October 5, 2022

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25 of the best movies on Netflix right now

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, then put on The Office again. 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. If you’re suffering from a case of choice paralysis, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from Aaron Sorkin’s surprisingly funny court drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 to 8-bit-infused Scott Pilgrim mayhem and the fantastical animation of Song of the Sea. 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

Baahubali: The Beginning - prabhas as baahubali carrying a giant fountain Image: Dharma Productions

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


Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) wanders through a field. Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment

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. —Karen Han


rooney mara and cae blanchett in carol Photo: StudioCanal

Todd Haynes’ trademark warmth is on full display in Carol, a romantic drama based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) first meets the glamorous Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) while working at a department store. As their relationship blossoms, however, the social mores of the 1950s close in around them. It’s a gorgeous, swooning film, even as it reaches its bittersweet conclusion, and it’s a masterclass in how much can be said through gestures and looks rather than words. —KH

A Clockwork Orange

Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange stands in a darkened milk bar full of naked female mannequins, with fictional drug names all over the walls Photo: Warner Bros.

Grim, sometimes grotesque, and certainly not for the faint of heart, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ famous novel is still mesmerizing cinema. Malcolm McDowell stars in a career-best performance as Alex, a bored youth-ganger who commits rape and assault for fun, until he’s selected for an experiment that leaves him unable to stomach any form of violence. It’s a stylish, visually shocking film, icy-cold in the manner of so many Kubrick films, but it’s also a wry and bitterly entertaining thinkpiece about the place of free will in society. —Tasha Robinson

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club carries a couple of brown paper grocery bags past a line of waiting men outside a seedy motel Photo: Focus Features

From the outside, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Oscar-winner Dallas Buyers Club looks like the model of an Oscar-bait prestige picture: it’s based on a true story about suffering and a tenacious underdog battling the system. But it’s much funnier and more engaging than that description implies. Set during the 1980s AIDS outbreak, when the disease was little-understood and an inevitable death sentence, the film follows Dallas jack-of-all-trades Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) as he gets his HIV-positive diagnoses and begins first to try to understand the disease, then to advocate for himself in a way the pharmaceutical companies won’t, then to help others with HIV, through a series of increasingly colorful schemes that combine scientific know-how and the colorful chicanery of a good heist movie. —TR

Dick Johnson Is Dead

dick johnson in dick johnson is dead Image: Netflix

If you were worried about a loved one’s impending death, would you process your fears by staging their death in advance? Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) does exactly that in her documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead, a mildly morbid, sometimes funny, and often extremely sweet document of her relationship with her father. As she’s losing him to dementia, they work together to stage his mock death (in a series of over-the-top scenarios), his funeral, and his ascent into a glowing heaven where he’s given a new body and a chance to interact with famous people and reunite with his wife. Both Kirsten and Dick cry as they contemplate his mortality, but this strange, mesmerizing film winds up being cathartic for them and for the audience, too. —TR

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Joel (Jim Carrey) has his memories erased Image: Focus Features

A major signpost in the offbeat career of writer and occasional director Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind gets remembered for its simple but startling effects and its melancholy as much as anything else, but its low-key science-fiction premise is also unique and intelligent. After a bad breakup with girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet), Joel (Jim Carrey) learns she’s contracted with a new service that’s entirely erased all memory of him from her mind. Vindictively, he does the same — but realizes during the process that he wants to keep those memories, and fights back as their past plays out and disappears from his mind. It’s sad and shocking, but director and co-writer Michel Gondry finds the humor in it, too, and turns it all into a meditation on how memories define us. —TR


frances mcdormand in fargo Photo: Gramercy Pictures

Simultaneously one of the Coen brothers’ all-time best crime dramas and one of their all-time best comedies, Fargo was a breakout role for Frances McDormand, playing a small-town Minnesota police chief who’s heavily pregnant and still more diligent than any of her dorky peers. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are terrific as the creepy criminals involved in a kidnapping scheme, with William H. Macy as the hapless patsy who sets things in motion. The cast and performances are a lot of what makes Fargo stand out, but it’s also a tight, memorable thriller as mistakes are made, tensions escalate, and bodies pile up. When people talk about the Coens with awe, movies like Fargo are the reason. —TR

Fruitvale Station

A white police officer (Kevin Durand) puts his hand on the neck of 22-year-old Black man Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) in Fruitvale Station Photo: The Weinstein Company

More relevant than ever in a year where the news has frequently been dominated by protests over police brutality and police killings of unarmed Black citizens, this impressionistic portrait of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan) launched the filmmaking career of Black Panther writer-director Ryan Coogler. The film captures the events leading to Grant being shot in the back by a policeman while lying prone on the ground during a mass arrest, but Coogler focuses more on Grant’s life and family as he tracks him through his last day. It’s an elegiac movie, focused more on Grant’s humanity than his status as a martyr, and it’s well worth checking out as a Ryan Coogler origin story. —TR


morgan freeman in glory Photo: TriStar Pictures

Edward Zwick’s Civil War drama Glory is based on the experiences of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the Union Army’s first African-American regiment. Andre Braugher, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film) play soldiers under the command of Captain Robert Shaw (Matthew Broderick), and the film follows their outfit from its formation to its defeat at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. It’s too focused on the regiment’s white leader, but the film is still filled with great performances, and tells a story often left off screen. —KH

His House

A terrified Black man sits in a foggy orange landscape, with looming shadowy figures in the background Photo: Aidan Monaghan / Netflix

It feels a little late for new horror movies as we move further away from Halloween and into more cheer-focused holidays, but it’s never too late for a movie as intensely relevant as His House, which turns the trials of immigration into a shock-filled ghost story. Gangs of London’s Sope Dirisu and Lovecraft Country’s Wunmi Mosaku play a Sudanese couple seeking asylum in Britain, where they encounter supportive but not exactly friendly social workers (including former Doctor Who star Matt Smith) who can’t accept that the home they’ve been given is haunted. Caught between the ghosts at home and an inflexible system ready to send them back to a war-torn country, the couple struggle with their past and their highly questionable future. —TR

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

hunt for the wilderpeople - julian dennison Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The truly rare family film that’s safe for kids, funny and acerbic enough for adults, and surprising enough to keep everyone absorbed, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of cinema’s great underseen gems. An authentically refreshing take on the usually cloying “orphan kid melts surly senior’s heart” subgenre, Wilderpeople follows initially sullen foster-system kid Ricky (Julian Dennison) as he blossoms in a new environment, then winds up on the run in the woods with an older man (Sam Neill) who has no idea what to do with him. Waititi’s startling, wryly straight-faced humor in films like Thor: Ragnarok and What We Do In The Shadows is on full display here, and the film starts out sweet and hilarious, then gets recklessly wild. —TR


jesper and klaus arguing about something Image: Netflix

Yet another origin story for Santa Claus? They’re a dime a dozen! But none of the rest of them are like Sergio Pablos’ Klaus, a lushly colorful hybrid of hand-drawn and CG animation packed with downright weird humor. Jesper is a spoiled rich kid who’s been packed off to the far north to run a rural post office as punishment for his contempt for his father’s work. At first, he ruthlessly games the system. Then he invents a new one. Then suddenly he’s in a fully satisfying fairy tale we all recognize. It’s a terrific holiday film, steeped in familiar Christmas lore, but still coming to it from an enjoyably unfamiliar angle. —TR


Image: Toho

Mamoru Hosoda’s film Mirai was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and the sense of breathlessness the film effortlessly evokes makes it easy to see why. The story revolves around a four-year-old boy who, though initially happy at the birth of his new baby sister, begins to grow resentful of the attention she gets. When an older Mirai arrives from the future and the rules of time start to shift, Kun and Mirai must work together to put everything back in order. —KH


brad pitt in moneyball Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

The idea of a movie that’s essentially about math may seem dull, but Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, based on the nonfiction book of the same name, is as sharp as can be. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who turns to statistics to save his baseball team rather than trying to bank it all on one star player. Jonah Hill co-stars as Peter Brand, the economics whiz Beane turns to for help. —KH

The Muppets

amy adams, a bunch of muppets, and jason segel Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

Midway through the 2011 Muppets reboot, co-protagonist Jason Segel sings an existential-crisis song about his own identity. “Am I a man, or am I a Muppet?” he wails. “If I’m a man, that makes me a Muppet of a man.” He’s not wrong. One of the primary reasons The Muppets works so well is that Segel is a floppy, bright-eyed, go-for-broke Muppet of a performer, and his brand of outsized comedy fits so well into their world. Granted, the romance between him and Amy Adams’ character (a boring-killjoy love interest saddled with the unpleasant job of trying to rein in the movie’s fun) doesn’t fit in with the story’s energy or meta silliness, and it’s a dull spot in a bright movie. But the upbeat, catchy songs and the wry but shameless embrace of the oldest musical-movie trope (“We’ve gotta reunite the gang and put on a show to raise the money to save our beloved theater!”) make this one a winner. The whole film rides that all-important Muppet line between sincerity and self-satire perfectly. —TR

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack Nicholson, dressed in white in a white room, yells invective at a group of eagerly listening asylum patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Photo: United Artists

Netflix put a lot of focus on its recent Ryan Murphy TV series Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson as the heartless nurse from the classic 1975 anti-conformity film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. So it makes sense that they’d want that film available to subscribers as well, so they can get the origin story behind Ratched’s origin story. Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel swept the major Oscar categories, but it’s best remembered for its fiery performance from Jack Nicholson, as an asylum inmate riling up his fellow detainees. —TR

Pride & Prejudice

keira knightley and matthew macfadyen in pride & prejudice Photo: Focus Features

Longtime Jane Austen fans can vigorously debate which screen adaptation of her novel Pride & Prejudice is the best one, or whether anyone could live up to Colin Firth’s glowering as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 miniseries adaptation. But people who never considered themselves Austen fans should just settle in and watch Joe Wright’s 2005 luminous adaptation, which bathes the whole story in glowing light and makes the longing and the spurning feel much more immediate, modern, and relatable than some of the more staid adaptations do. Keira Knightley stars as put-upon heroine Elizabeth Bennet, with Matthew Macfadyen as the rich, huffy cad who resents his attraction to her; Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, and Talulah Riley fill out her fractious family. For anyone who loved Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, with its sunny cinematography and sprawling cast of very specific and distinctive young women, this is the film to try next. —TR


Sophie Thatcher, a young woman in handmade-looking space gear, points a handmade-looking gun offscreen in Prospect Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

The VOD boom during 2020’s pandemic shutdown of theaters has been particularly useful to the new wave of tiny indie science-fiction movies — there’s been a rash of them on streaming services this year, alongside the more common horror indies. Prospect dates back a little further, but with its arrival on Netflix, it’s suddenly a lot more accessible, which is excellent news — it’s a strange little gem of a film that shows how far a small budget can go with clever filmmaking and a big vision. Sophie Thatcher stars as a girl who roams from planet to planet with her father, mining for resources to make ends meet. When things go wrong, she winds up navigating a criminal conspiracy where her life is at stake. Jay Duplass and The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal co-star. —TR

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

michael cera in scott pilgrim vs. the world Image: Universal Pictures

Edgar Wright’s 2010 adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics is the kind of movie you can passively take in for the extremely fast-paced gags and action, or actively mine like a trivia contest. As whiner-slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) pursues his unattainable crush Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and has to contend with her past relationships in violent, symbolic, hilarious ways, Wright packs the screen and soundscape with visual and audio references to past games, to the point where the soundtrack is practically its own referential language. The cast at this point is a remarkable grab bag of famous people in younger days, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman. But it’s even more a calling card for Wright. He’s continued to make mile-a-minute stories about dippy, immature guys figuring out what they want, but he’s never been quite this joyously demented again. —TR

A Serious Man

Larry (Stuhlbarg) stands on the roof. Photo: Focus Features

Plenty of Coen brothers movies are slick entertainments that can be watched without effort or thought, but A Serious Man is something different: an episodic morality tale about a Midwestern teacher watching his life collapse, in ways that consciously question the role of God and religion in an unjust world. A Serious Man is the most clear and obvious example of the Coen brothers moral code, but instead of being heavy-handed or scoldy, it reads like a fable, and uses fables to punctuate its point. Reading a bit like the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis without the music, A Serious Man piles anxieties and woes on top of its protagonist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and leaves him to sort through the chaos. It isn’t nearly as funny as some Coen movies, but its thoughtful concerns and terrific performances are memorable, and that final shot certainly opens up the room for endless discussion. —TR

Song of the Sea

An old man with a white beard so long that it cascades between the trees speaks to a blonde child in a watery blue landscape in Song of the Sea Image: Cartoon Saloon

With Tomm Moore’s new movie Wolfwalkers trickling through theaters on its way to Apple TV Plus on Dec. 11, it’s a terrific time to revisit his past work, particularly the preposterously beautiful fable Song of the Sea. Another heavily Irish-inflected fable, animated in Moore’s signature elaborate hand-drawn style, Song of the Sea follows an angry boy on a journey to help his ailing little sister, a selkie who can take seal form. Like so many good fairy tales, it’s a story about transformation, discovery, self-reflection, and responsibility, but it’s also uniquely textured and just startlingly gorgeous, immersive, and heartfelt. —TR


Tristan (Cox) has his back to a sluggish Septimus (Strong). Photo: Paramount Pictures

There will likely never be another Princess Bride, but the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’ Stardust is about as close as it gets. Flamboyantly over-the-top, comedically broad, and full of derring-do, this fable about a series of competitive princes, a hapless hero (Charlie Cox), a fallen star (Claire Danes), a ballgown-loving pirate (Robert De Niro, having a blast), and a youth-craving witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) is sloppy fantasy humor-adventure in the vein of a Terry Gilliam movie. It’s worth tuning in just for Ian McKellen’s ridiculously pompous narration. —TR

Stranger than Fiction

will ferrell in stranger than fiction Photo: Columbia Pictures

The film Stranger Than Fiction may well feature Will Ferrell’s best performance. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent whose humdrum life takes an abrupt turn when he begins hearing someone narrating his life — and saying that his death is imminent. As he tries to figure out who the voice belongs to, he also starts to take more risks in his life, seeking to get the most out of what time he has left in case the voice is telling the truth. The film takes full advantage of Ferrell’s comedic talents to express Crick’s growing panic, but also gives him the room to flex his dramatic chops as he comes to terms with what’s happening to him. —KH

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin beam as they walk through a cordon of photographers on their way to the courtroom in Trial of the Chicago 7 Photo: Netflix

Movie fans should know better than to go to an Aaron Sorkin film for absolute historical accuracy, but they sure can get the entertaining side of history out of his work. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is basically history via one-liner, as Sorkin tracks the major players in a court case against a group of highly disparate Vietnam War protestors and speakers involved during the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention riots. Sacha Baron Cohen as countercultural leader Abbie Hoffman is a huge highlight — he and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) talk almost entirely in banter as they deliberately turn both the protests and the trial into a media circus. But all the support cast is impressive, particularly Frank Langella as the openly biased Judge Hoffman, Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the righteously pissed-off Bobby Seale, and Bridge of Spies’ Mark Rylance as the group’s lead attorney. For a movie about injustice, brutality, systemic oppression of protestors, and the heavy-handedness of an establishment bent on sending kids off to die, it’s astonishingly brisk and hilarious. —TR

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