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.
*12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet’s American classic impacted not just the courtroom dramas that would follow but the very judicial process. Who hasn’t gone into jury duty thinking they would be the “Juror 8” in their group, the one willing to really look at the case before rushing to justice? Henry Fonda gives one of his most iconic performances in a movie that holds up six decades after it was released.
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.
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.
Tom Harper directed this film that just landed in theaters at the end of 2019 and was quickly shuffled off to Amazon. It’s a shame because this is a film that deserved more attention. It’s got cross-demographic appeal for kids and adults in its story of the first people to really break through the clouds in a hot air balloon. The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite and deliver in a well-made action film that uses a lot more practical effects and stunts than most modern flicks like this and the result is some tension for anyone with even a moderate fear of heights.
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.
Alejandro González Iñárritu would go on to win two Oscars but he first earned worldwide acclaim with this time-jumping 2000 thriller starring Gael Garcia Bernal. At the end of a wave of violent triptychs inspired by Pulp Fiction, this somehow still felt fresh and new thanks to its director’s daring storytelling style and skill with actors.
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.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Werner Herzog was one of the most fearless filmmakers in the world in the prime of his career, and this 1972 period adventure film captures the director at his craziest. Partnered with someone even more off-center than him in Klaus Kinski, the two recount the story of Lope de Aguirre, who lost his mind trying to find El Dorado, the city of gold. And everyone nearly lost their mind making it.
Ash Is Purest White
Jia Zhangke is one of the world’s best filmmakers. If you can track down copies of the Chinese director’s Still Life, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart, you really should do so. Until then, check out his latest work, an epic gangster flick with a mesmerizing performance from Jia’s wife, Zhao Tao. Like a lot of great crime movies, it becomes a commentary on the state of the country in which it’s set as much as anything else.
*The Band’s Visit
This clever and sweet film was so well-received that it was adapted into a hit musical in 2016 that became a Tony winner. It’s the story of eight men from the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra in Egypt who are supposed to perform at an Arab Cultural Center in Israel but end up in a small town in the middle of the Negev Desert. It’s a heartfelt story of compassion and commonality.
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 and Emily V. Gordon loosely adapt their story, with Nanjiani starring alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
For some reason, the amazing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure isn’t available on Amazon, but its 1991 sequel, a truly underrated comedy, is there for you to relive the glory days with Wyld Stallyns. After three decades, the long-delayed third films — Bill & Ted Face the Music — is finally in production. See where we last left the boys.
The Black Stallion
One of the greatest family films of all time, Carroll Ballard’s adventure movie is proof that movies aimed at kids don’t need to talk down to them and can still look visually stunning. This adaptation of the beloved Walter Farley novel was so acclaimed that it actually landed a couple of Oscar nominations, and arguably deserved even more.
When it comes to psychological horror, this is one of the best of that subgenre of all time. David Lynch’s cinematic masterpiece pulls back the curtain on the sadism and malevolence hiding behind the picket fences of middle America. One of the best films of the ‘80s, Blue Velvet has lost absolutely none of its power, revealing just how far ahead of its time it was when it was released.
S. Craig Zahler has become one of the most divisive filmmakers working today after three vicious, brutal movies — Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete. The first two are both 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 savages. The final act is terrifying and intense. (If you like it, check out Brawl too.)
If you’re looking for a good, underrated thriller, look no further than this 1997 thriller about a road trip gone horribly awry. Jonathan Mostow directs the always-great Kurt Russell as a man who has some words with a truck driver and learns that road rage is never the answer. A mix of modern fears with a noir sensibility, this a tight, effective little movie of the kind that doesn’t really make it to theaters all that often anymore.
There may be no baseball in 2020, but there is the best baseball comedy sitting right there on Amazon Prime to fill some of the void in your sports-loving heart. Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins star in a story of lust and competitive spirt within a minor league baseball time. Smart and sexy, and there’s not enough of either of those things in most movies.
Robert Altman’s 1974 gambling dramedy was one of his lost classics, unavailable for the years in which young cineastes were discovering the master filmmaker. After years of music rights issues, it was just dropped on Amazon Prime in its entirety, and it’s fantastic, the story of a veteran gambler (Elliot Gould) who makes a new friend (Peter Segal) and how the two of them circle the drain of life together.
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.
Who doesn’t love Chucky? The homicidal doll burst his way back into pop culture with a reboot last year, but the original franchise is still going strong too, believe it or not. Go back to where it all began with this classic horror-comedy, a movie that scared a generation into throwing away their toys.
Children of the Corn
Stephen King has arguably never been more popular than in the era of blockbuster adaptations It, Doctor Sleep, and the Pet Sematary remake, but this is nothing new. Hollywood has been adapting the work of the master of horror for decades. Take, for example, this 1984 adaptation of a short story that King wrote over four decades ago. It may not be a great movie, but it’s becoming a cultural touchstone — every time there’s a creepy kid in a flick, audiences think of the little monsters that give this movie its name.
One of the cool things about Amazon’s increased theatrical output is that they’re putting their films on Amazon Prime very quickly after playing at the multiplex or arthouse. Take this 2018 Oscar nominee from Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida), a Polish drama about star-crossed lovers over decades after the end of World War II. It’s a luscious, emotional drama that demands your attention and rewards it.
Sometimes you want to see complex character studies or detailed documentaries; sometimes you just want to see Liam Neeson shoot people. One of the unexpected action star’s best recent films is this 2018 thriller by his regular collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Run All Night). Neeson plays an ordinary guy sucked into a murder plot on a train in a simple but effective story that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved.
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.
The fact that David Cronenberg hasn’t made a movie since 2014’s Maps to the Stars means he’s at least semi-retired, which is a true shame given he’s one of the best directors who ever lived. This 2012 drama went relatively under the radar but its vision of a world in turmoil feels ahead of its time in 2020. Cronenberg movies have a habit of doing that.
Dead Man Walking
Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her leading role as Sister Helen Prejean in her partner Tim Robbins’ moving drama. Dead Man Walking tells the true story of when Prejean met a man named Matthew Poncelot (Sean Penn), who as a prisoner on death row (although Penn’s character is an amalgam of two real prisoners). How religion and capital punishment exist in the same world is the focus of Robbins’ film, but it’s really just a showcase for two incredible performances from Sarandon and Penn.
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.
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.
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dropping right in the middle of the ‘80s, this is one of the best movies if you want a snapshot of pop culture in that era. Directed by Susan Seidelman, it features great performances from Rosanna Arquette and Madonna as two New York women drawn together in an unexpected way. It was a huge hit, proving Madonna could be a movie star along with being one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
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?
*Eat Drink Man Woman
Long before he would win two Oscars and work with Will Smith, Ang Lee directed delicate, empathetic character pieces like this phenomenal 1994 drama about a master chef in China and his three daughters. Sure, that may not sound like much, but this is a delicate, nuanced study that feels genuine and lived in. And it will make you want to eat Chinese food.
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.
Lulu Wang wrote and directed this beautiful award-winner “based on a true lie.” Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for the role of a New York woman who is forced to go along with her family when they decide not to tell her beloved Nai Nai that she has cancer. It’s a nuanced, tender piece of filmmaking that really announces Wang as a major new talent, and a film that will be passed down from generation to generation for years to come.
The wonderful Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very unusual superhero origin story that plays like the more character-driven answer to the blockbuster worlds of things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman who seems to have lost control over her life and the very unique nature of her being. As she’s being hunted by men in black, she finds her way home and back into the sphere of her mother and daughter. What unfolds is a story of empowerment, a truly female-driven narrative about generations of strength and an origin story for an unforgettable hero.
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.)
A 2020 nominee for Best Documentary, Waad Al-Kateab’s personal document is a truly hard film to watch, uncompromising in the bloody imagery it captures of a war-torn part of the world. It’s worth the emotion you’ll feel as you watch the story of two doctors in Aleppo, Syria, told through the filter of recordings that the filmmaker is making for her daughter, Sama. This is unforgettable filmmaking.
The Ghost Writer
An exceptional 2010 thriller based on a novel by Robert Harris. Ewan McGregor is excellent as a ghost writer for the former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, in the wake of a mysterious drowning accident. Razor-sharp and perfectly directed, it’s the kind of smart movie for adults that doesn’t get made that often even just a decade later.
Sebastián Lelio co-writes and directs this adaptation of his own 2013 film Gloria that’s essentially the same film beat for beat with one major difference: Julianne Moore. The Oscar-winning legend plays the title role, a divorced woman with two adult children. There’s no high concept or strange hook here — just a beautiful character study with one of the best performances of 2019.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Is this Sergio Leone’s best movie? It might be. It’s arguably his most influential, changing the landscape of the Western in ways that are still being felt a half-century later. Clint Eastwood plays “The Good,” Lee Van Cleef plays “The Bad,” and Eli Wallach plays “The Ugly.” It’s even better than you remember.
In 2003, after spending most of his adult life living in nature, Timothy Treadwell was killed by a creature he loved, a wild grizzly bear. In one of Werner Herzog’s best documentaries, the filmmaker examines the life of Treadwell and even the circumstances around his death, turning this character study into a commentary on man’s relationship with nature that only he could have made.
*Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Stanley Kramer directed this 1967 drama that became a cultural touchstone for a country going through major changes in terms of race relations. It’s the story of a young white woman who brings home her new fiancé, played by Sidney Poitier. Keep in mind, interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states when this film was released, a work that faced the nation’s prejudice directly, using two iconic performers – Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – to do so.
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.
Long before Paul Thomas Anderson was a legendary writer-director came this excellent 1996 drama-noir also known as Sydney. Philip Baker Hall plays a gambler who meets a young man played John C. Reilly and takes him under his wing. A few years later, they meet a woman named Clementine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and, well, things get complicated. PTA’s craftsmanship was top notch right from the very beginning.
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.
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.
Claire Denis is one of the most unpredictable and enigmatic filmmakers alive, just as comfortable making a vampire movie as she is an intimate character drama. This is one of her crazier movies, a divisive sci-fi/experimental pic starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche as two passengers on what is essentially a floating prison ship. Hard to describe and even harder to fully understand, it’s something you truly need to see for yourself, and the speed with which it’s gone from theaters to streaming services should make it easier for you to see one of 2019’s most essential films.
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.
Shia LaBeouf wrote and co-stars in a film that’s deeply autobiographical regarding his abusive father and the troubles the actor went through in his younger years. A screenplay that he started writing in rehab is one of the most daring in a long time, purely confessional and moving in ways that dramas are rarely allowed to be. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges co-star, and both do excellent work.
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.
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.
Lars and the Real Girl
Long before La La Land, Ryan Gosling did some of the best work of his career in Craig Gillespie’s dark comedy about a socially inept man who falls in love with a sex doll named Bianca. A truly quirky and odd movie, this is really a piece about acceptance and individuality with truly daring, committed work by Gosling, which earned him Golden Globe and SAG nominations.
*The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Amazon Prime has arguably the best mix of legitimate classics and recent hits like this 2019 Sundance darling from director Joe Talbot. It’s the story of a young man who hopes to reclaim his childhood home in a now-overpriced section of San Francisco. Lyrical and poignant, it also features a stunning supporting performance from Jonathan Majors, who is about to blow up in HBO’s Lovecraft Country this summer.
The Last Waltz
Any list of the best concert films of all time that doesn’t included Martin Scorsese’s 1978 masterpiece about the final performance of the legendary group The Band in late 1976. It’s a perfectly constructed ode to creativity and musical passion, featuring appearances by Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and Dr. John.
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.
Do you think the people at Amazon have a sense of humor? Or is just a coincidence that they dropped a film about two people going crazy in a confined space together during the pandemic? Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are fearless in Robert Eggers’ black-and-white nightmare about two people who learn that nothing is scarier than being trapped with someone unbearable.
*The Long Goodbye
Robert Altman directed Elliott Gould to arguably the best performance of his career in this ‘70s-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s book of the same name. It’s a fascinating film in that Altman keenly understands the dynamics of ‘40s noir in which this story traffics but moves them to 1970s Hollywood, finding just as much as corruption and moral decay there.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray may be the most underrated American filmmaker, what with The Immigrant, Two Lovers, and 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.
Harry Dean Stanton gave one of the best performances of his career in this late-in-life gem that was written directly for him. He plays the title character, an old man used to his routine that is just basically moseying through life. It’s impossible to really describe this film in a way that makes it sound exciting, but just trust us that you’ll like it.
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.
Kelly Reichardt directed this detailed, mesmerizing drama starring Michelle Williams in the true story of a doomed section of the Oregon Trail. Reportedly, in 1845, Stephen Meek decided to lead his portion through the Oregon desert, with disastrous results. It’s a slow, deliberate film that builds in power in unexpected ways and reminds us that Reichardt is one of the best working filmmakers.
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.
Amazon’s horror selection is a little lacking if you don’t have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to Ari Aster and A24’s excellent Midsommar, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime he has no intent of committing in a fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted. It’s timely and probably always will be.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Tom Cruise’s latest adventure as Ethan Hunt may actually be his best. It’s certainly one of the best action movies of the last couple years, and it’s already available on streaming services! Sure, you’ve read a lot about how Cruise does his own stunts (which is impressive), but watch this for a masterclass in action film editing too. The film hums and moves in ways that other action movies just don’t. It’s as wildly entertaining as anything you’ll find on Amazon Prime.
It’s fun to see a movie that catches a star at just the right moment in his or her career. A great example of that is 1987’s Moonstruck, which contains Cher’s best performance, an acting turn that won the famous singer an Oscar. She stars as an Italian-American who faces a small problem when she falls for the brother of her fiancé, played by an also-perfectly-cast Nicolas Cage.
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!
The Night of the Hunter
A legitimate masterpiece, this Charles Laughton-directed thriller has influenced generations of filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to Quentin Tarantino to David Fincher. Robert Mitchum is mesmerizing a man of the cloth who happens to be a serial killer, who we watch woo an unsuspecting widow so he can steal her money. It’s captivating in ways that would still work if it were released in theaters today.
Paul Newman gave one of his best career performances in this 1994 Robert Benton drama based on a beloved book by Richard Russo. Newman plays “Sully” Sullivan, a normal guy in a normal New York time, but the Oscar winner finds a way to make a very normal life seem extraordinary. It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of character work that you could watch on any streaming service.
Jim Jarmusch’s best film is also 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 anti-war film from 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.
Adrien Brody won the Oscar for this true story of the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust. Moving and gripping, The Pianist captures something rarely seen in historical documents — how much survival was often dictated by chance encounters and downright luck. Polanski also won the Oscar for Best Director.
*The Pink Panther
The original film in this major comedy franchise is currently on Amazon Prime so you can see where it all began. The series became about Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau more than the title character, but this film actually focuses more on David Niven’s jewel thief as he tries to steal the titular diamond.
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.
Gore Verbinski directed one of the best animated films on Amazon Prime, this Oscar-winning featuring voice work by Johnny Depp in the lead role and some of the most inspired visuals in any animated film this decade. Rango is a chameleon who stumbled into a town called Dirt in this inventive riff on the Western genre that plays equally to children and adults.
One of the best films of 2019 is right there on Amazon for you to watch. Picked up at Sundance for a small fortune, Amazon quietly released it in major cities, but have done little to promote this sturdy, smart thriller about the torture report that revealed the extent our government went to cover up its behavior after 9/11. Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, and many more star in a film reminiscent in tone and accomplishment to Spotlight.
Liam Neeson is excellent in this period drama about Rob Roy MacGregor, an 18th-century Scotsman who faced off against the powers that be in the Scottish Highlands. Released the same year as a famous little film about a Scotsman called Braveheart, this film lived in that movie’ shadow but still earned Tim Roth an Oscar nomination for what is arguably the best work of his career.
Romeo Is Bleeding
The most underrated performance in Gary Oldman’s illustrious career is in this 1993 Peter Medak 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 in this neo-noir. Oldman is excellent, but the movie is arguably 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.
Based on an original screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, this is one of the best action movies of the ’80s, and not just because it’s Danny Trejo’s debut. It stars Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as escaped convicts who end up stuck on a, well, runaway train. Both actors were nominated for Oscar for their work here in this propulsive, unforgettable movie.
Selah and the Spades
This Sundance darling bypassed theaters and landed directly on Amazon Prime in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a promising feature about social factions at a prestigious school led by a star-making turn by Lovie Simone. Seriously, she’s going to be major. See it all begin here.
*The Silence of the Lambs
One of the best horror films of all time is this Jonathan Demme classic, a winner of Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress Oscars. Demme’s adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels created a legend in Hannibal Lecter, a character instantly put on the Mount Rushmore of movie villains. It’s a rare early ‘90s masterpiece that plays just as well three decades later.
A Simple Favor
Who would have guessed that the director of Bridesmaids would helm one of the best thrillers of 2018? That’s the case with this Paul Feig thriller, the story of an ordinary woman (Anna Kendrick) who becomes obsessed with a new best friend (Blake Lively) after she just ups and disappears one day. The two stars are excellent, but it’s the buoyant, lively tone that Feig brings the film that really makes it fun.
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.
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, completely redefining the entire Star Trek franchise. The stories of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise were always relatively benign (people forget the first movie is 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.
Billy Wilder’s 1950 dissection of Hollywood excess has become so iconic that most people probably feel like they’ve seen it even if they never actually have. William Holden plays the doomed Joe Gillis, but the film belongs to Gloria Swanson, who turned the faded star of Norma Desmond into an instant classic.
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.
This film is such a part of pop culture now that it’s hard to remember that it didn’t make as much of an impact on its initial release. The high-budget sequel and a healthy life on VHS really made this a part of movie history as people were able to appreciate what James Cameron did with such a small budget and a bodybuilding superstar who wasn’t yet a household name.
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?
The wonderful Steve Buscemi wrote, directed, and starred in this 1996 drama about a cast of characters at an average watering hole. Hanging out at the titular bar, Buscemi’s gift with character and nuance shows through in every scene, and reportedly influenced David Chase’s The Sopranos and Buscemi’s eventual directing of that show and later supporting role.
Here’s a cool project for you: Watch the John Wayne 1969 original and then the Jeff Bridges 2010 remake of this classic Western, both on Amazon Prime, and contrast and compare. They’re both interesting films, the original a snapshot of Wayne’s star power, and the remake more of an ensemble piece anchored by the Coen Brothers’ immaculate craftsmanship.
Under the Silver Lake
A24 had no idea what to do with David Robert Mitchell’s followup to It Follows, holding it for almost a year after its Cannes premiere and then barely releasing it at all. The lack of exposure may explain how it’s snuck its way on to Amazon Prime already, but this film is already developing a loyal following. It’s one of those movies that everyone will tell you they always loved in about a decade.
*The Vast of Night
One of the best small movie success stories of the last few years, this gem premiered at Slamdance, Sundance’s little cousin up the mountain in Park City, in 2019. After a small drive-in run, it’s already on Prime, where you can appreciate this lo-fi take on aliens in the heartland of America. Smart, funny, and daring, this is one of the best movies of 2020.
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.
Gavin O’Connor co-wrote and directed this moving tale of two estranged brothers who end up combatants in a mixed martial arts ring. Brutal and genuine, it features some of the best performances in the careers of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, who was nominated for an Oscar. It’s the kind of deconstruction of macho male archetypes that dares you not to cry during its ending, and it’s one of the best films of 2011.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
It’s hard to believe it’s been over a quarter-century since Johnny Depp starred with a young Leonardo DiCaprio in this truly beloved drama, a film that didn’t make a lot of money in theaters but has developed a following over the years. Whenever anyone asks about Depp or DiCaprio’s best performances on social media, this is a film that comes up in the conversation, in no small part because it earned a very young Leo his first Oscar nod.
*You Can Count on Me
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) wrote and directed this unforgettable drama about a pair of siblings played by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, in arguably the best performances of their career. Mark plays Terry, who drifts around life and into the home of his sister Sammy, who is a single mother. How our family can be both our safety and our danger has rarely been more believably sketched than in this masterpiece.
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.
One of the best films of the ‘00s stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo as three men who become individually obsessed with the unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher directed this masterpiece that’s as detailed as any film of this type and nuanced in the way it dissects that which we can never really know about true evil.