From the forties to the noughties and into the twenty teens - classic films to rent from the BFI

PUBLISHED: 14:50 15 April 2020

Casablanca - one of many films that can be rented from the British Film Institute online

Casablanca - one of many films that can be rented from the British Film Institute online


BFI Player is an entertainment platform online, just like Now TV, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon and Netflix. But it offers rarer, more revered and lesser known content to the mainstream. View either by renting (from £2.50 to about £10) or by becoming a member.

AIDAN MONKS looks at BFI Player and picks out some favourites from the British Film Institute

BFI Player is an entertainment platform online, just like Now TV, Hulu, Youtube, Amazon and Netflix. But it offers rarer, more revered and lesser known content to the mainstream. View either by renting (from £2.50 to about £10) or by becoming a member. Here are some to rent on BFI Player, in alphabetical order and others on subscription,


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Dir. Stanley Kubrick

Gloriously epic space opera that deals with the dawn of man to the space age, human kind’s self-destructive evolution and spirituality, the foreign void of the universe and the unanswerable possibilities of matter, time and space. One of the greatest films of all time.

Amarcord (1973)

Dir. Federico Fellini

Fellini’s touching and admirable and sentimental love letter to Italy with a dazzling colour palette, phenomenal and excessive performances, with the bleaker undertone of fascism and opposition to the regime of Musolini.

Amour (2012)

Dir. Michel Haneke

Tragic and sensitive. Questions the boundaries of love and loss in the twilight years of an aged couple. Winner of the 2013 Best International Feature.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

“My film is not about Vietnam”, Coppola cited, “it is Vietnam.” Experience the ‘70s wartime classic in its original, untempered theatrical cut with all the mesmeric visual and storytelling prowess that places it among the greatest of films.

Back To The Future (1985)

Dir. Robert Zemeckis

Ranked by many as the greatest summer blockbuster of the 1980s. Iconic score by Alan Silvestri. Nostalgic time-travel adventure.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Dir. The Coen Brothers

Heralded as the brothers funniest film. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman delivering typically-Coen-witty dialogue to perfection,

Boogie Nights (1997)

Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

An ensemble of characters in search of meaning and purpose in the 1970s porn scene, delving deep into a dying industry and the downfall of those deified by stardom.

Breathless (1960)

Dir. Jean-Luc Godard

One of the finest installments of the Nouvelle Vague, Godard presents us with a cat-and-mouse chase in his stereotypical suburban environment, in what has become one of the most influential films ever made and a game-changer for editing in cinema.

Casablanca (1942)

Dir. Michael Curtiz

One of the most iconic anti-war dramas and character arcs in cinema. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid in their most recognised roles.

Children of Heaven (1997)

Dir. Majid Majidi

Iranian coming-of-age drama depicting the love and devotion between siblings in a hostile and poverty-stricken society. The film that put Iranian cinema on the international map.

Do The Right Thing (1989)

Dir. Spike Lee

Racial tension on a hot summer’s day in Brooklyn. The most important film about race relations from a pivotal director. Strong performances from Danny Aiello, John Turturro and Lee himself.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Dir. Michael Gondry

Another fantasia from the endlessly creative mind of Charlie Kaufman. Analyses the nature of both love and memory, our emotional growth as human beings, and the importance of memory towards the consolidation of our identity. An intelligent modern masterpiece.

GoodFellas (1990)

Dir. Martin Scorsese

Robert De Niro stars, Thelma Schoonmaker edits, Michael Ballhaus shoots. All the violence, energy and entertainment one would expect.

The late Roger Ebert named it the greatest gangster film ever made.

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

A fable of grief, guilt, love and longing. An Oscar-winning Casey Affleck stars in one of the most heartbreakingly naturalistic and best films of the 2010s.

Moonlight (2016)

Dir. Barry Jenkins

Jenkins crafts a meaningful and sentimental film about the displacement, isolation and anxiety of adolescence in the testing and often brutal society of Los Angeles. Winner of the 2017 Best Picture Academy Award.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Dir. George Cukor

Sly, biting, witty and encapsulating, a career-defining project for Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart and Carry Grant. The greatest of rom-coms?

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Dir. Quentin Tarantino

The device that ignited one of the defining careers of modern cinema. The hysterically spontaneous writing and cinema-loving direction of Quentin Tarantino. The most complex and captivating of his oeuvre.

Ran (1985)

Dir. Akira Kurosawa

A masterfully retold tragedy of King Lear in Medieval Japan. Three disloyal sons lay claim to an aging Samurai lord’s empire.

The Red Shoes (1948)

Dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

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Scorsese calls this the most beautiful Technicolour film ever made. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography with wonderfully choreographed ballet sequences by Robert Helpmann. A gem of post-war British cinema.

The Searchers (1956)

Dir. John Ford

The birth of the anti-western focuses on a wild, bandit-infested world of crime in the Deep South. John Wayne stars in his ninth collaboration with Ford as the anti-hero outsider who searches for his lost niece in a ‘roaring rampage of revenge’ against the Native Americans who captured her.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

Dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

A celebration of entertainment, with great performances, dialogue, set pieces and an iconic soundtrack, it is an homage to the movies and a documentation of

one of the most prominent technical innovations in film: sound.

Trainspotting (1996)

Dir. Danny Boyle

Dark, harrowing, amusing and intense. Danny Boyle broke onto the movie scene with this well-scripted, well-acted, drug-fuelled nightmare of youth, paranoia and crime.

Vertigo (1958)

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Archetypal romance-thriller with an eerie pace. A series of characters unnerve the viewer from Hollywood’s master of suspense.

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot

A slow-burning, introverted yet fearfully engaging feat of filmmaking and orchestration of the thriller.


8½ (1963)

Dir. Federico Fellini

Fellini created this landmark of Italian cinema. Not simply a film about film, but a depiction of the creative process and reality channeled into fiction.

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

Dir. Werner Herzog

A masterwork of the German New Cinema. A visceral expedition of insanity, brutality and wonderment. A haunting character arc in Klaus Kinski’s ruthless conquistador.

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Dir. Gillo Pontecorvo

Documents the 1950s liberation of the Algerian people in their mission to dethrone the French Colonial Government.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Dir. Jean Cocteau

Cocteau paints a richly poetic and magical story in Jeane-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s La Belle et La Bête. The technical brilliance in the wardrobe and art departments is nothing short of perfect.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Dir. Vittorio de Sica

Regarded by most as the peak of Italian

neorealism, and the film that introduced the movement to the western audience, therefore changing cinema forever. Follows a father and his son as they scour the streets of post-war Rome for his stolen bicycle - an object that is needed to maintain his employment

and the security of their family. De Sica, with the sympathy of his Italian filmmaking contemporaries, paints reality with a quiet simplicity that only weightens the emotion of the spectacle.

Black Orpheus (1959)

Dir. Marcel Camus

Retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in the setting of a carnival in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Jean-Michel Basquiat a legendary soundtrack by Brazilian composers, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Dir. Georges Franju

Often overlooked as released the same year as Psycho. One of Maurice Jarre’s greatest scores.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Dir. Ingmar Bergman

One of the finest international films ever made, Scandinavian cinema’s giant, Ingmar Bergman, penetrates the mindset of a child and studies the refuge of imagination with unflinching honesty and truth to his own experience.

Fear Eats The Soul (1974)

Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Inverts the Hollywood melodrama by putting it in politically divided Berlin and shedding light on the discrimination directed at African imigrants.

M (1931)

Dir. Fritz Lang

Retreating to the German Expressionism of the late 20s and early 30s, a key player was Fritz Lang who had previously made the innovative and technically important “Metropolis”. “M” was one of his first ‘talkies’ and deals with the bleak subject of a child murderer. Let the power of one of cinema’s legends influence your morality through the sincerity in Peter Lorre’s timeless pleas of mercy.

Paris, Texas (1984)

Dir. Wim Wenders

With an outsider’s perspective of America, the German director tells a story of loneliness, displacement and distance as Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) walks out of the desert after four years to rejoin the society that drove him away,

Rashomon (1950)

Dir. Akira Kurosawa

Along with Seven Samurai and Ikiru, this is Kurosawa’s crowning achievement and a work of perfection in film structure and perspective storytelling, reflective of a postmodern novel. Kurosawa, like Bergman, observes the human condition and questions our morality and ability to co-exist.

The Third Man (1949)

The greatest crime film to watch on the BFI subscription. Carol Reed, who directed “Oliver!” provides an engaging and playful take on crime and mystery, with breathtaking, Oscar-winning black and white photography by Robert Krasker. Orson Welles stars alongside Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli.

Tokyo Story (1953)

Dir. Yasujiro Ozu

Impactful and delicately moving. Like Vertigo and Citizen Kane, on Sight and Sound’s greatest films list.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Dir. John Cassavettes

Gena Rowlands’ astonishing performance as a disturbed housewife. The film challenges social restriction, conditioning

and the merely theoretical notion of liberty, with an Ibsenesque outlook on a woman’s place in society.

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