The Netflix algorithm is a bit of a mystery. Although ostensibly tailored to your tastes and viewing history, it tends, unsurprisingly, to recommend the streaming platform’s own films and TV shows ahead of others. And if you have kids it’s liable to clog every section, from Trending Now to New Releases, with SpongeBob SquarePants and Octonauts.
Netflix has also made the process of resetting your viewing history – to start getting different recommendations – extraordinarily unintuitive which doesn’t help if you’ve recently split with your partner and want to stop their favourite films being shoved in your face.
So here’s what to do. Sign in to Netflix on your browser (this won’t work on your TV or smartphone app) and choose the profile you want to edit. Click on the profile picture at the top right of the screen, then select account and, next, viewing activity. From here you can hide anything in the list – and, bingo-bango, within 24 hours your recommendations will be reset.
In the meantime, here are 50 hidden gems to watch on Netflix. Amass these in your viewing history and the algorithm will be bowled over by your impeccable taste. Then it’s bound to start recommending other top-notch films and TV shows. Surely.
Greg Mottola, 2009
Jesse Eisenberg is about as likable as he’s ever going to be in this romantic 1980s-set nostalgiafest. Taking a job in a run-down amusement park to pay for a trip to Europe, he falls for Kristen Stewart, while learning life lessons from an excellent supporting cast, including Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.
All Is Lost
JC Chandor, 2013
If you’re going to stare at someone for 106 minutes, it might as well be Robert Redford. The only person in the film, he is riveting as an unnamed man fighting to keep his yacht afloat in the Indian Ocean. Better than it sounds.
Always Be My Maybe
Nahnatchka Khan, 2019
Sometimes you just want to switch your brain off, order a takeaway and watch a likable three-star rom-com. Enter Always Be My Maybe. That’s a little harsh. This is, in fact, a 3½-star rom-com. It also has the surprise cameo of the year, which is worth the watch alone.
Gareth Evans, 2018
Welsh director Gareth Evans, known mostly for the superb Indonesian action film The Raid, presents an entirely different beast here, as Dan Stevens attempts to rescue his sister from a creepy cult on a remote island. Wicker Man vibes abound.
At Eternity’s Gate
Julian Schnabel, 2018
A somewhat experimental look at Vincent van Gogh’s final years in France. It may not always hit the mark, but when it does it soars. Willem Dafoe is typically excellent as the tortured artist.
Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, 2011
A fun comedy horror sci-fi mash-up from Joe Cornish, with more than a few nods to Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter. It is elevated from the usual fare by a cast of mostly unknowns who actually feel like real people.
Alex Lehmann, 2016
A zero-budget, black-and-white indie drama might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this intimate and heartfelt film deserves a wider audience. Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson star as former high-school sweethearts who bump into each other after 20 years, and over the course of a single night examine what went wrong.
David Lynch, 1986
Seeing Kyle MacLachlan attempt to unravel a dark and increasingly disturbing mystery is still a spell-binding experience. Filled with unforgettable imagery, it pulls back the curtain on white-picket suburbia to show what festers beneath.
Mike White, 2017
As the eponymous Brad, Ben Stiller is chronically dissatisfied with life, despite having a great job and loving family. The old adage “the grass is always greener” is updated for a particularly neurotic and status-obsessed age.
Brawl in Cell Block 99
S Craig Zahler, 2017
Vince Vaughn is hit-or-miss at best (we’re still trying to scrub from our brains his unintentionally hilarious performance in True Detective season two), but here he is in brooding fine form. A brutal and violent prison thriller, this is far more entertaining than anyone expected it to be.
Ron Shelton, 1988
Kevin Costner has made approximately 4,000 baseball films, but this remains his best. As a veteran ball-player guiding rookie Tim Robbins through the ups and downs of minor-baseball, they are both upstaged by a never-sultrier Susan Sarandon.
The Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard, 2011
The less you know about this one the better. A brilliant and subversive horror comedy, it starts out as so many lesser films do, with five college kids heading to a cabin in the woods. If it reminds you of a particularly brilliant Buffy episode, that’s no coincidence: it was written and produced by Joss Whedon, and director Drew Goddard has plenty of vampire slayer episodes under his belt, too.
Todd Haynes, 2015
A film so beautiful you could watch it on mute and still enjoy it. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are both excellent in this 1950s-set Manhattan love story, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt.
Jon Poll, 2007
The late Anton Yelchin shines in this coming-of-age comedy about a new high-school student who decides to boost his popularity by doling out psychiatric advice and prescription meds.
City of God
Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, 2002
A raw and visceral look at organised crime in a Rio favela, City of God depicts a decades-long struggle between those who accept their fate and those who want to escape it. A violent, hopeless and exhilarating film.
Ron Underwood, 1991
Wit and warm nostalgia are the order of the day as Billy Crystal and pals escape the rat race and embark on a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado. It has everything the dud sequel lacked: unexpected pathos, great chemistry and an abundance of rapid-fire gags.
Gaspar Noé, 2018
A mind-melting hallucinatory musical horror, Climax sees a young dance troupe head to a remote and empty school to practice and party. After glugging plenty of LSD-laced sangria, everything goes to hell. You might actually feel like you’re in hell watching it, but it’s certainly a trip worth taking.
Patrick Kack-Brice, 2014
The second no-budget Mark Duplass film to make the list, Creep is the polar opposite to Blue Jay. A found-footage horror which also happens to be quite funny, it follows a young videographer who has been hired to film a day in the life of a wealthy oddball. Things get creepy very quickly.
Vincenzo Natali, 1997
A high-concept cult hit, Cube is schlocky sci-fi fun. A group of people are trapped in a giant cube, filled with smaller booby-trapped cube rooms. The hokey dialogue and gruesome deaths are exponentially more enjoyable with a steady supply of beers.
Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, 2009
A refreshing take on the vampire film, Daybreakers is set in the near future where the vast majority of humans have been transformed into undead bloodsuckers. A global blood shortage sees Ethan Hawke attempting to create a synthetic blood substitute.
Dazed and Confused
Richard Linklater, 1993
Richard Linklater’s cult classic follows the trials and tribulations of a group of students on the last day of school in 1976. Geeks, jocks, slackers and a sleazy Matthew McConaughey get drunk, stoned and contemplate their future.
Dead Man Walking
Tim Robbins, 1995
A film you only really want to see once, this powerful mid-90s Oscar heavyweight works so well thanks to two towering performances from Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Remember when Penn was good?
Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2017
A strange and mesmerising indie sci-fi following two brothers who return to a UFO cult they escaped a decade earlier. Expect big things from writing/acting/directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
Alex Garland, 2015
A sort of philosophical locked-room thriller, Ex Machina works both as a thought-provoking examination on the perils of artificial intelligence and a crowd-pleasing popcorn flick.
A Fish Called Wanda
Charles Crichton, 1988
This heist caper almost-classic still holds up remarkably well thanks to a sharp script and game cast including John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and an Oscar-winning turn from Kevin Kline as a dim-witted crook who thinks he’s a genius.
Andrew F Renzi, 2015
Stunningly shot on Super 16mm film, this documentary follows the lives of two cowboys on a 2,000 acre Montana ranch during calving season, when the cows give birth. Narration and music by the late Harry Dean Stanton adds to the overall timeless feel.
Ryan Coogler, 2013
Before Ryan Coogler became one of Hollywood’s biggest names with Creed and Black Panther, he directed this powerful and intimate true story of Oscar Grant III, a young black man who was shot in the back and killed by a police officer in 2009.
Andy Nyman, Jeremy Dyson, 2017
A clever, funny, and at times very scary British horror anthology starring Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman. Good old-fashioned campfire chills.
Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, 2017
Robert Pattinson continues his resurrection as one of the most exciting actors around in the Safdie brothers’ neon-drenched odyssey through the New York criminal underworld. A gut-punch of a film.
Michael Apted, 1983
William Hurt stars as a Soviet detective who uncovers a conspiracy while investigating a triple murder in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Slightly dated, but still a satisfying and mature procedural mystery, anchored by a great central performance.
Hold the Dark
Jeremy Saulnier, 2018
In the remote Alaskan wilderness, a wolf expert is called in to find the pack of wolves that killed three children. Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to Blue Ruin and the superb Green Room still has plenty of his trademark bone-crunching violence and distinctive aesthetic, but this is an altogether stranger, more philosophical affair.
James Ivory, 1992
Some films were just made to be watched on a Sunday. A sumptuous Merchant Ivory period piece starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, this is the perfect accompaniment to any hangover.
Ingrid Goes West
Matt Spicer, 2017
In the role she was born to play, Aubrey Plaza stars as a demented Instagram stalker who moves to Los Angeles to meet her latest obsession. Funny and scathing (if a little unsubtle), it hits the zeitgeist nail on the head. Plaza’s performance is tender, unhinged, desperate and painfully sympathetic.
It Comes at Night
Trey Edward Shults, 2017
After a contagious illness decimates the world’s population, a man and his family live alone in the woods, with strict rules for survival. When another family comes looking for refuge, the established order is shattered in a cavalcade of tension and paranoia. Brutal and disturbing, it is one of the best horror films of the last decade.
The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumbach, 2017
Further proof that Adam Sandler can actually act, he just usually chooses not to. He’s in some fine company here. Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are all incredible in a funny and heartfelt tale of family dysfunction.
John Schlesinger, 1969
A grim, experimental and tender film about a bright-eyed Texan gigolo whose dreams of wealth and comfort are crushed by the harsh reality of New York’s seedy underbelly. Despite a monumentally irritating performance from Dustin Hoffman, this 1970s classic has aged rather well.
Alan Parker, 1988
Two FBI agents are sent to investigate the murders of three civil rights workers in a small Mississippi town in 1964. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe are both on top form in this angry and depressingly relevant film.
Barak Goodman, 2017
On a platform saturated with documentaries, Oklahoma City stands out as one of the best. In 1995 Timothy McVeigh committed the most devastating domestic terrorist act in US history; this film explores the white nationalism and far right fervour that led to it.
Alex Lehmann, 2019
Alex Lehmann’s follow-up to Blue Jay is a warm and quietly devastating study of friendship and loss. Two lonely neighbours played by Mark Duplass (again) and Ray Romano embark on an emotional road trip after one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hankies at the ready.
Denis Villeneuve, 2013
Straightforward by Villeneuve’s standards, Prisoners is still vastly superior to your usual Hollywood thriller. A dark, disturbing and morally complex tale of child kidnapping and vigilante justice, it has three scenery-chewing performances from Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhall.
Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010
Photographer Tim Hetherington and journalist Sebastian Junger spent 15 months embedded with a US army platoon in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The result is an intimate and eye-opening account of the realities of modern warfare.
Andrew Bujalski, 2015
Criminally overlooked on release, Results is an off-beat romantic comedy set in the world of personal trainers. Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders are on-again, off-again fitness instructors whose lives are disrupted by a new client. It is a rare thing – a film which treats loneliness with kindness.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Colin Trevorrow, 2012
When a cynical Seattle journalist brings two interns to investigate a personal ad claiming to have uncovered the secret of time travel, it leads them to a paranoid eccentric played by, you guessed it, Mark Duplass. Colin Trevorrow was handed the helm of Jurassic World on the strength of this brilliant lo-fi sci-fi debut.
Joss Whedon, 2005
Firefly’s rabid fan base may never have gotten a second season, but at least they got this excellent follow-up film. Basically a western set in space, it follows the adventures of smuggler Nathan Fillion and his ragtag crew on the new frontier. A significant cut above most action films.
Bong Joon-Ho, 2013
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is on track to be the best reviewed film of the year, so while we eagerly await its release, it’s a perfect time to revisit this underrated gem. After a global warming experiment triggers a new ice age, humanity’s last survivors live segregated lives on board a massive perpetual-motion train. A high-concept action film with a social conscience.
Duncan Jones, 2011
This must have been an easy pitch: Die Hard meets Groundhog Day. Jake Gyllenhaal is the unlucky hero who has to relive the same eight minutes until he can stop the bombing of a Chicago train. Smart and satisfying.
A Stupid and Futile Gesture
David Wain, 2018
A clever and surprisingly moving comedy biopic of National Lampoon founder Douglas Kenny. Fans of Wet Hot American Summer, or indeed any of the (good) National Lampoon films will be right at home with the off-kilter humour, but the real draw here is Will Forte as the unknown yet massively influential writer.
Thelma & Louise
Ridley Scott, 1991
We all know the ending, but it’s a marvel how fresh the rest of the film still feels nearly 30 years later. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are as likable and sympathetic as ever, while a young Brad Pitt does a fine job as the six-pack.
André Øvredal, 2010
A Norwegian mockumentary about a group of film students trying to prove that trolls really do exist. A delightfully odd film with an authentic style and dry humour. The giant trolls, straight out of Norwegian folklore, are a sight to behold.
Paco Plaza, 2017
A girl and two friends decide to use a Ouija board during a solar eclipse. Never a good idea. What could have been a bog-standard possession film delivers some very effective scares. Loosely based on true events, it has been hailed as one of the most terrifying films ever made. It’s not, but if you’re hankering for some decent Friday night horror, it hits the spot.