The 50 best films on Netflix right now: From classics to new Oscar contenders

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, directed by Jane Campion

As ever, the Netflix catalogue remains in flux. Each week a bunch of films arrive and a bunch of films leave. That’s the circle of life for you. The appearance of studio-owned services such as Disney+ will limit supply to the largest streamer on the block, but Netflix is countering with its own content. Recent additions such as Passing, which the service acquired outright, and The Power of the Dog, which they produced, will be here forever. The rest will continue to come and go. So move quickly.

13th
Ava DuVernay, 2016
An urgent, scholarly dissection of the prison system in the US. Multinationals and presidents, from Eisenhower to Clinton, do not emerge well.

Arrival
Arrival

Arrival
Denis Villeneuve, 2016
Villeneuve arguably hit his sweet spot with this cerebral science fiction drama starring Amy Adams as a linguist seeking communication with two visiting aliens. Properly peculiar.       

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened
Lonny Price, 2016
Essential for Sondheim fans, Price’s excellent documentary looks at the troubled history of his 1981 show Merrily We Roll Along. Now one of the master’s most beloved. Initially a flop.

Blue Story
Rapman, 2019
Singular British crime musical that makes surprising use of contemporary rap styles. The message about the futility of violence is familiar, but the manner of the telling is invigoratingly fresh.

Boyz N the Hood
Boyz N the Hood

Boyz N the Hood
John Singleton, 1991
Cuba Gooding Jr and Ice Cube star in one of the key African-American dramas of the 1990s. Inspired a generation and began a shift in Hollywood’s priorities.

Blackfish
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013
The story of Tilikum, the killer whale that took the lives of several people while in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando, in Florida. Tilikum died in 2017, just before SeaWorld announced the end of all orca shows.

Casting JonBenet
Kitty Green, 2017
In 1996, the body of six-year-old JonBenét 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.

Clueless
Amy Heckerling, 1995
No, it is not (with apologies to Ang Lee) arch to suggest that this is the best Jane Austen adaptation on film. Alicia Silverstone is transcendent as Cher, the teenage Emma Wodehouse of Beverly Hills.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee, 2000
The century began with a hopeful sign. The Anglophone world embraced Lee’s epic wuxia starring Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh. It deserved its crossover status.

Dirty Dancing
Emile Ardolino, 1987
The film was a hit on release, but nobody could have predicted its unstoppable afterlife. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze dance themselves towards love in the early 1960s.

District 9
Neill Blomkamp, 2009
Blomkamp has struggled to replicate the success of his Oscar-nominated allegory concerning aliens segregated in an intolerant South Africa (get it?). Still a provocative wonder.

Dune
Dune

Dune 
David Lynch, 1984
No, not that one. Lynch’s swipe at the Frank Herbert saga is among his least celebrated films, but it remains an oddity of some class. Certainly more colourful than the new one.

Fantastic Mr Fox
Wes Anderson, 2009
Anderson moves into family cinema without losing an ounce of his style or wit. George Clooney voices Roald Dahl’s suave antihero in an intricate stop-animation treat.

Gosford Park
Robert Altman, 2001
The ensemble cast plays to Altman’s familiar strengths. The big-house murder-mystery ambience ensured a wide audience and Oscar attention. Inspired Downton Abbey.  

The Guns of Navarone
The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone
J Lee Thompson, 1961
Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape are currently off the service. But Thompson’s great “mission film” concerning sabotage in second World War Greece fills the gap nicely. Niven? Peck? Quinn? Perfect.

Heat
Michael Mann, 1995
The point at which Michael Mann reached his higher state. One of the great heist films. One of the great LA films. By far De Niro and Pacino’s best work together.

Hereditary
Hereditary

Hereditary
Ari Aster, 2018
Forget that silly “elevated horror” tag. Aster’s film blends the macabre with the tragic in a film that is not afraid to lunge beyond normal limits. Also seek out Aster’s equally strong Midsommar on the service. 

His House
Remi Weekes, 2020
Tremendous British horror concerning refugees from South Sudan assailed by both everyday and apparently supernatural unpleasantness. 

Hustlers
Hustlers

Hustlers
Lorene Scafaria, 2019
How the heck did the Academy not nominate Jennifer Lopez? How? J-Lo is just one of the performers offering standout turns in this irresistible crime drama. A stormer of an entertainment. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman, 2020
Typically morose, intellectual twisty drama from Kaufman. Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons drive towards a meeting with existential despair. As you do.

The Irishman
Martin Scorsese, 2019
Very different in tone from Goodfellas or Casino – quieter, more mournful – this huge gangster epic feels like the opening notes of a farewell symphony. Jury still out on digital de-ageing.

Jackie
Pablo Larraín, 2016
Hypnotic study of Jackie Kennedy’s widowhood buoyed up by an intense performance from Natalie Portman and a hugely inventive score from Mica Levi.

Jaws
Steven Spielberg, 1975
One of the best American films ever made. As good as Spielberg gets. As good as John Williams gets. What more could any person want? Duh, dum. Duh, dum.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017
Lanthimos confirmed his position as one of the era’s great provocateurs with this grim fable concerning a sinister young man (Barry Keoghan) who seems to waft catastrophe everywhere he goes.

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers, 2019
Damp, monochrome, narrow-ratio dance of madness between two very different inhabitants of a Victorian Lighthouse. Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe have a ball.

Malcolm X
Spike Lee, 1992
It would have astonished many, on Malcolm’s death, to hear that a quarter of a century later Warner Brothers would finance an epic, largely laudatory biopic. Thank Spike Lee and Denzel Washington.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette
Sofia Coppola, 2006
A film that has grown in reputation over the years, Coppola’s exquisite study of the doomed French Queen – cheekily decorated with contemporary pop – dared to make her a dreamy teen. Kirsten Dunst first rate.  

Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach, 2019
The laureate of Brooklyn angst hits peak form with an analysis of the poisons that bubble up when marriages go wrong. Funny in even its darkest corners.

Mean Girls
Mark Waters, 2004
So much talent on the brink in Tina Fey’s satire of high-school politics. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried? A feast of well-delivered one-liners.

Monty Python’s 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.

The Nest
The Nest

The Nest
Sean Durkin, 2020
Jude Law and Carrie Coon play a couple whose affluent life begins to crumble when they move from New York to Surrey in the 1980s. Sharp, literate drama with sinister undercurrents. 

The Notebook
Nick Cassavetes, 2004
Some years before we got sick of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, Cassavetes directed this irresistibly weepy adaptation of his breakthrough novel. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams grow into James Garner and Gena Rowlands.

Okja
Bong Joon-ho, 2017
The Korean veteran’s saga of a giant, genetically modified pig-thing is so diverting it’s 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.

Passing
Passing

Passing
Rebecca Hall, 2020
Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson offer complementary perspectives on racial traumas in Harlem of the 1920s. A fine adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
John Hughes, 1987
The relationship between prissy Steve Martin and slovenly John Candy is one of the 1980s’ great comic treasures. “Those aren’t pillows!” 

The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion, 2020
The Kiwi auteur returned in triumph with this drama concerning a repressed rancher confronted with his own hidden desires. Benedict Cumberbatch leads a hugely strong cast. 

Roma
Alfonso Cuarón, 2018
Netflix’s production department stepped up with this stunningly ambitious, monochrome study of 1970s family life in Mexico City.

Seven
David Fincher, 1995
The film that properly announced Fincher is still a candidate for his very best. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman hunt a serial killer.

Scarface
Brian De Palma, 1983
De Palma was never known for restraint, but he threw all caution to the wind with this attack on the Miami cokeocracy. Indifferently received on release, Al Pacino’s unhinged performance helped it towards later cult success.

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.

Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
Oscar-winning fantasy. Chihiro is travelling to her new home when a detour leaves her stranded in an otherworldly bathhouse. After her parents are transformed into pigs, she encounters many magical beings. One of many Miyazaki films to savour on Netflix.

There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007
PTA moved to another level with this epic saga of an oilman’s descent into megalomania. The film is grimly powerful, but it is also consistently funny. Only Daniel Day-Lewis could have successfully pulled off a performance on this scale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Photograph: Jack English
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Photograph: Jack English

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, 2011
The BBC’s 1979 adaptation of John le Carré’s absurdly intricate spy thriller is probably unbeatable, but this starry version ran it close. Check out Gary Oldman eating his hamburger with a knife and fork.

Twilight
Catherine Hardwicke, 2008
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart blaze up the screen in this era-defining teenage-vampire romance.

Uncut Gems
Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2019
Adam Sandler plays Howard – a pawnbroker and gambling addict – in a film so stressful that anybody with a heart condition should approach with caution.

V for Vendetta
James McTeigue, 2005
Alan Moore famously hates all films of his epic, dense comic books, but McTeigue’s drama – scripted by the Wachowskis – makes a good fist of his 1988 dystopian saga.

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.

Your Name
Makoto Shinkai, 2016
A delightful spin on the body swap comedy in which a high-school boy in Tokyo and a high-school girl in a rural town periodically wake up in the other’s body. Rightly one of the highest grossing anime films of all time.

Zodiac
Zodiac

Zodiac
David Fincher, 2007
Many critics’ choice for Fincher’s best film, this epic traverses decades in its search for the identity of the Zodiac killer, who terrorised San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Lovely sense of place. Great atmosphere.