Even though Netflix is constantly updating its streaming service with plenty of new films and television shows, Netflix is relatively light when it comes to classic films. With HBO Max already offering a wide variety of American classics, it seems as though Netflix wants to catch up to one of their latest competitors. On January 1, Netflix received such classics as Bonnie and Clyde, Enter the Dragon, and Goodfellas. But in addition to these, Netflix has also added one of Paul Newman’s greatest films: Cool Hand Luke.
Cool Hand Luke stars Paul Newman as the eponymous Luke, a war veteran who is arrested for drunkenly cutting parking meters off their poles. The new prisoner is introduced to a prison camp in Florida and refuses to act like he’s imprisoned. His free-thinking and refusal to give in to the system influences his fellow prisoners and receives understandably negative reactions from the guards and warden.
Based on Donn Pearce’s 1965 novel of the same name, Cool Hand Luke was a success when it was released in 1967. It was seen as an anti-establishment film during the Vietnam War, while Paul Newman’s Luke was seen as a Christ-like figure, due to the overt symbolism throughout the film, and through the way he changes the minds and hearts of his fellow prisoners.
By the time Cool Hand Luke was released, Paul Newman was already a massive star. Newman has already been Oscar-nominated for his roles in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1961’s The Hustler, and 1963’s Hud. Cool Hand Luke would earn Newman his fourth of ten Oscar nominations, with him finally winning in 1986 for his role in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money.
Yet in addition to Paul Newman’s Oscar nomination, Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson were nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, and Lalo Schifrin earned a nomination for Best Music, Original Music Score. Despite earning a nomination from the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, director Stuart Rosenberg didn’t earn an Oscar nomination.
However, the film’s sole win went to George Kennedy for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as the leader of the prisoners, Dragline. At first, Dragline is wary of the new prisoner, but it isn’t long until Paul Newman’s Luke has won the respect of both Dragline and the other prisoners. By the end, Dragline is Luke’s closest confidant and friend in the prison.
But Cool Hand Luke’s reputation has only grown over the years. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 100% critic score, with a 95% audience score. Cool Hand Luke currently has an 8.1 rating on IMDB, making it the 215th top-ranked movie on the site. In his 1967 review of the film, Roger Ebert called Paul Newman’s Luke an anti-hero unlike others that had been seen on the screen at the time.
In 2005, the United States Library of Congress added Cool Hand Luke to the National Film Registry list of films that they find “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The American Film Institute has also given Cool Hand Luke quite a few recognitions. The AFI listed the film’s “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” as the 11th greatest American movie quote. They also placed Cool Hand Luke at #71 on their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list, and listed Paul Newman’s Luke as the 30th greatest hero in American cinema.
When it comes to great 1960s American classics, they don’t get much better than Cool Hand Luke. Not only is it a strong example of the changes coming to Hollywood at the time, but it’s also one of the best performances by Paul Newman in a commanding role. If you’ve been hoping for more masterpieces on Netflix, look no further than Cool Hand Luke.