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Ghost
Paramount Pictures

10 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

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 10 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 struggling Sydney 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. 

Keep the good times rolling with the 100 best comedy films of all time.

Forget your troubles for a while...

Notting Hill
Universal Pictures

1. Notting Hill

5 out of 5 stars
Film

Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is the world's most famous movie star. William Thacker (Hugh Grant) owns a travel bookstore. His business is stagnant, he has the roommate from hell, and since his divorce, his love life is completely non-existent. And when Anna and William's paths unexpectedly cross in the London neighborhood of Notting Hill, romance is the last thing on their minds. Screenwriter Richard Curtis's wish-fulfilling 1999 romcom has aged surprisingly well with most gags landing their punches and an oversupply of heart thanks to the brilliantly cast actors playing William's super-supportive friends. A shout-out to Time Out doesn't go astray either.    

2. 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. 

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3. Spirited Away

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.

4. 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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Call Me by Your Name
Photograph: Supplied

5. Call Me By Your Name

4 out of 5 stars
Film Romance

Call Me by Your Name is a triumphant, heartbreaking tale of coming out based on André Aciman’s acclaimed 2007 novel. It has a choking emotional intensity that will be apparent to anyone who’s ever dared to reach out to another. In the breezy villa of a beloved American professor of antiquities (Michael Stuhlbarg), multiple languages are spoken by a loving family. Swanning through this charmed universe like a little prince is thoughtful 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who is dumbstruck by the magnetism of Oliver (Armie Hammer), the chiselled, showboating grad student in tiny shorts flown out by his father for a season of research. The pressure gets released in a spectacular one-take seduction in a dusty plaza, the camera circling as Elio, uncertain of his purpose, his urges, his entire body, musters up his courage and Oliver struts just out of reach. Sweet and salty, the movie burns like a suntan.

6. Clueless

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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Babe 1995 film
Universal Pictures

7. Babe

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.

라라랜드
Photograph: Dale Robinette

8. La La Land

4 out of 5 stars
Film Comedy

The young writer-director Damien Chazelle followed his Oscar-winning drama Whiplash with another entirely novel film steeped in the world of music. His soaring, romantic, extremely stylish and endlessly inventive La La Land is that rare beast: a grown-up movie musical that's not kitschy, a joke or a Bollywood film. Instead, it's a swooning, beautifully crafted ode to the likes of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain that plays out in the semi-dream world of Los Angeles and manages to condense the ups and downs of romantic love into a very Tinseltown, toe-tapping fable. 

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9. Ghost

4 out of 5 stars
Film

Sam (Patrick Swayze) is a ghost who teams up with a psychic (Whoopi Goldberg) to uncover the truth behind his murder and to rescue his sweetheart (Demi Moore) from a similar fate. Cheesy as all get out but undeniably diverting, Ghost is comfort viewing par excellence – and it's fair to say the art of pottery has never been the same since its 1990 release.

10. School of Rock

4 out of 5 stars
Film Comedy

As teacher training films go, School of Rock is different. It's not just that Jack Black's quack supply teacher, Dewey Finn, is to all purposes a headbanging jackass who can't even spell his claimed name ('Schneebly'). What makes his encounter with a class of prep-school fifth graders the greatest breakthrough in pedagogy since Bill and Ted met Socrates is his discovery that even square kids might yet be saved by a swift baptism in the rejuvenating fount of Rock. Director Richard Linklater leaves cynicism at the door, folding Black's hairier solo instincts into the group mix. It's a cathartic class comedy for kids of all sizes.

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