This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Hulu, which you can sign up for here. *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.
*Air Force One
Remember when Harrison Ford was the country’s fictional president? Revisit those simpler times with this great 1997 thriller in which Ford plays the world leader who is aboard the titular plane when it gets hijacked by a team led by Gary Oldman. As tight as action movies get, this is also a reminder of a time when blockbusters weren’t the exclusive property of comic book fans.
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.
Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone directed this truly insane look behind the scenes of the NFL; it may be a bit dated, but two decades later it still has the brute force of what one would expect when the director of Natural Born Killers directs a personality like Al Pacino. The Oscar winner stars alongside an amazing ensemble that features Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Charlton Heston, and so many more, including real NFL legends Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor. It’s sometimes ridiculous but also incredibly watchable.
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.
Kitty Green’s drama is one of the best films of 2020 so far and it’s already free for Hulu subscribers. Emmy winner Julia Garner of Ozark fame stars as an assistant to a powerful Hollywood figure who we never see, but we know is doing something very wrong. It’s a searing look at the systems of assistants around people like Harvey Weinstein that plays out with all the tension of a thriller.
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.
*A Beautiful Mind
Ron Howard’s 2001 drama became one of the biggest hits of his career, winning Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture. It’s based on the true story of John Nash, a mathematician who was a Nobel Laureate in Economics who developed paranoid schizophrenia. Some of its depiction of mental illness feels dated already, but the performances, especially from Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, keep it interesting.
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.
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.
As No Time to Die has been delayed multiple times due to COVID, Hulu is here to satisfy your 007 needs with the first outing for Daniel Craig as the most famous movie spy of all time. This is easily one of the best Bond movies, a flick that redefined the character with more intense stakes and realistic action sequences. It’s a legitimately great movie, not just for what it did for its genre and the future of its legendary super spy.
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.
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.
Alexandre Aja directed this razor-sharp 2019 film about a father and daughter trapped in a basement as flood waters rise during a hurricane. Oh, and they just happen to be being hunted by alligators. A combination of disaster flick and monster flick tropes, Aja’s film is a delight from start to finish. There’s not an ounce of fat on this one.
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.
Spike Lee is in one of his comeback modes after his Oscar for BlacKkKlansman and the excitement over Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods, but he had a bit of a career dip in the late ‘00s and ‘10s when people didn’t seen enough of his movies, including this daring remake of the 1973 vampire film Ganja and Hess. This strange film was also funded almost entirely through Kickstarter, which is kinda neat.
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.
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.
Gus van Sant’s directorial sophomore effort is one of the best films of the very good year that was 1989. GvS made an instant impact with the story of a junkie named Bob Hughes, unforgettably played by Matt Dillon. It’s a dirty, genuine drama with great supporting performances from Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, Heather Graham, Max Perlich, and William S. Burroughs himself.
*The End of Violence
Clunky and eccentric, this 1997 Wim Wenders drama has been often dismissed in the filmography of the great German filmmaker. The truth is there’s still a lot to dissect and unpack in this strange film about life in Hollywood, starring Bill Pullman, Andie MacDowell, and Gabriel Byrne. And fans of films like Wings of Desire and Until the End of the World is that minor Wim Wenders is still a film worth watching on Hulu.
There aren’t many inspirational sports movies on Hulu, but you can find this adaptation of the 1983 book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, the true story of a Syracuse football player named Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Rob Brown plays the baller in a moving drama that co-stars Dennis Quaid, Omar Benson Miller, and Charles S. Dutton.
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.
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.
Forget wearing masks, what if people told you that you couldn’t dance anymore?! Such is the plot of this ‘80s slice of escapism, a film that has maintained a loyal fan base for over 35 years now. Kevin Bacon gives his breakthrough performance as a Chicago teen who moves to the heartland and discovers his new home has a ban on dancing. You can’t hold back Bacon!
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.
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.
Remade as Gloria Bell with a great performance by Julianne Moore, this is the 2013 original from the same director with Paulina Garcia in the lead role. She’s equally amazing in what is really just the kind of deft character study they don’t make that often anymore. In fact, they had to make this one twice.
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Austrian film is one of the best horror films you could watch on any streaming service. It’s about a pair of creepy twins who become convinced, after a round of plastic surgery, that their mother is not really their mother. They start to work against this perceived stranger and this film gets ickier and weirder until its shocking climax. Pair it with the directors’ excellent follow-up, The Lodge, also on Hulu.
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.
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.
One of the best things about Bong Joon-ho winning multiple Oscar for his brilliant Parasite (also on Hulu) is the exposure likely led more people to his other works, including this wonderful film, one of the best monster movies ever made. In fact, this story of a creature in the Han River also stars the leading man from Parasite, the wonderful Song Kang-ho. It’s a gorgeous piece of work that really put Bong on the map worldwide.
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.
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.
*The Hurt Locker
It’s hard to believe it’s already been a decade since Kathryn Bigelow’s already-classic war film, a movie that feels both intimate and universal at the same time. Jeremy Renner does his career-best work as the new leader of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team during the Iraq War. Bigelow won the Oscar for Best Director, the only woman to ever take that prize, and this is arguably still the best film made to date about the Iraq War.
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.
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.
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.
Renee Zellweger pulled off a critical comeback in the way that awards-giving bodies love the most: playing someone famous. The Oscar winner took home a second Academy Award for this story of the life of Judy Garland, based on the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. It’s a bit generic and simple in the biopic beats it hits but Zellweger is a force of nature.
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.
Roger Ross Williams directed this nuanced, tender documentary about a young man named Owen Suskind, a boy who struggled to communicate with the outside world because of autism. Owen’s father Ron discovers that the boy’s love for Disney animation will be his channel to his son. Delicate and sweet, this film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary.
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.
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.
*Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Thirty years before he would destroy viewers with Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller put this franchise to bed with this epic vision of a future wherein people fight for resources and status. It’s the last time that Mel Gibson would play Max Rockatansky but the real star of this movie is Tina Turner as the unforgettable Aunty Entity. It may not be the best Mad Max movie, but it’s still got its nostalgic charms.
J.C. Chandor’s 2011 dramatic retelling of how the 2007-08 financial crisis impacted a Wall Street investment bank is a wonderful example of ensemble drama. There are SO many familiar faces here, including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci. The cast is great, but it’s Chandor’s smart script that elevates the drama.
Russell Crowe stars in this brilliant period action film based on the novels by Patrick O’Brian that recreates warfare on the water arguably better than any other film. This really should have been the start of a franchise. Crowe plays Jack Aubrey, Captain in the Royal Navy, and Paul Bettany does his best film work as the ship’s surgeon. This was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
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.
One of Lars von Trier’s best films is this 2011 sci-fi/drama starring Kirsten Dunst as a woman who becomes aware that the world is about to end. Von Trier has said the film is an allegory for his depression, something that can come out of nowhere like an apocalyptic event. It feels particularly appropriate for early 2020 too.
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.
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.
It’s rare for a fourth film in a franchise to be considered its best, but some certainly feel that this Brad Bird 2011 banger qualifies. It essentially rebooted the franchise in which Tom Cruise tries to kill himself for your entertainment value, leading to the worldwide success of Rogue Nation and Fallout. This movie rules.
In June 2020, lists of recent films that reflected the national unrest after the murder of George Floyd circulated on social media. Not enough of them included Reinaldo Marcus Green’s 2018 indie drama, a dissection of the failures of the police force with great performances from John David Washington, Lakeith Stanfield, and Rob Morgan.
Marc Forster directed Halle Berry to an Oscar, the first ever won by a Black woman for Best Actress (and still only). Berry plays a woman who begins a torrid relationship with a corrections officer, played by Billy Bob Thornton, unaware that he’s the man who helped execute her husband (Sean Combs). This drama also features great supporting turns from Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle, but it’s Berry’s intensity that makes it unforgettable.
Bong Joon-ho’s career went to another level with the Oscar wins for Parasite, which should lead people back to earlier great films in his career like The Host, Okja, Snowpiercer, and this 2009 thriller about a mother intent on proving her son has been framed for murder. Dark and devastating, you won’t forget it.
Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this coming-of-age drama that really kicked off the McConaughaissance that pulled him out of bad rom-coms and made him a legit actor again. He plays the title character, a fugitive on a small island who encounters a couple of local kids who agree to help him escape. Nichols is one of the best American directors alive.
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.
Timely in ways that recently made it a top ten option on Netflix, this Wolfgang Petersen thriller about a deadly virus is now on Hulu to add to the overall anxiety of 2020 too. Based on the excellent book The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, this stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman in the story of the outbreak of a deadly virus in California. It will not help any fear you have about our current pandemic, but it’s an entertaining thriller nonetheless.
After fetching the highest price in Sundance history, Neon had a theatrical release planned for this audience favorite but the pandemic shuffled it off to Hulu, where the story of a day repeating over and over again will play differently than anyone could possibly imagine. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star in this romantic riff on the Groundhog Day formula that somehow finds fresh new life in the concept. Both stars are better than they’ve ever been on film in a comedy that’s exactly what we need in Summer 2020.
Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar winner for Best Picture is already on Hulu, shattering records for streaming views at the service. It’s a major coup for the company, a streamer still known more for TV than film, and one of the best movies you could watch with a subscription anywhere. We don’t need to tell you how much Parasite rules – you either know, or you haven’t seen it yet.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Tyler Nilson & Peter Schwartz wrote and directed this SXSW hit about an unlikely friendship that received almost universal critical acclaim and went on to make over $23 million on a minimal budget. Audiences took this heartwarming tale of a fisherman (Shia LaBeouf) and a young man (Zack Gottsagen) from an assisted living facility who basically go on the run, tracked by a social worker played by Dakota Johnson. It’s moving and well-made.
*The Portrait of a Lady
Jane Campion directed this acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1881 novel of the same name. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, a young woman manipulated by the other women in her life, including Madame Serena Merle (Barbara Hershey) and Henrietta Stackpole (Mary-Louise Parker). It can be a little stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a great performance piece, especially for Kidman and Hershey, who landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Neon’s partnership with Hulu has led to a number of films quickly cycling to the service like Amazing Grace, Apollo 11, and The Beach Bum, but this is probably the most news-making of their quick acquisitions, a film that was still in some theaters when the virus struck but is on Hulu already. People who love this movie, love this movie. Its fandom is intense. See if you’re one of them.
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.
This is the drama that really started the love affair with Denis Villeneuve. Before Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049, the French-Canadian directed this dark drama about the abduction of two young girls and how it tears a community apart. A father, played well by Hugh Jackman, becomes convinced he knows the identity of the kidnapper, and takes justice into his own hands. Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are also phenomenal here.
One of the best movies of the ‘80s has become more famous for the weight gain of its leading man, Robert De Niro, arguably the best actor of that decade. He earned that title by being fearless in films, many of which were directed by his friend Martin Scorsese. His work as Jake La Motta remains career-defining for the superstar, and the fact that this lost the Oscar to Ordinary People remains a talking point whenever anyone wants to talk about the Academy getting it wrong.
Gore Verbinski directed one of the best animated films on Hulu, 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.
Forget that Queen nonsense, this is the best rock biopic in recent memory. Taron Egerton plays Elton John, whose life story unfolds in vibrant musical numbers actually sung by the leading man in this case. Energetic and emotional, Rocketman works by embracing the creative passion of its subject and trying to express it cinematically.
*Romeo + Juliet
It’s been 24 years since Baz Luhrmann released one of the most beloved Shakespeare adaptations of all time, dropping Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes into the doomed couple and spinning this tale in a way that only the director of Moulin Rouge could possibly pull off. Loaded with bright colors and catchy pop music, it’s Shakespeare for the MTV Generation.
Who doesn’t love it? One of the most popular films of all time actually wasn’t all that successful when it was released in 1994 but has since gone on to regularly rank on lists of people’s favorite movies ever made. People identify with the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his time in the titular institution, where he meets the beloved Red (Morgan Freeman), another character that fans just adore.
Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline) directed this unusual look at a chapter of the life from Shirley Jackson, played unforgettably by Elisabeth Moss. After its premiere at Sundance in January 2020, Shirley was planned for theaters by Neon, but the company had to move it to Hulu thanks to the pandemic. Consider it one of the better things to happen in the last few months.
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.
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.
*Snakes on a Plane
Way back in 2006 before Twitter and TikTok were daily influences, this movie became one of the first honest viral sensations, getting people excited for a silly movie that no one had even seen. Samuel L. Jackson stars in the story of a passenger plane that becomes a flying nightmare after snakes are released on it to kill a witness. Is it good? Nah. Is it dumb fun on Hulu on a weeknight when you can’t leave the house? You bet.
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.
Mel Brooks’ last great parody is this hysterical spoof of the world of Star Wars, filtered in a comedic style that is distinctively that of one of movie history’s greatest writers. Spaceballs takes most of its direct aim at the Lucas trilogy (yes, there were only three back in 1987), but Brooks tackles other sci-fi properties too, and he does it all with his wicked sense of timing and hysterical wordplay.
In 1991, eight men and women entered something called Biosphere 2, an enclosed ecosystem that they vowed not to leave for two years. They could only eat what could be grown inside and even had to live on the oxygen created by the plants they brought. This doc, which premiered at Sundance in 2020, chronicles the unique personalities who devised such an experiment, and, of course, what it uncovered.
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.
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.
Greg Mottola’s 2007 comedy became so beloved for a generation that it’s already a reference point (look at how many people called Booksmart a female version of this). Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Superbad turned Michael Cera and Jonah Hill into stars overnight, and introduced the world to future Oscar winner Emma Stone. Some of its gender issues already seem a little dated, but there’s an innocent charm to the film that holds up. And it’s just damn funny.
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.
“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.
Roman Polanski completed his “Apartment Trilogy” (after Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby) with this terrifying 1976 vision of secluded insanity. It’s kind of a perfect quarantine film in that it’s about an average man, played by Polanski, who rents an apartment in a terrifying building in Paris. And you thought your time stuck at home was bad?
Hulu has a remarkable range in terms of indie and blockbuster films, helped by their partnership with Neon to include recent films like Parasite, but they’re still a little lacking in terms of international cinema. So take the chance to learn about the filmography of the great Mia Hansen-Love, the French director of Goodbye First Love, Eden, and this acclaimed Isabelle Huppert drama from 2016.
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.
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.
David Gordon Green directed this Terrence Malick production and it’s one of the most underrated films by the director of Pineapple Express and Halloween. It’s the story of two boys, including Jamie Bell, who go on the run after their uncle (Josh Lucas) murders their father. It’s intense, dark, and poetically unforgettable.
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.
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.
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.