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, classic romantic comedies, action movies, sci-fi masterpieces, radical documentaries and foreign films. We've done the work for you—and we've even ranked the list, because that's how we roll over here.
Best movies on Netflix
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Even with all the gush spilled over Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making family saga, it still might be underpraised: In watching these actors age, learn and grow (without recourse to melodrama or suspense), viewers grasped onto a beautiful continuum that few filmmakers achieve. The wait was worth it.
Watch if you liked: The Tree of Life
Director: Mary Harron
Cast: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloë Sevigny
Flattering Bret Easton Ellis’s novel with a devilish Christian Bale performance and scalpel-sharp period detail, Mary Harron’s thriller is close to perfect as a picture of ’80s-era vapidity and entitlement. This is the Manhattan of impossible restaurant reservations, Phantom of the Opera visual jokes and viciousness in the air.
Watch if you liked: Succession
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson
Remember when homage-heavy pop-culture tidbits weren’t chic, and the term “Tarantino-esque” hadn’t quite cracked the lexicon yet? Then this triptych of tales happened. Surprisingly, the video-store-geek-turned-auteur’s opus still feels fresh, despite the legion of gawdawful clones it’s spawned, Accept no substitutes, and relive ’90s cinema glory daze one more time.
Watch if you liked: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams
You’ve got company, Siri: Meet Samantha—the ultimate in chatty, user-friendly operating systems. The gentleman who’s installed her on his computer, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), is won over by her sultry voice (courtesy of Scarlett Johansson). Filmmaker Spike Jonze mixes high concept absurdism with heartfelt notions.
Watch if you liked: Blade Runner 2049
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: 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: 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: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen
The title is still a killer piece of marketing, suggesting something much gorier than what you get. That’s not to say Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece doesn’t deliver. A grungy vision of horror captured during a palpably sweaty and stenchy Texas summer, the film has taken its rightful place as a definitive parable of Nixonian class warfare, eat-or-be-eaten social envy and the essentially unknowable nature of some unlucky parts of the world.
Watch if you liked: Midsommar
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Yes, as a matter of fact, we are talkin’ to you. Robert De Niro stars as a psychotic cabbie in this classic set in seedy ’70s Gotham. No need to tell your friends you haven't seen it. Just order a pizza and fire it up.
Watch if you liked: Good Time
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: Sergio Leone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern
Studio philistines chopped nearly an hour and a half from Sergio Leone’s byzantine Jewish gangster saga—starring Robert De Niro and a coiled, vicious James Woods—for its American release; fortunately, the version the director intended is now available and is recognized as the classic that it is. As you may have guessed from that title, Quentin Tarantino worships at the altar of Leone.
Watch if you liked: The Godfather
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: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
Quentin Tarantino’s most mature film, featuring Robert Forster’s lonely, movingly stoic bail bondsman, hinted at a different way forward for the pop-obsessed director—a path he never took. Make no mistake, we love the other films. But this one’s for when you’re in a contemplative mood on the couch.
Watch if you liked: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
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
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: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
It’s a shame that Spielberg’s only Best Picture winner to date is doomed to be underappreciated for its craft due to its essential subject matter. As it happens, this Holocaust epic about the crooked German businessman (Liam Neeson) who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi gas chambers also features some of the most vital and virtuosic filmmaking of the director’s career.
Watch if you liked: Life Is Beautiful
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
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor
The elements are familiar—a rural house, a vulnerable family, some pissed-off demonic spirits—but filmmaker James Wan (the first Saw) knows how to use them. In both its setting and rock-solid craft, this blockbuster is a throwback to horror’s early-’70s heyday, a model that ain’t broke and don’t need fixing.
Watch if you liked: The Amityville Horror
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard
Squirming between wet-cat disdain and an unshakable grandiloquence, Cate Blanchett’s performance instantly vaults her into the company of the great film neurotics. Woody Allen’s script, a dark skewering of the 1 percent, harkens back to Crimes and Misdemeanors—this film will someday be considered just as major.
Watch if you liked: A Woman Under the Influence
Director: Brian De Palma
Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Stephen King's intuitive understanding of the terrors of early womanhood (it's a bloodbath) found ideal expression in Brian De Palma's horror classic—a gruesome tale of high-school vengeance. Carrie's telekinetic powers cast a timeless spell on audiences, especially those bullied and oppressed by their own families and communities. Cool kids are pretty mean.
Watch if you liked: Stranger Things
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: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried
Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, both terrific) are Gen Xers in a marriage cooled by stalling ambitions and a failure to join their friends’ baby parade. It’s sexless nights on the iPad until the unexpected affections of a much younger couple energize their lives. One day, this will be considered a classic, for Adam Driver’s definitive portrayal of a millennial alone.
Watch if you liked: Greenberg
Director: Liu Chia-liang
Cast: Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Lieh, Wang Yu
If you make it through the longueurs of the opening half hour—boring pageantry, for the most part—there’s plenty of excitement on deck, as our hero undergoes grueling martial-arts training in 35 separate rooms, each devoted to a different skill.
Watch if you liked: Kill Bill
Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
The world’s biggest metal band suffers through member defection, group therapy and rehab stints while its lucrative future hangs in the balance. This rockumentary is the funniest, most daringly exposed profile of a music group ever captured on film, fictional or otherwise.
Watch if you liked: This Is Spinal Tap
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn
We all knew what Lincoln was going to be before we saw it: tub-thumping speeches, arm-waving Oscar-bait performances, soaring strings, blunt emotional manipulation. So the film itself came as something of a surprise: a quiet, thoughtful, intensely dramatic movie focusing on the minutiae of political debate rather than the grand sweep of history. Those Oscars were well deserved.
Watch if you liked: Hamilton
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: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Matt Damon, Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt
A movie that deserves some serious re-evaluation, Steven Soderbergh’s corporate comedy about real-life liar Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon, playing a beautifully controlled cypher much like his shape-shifter in The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a swoon of slow-burn frustration. Marvin Hamlisch’s ironic score is a riot.
Watch if you liked: Ocean’s Eleven
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
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt
It’s one of the less essential Coen brothers movies, but there’s still fun to be had from this cynical farce about a small group of very stupid people caught up in a blackmail and espionage yarn involving a retired CIA operative (John Malkovich), his mislaid memoirs, his wife (Tilda Swinton), her lover (George Clooney) and two dumb but ambitious gym employees (Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt).
Watch if you liked: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
To the film’s credit, this is not primarily a gay-identity drama; that subtext is, for the most part, accepted by friends and family. It leaves room for the ache of a tumultuous relationship in full, centered around the somewhat obvious metaphor of artist (Léa Seydoux) and muse (Adèle Exarchopoulos), but shaded by the messier realities of career anxiety, cohabitation, sex and colleague flirtations. An emotional powerhouse, the film leaves you raw.
Watch if you liked: Carol
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore
This enervating horror-combat flick puts a who’s who of celebrity grunts (Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor among them) through their “war is bad, bad I say!” paces. But there’s no denying the technical mastery on display: These are some of director Ridley Scott’s most harrowing action scenes.
Watch if you liked: 13 Hours
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: Michael Lehmann
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty
Lehmann’s black comedy has developed a sizable cult in the years since its release—and you have to wonder if its high-school-set violence would even get funded these days. Whether you’re part of the clique or not, you know you have to see Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty onscreen together.
Watch if you liked: Mean Girls
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: Mike Nichols
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
We just want to say one word to you—just one word. Are you listening? Spastic. Dustin Hoffman plays one of the most memorable spastics in movie history in this somewhat dated but still hilarious social satire. R.I.P., Mike Nichols.
Watch if you liked: American Pie
Creators: Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee
Not strictly a movie, but who cares? One of Netflix's sure-to-be-lasting achievements, this eight-episode mindfuck blooms like the best kind of semi-hallucinatory science fiction, nourished by the raspy Natasha Lyonne playing an East Village tough girl who finds herself stuck in the same day.
Watch if you liked: Groundhog Day
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: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch
You say you’re mad as hell that you’ve never seen this corrosive 1976 media satire—and you’re not gonna take it anymore? Relax. Just head on over to Videology. Faye Dunaway gives one of her spookiest performances as a TV-programming executive who prophetically invents Fox News.
Watch if you liked: Nightcrawler
Creators: John Hyams, Karl Schaefer
Cast: Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee
Another piece of killer TV, so sue us: This episodic zombie show is built out of 20-minute action sequences, so if you're in the mood to binge, it eats like a meal. Unlike the endless gabbers of The Walking Dead, these characters are built out of sinew and broken hope. You believe they've survived something terrible—and they have.
Watch if you liked: 28 Days Later…
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: Bernard Rose
Cast: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd
As low-budget horror flicks go, this one shines bright. There’s a social subtext—much of the action takes place in a Chicago housing project—that’s effective without being intrusive, and Philip Glass’s score creates a suitably unsettling mood. Jordan Peele is producing a remake.
Watch if you liked: Us
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Cast: Mia Goth, Martin McCann, Barry Ward
A film that will shake you for days, Stephen Fingleton’s masterful feature debut, a post-apocalyptic drama, has no charming heroes, quips, romance or leather chaps. It’s a tense chamber piece set in a European forest 10 years after the fall of civilization. (We learn from an elegantly simple graph only that demand overtook supply.) What plays out is brutal, arresting and, yet, essentially about the undying nature of hope and human contact.
Watch if you liked: The Road
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw
Burnishing old-school, kite-flying, Cockney-cavorting nostalgia to a high gloss, Disney’s improbable sequel—coming a full 54 years after the original fantasy—is a risk that pays off, magically. And still, even though this is a treat for audiences of a certain age, flashes of modernity sneak through in Emily Blunt’s side-eye wink of a starring turn.
Watch if you liked: La La Land
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: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
Some day in the future, we will be better able to appreciate the modest virtues of this film, especially Mark Wahlberg's central performance, overshadowed by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, shrieking their way to Oscars. Maybe that day is today.
Watch if you liked: Silver Linings Playbook
Directors: Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds, Yvonne Landry
A movie Robert Altman would have been proud to sign, this gamblers’ odyssey hits a relaxed stride that’s become a lost art in itself. Actors Ben Mendelsohn and a reinvented Ryan Reynolds push their luck as accidental friends who shut out the world’s concerns, creating a bubble of freefall that bursts in slo-mo.
Watch if you liked: California Split
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
Director: David France
Director David France knocked it out of the park with his 2012 feature debut, the landmark AIDS-activism doc How to Survive a Plague. His heartbreaking follow-up is equally as galvanizing: both a murder mystery and a celebration of the uncompromising spirit of Marsha P. Johnson, a Village drag icon and fighter for trans rights (she was at the Stonewall riots) who was found dead in 1992 floating off Chelsea Piers.
Watch if you liked: Milk