25 of the best movies on Netflix right now
What’sWhat’s the best movie I can watch on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the question, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s oddly specific genre menus, and getting overwhelmed by the constantly shifting trend menus. Netflix’s huge catalogue of movies, combined with its inscrutable recommendations algorithm, can make finding something to watch feel more like a chore than a way to unwind when really what you want are the good movies. No… the best movies.
We’re here to help. For those suffering from choice paralysis, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from taut thrillers to international hits to some newly minted classics. We’ll be updating this list monthly as Netflix cycles movies in and out of its library, so be sure to check back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix home screen.
In 2010, George Clooney starred as an aging man with a gun who was ready to hang up his scope. Very few people saw the movie, and based on the movie’s “D-” Cinemascore in exit polls, those who did were caught off guard. Instead of a slick, Bourne-esque espionage thriller, The American was a Euro-mood piece in which photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn descended deeper and deeper into Clooney’s ice-cold gaze. Set in Rome, the film is steamy and noir-ish, finding exhilaration in the assassin’s attempts to complete one last job with as little emotion as possible. But for all the seriousness and atmosphere, there’s still a pulpy, page-turner quality to the film’s second half — think of the whole package as Bond for the art house crowd. —Matt Patches
Julian Schnabel’s 2018 biographical drama stars Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, following the late Impressionist master in the final years of his life as he struggles with aspersions towards his artistic career and ability as well as his own tortured psyche. Named for van Gogh’s 1890 painting, At Eternity’s Gate is a dreamlike work of art, diving into the painter’s point of view as the picture violently spasms and shakes as his life becomes increasingly more dire. Dafoe’s performance was celebrated at the time of the film’s release, earning him his fourth Oscar nomination at the 91st Academy Awards. —TE
In Western terms, this Tollywood production — the most expensive Indian film ever at the time of its release — is like a biblical epic by way of Marvel Studios, with a little Hamlet and Step Up thrown in for good measure. The Beginning chronicles the life of Shivudu, an adventurer with superhuman strength who escapes his provincial life by scaling a skyscraper-sized waterfall, aides and romances a rebel warrior named Avanthika, then teams up with her to rescue a kidnapped queen from an evil emperor. Exploding with hyper-choreographed fight sequences and CG spectacle (not to mention a handful of musical numbers with equal bravura), The Beginning is 159 minutes of mythical excess. The film goes big like only Indian film can, and rests on the muscular shoulders of its hero, the single-name actor Prabhas. If you fall hard for it, get pumped — this is only part one. The twist leads into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, another two-and-a-half-hour epic currently streaming on Netflix. —Matt Patches
The Coen brothers’ amiable slacker chronicle has been analyzed a thousand different ways, in the search for metaphor and meaning. But ultimately it’s best appreciated for what it is, as fundamentally a movie about the lack of meaning. A couple of thugs break into the home of “laziest man in Los Angeles” Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a low-key hippie burnout who goes by “The Dude.” They demand he pay his debts and they piss on his rug, but he quickly realizes they have the wrong Jeffrey Lebowski. So he goes on a wandering quest to find the other one, and ask him to pay for the ruined rug. (“That rug really tied the room together.”) Something like a rambling comic noir, The Big Lebowski operates as a string of encounters, as The Dude hangs out with friends and acquaintances (played by John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro) and meets new people (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare, Julianne Moore, David Thewlis, Flea). The cast alone makes the film worth watching, but the film’s endless quotability also makes it a cultural necessity. —Tasha Robinson
A sense of frustration suffuses every part of Lee Chang-dong’s hypnotic adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning.” Focusing on would-be writer Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), whose listlessness is interrupted first by the appearance of his childhood friend Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and then her charismatic friend, Ben (Steven Yeun), Burning unfolds at an almost maddeningly deliberate pace as Lee tangles with class, country, and everything in between, turning a three-way relationship into the seed of a mystery-thriller. With a conclusion that could be interpreted in a million different ways — and stunning performances from the three leads, particularly Yeun, who proves utterly unreadable — it’s a film that’s impossible to shake.
Chinatown, about a private investigator caught up in an extensive conspiracy, is a deeply cynical mystery and one of the all-time great noirs. It comes complete with the usual trifecta of a patsy hero, the femme fatale who needs him, and the rich man who appears to be at the bottom of the conspiracy. But Chinatown upends a lot of the traditional noir expectations, in favor of a long and twisty scheme that Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) has to unravel, one baffling and dangerous piece at a time. It’s significant that Jake isn’t the usual down-on-his-luck noir bottom-feeder, scraping to get by: He begins the story as a success story, a smug and snappy dresser who feels he knows his place in the world, until the movie upends it bit by bit. It’s a terrific character study, but as the world gets darker around Jake, and he realizes how little he really knows, it becomes a kind of haunting horror story, too. —TR
Central Florida is a weird place to be a kid from a poor family. You grow up in the shadow of corporate dreamlands, where people from around the world come to live out a fantasy of a weekend at the “happiest” places on Earth, fueled by workers who historically have made an average of $10 an hour. Directed by Sean Baker, The Florida Project is one small story set in this shadow, about a six-year-old girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a Kissimmee motel called The Magic Castle with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), who, trying to make ends meet, often leaves Moonee to her own devices, and the reluctant supervision of motel manager Bobby (Willem Defoe). The Florida Project is one of the best stories about Central Florida and Walt Disney World, a story about childlike wonder and joy a stone’s throw away from its monolithic commercialization, and the economic hardship that keeps the monied dreams of tourists afloat. —Joshua Rivera
David Fincher’s The Game is full of so many twists and turns — and twists of those turns and turns of those twists — that it might make your head spin. A successful, yet lonesome businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is gifted a personalized “real-life game” by his estranged brother, who promises it’ll change his life. The titular game begins pretty harmlessly, but then starts to grow increasingly more personal, delving into his inner demons and repressed memories. But it’s all just for fun, isn’t it? Nothing is real? Or is it? —Petrana Radulovic
With David Lowery’s The Green Knight finally headed to theaters in July, it’s as good a time as ever to get caught up on his extremely diverse and distinctive work. It’s a little hard to believe the same man who made the Disney live-action reboot Pete’s Dragon, the parched romance Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and the amiable bank-robbery charmer The Old Man & the Gun. But easily the biggest outlier in his filmography is the fantastically weird cosmic romance A Ghost Story, about a man who dies young and winds up haunting his own house. It’s a slow-moving, melancholy movie about love, death, and grief, until abruptly it’s none of those things, and is instead about time and change. But throughout it all, it’s swoony and weird and unique, the kind of movie that baffles comfort-seekers and delights cinephiles, because no one else could have made this particular movie, or come up with this particular story. —TR
Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a surreal character study that at times feels like an internal monologue. It’s dream logic is likely to leave even the most open-hearted movie-watcher wondering: What does it all mean? If the film were a J.J. Abrams joint, it might feel like a puzzle to solve. But in Kaufman’s hands, the drama — which grapples with aging, grief, ballet dancing, earworm jingles, tidy Hollywood movies, and the lives we imagine for ourselves — is more of a pop tragedy with room for annotations.
In the spirit of his debut, Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman’s story of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time is a vessel for the unspoken aches and pains and anxieties of everyday life. The frames are layered with visual motifs, and the drama is never as literal as it seems — and when it slips into horror movie territory, the experience becomes even blurrier. The film is technically an adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, but fans of Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich will see Kaufman’s fingerprints over every choice. —MP
Recorded entirely from his own home over the course of year during the COVID-19 pandemic, comedian Bo Burnham’s 2021 comedy special Inside is a biting piece of gallows entertainment that not only documents the deteriorating effects of the isolation brought about by quarantine but the deleterious emotional impact of performativity in our always-online world. With over a dozen catchy earworm music numbers and memorable skits expertly shot and edited by Burnham himself, Inside is as entertaining as it illuminating as a time capsule for one of the most challenging and terrifying periods in recent human history. And it’s cinematic enough that we’re bumping it up to “movie pick” status. —TE
The Killing of a Sacred Deer, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to his 2015 breakout The Lobster, sees the return of actor Colin Farrell, this time in the role of cardiac surgeon Steven Murphy. Steven is ensnared in an insidious situation with a young teenager named Martin (Barry Keoghan) following a mysterious incident, one which demands that he sacrifice the life of one of his family members in order to spare all of them the pain of a horrifying death. Chilling in its abject inscrutability and malice, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a engrossing psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. —TE
Andrew Dominik’s pitch-black 2012 neo-noir Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan, a mob enforcer tasked with restoring order in the wake of three small-time crooks’ attempt to rob a Mafia poker game. Set in Boston on the euphoric cusp of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, Killing Them Softly is a bitter and bleak crime thriller with a final scene and speech whose words will stay with you for years to come. —TE
Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 The Manchurian Candidate ranks as one of the most unsettling movies I have ever seen. The film updates the original’s Korean War backdrop to that of the Gulf War, as veteran Bennet Marco is plagued by frightening dreams concerning his deployment alongside Sergeant First Class Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), now a New York Congressman and vice presidential hopeful. As Marco works to uncover the truth behind these disturbing visions, he inadvertently stumbles upon a vast and insidious conspiracy of mind boggling scope and its potential orchestrators — the mysterious Manchurian corporation and their inscrutable benefactors. Throw this one on if you’re primed and ready to be freaked the fuck out. —TE
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film The Master stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran turned drifter who becomes the right hand man of Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic intellectual leader of a nascent religious organization known as “The Cause” and played by the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Divisive among critics but nonetheless acclaimed at the time of its release, the film is a fascinating descent into the inner circle and mentality of a fraudulent cult leader spurring his followers to adhere to his bizarre doctrine in hopes of reclaiming some purportedly lost and truthfully forgotten ideal. —TE
Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), The Mitchells vs. the Machines finds Katy (Abbi Jacobson) and her quirky, dysfunctional family on a cross-country roundtrip that lands them smack dab in the middle of a robot apocalypse. Lord and Miller have an amazing track record and the animation in the trailer looks impressive with some genuinely funny moments to boot. From our review:
Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is the first of a trilogy of films set 12 years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. The film tells the story of Hathaway Noa as he attempts to terrorist organization bent on defying the Earth Federation and preventing the further privatization of the planet. Directed by Shuko Murase (Witch Hunter Robin) and based on series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s novel series of the same name, Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway is one of the most highly anticipated anime films of 2021 for anime buffs. (And if you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Netflix has you covered with all the old compilation movies, too.) —TE
Park Hoon-jung’s Night in Paradise is a lush, extravagant crime drama filled with pensive melancholy and adrenaline-pumping action. When gangster Park Tae-goo’s (Uhm Tae-goo) sister and niece are killed by a rival gang, Tae-goo exact revenge on the man he suspects is responsible before departing to the South Korean island of Jeju to hide out as the smoke clears. As Tae-goo is offered up by his former allies as a means of appeasing their rival gang’s new leader, he bonds with a terminally ill woman named Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been). Together, they must survive the bloodshed brought about in the wake of Tae-goo’s revenge in hopes of a brighter future. —TE
Wuxia master Zhang Yimou (Hero) is known for capturing color, from the crimson wash of Raise the Red Lantern to the eye-popping landscapes of House of Flying Daggers. In Shadow, Zhang dials back the gradient to black and white, and the result is a politically tinged martial-arts epic as mesmerizing and complicated as a Rorschach. After basically condensing the entire run of Game of Thrones into the first hour, Zhang goes on to stage blade-wielding combat and royal court clashes on par with his early work. Devoted fans will know what to expect, but unsuspecting newcomers may melt over the sheer vision on display in this contrast-heavy return to form. —MP
Adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga of the same name, Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is a beautiful, bracing coming-of-age drama about a young man’s journey for redemption after being reunited with the deaf girl he once belittled and terrorized in childhood. Boasting gorgeous visual produced by Kyoto Animation and an emotionally-charged screenplay penned by Reiko Yoshida of Violet Evergarden fame, A Silent Voice is one of the best Japanese animated films of the past decade and an essential watch. —TE
Based on the Stephen King novella, The Body, Stand by Me is a coming-of-age film about four 12-year-old boys who set out to find the body of a missing kid. The boys trek across the Oregon forests, running into local hoodlums and speeding trains. But despite the dangers, the real thrill of the movie comes from the transformative power of childhood friendships. The main character closes the movie with a line that basically sums it all up: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” —PR
Byran Bertino’s 2008 film The Strangers is a lean and profoundly gripping horror movie that strips the home invasion subgenre down to its bare essential parts to drive home the intimate, primal terror of its premise. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star as a married couple who, upon arriving at a secluded vacation house following a fateful night out for dinner together, are stalked and terrorized by a masked trio of serial killers. All of this raises the question: Why? The answer is more obvious and horrifying than you can imagine. —TE
Director Walter Hill and screenwriter Larry Gross’ 1984 feature Streets of Fire is an odd film to describe. A self-described “Rock and Roll Fable” about an ex-soldier-turned-mercenary named Tom Cody (Michael Paré) who returns home to rescue his ex-lover-slash-rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) when she’s unsuspectingly kidnapped on-stage by a nefarious biker (Willem Dafoe) and his band of ne’er-do-well bikers. Rounding out the cast is Amy Madigan (Twice in a Lifetime) as McCoy, a former soldier and mechanic who joins Tom in his mission to rescue Ellen and Rick Moranis (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) as Ellen’s manager-boyfriend Billy Fish. While the film initially bombed when it released in theaters initially in 1984, Streets of Fire has gone on to achieve status as a cult favorite among fans and critics in the decades since. —TE
During a string of Iraqi airstrikes in late-1980s Tehran, the Iranian government bars medical student and political activist Shideh (Narges Rashidi) from continuing her studies. She retreats to her family’s apartment, and despite her husband’s wishes, remains with her young daughter in the war-torn capital — this is her home, and she’s not leaving. But when a missile blasts directly through her building, the normal life Shideh and her daughter knew becomes marked by an invisible, nefarious presence. Is it a djinn? Much like in The Babadook, first-time director Babak Anvari allows the question of the supernatural to orbit the action of Under the Shadow as he captures the erosion of his plain, main set, and Shideh’s very existence. —MP
Kate Beckinsale stars in Len Wiseman’s 2003 action horror movie Underworld as Selene, an elite vampire warrior working at the behest of an ancient clandestine order of immortals pitted in a centuries-old conflict against the “Lycans,” also known as werewolves. When Selene crosses paths with Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a human being targeted by the Lycans for some mysterious purpose, she inadvertently uncovers a conspiracy that will rock the foundations of both the vampire and Lycan world, forcing her to question her allegiances and choose whether the truth is worth fighting for. —TE