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Ghost
Paramount Pictures

14 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 14 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 Romance

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. Shawshank Redemption, The

5 out of 5 stars
Film Drama

Red (Morgan Freeman), serving a life sentence, and Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a mild-mannered banker wrongly convicted of murder, forge an unlikely bond that will span more than 20 years in the Shawshank prison. Together they discover hope as the ultimate means of survival. There are no female characters to speak of but otherwise it's hard to fault The Shawshank Redemption – probably the ultimate escapist film about the ultimate escape.

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3. Lady Bird

5 out of 5 stars
Film Comedy

A sweet, deeply personal portrayal of female adolescence that’s more attuned to the bonds between girlfriends than casual flings with boys, writer-director Greta Gerwig’s beautiful Lady Bird flutters with the attractively loose rhythms of youth. Anchored by an expressive mother-daughter story in which unconditional love and enmity often seem one and the same, and elevated by an entrancing Saoirse Ronan (easily among the best actors of her generation), Greta Gerwig’s accomplished second directorial effort makes you wish she’d spend more time behind the camera. 

4. 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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5. Brooklyn

5 out of 5 stars
Film Drama

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan again) is a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps her up but soon her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and she must choose between two countries. This simple story based on a Colm Tóibín novel is an utter delight, conveying the oppressive sexual propriety of the era with a light touch, hissable villains and an upbeat, hopeful worldview. 

6. 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.

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7. 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.

Catch Me if You Can
DreamWorks

8. Catch Me if You Can

4 out of 5 stars
Film Drama

Frank W Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) was employed as a doctor, a lawyer, and as a co-pilot for a major airline, all before reaching his 21st birthday. A successful con artist and master of deception, Frank is also a brilliant forger, whose skill at check fraud has netted him millions of dollars in stolen funds. FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) has made it his prime mission to capture Frank and bring him to justice, but Frank is always one step ahead. One of Steven Spielberg's most enjoyable movies has great supporting roles for Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Walken.

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9. 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." 

10. The Wedding Singer

4 out of 5 stars
Film

Adam Sandler plays Robbie Hart, a wannabe rock star stuck on the wedding band circuit. He's happy enough, until his own bride leaves him standing at the altar – which prompts the film's funniest scene, a bitter breakdown in professional decorum at his next gig, when he turns into the wedding singer from hell. Luckily for Robbie, the delicious Julia (Drew Barrymore) is waitressing in the wings. The movie is set in 1985 and won't let you forget it for a second. Culture Club, Huey Lewis, Nena, Billy Idol, Hall & Oates, the Cars, Kajagoogoo, Wham! – it's frightening how innocent all this stuff sounds now. It's hard to be cynical about a film which finds time to let Alexis Arquette do Boy George and Steve Buscemi to tear up Spandau Ballet's 'True'.

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라라랜드
Photograph: Dale Robinette

11. 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. 

12. Ghost

4 out of 5 stars
Film Romance

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.

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13. 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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