The 10 Most Iconic Movies Available On The Criterion Channel, Ranked

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Since its founding in 1984, The Criterion Collection has prided itself on curating a collection of "important classic and contemporary films” for the masses. And in the streaming age, The Criterion Channel is a subscription that aims to provide such movies for people who are a little lighter on shelf space, but still interested in the most iconic films of the past and present.

Now that the world is looking oh so closer at the streaming options available, and with 2,021 titles sitting in The Criterion Channel’s library, it’d be nice to know where to start. We’d like to help you navigate this massive universe, which is why we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most iconic movies available on that very service.

Through these films you’ll not only find a gateway to new and exciting movies, you might just discover more films to add into your Criterion Channel queue once you’ve finished them.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night a vampire's fangs are examined

10. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

There are a lot of vampire movies on the Criterion Channel, and there’s a good mix of them as well! Classics ranging from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu to the ‘80s double feature of Near Dark and The Hunger are all present for the horror hounds who are interested in seeing what counts for iconic and important.

Capping off that lineup is Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is a good example of how Criterion Channel movies aren’t just limited to the usual stable of classics the brand has become associated with. Compared to Nosferatu in both its black and white aesthetic, but also considered “the first Iranian vampire western”, Amirpour’s vital and fresh voice is showcased in a film that shows us all that there’s still life in the historically undead world of vampire movies.

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Ghost World Scarlet Johansson and Thora Birch walking together outside

9. Ghost World (2001)

While you might not see the world of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe on the Criterion Channel, that’s not to say they don’t happen to have a comic adaptation within their prestigious collection. As a matter of fact, they absolutely do, as Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes’ adaptation of the graphic novel Ghost World is a proud member of the Criterion family.

An indie darling that’s close to being certified as a classic, the story of Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johansson) and the summer that will change their friendship forever occupies the film’s story. It’s a film for those who appreciate the offbeat, particularly with the inclusion of Steve Buscemi as the man who tests these young girl’s friendship.

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Antichrist Willem Dafoe tries to wrangle Charlotte Gainsbourg

8. Antichrist (2009)

Sometimes, you need a little something that’s weird, with a very dark heart on its sleeve. If you’re someone who welcomes that sort of movie, Lars Van Trier’s Antichrist more than delivers. Though you probably already knew that, based on the film’s infamous reputation.

Part gory body horror, part psychological breakdown, Antichrist follows a couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg & Willem Dafoe) who escape to a remote cabin to mourn the loss of their son. As time goes on, things become darker and more twisted, with a finale that’s still quoted to this very day. Should this be a little too cheery for your standards, there’s always David Lynch’s Eraserhead to keep the pain train going.

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Gimme Shelter Mick Jagger looks back at the camera, with an Uncle Sam hat

7. Gimme Shelter (1970)

Documentaries are also a vital genre of importance in the Criterion Channel’s lineup. Musical documentaries especially have a good marketshare represented, with the Talking Head’s concert doc Stop Making Sense and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night making for a perfect film festival along with the film we’re about to discuss, Gimme Shelter.

Chronicling The Rolling Stones and their shows at Madison Square Garden and Altamont Speedway in 1969, Gimme Shelter is even more infamous for its depiction of the latter show. With security being run by the Hell’s Angels, and the ‘60s being the era that they were, tensions mount and chaos descends on a moment that musical historians still talk about to this day.

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Battleship Potemkin a person's eye is shot out

6. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

A running theme you’ll see throughout our selection of the most iconic films on the Criterion Channel is the fact that a lot of the more classically esteemed entries have made shockwaves on modern cultural films. Take for example, Sergei Eisenstein’s Russian historical classic Battleship Potemkin.

While the entire film is an iconic examination on how history can be adapted into a cinematic narrative, one particular sequence, known as “The Odessa Steps”, is the key to this film’s enduring legacy. Inspiring sequences in other iconic films like Brazil, The Untouchables, and even The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, you’ll know the cues that films of the future took when you see them.

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The Seventh Seal Death plays chess with Max von Sydow

5. The Seventh Seal (1957)

The recent passing of iconic film actor Max von Sydow has prompted film fans all over to revisit some of the most memorable works of his career. A film that highly qualifies in that regard, as well as a work of reverberating pop culture value, is director Ingmar Bergman’s existential classic The Seventh Seal.

Von Sydow’s veteran of the Crusades Antonius Block challenges Death (Bengt Ekerot) to a Chess match for his own life, which in turn segues into an examination of life, mortality, and gamesmanship. That game alone has inspired imitations in cartoons like Animaniacs, as well as inspired the portrayal of William Sadler’s Reaper from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. So you might want to flip this one on first, then revisit the Bill & Ted franchise, for the ultimate contrast.

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Godzilla rampaging over a small city

4. Godzilla (1954)

Before the Godzilla series became a menagerie of awesome monster mashups and battles for the planet, Ishiro Honda’s original film from 1954 was a much more dour affair. With the title grabbing monster as a menacing threat of indifference in the wake of the Atomic age, this singular classic examined the fears of the day with a more fantastic story.

Though that’s not to say that those future Godzilla movies, or the more sensational re-edit of the original film Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, are bad movies. In fact, if those sorts of pictures are more your speed, there are quite a few of them available on the Criterion Channel, alongside this first installment. Such are the perks of Criterion’s masterful effort to put out a physical box set of the first era of Godzilla films.

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Dr. Strangelove Peter Sellers smokes with a crazy look on his face

3. Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

When director/writer Stanley Kubrick started adapting Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s novel Fail Safe into a motion picture, he started out making a serious adaptation of the sobering nuclear war thriller. However, as time went on, his concept started to take on a life of its own, mutating into the darkly satirical comedy that became Dr. Strangelove. Taking the serious plot of a US bomber accidentally locked into an attack run on Russia, Dr. Strangelove gets more absurdly funny as it marches towards its poignant finale.

As Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, and three different forms of Peter Sellers try to follow their orders, everything becomes delightfully unhinged in this classic laugh riot. Though if you want to see the deadly serious version of the source material, Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe is also available for comparison and/or a perfect double feature.

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Night of the Living Dead zombies shambling towards the camera

2. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara”. Throw that quote out into a room of film fans, and you’ll get a lot of knowing looks and smiles. Who could blame them, as George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is not only horror royalty, but it’s also the movie that helped root the zombie genre in the present day.

A film that depicts the slow invasion of shambling ghouls just waiting to tear into the living, Night of the Living Dead still hold up as a chilling thriller to this very day. And should your tastes require more of the best of horror and sci-fi, The Criterion Channel has you covered, with everything from the original version of The Blob, to a bunch of vampire films we’d mentioned previously.

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Seven Samurai lined up on a hill

1. Seven Samurai (1954)

Director Akira Kurosawa is iconic in his own right, with his filmography yielding such memorable classics as Rashomon, Kagamusha, and of course, The Hidden Fortress. But the one film of Kurosawa’s career that arguably dwarves all of those films in impact is, of course, 1954’s Seven Samurai.

The story of a farming village hiring the titular warriors for protection against the villains that habitually rob them of their crops, you may have heard Seven Samurai’s log line before. That’s because it’s influenced everything from films like The Magnificent Seven and A Bug’s Life to a recent episode of The Mandalorian. Now’s your chance to see how this film classic kicked off decades worth of imitators, thanks to the Criterion Channel.

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Let these 10 films act as the beginning of your Criterion Channel experience, and once you’ve sampled the films relevant to your interests, don’t forget to delve into the extensive catalog the service continues to offer.

And while you’re at it, check out the exclusive features and original programming that showcases notable cinephiles and their own favorite films. It’s all waiting for you, over on the Criterion Channel!

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.