This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Hulu. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
When a lot of people think of Hulu, they might think of it as the best streaming service for current television, with a few of their original shows thrown in for good measure. That’s a shame: Film lovers still don’t really utilize the service’s surprisingly deep library of movies, all free to subscribers. As we have with Netflix and Amazon, we’re hear to provide a service — a regularly updated list of the best movies you can watch on Hulu right this minute. Get started.
28 Days Later
In 2002, Danny Boyle revitalized the zombie genre in a way that’s still impacting the horror world today. Cillian Murphy stars as a man who wakes up in a hospital only to discover that the undead apocalypse has actually happened. The film was a massive hit, spawning a sequel and dozens of imitators.
Will Reiser adapted his own story of battling cancer in a tender, genuine film that ended up being a sizable box office hit given its subject matter. People were attracted to the truth in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as a young man diagnosed with cancer, and how that diagnosis impacted his relationships, particularly one with a good friend, played by Seth Rogen.
Zack Snyder’s 2007 hit really changed the game in terms of action storytelling, influencing the next decade of the genre in ways that still feel underappreciated. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, Gerard Butler leads the cast of this highly stylized period action film that downright exudes testosterone.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 adaptation of the hit manga franchise has been often imitated but rarely duplicated. See what the big deal is about with a revisit of a film that has influenced literally hundreds of other works, animated and live-action, in the three decades since its release. They’re always talking about remaking it, but it usually falls apart. People are probably scared to walk in the shadow of such an achievement.
Caught up in legal and technical issues for years, this document of the recording of Aretha Franklin’s legendary return to gospel music was finally released this year to rapturous reviews. It’s a vision of an artist at the top of her craft that will move you even if you don’t like religious music or the Queen of Soul. It’s a must-see.
David Mamet adapted his own breakthrough stage play in 1996 for an indie drama that barely made a splash in theaters but is worth a revisit simply for the power of its performances. The play and film are simple, character pieces – there are only three speaking roles – which allows for a showcase for Sean Nelson, Dennis Franz, and especially Dustin Hoffman.
Ridley Scott directed this epic gangster pic that saw two of the most charismatic actors of their generation work together on their first major project (no offense, Virtuosity fans). Denzel Washington plays this loose variation on the life of Frank Lucas, a legendary criminal who revolutionized the drug trade; Russell Crowe plays the detective who brought him down. Both men are great, but this is an awesome ensemble piece with great supporting work from a dozen or so character actors.
Paramount notoriously didn’t know what to do with Alex Garland’s latest sci-fi masterpiece and so they dumped it in U.S. theaters and sold it to Netflix in the rest of the world. In the States, it’s not on Netflix but is sitting there on Hulu, waiting for you to catch up with the fascinating story of “The Shimmer” and what it does to characters played by Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. It’s only just over a year old but has already developed a loyal following.
Director Todd Douglas Miller worked with a team to remaster never-before-seen footage of the first trip to the moon for its 50th anniversary. The result is this stunning technical achievement, a movie that transports us back in time and into space in ways that we’ve never seen before.
Before he became America’s most likable actor, Tom Hanks made a few films that appealed more to the adults in the audience, including this 1984 broad comedy that’s pretty self-explanatory in its title. In the glut of “raunchy comedies” of the ‘80s, Bachelor Party stands out a bit, largely because of how much Hanks could bring even to something this relatively mediocre and this early in his career.
The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine released his long-anticipated follow-up to Spring Breakers early in 2019 and most people barely noticed. Matthew McConaughey leans into his bongo-playing stoner persona as the wonderful Moondog, a Floridian who is kind of just chilling his way through life. There’s almost no plot, but this is an unforgettable slice of debauchery complete with memorable supporting turns by Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Martin Lawrence, and, of course, Snoop Dogg.
Tim Burton directed this adaptation of the beloved Daniel Wallace novel of the same name that really speaks to that unique dynamic that develops between a father and son. Deeply personal (Burton’s father had died just a couple years before filming), this is a visually striking and emotionally resonant story of a dying man (Albert Finney) telling tall tales to his son (Billy Crudup) that has something to say about memory, heroism, and family that feels genuine and artful at the same time.
The Biggest Little Farm
John Chester directed this documentary that tells his story of how he moved with his wife Molly to California and opened an operation called Apricot Lane Farms. More than just a personal document, The Biggest Little Farm becomes a look at the entire industry and how hard it can be for independent farmers to fight against the juggernauts in the business. It’s a delicate, sweet movie about following your dreams and fighting back against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Very few hit documentaries actually change the world but Magnolia and CNN Films’ 2013 hit Blackfish literally altered the way marine parks like SeaWorld operate, and definitely impacted their bottom line. It’s about the fate of a killer whale named Orca and how difficult and arguably inhumane it is to keep them in captivity. It’s a tough watch, but it’s really well-made and informative.
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is one of the smartest and straight-up funniest comedies in years. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as lifelong friends who learn on the last day of school that their priorities may have been a bit out of whack. Determined to make up for lost time, they have a wild and crazy night. Often described as “Superbad with girls,” this is destined to be a cult classic.
Who would have guessed that a spin-off of the Transformers franchise would be a charming and fun action movie for the entire family? That’s a good way to describe this Travis Knight film, which is kind of a prequel to the Bay universe and also kind of its own reboot. It helps a great deal to have stars as likable as Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena in the movie that feels more like a throwback to action flicks of the ‘80s than anything related to the bombastic nonsense of the Transformers franchise.
*The Cabin in the Woods
Buffy collaborators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard reuniting for a meta-horror movie would have been news no matter what, but it helped this movie become a phenomenon that it was actually a really good flick on its own terms. Deconstructing the tropes of the genre in a way that makes it clear he still loves them, Goddard co-wrote and directed one of the best genre debuts of the ‘10s.
There are precious few quality family films on Hulu, so you should try and embrace the few options you do have, such as this 2000 hit from Peter Lord and Nick Park, two of the geniuses behind Aardman Animations. A clever riff on prison break movies like Escape from Alcatraz (but with chickens!) this is actually the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time, a title it’s held for almost 20 years now.
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.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
This Danish documentary will absolutely blow your mind. It starts as an investigation into the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, who died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia in 1961. Suspicion that the plane was actually shot down or sabotaged starts the film, which then spirals into an examination of an international conspiracy with some incredible implications. Don’t miss this one.
Anne Hathaway stars in one of the most original and creative dramedies you could watch on Hulu. What happens if you blend an addiction drama and a kaiju movie? You get this crazy story, in which Hathaway’s troubled soul learns that she is somehow controlling a monster on the other side of the world. It’s imperfect but there’s nothing else quite like it.
There are Oscar winners and blockbusters on Hulu when you want something familiar, but sometimes it pays to dig in a little deeper and find a movie that’s been overlooked. You shouldn’t miss this gem from kogonada, starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson. It’s a beautiful, elegiac piece of work about unexpected connections and, believe it or not, architecture.
Sometimes you want to see complex character studies or detailed documentaries; sometimes you just want to see Liam Neeson shoot people and yell. One of the unexpected action stars 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.
Imagine being so generally unlucky that casino owners use your very presence to try and cool down hot players. Such is the premise of this noir, starring William H. Macy as the title character. His luck seems to turn around when he meets a cocktail waitress played by Maria Bello, but things get extra complicated when Alec Baldwin’s casino owner gets violently involved. It’s a clever, dark little thriller with exceptional performances.
Losing Ryan Coogler to this sequel meant a slight step down in terms of overall quality but this follow-up the excellent reboot of the Rocky franchise in Creed is still pretty darn good. Michael B. Jordan returns as Adonis Creed, who ends up having to fight a new enemy with a familiar name, Viktor Drago, the son of the legendary villain from Rocky IV. Jordan, Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and even Dolph Lundgren keep this one grounded without every getting too melodramatic.
Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 action classic tells the story of a German U-Boat in World War II in the Battle of the Atlantic. It’s best-remembered for being an incredible exercise in sound design and claustrophobic cinematography. We really feel what it must have been like to be stuck in this nightmare situation in which the tedium will kill you if the enemy doesn’t first. It’s one of Germany’s best films, a nominee for six Academy Awards.
Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror film is one of the best genre pics of its era, a sweat-producing project for anyone with even the smallest amount of claustrophobia. It’s so brilliantly simple — six young women enter a cave system and, well, all six don’t make it out. At first, it’s a terrifying example of what it would be like to feel trapped underground, and then it introduces monsters into the mix. It’s a great movie that has held up remarkably well.
One of the smallest movies on this list, Kent Jones’ moving drama is a character study about an average woman, unforgettably played by Mary Kay Place. Diane is a giving person — giving to a bedridden cousin and giving to a drug-addicted son — who rarely finds time for herself. She’s at a point in life where she’s looking back and wondering how to write her final chapters. It’s a wonderful little movie of the kind that people often claim “don’t get made anymore.”
Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s best film and biggest hit remains this 2013 comedy starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. Wilde and Johnson play friends who work at a brewery in Chicago. While they seem to have a ton in common and flirt regularly, they’re both with other partners. It’s no spoiler to say things get complicated.
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland, the writer/director of In Fabric, makes movies that aren’t quite like anyone else’s of the modern era, films that share more in common with European horror of the ‘70s than what we see today. This is still his best film, a fascinating two-hander about two women who develop a sexual relationship that hinges on domination and submission in unexpected ways. Kink, obsession, and copious style combine in a film you won’t soon forget.
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s final film is one of his best, a drama about male insecurity and control brought to life with two of the best performances in the careers of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Released in the incredibly strong cinematic year of 1999, Eyes Wide Shut kind of went underrated when it was released but people have come around to recognize it as one of the best films of its era. Cruise perfectly captures the spiral of a man who thinks he has it all and discovers he lives in a bubble.
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.
First Girl I Loved
There’s a nice number of acknowledged classics on this list, but it’s safe to presume that most readers haven’t seen Kerem Sanga’s moving 2016 coming-of-age drama given it barely played in theaters. Dylan Gelula and Brianna Hildebrand star in a film about two teenage girls who find themselves unexpectedly in a romantic relationship.
This 2014 Swedish film became an international hit on the back of rave reviews. It’s a searing examination of how an incident can forever change a relationship. In this case, the incident happens to be an avalanche, and the patriarch of a traveling family’s decision to run instead of protecting his wife and kids. All four survive the natural disaster, but they’re not quite the same again. It’s being remade with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. See the original first.
The surprising winner for the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary is already right there on Hulu for you to catch up with it. Be careful to have someone nearby to hold your hand if you’re scared of heights. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are the directors, but the star is Alex Honnold, a “free climber,” someone who tackles mountain faces without any gear. His latest quest? To take down El Capitan, one of the most famous rock formations in the world, and one that had never been free-climbed.
The French Connection
William Friedkin directs Gene Hackman to one of the most beloved performances of the ‘70s as Popeye Doyle in this Oscar-winning cop movie that inspired a generation of filmmakers. The title refers to a drug trade being run through a French heroin smuggler, but what really makes this movie work is Friedkin’s incredible attention to detail and craft, which won him an Oscar to go along with awards for Best Actor for Hackman and Best Picture.
Lola Kirke and Zoe Kravitz star in Aaron Katz’s 2017 neo-noir, a film that should appeal to fans of L.A. fiction like Drive and Mullholland Dr. The less you know about the plot the better, but this is an effective, quirky little movie with great performances that slid too far under the radar and barely got a theatrical release or attention on VOD. Make up for it on Hulu.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird
What if we told you there was a crazy, stylish, unforgettable Korean Western just sitting there on Hulu waiting for you to discover it? Kim Jee-woon’s 2008 epic is a study in style, a movie that blends Spaghetti Western influences with modern sensibilities and action choreography. It’s not unlike The Matrix meets Sergio Leone. Who doesn’t want to see that?
*Good Will Hunting
See where the mythos of Affleck and Damon began in the film that won them both an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Matt Damon stars as Will, a janitor at M.I.T. who discovers that he’s smarter than most of the students there but needs to overcome the hurdle of trauma — with the assistance of a therapist played by an Oscar-winning Robin Williams.
Grave of the Fireflies
There is a lot of streaming animation for kids but not nearly enough for adults. This Studio Ghibli masterpiece is one of the exceptions. Isao Takahata wrote and directed one of the most moving animated films of all time based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s short story of the same name. It is about two siblings in Japan in the final days of World War II and you’ll never forget it. Have some Kleenex ready for this one.
Gustav Möller’s 2018 film is a riveting thriller that takes place entirely in an emergency call center in Copenhagen. An officer, demoted to working there because of a pending court case, answers a call from a frightened woman. His life will never be the same as he works to try to save her and makes some false assumptions along the way. The kind of tight little thriller that you should watch before they inevitably remake it.
Penny Lane makes quirky documentaries, and this is her best yet, a study of the Satanic Temple that unfolds in a way that you may not be expecting. The group at the center of Lane’s film is not just devil horns and ritual behavior, they exist to illuminate the regular failures of church and state the hypocrisy of a government that basically ignores that essential aspect of its existence. Funny and enlightening, it’s very much worth a look even for the most devout of you.
Ignore the think pieces about how Heathers plays today and watch this 1989 dark comedy, a satire that caught Christian Slater and Winona Ryder at just the right time in their careers. She plays the outcast in high school and he plays the mysterious new kid who teaches her the art of vengeance. Is some of it dated? Sure, but it’s still sharp in the way it weaponizes the clique culture that has arguably become even more prominent in the three decades since.
Hearts Beat Loud
We try to make it so not every film on this list is intense, serious, Oscar bait. Take for example one of the most crowd-pleasing films that you could watch on any streaming service, the best film vehicle yet for Nick Offerman. The Parks and Recreation star plays Frank Fisher, a single father whose daughter is about to leave the nest. Before she does, they record a song together that just happens to get some buzz. The wonderful cast also includes Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Kiersey Clemons, Sasha Lane, and Ted Danson.
Hulu clearly has a current arrangement with Neon, being the home for recent critical darlings of theirs like Wild Rose, Apollo 11, and The Beach Bum. Here’s another one of their films, a critically acclaimed, lyrical documentary about wild beekeepers in Macedonia. Shot over three years and with 400 hours of footage, it’s a great example of how to craft art from reality.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
People often point to the Toy Story movies as the model for a great animated series but credit should be given to the trilogy of movies about a boy named Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. The third and final film in this blockbuster series is already on Hulu, and it’s a gorgeous, heartfelt, moving final chapter to one of the best franchises of the ‘10s, animated or live-action.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Before he made Hemsworth your favorite Chris in Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi wrote and directed this adaptation of Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress. Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has a new foster family, including a sweet foster mother. Sadly, he’s stuck with the surly husband when his new mom passes away, leading Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill) on an unforgettable adventure. Funny and truly heartwarming, this is a comedy that’s almost impossible to dislike.
Not many people would have bet that a black comedy telling of the story of Tonya Harding would end up being an Oscar winner but the ‘10s have been nothing if not surprising at the Academy Awards. Allison Janney took home the gold for her role as Harding’s cruel mother in this version of one of the most famous sports scandals of all time.
If Beale Street Could Talk
One of 2018’s best films is already on Hulu in Barry Jenkins’ lyrical adaptation of James Baldwin’s beloved novel. His follow-up to Moonlight is the story of Tish and Fonny, young lovers in the early ‘70s torn apart after Fonny is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Poetic and realistic at the same time, If Beale Street Could Talk is a gorgeous, essential piece of filmmaking.
Into the Dark: Culture Shock
It’s about time we had one Into the Dark movie on this list, right? So this spot will hold the best of the entire run of the Blumhouse original hits from now on. Read more about all of them here, and don’t miss Culture Shock, a clever commentary on where the country is at the end of the ‘10s embedded in an effective horror thriller.
The 3D version of this film literally made people sick in theaters when it was released in 2010. It’s still got the power to make you nauseous at home on Hulu too. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since Johnny Knoxville and the boys made one of these joyously hysterical movies, but they’re coming back in 2021 for Jackass 4. Catch up with where we left off the last time these grown men nearly killed themselves.
The masterful documentarian Brett Morgen was basically handed hours and hours of National Geographic footage of Jane Goodall that had never before been seen. With Goodall’s assistance and a brilliant score by Philip Glass, he assembled the footage into a study of a fearless pioneer in the understanding of what it means to be human. This is one of the best documentaries of the ‘10s.
The great William Friedkin directed this adaptation of the highly-acclaimed play by Tracy Letts. Matthew McConaughey gives one of the best performances of his career in the title role, a hitman hired to murder someone for a life insurance payout. Let’s just say it all goes very, very poorly, but it’s the movies pitch-black sense of humor that makes it particularly memorable.
Bill Condon wrote and directed this semi-biopic about Alfred Charles Kinsey (Liam Neeson), who really changed the way we look at human sexuality with his 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. More than just a recounting of Kinsey’s discoveries, it’s a character piece about what the research did to the people who worked on these projects and earned an Oscar nomination for one of Laura Linney’s best performances.
Everything comes full circle in Life Itself as Steve James tells the life story of Roger Ebert in a way that only he could. Ebert helped bring James’ Hoop Dreams to the world with his praise for it and so it makes perfect sense that James would now tell his story, one that is even more poignant since his passing.
Lupita Nyong’o is the best. She’s great every single time, even in this relatively mediocre zom-com about a kindergarten teacher who ends up a part of an attack by the undead on the worst day of her life. You could call this Field Trip of the Undead, but the reason to watch is Nyong’o, who proves she’s just as deft a comedienne as an action/horror star.
The opioid crisis gets an empathetic character study in Nia DaCosta’s drama with an incredibly talented young cast. Tessa Thompson stars as Ollie, and Lily James as her sister Deb, and both live near the border of Canada, falling to the drug trade across it to make ends meet. Thompson imbues everything she does with truth, and this is proof of her dramatic chops. Luke Kirby and James Badge Dale co-star.
Lo and Behold
No one makes movies like Werner Herzog, whose documentaries express his deepest interests. He’s always been fascinated with the way man interacts with nature, and so it makes sense that he would turn his eye in the other direction and make a non-fiction film about how technology has impacted the human condition. This is a little slighter than the best Herzog docs but it’s still a fascinating exploration of where we are and where we’re going.
Paolo Sorrentino, the Oscar-winning director of The Great Beauty, returned with another examination of excess in this look at the insane existence of Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi near the end of the ‘00s. The great Toni Servillo stars as the polarizing figure in European politics, but this is mostly a study in opulence and the inherent insanity that comes when one can have everything they want, and how much we want to be close to those kind of people. The U.S. cut is combination of two films released in Italy and appears to be a slightly longer version on Hulu than what was in U.S. theaters.
One of Robert Altman’s most popular and influential films launched not just a massive hit TV series but the careers of everyone involved and all the directors who would try to mimic Altman’s inimitable style. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, and Elliott Gould star as medical personnel at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. It’s funny, quirky, and helped usher in an entire era of dry comedy in the ‘70s.
Kelly Reichardt directs Michelle Williams and Paul Dano in this deliberate, purposeful tale of life on the Oregon Trail. Loosely based on a true story, it’s the story of an 1845 excursion across the infamous trail in which a frontier guide led a wagon train through a bleak, unforgiving desert, which would later be called Meek’s Cutoff.
Minding the Gap
Bing Liu’s deeply personal documentary was one of the breakthrough indie films of 2018, going all the way from a Sundance premiere to an Oscar nomination. People fell in love with Liu’s deep humanism in the telling of his own friendship with three young fellow skaters in Rockford, IL, and how he illuminates how difficult it can be to go from a boy to a man.
We don’t give LAIKA enough credit. They don’t make nearly as much money with films like Paranorman and Kubo and the Two Strings as companies like DreamWorks and Pixar. Their latest is already on Hulu, dropping less than a year after its theatrical release. It may not be their best, but it’s gorgeous to look at, revealing the company that made it as arguably the most visually fascinating animated studio around.
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 master class in action film editing. The film hums and moves in ways that other action movies don’t. It’s as wildly entertaining as anything you’ll find on Hulu.
Remember the McConaissance? Now that it appears to be over, we can appreciate the tentpoles of Matthew McConaughey’s comeback to be taken seriously as an actor, including True Detective, Dallas Buyers Club, and this indie gem, in which McConaughey plays a drifter stumbled upon by a couple of Arkansas kid. Jeff Nichols coming-of-age drama is a great example of a filmmaker who uses setting as a character.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Julia Roberts might never have been more charming than she is in this 1997 comedy about a young woman who made a pact in college to marry her best friend, played by Dermot Mulroney. Not until her buddy gets engaged to someone else (the wonderful Cameron Diaz) does she realize she really loves him. A great blend of physical humor and memorable characters makes this one of the best rom-coms of the ‘90s. They really don’t make them like this anymore.
Long before he would shake TV with Atlanta and music with Childish Gambino, Donald Glover was part of a comedy group known as Derrick Comedy. With DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes, Glover stars in this goofy but charming comedy three young guys who have always been obsessed with solving mysteries. It also includes early performances from Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, and Bobby Moynihan. It was barely released in theaters but has developed a following over the years, which should be helped by now being on Hulu.
*Natural Born Killers
Who doesn’t remember Mickey and Mallory Knox? The irony of the success of Oliver Stone’s controversial film about a pair of fame-loving serial killers is how much you can see the influence of these two in the next quarter-century of filmmaking and even the cult of celebrity that forms around true crime stories. Way ahead of its time, this is one of Stone’s best films, a searing dissection of how easily culture places the wrong people on pedestals of fame. Mickey and Mallory weren’t the first and they won’t be the last.
The writer/director of The Babadook may switch genres with her follow-up, but this film is no less terrifying. Aisling Franciosi gives a daring performance as Clare, a servant in a penal colony in 1825, who is raped before her baby is killed. She hunts down her attackers and gets her vengeance, but that description simplifies a daring, complex film about colonialism, trauma, and pure evil.
This is probably the least seen movie on this list but it’s one you really should seek out as soon as possible. Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda saw his international profile blow up last year with the Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters. This 2004 drama by the master tells the true story of four children who lived without adult supervision in an apartment in Tokyo. It is a heartbreaking look at how we often don’t see the tragedy going on right next door.
There was a whole subgenre of intruder movies in the early ‘90s and one of the best is this story of a couple whose life is ruined by a sociopath named Carter Hayes, memorably played by Michael Keaton. Carter infiltrates the life of a San Fran couple played by Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith. It’s a bit clichéd but it’s a nice reminder of how menacing Keaton can be in the right material and works as a cautionary tale about the horrors of property management.
The Polar Express
The Uncanny Valley into which the human characters in Robert Zemeckis’ first motion-captured film fall is undeniably creepy. If you can get past that, there’s a lot to like in this charming tale of believing in the magic of Christmas. The adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s book has become a holiday favorite over the years, but it’s a film that works for kids outside of the season, and there aren’t a lot of kids movies on Hulu. Take what you can get.
Chicagoan Stephen Cone wrote and directed this tender, nuanced character study of a young lady (Jessie Pinnick) and her coming-of-age at her aunt’s house in the Windy City. Pinnick is phenomenal, but it’s Cone remarkable gift with character that takes what could have been a generic story and make it feel completely genuine. It’s a beautiful little movie.
A Quiet Place
Until Disney+ comes along, there aren’t really that many major blockbusters from recent years on streaming services. The assumption is probably that people will pay to rent or own movies that were hits. And so it’s kinda neat that Paramount has dropped John Krasinski’s mega-hit from 2018 on streaming services already. It’s an incredibly rewatchable movie. You’ll admire something new about its design and execution every time.
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.
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.
The Sisters Brothers
This might be the best movie from 2018 you haven’t seen. Look at that cast! John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix play the title characters in this low-key Western that just happens to co-star Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. One of the wonderful thing about this film is how it blends genres and styles, playing like Western, noir, comedy, and drama in subsequent beats. Almost no one saw it after a minor theatrical release, but it feels destined for cult classic status.
2018’s Palme d’Or winner (the biggest prize at Cannes) is already on Hulu for you to see what the big deal is about. And it’s a real big deal. The masterful Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda has long been fascinated with the concept of what exactly we mean when we say “Family.” In this case, it’s the story of a discarded girl taken in by strangers and the drama that ensues. It will break your heart.
Some Kind of Wonderful
Most people mistakenly think this is a John Hughes film, even if the ‘80s master didn’t direct, only writing and producing this romantic drama. Howard Deutch helmed the 1987 flick starring Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Lea Thompson. It’s one of Hughes’ most genuine films in terms of clique and social structure, edging more to drama than the films he directed himself.
Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley writes and directs one of the most daring debuts of 2018 in this satire of modern race relations and corporate dynamics. Lakeith Stanfield stars as a man who climbs the ladder of a telemarketing company only to find true horrors on the top floors. It’s smart, strange, and unforgettable.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Henry Dunham wrote and directed this excellent little thriller that played in limited release in early 2019 and is already on Hulu. Reminiscent of David Mamet’s examinations of masculinity, this is a single-setting piece about a militia group on the evening of an attack at the funeral for a police officer nearby. They gather to discuss what to do and realize one of their weapons is gone, which means someone in the compound is responsible. It’s smart, taut, and a movie you’ll recommend to friends.
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.
David Gordon Green directed this 2017 dramatic retelling of the story of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Bauman lost his legs in the attack, and he’s played memorably here in one of the best performances of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career. He’s matched by Tatiana Maslany as his girlfriend in a film that feels more honest than manipulative.
Before he got his hands on the Star Wars franchise, J.J. Abrams wrote and directed this underrated ode to the films of Steven Spielberg that shaped his career. It’s a simple story of young teens who discover something crazy is happening in their small town. With echoes of E.T. and Close Encounters, it’s the kind of movie Spielberg could have made in the ‘80s, and features a great performance from a young Elle Fanning.
Support the Girls
Andrew Bujalski’s charming comedy about a Hooters-esque restaurant stars the delightful Regina Hall on a particularly bad day on the job. This ensemble piece doesn’t seek to make any great statement or offer deep insights, but somehow ends up doing both just by presenting truthful, genuine characters. It’s a funny movie with a poignant streak about how hard people have to swim just to keep their heads above water.
Swimming with Sharks
Before his fall from grace, real fans of Kevin Spacey would name this George Huang dark comedy as one of his best performances. Spacey stars as Buddy Ackerman, a vicious monster of an executive who berates and abuses his new assistant Guy, played by Frank Whaley. Guy finally has enough and takes Buddy hostage. Vicious and sharp, this is a solid comedy that taps into something that anyone who has ever had an awful boss can understand.
Every few years, a comedy comes completely out of nowhere and taps something in the zeitgeist that makes everyone involved a star. No one knew who Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn the day before Swingers came out, but it launched them into the celebrity sphere, where they still reside. This movie is still money, baby, as it captures the posturing of young men trying to get work and get laid in Hollywood in the mid-‘90s.
“Shot entirely on an iPhone” sounds like a gimmick but Sean Baker transcends that to deliver a film that is about more than just the way it was filmed. Baker’s comedy-drama is the story of an eventful day in the life of a transgender sex worker. Tangerine pulses with life and energy in a way that most modern L.A. films fail to do, capturing a side of the city and its people in a heartfelt, pure, often hysterical manner.
Max Minghella directs a great performance from Elle Fanning in this story of a shy teenager who becomes a pop superstar. Like a minor variation on A Star is Born, this is the inspirational story of a girl following her dreams through a talent competition. The movie isn’t great, but it’s worth seeing for Fanning and the fantastic musical performances, often shot like music videos. The lesson is that Fanning could have been a pop star too.
Three Identical Strangers
Tim Wardle’s 2018 documentary tells the story of Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran — three identical triplets who were separated at birth and reunited in their teens. The WTF story of Three Identical Strangers is the kind of thing that would be deemed ridiculous if it were in a fictional screenplay but the film gets even more interesting when it turns to an investigation of nature vs. nature and reveals some dark secrets behind this fascinating tale. Don’t miss it.
David Farrier fell into an internet wormhole one day about “competitive endurance tickling” and decided to investigate the bizarre subset of behavior further, leading him down truly insane roads. Tickled documents his journey into a world of questionable legal and moral practices and even becomes a target himself by people who don’t want their secrets revealed. It’s the kind of story that you wouldn’t believe if someone made it up in a fiction film.
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 Hulu, 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.
*Up in the Air
Jason Reitman’s best film stars George Clooney as a man who spends more time on the road than he does at home. The writer/director won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and the film feels just as timely a decade later as people continue to be increasingly divided by work and technology. Clooney has arguably never been better, and Oscar nominees Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are pretty fantastic too.
*National Lampoon’s Vacation
Time for a marathon! All four movies about the Griswold family are sitting there on Hulu – Vacation, European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, and Vegas Vacation. Despite what fans of the holiday classic may think, the original is still the best, a wonderfully constructed piece of ‘80s comedy with arguably Chevy Chase’s best on-screen performance. Most of all, it’s still just a damn funny movie.
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.
Disaster movies aren’t just for Americans anymore! The premise of this is the kind of simple wonder that they used to make in Hollywood more in the ‘70s and ‘80s. An avalanche causes a large enough rockslide into a body of water that it creates a tsunami, and a nervous geologist is one of the few people who knows the carnage that’s about to come. Well-acted and smartly constructed, this is a wonderful slice of disaster escapism.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay directed Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in this devastating adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book. Ezra Miller plays the titular Kevin, a boy who develops into a man who does not seem to be quite all there. What do you do if you’re worried your son is a sociopath? Terrifying and yet empathetic at the same time, this isn’t an easy watch, but it is fascinating.
*When Harry Met Sally…
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal star in this 1989 rom-com that became an essential movie about whether or not men and women can truly be friends without romance entering into the picture. Ryan and Crystal have arguably never been as charming as they are here, but it’s really Nora Ephron’s razor-sharp script that made this an instant classic.
Tom Harper directed this wonderful music-based drama about a Scottish woman who decides she wants to be a country music star. Harper’s direction is light and confident, but the movie hinges on the amazing star power of Jessie Buckley, who is going to be a household name before long. See what is truly a breakthrough performance here.
Sometimes a family movie can be so genuinely moving that it’s easy to ignore its manipulative, melodramatic elements. Such is the case with this adaptation of the hit 2012 novel by R.J. Palacio. Jacob Tremblay plays a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome who just wants to be like the other kids. This was a surprisingly huge hit (over $300 million worldwide) mostly due to how truthful it feels throughout. It’s just a sweet flick with a nice message for any generation,