This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Netflix. *New additions are indicated by an asterisk.
With thousands of movies to choose from, and a navigation system and algorithm that don’t always make the right choice easy to find, it can be difficult to know what to watch on Netflix. That’s why we’re here, breaking down the 100 best movies on the service at this minute, with regular updates for titles that have been removed and when new ones are added. We’ve done the hard work, so now the only thing you have to do is sit back and, uh, watch all 100 movies. (And if you’re more of a TV person, check out the 50 best TV shows on Netflix.)
Ava DuVernay’s documentary is named after the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ended slavery. Her brilliant nonfiction work outlines the way that slavery has simply been reshaped and reformed into other societal elements, particularly imbalanced prison sentences and enforcement of laws that more directly impact minorities. It’s a searing, powerful piece of work.
Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar winner is one of the best films of the 2010s, a powerful examination of the impact of one couple’s separation on those around them, including their daughter and a caregiver hired by the man to watch over his father. It’s the first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Foreign Language Film, and a great introduction to that country’s excellent film industry.
The two decades since it won Best Picture has kind of turned Sam Mendes’ suburban dramedy into a punchline (or just a common answer to a question about worst Oscar winners). So why include it on this list? First, the performances are better than people remember, especially Annette Bening and Thora Birch. Second, it’s worth taking another look as a snapshot of where we were at the end of the ‘90s compared to where we are today.
One of the best documentaries of 2019 was this Netflix original by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. The directing pair focus on a factory a blue-collar Ohio suburb after it is taken over by a Chinese company called Fuyao. Bringing in their own workers from their homeland creates a fascinating examination of how Chinese and American workers are treated differently, and perhaps a glimpse of a future in which they won’t be.
Andrea Arnold’s 2016 teen epic about a runaway (Sasha Lane) who finds herself a part of a crew of young people bouncing their way across the country — including Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough — is the best movie on Netflix that you probably haven’t seen. With propulsive energy, an amazing soundtrack, and beautiful cinematography of the heart of America, this is a fascinating movie that deserves a look.
Before Christian Bale became Batman or won an Oscar, he was Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s 2000 adaptation of the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis. People often meme and gif American Psycho without really digging into why this movie is so good. It’s not just another serial-killer story, but also a dark vision of privilege and ‘80s narcissism. It’s funny and scary in equal measure, with a totally fearless performance from one of the best actors of his generation.
The Oscar-winning documentary about Amy Winehouse not only details the rise and early death of its subject but confronts viewers with the way that tabloid culture impacts celebrities who may be prone to addiction. Winehouse was a generational talent, but this is a must-watch not only for chronicling her ability but also asking who let her down, depriving the music world of that talent today.
Yes, it’s super-weird that Netflix didn’t add this great Aardman family film before Christmas, but if you’re in the mood for that holiday spirit outside of the Peppermint Mocha window, this is one of your best options. It’s a sweet, clever film about how the son of Father Christmas saves the day for one kid and recaptures the entire spirit of the holiday. We don’t talk enough about how great Aardman, the team behind Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, are every single time out. Aardman rules.
*As Good as It Gets
Believe it or not, this is the last movie to win both the Oscar for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt). James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy is a perfect example of a movie that caught its cast at just the right moment, getting one of the last Nicholson performances that could be called charming and supporting it with great work from Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Some of it is a bit dated, but it catches just enough lightning in a bottle in terms of casting to justify another look.
Mati Diop’s directorial debut is a tender, mesmerizing study of life on the coast of Senegal, where men often venture out for more prosperous shores, leaving the women behind. It’s a delicate, beautiful film that plays like a romance, ghost story, and study of inequality all at the same time. See it before someone recommends it to you.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western anthology series was a part of Netflix’s brand-redefining 2018. Sure, Netflix still has a bunch of junk, but it also landed the latest from Alfonso Cuaron, the Coens, and even Orson Welles. This brilliant Western works as comedy, drama, and even a commentary on the Coens themselves. Don’t miss it.
Take advantage of this opportunity before Disney+ guts all the Marvel and Disney movie options from every streaming service on the planet. The first MCU movie to win an Oscar is one of the best superhero movies of all time, and a movie that holds up incredibly well on repeat viewing. This isn’t just an action movie, it’s a cultural event — something that redefined and reshaped the superhero genre for the rest of time.
Ted Demme’s drug drama was dismissed on its release as being too derivative of other crime epics of the era, but it has developed a pretty loyal following over the years. One of the reasons for that is that it contains one of Johnny Depp’s last great performances, a totally committed turn as George Yung, a man caught up in the deadliest drug cartel in the world.
Jeremy Saulnier wrote and directed this 2013 breakthrough, a great little thriller that’s reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ classic Blood Simple in its blunt, darkly humorous approach. Macon Blair plays Dwight, a vagrant who learns that the man who murdered his parents is about to be released from prison. Dwight takes action – that’s all you need to know. This is a vicious thrill ride of a movie.
Michelle Williams just won her first Emmy, but so far, her deserved Oscar remains just out of reach. One of her best performances on the big screen is in this intimate, devastating dissection of the dissolution of a marriage, which also just so happens to contain arguably Ryan Gosling’s best performance to date. They’re both masterful here. You won’t forget it.
The best foreign-language film of 2018 is already on Netflix, hopefully indicating a deeper commitment by the company to present the best of international cinema to American audiences. Lee Chang-dong adapts a novella by Haruki Murakami into a riveting dissection of class and gender in modern Korea. Steven Yeun is mesmerizing as the mysterious Ben, someone who our protagonist starts to think might be a killer. Don’t miss this one.
*Catch Me If You Can
One of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a legendary con man who became a millionaire through his crimes, and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent trying to track him. Charming and delightful, thanks to a great script by Jeff Nathanson, this is a movie that’s easy to watch again and again.
Kevin Smith’s best film is also one of his most personal, the story of a man who falls in love with a lesbian and destroys his friendship in the process. Smith has never been better than he is here at capturing believable, funny human relationships, and he gets his best acting work of his career as well from Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. It won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay for a reason.
*City of God
Fernando Meirelles burst onto the scene with this 2002 drama about the brutality of trying to grow up in the violent favelas of Brazil. Loosely based on real events, City of God details the rise of crime in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro from the ‘60s to ‘80s, but people mostly remember it for its daring visual style and unforgettable child performers. It was a worldwide success, landing four nominations at the Oscars, including Cinematography, Director, Editing, and Screenplay.
Matt Reeves’ 2008 found-footage monster movie was a major event, something that helped redefine how films are sold to audiences. We only saw glimpses of the monster in commercials and previews (and even in the movie really), and the result was a massive hit, making over $170 million worldwide and launching a franchise. See where it all began.
We don’t deserve Laika. The company behind Kubo and the Two Strings and ParaNorman has never made a bad movie, but this is the only one on Netflix as of right now, a beautifully refined adaptation of a Neil Gaiman book. Lyrical, scary, and unforgettable, this is stop-motion animation for the whole family.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s martial arts epic was an absolute phenomenon when it came out, domestically grossing more than any foreign language film in history on its way to ten Academy Award nominations. It’s held up marvelously, a cinematic explosion of color and passion for filmmaking. If you haven’t seen it since it took the world by storm, it’s time for a rewatch.
*The Crying Game
Sometimes a movie’s quality can become overshadowed by the headline-grabbing twist in its final act. Such was the case with Neil Jordan’s 1992 hit, a movie that became a cultural phenomenon because of its twist, but the movie itself kind of faded into history. Even without the shocker, this is a solid film with great performances by Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, and Jaye Davidson.
Netflix has been cycling Martin Scorsese movies in and out of the service all year, likely to build buzz for their priciest venture to date, The Irishman. Right now, the director’s Best Picture winner is on the service. Many seem to have written this off as lesser Scorsese, but they’re wrong. It’s a film that holds up incredibly well on repeated viewing. Like most Marty movies, it’s cinema.
*Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy is back! It’s been a long time since we saw this version of Eddie, who reminds us how funny and charismatic he can be with the right part. That part is the flashy personality that was Rudy Ray Moore, a washed-up musician who transformed himself into the character of Dolemite. Like The Disaster Artist and Ed Wood, this is an ode to DIY filmmaking with not just a great performance from Murphy, but Wesley Snipes and Keegan Michael Key too.
Mike Newell’s telling of this fascinating true story contains two of the best performances in the careers of Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. Depp plays Joseph D. Pistone, an FBI agent who went undercover in the New York City mafia, calling himself Donnie Brasco. There, he meets Lefty Ruggiero, played perfectly by Pacino, and realizes that to take down the crime syndicate, he will have to take down someone with whom he’s become friends.
Remember when no one was cooler than Ryan Gosling in his bad-ass scorpion jacket? Dripping with macho style, Nicolas Winding Refn’s best film stars Gosling as a stunt driver who gets caught up in the problems of a single mother, played by Carey Mulligan. Albert Brooks almost steals the movie, but this Refn’s movie through and through, and one of the best L.A. Movies of the ‘10s.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul returned to the world of Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved dramas of all time, in this beautiful epilogue to the story of Jesse Pinkman. Picking up right after the end of the series, El Camino details what happened to Jesse after Walter White saved his life. With a cinematic eye that recalls classic Westerns, this is one of the most visually striking Netflix Originals, but it works because of how easily Paul steps back into the shoes of his most famous character.
Alex Garland’s sci-fi masterpiece already feels like a classic. Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac star in an examination of the future of artificial intelligence, what it means to be a human being, and how often men seek to control that which they create. It’s a movie that gets better every time you see it.
David O. Russell’s dramatization of the true story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) won Oscars for both of its supporting players — Melissa Leo and a transformed Christian Bale. It’s got some beats that already make it feel older than just 2010 but the great cast holds it together.
Before there was Lady Bird, there was Frances Ha, another semi-autobiographical comedy starring and co-written by Greta Gerwig. The delightful actress plays a woman dealing with a quarter-life crisis in NYC in one of Noah Baumbach’s best films.
Gangs of New York
There’s an incredible number of films by Martin Scorsese on Netflix in a move designed to get you even more excited for this Fall’s The Irishman. This is one of the director’s more underrated modern movies, especially surprising given it’s also one of his biggest hits at the box office. Over the years people have dismissed this period action-drama, but it features a stunning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and incredible design detail.
The Vulture choice for the Best Netflix Original Horror Movie has to be on this list too, right? Especially viewed in the wake of the phenomenon that was The Haunting of Hill House, this movie really works. It’s one of the best Stephen King adaptations on any platform, anchored by a phenomenal Carla Gugino performance.
It feels like some community theater somewhere in the country is probably always doing an adaptation of Grease. Why has this musical persisted in pop culture while others have disappeared? Part of the reason is the blinding star power in the movie from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. They defined the roles and musical forever to such a degree that all of those community actors are really just doing impressions of them.
The Hateful Eight
Debate among yourselves if this should be on the movie or TV list, but it’s still basically the same venture that was released in theaters, only slightly reedited by Quentin Tarantino into episodes, so we say it’s a movie. And it’s an underrated one, overshadowed by the way it deals with race and gender when it was released. Just a few years later, it looks almost prescient about how divided the country would become, and it contains some of the best performances in Q.T.’s entire filmography.
*Hell or High Water
David Mackenzie’s 2016 modern western is feeling more and more like a definitive film of the last decade with each passing year. There aren’t many films that one could consider better at capturing the lengths people will go to hold on to what’s theirs than this story of two brothers (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) who become bank robbers to save their family land. The cast is uniformly great, but it’s Taylor Sheridan’s excellent script that really makes this a special movie.
This 2004 Guillermo del Toro action classic stars Ron Perlman, John Hurt, Selma Blair, and Rupert Evans. Before GdT was winning Oscars and rocking Twitter, he brought Mike Mignola’s most famous comic character to the screen and lost none of his irascible charm along the way.
Spike Jonze’s Oscar winner stars Joaquin Phoenix as a writer who falls in love with a daring new A.I., voiced by Scarlett Johansson. This is not only one of the best films on Netflix, but one of the best films of the ‘10s. Just see it.
High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh very rarely makes bad movies and he’s not about to start with Andre Holland and Zazie Beetz in his court. The two star in the first excellent Netflix movie of 2019, an analysis of the game on top of the game that makes the NBA work. The man who almost directed Moneyball crafts a razor-sharp, incredibly entertaining, and humane basketball/corporate-media/labor drama that will appeal to hoops fanatics and the sports-averse alike. And the entire thing was shot on an iPhone!
Young film lovers may not know why Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are so beloved in the film community. This is a good place to start. Both are at the top of their game (Thompson won an Oscar, as did Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for her screenplay) in this gorgeous Merchant/Ivory adaptation of the E.M. Forster classic.
There aren’t many writer-directors who can make big-budget, original blockbusters like Christopher Nolan. One of his best remains this 2010 sci-fi thriller about people who can literally implant ideas in someone’s subconscious or steal information held within. Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt lead one of Nolan’s best ensembles.
While Disney works to get its upcoming streaming service off the ground, it’s still regularly releasing new hits to Netflix, including the beloved sequel to one of the most popular Pixar films of all time. Brad Bird’s long-awaited sequel is one of the top films of 2018, and arguably its best animated film (at least that’s not about Spider-man).
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
There’s a lot of Steven Spielberg on Netflix, but this is one of the best choices you could make from the filmography of one the best American filmmakers. Maybe you’ve heard of it? All four Indy films are actually still on Netflix. Do a marathon while you still can. Yes, you can skip the last one if you want.
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is currently dividing Film Twitter and making a fortune at the box office on the back of rave reviews. So naturally someone at Netflix realized this might be a good time to add a few QT films to the catalogue. As of this writing, you can check out one that’s widely considered to be among his best: the Oscar-winning Inglourious Basterds. If you somehow haven’t seen it, you really should before seeing Once, as it does a lot of the same melding of history and Tarantino’s vision.
Netflix’s most ambitious and expensive project to date is this 3.5-hour epic based on the life of Frank Sheeran, errand boy for the Mafia and friend of Jimmy Hoffa. Martin Scorsese directs living legends like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to some of the best work of their career. It is epic, elegiac, and unforgettable — a commentary on a violent life and, really, the filmmaker’s entire body of work.
We will still have to wait for the long-promised full cut of the two Kill Bill films into one epic movie (and the long-rumored third volume of this tale), but that shouldn’t stop you from revisiting two of Quentin Tarantino’s best films. In a catalog that includes a lot of great performances (and a few Oscar winners), one of QT’s best is Uma Thurman as The Bride, a legendary action character seeking vengeance on the man who betrayed her.
He may have won awards for Green Book, but Peter Farrelly’s best film remains this 1996 comedy starring Woody Harrelson as a grifting bowler and Randy Quaid as the Amish prodigy he exploits and then befriends. All you need to know about this movie is that it’s laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, and also features one of Bill Murray’s best supporting performances.
If you like Daniel Craig as James Bond, you owe it to yourself to check out this Matthew Vaughn 2004 crime/action flick that helped get him the part. The director who would go on to make his own superspy franchise in The Kingman directed the future 007 in a wildly entertaining movie about very bad people that co-stars Tom Hardy, Colm Meaney, and Sienna Miller. It’s stylish, gritty fun.
It’s not surprising that Netflix plays to Spielberg fans, but it’s nice to see that it includes more than the crowd-pleasing blockbusters, also occasionally diving a bit deeper and adding his historical dramas. This is one of his best from that category, featuring an Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.
The Lives of Others
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film may have been released 16 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it was actually one of the first films from Germany to really deal with that subject matter. It’s a detailed, fascinating look at the monitoring of East Berlin residents by the secret police. The winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it’s a complex, challenging look at how spying on your neighbors changes a society, and it may be about Germany in the ‘80s but feels relevant to governments around the world today.
Steven Knight wrote and directed this 2013 drama that contains one of Tom Hardy’s career-best performances. It’s an actor’s showcase in that it contains no one else on-screen other than Hardy, who plays the title character, someone juggling various issues in his life as he drives through the night to reach his in-labor girlfriend. Hardy is charismatic and brilliant, proving he’s one of the few actors of his generation who could carry a one-man show like this.
*The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & Return of the King
It’s kind of amazing that what was once one of the biggest theatrical events of all time can now be watched on your phone – well, two-thirds of it. In a truly bizarre bit of programming, the first film in the LOTR saga isn’t on Netflix, but it’s two excellent sequels are. These films have held up beautifully, still a great example of how movie magic can transport to fantasy worlds. If you haven’t seen them since they ruled the cinematic ring, it’s time to rejoin the fellowship.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 character study is one of the beloved auteur’s best works, a study of the interconnectivity of modern life and the fallibility of human relationships. Coming not long after Boogie Nights, this is the film that really affirmed PTA’s status as one of America’s best filmmakers, and contains some of the career-best work of Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, and more.
Noah Baumbach returns to Netflix with his best film to date, the story of the dissolution of a marriage between a theatre director (Adam Driver) and his lead actress (Scarlett Johannson). The two leads also do the best work of their careers in a smart, moving piece of work about how divorce turns you into a person you never thought you’d become, and how you have to move on as that new person. It’s one of the best films of 2019.
The Matrix Trilogy
Sometimes a film’s influence sneaks up on pop culture. Sometimes it’s instant. This is the latter. It feels like there were movies before Neo and after Neo. The minute we saw it, we knew that action and sci-fi would never be the same. All three films are on Netflix, sitting there so you can prepare for the rumored fourth installment.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach’s latest didn’t premiere in theaters, going the Netflix route in 2017. Adam Sandler does arguably the best work of his career in this drama about how family can both connect and divide us, sometimes in the same moment. Sandler is joined by Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson in this must-see dramedy. Forget the Sandler Netflix Originals — watch this one instead.
Sean Penn’s last Oscar came for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the slain activist for gay rights and California’s first openly gay elected official. It’s a movie that has lost none of its dramatic power a decade after its release.
There are so few great sports movies that audiences really embrace the ones that do come along like this underrated 2004 film from Gavin O’Connor. Kurt Russell gives a truly fantastic performance as Herb Brooks, the coach of the U.S. Men’s Hockey team that made everyone believe in miracles when they defeated their heavily favored Russian counterparts.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Movies don’t get much funnier than the best offering from the Monty Python troupe, a comedy that spawned a quoting fandom that still roams the hills saying, “Not dead yet,” and, “I fart in your general direction.” It’s possible there’s a young generation yet to appreciate the comedic brilliance of the men of Monty Python. Start here and then move on to the sketches and other movies, some of which are also on Netflix.
Sam Rockwell went from an underrated actor to an Oscar winner in the last couple years, but this was arguably his most beloved and possibly best performance before his career took off. The new love affair with Rockwell should lead people to Duncan Jones’ best work, the story of a man working a solitary job on the lunar surface who learns a terrifying truth about his existence. It’s a brilliant piece of intellectual science fiction that shows how great genre movies don’t always need huge budgets to be effective.
Barry Jenkins’ 2016 drama might be the most shocking Best Picture winner of all time, and not just for the way it went down on Oscar night. Envelope-gate somewhat overshadowed how crazy it is that such a small, gentle, personal film won the biggest prize in movies. If you have somehow never seen it, correct that oversight now. And, if you have, watch it again. It’s a movie that grows richer with each viewing.
A Most Violent Year
One of the most underrated flicks of the ‘10s, J.C. Chandor’s period crime drama stars Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, and David Oyelowo. Awash in the dread surrounding the most violent year in New York history, this is a crime epic for viewers who like characters more than action in their sagas of men who work both sides of the law.
Arguably Netflix’s first masterpiece, Dee Rees’s period drama is an epic portrait of racism, trauma, and injustice in the post-WWII South. You won’t find a better ensemble in a Netflix Original, anchored by Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, and the amazing Dee Rees.
If you’re not a fan of Jenny Slate, you probably have yet to see how charming and relatable she is in this Sundance comedy hit. She plays a stand-up comedian whose life is rattled by an unplanned pregnancy. It’s a great comedy — funny, empathetic, and daring.
God bless Bong Joon-ho. The director of The Host, The Mother, and Snowpiercer — all of which you owe it to yourself to see — brought arguably his weirdest movie yet to Netflix in this sci-fi dramedy about a giant pig. Say what you will about the film’s flights of fancy — or Jake Gyllenhaal’s truly committed performance — there ain’t nothing else like it on Netflix.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone’s films with Clint Eastwood are rightfully famous, but his best work may be without Clint in this 1968 epic starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and Jason Robards. Collaborating with Dario Argento, Ennio Morricone and Bernardo Bertolucci, Leone delivered a timeless, influential masterpiece that just may be the best work of one his genre’s best filmmakers.
The Other Side of the Wind
It took almost a half-century to complete Orson Welles’s final film, this meta work that blends documentary style, fictional filmmaking, and even the reputation and life of its own creator into something that feels defiantly new — even though most of it was shot before you were born. It took the efforts of dozens over decades to get this out. You can spare two hours to see what all the work was for.
Arguably more fantasy than horror, Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece has just enough nightmare fuel to qualify, and that’s not even including the incredibly dark “real-world” themes with which GDT is playing here. Del Toro’s first Oscar winner blends the fantasy world of a girl named Ofelia and the abject cruelty of her stepfather, a Captain during the Spanish Civil War. Even in a movie that features a child-eating creature called the Pale Man, the real monster may be human.
David Fincher followed his cult hit Fight Club with a movie that still doesn’t get enough attention in his filmography, this 2002 thriller starring Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart. Not only is this a tight, well-crafted flick, it’s also unavailable on Blu-ray — so streaming is the only way to watch it in HD right now.
Olivier Assayas’s ghost story is not your typical tale of the supernatural. The French filmmaker, working in perfect conjunction with star Kristen Stewart, who has never been better, crafts a film about loss, fear, and longing. It’s not an easy film to dissect or understand, but you won’t forget it.
Tom Hanks may be America’s Favorite Dad now, but there was a time when it was difficult to see the star of things like Bosom Buddies and Big transitioning into being one of the most acclaimed actors of all time. This was the film that really realized that potential. Before Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, Hanks starred in Jonathan Demme’s true story of a lawyer fired because of his HIV diagnosis, and the system-changing lawsuit that followed.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Derek Cianfrance’s 2013 crime drama divided audiences when it was released but it’s definitely worth a reappreciation now. Anchored by a great ensemble, including Ryan Gosling, Ben Mendelsohn, Mahershala Ali, and Bradley Cooper, this is a story of the ripple effect of criminal behavior, and how it can impact across the generations. It’s smarter and better in every way than it got credit for when it was released.
Tamara Jenkins returned to filmmaking for the first time since The Savages with this personal portrait of the struggle faced by people going through fertility procedures. With an amazingly truthful performance by Kathryn Hahn, this is the kind of film that feels both delicately specific and universal to the struggle of so many couples.
Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme’s character drama contains arguably Anne Hathaway’s best performance as Kym, a recovering alcoholic dealing with trauma over the course of her sister Rachel’s wedding weekend. This is a beautiful film, full of both joy and regret, and anchored by Demme’s deep humanism and skill with performers. It’s one of the best films of the ‘00s.
One of the best films of all time, Martin Scorsese’s drama won Robert De Niro his second Oscar (and should have won Scorsese his first Oscar as well as Best Picture) for playing Jake LaMotta, a famous boxer in the ‘40s whose life unraveled in the ‘50s in large part due to his rage, jealousy, and violent behavior. It’s a riveting character study that has lost none of its power in the nearly 40 years since its release.
Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal story of the domestic worker who really helped raise him is Netflix’s first nominee for Best Picture and a movie that has really altered the way the streaming service will be seen on the film landscape. It’s also a masterpiece, a heartbreaking, mesmerizing piece of filmmaking that really operates on Roger Ebert’s belief that great cinema is an “empathy machine,” a way to experience lives that you otherwise never would.
Everyone talking about the arrival of elevated horror on the scene as if Midsommar and The Lighthouse were the first of the genre to be taken seriously must not remember the ‘70s when movies as dark and vicious as Rosemary’s Baby won Oscars and made millions. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel has lost none of its terrifying power, thanks in large part to the phenomenal work by Mia Farrow, who makes Rosemary’s predicament palpable.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Sure, we all know how much fun Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels is, but has anyone else noticed how many careers this movie helped launch? It’s amazing to watch it nearly a decade after it was released and consider how much people like Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, and Jason Schwartzman have done since then.
A Serious Man
More Coen brothers! When Netflix added Buster Scruggs, they dropped a few earlier films as well, including this underrated comedy about a man dealing with the inequity of life after his wife leaves him. With a great performance by Michael Stuhlbarg, this one has some of the Coens’ best darkly comic bits in the back half of their career.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee had “it” from the beginning, as you can see in his 1986 debut comedy, recently loosely adapted into a Netflix Original series. It’s incredible to see how much of Lee’s voice as a filmmaker was already there in this passionate, daring independent flick that really announced one of American cinema’s most important filmmakers.
Documentaries that aren’t about serial killers can be a tough sell to a Netflix audience, but just trust us on this one. Sandi Tan’s story of a film she made with some friends in Singapore back in the ‘90s seems at first like just another document of creative young people but becomes something much more complicated as it comments on ownership, toxic masculinity, and the need for closure.
Short Term 12
Destin Daniel Cretton’s 2013 drama was a great piece of filmmaking when it was released but has become something even more special over the years. We’ve watched its incredible young cast develop into some of the best actors working today: Two of them (Brie Larson and Rami Malek) already have Oscars, and it wouldn’t be too hard to envision Kaitlyn Dever and Lakeith Stanfield joining them one day. Check out this early gem in all their careers, a story of empathy at a group home for troubled teens.
Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino adapted this stylish version of Miller’s beloved graphic novel about violent men and femme fatales. The star power here is one draw (including Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, and Elijah Wood), but the best reason to watch this is that there’s never been anything else quite like it.
Bong Joon-ho is about to have a major cultural moment with the release of his Palme d’Or-winning Parasite. Why not go back and check out what is arguably his most popular movie to date, this 2013 adaptation of a groundbreaking French graphic novel? The concept is wonderfully simple — an always-moving train is divided into class with the 1% at the front and the poorest people in the back. Those in the caboose, including Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho, plan to move up a few train cars. It’s smart, action-packed, memorable sci-fi action, and it’s the kind that also has something to say.
The Spectacular Now
James Ponsoldt’s 2013 adaptation of Tim Tharp’s 2008 novel was one of the biggest hits to come out of that year’s Sundance Film Festival, and helped launch the careers of Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, and Brie Larson. On paper, it’s another romantic dramedy about two very different teenagers who find themselves falling in love, but Ponsoldt and his cast imbue the film with a truth that’s so often missing from this genre. It’s a legitimately great movie. A bit of trivia: this film was the last one reviewed by Roger Ebert, who gave it four stars.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The Best Animated Film Oscar for 2018 went to this unexpected treat, one of the best superhero movies of the modern era. It’s got a little bit of everything. First, it replicates the comic-book aesthetic in ways we’ve never seen before. Second, it is a leap forward in terms of representation in superhero movies. Third, it is just an unbelievable amount of fun, the kind of movie that you can watch again and again. It will hold up for generations to come.
Harmony Korine’s 2013 dark comedy is one of the most divisive movies of the ‘10s. Some people just see excess, but there’s more to this movie than the many GIFs that sprung from it may lead you to believe. Not only is it a mesmerizing blend of music video composition and cautionary drama, but it contains arguably the best performance of James Franco’s career. Spriiiinnnnnng breaaaakkkkkkk!
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s personal 2005 drama dissects the impact of divorce on an average family and offers the suggestion that the flaws of parents will only be amplified in their children. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg all give excellent performances in a film that feels both specifically revealing and universal in its themes.
The deeply romantic tone of films like Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby can be seen in Baz Luhrmann’s first work, the unabashedly beautiful story of a family of ballroom dancers competing in the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. Delightful and sweet, Luhrmann’s film is based on his own play and features some of the best dancing scenes of its era. This is actually the first of what became known as The Red Curtain Trilogy with Romeo + Juliet and Moulin.
We still miss John Candy. His co-starring work here is only one of the great things about this near-perfect comedy, a flick that caught Candy, Bill Murray, and Harold Ramis at their charismatic peaks. Murray is at his sad sack best as a man who gets knocked down by life and decides to join the Army. Comedy hijinks ensue. A lot of comedies from the early ‘80s have not aged well. This one has.
*The Talented Mr. Ripley
One of Matt Damon’s career-best performances is in this 1999 thriller based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. Damon plays Tom Ripley, a charming young man who cons himself into the life of a wealthy friend named Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), whose identity he essentially steals. With great performances from Damon, Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, against the backdrop of beautiful European settings, this is a must-see.
Tell Me Who I Am
Heartbreaking and fascinating, this Netflix original documentary is about a pair of twin brothers, one of whom loses his memory after an accident. All he can remember is his twin, who then fills him in on the details of his life, family, friends, and even girlfriend. But he leaves something out. How we deal with trauma and how difficult it would be to give that trauma to someone you love is the theme of this unforgettable film. You will cry.
Danny Boyle really broke through with his second film, this beloved adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about addiction. Ewan McGregor plays Mark Renton, the most charismatic member of a group of friends who became instantly iconic, including Spud (Ewan Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd), and the sociopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Propelled by one of the best soundtracks of the ‘90s, this movie has more energy than nearly anything else on Netflix.
Kevin Bacon stars in this 1990 low-budget action B-movie that became such a cult hit that it spawned an entire franchise (the seventh film in the series is currently in production). There’s something so wonderfully simple about Tremors – average people trying to survive an attack by creatures under the sand. It’s funny, quickly paced, and easy to revisit if you haven’t seen it in thirty years or rewatch even if you have.
Wolfgang Petersen rode his fame as an action director to make a massive, big-budget version of Homer’s Iliad, and it ended up being one of the highest grossing films of 2004. Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom lead a massively talented ensemble in an old-fashioned epic film that recalls the era of Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. It’s better than you remember, a great example of action-adventure filmmaking.
*The Two Popes
Fernando Meirelles (City of God) directs this fascinating two-hander starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as the last and current Popes. The majority of Anthony McCarten’s script is a conversation between the two in the days when Pope Benedict handed off papal duties to Pope Francis, using that context to examine modern faith and how it has to change in the new century. Hopkins is very good but the real draw here is arguably the best performance of Jonathan Pryce’s remarkable career.
Under the Skin
A trippy, sci-fi masterpiece, this flick stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien being exploring the world around her and, well, doing some terrifying things to the men she comes into contact with. Although that only scratches the surface of why this is a special movie, a terrifying tone piece that has more in common with Twin Peaks than Species. It’s unforgettable and brilliant.
*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.
Robert Eggers’s Sundance hit is a master class in sound design and limited perspective. Using testimony from the Salem witch trials, the concept of Eggers’s script is beautifully simple — what if one of those trials was about a legitimate witch? The sound of branches hitting each other from the wind, the sound of footsteps on the leafy ground — this is a movie that understands that horror is often sensory more than purely conveyed through storytelling. It’s a modern genre masterpiece.
Y Tu Mama También
Likely added to accompany Roma, this is a great piece of work to watch after that one as it’s another obviously personal film from Alfonso Cuarón. Two teenage boys — Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna — fall for an older woman who has a secret. It’s a sweet, moving film from a modern master.
David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece has only grown in esteem with each year since its release. A perfect blend of obsession and mystery, Zodiac is more about how crime impacts the world around it than the crime itself. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo star in the story of people who became a part of a madman’s twisted plan, and the questions that remain about his identity only make this film stronger.