What’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.
Baahubali: The Beginning
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 Big Lebowski
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
Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) shines in Antonio Campos’ 2016 biographical drama chronicling the life of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter struggling with depression and the numerous hurdles of her career and social life. The year is 1974; the Watergate scandal has gripped the country as the unsettling motto of “If it bleeds, it leads” begin to take hold of news stations across the nation. Hall’s portrayal of Chubbuck is captivating as it is heartbreaking; a woman of considerable ambitions and talent whose inner turmoil slowly simmers into a white hot explosion of fatalistic grief that manifests into one of the most shocking moments in the history of news television. Campos’ Christine is not for the faint of heart, but irrefutably one of the best films that Netflix has to offer. —TE
Death of Stalin
In the waning days of the Trump administration, when his Cabinet members begin resigning after the Capitol riot and reports emerged that his White House staff was mostly frantically engaged with seeking their next jobs, plenty of political pundits compared the situation to the one seen in Armando Iannucci’s 2017 political satire, The Death of Stalin. As Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin dies, his ministers and followers scramble to manipulate the situation, trying to perform mourning as publicly and decisively as possible, and simultaneously garner the support that will keep them alive in a particularly treacherous and lethal regime. That probably doesn’t sound funny, but the performances from figures like Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, and Paddy Considine are surprisingly winning, and the whole bleak comedy moves along at breakneck speeds as they all jockey for position. —TR
Rat or no rat, The Departed is still great. Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture-winning remake of the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs moves the action to Boston, and stars the murderers’ row of Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Martin Sheen in a tale of cat and mouse — or rat and rat. There’s a mole in the police department and a mole in the Irish Mob, the reveal of which leads to a race against time as they struggle to find and outwit each other. —TE
The Florida Project
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
A Ghost Story
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
The 2016 comedy Hail, Caesar! Is another sterling work of gut-busting genre pastiche courtesy of the Coen brothers. The story follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer tasked with tracking down an errant movie star (George Clooney) kidnapped by a secretive group of communist screenwriters. But you’re not here for all that; you’re here to see Alden Ehrenreich as actor Hobie Doyle flub his lines in a comedy of manners, and Channing Tatum playing a tap-dancing sailor in an infectiously catchy musical number that could put La La Land to shame. —TE
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
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
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut dives into the complicated relationship between the titular character and her mother. Christine McPherson (aka Lady Bird, as she’d rather be called) is finishing up her last year of high school, and dreams of going to a pretentious university out East, despite the fact her family cannot afford it. Lady Bird struggles with her own self-expression and expectations of her senior year, constantly clashing with her mother. While she deals with friendships and romantic entanglements, the heart of Lady Bird’s story is her relationship with her mother — one that is powerful, complex, and evocative. —Petrana Radulovic
A classic in the lean, mean, and very British canon of crime cinema, Layer Cake tells the story of an unnamed man — to us, he’s XXXX — a straitlaced coke dealer who has done well enough for himself and is considering retirement. Unfortunately for him, he’s given one more job from a mob boss he can’t refuse, and this, naturally, causes his neatly ordered life of middle-management crime to spiral out of control. Layer Cake is the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn, a friend and contemporary of Guy Ritchie who would go on to make the Kingsman movies. Equal parts appealing on its low-fi approach and as a who’s-who of British actors on the brink of blowing up — Daniel Craig, on the brink of Bond fame, plays XXXX, and you’ll also find early-career performances from Ben Whishaw, Tom Hardy, and Sally Hawkins — Layer Cake is a blast to revisit. —JR
The Manchurian Candidate
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
Million Dollar Baby
Not for the faint of heart or the dry of eye, Clint Eastwood’s unconventional underdog drama Million Dollar Baby looks conventional enough, until it takes a turn. Hilary Swank plays a woman determined to become a championship boxer; Eastwood directs himself as the cranky old coach who starts believing in her chances in spite of himself. It’s a frank, powerfully emotional story, and one of Eastwood’s better and more balanced features. The Academy agreed — the film won Swank the 2005 Best Leading Actress award, with Morgan Freeman taking Best Supporting Actor, and Eastwood taking Best Picture and Best Director. —TR
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
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:
From the zany visuals to the wild plot and its genuinely sweet observations on family, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, originally set for a theatrical release by Sony before settling on Netflix, is a joy in every way. It’s a movie that commands attention, with everything going on across the screen and in the script. The action plot augments the family conflict and vice versa, with every moment of the story pushing those plots forward. It’s an utter delight from start to finish that brings the best of animation and the internet to life.
Dan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller Nightcrawler is a seedy dramatization of the nocturnal underbelly of tabloid journalism, the voyeuristic appetites of attention culture, and the power dynamics of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners, Zodiac) stars as Lou Bloom, a sociopathic con man who finds his niche as a “stringer” — a freelance cameraman who stalks the streets of the city in search of car crashes, fires, murders and even more horrific events to film and sell to local nightly news networks. As Lou’s career grows, so too does his uncomfortable proximity to the atrocities at which he aims his camera, blurring the line between spectator and active conspirator. —TE
Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes’ Depresson-era gangster drama stars Tom Hanks as Mike Sullivan Sr., henchman to Illinois crime boss John Rooney. After Sullivan is captured by the police following a mob hit, Rooney’s son Connor deems him a loose-end and puts a hit out on both him and his family. With his entire family murdered, save for his son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), the Sullivans take to the road and embark on a quest for revenge and redemption. Road to Perdition is as visually evocative as it is thematically fraught, with cinematographer Conrad Hall’s atmospheric lighting creating a tableau of stark silhouettes that would feel right at home in an Edward Hopper painting. The film would go on to be one of Mendes’ most successful, earning five Academy Award nominations at the 75th Oscars ceremony and mark his first collaboration with Daniel Craig, with whom the director would later reunite with on the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall and its 2015 sequel Spectre. —TE
Even in our post-Cabin in the Woods world, there are still opportunities for clever filmmakers to spook us with creepy-shack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-why-the-hell-would-you-go-in-there-what-was-that-in-the-shadows-no-no-no-no-no stories. The Ritual follows four friends who trek along northern Sweden’s Kungsleden trail as a tribute to a fifth friend, who was recently murdered in a convenience store. The death especially weighs on Luke (Prometheus’ Rafe Spall), whose drunken belligerence put his buddy in harm’s way in the first place. Luke is also the member of the group who realizes that, after discovering a wooden deer altar in an abandoned house along their unadvised detour, the group is being haunted by more than memories. Like a unique mix of Euro-horror and The Hills Have Eyes, The Ritual twists a familiar journey with creature-feature instincts to keep the genre fresh. —MP
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
Stand By Me
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
State of Play
If you’re looking for a pulse-pounding conspiracy thriller anchored by confident performances and direction, seek out Kevin Macdonald’s 2009 political thriller State of Play. Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams star as Cal McAffrey and Della Frye, a veteran investigative print journalist and ambitious online reporter working at the fictional Washington Globe. When the murder of an aide to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) causes a public inquiry and subsequent mass scandal centered around the politician’s personal life, McAffrey and Frye are assigned to follow the story and report what they find. What they discover implicates them, Collins, and his late aide in a massive conspiracy involving a shadowy private defense contractor with ambitions that will stop at nothing to achieve fruition.
Crowe and McAdams’ dynamic as a smart-aleck mentor and an idealistic pupil, in an era where publications are preyed upon by capricious private equity vultures, is electric. The cinematography here is worthy of note, too, particularly in the opening chase sequence between a frightened witness and a would-be assassin through downtown D.C. State of Play offers enough tension and dramatic twists right up to the credits to keep any fan of All The President’s Men rapt in attention and tapped into the action. —TE
Streets of Fire
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
There Will Be Blood
For a while, Paul Thomas Anderson’s mesmerizing story about the rise and fall of an oil baron was best known for an unfortunate milkshake meme. But it’s been 14 years since its release, surely by now we can let go of that particular gag and get back to appreciating Daniel Day-Lewis’ typically intense performance and the film’s particularly uncompromising severity. It’s a severe-looking film, all cracked, dry surfaces and angry desperation, and the clash between Day-Lewis’ viciously competitive oilman and a struggling young preacher (Paul Dano) is just as severe. This is not a film about moderation or kindness, and the end is pure Grand Guignol, but it’s a hell of a ride to get there. —TR
Under The Shadow
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