This post is updated regularly as movies leave and enter Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
With hundreds of films from around the world on the streaming giant that changed the game, how does one even know where to start when they’re looking for something to watch? Start here! We have gone through the massive catalog of films available on Netflix and pared down the selection to an essential 30 titles, including action films, comedies, horror flicks, and even stuff for the whole family, with Netflix Originals peppered in throughout, alongside its licensed films. These are films that came from outside the Netflix pipeline to subscribers, and it will be regularly updated as flicks come and go from the Netflix catalog, starting with our pick of the week.
Runtime: 2h 21m
Director: Steven Spielberg
Peter Pan & Wendy hasn’t made much of an impact over on Disney+, so why not go back to the Peter Pan tale that so many loved as children? Steven Spielberg’s Robin Williams-starring variation on the J.M. Barrie classic is often derided as one of the master’s lesser films, but it also has a loyal fan base, largely made up of people who were just the right age when it came out. Now they’re old enough to show it to their kids. Pass on the wonder.
Runtime: 2h 6m
Director: Luca Guadagnino
One of the best films of the 2010s, this drama stars Timothée Chalamet as a boy who discovers his own sexuality when he’s wooed by an older man, played by Armie Hammer. Delicate and moving, this is a remarkable drama because of how true it feels, anchored by great performances throughout, not just from the two leads but the amazing Michael Stuhlbarg too.
Runtime: 1h 59m
Director: Barry Jenkins
Following up on a Best Picture win can be tough for any filmmaker but Barry Jenkins delivered with this lyrical and moving adaptation of the 1974 novel of the same name by James Baldwin. It stars KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, and the Oscar-winning Regina King in the story of a young couple struck down when he’s wrongly charged with a crime. It’s a masterful drama from one of the best American filmmakers.
Runtime: 2h 6m
Director: Jane Campion
The film that finally won an Oscar for Jane Campion for directing is one of the most acclaimed in the history of the streaming giant. Campion helmed this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, the story of a vicious landowner (Benedict Cumberbatch) who torments the new wife (Kirsten Dunst) of his brother (Jesse Plemons). A drama that plays like a thriller, this gorgeously rendered period piece unpacks themes of toxic masculinity and manipulation in a way that makes it impossible to turn away. It’s not just one of the best Netflix Original films, it’s one of the best, period, of the 2020s so far.
Runtime: 2h 27m
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro won Oscars for this epic examination of the illegal drug trade at the turn of the century. One of the incredible craftsman’s best films, it tackles no less than the entire structure of drugs in North America, intertwining stories of users, politicians, traffickers, and lawmen. Some of it feels a little dated, but the sheer force of the filmmaking will always be timeless.
Runtime: 1h 59m
Director: Michael Morris
Andrea Riseborough is phenomenal as Leslie, an alcoholic who hits rock bottom and travels back to her hometown to find herself again. While some of the structure of this surprisingly Oscar-nominated film can be a bit by-the-numbers, it’s a stunning showcase for Riseborough, nicely accompanied by a supporting cast that includes Marc Maron, Owen Teague, and Allison Janney, all delivering.
Runtime: 2h 36m
Director: Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott directed this epic gangster pic that saw two of the most charismatic actors of their generation work together on their first major project (no offense, Virtuosity fans). Denzel Washington plays this loose variation on the life of Frank Lucas, a legendary criminal who revolutionized the drug trade; Russell Crowe plays the detective who brought him down. Both men are great, but this is an awesome ensemble piece with great supporting work from a dozen or so character actors.
Runtime: 1h 50m
Director: Joe Wright
Saoirse Ronan stars as the title character, who has been raised WAY off the grid by an ex-CIA father played by Eric Bana. He has taught her all the skills she needs to know to survive not only in the wilderness but should anyone try to come and find them. When Cate Blanchett does exactly that, Joe Wright’s film explodes in unforgettable action. It’s a great movie that inspired the Prime Video series of the same name.
Runtime: 2h 50m
Director: Michael Mann
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino star in one of the best movies of the ‘90s, a stunning cat-and-mouse game between a career criminal and a workaholic cop. The book release of Heat 2 in 2022 brought a lot of people back to this movie, one that has held up remarkably well over the nearly three decades since it was released. It’s a masterpiece.
Runtime: 2h 8m
Director: Spike Lee
Yes, Spike Lee once made a great action movie. The director of Do the Right Thing and Da 5 Bloods put his spin on the heist film with this great 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle. The regular collaborator plays an NYPD hostage negotiator, called in when a bank heist goes down on Wall Street. Tight and effective, this is just further evidence that Spike Lee can nail any kind of movie he chooses to make. This might be Lee’s most underrated movie. It hums.
Runtime: 2h 30m
Director: Gareth Evans
Gareth Edwards wrote, edited, and directed the insane follow-up to his breakthrough hit that takes everything he did with The Raid and turns it up to 11! Like incredible action choreography? Unbroken takes? Stunts that defy the laws of physics? The Raid 2 is quite simply one of the best action movies of the last decade, a thrill ride from beginning to end.
Runtime: 1h 54m
Director: Rowdy Herrington
As production on a remake of this cult classic (with Jake Gyllenhaal!) gets underway, why not go back and check out the original again? Patrick Swayze plays the bouncer at a totally average Missouri bar who ends up getting sucked into a violent world when he crosses paths with the wrong bad guy. Sam Elliott and Kelly Lynch star in a movie that feels like a perfect distillation of the many charms of Mr. Swayze.
Runtime: 1h 59m
Director: John Avildsen
The one that started it all is on Netflix, waiting for you to do a catch-up before seeing Creed III in a few months. Go back almost five decades now to see the start of the Rocky Balboa saga in a film that truly took the world by storm, becoming the highest grossing film of 1976 on its way to winning Best Picture and making Sylvester Stallone a household name.
Runtime: 3h 5m
Director: S.S. Rajamouli
One of the biggest films in the world in 2022, this crazy action flick really took off in the United States when it dropped on Netflix. It’s hard to put into words just how much movie you get with RRR. It’s kind of all the movies — musical, romance, comedy, action, drama. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s in here. You’ll want to watch it twice.
Runtime: 2h 9m
Director: Paul Verhoeven
The bugs! No one else but the director of Robocop could have made this unforgettable sci-fi/action epic about giant bugs from outer space. On the surface, it’s a wildly entertaining action movie about young soldiers trying to stop an unimaginable force. Dig deeper and you’ll find richly rewarding satirical levels about the military complex and even fascism. However you enjoy it, just enjoy it while you can.
Runtime: 2h 17m
Director: James Cameron
Any list of the best sequels ever made that doesn’t include this is flatly wrong. James Cameron took the ideas of his 1984 sci-fi breakthrough and expanded on them in this action masterpiece that reverses roles and made movie history. Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, the woman who knows that her son is the key to the future. She’s great but the movie belongs to Ah-nuld and, even more, Cameron, who flexes his action directing muscle here in unforgettable ways.
Runtime: 2h 14m
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Living legend Viola Davis stars in this retelling of the all-female warriors of the kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. She plays General Nansica, who trains young women to follow in her footsteps, and leads a rock star ensemble of future stars that includes Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and Sheila Atim. You’ll know all their names soon enough.
Runtime: 1h 48m
Director: John Landis
One of the most influential comedies of all time, Animal House is also a great example of a flick in which the fun everyone was clearly having on set translated to the big screen. People forget how cheaply made this movie was and how most of the major players weren’t stars at the time. They were just a bunch of friends getting together to do something funny. And they made movie history.
Runtime: 2h 19m
Director: Rian Johnson
The writer/director of Knives Out returned in late 2022 with a sequel to that smash hit, exclusively on Netflix. Daniel Craig returns as Benoit Blanc, the casual crime solver who finds himself on a billionaire’s island in Rian Johnson’s latest comedy/mystery. Once again, Johnson assembles a murderer’s row of talent, including Kate Hudson, Janelle Monae, Ed Norton, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., and more. It’s smart, funny, and thoroughly entertaining.
Runtime: 1h 55m
Director: Gregory Jacobs
A massive hit at the theaters back when people went to the theaters, this middle chapter of what is now a trilogy with 2023’s Magic Mike’s Last Dance is a raucous, joyous time at the movies, but it’s also a bit underrated given its subject matter. It’s a smart movie that understood things about the gig economy and making it in any business before other films. It also features another great turn from Channing Tatum, a true movie star.
Runtime: 1h 29m
Director: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
During a hiatus between the third and fourth seasons of Monty Python’s Family Circus, the gang of mega-talented comedians decided to make movie history. Inspired by the King Arthur legend, Holy Grail is a timeless comedy, the rare kind of film that will still be making people laugh hundreds of years from now. And while the Monty Python boys were already famous, this film took them to another level, cementing their place in movie history.
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