We all know the feeling: desperately scanning through endless menus of Netflix choices, eyes glazing over, knowing that our impulsive thumbs are going to doom us to some terrible midseason episode of a worthless show we hated the first time. Actually, the best movies on Netflix are staggeringly good right now: You can see films by Steven Spielberg, Oscar-winners like Roma, classic comedies by the Coen brothers, action movies, sci-fi masterpieces, radical documentaries, and foreign films. With so much on offer, we’ve narrowed things down a bit to give you our top tips, because that's just how we roll.
Want more amazing movie recommendations? We got you covered.
Best movies on Netflix
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern
Last year's finest film is already on the streaming service—a tribute to Netflix's excellent taste in original projects. Starring a never-better Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, director Noah Baumbach's triumph is the most nuanced movie about divorce, in all its heartache and banality. Grappling with its molten emotions is worth the pain.
Watch if you liked: Kramer vs. Kramer
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Is it the best film of the 1980s? Hard to say, but there’s little doubt that Robert De Niro’s performance is one of the all-time greats—not just for the remarkable physical transformation but for his embodiment of male sexual jealousy presenting itself as rage.
Watch if you liked: The Irishman
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
In his deeply personal black and white marvel ‘Roma’, director Alfonso Cuarón dives into his Mexican boyhood with this absorbingly rich tribute to the resilient women who raised him – before expanding to gradually reveal the social and political canvas of 1970s Mexico City.
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
The key movie of the Bush era, David Fincher’s masterpiece hides its true subject, obsession, under a maze of gruesome data. The city is terrorized by a ghost, and good men lose their way. It’s a movie about a serial killer that feels like it was written by one.
Watch if you liked: Mulholland Drive
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
Always dogged by the criticism of excessive caricaturing, the Coens took a leap into the unknown with this Book of Job–like reminiscence, inspired, in part, by their own ’60s Jewish boyhoods. It vibrates with humor, sadness and a scary mystique (“Accept the mystery” is a key line of dialogue).
Watch if you liked: Barton Fink
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale
It’s funny how the Western’s greatest summation work—a triumph of buried political commentary and purest epic cinema—happened to be made by Italians. Don’t let that hold you back. Henry Fonda’s icy stare, composer Ennio Morricone’s twangy guitars of doom and the monumental Charles Bronson as the last gunfighter (“an ancient race…”) are three reasons of a million to saddle up.
Watch if you liked: The Hateful Eight
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman
Are these not the most euphoric 12 opening minutes of any movie? It may be Steven Spielberg’s greatest triumph simply for unearthing the pleasure of the chase, extending the kinetic magic for a perfect two hours and then hiding it in a dusty warehouse as if to say: It’s your turn—go find it.
Watch if you liked: Tomb Raider
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patrick Wilson
Charlize Theron plays ‘psychotic prom queen bitch’ Mavis Gary in a black comedy that’s all the funnier for not being set at high school. It’s decades later, and Mavis heads back to her small suburban town with her sights set on her ex, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), undeterred by the fact that he’s married with a baby. Once again, Juno writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman achieve a near-perfect balance between bitter laughs and insightful observation.
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jun Jong-seo
The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun smiles right at you (beyond creepy) in this expertly nuanced South Korean mystery—there’s a good chance he’s a serial killer, and perhaps that’s the easiest way to enter into director Lee Chang-dong’s simmering triumph. But, based on an elliptical short story by Haruki Murakami, the movie scrapes at something larger and more metaphysical, gnawing at your mind days after you see it.
Watch if you liked: American Psycho
Director: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes
What happens to kids who don’t quite fit in? They become adults who don’t quite fit in—but the gift of Barry Jenkins’s masterly coming-of-age story is its unspoken conviction that, even in a harsh world, there’s a place for everyone. Quietly, Moonlight teases out a last-act solace that’s exquisite.
Watch if you liked: The Florida Project
Director: Asif Kapadia
Anyone with a beating heart will be forgiven for allowing it to break during this unflinching and thoughtful account of the life and death of the soul singer Amy Winehouse. A shattering and sensitive documentary, it's largely shot on phones and Camcorders, capturing casual chats or, more cruelly, moments with foil and crack.
Watch if you liked: 20 Feet from Stardom
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
Hailee Steinfeld has the knack of being able to play a teenager at peak asshole while garnering huge sympathy, as she slowly learns that nobody’s got the secret to being happy—everyone feels alone and empty. A most memorable character that you will recognize (in the mirror), she’s up there with Cher from Clueless or Ellen Page's Juno. Watch and wince.
Watch if you liked: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks
Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller (starring Ryan Gosling as a stoic stick man) is a throwback to the neon-lit loner cinema of the 1980s, especially the brooding action pictures of Walter Hill and Michael Mann. Refn gets the situational details pitch-perfect, from the low-rent body shops and eateries of less-glamorous L.A. to that most recognizable of local activities: late-night cruising.
Watch if you liked: The Driver
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
Hollywood, take note: When it comes to post-apocalyptic thrillers, audiences are fine with a little bit of crazy—or an avalanche of it. Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean thriller, set on a speeding train containing the last of humanity, found room for class warfare, bizarre humor and a snobby Thatcherite turn by the mighty Tilda Swinton.
Watch if you liked: Mad Max: Fury Road
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits
Miss a new film by the Coens at your own peril. Their latest—an amusingly violent six-part comedy set in a highly stylized Old West—feels a touch like a placeholder after the darker riches of Inside Llewyn Davis and Hail, Caesar! But when Zoe Kazan shows up on the dusty trail as an evolving frontierswoman, the movie deepens into the kind of drama the brothers are capable of. You'll have much fun with this.
Watch if you liked: Raising Arizona
Directors: Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle
When the film first came out, being the right age (an advanced 13) helped with one's appreciation of the troupe’s lunatic clomping over the Scottish Highlands. If you can regress far enough, you’ll probably still find several bits just as funny: “It’s just a flesh wound,” etc.
Watch if you liked: Excalibur
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
A case could be made that, of all the superheroes, Spidey is the one most identified with New York City. These are his canyons to swing through. (When Sam Raimi released his 2002 Spider-Man shortly after 9/11, scenes of civic pride brought NYC viewers to tears.) Loaded with Brooklyn attitude, this more recent animated take is a worthy Oscar winner, boldly styled and fun.
Watch if you liked: Shazam!
Director: James L Brooks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt
Grumpy older man meets lonely younger woman while befriending/insulting his gay neighbor. Both edgy and heartwarming, ‘As Good As It Gets’ is a relationship comedy about unlikely friendships and even less likely romance. When Jack Nicholson’s cantankerous OCD sufferer meets Helen Hunt’s kindly waitress Carol, it’s hate at first sight, but his grudging assistance to an injured neighbor (Greg Kinnear) brings the pair closer. Nicholson’s jaw-dropping insults make this worth the watch alone.
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Gabrielle Reid
Bursting out of a relatively weak Sundance lineup, writer-director Tamara Jenkins's first movie in more than a decade shows the maker of The Savages in flinty form. Her new one is a comedy about the heartwrenching calculations of in vitro fertilization. If that doesn't sound like a laugh riot, let us re-introduce you to the effortlessly wry Paul Giamatti and a revelatory Kathryn Hahn.
Watch if you liked: Hannah and Her Sisters
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Documentary (?)
Just as Bob Dylan often wore a magician’s white face (or even a plastic mask) on this 1975 tour, director Scorsese is having fun with the truth, infusing his flow with subtle fictionalizations that may outfox you. Among Scorsese’s co-conspirators are Sharon Stone and Michael Murphy, appearing as “presidential candidate” Jack Tanner.
Watch if you liked: The Last Waltz
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce
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. It’s thrilling stuff, with director Fernando Meirelles’s camera close at hand to register every subtle detail.
Director: Jennie Livingston
Cast: Dorian Corey, Pepper LaBeija, Venus Xtravaganza
It's safe to say that without 'Paris is Burning' there'd be no 'RuPaul's Drag Race'. This documentary is responsible for bringing the predominantly black and Latinx drag ball scene of the late '80s and its lexicon into public consciousness. As we're introduced to the members of the multitude of 'houses' that compete in the balls, the film also asks questions about queerness, race and social class. The slight hang of melancholy gets dispelled by the fabulous outfits as the 'upcoming legendary children' walk the various categories in the balls.
Director: John Dahl
Cast: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich
Poker movies fold about as often as professional players—which is to say, frequently. Scripted by future Billions co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, this one has plenty of sharp dialogue, offsetting the contrivances. But you're watching it for John Malkovich's borschty Russian accent, concocted during the height of his Serious Actor phase.
Watch if you liked: Mississippi Grind
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
Martin Scorsese delivers one of the best, if bloated, films of his career. Along with all the gangster gab, it touches on broken trust. self-doubt and regret. Also, unlike the cinema, with Netflix you can break its three-hour runtime into chunks.
Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson
Swollen with girl-on-girl flirtation, criminal fantasy and naive dreaminess, Harmony Korine’s Florida-set fantasia explodes with skankitude. It takes a kind of cracked artistry to put coeds in hot-pink ski masks and have them twirl around to a Britney Spears ballad while toting machine guns.
Watch if you liked: The Beach Bum
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi
An uncompromising portrait of one boy's experience as a child soldier in an unnamed African country, this one is tough to watch, but especially worthy. It's everything you'd imagine: civil war, family break-up, isolation, indoctrination, murder, rape. They're all here, along with a thrilling sense of survival.
Watch if you liked: Monos
Director: Sandi Tan
Propelled by a decades-spanning mystery as unsettling as any in a David Lynch film, Sandi Tan’s gloriously personal documentary 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.
Watch if you liked: Ghost World
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
The story of a 17th-century family forced to resettle near some very haunted woods, Robert Eggers’s 2015 debut is manna for horror puritans, but not much fun for actual Puritans. It’s a movie that has stunned audiences—not with shock effects or gore, but with a dank climate of clouded judgment and furious domestic retribution.
Watch if you liked: Hereditary
Director: James Ivory
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave
Merchant Ivory turned again and again to E.M. Forster, and they must have been in sync with his convoluted prose style, because they got the tone right every time. Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter excel in this Oscar-winning adaptation of what many consider Forster’s greatest work.
Watch if you liked: Downton Abbey
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden
In a surreal edge-of-town hotel, it’s compulsory for singles to find a partner, under the watch of an oppressive staff. If you don’t within 45 days, you’ll be surgically turned into an animal of your choice (star Colin Farrell has already decided to be a lobster). This is a movie in quote marks, tongue-in-cheek storytelling that uses absurdity to hold a mirror to how we live and love.
Watch if you liked: The Favourite
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
For his seventh feature film, Christopher Nolan took an instantly engaging premise and twisted it into a terrifically complex tale, finding a happy medium between arthouse and blockbuster. The notion is simple: Teams of foraging scientists invade someone’s dreams and extract valuable information from their minds. But it’s a precarious business, and when something goes wrong, it has a profound butterfly effect.
Watch if you liked: Watchmen
Director: Josh and Benny Safdie
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Benny Safdie, Barkhad Abdi
This crime thriller from filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie is cocky, grubby and electric. It features Robert Pattinson on top form as Connie, a charismatic, quick-thinking chancer who we first meet extracting his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) from a therapy session so they can spend the morning robbing a bank. Once the Brooklyn bank job goes south, the film stays on the move, running, punching, tumbling, stumbling over 24 hours as the fallout drags us through streets, vehicles, homes, jail, a hospital, a theme park and more.
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
As a woman who falls to Earth, Scarlett Johansson goes rogue, subverting her fame by committing body and soul to this near-experimental sci-fi mystery. It’s easily her best work—a nuanced portrait of alien confusion, matched by filmmaking brilliance that pushes the outer limits.
Watch if you liked: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
Screenwriter Alex Garland wrote 28 Days Later… and Sunshine; he apparently learned a lot from director Danny Boyle about stylish futurism. For Garland’s first foray behind the camera, he takes on the topics of artificial intelligence and corporate greed.
Watch if you liked: Arrival
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo
Following up All Is Lost, writer-director J.C. Chandor doubles down on a complex tale of NYC economic competition starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as married criminals mixing it up during the brutal winter of 1981. For its ambitious grasp, the movie is peerless—in the same league as prime Sidney Lumet.
Watch if you liked: Scarface