Worldwide icon-chevron-right The 28 best Netflix originals
Okja
Photograph: Netflix

The 28 best Netflix originals

Here are all the Netflix original films that are worth your time, from ‘Roma’ to ‘Marriage Story’ via ‘Uncut Gems’

By Time Out Film
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Netflix is now more productive than any of the traditional Hollywood film studios. The streaming giant creates more than a hundred in-house movies a year, working with major directors and indie stars alike – and they’re all available online. So with such a sprawling library to contend with, where do you start?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice, our run-down of the best Netflix originals should help. From Oscar-winning blockbusters like ‘Roma’ and ‘Marriage Story’ to an array of trailblazing documentaries, these are our top picks right now.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best movies on Netflix US and Netflix UK

The best Netflix originals ever made

1. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Film Drama

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Cast: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah

‘Beasts of No Nation’ is a humane and uncompromising portrait of one boy’s experience as a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Tough to watch, it’s violent and pulls no punches. You want it to be hard to imagine, but actually it’s everything you’d imagine: civil war, family break-up, isolation, indoctrination, murder and rape. Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga, ‘Beasts’ is made with verve, fragmented and nightmarish, and blessed with the poetic rhythms of a version of English that’s mesmerising and alienating.

2. Sky Ladder: The Art Of Cai Guo-Qiang (2015)

Film Documentaries

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Cast: Documentary

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is internationally renowned for his spectacular ‘explosion paintings’ and dizzying firework displays, but for more than two decades one pet project proved elusive. First attempted in Bath (of all places) back in 1994 (it was cancelled due to bad weather, predictably), ‘Sky Ladder’ is just what its name implies: a runged column of flame reaching high (500 metres) into the air. This unfussy documentary from Kevin Macdonald follows Cai as he sets out on his fourth attempt to make ‘Sky Ladder’ a reality.

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3. 13TH (2016)

Film Documentaries

Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: Documentary

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement to say you need to see any movie more than once to absorb it fully. Yet ’Selma’ director Ava DuVernay’s dense, pulsating, overwhelming documentary on racial inequality in the US is so full of facts, voices, passion and wisdom that it’s almost impossible to keep up. What comes across loud and clear, however, is that this is a serious, timely, important film whose highways and byways of thought are worth travelling for anyone who cares to understand why, as DuVernay argues, slavery didn’t end with slavery.

4. Black (2016)

Film Drama

Director: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah

Cast: Sanaa Alaoui, Martha Canga Antonio

The Romeo and Juliet story never gets old, but the mix of youthful romance and rivalry has rarely been put across with such brute force as in this sinewy Belgian drama. The outline is familiar, as 15-year-old Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), the latest female recruit to Brussels gang the Black Bronx, falls for Moroccan boy Marwan, from a rival clan (Aboubakr Bensaihi). The Belgian-Moroccan directors certainly don’t bottle it, unleashing crunching carnage and some upsetting sexual violence to show how the gangs’ reign of fear victimises the women who come along for the ride then can’t break free.

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5. Chasing Coral (2017)

Film Documentaries

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Cast: Documentary

Educating audiences on abstract environmentalism is one thing; making them actually care about the inconvenient truth is another. Jeff Orlowski’s marvellous ‘Chasing Coral’ accomplishes the latter and even unexpectedly earns your tears via a suspenseful study of the mass death of coral reefs. By the end, you’ll see corals not only as underwater life forms but as dreamy, endangered neighbourhoods inhabited by unspeakably beautiful Nemos and Dorys.

6. Five Came Back (2017)

Film Documentaries

Director: Laurent Bouzereau

Cast: Documentary

When America went to war in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hollywood did too: Marquee film directors, struck by patriotism, became officers overnight and shipped out to the front lines with cameras, mounting their own propaganda campaigns. Mark Harris’s 2014 historical book of criticism has become an even better documentary, built out of harrowing battle footage and the testimony of several modern-day directors including Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro.

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7. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Film Comedy

Director: Macon Blair

Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, Devon Graye

Buckling with distinctly American rage, splattery violence and plenty of dark laughs, the immensely timely ‘I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore’ still feels like the movie of the moment. Lonely medical assistant Ruth (Melanie Lynskey, seething and magnetic) fumes at everything she sees. And when she comes home one day to find she’s been burgled, there’s an almost cosmic completion to her total state of sadness.

8. Icarus (2017)

Film Documentaries

Director: Bryan Fogel

Cast: Documentary

Imagine a version of Morgan Sperlock’s ‘Super Size Me’ in which, instead of merely bloating up, Sperlock entered into an uneasy friendship with an evil clown version of Ronald McDonald, and you’ll get a sense of the unexpected depth of ‘Icarus’. At first, we see self-medicating doc director Bryan Fogel injecting his tush with thick testosterone, hoping to compete in Switzerland’s Haute Route bicycle race. But in order to execute his plan, Fogel collaborates with Russia’s Grigory Rodchenkov, a disgraced doctor who masterminded his nation’s athletic doping programme. ‘Icarus’ eventually shifts into a fascinating exposé of the latter trickster.

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9. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)

Film Documentaries

Director: Griffin Dunne

Cast: Documentary

Unflinching and intimate, this documentary profile captures the whole of its subject’s no-bull perspective over decades of work. As shaped by Didion’s nephew, the actor Griffin Dunne, ‘Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold’ avoids easy answers; it has no use for sentiment. Instead it’s a crash course in the heady days of New Journalism, when Didion’s Malibu home was an informal salon for bearded Hollywood types and fresh thinking. Fans of Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ know her life is touched by tragedy; this film probes her depth of feeling, hidden by a survivor’s long gaze.

10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Film Comedy

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller

This witty and knotty comic portrait of a dysfunctional New York family unpacks the emotional baggage of three adult siblings played by Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Elizabeth Marvel – the kids of a New York sculptor, Harold (Dustin Hoffman, in a shuffling self-possessed performance). It’s core territory for writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), who thrives on Woody Allen-like grown-up comedies spun from the lives of urbanites.

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11. Mudbound (2017)

Film Drama

Director: Dee Rees

Cast: Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige

A period tale of two families directed by ‘Pariah’’s Dee Rees, Mudbound is a vivid, visceral drama that explores how the Second World War changed the racial dynamics in the deep South. As weather, isolation, farming matters and health issues enforce an uncomfortable mutual dependency, the dynamic between the two clans increases in complexity. Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, ‘Mudbound’ – is emotive but unsentimental: traversing it feels as authentically gunky as the muddy swamps in which it is set.

12. Okja (2017)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, An Seo Hyun

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Okja’ is a globalised caper comedy with a conscience buried somewhere among all its silliness. In the film’s sights are GM food production and the poor treatment of animals, and at its heart is a cute, often winning relationship between an oversized pig and a Korean girl called Mija (An Seo Hyun). Call it a wacky kids’ film with a message (one delivered in a script co-written with Jon Ronson), and it’s just fine.

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Natalie Portman in Annihilation
Natalie Portman in Annihilation
Photograph: Netflix

13. Annihilation (2018)

Film Science fiction

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh

It starts with a meteor crashing into a lighthouse on an average sunny day, and widens – over what’s whispered to be a few years – into a government secret called Area X. You pass through the ‘Shimmer’ (basically a jellyfish-tinted screensaver) into a zone where time stops, compasses spin out and the beaches sprout crystal trees that wouldn’t look out of place at a fancy ET’s Christmas party. ‘Annihilation’, a visually rapturous and sometimes unsettling movie, puts an ambitious spin on Jeff VanderMeer’s Nebula-winning 2014 novel of the same name.

Netflix

14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Film Drama

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Cast: James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tyne Daly

Richly entertaining and blackly funny but told with sincerity and heart, the half-dozen western tales packed into ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ show the Coen brothers loading up their six-shooter and firing barely a dud. Inevitably, some of the stories satisfy more than others: the final yarn, a spooky Washington Irving-like doodad starring Brendan Gleeson as a bounty hunter aboard a doom-laden coach, ends things on an oddly low-key note. But at roughly 20 minutes each, they’re mini-masterclasses in economy and style, given glorious sweep by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.

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15. Private Life (2018)

Film Drama

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Molly Shannon, Kayli Carter, Paul Giamatti

Antiseptic hallways, glib doctors and tense waiting rooms (where every couple seems to be facing down the unthinkable) make up the early goings of ‘Private Life’, a movie about the heart-wrenching calculations of in vitro fertilisation. Call it a major medical miracle, then, that this subject has found writer-director Tamara Jenkins, who transforms this crucible of disappointment and colossal financial strain into something close to a riot.

Photo: Netflix

16. Roma (2018)

Film Drama

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Nancy García García

In his deeply personal black and white marvel ‘Roma’, Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuarón unhurriedly observes the smallest details first, before expanding to gradually reveal the social and political canvas of 1970s Mexico City. It’s the city where he grew up – in a middle-class neighbourhood called Roma. A sober and autobiographical elegy about his childhood and the women who raised him (one hardworking live-in maid in particular), the movie coalesces out of episodic recollections, digitally filmed with a crisp, grain-free appearance for unsentimental visual conviction. 

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Photo: Netflix

17. Shirkers (2018)

Film Documentaries

Director: Sandi Tan

Cast: Documentary

Propelled by a decades-spanning mystery as unsettling as any in a David Lynch film, novelist-turned-documentarian Sandi Tan’s gloriously personal documentary Shirkers is a vivid scrapbook about growing up a cinephile and a misfit. It’s both a nostalgic throwback to ’80s and ’90s Singapore, where the filmmaker’s artistic appetite blossomed, and an emotional reconciliation with her past, which was interrupted by a shocking theft.

18. Atlantics (2019)

Film

Director: Mati Diop

Cast: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré

Young lovers are separated in this wistful, atmospheric first feature from Mati Diop, the first black female director to compete for the Cannes Palme d’Or. Soon after we meet spirited teenager Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) in Dakar, she is grinning at Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) across the road as traffic whizzes past, his solemn, lovelorn face holding secrets she doesn’t yet know. Soon there will be an ocean between them, and she will be left to wonder if he is alive or dead, while marrying a wealthy man she doesn’t love.

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Ilze Kitshoff / Netflix

19. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

Film Drama

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lily Banda,Maxwell Simba, Felix Lemburo

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s debut film is good for the soul – a true-life tale of hope and courage centered on a plucky teen whose tenacity pays off. As a storyteller, Ejiofor shows he is capable of crafting an emotionally rich narrative and competent, if not inspired, direction. But perhaps his greatest talent lies in his choice of cast, who elevate the material. Based on the memoir by William Kamkwamba, ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ tells the inspirational story of a curious-minded teen living in Malawi who saves his village from starvation by building a wind turbine hooked up to a peddle-bike dynamo.

Photograph: 2018 Vinton Productions

20. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Vince Gilligan

Cast: Krysten Ritter, Aaron Paul, Scott Shepherd, Jesse Plemons

Ever wondered what the first thing Shane did after he rode over the horizon? Or how Red and Andy set to work on that Mexican beach in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’? For those who argue that a perfect ending is best left untouched, this sporadically enjoyable but inessential and often inert Netflix ‘Breaking Bad’ extension is basically exhibit A. Still, it’s a classily-made slice of fan service.

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Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

21. The Great Hack (2019)

Film Documentaries

Director: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim

Cast: Documentary

Thinking about deleting your Facebook account? ‘The Great Hack’ will be one more reason to pull the plug – it’s a comprehensive doc on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a sleazy consulting firm mined behavioural information from millions of users to create targeted political propaganda across the social network and beyond. Pondering individual data rights and the sinister side of widespread connectivity, the co-directors diligently inspect how our innocent likes and shares became the building blocks of Brexit and Trump.

Photograph: Netflix

22. I Lost My Body (2019)

Film Animation

Director: Jérémy Clapin

Cast: Dev Patel, Alia Shawkat, George Wendt, Tucker Chandler

Remember Thing, the spider-like severed hand from ‘The Addams Family’? Well, another disembodied mitt is at the centre of French animation ‘I Lost My Body’: only it’s vulnerable instead of terrifying. Director Jérémy Clapin’s masterful adaptation of graphic novel ‘Happy Hand’ is a tender exploration of what it’s like to lose part of yourself, both metaphorically and literally. it all builds to a climax that’s as powerful as a fist, and as sensitive as your fingertips.

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Photo: Niko Tavernise/Netflix

23. The Irishman (2019)

Film Drama

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino

As The Five Satins’ ‘In the Still of the Night’ plays, the camera creeps forward... only this time it’s not through the Copacabana nightclub à la ‘Goodfellas’, but down a nursing home hallway. Is this where Scorsese’s gangsters end up? Only the unlucky ones, the film suggests. Adapted by Steven Zaillian (‘Schindler’s List’) from 2004 crime memoir ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’, this 209-minute epic isn’t about still nights so much as the dying of the light that comes with old age. It’s also about the belated surge of guilt that comes at the end of a life of crime.

24. The King (2019)

Film

Director: David Michôd

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris

A meaty piece of historical drama, ‘The King’ mixes power plays, canny twists and brutal, widescreen medieval battles (prepare for much clashing metal and head severing) with a refreshing lack of deference for the Shakespeare plays on which it’s loosely based. Sure, some of the historical detail is embellished and Shakespeare purists may scream heresy, but director David Michôd (‘Animal Kingdom’) has done something genuinely fresh and confident with this well-told piece of English folklore.

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Marriage Story
Marriage Story
Photograph: Netflix

25. Marriage Story (2019)

Film Drama

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Alan Alda, Laura Dern

Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama is a bruising tour de force. Rarely has Scarlett Johansson, pared-down and de-glammed, been this aching and betrayed. Never has Adam Driver, even with his ‘Star Wars’ rage monster Kylo Ren under his belt, torn into his lines with such vicious ruination. This is easily the film of Baumbach’s career, one that’s only sharpening. Don’t expect a happy ending.

26. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)

Film Documentaries

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Documentary

The Rolling Thunder Revue was a willfully eccentric tour. Itching to play smaller venues, an exceptionally freewheeling Dylan went on the road with a revolving door of folk all-stars, followed by all-access cameras for a film that never quite came together. Today, Scorsese intercuts the old footage with new interviews, contextualising it all with the post-Watergate times that were a-changin’. The film is full of stolen moments: Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visiting Jack Kerouac’s grave, impromptu jams at house parties, painfully candid conversations with Joan Baez. It rarely strays from the man himself, but if you’re here for Dylan, that’s fine.

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Photograph: Peter Mountain

27. The Two Popes (2019)

Film Drama

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín

This entertaining odd-couple bromance about two men in the running for Pope hits the heights when it’s just its leads, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, whacking great swathes of dialogue back and forth like two old tennis greats. Hopkins’s German Pope Benedict, sly but oddly touching behind his crusty exterior, slathers on the topspin; Pryce’s Argentinian Cardinal Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis), guileless, direct and blessed with the common touch, smacks it back across the net. It’s thrilling stuff, with director Fernando Meirelles’s camera close at hand to register every subtle detail.

Uncut Gems
Uncut Gems
Photograph: A24

28. Uncut Gems (2020)

Film Drama

Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

Cast: Adam Sandler, Eric Bogosian, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel

Josh and Benny Safdie, the indie filmmaking brothers whose New York City movies shudder with attitude, tell fast and grubby stories that harken back to the 1970s, when Sidney Lumet ruled sets. In the electrifying, abrasive ‘Uncut Gems’, the brothers get closer than they ever have to developing a genuine affection for their various schemers, and that makes all the difference. It follows a week in the 2012 life of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Diamond District dealer, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, channelling his obnoxiousness into something magically right, even moving).

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