This article is regularly updated as films leave and enter the Criterion Channel.
While classic film fans continue to panic over movies being increasingly lost to history in the streaming era, the Criterion Channel is alive and well, meaning the majority of the Criterion Collection’s catalogue of classic art-house cinema (over 1,000 films) is now available for streaming. But where should you start? In the interest of relative brevity, we chose one masterpiece each from 30 illustrious directors. And then, to encourage completists, we listed all the other films by each director that are also on the channel. Consider these as starting points, cinematic gateway drugs to the work of the most important filmmakers of all time. You could get lost for days.
The 400 Blows
Runtime: 1h 38m
Director: François Truffaut
With Truffaut, why not start at the beginning? This 1959 drama is the French New Wave master’s feature debut and arguably his most personal film, based as it is on his childhood. One of the most interesting things about the Criterion version is the archival material included: excerpts from interviews with Truffaut from the ‘60s, newsreel footage of a screening of the film, and audition footage of its stars.
More Truffaut on the Criterion Channel: Antoine and Colette, Bed and Board, Confidentially Yours, Jules and Jim, The Last Metro, Les mistons, Love on the Run, Shoot the Piano Player, The Soft Skin, Stolen Kisses, Two English Girls, Une histoire d’eau, The Woman Next Door.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Runtime: 1h 34m
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
In remaking Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (available on Criterion Blu-ray, but not on the channel; no Sirk movie is on the service yet), Fassbinder came up with something entirely his own. His most accessible film, Ali is a moving masterpiece about a widow (Brigitte Mira) who falls in love with a young Arab man (El Hedi ben Salem). Fassbinder takes the structure of Sirk’s melodrama and expands on it to comment on the racism simmering under the surface of West Germany in the ‘70s. His delicate framing and work with character are on perfect display here in a film that doesn’t subvert the emotion of the source material so much as repurpose it with more anger and poignancy.
More Fassbinder on the Criterion Channel: The American Soldier, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Beware of a Holy Whore, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Effi Briest, Chinese Roulette, Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day, Fear of Fear, Fox and His Friends, Gods of the Plague, In a Year of 13 Moons, Katzelmacher, Lola, Love Is Colder Than Death, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Martha, The Merchant of Four Seasons, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, Querelle, Satan’s Brew, The Third Generation, Veronika Voss, World on a Wire.
The Apu Trilogy
Director: Satyajit Ray
There was a time when it seemed possible that three of the most important films of all time would never be seen in a quality format again. The original negatives were burned in an infamous 1993 fire in the Henderson’s film lab in South London. Criterion sought for years to reconstruct the films and eventually released their 4K restorations in 2015. This is a trilogy in which each film more than stands on its own, and yet they become something transcendent when viewed together. Panther Panchali, Aparajito, and Apur Sansar are perfect examples of Roger Ebert’s belief that great films are empathy machines, ways to experience lives and perspectives we otherwise could not.
More Ray on the Criterion Channel: The Big City, Charulata, The Coward, Devi, The Elephant God, An Enemy of the People, The Hero, The Holy Man, The Home and the World, The Music Room, Rabindranath Tagore, The Stranger, Three Daughters.
Runtime: 1h 30m
Director: Vittorio de Sica
Show us someone who has taken a film-theory class and we’ll show you someone who has probably seen Bicycle Thieves. It’s been de rigueur for decades for a reason, serving as a portal to discussions of framing, perspective, and tone for generations. One of the most beloved films of all time, De Sica’s 1948 Oscar winner tells the simple story of a hardworking man whose bicycle is stolen, but it does so in such a simple, effective way that it effectively rewrote the rules of film grammar.
More De Sica on the Criterion Channel: The Children Are Watching Us, Miracle in Milan, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, Umberto D, Sunflower.
Runtime: 1h 30m
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
It’s difficult to top the opening sentence of Criterion’s own description: “There was before Breathless, and there was after Breathless.” Indeed, the DNA of Godard’s 1960 international smash hit is in not only the French New Wave that would follow but so many of the critically beloved films of the ‘60s and ‘70s as well. The narrative doesn’t really matter here; it’s the tone that Godard strikes, one that’s constantly aware of itself as an object of art, fashion, and sexuality. Godard injected art cinema with a playfulness it hadn’t really seen before, opening the eyes of hundreds of filmmakers.
More Godard on the Criterion Channel: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, All the Boys Are Called Patrick, Alphaville, Band of Outsiders, Charlotte et son Jules, Contempt, Every Man for Himself, Film socialisme, Goodbye to Language, The Image Book, La Chinoise, Le gai savoir, Le petit soldat, Letter to Jane, Made in U.S.A., Masculin féminin, Pierrot le fou, Tout va bien, Vivre sa vie, Weekend, A Woman is a Woman.
Chimes at Midnight
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director: Orson Welles
Where does one start with Orson Welles? If you have access to his entire oeuvre, Citizen Kane is the logical opening salvo, but that — as well as some of the other more widely known classics — is not on the Criterion Channel. Instead, we have Chimes at Midnight, Welles’s 1965 riff on Sir John Falstaff. Largely dismissed upon its release, Chimes has developed a following over the years and was restored by Janus and Criterion in 2015 for a new generation to discover.
More Welles on the Criterion Channel: The Complete Mr. Arkadin, Confidential Report, F for Fake, The Immortal Story, Othello, Touch of Evil.
Cléo From 5 to 7
Runtime: 1h 30m
Director: Agnès Varda
Varda recently passed away at 90, leaving even hard-core cinephiles wondering if they had seen enough of her influential work. How important is Varda to film history? Roger Ebert put it perfectly when he wrote about her relationship to the French New Wave in 2012: “Varda is its very soul, and only the fact that she is a woman, I fear, prevented her from being routinely included with Godard, Truffaut, Resnais, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, and for that matter her husband Jacques Demy.” Cléo is probably her most popular and accessible film, blending documentary and fiction techniques as the director captures the texture of life for a woman in the Paris of the ’60s in a way that only she could.
More Varda on the Criterion Channel: 47 other movies, almost all of them worth your time.
The Double Life of Veronique
Runtime: 1h 38m
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
If you know the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski, it’s probably because you’ve seen his Three Colours Trilogy (Blue, White, and Red) and/or might have experienced his transcendent Dekalog, but it’s entirely possible this 1991 masterpiece slid under your radar. Correct that oversight. Irène Jacob stars both as a Polish singer and as her “double,” a French music teacher. Kieslowski’s use of lyrical, haunting visual imagery is breathtaking.
More Kieslowski on the Criterion Channel: Blind Chance, Camera Buff, Factory, Hospital, No End, Railway Station, The Scar, Seven Women of Different Ages, A Short Film About Killing, A Short Film About Love, Talking Heads, The Tram, The Three Colours Trilogy.
Runtime: 1h 29m
Director: David Lynch
One of the most polarizing filmmakers of all time made an impact from his debut film, this surreal nightmare that was released in arthouses back in 1977 and was an instant hit in major cities. Directed, produced, and edited by Lynch, it stars Jack Nance as a man taking care of a deformed child in a nightmarish alternate reality. Lynch’s blend of mundane details heightened by dream logic was there from the very beginning. And it’s easy how Eraserhead influenced not just future Lynch projects like Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet but works of other independent filmmakers in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s as captivating now as when it was released because its unique style doesn’t marry it to the ‘70s. It would still be powerful if it came out today.
More David Lynch on The Criterion Channel: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and the short films The Alphabet, The Amputee, The Grandmother, Premonitions Following an Evil Deed, Six Men Getting Sick.
A Woman Under the Influence
Runtime: 2h 26m
Director: John Cassavetes
Criterion has released a fantastic box set of five of the essential films of John Cassavetes, one of the most influential voice in the history of American independent cinema. The whole set is available now on The Criterion Channel and it’s essential for anyone interested in film history. The director’s character-driven style and confident filmmaking reached its apex in the 1974 drama A Woman Under the Influence, which centers what is quite literally one of the best performances of all time from Gena Rowlands. The legend plays an ordinary woman in a blue-collar family who basically starts to come apart at the seams. Nominated for Best Actress and Best Director, it’s Cassavetes’s true breakthrough film and one that inspired countless imitators.
More Cassavetes on the Criterion Channel: Faces, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, Shadows
The Gold Rush
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director: Charles Chaplin
Anyone who says they don’t like silent films hasn’t watched enough Charlie Chaplin. Silent comedies are often parodied as mere exercises in physical humor — and that element is certainly a part of their charm — but Chaplin’s work transcended pratfalls and knowing looks to the camera. His best movies had more humanism and relatable emotion than the vast majority of the “talkies” that would follow. Perhaps the toughest part of being a Chaplin fan is picking one for newbies. No matter, they generally end up watching them all.
More Chaplin on the Criterion Channel: The Circus, City Lights, A Day’s Pleasure, A Dog’s Life, The Great Dictator, The Idle Class, The Immigrant, The Kid, A King in New York, Limelight, Modern Times, Monsieur Verdoux, Nice and Friendly, A Night in the Show, Pay Day, The Pilgrim, The Rink, Shoulder Arms, Sunnyside, A Woman of Paris.
Runtime: 2h 23m
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Even if Criterion had only a handful of Kurosawa films, it would still be difficult to choose between The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ran, to name a few. So why Ikiru? Well, it’s an unqualified masterpiece, about a man with stomach cancer coming to terms with the end of his life. It’s hard to believe Kurosawa made it when he was just over 40.
More Kurosawa on the Criterion Channel: Too many to list.
In the Mood for Love
Runtime: 1h 38m
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Movies don’t get more hypnotic than this, a story of love and longing set in Hong Kong in 1962. Gorgeously shot by cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, In the Mood for Love also features career-defining performances by Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk. The two play neighbors who develop an attraction to one another in a way that feels both deeply cinematic and completely human.
More Wong on the Criterion Channel: As Tears Go By, Chungking Express, Days of Being Wild, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, The Hand, Hua yang de nian hua.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Runtime: 3h 21m
Director: Chantal Akerman
Chantal Akerman’s work still hasn’t quite ascended to cinema’s Valhalla, but cinephiles know better. This 1975 examination of the gradual breakdown of the routines of an ordinary life turns everyday detail into something unforgettable, even transcendent. The Village Voice named it one of the 20 best films of the 20th century.
More Akerman on the Criterion Channel: Dis-moi, Golden Eighties, Histoires d’Amérique: Food Family and Philosophy South, La captive, No Home Movie, Hotel Monterey, Je tu il elle, La chambre, Les rendez-vous d’Anna, News From Home, Saute ma ville.
Runtime: 2h 25m
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
There are only a few films that one can point to and say that they literally changed the language of filmmaking. One such is Antonioni’s L’Avventura from 1960, a movie that heralded the challenging, elliptical art-house works of the ‘60s and ‘70s. What if someone could just disappear off the face of the Earth? That’s what happens to a young woman on a yachting trip, but L’Avventura is no mere mystery movie. It’s more about disillusionment and disenchantment with society, themes he would continue to explore.
More Antonioni on the Criterion Channel: Le Amiche, Gente del Po, Identification of a Woman, L’eclisse, La Notte, N.U., Red Desert.
Runtime: 1h 48m
Director: Federico Fellini
As with several filmmakers on this list, picking a single Fellini feels almost cruel, but a good place to start is with the unforgettable visage of Giulietta Masina. She plays Gelsomina, a woman sold to a circus strongman, played by Anthony Quinn. La Strada marks Fellini’s transition from neorealism to a more lyrical style.
More Fellini on the Criterion Channel: 8½, Amarcord, And the Ship Sails On, I Vitelloni, Il Bidone, Intervista, Juliet of the Spirits, La strada, Spirits of the Dead, Toby Dammit, Variety Lights.
Runtime: 2h 11m
Director: Mike Leigh
One of the best British filmmakers of all time, Mike Leigh makes films that feel real. They are windows into lives that seem genuine and three-dimensional. One of the reasons for this is the unique way he works, collaborating with actors in an improvisational workshop way to get a final product. The resulting career is one of the most acclaimed of his generation, including multiple award winners. One of his best is this David Thewlis drama from 1993, which landed Leigh a director prize at Cannes (and an acting one for Thewlis, who has never been better than he is here). It’s the story of Johnny, a tough-talking, verbose young man who careens his way through life, telling anyone who will listen his theories on life and the inequities of man. It’s a scathing, searing piece of work, and a great starting point to appreciate how smart Leigh’s films can be. Watch them all.
More Leigh on the Criterion Channel: A Running Jump, Career Girls, High Hopes, Life is Sweet, Meantime, Secrets & Lies, The Short and Curlies, Topsy-Turvy.
Odd Man Out
Runtime: 1h 56m
Director: Carol Reed
Carol Reed is one of cinema’s kings of light and shadow. He knew how to use them to enhance the mood of masterpieces like The Third Man and this 1947 thriller, in which James Mason plays a political conspirator on the run, hunted by police throughout Belfast. Soon the whole world starts to feel dangerous and unsettling.
More Reed on the Criterion Channel: Kid for Two Farthings, The Third Man.
The Other Side of Hope
Runtime: 1h 40m
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Most of the films in this feature are debuts or early projects designed to get you into the work of their creator, but this is a late project from the Finnish master of the deadpan wit that works as a perfect entryway into a phenomenal career. Aki Kaurismäki has won awards around the world and regularly premieres his films at Cannes or Berlin, where this wonderful little dramedy debuted in 2017. It’s a story of a small town in which a Finnish businessman crosses paths with a Syrian refugee and it contains the director’s notable humanism and detail with character, as well as his bone-dry sense of humor. He has claimed this will be his last film. Let’s hope not.
More Aki Kaurismaki on The Criterion Channel: Ariel, La vie de boheme, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, L.A. Woman, Le Havre, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Rocky VI, These Boots, Those Were the Days, Thru the Wire, Total Balalaika, ShowThe Match Factory Girl, Shadows in Paradise, Drifting Clouds.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Runtime: 1h 54m
Director: Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer is one of the most important and influential filmmakers of all time. When people first make their way into the catalog of silent film history, they often start with the most accessible films of the comedians like Chaplin and Keaton, but they eventually find their way to Dreyer, a man who defined the visual medium of film in movies like Vampyr and this 1928 masterpiece about the trial of Joan of Arc. Renee Jeanne Falconetti gives one of the most iconic performances of all time, conveying more with her eyes than most actresses can do with an entire script of dialogue. Most importantly, you should watch this classic to see how much it influenced the next century of filmmaking. It really changed everything. The New York Times wrote on its release, “It fills one with such intense admiration that other pictures appear but trivial in comparison.” For cinephiles, it’s a sacred text.
More Dreyer on the Criterion Channel: Day of Wrath, Gertrud, Master of the House, Ordet, Vampyr
The Piano Teacher
Runtime: 2h 11m
Director: Michael Haneke
Years before he won an Oscar for Amour, Michael Haneke was a controversial voice on the international scene with several challenging flicks. This Grand Prix winner at Cannes in 2001 was one of his major turning points. Isabelle Huppert stars as Erika, the titular piano teacher, who starts up an affair with one of her students and then watches her life turn upside down. It’s not as abrasive as some of Haneke’s other work — Funny Games, for example — but definitely challenges traditional expectations and illustrates his skill with form. (As for special features, Huppert does commentary on selected scenes, and there’s a 30-minute interview with Haneke.)
More Haneke on the Criterion Channel: 71 Fragments of a Chronology of a Chance, Benny’s Video, The Castle, Code Unknown, Funny Games, The Seventh Continent.
The Red Shoes
Runtime: 2h 13m
Director: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
This sumptuous, gorgeous 1948 film stars Moira Shearer as a ballerina caught between love and career, but it’s more about visual flair. Shot in Technicolor, it won Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Music and was voted one of the ten best British films of all time by the British Film Institute at the end of the century. When people like Scorsese, Spielberg, and Coppola are asked about their favorite films of all time, The Red Shoes regularly comes up.
More Powell & Pressburger on the Criterion Channel: Black Narcissus, A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I’m Going!, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Small Back Room, The Spy in Black, The Volunteer.
The Rules of the Game
Runtime: 1h 46m
Director: Jean Renoir
One of the most revered films of all time, this is a scathing examination of class in French society and a roller coaster in terms of tone and style.
More Renoir on the Criterion Channel: La bête humaine, Boudu Saved From Drowning, La chienne, A Day in the Country, Elena and Her Men, French Cancan, The Golden Coach, The Lower Depths, On Purge Bébé, The River, Toni, Grand Illusion.
The Seventh Seal
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director: Ingmar Bergman
There’s enough Ingmar Bergman on the Criterion Channel to tide you over for weeks. There are character pieces like Winter Light and Fanny and Alexander and more challenging films like Persona and The Virgin Spring. But it was his 1957 surreal masterpiece, in which a knight of the Crusades (Max von Sydow) meets Death on a beach and the two play a game of chess, that defined him as an international cinematic presence.
More Bergman on the Criterion Channel: So much. Watch it all.
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director: John Ford
Some of the best Ford films in the Criterion Collection — My Darling Clementine, Young Mr. Lincoln — aren’t included on the channel yet, but you can still find one of the Western master’s most influential works, a film that established so many of the tropes of the genre that directors still play with today. Before 1939’s Stagecoach, the Western was an unheralded genre; Stagecoach not only revolutionized the form but introduced the world to a young man named John Wayne.
More Ford on the Criterion Channel: The Long Voyage Home, The Plough and the Stars
Runtime: 2h 43m
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s films often present a challenge for budding cinephiles, who might blanch at the prospect of 160 minutes’ worth of Russian sci-fi. Trust us, it’s worth it. Solaris may be more widely known, but Stalker is his masterpiece, a film nearly impossible to describe in a single paragraph. Suffice it to say it’s a visual and tonal experience that simply mesmerizes the viewer. You won’t feel the length, and you won’t feel the same after you see it.
More Tarkovsky on the Criterion Channel: Andrei Rublev, Ivan’s Childhood, Mirror, Solaris, The Steamroller and the Violin.
Runtime: 2h 16m
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Like so many of Ozu’s films, Tokyo Story is both specifically Japanese and possessed of a universal emotional resonance. Ozu regulars Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara star in a story of generational differences amid societal change. It’s a deftly simple story of an old couple going to visit their grown children in Tokyo, but there’s so much buried in the framing and pacing. It becomes the kind of film that can be paused and analyzed scene by glorious scene.
More Ozu on the Criterion Channel: More than two dozen other titles.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Runtime: 1h 31m
Director: Jacques Demy
Why do people still watch Jacques Demy? Well, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has a cinematic energy that’s unlike any other film. The only musical on this list, it features a luminous performance from Catherine Deneuve as the daughter of an umbrella-shop owner who falls in love with a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) who gets sent to fight in Algeria. Utterly unique.
More Demy on the Criterion Channel: Ars, Bay of Angels, Donkey Skin, La luxure, La sabotier du Val Loire, Lola, Les horizons morts, A Slightly Pregnant Man, Une chambre en ville, The Young Girls of Rochefort
The Wages of Fear
Runtime: 2h 36m
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Henri-Georges Clouzot is one of the best suspense directors of all time, and his two most famous films are Criterion Channel must-sees. The terrifying Diabolique is just as good a starting place, but if you’re in the mood for something different, try The Wages of Fear, a movie that has lost none of its power to thrill. The premise alone is perfectly thrilling: Four men take a job driving explosive nitroglycerin over a mountain pass. Every bump could be their last moment on Earth. It’s a model of how to produce tension through narrative and pacing.
More Clouzot on the Criterion Channel: L’assassin habite au 21, Le Corbeau, The Mystery of Picasso, Diabolique.
Wings of Desire
Runtime: 2h 8m
Director: Wim Wenders
One of the best movies of the ‘80s, Wings of Desire is about longing and what it means to be human. Bruno Ganz, in an unforgettable performance, plays an angel who can hear the thoughts of the denizens of Berlin and decides to give up his immortality to join them. One of the most poetic, lyrical films ever made.
More Wenders on the Criterion Channel: Alice in the Cities, The American Friend, Kings of the Road, Palermo Shooting, Paris, Texas, Pina, Tokyo-ga, Until the End of the World, Wrong Move.