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Babe the sheep pig
Photograph: Universal Pictures

The best escapist movies to watch right now on Netflix

Love, laughter, '80s hair – all the stuff guaranteed to cheer you up is here in our list of critics' picks

Written by
Time Out editors
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Netflix has a lot of good movies that we'd watch any day – more than 70 by our count – but in terms of sheer escapist bliss, there are nine clear winners. There's nothing here to get you down: just nostalgia, hilarity, heart and a good dollop of hope. Order a premium takeaway from a local restaurant, or raid the fridge for ice cream, and settle in. 

NOTE: Netflix regularly updates its content and removes some movies and shows from streaming. This list was correct at time of publication. 

Want more? Check out the best classic LGBTQIA+ shows to catch up on

Forget your troubles for a while...

Always Be My Maybe
Photograph: Supplied/Netflix

1. Always Be My Maybe

We love American comedians and sometime Fresh Off the Boat co-stars Ali Wong and Randall Park (ok, ok, she was only in one episode) so consider us all in for a sweet rom-com that pairs them as childhood sweethearts who cross paths again some 15 years after they had a whirl in the backseat of a car. In the intervening years she has found fame as a celebrity chef, while he, errr, hasn’t amounted to much. We know the formula like the back of our hand, but that’s kinda the point. Not every movie has to reinvent the wheel. In times lek these, there’s a real comfort to second guessing every single plot beat and swooning regardless. And that’s not to say there aren’t curveballs, like John Wick star Keanu Reeves showing up to smoulder and get fast and loose with some fisticuffs too. Yes please.

  • Film

Comedy legend Bob Newhart immediately raises a smile as the elderly elf frames the story of Santa's biggest little helper. Buddy (Will Ferrell) is different because he's a human, brought back to the North Pole as a baby when he strayed into the old boy's sack during the Christmas run. He's been raised in the traditional elfin ways of industrious good humour, but now it's time for him to venture to distant New York and discover his real father is a grumpy publisher (James Caan), who naturally thinks his 'son' is a dangerous loony. Must be the tights and the pointy hat. What follows is a fairly predictable 'fish out of water' romp with seasonal bells on. Some humour might sail over the heads of the very young, but there's a higher chuckle rate for the grown-ups than much dread 'family' fare.

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Animation

Miyazaki's first digitally animated feature initially seems like a Through the Looking-Glass fantasy, but rapidly picks up a resonance, weight and complexity that make it all but Shakespearean. Chihiro, a sullen and resentful ten year old, is moving house with her parents when they stumble into the world of the Japanese gods – where the greedy parents are soon turned into pigs. Chihiro bluffs her way into a job in the resort spa run by the sorceress Yubaba, but at the cost of her human name and identity; she becomes Sen. Never remotely didactic, the film is ultimately a self-fulfilment drama that touches on religious, ethical, ecological and psychological issues. (There's also an undercurrent of satire: Miyazaki admits that Yubaba's bath-house is a parody of his own Studio Ghibli.) No other word for it: a masterpiece.

  • Film
  • Animation

Shrek is the sort of 'new' ogre the world's been waiting for - he's house-proud, a keen chef, mild-mannered (unless provoked), and a heart beats under his thick green skin – if only someone could break through his gruff isolation. Princess Fiona reckons she's the one, but the trouble with princesses who've spent too long cooped up in castles is that they tend to have a shaky grasp of reality. Technically, the film's a triumph. Gag by gag - and there's a stream - it's merrily irreverent, visually and vocally. The bigger picture, though, is rather more conventional. The play with fairytale clichés merely freshens them up for re-use, and the moral comes served with earnest sentimentality. The 'hip' soundtrack playlist is a ripper, too. 

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Late Night
  • Film
  • Comedy

Speaking of comedians, Mindy Kaling wrote and stars in this cracker alongside fellow living legend Emma Thompson, the latter chewing the scenery as award-winning late night host Katherine Newbury. She's pretty jaded and has just been labelled a ‘woman-hater’ by the tabloids. In comes Kaling as a new hire in the writers’ room. The potentially awkward wrinkle? She’s a mega-fan of the show with no writing experience. They also say you should never meet your idols, and Katherine is hella harsh. Don't be put off by that. Kaling makes comedy that’s warm and relatable. Molly wears ‘adorkable’ very well and while her fan-girling wears thin on Thompson’s character, Molly shows that she can fight back with funnies that are progressive, smart and inclusive. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, it's a treat. 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Comedy

The extraordinary thing about the Monty Python crew’s first proper film isn’t how funny it remains 45 years on – though it is stupidly, ingeniously funny. No, what’s most striking is how unnecessarily gorgeous it is. Wreathed in Scottish mist, shot through with shafts of golden light and drenched in authentic medieval mud, there are moments where it feels like Tarkovsky with drag and farting. Some of it does feel a bit creaky: Python’s eternal problem with women is particularly acute here, and the ‘stop that!’ ending feels like a better idea on paper than in practice. But you’d be an empty-headed animal food-trough-wiper not to laugh.

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The Big Sick
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Comedy

Judd Apatow is the producer of The Big Sick, but the creative prime mover is actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani, better known as peevish computer coder Dinesh in Silicon Valley. Developing an autobiographical script with his co-writer wife, the TV producer and podcaster Emily V Gordon, Nanjiani shapes the story of a Chicago stand-up comic’s wobbly rise, a journey that's altered by love, illness and some much-needed late-on backbone. 

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Comedy

Loosely based on Jane Austen's Emma, this satiric portrait of California rich kids has plenty of charm and wit, and a winning central performance from Alicia Silverstone. Cher, 15, is a designer mall rat with a world view several sizes narrower than her vanity mirror, but a heart as big as her dad's bank account. During a typically unexacting term at Beverly Hills High, Cher adopts newcomer Tai (Brittany Murphy) teaches her how to be a 'Betty' (a she-babe), falls for a 'Baldwin' (a he-babe), and learns that ''tis a far, far better thing, when you do stuff for other people." 

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

Degree of difficulty apart - and difficulty involved making an entire farmyard of real animals talk - the merits of Babe are those of Dick King-Smith's classic, The Sheep-Pig. Piglet Babe beats the slaughterhouse and is adopted by a sheepdog who coaches him in the art of rounding up sheep. Taciturn farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) wonderingly goes along with this apprenticeship, and is gratified when Babe wins the rosette at the trials. Babe's secret is politeness, which gets better results than barking, and raises lots of laughs. Charming, eccentric and very amusing, it's a classic that everyone, not just family audiences, can enjoy.

Julie & Julia
  • Film
  • Comedy

If, as screenwriter and director Nora Ephron has done, you take two foodie memoirs, fold one into the other and add judicious amounts of sugar, the result is bound to make a viewer hungry – but for what? Sure, there are close-ups of boeuf bourguignon and chocolate almond cake, and a lot of unfashionable drooling over butter, both in post-war Paris where Julia Child (Meryl Streep) learns French cooking and in post-9/11 Queens where Julie Powell (Amy Adams) cooks and blogs her way through Child’s book; but the food isn’t the point. Julia and Julie are both happily married women in search of something meaningful to do. Food, for them, isn’t filling: it’s fulfilment. The result is a film that’s charming, funny – especially when Streep is on screen, broadcasting her superb impression of the tall, charismatic, high-pitched Child.

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