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The 40 Best Movies on Netflix You Probably Haven’t Seen

Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy. Photo: Entertainment One

This article is regularly updated as movies enter and leave Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.

As you have probably noticed by now, the major streaming services (and/or their algorithms) are often eager to promote the big films almost everyone has already seen. Yes, Pulp Fiction and Black Panther, two hugely popular titles, are available on Netflix. Feel free to rewatch them!

But what if you’re looking for something new? What if you want to watch a great movie you’ve never even heard of before today? Then this is the list for you: a collection of movies on Netflix that didn’t play theatrically in almost any city other than New York or Los Angeles and could easily be lost among the “bigger” movies that get pushed to the front of your Netflix page. There’s not a bad movie in here, and we’re willing to bet there are at least a few you haven’t seen. This is your chance to change that. (And for our main list of the 100 best movies on Netflix, click here.)

6 Balloons
Broad City star Abbi Jacobson proves she can handle drama as well as comedy in this harrowing story of addiction from writer-director Marja-Lewis Ryan. Jacobson plays Katie, sister to Seth, played by Dave Franco in his best career performance yet. Seth is a heroin addict, and he’s in a place Katie has seen him before, right on the edge of a relapse. While films about addiction aren’t rare, few recent ones are this effective at telling the story of not just the addict but the way addiction impacts loved ones. Netflix is very bad at promoting its original films, and this one was barely marketed after its 2018 SXSW premiere, dropping on the service before the festival was even over and then quickly being forgotten. Go find it.

Amanda Knox
Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s documentary about one of the most famous murder cases of the past decade has been relatively lost in the deep catalogue of true-crime stories on Netflix, with series like Making a Murderer and The Keepers getting the bulk of the promotion and attention. Trust us that any fan of crime documentaries should take the time to dig into this 2016 film about the investigation into the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. The British student was brutally killed in her own apartment in Perugia, Italy, at the age of 21, and the authorities went after Kercher’s flatmate, Amanda Knox, and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, almost immediately, despite some conflicting evidence. The documentary is a fascinating look at how many other factors beyond evidence can influence an investigation, including public pressure and perception of the suspects.

Mati Diop directed this 2019 critical darling, the first film by a black woman to compete at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a riveting, haunting blend of genres, both finding something grounded in the way it captures the rarely-seen reality of life on the Senegalese coast and something supernatural that emerges from the veracity of the storytelling. It’s about Ada, a woman who lives on the Atlantic Ocean with her partner Souleiman, who becomes one of many men who try to leave for more work opportunities. Working mostly with unknown actors, Diop’s filmmaking is personal and daring in ways you won’t really find elsewhere on Netflix.

*The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Bill Pullman does some of his best later-career work in this Western written and directed by Jared Moshe, which was barely released by A24 back in 2017. What happens to all those sidekick characters in Westerns when their partners ride off into the sunset? That’s the basic idea here, tracking the journey of a man who has been a sidekick his whole life and now has to lead the way. Pullman is excellent, ably assisted by a cast that also includes Peter Fonda, Jim Caviezel, and Kathy Baker.

Blue Jay
On paper, this delicate character drama probably sounds like a movie you’ve seen dozens of times before (or hundreds if you go to Sundance). A relatively lost young man returns home in the middle of an emotional crisis and bumps into an old girlfriend. The man in this case is played by Mark Duplass, doing some of the best work of his career dramatically, and the ex-girlfriend is played by the simply always great Sarah Paulson. Like Richard Linklater’s Before movies, Blue Jay has a delicate, simple structure that’s based almost solely on dialogue that allows two performers to build completely three-dimensional characters, and Duplass and Paulson are totally up to the challenge.

De Palma
Director Brian De Palma still doesn’t get quite the attention he deserves as one of the most consistently fascinating filmmakers of the ’70s and ’80s. Blow Out, Scarface, The Untouchables, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Carrie — and that’s only a selection of his most interesting films, all of which are discussed beat by beat in this documentary that’s more about his work than his life. Some artist biopics attempt to turn the spotlight from films to personal life or biographical detail, but directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow keep theirs focused almost exclusively on the movies directed by someone they clearly admire a great deal. Sure, you may not learn a lot about the man named De Palma, but you will have a greater appreciation for the filmmaker named De Palma.

The End of the Tour
Director James Ponsoldt took a daring approach to the artist biopic with this story of an interview between a Rolling Stone reporter, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and one of the most popular writers of his generation, David Foster Wallace, captured by Jason Segel in his best film work to date. Given that Wallace would take his own life at the age of 46 in 2008, one might expect a film about him to hit many of the obvious biographical beats and even offer some reasons for Wallace’s suicide. The End of the Tour is not that movie. It sketches a weekend in the life of two men and beautifully weaves in issues of authenticity and friendship, but it never hits the obvious biopic tropes. It’s worth seeing just for Segel and Eisenberg’s brilliant work, but it’s the screenplay by Donald Margulies that makes it truly special.

*The Endless
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead make genre films that work more from relatable human emotion than high concepts. The directors cast themselves here as a pair of brothers who escaped a cult years earlier, but questions have sent them back to the commune they once fled. There, they find something unexplainable, a break in reality in which people are sent into loops, living the same events over and over again. How do we break free from our own destructive patterns? This is a daring, brilliant film, one of the best genre offerings on any streaming service.

Denis Villeneuve has become something of a household name — at least on Film Twitter — through the massive artistic success of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. You can use Netflix to see where his career really started with early films, including the award-winning Incendies and this fascinating mindfuck from 2013. Loosely based on José Saramago’s excellent 2002 novel The Double, which itself was heavily inspired by Franz Kafka, Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a normal college professor who spots an actor in a movie who looks exactly like him. He becomes obsessed with his doppelgänger and, well, things get weirder from there in ways it would be cruel to spoil. It all culminates in a climax and an ending that allows interpretation more than offering simple solutions to the insanity that came before it. You may not understand this movie, but you won’t forget it.

The Eyes of My Mother
When Nicolas Pesce’s debut film premiered at Sundance, the programmer warned viewers they were in for something extreme. He hoped people hadn’t just wandered in based on the schedule and weren’t prepared for what was to come. And there was one moment — you’ll know it when you see it — when a few dozen people stood up and walked out. The story of a girl named Francisca who lives on a remote farm starts simply enough but becomes a dissection of the dark side of humanity. If you’re at all squeamish about sharp objects and soft body parts, you might want to go back to another best-of-streaming list right about now and keep this one underseen.

*Girl on the Third Floor
If you miss the days of grisly body horror like we do, check into this gnarly 2019 about a man remodeling a house who makes some very bad decisions and uncovers something more than mold hidden in the walls. Wrestler C.M. Punk is legitimately excellent as the lead, channeling a ‘Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead’ energy. He plays Don Koch, a man who should have considered remodeling his personality before he started tearing down the walls of a haunted house.

*The Grandmaster
All hail Wong Kar-wai. One of the best filmmakers of his era directed this period piece starring Tony Leung as Ip Man, the legendary martial arts expert who would notoriously go on to teach Bruce Lee a thing or two. This film was treated horribly by Harvey Weinstein, and so denied the international attention it deserved. It’s a lavish, gorgeous epic that features both Wong’s incredible eye for detail and his romantic sense of storytelling.

I, Daniel Blake
Ken Loach is a deeply humanist filmmaker, one who has spent an illustrious career bringing stories of people often dismissed by the entertainment world to the screen. For his 2016 Palme d’Or winner, he tells the story of Daniel Blake, played unforgettably by Dave Johns. Blake is a 59-year-old widower who has recently had a heart attack, leading his physician to disallow him from returning to work. At the same time, he’s denied welfare assistance for his time off. So he can’t work, and the government won’t help. As he works his way through the red tape of nonsense bureaucracy, he meets a single mother named Katie (Hayley Squires), herself stuck in a web of forms and meetings. She lives in a shelter with her children, and Blake starts helping her make her way through a society that simply doesn’t seem to care. Some have criticized the ending as manipulative, and it undeniably is, but it’s also moving and unforgettable.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
Animation doesn’t always have to be for children. In fact, in most film industries around the world, it’s not. The work of GKIDS has helped to bring some of this international animation to U.S. audiences, leading to art-house hits and awards nominees like The Breadwinner and Song of the Sea. Here’s one of the company’s ventures you may not have seen, a visionary adaptation of the beloved book that gives the film its title. Voice work by Liam Neeson, Salma Hayak, Alfred Molina, and more help elevate the gorgeous visuals directed by Roger Allers, who helmed the original Lion King. The Prophet depicts a young girl listening to the tales of a poet and activist before he is deported, but that doesn’t really capture the mesmerizing tone of this film, one that weaves stories within its main story into a cohesive vision of creativity and individuality.

The Kindergarten Teacher
Sara Colangelo’s 2018 remake of Nadav Lapid’s hit 2014 Israeli film was one of the most-buzzed movies at Sundance the year it premiered, but it feels like one of those Netflix Originals that got lost in a service that releases something new every week. A character-driven drama like this is bound to get lost in the shuffle. Dig in and find the story of Lisa Spinelli, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal in one of the best performances of 2018. She’s a Staten Island kindergarten teacher who is startled when one of her students, a sweet boy named Jimmy, starts reciting beautiful poetry. Has she found a new child prodigy? Can she save him before society destroys his artistic impulses? What would the modern world do to someone like Mozart? Gyllenhaal perfectly balances the passion and potential danger within a character who becomes obsessed with a child. You won’t forget this one.

The Little Hours
Jeff Baena’s Sundance hit is one of the oddest, raunchiest comedies you could find on Netflix. Here’s all you really need to know: Aubrey Plaza is a profanity-spewing nun. Need a little more? Believe it or not, this very modern comedy is based on stories from The Decameron, which was published back in the 14th century. Plaza is joined by Alison Brie, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and Fred Armisen in a ridiculous, bawdy movie about a gardener (played by Franco) who gets trapped at a convent with a trio of crazy nuns (Plaza, Brie, and Kate Micucci). It’s reminiscent of Mel Brooks in the way it skewers classical storytelling structures with modern comic sensibilities. If you like movies such as History of the World, Part 1, you owe it to yourself to check out this inspired lunacy.

Maps to the Stars
This is looking more and more as though it could be David Cronenberg’s last movie (frowny-face emoji). The masterful filmmaker behind A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Fly hasn’t made a film since this 2014 satirical drama, written by Bruce Wagner. When it was released, audiences barely paid attention to it, and big fans of Cronenberg wrote it off as being minor in his career. Sure, but “minor Cronenberg” is still worth seeing, especially when it stars Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, and Robert Pattinson. It’s a tapestry piece, kind of like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, that captures modern life in Los Angeles, and it features yet another great performance from Moore. It’s not perfect, but there are a lot of interesting ideas in this ambitious project, and the cast alone makes it worth your time.

Mississippi Grind
Before they made a mint directing Captain Marvel and before Ryan Reynolds became Deadpool, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck led Reynolds to one of the best performances of his career alongside the always great Ben Mendelsohn in this 2015 drama. The star of Bloodline plays Gerry, a gambling addict whose addiction is fueled by a younger man named Curtis, played by Reynolds. The two end up in debt and on the road to an infamous poker game in New Orleans. It’s a very smart character piece with wonderful dialogue and an engaging plot that somehow couldn’t even scratch its way to $150k at the domestic box office, meaning very few people have seen it. Like poker? Like Bloodline? Like Reynolds? Like movies at all? Watch this one.

Ted Geoghegan continues to carve out a career as an unpredictable genre filmmaker by taking a sharp turn from his excellent We Are Still Here to this period action-horror film set early in the 19th century, right after the end of the War of 1812. So few filmmakers are willing to reckon with this country’s relationship to its indigenous people, much less turn that history into genre storytelling. Kaniehtiio Horn stars as a Mohawk woman named Oak, who is caught between her people and the British soldiers who are killing them. She has two lovers, a Mohawk warrior and a British soldier; the former ignites the drama when he sets fire to an American encampment. The surviving soldiers move to hunt down Oak and her people as Mohawk transforms into a chase movie, anchored by a physical performance from Horn and a captivating one from the villainous Ezra Buzzington.

Morris From America
After you’ve watched The Office for the umpteenth time (after all, it is the most-streamed show on Netflix), check out this underrated dramedy featuring the best acting work of one the show’s stars, Craig Robinson. The comedian plays Curtis, a single father who moves to Germany with his son, Morris, played by the wonderful Markees Christmas. More than just a typical culture-clash comedy, Morris From America is that rare thing: a coming-of-age movie that doesn’t rely on tropes to tell its story. It also features one of the most genuine father-son relationships in years, culminating in an emotional scene between the two that will bring tears to your eyes.

Mr. Roosevelt
The charming Noël Wells wrote, directed, and stars in this SXSW hit that was barely released in theaters, meaning you probably haven’t seen it. The former star of Master of None and Saturday Night Live plays Emily Martin, a young woman who returns to her hometown after the death of her cat, which gives the film its title. At home, she’s forced back into the life of an ex-boyfriend, played by Nick Thune. Not only is Wells sweet and funny, she has a strong voice as a writer-director, imbuing with honesty and heart a film that could have felt like hundreds of other fest hits. She may become a major independent filmmaker. Watch this before she does.

My Life As a Zucchini
Pixar and DreamWorks aren’t the only companies making animated films. Sure, their movies become phenomena, but history will be kinder to some of the small pieces of animation from around the world, such as this moving French stop-motion dramedy by Claude Barras; it’s a movie that transcended borders to such a degree it was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. This is one of those animations that’s not quite for kids — it opens with its protagonist accidentally killing his mother, which leads to his being taken to an orphanage. What unfolds is an episodic look at childhood through the kids who live there. Generally, we encourage viewers to watch foreign films subtitled, but the English dub here is very engaging and includes voice work by Nick Offerman, Amy Sedaris, and Will Forte.

The Night Comes for Us
If you liked the Raid movies and you haven’t seen this 2018 Timo Tjahjanto film, then you’re doing something wrong with your life. Think of this as The Raid on Steroids. Sure, there’s a plot about a Triad soldier who makes people angry when he refuses to shoot a child, but it’s merely a skeleton for some of the most insane action you’ve ever seen. Imagine a kung-fu movie in which people have knives and axes and other sharp objects instead of just their fists of fury. This is an angry, bloody mess, but there’s a rhythm and a beauty to the action choreography that’s inspired, too. It’s a movie that finds a way to make gore glorious.

The One I Love
Charlie McDowell directed this brilliant little sci-fi gem, which features two of the best performances of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. The two play a couple whose therapist (Ted Danson) suggests they take a retreat to find themselves as partners again. From the beginning, something seems just a bit off about the retreat, but the pair discovers something straight out of The Twilight Zone that we wouldn’t dare spoil here. If you don’t know the twist yet, you owe it to yourself to go in as fresh as possible. Trust us on this one — this is a smart, well-acted character piece that merges relationship drama with sci-fi concepts in a way that makes both genres feel fresh again.

Outside In
The consistent Lynn Shelton co-wrote this drama with star Jay Duplass, and it marks the best work to date of either one. The Transparent star plays Chris, a 38-year-old just released from prison after spending more than half his life behind bars. Naturally, he’s still developmentally closer to being 18 than he is to 38, and this is reflected in a quick attachment to his former high-school teacher Carol, who supported him during his incarceration and is played by the always great Edie Falco. This is a nuanced, graceful character piece about two people with very different life experiences who find themselves drawn to each other. When people say they don’t make dramas for adults like they used to, point them to this movie.

The wonderful Anton Yelchin was building a career that felt as if it could go on for decades when he passed away at far too young an age. His death gives his role in this, one of his final films, added poignancy, although Porto would be a strong drama even if he were still with us. Gabe Klinger’s dream-like film stars Yelchin and Lucie Lucas as a couple who live in the titular Portuguese city but come from very different backgrounds. Yes, it’s another romantic drama, but this one is imbued with a rare sense of place and the honesty brought to it by talented young actors. The unforgettable result plays out more like a memory than a traditional narrative.

Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls got a lot of buzz in 2018, even winning some awards for its great central performance by Regina Hall. If you liked it, check out Bujalski’s last film, another movie about a very unique working environment. The irascible Kevin Corrigan stars as Danny, one of those schlubs who suddenly finds himself wealthy and has no idea what to do with his money or his time. Why not get a personal trainer? This decision brings him into the lives of a local gym owner named Trevor (Guy Pearce) and his best employee, Kat (Cobie Smulders). The star of How I Met Your Mother is wonderful here in yet another Bujalski film that’s always about character and never quite what you expect it to be.

Roll Red Roll
In August 2012, a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio, was raped and then photographed by a group of teenage boys. The case came to light slowly, first through social-media posts by their peers and then through some investigative journalism by bloggers. Nancy Schwartzman’s documentary doesn’t examine the case itself as much as how it impacted a community. It turned out that some of the criminals were members of the very popular local high-school football team, a circumstance that influenced the way the case was investigated and reported to the public. There are a lot of true crime docs on Netflix but few that look at the impact of crime on an entire city the way this one attempts to.

Billy Corben’s documentary comes that wonderful subgenre of films that could be called “stranger than fiction.” Someday, someone will make an award-winning black comedy about the Biogenesis scandal that rocked Major League Baseball, but it probably won’t be as hysterical as hearing the story straight from the mouths of the men who lived it. Even if you think you know all the details of the Florida company that fed performance-enhancing drugs to major athletes, you probably don’t know all of the wonderful details (especially when it comes to the insane life of Alex Rodriguez, whom you will never be able to look at the same way again).

If you’re looking for an action movie on Netflix that you might not have seen, look no further than Zhang Yimou’s latest, a movie barely released in the States but one that made almost $100 million in the rest of the world. The director of Hero and House of the Flying Daggers returns to period action with this story of warring kingdoms. It’s not a film that you’ll appreciate for its storytelling as much as its daring visual style, one that turns action choreography into something closer to ballet or performance art. It’s mesmerizing and beautiful.

Slow West
This is not your typical Western. Shot through with a surreal sensibility, John Maclean’s Sundance hit plays out more like a dream you would have after a marathon of the beloved genre. Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as a Scotsman who travels to the Old West to find the woman he loves but ends up crossing paths with a bounty hunter, played by the great Michael Fassbender. The pair is stalked by a much more villainous hunter named Victor, played by the also great Ben Mendelsohn. It’s fun to watch two excellent actors like Fassbender and Mendelsohn play with genre tropes, and the whole film has the air of a fairy tale as much as a Western. It’s hard to describe — you just need to see it for yourself.

*The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, researchers and professors at Stanford University started what would become an internationally renowned experiment. They brought together male students and told half of them they would be prisoners and half of them that they would be prison guards. Relatively quickly, the guards abused their power, revealing how much people, especially young men, will do when given the chance. The film about this dangerous experiment stars Billy Crudup, Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby, and more familiar faces.

Starred Up
Before David Mackenzie made Hell or High Water and before Jack O’Connell made Godless the two collaborated on this daring drama, a breakthrough film about a father and son who define their relationship behind bars. The title refers to what happens when a juvenile offender ages up in the system, going from a facility that holds children to one that holds violent adults. The person doing so in this case happens to be moving up to a prison that houses his sociopathic father, played by Ben Mendelsohn. It’s a dark, riveting character study.

Super Dark Times
Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan star in this little-seen 2017 thriller about a horrible accident and what it does to two of the kids involved. Four teenage boys are just being dumb teens when they find a katana among the belongings of one of the kids’ brothers. They do what boys do, taking it to the park and slicing up milk cartons, but things turn tragic when a fight erupts and someone gets sliced. A hidden body and intense guilt turn what starts as a coming-of-age piece into something much darker. This is smart, engaging storytelling with a great turn from Tahan as a boy who will be forever changed by what happened in that park.

The great Kiersey Clemons plays Jennifer, a woman who washes up on a deserted island after a shipwreck that kills her friend and sends the other passengers into the water. She’s alone, fighting against the elements and figuring out how to survive. And then she discovers, well, she’s not alone. A blend of monster movie plot points, gender commentary, and survivor story, this is a great indie horror gem that deserves a bigger audience. Watch it before your best friend tells you to.

Swiss Army Man
Yes, it’s the farting-corpse movie. Daniel Radcliffe plays a dead guy who farts a lot in one of the absolute strangest movies you could possibly stream here. Paul Dano is the sole resident of a deserted island, on which Radcliffe’s corpse washes ashore one day. Dano’s loner basically becomes friends with the dead guy, and, well, things get incredibly surreal from there. Consistently funny and inventive, and anchored by a pair of great performances, Swiss Army Man is not your typical buddy comedy. It may not be for everyone, but it’s undeniably one of the most ambitious and deliriously oddball movies you could watch with your Netflix subscription.

Take Me
Chicagoan Pat Healy has become one of the most consistent character actors of his generation, starring in terrific movies big (The Post) and small (Cheap Thrills). He’s constantly working, and he has used that capital to direct his first feature, a clever screwball comedy starring himself and Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling. Ray (Healy) runs a unique business that one can use for a sort of very intense intervention: People ask Ray to kidnap them. (For example, he absconds with a man who regularly cheats on his diet to force him to shape up.) But after Anna (Schilling) hires Ray, she starts to push the rules, and, well, things get truly odd. It’s sort of a screwball thriller, if there is such a thing. Well, there is now.

This is a perfect example of a movie that feels truly buried by Netflix. If a studio had released this delightful romantic dramedy in theaters, even just in major cities, people would have noticed. It’s smart, funny, and contains a pair of wonderful young performances. But it got hidden on Netflix in April 2017, and no one talks about it. Get your search function going and find the story of Danny (Callum Turner) and Ellie (Grace Van Patten), two struggling New Yorkers drawn together over a mysterious briefcase. Even if the narrative gets a little goofy, the infectious energy of the two leads keeps this flick, which is basically a caper movie, humming.

Walking Out
Josh Wiggins stars as David, a young man who goes on a hunting trip in the frozen wilderness with his father Cal (Matt Bomer), from whom he is estranged and couldn’t be more different. As the two struggle to come together as father and son, a violent incident leads to Cal being injured, which means David will have to grow up fast. Some of the generational and lifestyle differences between the two men feel a bit overwritten but the film is visually striking, really giving one the sense of danger in their situation. If you like survival movies and haven’t seen this one, watch it with your dad.

We the Animals
Jeremiah Zagar’s adaptation of the hit Justin Torres book was a major player at the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards and is the kind of film a streaming service like Netflix could really help bring to a wider audience. Sadly, it’s also the kind of film likely to get lost in an overcrowded streaming service if you don’t know to search for it. It’s a story of adolescence, a tough upbringing shown through the eyes of three brothers, although our perspective is mostly that of Jonah, who is forced to deal with an abusive and often distant father and the discovery of his own sexuality. It’s somehow poetic and genuine at the same time, which is no easy feat for any filmmaker. Zagar uses a grainy 16mm approach to ground the movie in something that feels tactile, while also allowing for what sometimes feels like magic.

The 40 Best Movies on Netflix You Probably Haven’t Seen