This article is updated frequently as movies leave and enter Peacock, which you can sign up for here. New titles are indicated with an asterisk.
Who’s ready for another streaming service? NBCUniversal has jumped into the crowded pool in 2020 with the launch of its long-awaited Peacock, a new destination for everything from classic monster movies to episodes of 30 Rock to original programming.
But as with all of these services, it can all be a little overwhelming. How do you dig through the hundreds of films in the Peacock library to find what’s best?
The truth is that Peacock’s film catalogue is a little thin and a little strange (there’s an amazing number of B-movies like Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus), but it does have some of the weight of the Universal brand and all its history, including classic franchises and recent hits (and the service will likely have more when licensing deals expire with other streaming platforms). But until the selection expands, you can’t go wrong with any of the following 50 films.
James Mangold remade the 1957 Western classic a half-century later with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the lead roles as a notorious outlaw and the rancher who has to bring him in for justice, respectively. It’s a great ensemble piece that also includes Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, and Vinessa Shaw.
Ron Howard directed this beloved 1995 historical drama about the dangerous space mission that nearly killed three American astronauts. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton star as the space travelers with a great cast joining them on the ground, including Oscar nominee Ed Harris. The is movie still hits over 25 years later.
Director Werner Herzog was an unexpected choice for an unexpected sequel to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant, but this isn’t your normal sequel. In fact, it has nothing really to do with that first film other than it also centering a corrupt cop. Nicolas Cage gives one of his most unhinged and impressive performances here, and that’s really saying something.
Richard Linklater directed this black comedy based on the true story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a man who befriended an elderly Texas woman named Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) and ended up murdering her. It’s a quirky little movie with one of Black’s best performances and a great supporting turn by Matthew McConaughey.
Patton Oswalt is phenomenal in the 2009 thriller about toxic fandom. The stand-up comedian plays Paul, an average New Yorker with an outsize love for the New York Giants. Paul randomly runs into a Giants player in Staten Island, setting off a sequence of events driven by Paul’s need for acceptance and attention.
Joel and Ethan Coen followed up the biggest hit of their careers win Fargo with the story of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, unforgettably played by Jeff Bridges. In one of his most iconic roles, Bridges captures a kind of lazy L.A. style that turned this flick into a comedy classic, a movie that’s being quoted somewhere in the world on every minute of every day.
Most people who love A Christmas Story probably don’t realize that the same director (Bob Clark) made another holiday classic with a very different tone. This is one of the most influential slasher pics of all time, the story of a group of sorority sisters who are cut down one by one over the holiday season. It was remade in 2019 with an interesting twist but the 1974 classic is the one on Peacock.
In 1986, Oliver Stone tackled what it was like to be in country in his personal Platoon, and only three years later he followed up with a story about what it was like to come home from Vietnam in the story of Ron Kovacs. Tom Cruise does arguably the best work of his career in this powerful deconstruction of patriotism and examination of the human cost of war.
Ryan Reynolds does his best non-costume film work in this 2010 thriller about a man who wakes up to find he’s been buried alive. Largely a one-man show, this is a clever filmmaking exercise as Reynolds does everything he can to avoid his underground fate. Tense and clever, it premiered at Sundance and has become something of a cult classic in the decade since.
Joel and Ethan Coen followed their Best Picture winner No Country For Old Men with one of their most cynical and hysterical movies, a comedy of errors about some incredibly stupid people. Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, John Malkovich, and J.K. Simmons star in a movie that’s basically about, well, a bunch of total idiots. No one drops an f-bomb like John Malkovich.
Most viewers probably know more of the Robert De Niro remake (at least in GIF form) but people should revisit the 1962 original, a great showcase for the star power of Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Of course, Peck plays the good guy, the attorney who is stalked and terrorized by the criminal, played unforgettably by Mitchum, one of cinema’s best bad guys.
Children of Men
The adoration for this 2006 sci-fi thriller seems to grow with each passing year. Clive Owen stars in the story of a society on the edge of collapse because of worldwide infertility and how everything changes when a sign of hope for the future appears.
David Cronenberg co-wrote and directed the terrifying story of identical twin gynecologists played unforgettably by Jeremy Irons, giving one of the best performances of his career. Irons plays Elliot and Beverly Mantle, infertility experts with a twisted practice of seducing clients and passing them off to one another. And then it gets really weird.
The Deer Hunter
One of the most iconic Vietnam War movies came not long after the end of the war and seared itself so completely into the American experience that it won the Oscar for Best Picture. Michael Cimino directs a story of steelworkers who are forever changed by the Vietnam War, guiding fantastic performances from Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Meryl Streep. It won Walken his only Oscar.
Sam Raimi left the Spider-man franchise aside to return to his horror roots with this intense story of possession and evil from 2009. Alison Lohman stars as a woman who chooses not to extend the mortgage of an elderly woman and learns that hard way that curses are real. One of the best horror movies of the ‘00s, it’s a film that will make you wish Raimi still made genre flicks.
There’s a bizarre flow of classic Universal movies on Peacock, coming and going with each month. Currently through the revolving door is one of the most beloved films that Universal ever made, this Steven Spielberg classic about a boy who befriends an alien who just wants to go home. Introduce it to a new generation or revisit it for the first time since it wowed you when you were a kid.
David Cronenberg directed this fantastic 2007 gangster flick that’s become iconic for a naked fight scene, but the movie around that is pretty great too. Naomi Watts stars as a midwife who uncovers a Russian prostitution ring that draws in the son of the godfather played by Vincent Cassel and an enforcer, played by Viggo Mortensen, in one of his best screen performances.
Michel Gondry directed Charlie Kaufman’s script into one of the best films of the ‘00s, a story of romance and regret. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are breathtaking as an estranged couple who have decided to erase the memory of their relationship from their minds. Would you remove a formative part of your life because the heartbreak was too painful? This is a straight-up masterpiece.
Comedies of the ‘80s have a habit of rolling from one streaming service to the next one, but this 1982 classic hasn’t been readily available on any subscription service in the last few years. It’s exclusively on Peacock right now, so check out Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling’s formative coming-of-age comedy with one of the most iconic performances of its era from Sean Penn.
One of Chevy Chase’s top screen performances came in this 1985 comedy based on the hit novels by Gregory McDonald. The character of a reporter nicknamed Fletch who gets drawn into an investigation after being asked to kill a millionaire is perfect for Chase, blending his physical comedy ability with that oversized ego.
With Ron Howard directing, Peter Morgan adapted his own play into this Best Picture nominee that also earned an Oscar nod for its star, Frank Langella. Along with co-star Michael Sheen, the actors who originated the roles in London and on Broadway stepped into the characters of David Frost and Richard Nixon, using their legendary interview as an analysis of image and power.
Long before he directed Frances McDormand to an Oscar for Three Billboards, Martin McDonagh wrote and directed this pitch-black 2008 comedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a pair of hitmen stuck in purgatory aka Bruges, Belgium. McDonagh’s dialogue is razor-sharp, but it’s the performances from Farrell and Gleeson that really make this comedy deadly.
If you’ve fallen in love with Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods on Netflix last year, take the time to check out when the master director put his spin on the heist film with this great 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle. The regular collaborator plays an NYPD hostage negotiator, called in when a bank heist goes down on Wall Street. Tight and effective, this is just further evidence that Spike Lee can nail any kind of movie he chooses to make.
The great Christopher Abbott broke through in this 2015 drama, which premiered at that year’s Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Josh Mond, Abbott plays an irresponsible, self-destructed young man with almost no focus in his life until his mother (a moving Cynthia Nixon) comes down with terminal cancer. It’s an emotional story of an isolated loner forced to grow up by the sheer force of mortality.
The Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy and Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Actress, The Kids Are All Right is a tender, personal story that was one of the first mainstream films to center same-sex parents. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are phenomenal as the parents of two teenagers, dealing with everything that comes with those roles. Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson co-star.
Its gender politics seem shakier than when it came out, but Judd Apatow’s biggest hit still works because of the intelligence of its screenplay and commitment of its cast, especially Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. The story of a man forced to grow up when his one-night stand gets pregnant errs a bit too much on the side of the male view, but one can’t deny the pure laughs-per-minute ratio. It’s fun to contrast this with the recent Long Shot to see how much Rogen has changed (and how much he really hasn’t).
Land of the Dead
Two decades after it appeared George A. Romero’s Dead series of films had ended, the master director returned with a stunner, one of the best horror films of the 2000s. Just as the other films intertwined social issues with zombie horror, Land of the Dead skewered the division on the country in a way that makes it feel ahead of its time already. All of the Dead films have been.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without arguments over whether or not this 2003 Richard Curtis ensemble rom-com is any good. And yet Peacock decided to avoid that discussion in 2020 by dropping it on their service in January 2021. Tricky! You probably know already if you love or hate this…actually.
The adaptation of the hit stage musical of the same name based on Abba’s music is one of the biggest films of all time, making over $600 million worldwide and playing constantly somewhere. Now it’s also playing on Peacock! Why do people love Mamma Mia? It’s got a lot to do with the infectious music, but there’s also a great deal of likability in this charming cast. It’s a hard movie to hate.
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.
Spike Lee followed up the critical smash hit of Do the Right Thing with a very different kind of drama in the story of a jazz trumpeter named Bleek Gilliam and the women in his life. Denzel Washington gives a charming and fascinating performance in a movie that plays like a jazz composition with its free-flowing style.
The Motorcycle Diaries
Walter Salles approached the legacy of Che Guevara in an unexpected manner by telling the story of his days as a young man in this 2004 biopic. Gael Garcia Bernal gives one of his best performances as Guevara in the chapter of his life wherein he traveled across South America in 1952. It’s a smart, visually striking film that feels overdue for a reappreciation.
The rap on documentaries is that they’re not as much fun as action movies or blockbusters. Disprove that to your friends by making them watch Murderball, an amazing 2005 doc about wheelchair rugby. It charts the rivalry between teams of wheelchair rugby players leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games; it’s inspiring and riveting nonfiction storytelling.
Clive Barker wrote and directed an adaptation of his Cabal and released it to a much more muted response than greeted his hit Hellraiser. Over the years, Nightbreed has developed a loyal following, in part due to the various versions of it now available. The one on Amazon is the theatrical, in which Craig Sheffer plays a man who becomes convinced his therapist is a serial killer, and his own investigation leads him to a tribe of monsters. Good times.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
In 1979, Werner Herzog released his daring vision of the classic F.W. Murnau film Nosferatu. Klaus Kinski plays Count Dracula, Isabelle Adjani is Lucy Harker, and Bruno Ganz is Jonathan Harker in this unforgettable mood piece, a movie that’s so unsettling that one wonders if Kinski might actually be a bloodsucker. It remains one of Herzog’s most popular films for a reason.
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.
Pride & Prejudice
One of the best Jane Austen adaptations ever remains the 2005 version of one of her most beloved novels, the film that put Keira Knightley on the map. Directed by Joe Wright, this version is relatively faithful to the source, but it’s filmed with such passion and grace that it’s easy to get lost in it again and again.
Scent of a Woman
It would be hard to find a person who believes that the best performance of Al Pacino’s career was in this 1992 drama, but it is the only one that won the legendary actor an Oscar (which just proves how silly awards can be). Why did the Academy take to this role of a blind Army officer? It’s showy in a way that has influenced Pacino impressions, but it’s better than its reputation, revealing how even when Pacino goes for the broad strokes, he can make it more interesting than most other actors could even dream.
Steven Spielberg’s personal masterpiece is the saga of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish refugees in Poland during the Holocaust. Spielberg is one of our greatest film historians, telling chapters of world history in a way that only he can, and this remains one of his most notable achievements, a reminder of the power of extreme good even in the face of extreme evil.
They just don’t make many movies like Secretary anymore. Based on the short story by Mary Gaitskill, this is the story of a deeply sexual BDSM relationship that forms between a lawyer (James Spader) and his secretary, played perfectly by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Both performers are fearless, but it’s the trick tonal balance of this truly odd movie that makes it memorable.
Short Term 12
Long before she would be Captain Marvel, Brie Larson played a worker at a group home for troubled teenagers in this powerful drama. Based on his own experience, Destin Daniel Cretton wrote and directed this critical darling that now looks like a launchpad for a generation of stars including Larson, Lakeith Stanfield, Rami Malek, Stephanie Beatriz, John Gallagher Jr., and Kaitlyn Dever.
No, not the Hitchcock classic about spies but the 2002 Oscar nominee that’s about spelling. Jeffrey Blitz directed this funny and heartwarming study of eight contestants during the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Come to think of it, this movie is perfect for a follow-up. Wouldn’t you love to know where these kids are two decades later?
Everyone seems to love Ben Mendelsohn now, but the actor wasn’t really known at all when he appeared in this searing 2013 drama, a film that also introduced the world to Jack O’Connell. The younger star plays a boy who “graduates” from the juvenile detention program to the adult one, where his dad, played by Mendelsohn, happens to also be an inmate. It’s a great character piece for both actors.
State of Play
Looking for a good thriller? This one is better than its reputation (although not quite as good as the 2003 British mini-series of the same name). Russell Crowe plays a journalist who investigates the death of a woman who’s been sleeping with a congressman, played by Ben Affleck. The great ensemble also includes Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, and Jeff Daniels.
Loosely based on a true story, The Strangers is one of the best home invasion flicks of the modern era. It’s the terrifyingly relatable story of a couple, played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, who are attacked in their vacation home in the middle of the night. Made for almost nothing, the movie was a huge smash, tapping into something we all fear could happen when we hear a strange sound outside in the middle of the night.
John Carpenter adapted the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” into one of the master filmmaker’s best works. Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster star in the story of a pair of sunglasses that reveal that the people in power in this country aren’t human. A movie that works as social satire and sheer horror, it’s remained powerful and felt current while other films of its era have entirely disappeared from memory.
Steven Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro won Oscars for their epic examination of the illegal drug trade at the turn of the century. One of the incredible craftsman’s best films, it tackles no less than the entire structure of drugs in North America, intertwining stories of users, politicians, traffickers, and lawmen. Some of it feels a little dated, but the sheer force of the filmmaking will always be timeless.
Peacock may have lost their collection of the master’s actual films, but this 2008 Brad Anderson thriller could fit the bill if you’re looking for a Hitchcock fix. It owes a great deal to the master of suspence in the way it captures average people caught up in a very not-average situation. Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara, and Emily Mortimer star in a movie for which it’s truly best if you know as little as possible going in. International train travel and mystery – what more do you want to know?
Remember when Angelina Jolie was one of the world’s biggest action stars? Revisit those crazy days with Wanted, the 2008 adaptation of the Mark Millar comic book miniseries about a group of professional assassins. James McAvoy plays an average joe who discovers he’s the son of one of the assassins and tries to join the group. It goes violently, and in very entertaining ways.
Adam Wingard’s thriller exploded after its TIFF premiere way back in 2011 and became a reasonable hit for Lionsgate. It’s easy to see why. A home invasion thriller with a twist it’s another tale of a family attacked by masked assailants, but it has personality and style that’s usually lacking in this genre. Did you like Wingard’s The Guest? This one is just as good.