This list was updated March 2, 2015 to reflect Netflix’s current offerings.
The abundance of Netflix Streaming options can be so overwhelming that even picking the right genre to fit a mood can be an all-night affair. Sometimes you just want to cut to the chase and watch a great film. That's why we've sorted through thousands of possibilities to present you with the best movies on Netflix. Critical consensus, general popularity, legendary status — if a movie could be considered great (and it's on Netflix), you'll find it below, broken down by each genre.. As always, feel free to note anything we've left out in the comments. We’ll update this list as titles are added and removed.
The Conversation (1974)
With AMC ensuring that there will never be a shortage of The Godfather, it's time to give Francis Ford Coppola's follow-up feature, The Conversation, the respect it deserves. Starring Gene Hackman as a private-eye spy drowning in a murder plot investigation, the surveillance-themed drama harvests paranoia from claustrophobic blocking and Walter Murch's legendary sound design.
Still a pivotal account of American police corruption, Sidney Lumet's down-and-dirty procedural tells the true story of Frank Serpico, whose whistle-blowing put him in the crosshairs of his NYPD peers. If legendary screenwriter Waldo Salt inaccurately depicted 1970s New York (natives of a certain age, please weigh in), the cultural nuance he peppered into Serpico defines everything we've come to imagine as the city during that decade. When moviegoers positively recall Al Pacino's crazy-eyed passion, they think of this.
The Crying Game (1992)
Much to do was made over The Crying Game's “big twist,” a character reveal that would barely make a splash today (we won't spoil it here, even if you're 22 years late to the game). But Interview With the Vampire director Neil Jordan's is more than its buzzy midsection. A muggy look at gender, race, sexuality, and the way IRA motives made social politics even trickier, The Crying Game hinges on the subdued greatness of Stephen Rea, an actor we all should spend more time talking about.
The Master (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson's hazy portrait of Scientology's origin story boasts two of the '00s finest performances: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic cult leader; and Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, Dodd's prattling war-veteran sidekick. The Master overflows with visual pleasure and philosophical substance (we parsed the film's layers during its theatrical run). Prepare to be mesmerized.
Days of Heaven (1978)
After the success of Terrence Malick's outlaw romance, Badlands, the director followed it up with... an outlaw romance. But with a third point. Full triangle. Days of Heaven adds a dash of poetry, magic-hour sunlight, and golden fields of wheat to The Grapes of Wrath equation, following a young Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as they flee to Texas looking to make a buck. If you wondered why anticipation was so high for 2011's Tree of Life and 2012's To the Wonder (also on Netflix), see: Days of Heaven.
Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994)
Many regard Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction as the best film of the 1990s, but it's time to salute him as King of the Decade. Reservoir Dogs' talky violence spawned countless imitators, and Pulp Fiction would be genius if were just Sam Jackson's Ezekiel 25:17 speech. If you're especially curious, the anthology film Four Rooms, to which Tarantino contributed the short film “The Man From Hollywood,” is available to stream, too.
The American (2010)
Audiences were up in arms when Anton Corbijn's mismarketed drama didn't turn out to be George Clooney's version of Bourne. Their loss: The American is a lush, pensive assassin story, as much about Clooney's weathered face as it is “one last job” shootouts. Paranoia, not bombast, oozes out of it.
After the loss of a child, a couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) head to a cabin in the woods to mourn and come back to life. The beginning of a horror film? Basically, but in Lars von Trier's hands, the prompt conjures up carnal desire, emasculating violence, and a talking fox.
The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
You've seen the “Odessa Steps” sequence, where a baby carriage slips from the hand of a murdered mother, plummeting down a set of stairs. Now see the rest, Sergei Eisenstein's precision editing lesson masquerading as rebellious propaganda.
The Bicycle Thief (1948)
Don't let an arty phrase like Italian neorealism scare you away from this simple masterpiece. On the day Antonio buys a bike — the one way he can make it to a job — the vehicle is stolen from under his nose. From there, it's a matter of life or death. The film's earnest to the bone.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Still gooey, still sentimental, still weepy as hell. A love letter to film's transportive quality, which admits that, at the end of the day, we can't transport ourselves to bygone eras. But we can come pretty darn close.
The English Patient (1996)
Even 18 years later, Anthony Minghella's World War II love story is synonymous with “Oscar bait.” That doesn't mean it's still not a sweeping, steamy, picturesque drama. You can have your Benedict Cumberbatches — give me whispering Ralph Fiennes any day.
The Longest Day (1962)
It took three directors, five writers, megaproducer Darryl F. Zanuck, and an elite cast (including John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, and Sean Connery, to name a few) to mount this defining war film. If Spielberg dropped us into D-Day with Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day is the classically styled companion.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
The John Ford Western that gave us, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Liberty Vance has the Ford Western veneer, beautiful landscapes, and exquisite framing, but this John Wayne – Jimmy Stewart pairing is politically stirring, too. We've been having the firearms debate for a long, long time.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Todd Haynes' cult drama about a Bowie-esque glam-rock star (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who faked his own death and subsequently withdrew from public life is told through the eyes of a journalist with a long-lost personal connection to the musician (Christian Bale); in other words, it's far more than a stylish '70s homage. Sexuality, outsider status, and the trouble with fame are all explored.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Let's ditch the reasons we loved this movie as kids and remind ourselves why it remains an absolute hoot. The late Bob Hoskins gives a classic performance that both keeps with his animated co-star and snowballs every noir detective into one hard-nosed caricature.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
John Hughes's teen comedy is the 1961 Ferrari GT California of “one crazy day” movies. Matthew Broderick was a little too old to play Ferris when cast, which makes him the perfect Ferris. He thinks he knows everything. He knows nothing. Ohhh yeaaaaaaah.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Another time-centric John Hughes movie, Steve Martin and John Candy co-star as bumbling strangers jetting home for Thanksgiving who join forces when their modes of transportation keep giving out. Appropriately grimy and stressful for a movie about holiday travel, Hughes stretches his duo's likable personas to their highest and lowest points. A movie that juxtaposes Candy's lively “Mess Around” lip-sync with a car explosion. That's life.
Sherlock Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), Go West (1925),
Slapstick is only a lesser form in the wrong hands. Proof: Buster Keaton, whose pratfalls and dangerous plummeting stand up to anything the Jackass boys are doing today. Indulge in a number of his classics on Netflix (and put The General at the top of your queue).
In Bruges (2008)
Martin McDonagh's Christmas story drops two assassins into the doldrums of the titular Belgian city, sits back, and watches them squirm. A career-reviving role for Colin Farrell, who manages to charm while playing a guilt-stricken child killer, In Bruges is for those who say they enjoy pitch-black comedy and mean it.
His Girl Friday (1940)
The romantic comedy is alive and well ... in old movies streamable on Netflix. Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is less about doe eyes and whirlwind love affairs than it is about snappy flirtation. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell play an ex-husband and wife whose journalism careers set up screwball situations.
Is Clueless as clueless at it seems? As if. Amy Heckerling's modernized Emma satirized and embraced the '90s Valley Girl persona. Even today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a movie that appreciates youth culture as it picks it apart as much as this one does.
Walt Disney Animation's fourth feature is hard to categorize. The circus slapstick is silent-era-worthy. Betty Noyes singing "Baby Mine" will break your heart. And those pink elephants ... the hallucinations of horror movies. Whatever label you slap on Dumbo, it's still great.
9 to 5 (1980)
If you’re dissatisfied at your current job and think it’s time to explore something new, allow 9 to 5 to assist in the decision making process –perhaps it’d be easier to take a page out of Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin’s book and try to improve the bleak workplace you’re stuck in. The first step, of course, is to nearly poison your boss, then make him a prisoner in his own home. Next, feel free to forge his signature on dozens of memos announcing new office policies. Lastly, watch as he’s shipped off to Brazil and have a giggly smoke at his desk. Be sure to wear a blue pleather coat throughout.
Michael Mann's debut film is a gripping neo-noir that splashes Chicago with green and blue hues. James Caan stars a jewel thief sucked back into a criminal lifestyle that's more soul-sucking than ever. Even with high-pressure heist sequences and Caan's natural grit, Thief is all about mood, made more existential by Mann's camerawork and Tangerine Dream's synthy score. (Read Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri's piece on why you need to watch Thief to understand the modern crime movie.)
It's a truth studios barely remember: Thrillers can be about something. Peter Weir's murder mystery would function just fine with Harrison Ford cracking the case on the streets of Philadelphia. Moving the action into the Amish community challenges every convention. Witness is like a candied apple: comfort food with a nutritious core.
Remember that one Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode with the scary, bald vampire? Not original (non-millennials, go ahead and roll your eyes)! Lifting from Bram Stoker's Dracula, the quintessential German expressionist horror stars Max Schreck as Count Orlok, the wide-eyed, long-nailed, desperate-for-Rogaine bloodsucker. The makeup design is so powerful, even Orlok's vampiric silhouettes provoke chills.
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982)
Oft-cited as the pinnacle of Star Trek onscreen, Nicholas Meyer's “action-heavy” installment is really just a submarine movie cloaked in interplanetary exploration and “Genesis Planet” babble. There's never been a cinematic pissing contest quite like the one James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh (the Ricardo Montalbán version, not the Benedict Cumberbatch imitation) embroil themselves in across starship Skype calls.Wrath of Khan beams with pure fun.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
If oversaturation leaves leaves the zombie genre feeling stiff and dead, allow the film that started it all to raise it back from the grave. George A. Romero's groundbreaking low-budget flick is a slow-burn spine-tingler — partly because his brain-eaters only move at a geriatric pace. The limping zombie hordes give Romero time to pepper commentary into his nightmarish vision; It's not just that undead cannibals feasting on helpless humans is wildly entertaining, but Night of the Living Dead takes a moment to ask: What does it all mean?
Upstream Color (2013)
It took Primer director Shane Carruth nine years to crank out a follow-up. Even a quick taste of Upstream Color's dense, sci-fi goulash justifies the gestation period. A romance entangled in botanical harvesting, pig behavioral science, godly manipulation, and Thoreau's transcendental musings, Carruth's sprawling, DIY epic is a much-needed alternative to a genre full of bombast.
Let the Right One In (2008)
He's a lonely 12-year-old with violent dreams. She's a forever-tween bloodsucker looking for company. Boiling in Tomas Alfredson hazy, snow-powered Swedish suburb, the two strike up a macabre romance, the only young vampiric love story you'll ever need (sorry, Twilight).
At the time, Fritz Lang's technological dystopia was the most expensive movie ever made. It looks like it. Refracted through the pillared shadows of German expressionists, Lang's turn-of-the-century special effects and blunt social commentary evoke a sci-fi Wizard of Oz.
If you’re thinking about having your romantic honeymoon in a cabin in a very secluded forest, perhaps it’s time to rethink a beach or city setting. Take it from Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway), who’s seemingly delightful rustic getaway turns into an increasingly erratic and mysterious series of events, including encounters with bright lights, animal bites, and worm-like creatures. And death, lots of death.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003/2004)
Uma Thurman with a kitana! Tarantino’s genre bonanza glued together by the Shaw Brothers spirit, this revenge twofer hits like a Five Point Palm Exploding Heart to a cinephile's chest.
The Host (2006)
Not to be confused with Stephenie Meyer's unfortunate body-snatcher romance of the same name, this South Korean monster movie fromSnowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho is a wallop of kaiju destruction and social commentary. Godzilla would be proud.
This South Korean film recruited Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Jamie Bell for the end of humanity as we know it, after an attempt to end the global climate crisis ends up causing a new Ice Age, which leads to a violent revolution by survivors. Reminder to claustrophobes: Yup, this takes place entirely on a train.
The Comedy (2012)
Don't let the blunt title or presence of comedian Tim Heidecker fool you: The Comedy is anything but Adult Swim on the big screen. Weaponizing Heidecker's droll style into a Travis Bickle–like Brooklyn buffoon, writer-director Rick Alverson skewers hipsterisms and human connection in a series of dreamy, often terrifying vignettes. That The Comedy manages to fit both Donnie and Joe Emerson's “Baby” and William Basinski's “Disintegration Loops” into its soundtrack tells you everything.
The Station Agent (2003)
If you can't separate Peter Dinklage from Tyrion, his cunning Game of Thrones character, try Win Win director Thomas McCarthy's debut feature. It's a movie about three people sitting around watching trains, but ... we love these three people. Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, and Patricia Clarkson hang around an abandoned train depot bonding over loss, lust, and life. By the end, you feel like you're part of the group.
It Felt Like Love (2013)
This ambling coming-of-age story is built from everything people imagine (and balk at) when they think of the term “Sundance movie.” There's teen romance, semi-improvised dialogue, lingering shots of nature and close-up body parts — it's indie, man. But It Felt Like Love is everything that can go right with the formula, sewing together a tender, universal, and emotive story of sexuality.
Blue Ruin (2014)
Built from rudimentary revenge blueprints, Jeremy Saulnier's thriller is taut, exquisitely composed, and constantly cackling with laughter. It's a Coen Brothers plot for the indie age, where murder begets murder begets murder.
Mean Creek (2004)
Parents, shield your children's eyes! Mean Creek dares to expose the frustration, fear, confusion, and compassion that comes with being a kid. Wouldn't want the young ones to relate to Rory Culkin's resonant performance. Might be too much for them.
Short Term 12 (2013)
The film equivalent of a singer-songwriter plucking a heartbreaking acoustic number in the back of coffee shop. A peek inside a group home for troubled teenagers is sweet and sincere, carried by Brie Larson's delicate performance as a caretaker trying to keep her patients together.
Danny Boyle swears he's making a sequel to his pulsating look at 1980s heroin addicts. Picking back up with Ewan McGregor's Renton and Jonny Lee Miller's “Sick Boy” could work. But it doesn't have to — Boyle's spastic downward spiral into drugs, crime, and HIV is plenty addicting.
Like Father, Like Son (2013)
About a Boy duo Chris and Paul Weitz are currently scripting an American remake of Hirokazu Kore-eda's acclaimed family drama, but you know the drill: See the original first. If only because Like Father, Like Son feels intrinsically Japanese. When an upper-middle-class couple discover their son was switched with another baby at birth, the father struggles with reclaiming his biological offspring or continuing to care for a child that isn't “his.” What sounds like situation comedy will likely be just that when it's translated for the States. In Kore-eda's hands, it's comical, tender, and culturally introspective.
Fallen Angels (1995)
A spiritual successor to his Chungking Express (another brilliant film you'll have to, sadly, track down on DVD), Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels tells two short stories of lust and deceit that occasionally cross paths and flicker. True to the auteur's style, the drama is kaleidoscopic and rhythmic, more like a visualized album of pop songs than a feature film. That doesn't make the romance any less real.
After the Wedding (2006)
Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen stars in this low-key, high-impact drama about an Indian orphanage manager who thinks he's traveling back to Denmark to secure funding only to attend a wedding for the daughter he never knew he had. Shot in the austere Dogme 95 style, After the Wedding delivers a pure Mikkelsen performance that's guaranteed to break up your insides. In a good way!
If you're catching up on 2014's best movies, Pawel Pawlikowski's shockingly still look at post-Holocaust life demands attention. Set in 1960s Poland, Ida follows a young nun unearthing her shrouded Jewish roots with the help of a wry, alcoholic aunt. In his review from earlier this year, David Edelstein called it “a grimly potent portrait of repression, of what happens to a society that buries its past in an unmarked grave — and lives its present in a state of corrosive denial.”
Drug War (2013)
A surplus of Hong Kong crime thrillers stake claim on Netflix's servers, but Johnnie To's Drug War rises to the top of the pack by combining spats of precision action with sociopolitical commentary. Yes, there's such thing as thoughtful gunplay. Drug War is an exercise in procedure, observing the exploits of a drug ring and a band of pursuing cops with utmost restraint. Slow boil makes the investigative implosion pop.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's romantic drama is the definition of French whimsy. Audrey Tautou's compassionate, curious love detective is designed to sweep up anyone with their shields down. The director's version of Paris has the same effect, eccentric, mysterious, and radiating positive vibes. It's okay to feel warm and fuzzy, we promise.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
Now that controversy is behind it, Blue Is the Warmest Color can settle in as one of the finest young love movies ever made. Come for the ferocious, pot-stirring, six-minute-long sex scene, stay for the shockingly intimate relationship Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are able to forge onscreen.
Goodbye First Love (2011)
Another French coming-of-age love story, this time from Mia Hansen-Løve, who begins at the end of a young relationship and watches the emotion linger for years. When Sullivan drops everything to gallivant around Latin America, his girlfriend Camille is left with a heavy heart and full life ahead. All too real.
There are two ways to enjoy Olivier Assayas's sprawling profile of 1970s Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal: The two-hour, 45-minute feature version, or the original five-plus-hour, divided miniseries style. In this case, more of a crazed Goodfellas-meets–James Bond epic is better.
Holy Motors (2012)
Leos Carax's reflection on performance features a motion-captured dragon sex scene, talking limousines, and an accordion musical-number interlude. All hail Denis Lavant as a brillaint Zelig who keeps it all together.
The Conformist (1970)
A film our own Bilge Ebiri noted is “perhaps as influential a film as Citizen Kane,” Bernardo Bertolucci's political drama deconstructs big ideas in intimate scenarios, intrigue and sexuality bubbling in every frame. After watching this Italian classic, catching up with Bilge's Bertolucci profile is a must.
Those reeling from Spike Lee's recent remake will want to discover Park Chan-wook's Korean-language original, a sadistic, stylish mystery. There's nothing in the Americanized version that tops Choi Min-sik eating a live octopus — and that's the tip of this movie's iceberg.
When I Saw You (2012)
A simple downgrade allows Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir to shed new light on a seemingly endless conflict. From the eyes of a 13-year-old Jordanian refugee, Jacir tackles the aftermath of the Six-Day War and its warping effects. Violence is replaced by dread. Our hero has an appetite for life. How long can it last embroiled in conflict?
The Piano Teacher (2001)
Michael Haneke is his own class of gut-wrenching. While his true masterpieces aren't available to stream, settling for his erotic drama based on Elfriede Jelinek's Nobel Prize–winning novel is a win for those looking to throw their emotions in a vise. No one's done the sadomasochistic-relationship-with-a-17-year-old like Isabelle Huppert.
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Zhang Yimou is the master of painterly action. As with his Jet Li-martial arts picture Hero, the director's House of Flying Daggers combines period costumes, lavish sets, and massive amounts of wirework to add blockbustery flavor to an epic romance. Actress Ziyi Zhang is a superhero. She can punch, she can fly, she can romance or slaughter any hunky men who stand in her way. If Marvel movies are tasting a bit stale, this Chinese adventure is the perfect alternative.
Man on Wire (2008)
Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers was the pinnacle of anti-Establishment circus tricks. The crowds below loved it, the New York City authorities loathed it. James Marsh captures all the grandeur of the act. As he traces a line through Petit's history, the walk feels inevitable. Why build the Towers if they weren't meant to be tethered together for a death-defying stunt?
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Is “Mr. Brainwash” a premier street artist? A total sham? An elaborate prank? As Banksy's provocative examination of art and commerce unspools, its star, Thierry Guetta, amounts to all three. Following the vintage clothing retailer turned visual artist as he mounts stunts to put him on the map, Banksy challenges the ideas behind his own work and the patrons that keep him in business.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Because of weird marketing rules, Errol Morris's true-crime documentary was ineligible for the Oscars. It didn't really need the gold; A year after The Thin Blue Line exposed the shoddy police work that put Randall Dale Adams in jail for a murder he didn't convict, the state of Texas released Morris's subject from prison. Yes, the film's that good.
This look at the in-peril Congolese national park is part conservationist muckrake, part investigative expose, and part in-the-trenches war documentary. What's lost when the last African mountain gorillas go extinct? Peace, perhaps, sacrificed for a wealth of oil bubbling underneath Virunga's soil. Juxtaposing stunning nature photography with vérité violence, documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel trumps Avatar, with an environmentally-conscious action piece that's urgent and grave.
Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab unlocked the artistic possibilities of modern technology when it strapped an arsenal of pint-size cameras to any surface, object, and person aboard a fishing trawler and let it rip. An experimental documentary with the energy of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The Act of Killing (2013)
Everyone needs a good punch to the gut. Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer is happy to provide with his bizarre tale of genocide and Hollywood glamour. Centering on retired Indonesian gangster Anwar Congo, who oversaw the slaughtering of more than 500,000 people suspected of Communism from 1965–66, The Act of Killing is a fanciful ride straight to hell on Earth. Indonesia is still a country living under the thumb of right-wing paramilitary. Anwar couldn't be happier. Oppenheimer's film couldn't be more frightening.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Steve James's nearly three-hour documentary follows teenagers Arthur Agee and William Gates as they weave through the grind of basketball practice, school life, family commitments, higher education possibilities, and the pressures of their Chicago neighborhoods, a microcosm of race, political, and socioeconomic issues. Through off-the-cuff interviews and immersive vérité footage, Hoop Dreams captures an unrefined variation of the American Dream.
Imagine Boyhood as a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Gastón Solnicki took nearly 200 hours of home-movie footage shot over ten years and spliced together a patchwork quilt that speaks volumes about his family and allfamilies.
To know Pina Bausch is to know her dancing. When the choreographer died during preparation for a documentary on her life, Wings of Desire filmmaker Wim Wenders marched on with the film, restaging Baunsch's legendary performances with the help of her troupe, the Tanztheater Wuppertal. The hypercrisp, high-definition results are electric.
Additional writing by Devon Ivie and Rachel Handler.