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 Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, 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: 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: Hell or High Water
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux
The finest film of its decade, David Lynch’s terrifying comeback begins as a sordid Los Angeles noir; eventually, it punches its way to a cosmic cynicism rarely achieved in cinema. In the troubled autumn of its 2001 release, we may have understood the movie’s anxieties all too well. Mulholland Drive is the monster behind the diner; it's the self-delusional dream turned into nightmare.
Watch if you liked: Blue Velvet
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: Carol Reed
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli
A lot funnier than you remember it, Carol Reed’s immortal 1949 film noir exists between two worlds: an earlier time when thrillers were mostly serious affairs, and a future one, when such supremely witty entertainments felt passé. The zither-driven plot concerns an alcoholic pulp Western writer (Joseph Cotton) investigating the death of his American friend in exotic postwar Vienna.
Watch if you liked: Notorious
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim
Insanely quotable and still carrying a sting, Billy Wilder’s poison-pen letter to Hollywood is so good not even William Holden’s occasionally hammy delivery can harm it. A great first shot is equaled by a sickeningly poignant ending. Gloria Swanson is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.
Watch if you liked: Mulholland Drive
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote
Many would point to this perfect children’s fantasy—about coming into adult responsibility, as well as daring to dream—as Steven Spielberg’s most essential. One thing is indisputable: composer John Williams was having a very good day at the keys.
Watch if you liked: The BFG
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Bring on all the comparisons to All the President’s Men you can muster. This quietly shocking journalism thriller—about The Boston Globe’s real-life exposure of child abuse in the local Catholic archdiocese—earns them and more. It’s an achievement like nothing else, an ensemble film that subtly stresses our interconnectedness to the higher cause of truth-telling.
Watch if you liked: The Verdict
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer
Is there a more quotable movie than this piss-take on heavy-metal musicians and the astrology-loving girlfriends who manage them? No, there isn’t. Because this comedy goes to 11.
Watch if you liked: Best in Show
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich
Lang’s silent sci-fi classic—here restored to its nearly two-and-a-half-hour premiere length—looks just as stunning today as it surely must have when it debuted in Berlin in 1927. The story, part melodrama, part agitprop diatribe, is far from subtle, and the acting is exaggerated. But oh, the imagery.
Watch if you liked: Blade Runner
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
From a certain perspective, all of Kubrick’s movies are horror films: 2001’s terrifying cosmic loneliness, Dr. Strangelove’s cheery annihilation, the death duels from Barry Lyndon. Which is all by way of saying that when the director finally got around to making a proper thriller, he paradoxically produced the ultimate comic satire on the American family. With blood in elevators. Essential.
Watch if you liked: The Conjuring