This article will be updated as great new original titles arrive on Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
The Netflix Original movie has become a genre unto itself, winning Oscars, launching careers, and producing films with budgets that would make the Hollywood studios think twice. It feels like there’s a new Netflix Original film every week — sometimes more — and so it’s become difficult to know which ones are really worth watching. This list of the 20 best films to sport the Netflix Original logo will be updated as warranted with new entries. We’ve tallied the best horror, comedy, family and overall movies on Netflix; these are the best titles out of the company’s own filmmaking machine.
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
Director: Ava DuVernay
The director of Selma helmed the first truly great Netflix documentary in this searing examination of the mass incarceration industry in this country. Named after the amendment that abolished slavery, the film examines how elements of servitude that were allegedly eliminated merely transitioned into the systems of policing and imprisonment. It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary. It should have won.
Runtime: 2h 12m
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen brothers delivered one of their most inventive and enjoyable films in this anthology film that tells a series of stories with a Western theme. Tim Blake Nelson sets the stage beautifully with his opening bit about a singing cowboy, but there are a number of scene-stealers here including Harry Melling, Tom Waits, and Bill Heck. It’s one of the most underrated modern Westerns.
Runtime: 2h 17m
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
The first major critical darling Netflix film is still one of the service’s best. Based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, this is the tale of a child who becomes a soldier in his country as it undergoes a brutal civil war. Moving and unforgiving, it features one of the career-best performances from Idris Elba.
Runtime: 2h 14m
Director: Charlie Kaufman
The Oscar-winning writer of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind delivered one of his most creative films in this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Iain Reid. Jessie Buckley is incredible as a young woman who goes with her mediocre boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis). Or does she? A film that starts to fracture narratively becomes more of a commentary on gender roles and storytelling than anything straightforward.
Runtime: 3h 29m
Director: Martin Scorsese
Also known as I Heard You Paint Houses, this epic drama is one of the most ambitious and impressive films in the career of arguably the best American filmmaker. Scorsese and Steven Zaillian adapted the nonfiction book by Charles Brandt about a modest, ordinary truck driver named Frank (Robert De Niro, giving his best late-career performance) who gets embroiled in the mob in the era of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). A moving tapestry of the criminal underworld in the 20th century, it’s a monumental achievement in filmmaking.
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director: Sara Colangelo
Adapting the 2014 film of the same name, this Sundance drama features the best film performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. The versatile actress plays an ordinary kindergarten teacher from Staten Island who becomes convinced that a student in her poetry class is a child prodigy. What would you do if you thought you had stumbled on the next creative genius? Gyllenhaal’s character pushes boundaries and ethics to nurture his talent in what becomes a fascinating psychological study about a woman on the edge of sanity.
Runtime: 1h 37m
Director: Sergio Pablos
A little movie that could, this animated Christmas adventure was so critically beloved that it competed with giants like Pixar and DreamWorks for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s a delightful little fable about a postman who ends up stationed so far to the north that he meets a reclusive toymaker there named Klaus. Yes, it’s a Santa Claus origin story. With lovely, old-fashioned style, this is the kind of joyous film that the whole family can watch any time of year.
Runtime: 2h 1m
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal
The actress Maggie Gyllenhaal made a confident and remarkable directorial debut with this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante, which earned two of its stars — Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley — Oscar nominations for their performances. Colman does career-best work as a woman who encounters an extended family while on a Grecian vacation. The young mother (an excellent Dakota Johnson) reminds her of herself, leading to flashbacks about a time in her life when she may have not really wanted to be a parent. A smart drama for adults, this is exactly the kind of film that people complain doesn’t really get made anymore.
Runtime: 2h 16m
Director: Noah Baumbach
The director of The Squid and the Whale and While We’re Young delivered one of his most personal films in this drama that would become his most successful film to date. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver do some of the best work of their careers as a couple going through an increasingly messy divorce. Laura Dern won her first Oscar for her work in a film that was also nominated for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress. It’s a film that feels so true that it hurts.
Runtime: 1h 52m
Director: Noah Baumbach
The writer/director of Marriage Story also directed another great Netflix Original just two years prior to his Oscar winner. This excellent dramedy features one of Adam Sandler’s best screen performances as Danny, one of the dysfunctional members of the Meyerowitz clan, which also includes Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Candice Bergen. A sprawling character study of an entire family, it’s a truthful and very funny piece of filmmaking.
Runtime: 1h 53m
Directors: Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe
Originally planned for a theatrical release by Sony (with the much-worse title Connected), the studio sold this off to Netflix during the pandemic … and probably regretted that decision. One of the most critically and commercially beloved animated films of 2021, this is an incredibly smart and sweet family vacation movie, a comedy that’s as much about a tender relationship between a father and daughter as is the fact that they end up having to save the world together.
Runtime: 2h 14m
Director: Dee Rees
Dee Rees (Pariah) returned to Sundance with one of the most impressive historical dramas to ever premiere there, and Netflix opened their wallets to pick up a film that would earn four Oscar nominations, including two for star Mary J. Blige. This film is an ensemble piece about two World War II vets (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) who return to the deep South and encounter very different responses to their homecomings. It’s a powerful and unforgettable examination of racial violence in this country with an ensemble that’s phenomenal from top to bottom.
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Before he won all those awards for Parasite, the great Korean director Bong Joon-ho helmed the quirkiest film of his career in this story of a super pig named Okja. After the massive creature is pulled from the safety of his homelife and thrust into the nefarious world of the meat industry, his best friend has to go on a mission to save him. Featuring some of the craziest performances from Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, this is an underrated comedy that has personality to spare. It’s certainly like nothing else on Netflix.
Runtime: 1h 39m
Director: Rebecca Hall
The star of Christine and Resurrection proved she’s a talent behind the camera too in this directorial debut, an adaptation of the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga do career-best work as a pair of old friends who are reunited on a hot New York day. Negga’s character has been “passing,” allowing the people around her, including her husband, to believe she is white. The renewed friendship opens new emotions in both women, leading to an inevitable tragedy.
Runtime: 2h 6m
Director: Jane Campion
The film that finally won an Oscar for Jane Campion for directing is one of the most acclaimed in the history of the streaming giant. Campion helmed this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, the story of a vicious landowner (Benedict Cumberbatch) who torments the new wife (Kirsten Dunst) of his brother (Jesse Plemons). A drama that plays like a thriller, this gorgeously rendered period piece unpacks themes of toxic masculinity and manipulation in a way that makes it impossible to turn away. It’s not just one of the best Netflix Original films, it’s one of the best, period, of the 2020s so far.
Runtime: 2h 17m
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti star in this personal, powerful story of a middle-aged New York couple who decide they’d like to have a child. The truth about fertility treatments and the pain around what it takes to have a baby late in life has never been so genuinely portrayed in a dramatic feature film. And anyone who fell in love with Hahn after her Emmy-nominated work in WandaVision should check out what she delivers in her career-best work here just to see her remarkable range.
Runtime: 1h 56m
Director: Robert Greene
The fantastic documentarian behind Kate Plays Christine directed his best work to date in this 2021 story of a group of abuse survivors who stage theatrical performances related to their trauma. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s actually an empowering one in the way Greene captures how much these men end up collaborating and supporting each other. Art takes teamwork, and Greene proves that recovery can also require a shoulder to lean on.
Runtime: 2h 15m
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
A multiple Oscar winner (including Cinematography and Director), this personal drama might be the most acclaimed film in the history of the Netflix Original pipeline. Also nominated for Best Picture, Actress, and Supporting Actress, among others, it’s a story of a Mexican family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the early ‘70s, seen through the eyes of their housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio). Short in gorgeous black and white, it’s an unforgettably moving motion picture.
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
The Hamilton wunderkind made his directorial debut with a film that was clearly very close to his Broadway heart, an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name by Jonathan Larson. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Rent first penned this deeply personal piece about trying to find your voice and use it to breakthrough on stage. Andrew Garfield earned an Oscar nomination for playing Larson in a film that theater kids will be watching for generations to come.
Runtime: 2h 5m
Director: Fernando Meirelles
The director of City of God adapted the play The Pope by Anthony McCarten into this two-hander showcase for the great Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. Hopkins plays Pope Benedict XVI as he tries to convince Pryce’s Cardinal Bergoglio to take the throne as the most important figure in the Catholic faith. What follows is a sharply written study of faith and friendship, elevated by a pair of all-time great actors.
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