This post is updated twice a month to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Amazon Prime. *New additions are indicated by an asterisk.
You really should be using your Amazon Prime subscription for more than just shipping discounts and Whole Foods sales. The people at Amazon have amassed a truly impressive library of films that can be accessed with your Prime account, and in many ways, it’s equal to and arguably even superior to Netflix’s library. But how do you know where to begin? As we have done with Netflix, allow us to present a regularly-updated guide to 100 movies to watch on Amazon Prime. A collection of classics, blockbusters, and under-the-radar flicks, you really should watch all 100. Get back to us after you do.
The 39 Steps
Until someone starts Hitchcock+ (get on that, people), there won’t be a streaming service out there that has enough films by the master of suspense. The big three (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) only have a handful a piece, and Amazon recently added this 1935 classic, named in 2017 by a group of critics as one of the best British films of all time. Robert Donat plays a classic Hitchcock everyman caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense. Don’t miss it.
Jodie Foster won her first Oscar for her fearless performance here as a rape victim fighting for justice. When The Accused was released in 1988, Hollywood hadn’t really reckoned with rape and the issues around it like trauma and victim blaming. This movie was brave enough to do so, and it’s anchored by one of the most striking performances of the ‘80s by one of her generation’s best actresses.
The Act of Killing
There aren’t many documentaries as difficult to watch as Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated film about not just the Indonesian genocides of the ‘60s but the way its perpetrators haven’t been brought to justice. Oppenheimer films the murderers reenacting their crimes as if they’re in some of their favorite Hollywood movies, and the result is both enlightening and terrifying.
The African Queen
There aren’t enough undeniable classics on Amazon, so you should take the chance to watch the few that there are, even if just to fill in your personal viewing history with some movies made before 1980. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are simply perfect together in this adventure rom-com that should be listed in any film dictionary next to the words star chemistry. Trivia: This is the only movie Bogart won an Oscar for.
Paramount notoriously had no idea what to do with Alex Garland’s film and barely promoted it in American theaters, dropping it on Netflix in the rest of the world. In this country, it’s on Amazon. And it’s amazing. One of the best films of 2018 stars Natalie Portman as a woman who enters an alien occurrence to find out what happened to her husband there. Although that barely scratches the surface of this complex, already-beloved film.
Any list of the best “food movies” ever made that doesn’t include this 1996 dramedy is simply wrong. Co-directed by two men known mostly for their acting — Campbell Scott and Stanley — Big Night is a tender movie about a pair of Italian brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) who own a restaurant in ‘50s New York. As they struggle to keep it afloat, Big Night becomes a heartfelt movie about the immigrant experience and the American Dream.
The Big Sick
It’s not common for a breakthrough comedy to be so acclaimed and popular that it actually becomes an Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay, but The Big Sick is not a typical comedy (and Holly Hunter was robbed of a nomination too, by the way). Kumail Nanjiani loosely adapts his own story and does great work alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
S. Craig Zahler has become one of the most divisive filmmakers working today thanks to three vicious, brutal movies — Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete. The first two are on Amazon. This one is slightly better, a slow-burn Western that stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins as a posse of men who hunt a group of indigenous cannibals. The final act is terrifying and intense.
Yes, that Candyman. Before the remake comes out, revisit the 1992 horror classic, a movie that’s probably a lot better than you remember. Sure, you recall the bees and the urban-legend riff on a boogeyman who appears when you say his name, but did you realize how smart this movie is about social and racial issues? Or how well it uses Chicago as a backdrop? It’s an incredibly effective film that hasn’t just held up over almost 30 years but has actually gotten better with age.
Stephen King has arguably never been bigger than he is in 2019, with the release of films like Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two, as well as a new book arriving in the fall. Use this Brian De Palma masterpiece to flash back to a time when King wasn’t yet a household name. Sissy Spacek gives one of her best performances as the title character, a bullied girl who discovers that she’s not your ordinary teenager. This is still one of the best King adaptations of all time.
When Stanley Donen died in February of 2019, most of the obituaries pointed to Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town as the movies for which he would be most remembered, but this thriller has and will stand the test of time too. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are at their most charismatic, delivering Peter Stone’s witty repartee and elevating a fantastic mystery into a classic.
Children of a Lesser God
There was a brief window in the mid-’80s when William Hurt was arguably the best working actor. In this film, he plays a new teacher at a school for the deaf, where he meets an outcast named Sarah, played unforgettably by Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar for her work here. Some of this romantic drama plays a little broad and manipulative, but the performances by Hurt and Matlin carry it.
Forget it, Jake. One of the essential films of the ‘70s was directed by Roman Polanski and released to rapturous reviews in 1974. (It would have won Best Picture if not for a little movie called The Godfather, Part II.) Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a private eye who gets involved in the California water wars of the ‘30s. Polanski uses a noir structure to get at something deeper about corruption and poison in the entire system. It’s a masterpiece.
Matt Reeves’s 2008 found-footage monster movie was a major event, something that helped redefine how films are sold to audiences. We only saw glimpses of the monster in commercials and previews (and even in the movie itself), and the result was a massive hit, making over $170 million worldwide and launching a franchise. See where it all began.
Looking for an under-the-radar genre flick to tell your friends about? This is the one. A group of friends get together for a dinner party when power goes out on the block they’re on. They notice lights on in one house down the street and they go to investigate and…we won’t spoil. Just check this one out for yourself.
One of the nice things about Amazon is how quickly they turn around their hits from theatrical to Prime. Take this film, which was only released in theaters in December, and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Director, Cinematography, and Foreign Language Film. This striking romantic drama about a doomed relationship was a number of people’s favorite film of 2018. And you can watch just a few months later.
Arguably the best performance of Gene Hackman’s career resides in this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece. Hackman plays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert in San Francisco who gets embroiled in a job that amplifies his already-high paranoia. One of the best films of the ‘70s, Coppola actually released this the same year as The Godfather, Part II.
We don’t deserve David Cronenberg. One of the best living filmmakers delivered one of his best films in 1988 in this twisted thriller starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists who share flings with their clients without them knowing. Well, they do until one of them develops an attachment to the latest patient. Creepy and masterful, this contains arguably Irons’ best performance.
The Dead Zone
Stephen King is everywhere lately from Pet Sematary to It to Castle Rock. Why not revisit one of the more successful adaptations of his work from the ‘80s? Christopher Walken stars as a man who can learn a person’s secrets just by touching them. For most people, this probably wouldn’t be that big a deal, but then he makes contact with a Senator (Martin Sheen) running for President and…well, see for yourself. It’s a little dated but still a fun movie.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
You know all those true crime docs that you can’t stop watching on Netflix and HBO? Most of them aren’t as good as Kurt Kuenne’s heartbreaker about his friend Andrew Bagby. After Andrew died, Kurt decided to make a movie about his buddy for the son that would never get to know his father. What began as a project for a friend and his family became a word-of-mouth indie hit with a twist so devastating that most people can’t talk about it without crying.
There’s not a streaming service out there that has enough Dario Argento. Forget the remake of Suspiria, go back to one of the master’s best, this 1975 giallo which features the filmmaker at the top of his stylish game. The transition from Argento’s thrillers to his more horror-driven films, this is arguably his best work, filled with his trademark style, use of color, and, of course, buckets of blood.
There’s an apocryphal story that goes that Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho because he wanted to make a movie as scary as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique. You’ve probably seen the story of Norman Bates. Shouldn’t you see the brilliant French thriller that inspired it into existence?
The Disaster Artist
The saga of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is chronicled in this clever, funny comedy featuring a fearless performance from James Franco. The controversial actor co-stars with Dave Franco as Wiseau and Greg Sestero, the two men who made what might be the worst movie ever made and then watched it turn into a cult hit. The extended supporting cast here is pretty great, especially Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.
Sharlto Copley stars in Neill Blomkamp’s wildly successful sleeper hit, a movie that really came out of nowhere to become one of the biggest film stories of 2009. Sci-fi movies with no stars from debut directors don’t usually go on to become Best Picture nominees, but District 9 is not your typical sci-fi movie.
Dressed to Kill
There are elements of Brian De Palma’s thriller that haven’t exactly aged well in terms of the way it treats gender issues, but it’s impossible to deny the strength of the suspense master’s display of craft here. Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen star in a film that feels like De Palma’s riff on Psycho with more style than nearly any other BDP film – you can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Bo Burnham’s feature film debut won him multiple awards last year and it’s already on Amazon Prime for you to see what all the fuss is about. Elsie Fisher gives a breakthrough performance as a young lady who makes YouTube videos that pretty much only she sees and struggles her way through the most socially awkward years of existence. Smart, moving, and incredibly clever, this is a great comedy that rings of enough truth that it hurts.
Alexander Payne’s 1999 satire is just as biting and brilliant as it was two decades ago. Anchored by a brilliant performance from Reese Witherspoon (arguably still her best), Payne’s adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel uses a contentious high-school election to expose the thin line that separates adults from teenagers when it comes to maturity and to interrogate what we consider to be good behavior. It’s hysterical, smart, and insightful in ways that we don’t see that often in modern cinema.
Adrian Lyne’s 1987 thriller was more than just a movie; it was a cultural phenomenon. The story of a woman who basically stalks and terrorizes her weekend affair became a cautionary tale for an era dealing with changing views on sexuality and infidelity. Michael Douglas and Glenn Close are perfectly cast in a movie that doesn’t exactly hold up today in terms of its gender politics but does serve as a fascinating snapshot of where these issues were in the mid-’80s. And Close is phenomenal here. She always is.
Ethan Hawke stars in Paul Schrader’s best film in a generation. Hawke stars as a small-town priest confronted with a crisis of faith when he meets a man who teaches him about the evil of environmental poisoning. Would God really let his planet be destroyed? This crisis hits head on with health problems and the result is one of the smartest screenplays of 2018 and arguably its best performance, period.
Werner Herzog set out to make a movie about a man who was insane enough to try and move a steamship over land from one river to another and Herzog himself was insane enough to actually try and replicate it. The result is a film that’s mesmerizing in its detail and blatant in its study of power gone mad, both in the narrative and the filmmaking. Watch Burden of Dreams after – a great doc about the crazy making of this film. (It’s on Prime too.)
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s study of a mother and daughter on a low run of the social ladder in a Florida motel is a riveting blend of character study and magical realism. It has a sense of wonder that reflects its unforgettable child leading lady without ever pandering to her or looking down on its subjects. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, one of the best films of the ‘10s.
Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese films from this century don’t get the same adoration as his classics from the last one. There’s even a sense in some circles that he sold out in some way (a silly charge if you look at the passion that still drives his choices). While this may not be a classic when compared to other Scorsese films, it’s still a great movie, anchored by yet another masterful turn from Daniel Day-Lewis.
A Ghost Story
It may not be a movie for everyone, but those who love David Lowery’s meditation on loss really love it. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in a film that’s incredibly difficult to sum up in a few sentences. It’s about time, grief, and the afterlife, but not in a way that you’ve ever seen before. Just watch it.
Robert Pattinson does his best film work to date in the Safdie brothers’ story of a numbskull who gets caught up in a robbery and struggles to find his way to safety. This is not like pretty much anything else you could watch on Amazon, a film that feels like it would have felt at home in the ‘70s in the way it captures the heat of a night in the city on the run.
None of the streaming services have a truly deep selection of international cinema but Amazon Prime is better than most. Take for example Park Chan-wook’s masterful period drama about betrayal, sex, and more betrayal. It’s one of the most technically gorgeous films you could possibly watch tonight. Make sure the kids are in bed first though.
Christian Slater kinda does a Jack Nicholson impression and Winona Ryder is at the peak of her ‘80s emo-charm in this clever satire of high school life. Ryder plays the high school outcast and Slater plays the guy who teaches revenge is a dish best served with an attitude.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
John McNaughton’s document of the life of a serial killer and his new also-homicidal friend is one of the best independent films of its generation. Not only does it use a dark, rarely seen side of Chicago brilliantly, but its balance of horror and even humor remains powerful three decades later.
Make sure you’re in the right mental place before watching Ari Aster’s 2018 debut film, a movie that will rattle you to your core. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of 2018 as a mother who faces tragic loss before she faces something much scarier. It’s unforgettable.
Any list of the most influential movies of all time that doesn’t include Fred Zinneman’s 1952 Western classic is simply incomplete. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for a performance that would redefine square-jawed, American grit, and the final scenes of this movie have been mimicked ever since.
His Girl Friday
When people think of the most influential Hollywood comedies of all time, this 1940 Howard Hawks hit often makes the list. Watch it to see why. You’ll witness Cary Grant at his most charismatic as Walter Burns, an editor who is watching his best reporter and ex-wife walk out the door. He suggests they cover one last story, and Hollywood magic ensues. American movies don’t get much more classic than this.
The selection of high-quality docs on streaming services are more limited than one would like (there are a lot of them, but not necessarily the best). However, Amazon does feature one of the best non-fiction films of all time, Steve James’ examination of two young men on the South Side of Chicago and their aspirations to be NBA stars. It’s the kind of deeply humanist storytelling that James makes look it easy when it’s really not.
Martin Scorsese adapts Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret in for this beautiful 2011 family film, a flick nominated for 11 Academy Awards (and winner of five). This is one to watch on the biggest TV in the house. You probably can’t replicate the experience of Scorsese’s foray into 3D but this is a movie that needs to be watched as big as possible to appreciate its vision and technical craftsmanship.
Hustle & Flow
Long before Empire, this was the breakthrough for Terence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Craig Brewer’s story of a pimp turned hip-hop artist pulses with an energy and authenticity often missing from these films. And a song called “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won an Oscar! Let that sink in.
*In the Heat of the Night
Fifty years before Green Book won Best Picture, a very different portrait of race relations in the South took home that same prize. Sidney Poitier stars as a black officer who gets caught up in a murder case, and Rod Steiger plays his white counterpart. Both men are breathtakingly good, and the film contains one of cinema’s most notable slaps.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Have we started to take the Coen brothers for granted? The Oscar winners hit home runs every single time, but their recent output doesn’t seem to garner the attention that every one of their new releases once did. Take this music masterpiece, a film that unfolds like a great lost folk album and contains so-far-career-best work from Oscar Isaac. It’s one of the best movies of the last decade, much less on Amazon.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
There’s a reason we keep coming back to the concept of everyday people being taken over by an alien force. What’s scarier than no longer being able to trust your neighbor, co-worker, or even your significant other? While there are positive qualities to all the iterations of this classic Jack Finney story, this is the best film version, the 1978 one starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s classic often gets a ton of replay around the holidays, but it’s the kind of heartwarmer that works all year long. This is no mere Christmas movie but a story about the impact that one man can have on an entire community. It really defined the on-screen persona of Jimmy Stewart and has become a beloved film around the world, even in warm weather.
Nicolas Cage has become one of the kings of VOD, so you may find it hard to believe that there are actually good, recent films from him that you can watch at home too. When he really cares about a project, he delivers, as he does in this David Gordon Green film about a foreman who befriends a teenage boy and chooses to release him from the grip of an abusive father.
The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese is often more recognized for his gangster movies, classics like GoodFellas and Casino, but he’s a filmmaker who can do absolutely everything. One of his most underrated genre experiments is this prescient 1982 black comedy about everyone wanting their 15 minutes of fame. Robert De Niro gives an unforgettable performance as Rupert Pupkin, an unhinged stand-up comedian who becomes obsessed with a talk-show host, played by Jerry Lewis.
Greta Gerwig’s Oscar nominee is one of the most personal and striking coming-of-age films in years. Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character, a young Californian who longs for someplace cooler than her own hometown. It’s a heartfelt and very smart film, buoyed by great performances throughout, including Ronan, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, and Laurie Metcalf, who was robbed of that Oscar.
Last House on the Left
We can’t really be shocked anymore in the same manner that audiences were when they saw Wes Craven’s 1972 debut. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, this low-budget horror classic remains a brutally shocking and effective thriller.
Lean on Pete
Andrew Haigh makes nuanced, subtle character studies, and this is one of his best. Charlie Plummer stars as a boy who befriends the horse that gives this delicate film its title. In an effort to save the horse, the boy ends up on a cross-country journey that you won’t soon forget.
Leave No Trace
One of the best films of 2018, Debra Granik’s return to filmmaking stars Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster as a daughter and father who live way off the grid. His PTSD doesn’t allow him to live in traditional settings, but he can sense that his daughter is pulling away from him and ready to live in the society he has shunned.
Leaving Las Vegas
Remember when Nicolas Cage won an Oscar? Believe it or not, the actor now known mostly for his “extreme” acting choices gave one of the most subtle performances of the ‘90s in this Mike Figgis film, which won Cage the Academy Award. He plays Ben Sanderson, a screenwriter so in the grip of alcoholism that he goes to Las Vegas with the plan to drink himself to death. There he meets Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a hooker with a heart of gold who gives him a reason to live.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray may be the most underrated American filmmaker what with The Immigrant, Two Lovers, and his latest, this period piece about obsession starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. This is not your typical explorer movie as Gray seeks to present something more challenging about why men seek the unexplored and commit themselves long past the point of sanity to seemingly impossible tasks.
Even people who have never seen this movie know the story of how Christian Bale nearly killed himself with weight loss to make it all the more harrowing. Bale stars as Trevor Reznik, an insomniac who spirals into complete madness. Brad Anderson is the best director you probably don’t know by name and this is one of his best films, anchored by the complete commitment of its leading man.
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about a broken man finally put back together when he’s forced to take care of his nephew. Lonergan’s film is an unforgettable character study, full of complex emotions and beats. And it has two scenes that are almost guaranteed to make you cry.
The Manchurian Candidate
John Frankenheimer’s beloved 1962 adaptation of the 1959 novel of the same name has become such a part of the national consciousness that one can reference its title in political conversations and be completely understood. If you somehow have never seen it, Frank Sinatra stars as a Korean vet who may be a sleeper agent for enemies of the United States. It has held up better than nearly any other film from its era.
Memories of Murder
Bong Joon-ho has become an internationally renowned filmmaker with movies like The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja, but arguably his best film has yet to really find an audience because it doesn’t have a U.S. Blu-ray release. How wonderful that you can still watch what could be called “Korean Zodiac” on Amazon. It’s a riveting study of two cops who become obsessed with a true serial killer.
There’s still a weird belief that Woody Harrelson is better at comedy than drama, even using the former to shade roles like that in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. However, Woody kills it when he goes deeply dramatic too as in this Oren Moverman drama about the men who tell loved ones that soldiers have died in combat. Ben Foster is incredible here too.
One of the most influential and important films of its era, Midnight Cowboy won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, which is in itself a sign of how much film was about to change. Gone were the days of crowd-pleasing Oscar winners, and an era of progressive, complex storytelling was about to begin. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman give two of the most iconic performances in film history here.
Darren Aronofsky talked someone at Paramount into letting him make the strangest and most ambitious studio film in years. Jennifer Lawrence stars in the movie that notoriously angered audiences when it was released in theaters, but this movie has a loyal fan base for a reason and it seems to be growing. It’s crazy, and we mean that in a good way. If only more studios made more crazy movies.
A key entry in the McConaughaissance is this 2012 coming-of-age thriller from the great Jeff Nichols. McConaughey stars as the title character, someone living way off the grid who is discovered by two local boys in the Deep South. He’s hiding out, waiting for his gal, played by Reese Witherspoon. Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Shannon add flavor to a great supporting cast.
Murder on the Orient Express
Long before Kenneth Branagh resurrected Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot for a new generation, Sidney Lumet gathered a cast of all-stars to adapt one of the suspense master’s most beloved novels. You think the 2017 version had an impressive cast? Check out the ‘70s version, with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, and more. It’s held up wonderfully.
The Neon Demon
No one makes movies quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. The director of Drive delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Have you heard of the West Memphis Three? You won’t forget them after you watch this 1996 HBO documentary about a trio of boys accused of a horrific murder in 1993. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky followed this case so closely that they produced two sequels to this doc (in 2000 and 2011), both of which are also on Prime. Marathon!
Jim Jarmusch’s best film is also his most recent, and it’s on Prime! The indie auteur finds one of his best mouthpieces in Adam Driver’s Paterson, a bus driver who moonlights as a poet. Gentle, beautiful, and unforgettable, it’s a movie that honestly captures how easy it is to find poetry in everyday life without ever being as cheesy as that description sounds like it could be.
*Paths of Glory
Stanley Kubrick gets a lot of attention for his hyper-stylized later films like 2001 and A Clockwork Orange, but one of the films often missing from the conversation about him is this 1957 masterpiece, a scathing antiwar film released three decades before he would make Full Metal Jacket. Kirk Douglas stars as the commanding officer of a group of men on trial for not going through with a suicidal order.
*Planes, Trains and Automobiles
One of the most consistently beloved and rewatched comedies of all time is this ‘80s classic that features Steve Martin and John Candy at the absolute peak of their talents. Candy gives one of comedy’s great performances, being both incredibly annoying and lovable at the same time. We come to care for this guy as he endeavors to make it home with his polar opposite, perfectly played by Martin. This is one of screen history’s great buddy-road movies.
Matthew Warchus’s 2014 historical drama is one of the most feel-good movies you could find on Amazon. It’s the rare movie that is moving without ever feeling manipulative. It’s the true story of the 1984 British miners’ strike, which was unexpectedly supported by a group of lesbian and gay activists in London. The unlikely partnership even created a campaign called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, which proved remarkably successful in raising the profile of both movements in the U.K. It’s a rarely told chapter in history that’s treated respectfully while also featuring entertaining performances from Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, and more.
There aren’t a lot of great Westerns on Amazon, but this modern one is worth your time. John Hillcoat directs a gritty, vicious script by Nick Cave (of The Bad Seeds fame) and draws excellent performances from a cast that includes Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, and a movie-stealing Danny Huston. With riveting cinematography by Benoit Delhomme, this is a Western that looks phenomenal, unfolding like a visualization of one of Cave’s albums.
A Quiet Place
Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the ‘10s? Or that it would be on streaming services only a year after its release? You’ve probably already seen it, this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its tight, taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. This one is going to age well.
One of the most character-driven Best Picture winners of all time, Barry Levinson’s 1988 drama won out in part because it was a relatively weak year but more so because of how people completely fell in love with Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Raymond, an autistic savant partnered with his previously unknown brother, played by Tom Cruise. It’s a gentle humanist drama that sometimes veers into melodrama, but the two leads bring it back to something grounded and genuine.
Almost three decades before Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino shocked the world with his independent action debut, this 1992 classic with Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, and Steve Buscemi. If you haven’t seen it in years, revisit QT’s debut and marvel at what a tight, refined piece of independent filmmaking he delivered right out of the gate. It’s one of the best directorial debuts of all time, and a film that really changed the independent moviemaking landscape forever.
Romeo Is Bleeding
The most underrated performance in Gary Oldman’s career is in this 1993 Peter Medak neo-noir thriller, a movie that far too few people have seen. Oldman plays the kind of anti-hero we didn’t see much in the early ’90s (but do all the time now) – a corrupt cop caught up in a web of lies and dangerous women. Oldman is great, but the movie is stolen by its powerful female cast, including Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, and Juliette Lewis. The great ensemble also includes Roy Scheider, Michael Wincott, Will Patton, James Cromwell, and Ron Perlman. Yeah, you want to see that.
Any list of the best car-chase movies that doesn’t include John Frankenheimer’s 1998 action flick is simply wrong. Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Sean Bean star in this David Mamet–scripted thriller about a team of operatives with a habit of betraying one another. The story is secondary to the stunt work, which includes some of the best choreographed and shot car-chase sequences of all time. Your pulse will race. We guarantee it.
The Running Man
This one is peak Ah-nuld. Is it a great movie? Maybe not, but they can’t all be Oscar winners. Sometimes you’re more in the mood to watch the biggest action star in the world survive a homicidal TV show in a dystopian future than anything serious.
David Cronenberg became widely known for movies you’ve probably seen like The Fly and Eastern Promises, but maybe you never caught his twisted 1975 horror film about alien parasites that work their way through the residents of an average apartment complex. With his focus on body horror and buckets of blood, this one still has the power to shock. It was shot under the title Orgy of the Blood Parasites. Who doesn’t want to see that?
Every once in awhile a film comes along that deconstructs not just a character but the career of a performer. Think Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven or Robert Redford in Old Man & the Gun. John Wayne has a couple of these fascinating deconstructions, especially his final film, this 1976 Don Siegel Western about an over-the-hill shootist in his final days. Wayne co-stars with Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, John Carradine and more in his final classic.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best novel is a perfect example of one of those movies in which people have just started taking a master filmmaker’s skills for granted. Who else could have directed such a technically precise and visually striking film as Marty did here? And who could have drawn one of the best performances of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career but his favorite collaborator? People seem to be coming back to this film and agreeing we underrated it when it came out. Join the chorus.
A Simple Plan
Sam Raimi directs a dramatic thriller that’s not exactly like the horror and superhero films for which he is primarily known. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton star as Minnesotan brothers who find a plane crash with $4.4 million in cash. They take the money and, well, things go wrong from there. It’s a fantastic thriller with a “what if” premise about what you would do in the same situation.
John Hughes defined a generation with his look at teenage life in the Chicago suburbs, and this remains one of his most beloved films (even if some of its humor hasn’t aged well). Like a lot of Hughes movies, there’s something so likable and buoyant about Sixteen Candles, especially in the central performance from Molly Ringwald (not to mention the great Joan Cusack). Like Pretty in Pink, it’s kind of a time machine to your childhood. (Or to your mom’s childhood.)
Some Like It Hot
One of the best comedies ever made. It’s as simple as that. When someone in your life is struggling to watch anything made before 1990, introduce them to this Billy Wilder classic, a movie that is so good that it works as a gateway drug to classic cinema. It may have been made in 1959, but the perfect performances by Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Wilder’s masterful timing, mean that it’s just as funny as it was six decades ago.
Meryl Streep won her second Oscar for this heartbreaking adaptation of William Styron’s novel. Everyone remembers the unforgettable scene to which the title of this film refers, but there’s more to this movie than just that impossible decision. It’s as much about the impact of war and trauma as it is the events themselves, and Streep’s landmark work is ably supported by Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol.
As the industry known as journalism faces daily attacks from the White House itself, it may be a good time to be reminded of the power of a team of reporters who are undaunted when it comes to getting the story. This true tale of Boston journalists who exposed not just rampant abuse but cover-ups within the Catholic Church is both shocking in what it exposes and inspiring in how it captures the importance of what talented people can accomplish when they’re motivated to do their jobs well.
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s personal 2005 drama dissects the impact of divorce on an average family and offers the suggestion that the flaws of parents will only be amplified in their children. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg all give excellent performances in a film that feels both specifically revealing and universal in its themes.
J.J. Abrams successfully resurrected the then-dead film arc of the U.S.S. Enterprise with this fun, clever blockbuster that reboots the entire original series. Stepping into William Shatner’s shoes, Chris Pine proves an able leading man, and the supporting cast is underrated in its greatness, including John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and more. Both sequels – Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond – are also on Prime.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Khaaaannnnnn! Unless you’re of the right age, it’s hard to understand what a phenomenon this movie became as it completely redefined the entire Star Trek franchise. The stories of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise were always relatively benign (people forget the first movie was rated G!), but then this dark, twisted adventure story came along and proved that this world could be just as rich and daring as the one created by George Lucas. It’s a genre classic — and still the best Star Trek movie.
Stop Making Sense
This might be the best concert movie ever made. Jonathan Demme doesn’t just film a Talking Heads performance, he makes a film that truly conveys how special they were as musicians and on-stage. Opening up more with each song, this film becomes a joyous expression of creativity.
The Sweet Hereafter
If you don’t know the name Atom Egoyan, you really should fix that oversight in your viewing history. He’s made some more challenging films than this one (Exotica, Felicia’s Journey) but this film remains his best, an emotionally devastating adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel about a horrific bus accident that kills numerous children. How something that awful tears an entire community apart is handled with complexity and grace.
*Thelma & Louise
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three decades since Thelma & Louise took over the national conversation and the Academy Awards. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis give two of the best performances of their careers in this unforgettable story of an assault that sends two women on a fateful road trip. Everything about this movie works better than you remember, particularly the performances from its two stars.
Probably the least-seen film on this list, Jim Cummings’ 2018 SXSW hit is a film that will certainly gain a following through word of mouth. Cummings wrote, directed, and stars as a cop who is going through a bit of a rough patch, to put it mildly. Just watch the opening scene – the most awkward eulogy in film history – and try and not be hooked.
Another under-the-radar film you may not have seen, this 2008 Brad Anderson thriller owes a great deal to Hitchcock in the way it captures average people caught up in a very not-average situation. Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara, and Emily Mortimer star in a movie for which it’s truly best if you know as little as possible going in. International train travel and mystery – what more do you want to know?
Up in the Air
Jason Reitman’s best film stars George Clooney as a “downsizer,” someone who helps companies reduce their workforce and spends more time traveling than at anything approaching a home. Clooney does arguably his best film work ever, and he’s ably supported by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick — all three were nominated were for Oscars and Reitman won the Golden Globe for his insightful, character-driven script.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola made her directorial debut with this adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s beloved novel about a group of sisters who captivated the entire neighborhood in which they lived. Kirsten Dunst anchors a dreamy, enchanting movie about the myth of perfection that exists in the world of picket fences in Middle America. It’s got a great Air soundtrack too.
Sure, maybe this isn’t a great movie, but there’s not a lot of mainstream comedy on Amazon worth recommending, and sometimes you just need a way to check out. This vehicle for Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston should fit the bill. David Wain of Wet Hot American Summer fame directs the story of a city couple who end up living in a commune in Georgia. Rudd’s prodigious charisma anchors the film, but he’s ably assisted by a supporting cast that includes Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Kathryn Hahn, and even Alan Alda.
We Are Still Here
Amazon isn’t as strong in the horror department as some other streaming services so you have to dig a little deeper to find the unheralded gems like this 2015 from the great Ted Geoghegan. Horror icons Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton co-star in a story about grief and the supernatural after two parents move into a disturbing house after the loss of a child. Smartly conceived, written, and constructed, this is the kind of underrated genre flick that you can recommend to your friends when you want to seem smart.
*West Side Story
As the high-profile remake of this classic ramps up production, do yourself a favor and check out one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time. The 1961 adaptation of the 1957 Broadway hit won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. A riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, this is a joyous, vibrant film that really helped shape the form of the movie musical in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a must-see.
If there was any cinematic justice in the world, Whale Rider would have made Niki Caro and Keisha Castle-Hughes into household names. This is one of those movies that everyone who has seen it loves – it’s just not enough people have seen it. Castle-Hughes stars as a 12-year-old who wants to be the leader of her tribe, a role that has been filled by only men for generations. Castle-Hughes is so genuine that she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (the youngest at the time to ever be nominated) and the story of female empowerment remains timely. After the little girl in your house sees Captain Marvel, introduce her to another kind of hero.
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix stars in Lynne Ramsay’s technically masterful deconstruction of the life of a hitman. Ramsay’s amazing skill with editing and sound design is balanced by Phoenix’s instinctual, almost primal performance. When he’s asked to save the daughter of a prominent politician from sex trafficking, his life comes apart. Well, what little life he had left. This is riveting filmmaking and Phoenix’s work is one of the best performances of 2018.