Gift Guide for Classic Movie Fans

Still looking for something special to give to that special someone? Well, if they’re one of those rare breeds known as a “classic movie fan,” I’ve got you covered—whether your finances run more towards Eliza Doolittle than Charles Foster Kane.

As a general note, DVDs or blu-rays from Warner Archive and the Criterion Collection are generally a pretty safe gift option if you’re in a rush and you’d like to stop reading now. I tried to get a tiny bit creative in my recs below by steering away from DVD-related choices, as they often depend solely on the personal preferences and existing library of the recipient. If you’d like to go that route though, Guillermo del Toro has some guidance for navigating the Criterion library.

I’ve separated the following suggestions by archetype: The TCM Fanatic, The Collector, The Adventurer, and The Book Worm.


The TCM Fanatic

How to spot them: Constantly leaving parties early to set their DVR at home; all movie trivia spoken in intonation suspiciously similar to Robert Osborne’s voice; willingness to cut back on unnecessary expenses like food and clothing to keep cable TV subscription.


TCM: Now Playing

$13.99 for 12 month subscription

TCM’s Now Playing guide is a monthly magazine that details each month’s upcoming programming on the movie channel. Each issue features articles by hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, detailed movie listings, explanations of daily programming themes, and even a classic movie-themed crossword puzzle. It’s a great resource for seeing what’s coming up on the channel—just make sure you’re not duplicating their subscription!


TCM DVDs and Blu-Rays

range from about $19.98 to $54.98, but check the store for sales

In addition to their cable TV programming, TCM also boasts an array of DVD and blu-rays in their shop, including lots of exclusive titles, many bundled by director (John Ford, Billy Wilder), genre (Film Noir, Westerns), or actors (Joan CrawfordClaudette Colbert).  If you’re not exactly sure who your giftee’s favorite filmmakers are, try the TCM Originals Collection, which features four original TCM documentaries on various film genres, or Conversations with Robert Osborne, which boasts interviews with Luise Rainier, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, and Liza Minnelli.

2014 TCM Classic Film Festival - Opening Night Gala Screening of "Oklahoma!" at TCL Chinese Theatre

TCM Film Festival

$299 Palace Pass, $599 Classic Pass

Want to be the favorite person in your classic movie fan’s life? Get them a pass to the TCM Film Festival, TCM’s annual celebration of all things classic film held in the heart of Hollywood. The four-day festival is full of screenings, interviews, and parties from morning ’til midnight and beyond. More than that, the TCM Film Festival puts your person right in the midst of like-minded folks—when I went to last year’s edition, I encountered a crowd of almost universally chatty, earnest, and eager people, ready to discuss everything we’d seen so far. The Palace Pass is limited to screenings Friday through Sunday at the TCL Chinese, Egyptian, and poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt (which is more than enough to keep busy); the Classic Pass adds screenings and events at all other locations (aside from the opening night gala screening and party).


The Collector

How to spot them: Employs full-time housekeeper to keep figurines dusted; blocks your attempt to throw away crumpled piece of paper because it was “screen used;” wardrobe incorporates suspicious levels of MGM chorus girl-style sequins and other period details.



Etsy is truly a gift shopper’s dream, especially if your giftee has an affinity for any element of pop culture. Just type in “classic movie,” “Old Hollywood,” “vintage film,” or any combination of words, titles, or actors, and chances are someone has made exactly such a craft. On a momentary perusal of the site just now, I’ve found: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane pins, the Golden Age of Entertainment on vinyl featuring Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, and Lena Horne, a Frank Sinatra scrapbook kit (?!?!?!), and a Universal Monsters heating pad. The opportunities are truly limitless.



You’ll have to filter through people selling their used DVDs for $15 each, but Ebay is also a great resource for movie-related gifts. Try searching for any movie title and then filtering for “Entertainment Memorabilia,” “Collectibles,” “Clothing”—whatever you’d like! For classic movies, you’ll find a lot of lobby cards, promotional photos, and posters… just make sure to read the fine-print to make sure you’re not buying a reproduction printed on someone’s inkjet printer.


Prop Auctions

If you really need something to make a statement, check out an authentic prop house or auction like Premiere Props, Prop Store, or Screen Used. The items range from cool to questionable, but within a few clicks I almost always spot something that somebody I know NEEDS to have (or, would NEED to have if I had a few hundred bucks lying around specifically for such whims). Most pieces available nowadays are from movies from the past decade or so, but with some patience you may be able to find something good—if you’re willing to invest. Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume from the Wizard of Oz and Sam’s piano from Casablance recently sold for $3 million each… so if you’re planning on something iconic and unique, start saving your pennies now. Otherwise, a tchotchke that sat on a favorite movie hero’s desk or a producer’s copy of a script might be a worthy investment for a dedicated and appreciative fan.


The Adventurer

How to spot them: Bountiful, geo-tagged Instagram account with lots of #hashtags; stack of Fed Ex reminders on the door because they’re never home; endless stories about experiences they’ve had and people they’ve met.


Amateur Tour

transportation + snack costs, varies

If you live near a city, or a particularly photogenic rural yet semi-accessible location, you may be lucky enough to discover that a few famous movies have shot in your backyard. Do a search on I Am Not A Stalker or On Location Vacations to find out what’s out there, or see if someone’s already created a self-guided film location tour for your area (as they have for Lone Pine, California). Take a moment to print out the relevant film still so you can compare the “then” to the “now”—and to make sure you’re in the right place! Bring some snacks and make a day of it, or make plans to watch the movie before or after your trip.


Professional Tour

varies, $41 to $59 for the TCM bus tours

If you’d rather let someone else do the heavy lifting, see if there is a professional movie location tour in the area. New York and Los Angeles have TCM Movie Locations Tours, Boston and New York have On Location Tours, Los Angeles has Starline… If there’s not a proper bus tour in the area, there may be a walking tour, or perhaps a very knowledgeable friend you can borrow for the day that’s willing to do a bit of planning. Lots of movies have been filmed in and around famous landmarks themselves too, so a park ranger’s tour of Mount Rushmore or Monument Valley can double as a movie location experience.


Theatre or Museum Membership

varies, $35 – $110 for the options listed below

Again, these options will depend a lot on where you or your giftee live. Here in Los Angeles, you might go with the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (starting at $35),the Hollywood Heritage Museum (starting at $40), the American Cinematheque (starting at $65), or the LACMA Film Club (starting at $110), among many other options. Try doing a search for theaters, museums, or cultural clubs in your area, or plan a day trip to visit something a little farther.


The Bookworm

How to spot them: Eyes drop back down to the book that’s invariably in their lap after even a moment’s lull in conversation; weekly changes in desired conversation subjects depending on book being read; periods of great emotional stress when tasked with clearing space on their bookshelf or Kindle.


Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema

$16.00 MSRP ($12.45 on Amazon), $7.99 Kindle edition

Anne Helen Petersen is literally a doctor of celebrity gossip, and her eminently readable entries on the greatest stories in Hollywood scandals made her a darling of websites like The Hairpin. She returns here with a new collection of stories about stars like Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Mae West, Bogie and Bacall, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, James Dean, and more. She covers some familiar ground in terms of subjects, to be sure, but her status as an academic means that she’s careful about her sources and tends not to veer into hyperbole unnecessarily. Even if you’re familiar with the stories already, Petersen has a great storytelling style that makes it fun to read over and over again.


What I Love About Movies: An Illustrated Compendium

$36.95 MSRP ($24.05 on Amazon)

Little White Lies asked a collection of cinematic luminaries a simple question: “What do you love about movies?” Their responses, which range from directors like Coppola, Almodovar, Tarantino, and Jonze to actors like Tom Hardy, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Gosling, are presented alongside illustrations of their answers. Look inside the mind of some of film’s greatest contributors, and figure out your own answer to the question as you read along.


Criterion Designs

Criterion DVDs and blu-rays are famous not only for the care and detail put into the bonus features and transfer, but also their beautifully designed cover art. This new hardcover coffee table book shares and celebrates that artistic process by revealing never-before-seen sketches, concept art, and alternate versions of these gorgeous editions of some of the world’s greatest movies.

*Amazon products contain affiliate linkage, but feel free to purchase from the independent bookstore of your choice if you prefer :)

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