101 films to watch on Netflix right now
The best movies to stick on on the streaming app, from 'Taxi Driver' to 'Whiplash'
Robert De Niro in 'Taxi Driver'
We issue the usual apology. The selection of properly old films on Netflix is still appalling. Go elsewhere for your Howard Hawks and your Jean Renoir. Bah! Still, there is plenty to enjoy from the current century.
13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
An urgent, scholarly dissection of the prison system in the United States. Multinationals and presidents – from Eisenhower to Clinton – do not emerge well.
About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013)
Stay with us. Yes, the film is twee in a way only Curtis can be. Yes, the time travels defy more logic than is usually the case. But Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams force it to work.
American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)
Arnold’s magnum opus follows a bunch of kids as they travel about the States selling magazine subscriptions. Great breakout turn by Sasha Lane. Electric photography from Robbie Ryan.
American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
Can you say transgressive? Interestingly, both Bret Easton Ellis’s novel and Harron’s adaption were coolly received on release. They now seem like classic satires on 1980s excess.
Annie (John Huston, 1982)
Watch out. The dire remake is also on Netflix. John Huston’s musical is indulgent, but it’s packed with irresistible numbers.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
What else do you need to know? This was the moment at which Allen became a serious force in US cinema. A delightful compendium of styles.
Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
From the moment, Garland’s take on Jeff VanderMeer’s cerebral science-fiction novel dropped its cult potential was undeniable.
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
Faultless, engaging Argentinean film following an aging intellectual as she resists developers in her seaside apartment building. Sônia Braga eats up the screen.
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
Thoughtful, visually elaborate meditation on human despair told through the vehicle of an alien visitation flick. Amy Adams somehow failed to get an Oscar nomination.
BASEketball (David Zucker, 1988)
That film starring the South Park creators as the idiots behind a mash-up of baseball and basketball is now 20 years old. Time to finally catch up with it.
Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
We are pleased to tell Marty McFly that people in the actual future are still watching his adventures and quoting his best lines.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2018)
As with all episodic films, the Coens’ western anthology has its ups and its downs, but the invention never wavers.
Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)
The millennial years were a turning point for US film. Jonze’s hip, angular oddity ushered in a new school of self-aware comedy.
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)
Jeff Bridges is a middle-aged stoner in search of a carpet, opened to middling reviews and more middling box office. It’s now among the most quoted of their films.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
Of all the decade’s Palme d’Or winners, Kechiche’s furious, passionate lesbian romance had the greatest effect on audiences. The emotions are overwhelming.
Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen, 1981)
“Oh is it set in a submarine?” You can find Peep Show and that line elsewhere on Netflix. The definitive picture in its damp genre.
The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, 1979)
Some of the great talents of the New Hollywood – Francis Ford Coppola, Caleb Deschanel, Melissa Mathison – came together for an immortal family film.
The Boss (Ben Falcone, 2016)
It’s not the best Melissa McCarthy vehicle, but she’s characteristically amusing as a disgraced millionaire bullying her way back to the top.
Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
This landmark bildungsroman lured viewers with the promise of urban warfare, only to plead with them to “increase the peace”.
Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)
There’s a sharp script here. But the film is all about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as the waspish writer Truman Capote. That voice!
Cardboard Gangsters (Mark O’Connor, 2017)
O’Connor brings his trademark rough sensibility to a yarn about spirited hoodlums in Dublin’s northside. Standout performance by John Connors.
Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
It’s hard to imagine a time with no Stephen King adaptations. But this was the first and it may still be the best. Sissy Spacek transcendent as the bullied teen.
Casting JonBenet (Kitty Green, 2017)
In 1996, the body of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found strangled in the basement of her family’s home. Twenty years on, this riveting project investigates by holding auditions in the community.
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
The linking force in Cuarón’s diverse work may be his taste for long, complex shots. There’s plenty of that in his gripping study of a dying earth.
Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgen, 2015)
There are a few docs floating around on Nirvana, but Morgen’s film, featuring contributions from the often-misrepresented Courtney Love, feels like the definitive item.
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
Lavish, poetic movie – the first directed by a black woman to get a wide theatrical release – depicts the mocambo life of an enclave beyond slavery. Its reappearance is largely down to homage in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Days of Heaven (Terence Malick, 1978)
Remember when Malick was an enigma known for two, beautifully odd masterpieces? Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams and Richard Gere star in a gorgeous tragedy set in rural Texas. The “magic hour” cinematography remains legendary.
Don’t Breathe (Fede Álvarez, 2014)
Fantastically tense horror concerning three young idiots who get trapped in a blind man’s house. Álvarez exploits his ingenious scenario for every available jump scare.
Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
Hey, they made a film out of all those hilarious YouTube shorts about Hitler. Only joking. Bruno Ganz gives the performance of a busy lifetime in this study of the Führer’s decline.
Dr Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016)
Hurry before Disney grabs all the Marvel films back for their own streaming service. Benedict Cumberbatch has great fun in a psychedelic extravaganza that breaks free from many of the series’ duller conventions.
Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) Kubrick’s exhausting precision rubs up against Peter Sellers’s own mad obsessions to deliver a savage satire on the absurdity of mutually assured destruction. Ken Adam’s set designs may be MVP.
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016)
Hailee Steinfeld secured her position as a credit to her generation with her performance as a troubled teen in a comedy with a serious core.
Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
A rare film whose characters have become a permanent part of the cultural conversation. Frances McDormand’s dogged, unflappable cop is one of the Coen’s great creations.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
How do you make a film of Hunter S Thompson’s rambling, acid-soaked memoir? You hire Terry Gilliam and allow all anarchic innovations. Johnny Depp has rarely been better.
Fiddler on the Roof (Norman Jewison, 1971)
What was the highest grossing film in the US for 1971? You’re looking at it. Topol excels in a delightful musical that contains such treats as If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Paul McGuigan, 2017)
The film star in question was the troubled Gloria Grahame. Annette Bening is touching in a retelling of her friendship with a young Liverpudlian in the early 1970s.
The Five Venoms (Chang Cheh, 1978)
Netflix ups its martial arts credentials with Chang’s golden-era classic concerning five differently styled fighters. Spectacular punch-ups.
The Foreigner (Martin Campell, 2017)
This Jackie Chan actioner set around the re-ignited Northern Irish Troubles is neither a classic nor a disaster, but Pierce Brosnan’s variation on Gerry Adams makes it indispensable.
Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974)
We’ve lived through so many pastiches of blaxploitation that it’s worth being reminded of how much fun the original was. Pam Grier is electric in a revenge thriller that doesn’t stint on the flashy fabric.
Friends with Money (Nicole Holofcener, 2006)
Holofcener is fast becoming one of the era’s great storytellers. Her 2006 Sundance hit stars Jennifer Aniston and Catherine Keener in a spiky take on modern friendship.
Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, 1987)
Yes, the first half is by far the best part of Kubrick’s penultimate film. But that section is so powerful it compensates for the later, unsurprising action sequences.
A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
Unclassifiable spook-fest concerning a young woman coping crazily with the death of her partner. Yes, this is the one in which Casey Affleck wears a sheet for hundreds of years. Oddly moving.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
It’s easy to forget how weird these films once seemed. A European western starring three very different actors scored by an uncompromising avant garde composer. Of such stuff are classics made.
God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017)
Powerful, beautifully shot drama concerning the romantic entanglement between a young farmer and Romanian worker in the hills of Yorkshire.
The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)
Not much noticed on release, this teen adventure – from a Steven Spielberg story – ended up defining a lot of people’s youths. Still fun.
Good Time (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2017)
Rob Pattinson’s desire to seek out interesting projects is commendable. He is at his best as a hopeless hoodlum in the Safdie brothers’ innovative, spooky New York drama. Great soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
Anderson found new audiences with his extravagant comedy set in a heightened version of early 20th century Ruritanian Europe. Ralph Fiennes emerges as a high-brow Leonard Rossiter.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Technically dazzling adventure taking a stricken Sandra Bullock from crippled orbit to a welcoming earth. A castaway drama rather than a science-fiction flick.
Handsome Devil (John Butler, 2016)
Energetic, passionate Irish comedy-drama concerning the friendship between two quite different oddballs at a posh rugby school. Breakthrough turn from Fionn O’Shea.
Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004)
One of the best comic adaptations ever made. Ron Perlman is hugely charismatic (and just huge) as a good-natured – if irascible – semi-demon entangled with all kinds of historic mayhem.
I Am Not A Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)
Rungano Nyoni, a Welsh-Zambian director, returned to her roots with this stunning drama concerning a young girl sent to a witch’s camp following a ludicrous accusation. Great performances.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Macon Blair, 2017)
Blair’s comic thriller became the first Netflix release to win the top prize at Sundance and then promptly fell right off the radar. Melanie Lynskey is delightfully flattened as a nurse coping with a mysterious burglary.
I Kill Giants (Anders Walter, 2017)
Underrated adaptation of Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s comic book concerning a kid who escapes reality in a fantasy world of giants and monsters.
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2002)
You’ve seen The Departed. Now see the Hong Kong original that inspired Scorsese’s yarn about double-crossing cops. Or see it again.
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
Whither the tightly wound Tarantino of Reservoir Dogs? Oh, never mind. His 2009 film had a blast recycling all the clichés of the second World War film.
Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
Hypnotic study of Jackie Kennedy’s bereavement that makes vital use of a dazed Natalie Portman and a nagging score from Mica Levi.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
Documentary on Jiro Ono, an elderly sushi chef who stops at nothing in his drive for perfection. A film about pride in work and the limits of human capacity. Also, tasty.
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Featuring Joan Crawford as a saloonkeeper from the Brothers Grimm, Johnny Guitar is a model of anti-genre genre. Truffaut called it the “Beauty and the Beast of westerns”. Michael Winner hated it.
Joint Security Area (Park Chan-wook, 2001)
Two years before Oldboy announced his talent to the wider world, Park directed this tense film about engagements along the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas.
Kramer vs Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979)
Its “poor wee men” thesis feels a bit ropey now, but Dustin Hoffman and young Justin Henry give it their all as father and son.
Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, 2016)
Eye-poppingly gorgeous animation concerning a young Japanese boy fighting his way through feudal Japan. Voice work from Charlize Theron and Ralph Fiennes helps swell a delicious package.
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
No, you’re not “the only person who didn’t like La La Land”. So calm down. Chazelle’s film is no Singin’ in the Rain, but it revisits its musical tropes with intoxicating zeal.
Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
The Monty Python team confirmed the breadth of their vision with a film that had as much to do with parodying Hollywood epics as poking religious hypocrisy.
Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011)
Irish author Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields – concerning a drug that grants near-super powers – is transformed into a cracking mainstream action flick with Bradley Cooper.
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra, 2013)
There’s a lovely idea at the heart of this Indian epistolary romance – a widower gets a lunchbox prepared by another man’s wife – and it is played out beautifully by Nimrat Kaur and the great Irrfan Khan.
Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)
A vital artefact comes to Netflix with the arrival of the debut feature by the great animation master Hayao Miyazaki. The film follows the eponymous master thief as he attempts to rob a casino.
Maze (Stephen Burke, 2017)
It’s The Great Escape in County Down. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor head a fine cast in Burke’s retelling of the 1983 Maze breakout. Funny. Tense. Sad.
Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
Scorsese’s brilliant third feature announced themes to which he has often returned over the following four decades. Sin. Crime. The discontents of gangsters. A Rosetta Stone for New Hollywood.
Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)
Van Sant was in mainstream mode with this hugely effective biopic of gay rights activists Harvey Milk. Sean Penn runs the emotions in the title role.
Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990)
“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!” Kathy Bates grasped a school of obsessive fandom which only got more extreme in the imminent internet age.
A Most Violent Year (JC Chandor, 2014)
Oscar Issac and Jessica Chastain tear up the screen in a moody, icy gem about the decline of New York in the early 1980s. The best film ever about heating-oil supply.
Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
Altman’s busy study of country music scene in the post-Watergate era really can be classed as A Film About America (our capitals). And one of the best ever.
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
You thought this was the degradation of network television? You had no idea what was coming (see below). Peter Finch won a posthumous Oscar for his role as a messianic lunatic.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal accentuates the creepy in his performance as a loser who happens into a job providing voyeuristic footage for news shows.
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)
A literary conceit gets a cinematic twist. Tom Ford’s film has Amy Adams’s literary agent reading a novel by her estranged husband. Repressed inclinations are revealed.
The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004)
There have since been a million Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but none has worked nearly so well as this cross-generational weepy. Shed a tear for James Garner and Gena Rowlands.
Okja (Bong Joon-ho, 2017)
Korean veteran’s saga of a giant, genetically modified pig-thing is so diverting its almost possible to ignore Jake Gyllenhaal’s grating, high-pitched performance.
The Other Guys (Adam McKay, 2010)
A few years before McKay won his Oscar for The Big Short, he directed this priceless comedy featuring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as differently idiotic cops.
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
Kristen Stewart is excellent in a twisty, erratic drama about a young American in Paris who seems haunted by her dead twin brother. Occasionally frustrating.
Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)
Netflix’s production department stepped up with this stunningly ambitious, monochrome study of 1970s family life in Mexico City.
Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)
Mad, tasteless, but hugely influential, De Palma’s semi-remake of a Howard Hawks classic casts Al Pacino as a ruthless Cuban hood. Packed with memorable vulgarity.
A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)
Shoko, a deaf girl, enrols in elementary school, sparking a sequence of bullying and regrets that goes on for years in this poignant, pertinent, hit anime.
Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
Regularly voted the best comedy of all time, Billy Wilder’s perfectly calibrated classic sent Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis to places they’d never been before.
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
A few years later, folk would be using Facebook to recommend Netflix titles. Fincher’s study of Mark Zuckerberg reminds us where the power now lies.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
Following a gang of young female students as they do terrible things in Florida during half term, Korine’s cynical satire has already cemented itself in the culture.
The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)
Östlund won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with this comprehensive social satire set in and around the Swedish art scene. Occasionally becomes its own installation.
Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008)
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are squabbling siblings by marriage who enjoy “activities”, battering one another with tricycles, and attempting to break up their parents’ unwelcome union.
Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)
Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg translated their teenage selves into Jonah Hill and Michael Cera for this charming comedy of bad behaviour. McLovin? Really?
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
You talkin’ to me? You know what this is. Fascinating to remember how pessimistic New Yorkers were about their own city in those years.
The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
Netflix is a bit short of Polanski (I wonder why) but the last film in his “apartment trilogy” is here. The director stars as a man having creepy experiences in Paris.
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig, 2017)
One of the more undervalued of recent British films, Scherfig’s romantic comedy plays with the dynamics of a film production during the war years. Gemma Arterton is super.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)
Few novels have generated a classic film and a classic TV series. Alfredson’s take on Le Carré’s mole hunt casts Gary Oldman as a particular sad George Smiley.
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
Welles reckons that the initial response to this late noir soured his reputation with the studios forever. It is now seen as one the master’s most inventive creations.
Twilight (Catherine Hardwick, 2008)
Robert Pattinson and Kirsten Stewart blaze up the screen in this era-defining teenage vampire romance.
Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)
There is always somewhere new for the horror film to go. Anvari’s singular art shocker concerns a mother and son facing up to a malign force in 1980s Tehran. Unlike anything else in the genre.
The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil, 2017)
Relax into mayhem with this terrific action flick from South Korea. Kim Ok-bin stars as a female assassin who is reprogrammed by a sinister intelligence agency.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park, Steve Box, 2005)
The best feature-length entertainment from Aardman animation sends the practically minded dog and his idiot friend into the world of Hammer horror. A classic British comedy.
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Fancy having JK Simmons bellow in your ear for an hour and a half? Well, Whiplash is your only man. Terrific jazz drama concerning a young drummer and his borderline abusive teacher.
Whitney: Can I Be Me (Nick Broomfield, Rudi Dolezal 2017)
Broomfield’s documentary on Whitney Houston was not so slick as Kevin Macdonald’s later effort, but it got closer to the emotional truth of her tragedy.
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017)
A superb “mismatched partners” cop film featuring urban Elizabeth Olsen and rustic Jeremy Renner.
The Young Offenders (Peter Foott, 2016)
Two hapless teenaged Corkonians venture westwards, for 160km, on stolen bicycles, in search of a missing bale of cocaine. They do extremely inappropriate things with a Choc Ice.