Ranking All the Netflix Original Movies (Top 50)
The governing principle behind this website has always been, “Well, I did this, so I might as well document it.”
I think we’ve established by now that I watch ostensibly everything that matters each year (in terms of American feature releases), and a lot that doesn’t. And that now includes an ever-increasing number of Netflix movies. I think they put out something like 60 movies last year. And, as is my credo, if I’m watching them all, why not document it?
This isn’t a definitive ranking by any stretch. It’s a combination of how much I liked the movies mixed with how well I think they personify the “brand” of the Netflix Original, whatever that is. Mostly I just wanna recommend some cool stuff to you that you may be overlooking. Because the way the Netflix model works is, unless it hits the zeitgeist like Bird Box or The Kissing Booth, it just gets absorbed into the ether and after two weeks (if not immediately), people forget about them and never get around to watching them even if they thought they looked interesting. They just fall away under the pile of newer, shinier toys. So hopefully, with my doing this, maybe it’ll get some eyeballs on some of the really cool stuff that’s there.
I will also say (because it has to be said) — it’s vague as to what constitutes a Netflix Original film. I generally use Wikipedia as a guide, because Netflix has never put out an official list, and it’s impossible to use their site to figure it out. But also, some of the stuff on Wikipedia’s list are foreign films no one in America has heard of, and some other stuff that we all clearly think of as a Netflix movie isn’t. Here’s one: Annihilation. Netflix movie or not? It was released day-and-date everywhere in the world except the U.S., where it played in theaters for over a month before going on Netflix. Hard to see that as a proper Netflix Original. Though by that rationale, Roma wouldn’t count, because they released it into theaters first. But that was clearly for Oscar purposes. It was always meant to be on the platform. It’s all up for debate, so I just kinda went with what made sense. So the rules are my own and I’ve decided what I think counts. The point is: shut up and let’s just celebrate the cool movies that are here. Cool? Cool.
(Note: I try to update these articles every few months as we get close to another round number of films. I’m thinking the next update will be sometime in spring.)
50. The Red Sea Diving Resort
The perfect kind of movie for Netflix. A lesser version of Argo that is very watchable with no effort required. It’s about Mossad agents who buy and operate a Sudanese hotel that is designed to help get Ethiopian Jewish refugees to safety after being victims of a genocide by Sudanese troops.
It’s very entertaining and has a good cast — Chris Evans, Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, Michael K. Williams, Greg Kinnear and Ben Kingsley. It’s the right kind of Netflix movie.
49. Earthquake Bird
Interesting little thriller. Alicia Vikander is an American living in Tokyo who starts daring a Japanese photographer. Then Riley Keough shows up and immediately seems like she’s got designs on Vikander’s boyfriend. Oh, and at a certain point she goes missing and is presumed dead. Which is never a good thing.
Directed by Wash Westmoreland, who also made Quinceañera and Still Alice and Colette. It’s a really solid little thriller.
This is the kind of movie that would normally have been bought by a Fox Searchlight and be put out for an Oscar run. It’s very much in that vein. Netflix did buy this for a lot of money and I think was originally intending to do just that, but instead put it out like, mid-year or something.
It’s a father-son road trip movie. They’re estranged, and he’s dying, and they haven’t spoken in years, but the son decides to take Dad on the trip… yada yada yada. It’s like Nebraska but much more adversarial and… Sundance-y. Ed Harris is a famous photographer who is determined to go to the Kodak lab and develop a roll of film before he dies. Kodak has stopped making film and they’re about to shut down the last plant, which is in the midwest. So they have to drive out there. Jason Sudeikis is his music talent agent son who hasn’t spoken to his father in years (because his father is an asshole). So Sudeikis, Harris and Elizabeth Olsen (Harris’s nurse), go on a trip to this factory.
It hits most of the beats you expect it to hit and has all the indie cliches you’d expect. Down to the ending, which I will say, you can probably see coming but still almost manages to land despite that. Which is why this movie ended up where it did. I find that, even though it’s treading very worn ground, it does so admirably and almost manages to make it over that hump into “really good movie” territory. Doesn’t quite get there, but if you’re looking for a very worthwhile Netflix movie, this is one.
I was not expecting this movie to be good at all. It’s an origin story of Santa Claus, made with the animation style of other, cheaper animated films that are also on the platform. And yet, it’s totally charming.
The story revolves around a spoiled mailman, played by Jason Schwartzman, whose father has a postal empire. He’s been living off his father’s wealth and has no ambition of his own. So his father sends him to the furthest possible place he can (essentially the North Pole) and tells him he has a year to get a post office up and running there or else he’s cut off. And of course no one up there sends mail and it’s this town of feuding families who hate one another. But Schwartman finds an in with an old woodsman who has a secret stash of toys, which he starts distributing to the uncorrupted kids of the town, telling them that if they want more toys, they have to send letters and tell the man that they’ve been good. And so on and so forth.
It’s actually quite charming. It’s one of those movies you have no expectations for and come out going, “Wow, that was actually pretty good.”
46. 22 July
This is Paul Greengrass’ fourth movie about a terrorist attack. The man hasn’t met a tragedy he didn’t want to make a movie about, apparently. I guess technically one of the four is more of a pirate attack than a terrorist attack. But you know what I mean.
This is about the Norway attack in 2011, where a man opened fire and killed 77 people at a campground. I will say up front that I have major issues with this movie, mostly because it feels like it’s giving the perpetrator a voice for his views, which is what he wanted in the first place when he committed the act. But Greengrass is a really good filmmaker, and the way he shoots the actual event is terrifying. The rest of the movie is more about the aftermath, so you have a good hour and a half of people dealing with trauma, grief, and then the whole trial of it all, which is the part I really question why they showed. Still, it is a solid movie, even if I would recommend several other Greengrass movies over this one. As far as Netflix movies go, you could do so much worse than this.
This is a weirdly specific, yet weirdly universal movie. It takes place in the south, and the movie and the characters really like Dolly Parton. Which might turn off a lot of people at the outset. But the story actually is quite good. It’s about the daughter of a pageant queen who does not fit the mold of someone who would be in a pageant. But, sick of being overlooked by her mother, she decides to enter as a “fuck you” to the world.
It’s… it doesn’t go the places you would normally expect a movie like this to go. I can’t say it’s the most amazing movie ever, but it is very watchable and has some really nice elements to it. We’re at the stretch of the list where all the movies are pretty good, but might not be for everyone, yet have things about them that make them worth watching.
This is Gareth Evans’ followup to the two Raid movies. This is, very much not those movies. So be prepared for that going in.
It takes place in colonial times, as Dan Stevens goes to a town in search of his missing sister. And he happens upon a religious cult that runs this small town, and all the secrets the town (and the cult) hold. It’s really solid. Michael Sheen plays the cult leader, and the film does some interesting things with his and Stevens’ relationship. Also one of those movies where you don’t really know where it’s gonna go, and it takes a turn that you really wouldn’t expect.
Definitely not for everyone, but it’s really solid filmmaking in an area that I am fascinated by.
43. Like Father
This is a movie that I did not expect to go over as well as it did for me. Given the cast, I thought it would be some cheesy comedy that would be awful. But it’s not. It’s more drama than comedy.
The setup is something you’ve seen a bunch — Kristen Bell is a workaholic who is about to get married. She’s planned this out meticulously. Then her fiancé leaves her at the altar. Also during all this, her estranged father, Kelsey Grammar, shows up, even though she wants nothing to do with him. Though the two end up going out for drinks and getting fucked up, and next thing you know, they’re both on the honeymoon cruise she booked. So instead of a honeymoon, it’s her on a boat with her father, patching up that relationship.
It has a lot of scenes you’d expect for something like this, but it’s also got a lot of stuff that feels really well done and actually made me go, “Oh, wow, that’s actually not what I was expecting.” It’s definitely better than you think it’s gonna be.
It’s also directed by Lauren Miller, who did For a Good Time Call…, which I thought was also more solid than other movies of that ilk.
42. The Laundromat
Steven Soderbergh meeting Netflix is kind of a perfect development. Because his films never really did well theatrically and were always tough sells for the mass audience. But this way, they can just be out there and people can give them a shot and maybe some people who wouldn’t go for them on paper can maybe enjoy themselves.
This one’s about the Panama Papers, detailing all sorts of bank fraud and vast corruption that involved offshore money laundering. The film takes a Big Short-esque way of explaining it, with Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas as the two men in charge of the operation explaining how it works, while we also see a side story with Meryl Streep as a woman fleeced out of the life insurance claim she was entitled to after her husband’s death in a boating accident investigating all of this and helping uncover everything that’s going on.
It’s a very interesting, if uneven film that is trying to do a lot and only partially succeeds in doing so. But it is an interesting movie that feels perfect for this platform.
I didn’t know what to expect with this movie, and it turned out to be really solid and the kind of movie I keep randomly bringing up to people.
It’s about a woman who has become a cam girl in order to pay the bills. And she’s taken to doing crazier stunts, like faking suicide, in order to get more clicks/money, in the hopes of making the top ten of her cam site. Only one day, she notices that someone is logged in and performing on her account. Not just that… but it’s her. It’s an exact replica of her on there. And her whole world starts to unravel.
It’s the kind of movie where… it’s not about what’s actually happening. Since, if you’re really thinking about it, only two possibilities could be why, and you’re pretty sure it’s one and not the other. Really it’s just about this film putting you in a world that no film would ever really show you, and making it really worth watching on top of that. It’s a very solid piece of work.
I definitely recommend people see this one. It’s low budget, but it’s not the most complicated of films, and the product is really, really solid.
40. The Highwaymen
This is an admittedly flawed movie, but the prestige factor is high.
It’s about the Texas Rangers who caught (well… “caught”) Bonnie and Clyde. It’s directed by John Lee Hancock, who did The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder, and stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.
It’s a neo-western. Takes place in the 30s, so it’s a post-western western. And while the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, the product is solid on its own. Personally, I’d have wanted it to go the more meditative route, which it sets up while introducing Costner’s character. And it seems like both actors think they’re in The Assassination of Jesse James. But the film is trying to be more mainstream, and putting in more action sequences than are really necessary.
So, yeah, it’s the kind of movie that could have went a dozen spots higher on this list, but if you just take it as it is, it’s worth seeing and well done.
39. The Incredible Jessica James
This is by Jim Strouse, who did Grace Is Gone, The Winning Season and People Places Things. If you’ve seen any of them, you know his m.o. — small, character-driven indies that are ultimately pleasant.
This is pretty much the same thing, except with one secret weapon: Jessica Williams, who is a force of nature and delivers the type of performance that makes me shocked that she hasn’t immediately been snapped up for more things. She plays a playwright trying to move forward in her career and get over a bad breakup. She teaches acting to kids during the day, and submits plays at night. And the film is about her trying to make her way as she starts dating a new guy. Lakeith Stanfield plays her ex and Chris O’Dowd plays her new love interest.
It’s a really sweet film, and Williams is absolutely tremendous here. If you’re unfamiliar with her, you should see this, because she really delivers the type of performance and has the kind of natural charm that will make you sit up and take notice.
38. Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
This was one of those Netflix hidden gems for me in the earlier days when there weren’t a whole lot of options on the platform in terms of Originals.
It’s about two girls whose mother is in jail and they have to fend for themselves. The older girl is preparing for college and has to take care of the younger girl so foster care doesn’t take her away, maintain her valedictorian status and pay the bills. She’d also like to bail her mother out of jail. So, in order to do that, she starts robbing trains. Sounds crazy, but it’s not. Totally works, and the tone is light and fun.
Definitely one of those movies I recommend. Simple movie with simple pleasures, but these are the best ones to find. They don’t require you to be in a mood to watch them, and you’re almost certainly gonna enjoy them.
37. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
This is a sequel to the show with a lot of flashbacks that take place between the episodes of the show. I’ve never seen the show, and I suspect those who have are the ones who would get the most out of the film. But, considering I know almost nothing about it and still enjoyed this movie should tell you that you don’t need the show to enjoy it.
It feels like the exact type of movie that is perfect for the Netflix platform. It’s not quite theatrical and not quite TV movie. This way, you can binge the show and then throw on the movie and supplement it with this. But, even without the show, I found it entertaining, so I think it’s just a decently solid movie that you don’t have to feel the pressure of the show to watch.
36. A Futile and Stupid Gesture
This is a biopic of the founding of National Lampoon and its co-founder Doug Kenney. David Wain directs, and any minor comedy people are gonna recognize him from some of their favorite things (Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, They Came Together).
It takes a really interesting biopic route in that it completely breaks the fourth wall, is very aware that it is a movie, and… well, I won’t get into the big one, but the movie makes it a point to tell you about it.
It’s a fun movie. The cast is solid, and there are cameos left and right. I appreciate that for the most part they spiritually cast some of these really famous people (like Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and John Belushi) rather than trying to force it.
I would say that it’s a better experiment at a non-traditional biopic than it is a great movie, but it’s a good enough movie that it’s worth seeing for both entertainment value and how it tackles the monotony of telling someone’s story and tries to stay true to who the person was at the same time.
35. Roxanne Roxanne
An interesting biopic about Roxanne Shante, famous for delivering the freestyle “Roxanne’s Revenge” at age 14. The film deals with her tumultuous upbringing and all the factors that went into (or didn’t) her famous verse.
It starts with a really awesome scene of her mother taking her to a rap battle (because, remember, she’s as child) where she proceeds to demolish the other competitor. That was a really awesome opening. It then goes to some dark places, specifically with her relationship to Mahershala Ali, a much older (and not particularly nice) man, but also some cool ones, such as her repeating interactions with a younger aspiring rapper who turns out to be someone everyone knows.
I really liked this one. It was one of the earlier Netflix movies, and there are some really terrific scenes interspersed among some of the more tedious ones. Overall, I think this is a biopic worth checking out.
Andrew Niccol makes yet another high-concept technology movie. This is the man who write and/or directed: Gattaca, The Truman Show, Lord of War and In Time.
The premise is that society has become completely transparent. Everyone knows who everyone else is, and their entire lives are documented publicly. As a result, crime is almost minimal. However, Clive Owen, a detective, finds a woman who is not in the system, right as a series of murders begin taking place by someone who is seemingly hidden from the system. And of course, things take off from there as he goes undercover to try to figure out who she is/root out the murderer.
It’s not the greatest movie ever, much like In Time wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but the high concept nature of the premise allows you to at least consider all the other possibilities for a world like this, which will help get you through the less-interesting scenes of the film.
Overall, I think it’s the kind of movie that works on a platform like this, because it’s much easier to come across it than if it were just randomly out on DVD, looking like all the other generic versions that are out there.
33. Always Be My Maybe
First off, I love that Randall Park and Ali Wong co-wrote and produced this. That’s fantastic. So for that alone, this was always going to feature solidly on this list, just because it is the type of movie that Netflix should be putting out and people should be seeing. If anything deserves the views on the platform, it’s something like this. Because almost no studio would take a chance on a movie like this and get it out there in any real way.
Now, as a film — it’s actually pretty good. Not particularly laugh out loud funny, though it has some moments. It’s more a romance between these two characters… that doesn’t go the way you’d expect. They’re lifelong friends and the movie begins with them having sex. They sleep together on prom night. And it’s awkward and basically ends their friendship. And then they reconnect a dozen years later as adults.
It’s a really sweet movie and I will admit that I did shed a tear at the very end. Truly one of the better things on this platform that really deserves your views. This is all that’s right about what Netflix is doing.
32. Happy Anniversary
Lovely little romance movie. It’s about a couple approaching their three year anniversary who, over the course of the day, have to decide whether or not they want to keep going or just divorce. And the film jumps back and forth over the course of their relationship. The bad version is to say it’s like (500) Days of Summer, but it’s not that.
What really makes this work are the central performances from Ben Schwartz and Noël Wells. They’re both terrific here, and the movie is not just a dumb comedy or an overwrought drama about a married couple. It flows between all these different tones and styles to really just make it feel like it’s about these two people.
Definitely one of those where the good outweighs the bad and one of the first Netflix movies that kind of came out of nowhere for me. Unless it’s some highly promoted movie, chances are, you don’t know a lot of these things exist. Or if you do, it’s fleeting. This is one I put on out of nowhere, having no idea what to expect, and I found myself constantly going, “Oh, this is good. I like this.” Which is really what you want out of these things.
31. Point Blank
A pure Netflix action movie. Frank Grillo is making a career out of these. This one stars him as a criminal who ends up unconscious after an unseen opening sequence in which a murder is committed. Anthony Mackie plays the night nurse at the hospital who is treating Grillo. Grillo’s brother kidnaps Mackie’s wife and tells him he’s gotta get Grillo out of there, alive. Then Grillo wakes up, and eventually you find out there’s a ring of dirty cops, and now Mackie’s involved, so the two of them have to go out and stop this before they (and others) get killed — and it’s just a really fun B movie actioner.
It’s directed by Joe Lynch, who did Mayhem, another fun B movie, and it’s just wall to wall thrills. It’s a ‘guy’ kinda movie. If you like low-effort, high-enjoyment action movies, this is very much something you’ll get a kick out of. It also might be the first movie I can think of that has a fight scene in a car wash. Which is pretty sweet.
30. See You Yesterday
Spike Lee-produced time travel movie with a very strong social message behind it.
Two best friends are attempting to make time machines and eventually succeed. Only when they go back in time, they find out that the girl’s brother was shot by the police. So the rest of the movie becomes about them attempting to go back in time and prevent that from happening.
It’s a really well done movie. The relationship between the characters and the situating of them as very intelligent but not also social outcasts the way you’d see in other movies is really nice. And the racial/cultural message behind it is something I really, really liked.
Overall, I would say that this is the most satisfying experiences I’ve had watching a Netflix movie, and I feel like it’s one people should watch, because it feels like the kind of movie that might spur on a young aspiring filmmaker to create something interesting and unique.
29. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Noah Baumbach movie. We’ve been working our way up the list of “indie auteurs” who have found a platform to get their movies out there without the worry of having them perform at the box office despite only being in like, 200 theaters max.
Baumbach here makes what could be his best movie. As someone who generally dislikes most of his output, that’s a huge compliment from me. (I’m still a big Frances Ha fan, but this is probably the only other one I’d say I don’t openly dislike in some way.) So yes, do know that I’m generally biased going in, but as a film, this had some moments I really enjoyed.
It’s the… not saga… but story of a family. Dustin Hoffman plays the patriarch and Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller play his sons, while Elizabeth Marvel plays his daughter. Grace Van Patten plays Sandler’s daughter, and Emma Thompson (with far too few screen time) plays Hoffman’s wife. Hoffman is about to have a show put on (he’s an artist) celebrating his work as a sort of lifetime achievement thing. And the family all gathers together in the wake of that, despite not really having talked or seen each other outside of the usual pleasantries for a while.
Hoffman is good, as per usual, Stiller is actually quite solid, and Sandler reminds us of the kind of work he can do when doing drama and not the dumb comedies. Elizabeth Marvel is the real scene-stealer here, and there’s a terrific scene where she opens up about something that happened to her and her brothers… let’s just say, get their “revenge.” It’s a very funny moment.
This feels like one of the prime examples of what Netflix as a platform can offer people, and while it’s not necessarily my favorite movie, I do appreciate what it is and what it means for the sanctity of the Netflix Original.
28. Shimmer Lake
The perfect kind of movie to stumble upon while lazily searching the platform.
This is a crime thriller, told entirely in reverse. Not like, Memento style, but more like — there are like five or six chapters, all about 15 minutes long, told in reverse order. So you start with the “ending” so to speak, and then work backwards, piecing everything together as you go along. And it’s all dealing with the fallout of a small town bank heist.
The narrative conceit does make this more interesting than your average crime thriller. Though that isn’t the only conceit the film has. The other is more subtle, but notable. The cast is primarily comprised of mainly comedic actors who are all cast against type. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts the movie in the end, but that is something the film does on top of telling its story in reverse.
Overall, I had fun with this, and while it isn’t the best movie ever, I do think this is the kind of movie that shines on a platform like this, where the stakes are low and all it takes is some storytelling flair to help something stand out and be better than the rest of the stuff out there. As such, I do think this is one of the better Netflix Originals they’ve put out.
It’s one thing to tell someone to watch a crime thriller that’s on Netflix. It’s another to go, “Watch this movie. It’s a crime thriller told in reverse.” Someone’s more likely to actually check it out that way.
27. The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles’ final film. The saga to having this be finished and released is so complicated that a companion documentary was released alongside it. (It’s called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and it’s great. For sure worth seeing on top of seeing this.)
Welles started shooting the film in 1970 and continued on-and-off for the next couple of years, before occasionally going back to it and working on it up until his death in 1985. Then it ended up in various legal and otherwise hells for years and years until 2014, when a group of people (spearheaded by Peter Bogdanovich, a Welles devote and protege, who recorded some incredible interviews with Welles that are also worth listening to) got together to finally get it finished. Netflix eventually stepped up and helped give them the last little bit of money they needed and as a result, the film is now public for anyone who wants to see it, completed to the best of everyone’s abilities, using the notes Welles left behind.
The story alone makes the film worth seeing. The fact that it’s an Orson Welles film doubles down on it. The film itself is its own weird little piece of work, both documentary and avant garde film in one. It takes place on the last day of a famous filmmaker’s life. John Huston plays the filmmaker (a thinly-veiled portrait of Welles, though he denied it), and we follow a documentary crew following him around on his birthday while intercutting with the actual film he’s making, which is this weird, surreal movie with no dialogue and only a vague plot to it. It feels like Welles’ answer to “New Hollywood,” and all the auteurs that came out in the late 60s, early 70s. Though he does a lot of work that really predates where cinema would be going (which is a motif over the course of his career).
It’s an interesting movie because… it was “missing” for so long, that it would have been very difficult for the film to live up to any expectations people may have had for it. But I think it does. It’s one of those movies where, you almost need to view it in context, because without it you may go, “What he hell is this?” But this is the final work of cinema’s most iconoclastic auteur’s, who liked to push the boundaries of what the medium would do while also constantly fighting to get his vision on the screen.
26. Private Life
Tamara Jenkins is one of those perfect filmmakers for Netflix. She doesn’t work as much as, say, a Nicole Holofcener or Noah Baumbach, but her movies are such that they are delightful indies that generally have limited audiences when it comes to theatrical releases. Her last movie was The Savages. Even now, I feel like a good amount of people barely know what that movie even is.
Her films are always somewhat autobiographical, and this one feels very much so. The Savages was about her and her brother dealing with the illness and death of their father. This is about her attempts to start a family via in vitro fertilization. So much of the things in this movie feel directly pulled from real-life experiences, and that’s what ends up making it much better as a movie.
Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play the couple. Both are tremendous here. Giamatti is always expected to be great, and he is. Hahn got all the notices for this because she’s mainly known for comedic roles. They end up dealing with the struggles (both emotional and financial) of these procedures while also taking in their niece, who wants to get out of home and get into an artistic workshop sort of place that will help her grow as an artist. Kayli Carter plays their niece and steals nearly every scene she’s in.
This is the kind of movie where — while I could see some people not necessarily responding to some of the other indie dramas the platform has put out, this is one that feels so specific that it ends up becoming universal, and even if you haven’t gone through the things these characters are, you will still feel like you totally relate to everything they’re going through.
Netflix’s version of John Wick. But with Mads Mikkelsen. Fun fact: he trained as a gymnast and dancer before he became an actor.
The film knows it’s similar to John Wick, and even plays on that fact in the early stages when Mikkelsen’s character gets a dog. (Don’t worry, it also shows that it’s very much not like John Wick shortly thereafter.) The premise is, he’s an aging hitman who just wants to retire and get out. And the syndicate he works for has a retirement package for hitmen once they reach a certain age (a retirement plan, if you will). Only the other hitmen start dying, one by one, and pretty soon, he’s the next target on the list. So mostly it’s him going back out there to murder everyone so he can spend the rest of his life in peace.
It’s awesome. Just a straight up fun movie that takes zero effort to enjoy and is exactly the kind of movie I want on a platform like Netflix. If it came out in theaters, you’d be like, “Okay, a John Wick knockoff that’s not as good and is kinda fun.” Here, you’re like, “This movie’s awesome. Yeah, it’s kind of John Wick, but who cares?”
24. Our Souls at Night
Lovely, lovely little movie that is exactly the kind of thing Netflix should be putting out. If it weren’t on here, no one would have seen this.
It’s a romance movie between two widowers, played by Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. At first they’re just neighbors who barely know one another. Then she reaches out and the two become friendly, then friends, and so on. It’s really sweet.
Films like this are typically a hard sell to mainstream audiences, so having this just be on the platform for people to stumble upon and watch is so nice. And you get two of cinema’s greatest legends getting to share the screen one more time. Not only is this perfectly fit for a Netflix Original, it’s also a great movie, to boot.
23. Velvet Buzzsaw
Tony Gilroy’s third movie, after Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel, Esq. Expectations were high for this, and Netflix bought it in a big Sundance acquisition and put it out a month later. Reviews ended up being very mixed, but I think that’s just due to the fact that it’s a really difficult film.
It’s a horror movie set in the art world. There are no particularly likable characters in the film, either. It’s also got a supernatural element to it. Like I said, it’s not an easy movie. But there are rewards to it. Gilroy as a filmmaker/writer seems to like elevated B movie plots, and this feels just like his other ones. Nightcrawler is a straight noir, Roman J. Israel is also a bit of a noir, but more a social drama as well, while this feels almost in the vein of a Val Lewton kind of horror at times.
The point is — it’s a really solid movie that will get you talking, one way or the other, and I think Netflix was the perfect place for this, because if they put it out in theaters, the mixed reviews and likelihood of audiences not “getting” it would have made it die an agonizing death at the box office. This way, people can check it out and talk about it and keep the conversation going.
I know people will likely have very strong opinions about this being where it is on the list, but I would argue that it’s very much the kind of movie that should be here. I’ve thought about this a lot more than I’ve thought about a lot of the other movies the platform has put out.
22. The King
It’s Shakespeare but without the dialogue.
David Michod (director of Animal Kingdom and also War Machine for Netflix) directs an adaptation of several of the ‘Henry’ plays about Henry V. He co-wrote it with Joel Edgerton, who plays Falstaff, and the film stars Timothee Chalamet as Hal, boy king who at first doesn’t want the throne but then ascends to it after the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn). And the film is about him learning to become king while also trying not to go to war with France, whose king (a great Robert Pattinson) seem determined to go to war with him.
It’s a really wonderful film. You forget how great Shakespeare is because most of the times they adapt it, you can’t get past how boring the dialogue is. But if you strip that away and just have people talk the way they would in movies, you still have all the brilliant drama that’s there. Kings and succession and betrayal and legacies — all the great Shakespearean tropes.
I really like this movie a lot and think it’s the perfect film to further the Netflix brand and also the perfect film to be on Netflix. Great performances all around, great direction, and the kind of movie that becomes easier to watch because it’s right there. You can put it on thinking, “I can just turn it off if I don’t like it,” and then you’ll find yourself watching the whole thing and going, “Wow, that was really good.”
21. Outlaw King
This is David Mackenzie’s followup to Hell or High Water, and it’s an epic about Robert the Bruce and Scottish Independence. The Robert the Bruce story overlaps with the William Wallace/Braveheart story, and the film is cognizant of that. It is not a Braveheart sequel, as some of the advertising and reviews might have you think. If you look at it that way, you’re gonna be disappointed.
On its own, it’s a strong piece of work. There are some great battle scenes here, and some fine acting work along the way (Aaron Taylor-Johnson in particular). The script may be a bit slight, but you’re almost gonna say that about any epic of this sort. This is the kind of movie that feels like it’s helped by Netflix, just because getting people out to a movie that does similar things to Braveheart is a tall order nowadays.
20. Triple Frontier
The saga behind this movie is crazy. At one point Tom Hanks and Will Smith were gonna be in it, and then they had a cast with Tom Hardy before Paramount abruptly backed away a month before shooting. And then Netflix swooped in, recognizing this as exactly the kind of movie that would work for them — a movie with a cool cast and a filmmaker that will get people to see it on his name alone. J.C. Chandor had made Margin Call, All Is Lost and A Most Violent Year before this, and there are a fair amount of people (myself included) who were gonna go see whatever it was he decided to make.
This is a special forces heist movie. I guess if you mixed Three Kings and Zero Dark Thirty. They’re all former soldiers who band together to make the money they never quite made in service. They’re gonna go deep in the jungle to rob a drug lord. Oscar Isaac is the mastermind behind it all, and he’s got personal reasons for wanting to do it. Ben Affleck is his right hand man and the sort of blueprint guy, who knows how to make these things run smoothly. Pedro Pascal is the pilot. And Charlie Hunnam and Garrett Hedlund are brothers.
What’s interesting about this movie isn’t so much that it’s about the heist… it’s about what happens after the heist. Sure, going into a guarded compound, killing a bad guy and making off with his money are things these guys know how to do just fine. But now, how do you move a couple thousand pounds of money out of the jungle? And the movie spends so much time on that, which I really liked.
Tonally, this might not be what everyone thinks they’re getting, but it’s a really strong movie that goes places you don’t see in these types of films. It’s also the kind of movie — and you’re gonna see me say this a lot from here on out on the list — it’s the kind of movie you wouldn’t normally expect to be on Netflix. It’s almost like when the new expansion team manages to get one superstar to add an ounce of legitimacy to it. That’s almost how this feels.
19. High Flying Bird
The fact that it’s a Soderbergh movie alone means it’s gonna be one of the top tier Netflix movies out there. But also, it’s one of his movies that fits the platform, because it’s mainly just two people in a room, talking. It would be hard to release something like this theatrically and turn a profit. I feel like, fifteen years ago, this would have been a straight up TV/HBO movie. Now, it can go on Netflix and get seen by millions of people.
It’s about a sports agent who is dealing with an NBA lockout and uses it as an opportunity to attempt a bold new opportunity for one of his clients, which will shake up the world of sports forever. It’s really strong, though going in you need to know that it’s a sports movie without any sports in it. There’s no actual scenes of people playing, save one pseudo-moment. Mostly it’s people and agents in rooms, talking. But even so, it’s a fascinating movie.
Soderbergh rarely makes anything less than a very good movie, and this is the perfect movie for Netflix. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially the viewer.
18. First Match
I don’t know if anyone really knows what this movie is. But it blew me away when I first saw it.
It’s about a girl who’s been in foster care most of her life, and is in real danger of becoming just another statistic. Her father is in and out of jail and she’s got unresolved anger issues, which tend to get her in a lot of trouble at school and kicked out of one foster home after another. She ends up joining the boy’s wrestling team as a way to channel her anger (and also possibly use it as a way to get her father back into her life).
It’s the kind of movie that you start watching and immediately go, “I know where this is going.” But it never quite goes there, even if it kinda goes in the general direction you were expecting. It was a really smart piece of work, with fantastic central performances. This is one of the lowest profile movies at this point on the list, which should tell you how strong I think the movie is. Mind you, this is a movie that would have gotten zero visibility were it not for Netflix, which goes to show the kind of good the platform can do.
17. The Perfection
This fucking movie.
This is one of the best Netflix experiences out there. I’m not gonna say it’s one of the best movies, but it’s one of the best experiences.
The first 40 minutes of this movie are absolutely perfect. Then you’re left reeling for the next 20 minutes as you try to piece together just what the hell is going on, even as the movie shows you what’s going on. Then the last half hour or so goes in a different direction, which I’m not sure is as strong as the initial stages, but definitely feels like something the movie wants to do.
Directed by Richard Shepherd, who always makes really interesting, yet tonally tricky movies (The Matador, The Hunting Party, Dom Hemingway), it’s… okay, the setup is that Allison Williams is a child music prodigy who has to stop her studies to care for her sick mother. And now, ten years later, her mother has finally died and now she goes back out to find her teacher, who is touring with a new prodigy. And the movie takes off from there. Trust me when I say it goes to some crazy places, and it’s not the kind of thing where you know where it’s going even when you think you do (and even, to an extent, they tell you where it’s going).
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, and I think the first 40 minutes are some of the best 40 minutes of a movie I’ve seen in a while.
16. In the Shadow of the Moon
I had no idea what to expect when going into this movie and I suspect most people feel the same way. I don’t get the sense that anyone even knows what this movie is. But trust me, it’s one of the best the platform has.
It starts as a police thriller — Boyd Holbrook is a cop who comes upon a group of random people who all get murdered in the same night in the same mysterious way. He tracks down the killer, only to have her get hit by a train. Only, nine years later, the same exact thing happens again, with the same killer. And it begins a decades-long obsession for him, where he tries to figure out just what is going on and stop it before it happens the next time.
This is a movie that slowly unravels and is full of interesting characters and great ideas and just beautiful moments. I suspect the reason it’s not widely known is partly because of the amount of stuff on the platform and partly because not everyone feels about it the way I do. But I think this is one of the best I’ve seen of the Netflix Originals. It had me engaged from the jump and I found myself going with it more and more as we got deeper into the story and the mystery of it all.
This is the exact kind of movie I want to be promoting and getting people to see, because it’s just quietly on the platform and almost no one knows what it is and how good it is.
15. Bird Box
If you ask random people what the bigger/biggest movies on the Netflix platform are, chances are this would be one of them. I think this became one of their highest-viewed Original films pretty quickly upon release.
It’s a post-apocalyptic movie with an ensemble cast of great actors. The premise is, some aliens come down, and, if you look them in the eye, you die. That’s the simplest way to put it. They make you go so crazy that you immediately kill yourself in whatever way possible. So in order to go around the world and not be completely sealed in one room forever, people have to wear blindfolds. The movie happens in stages. And it continues to be interesting as we move from stage to stage. Some are… admittedly not as good as the others. But overall, it’s a really solid movie and represents the kind of movie that Netflix puts out when it’s doing things right.
14. The Polka King
This is the kind of offbeat movie that’s perfect for Netflix. Tonally this is not something you could sell easily, or something you could expect most mainstream audiences to immediately pick up on and go along with.
It’s one of those weird comedies where the people aren’t particularly good people, but they’re entertaining, and even though they’re doing not great things, it’s played for laughs and it’s all just a good time and no one’s taking it particularly seriously. And it’s based on real events, so it’s one of those where, if you didn’t know it was real, you’d wonder how the hell someone made all this up.
Jack Black plays Jan Lewan (real guy), a Polish bandleader who performed polka shows in Pennsylvania. Struggling to pay his band and get anywhere, he devises a plan that will get him money: a Ponzi scheme. He’s going to have people invest in him, and eventually he will pay them back once he gets successful. Though mostly he’s getting money from nice old people, and he really has no way to ever pay them back. And, wanting to please everyone, he just sort of goes deeper and deeper into the hole. Even when the government comes and says, “You can’t keep doing this, this is illegal” — he keeps doing it!
It’s a really funny movie, and yet another in a line of great Jack Black performances that are sneaky good and show that he has a knack for picking really terrific material (also check out Bernie and The D Train. I’m also a fan of The Big Year, but not everyone else is). Also co-written and directed Maya Forbes, who also did Infinitely Polar Bear, the movie with Mark Ruffalo as the bipolar dad, which was quite good and also nice and offbeat tonally.
This was a movie that was figuratively made for Netflix (and yes, literally as well). You could never put this out theatrically and get anywhere with it. Here, you get such a greater opportunity for people to stumble upon it and go, “Oh wow, this movie is hilarious.” And it is, and you should check it out if or whenever you get the chance.
13. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
This movie is so wonderful, and could never have been released anywhere else. This is such a tonally impossible movie to market, no one would have went to see it if they released it theatrically.
It’s a very, very dark comedy, with shades of the Coen brothers. It’s a simple revenge story where everything is done in a very realistic, “how things would go in real life” manner, but all the characters are larger than life, but put in a real world environment, and the whole thing just adds up to a beautifully weird and wonderful film.
The film begins with Melanie Lynskey going about her day and all sorts of little everyday things that piss you off. Then she comes home to find that her house got robbed. And she decides to do something about it, along with her very angry-about-it-and-everything neighbor Elijah Wood. And it’s just a saga, where they meet a bunch of scumbag criminals, and pretty much everyone is very bad at what they do.
Don’t even think about the plot, just see it. It works perfectly. This movie won Sundance, if that helps at all. And it was written and directed by Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin and Green Book for Jeremy Saulnier and wrote Hold the Dark for Saulnier (and curiously enough wrote Small Crimes, which is also on this list).
Aside from the fact that it is quite a good movie, I love the fact that Netflix was here to put this movie out. Because seriously, when you watch this movie, if you’ve seen enough stuff that comes out, you’ll realize that no one would ever be able to release this in any traditional theatrical way and expect to turn a profit.
You know the movie Drive? Almost definitely. You know the movie Locke with Tom Hardy? Maybe. Put those two together and that’s this movie.
Frank Grillo is a getaway driver who finds out he’s been double-crossed and has to figure out what went wrong and who is responsible. And the entire movie, from the very first shot until about, the last… I don’t know, ten minutes, takes place entirely in his car. A lot of frantic phone calls and tense moments and chases. But it’s awesome. This is a perfect movie for the platform. A genre movie with a cool conceit that elevates it above most of the others. The fact that it takes place almost entirely in the car just makes it so much better.
For most people, this is just a solid little knockoff of other movies. For me, it’s exactly what I want out of the platform and its movies. So it might be going slightly higher because this is my personal list. But on the other hand, good entertainment is good entertainment. And this is one of the best I’ve seen from Netflix.
11. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Netflix is single-handedly bringing back the rom com. Which is awesome. You never know how starved you are for a genre until more of them start coming out again. And some of them are actually done well.
This is based on a YA novel about a girl who writes love letters to all the boys she has deep crushes on. She never sends them, just writes them and then puts them away in her closet. Only her younger sister finds them… and mails them out. So now this girl is faced with the prospect of all these boys knowing her real feelings about them. And… honestly it doesn’t go how you expect it to.
The writing is really fun. The banter totally works, and all the rom com stuff is very likable. And even the cheesy/overly YA elements of the story don’t bog it down too much. This was also, I feel like I read somewhere, one of the highest-viewed movies on the platform after it came out. Which makes it a pretty representative movie for them in terms of what the best is the platform has to offer. It’s also one of those movies that I feel like everyone would like, just because it’s very pleasant and actually quite good.
10. The Christmas Chronicles
That’s right, folks. The Kurt Russell Christmas movie is in the top ten.
This is exactly the kind of movie that I want to think about when I think of a Netflix movie. It’s one of those you kinda know about from when they announce it, because “Kurt Russell playing Santa Claus,” but then you really don’t know what the hell you’re gonna get going in, but end up being way more entertained than you think you’re gonna be.
This movie is an absolute delight. The way Kurt Russell plays Santa Claus is absolutely amazing. He’s the Santa who doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s Santa. He’s like, “Hey, Carter, remember when you wanted that action figure when you were ten?” And Carter’s like, “Dude, who the hell are you?” It’s so good.
This movie features a scene of Santa having a car chase with police and a full-on musical number in jail. Not to mention a scene where an elf is about to take a chainsaw to a guy’s nuts. (I’m not making that up.) It’s also a lovely little movie. Two kids whose father has recently passed make a plan to catch Santa on camera as he delivers their gifts. Only, they end up on a much bigger adventure than that. Simple premise, a lot of cool things to work with in between.
This is what I want out of Netflix. Movies like this. This is one of the best things they’ve ever put out.
This is my favorite Netflix movie that you know nothing about. I adore this movie.
It’s a simple movie with a simple story. Despite thriller and crime overtones, it’s just a romance at heart. Callum Turner is the son of immigrants whose brother keeps getting himself in trouble because of anger issues. One day, after an assault, his brother ends up in lockup, and calls his brother to say he has to go do a job for him (that he himself was supposed to do). It’s simple, get in a car with a stranger and deliver a briefcase. Grace Van Patten is the stranger, and the briefcase… well, it ends up in the hands of the wrong person. So now the two of them have to go find who they gave it to and get it back before any of the bad people involved at the top end of this deal find out.
The majority of the film takes place as Turner and Van Patten go around, trying to get the briefcase back, and that’s where the romantic element of the film begins, and really what the heart of it is. It’s only 80 minutes, so it moves, and it’s the performances of the two leads that makes it really work as well as it does.
This is definitely the highest movie on the list that I know most people don’t know exist, and you need to trust me when I say that it absolutely deserves this spot and really ought to be seen by more people.
For a minute there, this almost overtook Beasts of No Nation as the best Netflix movie out there. Some still might say it’s better. Either way, we can all agree that this is a movie made by a distinct filmmaker with a vision, and that it is generally regarded as a terrific movie.
It’s a story of two families. One white, one black. And the sons of the families both return home from war, changed by the events, and return to the rural south, where they both have to, in their own way, contend with the “way things are done,” which includes a lot of racism and segregation. Only the two, bonded by their experiences of war, see past all that, and it creates tensions for both them and their families.
It’s a really well put-together film. It ended up getting Oscar attention, including the first nomination ever for a female cinematographer. It’s hard to talk about what the best and most representative Netflix Originals are without having this at or near the top of the list.
7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
As I’ve said, this feels like a Coen brothers album of B-sides. As such, putting this on Netflix felt like the right way to go. It was going to be a six episode miniseries, and then they just decided to make it one long anthology film. And it works for Netflix. This is a tough sell in a movie theater. Any anthology movie is. Here, the stakes are low and you can watch it in chunks.
While I do think this is a lesser Coen brothers movie (and realize that a lesser Coen brothers movie is based solely on how incredible their work is around it), it automatically becomes one of the best Netflix movies, just because what they put out is far and away better than most of the stuff that will come out on the platform on a weekly basis.
It’s got six stories, all wildly different in tone and story, but all centering around the western genre. The opening segment with Buster Scruggs/Tim Blake Nelson is the most overtly funny of the group, but it does go to many different emotions, ending on a very dark note, which I’m sure tickled the Coens to no end.
This is one of those where — it’s a Coen brothers movie. Why wouldn’t it be in the top ten of all Netflix movies?
Also still can’t believe the Tom Waits segment wasn’t called “Waiting for Gold-ot.”
6. Set It Up
This movie is the one. This is the one where I said, “They’ve singlehandedly revived the rom com.” This actually fits among the better rom coms in recent years. The concept, the chemistry and the writing are all top notch here, to the point where I became delighted very, very quickly by this movie.
The set (it) up (I regret nothing) for the movie is, Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell are assistants to two high profile bosses. His is Taye Diggs and hers is Lucy Liu. Both are overworked and their bosses are nuts and make their lives a living hell. The two (after one of the more unique meet-cutes I’ve seen) decide to work together in order to get their bosses to date one another so they’ll be able to have more free time for themselves. So they’re gonna get their bosses together, but instead… well, you know how it goes.
It’s so well-written, and the chemistry between Deutch and Powell is off the charts. If you grew up (as I did) with rom coms like 10 Things I Hate About You and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (and other movies with the number 10 in them), this feels of a piece with those. And what those have in common (even throw 13 Going on 30 in there, though that’s more a Big scenario than a rom com, but there’s the rom com element too. Plus numbers) is that, when you watch them years later, there’s smart writing and the films are just likable. And that’s what this is.
Not only is this all of that… it helped REVIVE A GENRE. This is the total package for a Netflix Original, and with a lot of other rom coms to choose from on the platform, you need to know that currently, this one is still the best.
5. Dolemite Is My Name
Scott Alexander and Larry Karasewski biopics were made for Netflix. They’re the guys who write all the weird niche biopics like Ed Wood, People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes (People vs. O.J.)… this is their purview. And those are all movies that get watched and rewatched and end up on platforms like this doing really well. So having this immediately start there is kind of a big deal for it. Because the films never do that well in theaters. It’s always the ancillary market where people find them. So now it’s got a perpetual life on there.
It’s a biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, a singer/comedian who decided to reinvent himself by creating the persona of a pimp named Dolemite, which he turned into his own 1975 blaxploitation film. And really, this is just a movie about friends making a movie together. And that’s why it’s so great. It’s such a likable movie and gives Eddie Murphy his best role in years.
This movie was truly made for something like Netflix and it’s instantly one of the best they’ve ever had. This might be the biggest crowd pleaser on this entire list.
4. Beasts of No Nation
The very first Netflix Original, and it stood as number one for a long time. I think it’s because it was originally just going to be a movie came out and then Netflix bought it to make a splash, so they could campaign it for awards. So in a way, it’s not really the kind of movie that Netflix paid for and was shot knowing it would end up on the platform, but also, it is the prototypical “Netflix Original movie.” For a while, this was the one we referred to when we talked about the platform’s original content.
It’s Cary Fukunaga’s followup to True Detective, and was very much anticipated throughout its production. Netflix made a big deal about getting it. And honestly, in the end, I feel like so many more people saw this than would have otherwise simply because it was so widely accessible on their platform. You know if this got the usual Oscar run, they’d have put it in like five theaters in New York and LA for a couple of weeks, the Academy would have gotten screeners, and it wouldn’t have gone in any sort of wide release unless it got nominated for/won awards (and even then, not that wide). No one would have gone to a theater to see this. It’s basically about African child soldiers and Joseph Kony. Not exactly a date movie, you know?
Still, it is a wonderful film, and Idris Elba gives a terrific performance (which ended up winning him a Screen Actors Guild award).
Definitely one of those movies you wouldn’t expect to see on Netflix, but the fact that it is makes the entire platform look better.
Bong Joon-ho’s follow up to Snowpiercer. It’s a difficult movie to describe, but here goes: a multinational corporation is trying to help solve world hunger. They’re doing this by raising genetically engineered “super pigs.” They send a bunch to different corners of the globe to have farmers raise them, in the hopes of having the “best in show,” so to speak. The film takes place in Korea, as a little girl has grown up with her pig and sees it as a friend. Only now, the corporation wants the pig back, for… well, you can guess. And pretty soon the girl and the pig are on an international adventure.
It’s a very weird (in a great way) hybrid of a movie. It’s a family movie, but also very much has a social message at its core, and has something to say. It’s the kind of movie you wouldn’t expect to be for the whole family, yet it very much is. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a fantastic performance as a nature show host who… well, the less said there, the better. I love the character he crafted with that one. Also Tilda Swinton… yes.
This movie is so lovable and so good. These top movies are all ones where it’s like, “They almost don’t belong here, but because they are, they’re the best the platform has.”
2. The Irishman
It’s weird to think of this as a Netflix film, but, here we are. It’s a three-and-a-half hour opus about aging, guilt, regret, legacy… you know, a Martin Scorsese gangster picture.
You’ve got De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Keitel… Scorsese gets the band back together for one last rodeo. And it’s a beautiful film. A movie like this could only be made by Netflix nowadays because Netflix is the only place that would pay the price tag on it. The film de-ages all of its actors close to 40 years. And because it’s Scorsese, he doesn’t allow for anything less than perfect. And honestly, most of that stuff is perfect. There are a couple of moments where you can feel it, but largely, it totally works.
It’s a movie that is best served being on this platform, because asking people to go to a theater for 209 minutes is a bit of an ask. This way, people can sit in the comfort of their homes and get through the whole thing, and then have it at their disposal to watch the way they have all his other films at their disposal.
It’s a really stunning achievement and the kind of film that doesn’t totally fit the Netflix model, but also is technically a Netflix film, so therefore it automatically becomes one of the absolute best ever. What can you do?
It’s gonna be really hard to dethrone this movie as the best Netflix has ever put out. This movie is a straight up masterpiece, and in a way it’s fortunate they decided to let it be released on the platform.
That said, I doubt a lot of people would have gone to a theater to see this in its initial run. Only hardcore film fans like myself. Hard to imagine this getting the amount of exposure that it did by being on Netflix. I imagine so many more people managed to see this because of that, and it’s nice, because this is exactly the kind of movie that should be seen by more people. It truly is Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. And that’s not to take away from Children of Men or Gravity (or even Azkaban), but this movie is an exceptional piece of art that transcends everything else on this platform by a nautical mile.
Everything else on this list is about whether or not it’s a worthwhile Netflix movie. This is the one where, it’s a great movie, and one that everyone remotely interested in film should see, and the fact that it’s on Netflix makes it easier for you to actually see it. Here’s hoping Netflix continues putting out content that can contend with this for the top spot.
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See the rest of the Netflix Rankings:
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