we mutter at each other; language changes to suit the requirements of its users and does not restrict thought, but merely provides the appropriate and necessary codes for the expression of thought within cultures. Now imagine if instead of it being a lion that could speak, already with its frames of reference so far removed from our own, but it was an extraterrestrial organism the size and shape of a liquid planet that, instead of using words to try and communicate with the humans studying it, it creates representations, like echoes, of what it thinks humans and all of our complex emotions are.
Herein lies the confounding paradox of Tarkovsky’s complex, ponderous, science fiction classic. “Man was created by Nature in order to explore it. As he approaches Truth he is fated to Knowledge. All the rest is bullshit.” Quite.
by Owen Hughes
5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Exploding onto the cinematic landscape at the tail end of a 1960s in America wracked with post-WW2 counter cultural revolution, Bonnie and Clyde was a shotgun blast to the heart of the ailing studio system. Arthur Penn’s tale of the real-life folk legend of thieves Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker made instant stars of newcomers Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway while also sowing the seeds of a New Wave of American cinema that would dominate a moody, experimental 1970s. Equal parts brutal, bloody and occasionally bleak, this is not your gran’s period drama, shot through with a painful nihilism which serves to give the stark ending even greater punch.
One of the most important films in 20th Century American history. Very little was quite the same after Bonnie and Clyde.
by Tony Black
4. The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Seventh Seal is another world classic that any film viewer will have ingested almost by osmosis, thanks to the scene in which Max von Sydow plays chess against Death. It’s become shorthand for highbrow arthouse cinema, and director Ingmar Bergman as typifying a particular humourless and austere style. Nothing could be further from the truth. The film deals with big themes like faith, existence and the inevitability of death, but in Bergman’s hands it’s visually rich, drily satirical, and frequently witty and bawdy. This is mainly due to the duelling banter between von Sydow’s weary knight and Gunnar Björnstrand as his belligerent squire, undercutting the existential and spiritual wrestling with a no-nonsense earthiness.
Along with Wild Strawberries, this is an ideal introduction to one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
by Kevin Wight
3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Mike Nichols’ 1966 debut is a pitch-black comedy-drama about a toxic marriage built on a house of cards. Based on Edward Albee’s celebrated play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? avoids the staginess of some theatrical adaptations by extending the locations and letting ace cinematographer Haskell Wexler get up close and intrusive on its megastar couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both are magnetic as a couple whose relationship has curdled to a poisoned core and who are both victims of reciprocal abuse. George Segal and Sandy Dennis play a young couple sucked into their orbit.
At over two hours, the constant sniping becomes harrowing viewing but ends with a revelation that affords understanding, if not sympathy, to its bitter characters.
by Kevin Wight
2. North by Northwest (1959)
Handsome and charming leading man, beautiful blonde leading lady, secret agents, a dastardly villain, car chases, aeroplane attacks and an epic showdown on a national monument! It would be easy to think this was a description of a James Bond film but North by Northwest came out in 1959, three years before Dr. No would grace the screens. This action thriller centred around a case of mistaken identity was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman. Hapless advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a spy, by a group of foreign spies (James Mason and Martin Landau), and has to go on the run to save his skin. Eve Saint Marie plays the beautiful Eve Kendall who ends up along for the ride with Grant. The scenes in which Cary Grant is plagued by a crop-dusting plane and the dramatic sequence which takes place on a replica of Mount Rushmore can still keep people on the edge of their seats even today.
It is a must-see classic filled with witty one-liners, escapism and suspense.
by Helen Balls
1. After Hours (1985)
If there is one film which makes FilmStruck worth subscribing to, even with all of the classics we have presented, it is Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Never heard of it? Not surprised. Scorsese is not known for this kind of picture; an offbeat comedic snapshot of a long night in mid-1980’s New York, it is filled with an eccentric charm thanks in no small part to Griffin Dunne’s transformative everyman turn, while Scorsese constantly defies expectations as to where you may think the narrative is going.
Seriously, it’s the best Martin Scorsese film you’ve never heard of, and probably one of the finest black comedies of its decade.
by Tony Black
Check out FilmStruck for a 14-day free trial pass and give some of these classic movies, recommended by us, a watch.