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25 of the best movies on Netflix right now

  • by Yarisel Hortas
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What’s the best movie I can watch on Netflix? We’ve all asked ourselves the question, only to spend the next 15 minutes scrolling through the streaming service’s oddly specific genre menus, and getting overwhelmed by the constantly shifting trend menus. Netflix’s huge catalogue of movies, combined with its inscrutable recommendations algorithm, can make finding something to watch feel more like a chore than a way to unwind when really what you want are the good movies. No… the best movies.

We’re here to help. For those suffering from choice paralysis, we’ve narrowed down your options to 25 of our favorite current movies on the platform. These run the gamut from the gorgeous animated feature Children of the Sea to some freshly arrived classics. We’ll be updating this list monthly as Netflix cycles movies in and out of its library, so be sure to check back next time you’re stuck in front of the Netflix home screen.

Baahubali: The Beginning

Image: Dharma Productions

In Western terms, this Tollywood production — the most expensive Indian film ever at the time of its release — is like a biblical epic by way of Marvel Studios, with a little Hamlet and Step Up thrown in for good measure. The Beginning chronicles the life of Shivudu, an adventurer with superhuman strength who escapes his provincial life by scaling a skyscraper-sized waterfall, aides and romances a rebel warrior named Avanthika, then teams up with her to rescue a kidnapped queen from an evil emperor. Exploding with hyper-choreographed fight sequences and CG spectacle (not to mention a handful of musical numbers with equal bravura), The Beginning is 159 minutes of mythical excess. The film goes big like only Indian film can, and rests on the muscular shoulders of its hero, the single-name actor Prabhas. If you fall hard for it, get pumped — this is only part one. The twist leads into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, another two-and-a-half-hour epic currently streaming on Netflix. —Matt Patches


Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment

A sense of frustration suffuses every part of Lee Chang-dong’s hypnotic adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning.” Focusing on would-be writer Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), whose listlessness is interrupted first by the appearance of his childhood friend Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and then her charismatic friend, Ben (Steven Yeun), Burning unfolds at an almost maddeningly deliberate pace as Lee tangles with class, country, and everything in between, turning a three-way relationship into the seed of a mystery-thriller. With a conclusion that could be interpreted in a million different ways — and stunning performances from the three leads, particularly Yeun, who proves utterly unreadable — it’s a film that’s impossible to shake. —Karen Han

Children of the Sea

Image: GKIDS

Ayumu Watanabe’s Children of the Sea is a feast for the senses. Adapted from Daisuke Igarashi’s manga of the same name, Watanabe’s film follows Ruka, a young girl who befriends two boys who possess a strange and otherworldly power over the ocean. As Ruka grows to acknowledge and understand the same power within herself, Ruka is drawn into the mystery that will thrust her into the most beautiful and harrowing depths of the sea. From our review,

The movie portrays water in such a breathtaking way that it’s difficult to not get drawn in. Every gill, dorsal fin, and flipper feels so vividly drawn that it’s like being in the actual ocean. As the film progresses, the underwater scenes grow in complexity, highlighting the ocean’s natural beauty. But these scenes feel earned rather than overwhelming, as if the entire film has been building up to the unification of the ocean and the audience.

Crimson Peak

Photo: Universal Pictures

David Foster Wallace once wrote, “Every love story is a ghost story.” That’s especially true in the case of Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 gothic horror romance starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain. The story of Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), a wealthy heiress and aspiring author seduced by a mysterious baronet and whisked away to a dreary, dilapidated mansion in the English countryside is a lesson in cinematic restraint, a taut gothic drama with extravagant set designs and gorgeous cinematography, punctuated by fierce moments of bracing violence and horror. Like any of del Toro’s films, Crimson Peak is an unabashed labor of love and a worthy contribution to the canon of gothic horror. —Toussaint Egan

Da 5 Bloods

Photo: Netflix

On the surface, Spike Lee’s feature film Da 5 Bloods seems to be about the long-term effects of the Vietnam War on survivors and relationships. But the story goes much deeper, and the film’s June 2020 release couldn’t possibly have come at a more relevant moment. The stars (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Norm Lewis) play a group of friends and combat veterans who served in the same Army unit, where they lost their commander Norman (Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman). It’s an adventure, as they return to Vietnam for Norman’s body and a cache of hidden gold, but more significantly, it’s a series of political statements, about Black consciousness-raising, the lessons of former generations, America’s casual abuse of its Black citizens, and the importance of unity in the face of oppression and opportunity alike. The bulk of the story would be relevant in any era — 1948’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre and 1979’s Apocalypse Now are both prominently referenced touchstones. But the framing places it so squarely in the middle of the present mood and moment, it’s as though the editing was finished yesterday. —TR

Dances With Wolves

Photo: Tig Productions/Getty Images

Kevin Costner’s directorial debut, Dances With Wolves, is a poignant Western examining the final days of the American West through the eyes of one man. The film follows Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (also played by Costner), a wounded soldier who requests to be transferred to the remote frontier so he can see it before it disappears. Though originally fearful of the indigenous people who live nearby, Dunbar befriends a neighboring Lakota Sioux tribe. After learning more about their culture and way of life — and even joining the tribe in defending their village from attacks — Dunbar eventually decides to leave his former life behind, even if it means facing off against the United States Army. Basically, Dances With Wolves did Avatar before Avatar did Avatar, but in a better, more meaningful way. —Petrana Radulovic

The Dark Knight

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

So I wasn’t going to watch this movie, but then I found out that Eric Roberts, the star of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” music video, played a villain in it, and I absolutely had to see what that was like. Turns out, he’s great! Roberts really channels that Brightside energy as Sal Maroni, an edgy gangster in Gotham City who has fallen on hard times because a man dressed in a bat suit has been making it difficult for him to make a living. So he hires an independent contractor who dresses like a clown (this movie isn’t just about crime, it’s also about the gig economy, which is kind of the same thing) to solve his problem. Turns out, freelancers actually kind of resent not having good health insurance and paid time off — something the movie is a little on-the-nose about when the Joker (they really call him that! Wild.) threatens to blow up a hospital and some boats, but it mostly works in context.

It’s really surprising how much of a crackerjack movie director Christopher Nolan made with The Dark Knight, considering that no one in it is really having a good time. (Well, one person is, but we aren’t supposed to relate.) If you’re not sure about checking this one out, I’d gently suggest you reconsider, because you’ll probably enjoy it! It’s true, the “Batman” is a little ridiculous to watch, and his voice is tremendously silly. Also, that costume is probably extremely uncomfortable! I wouldn’t be very friendly in it either! Something to think about. —Joshua Rivera

Death of Stalin

Photo: IFC Films

In the waning days of the Trump administration, when his Cabinet members begin resigning after the Capitol riot and reports emerged that his White House staff was mostly frantically engaged with seeking their next jobs, plenty of political pundits compared the situation to the one seen in Armando Iannucci’s 2017 political satire, The Death of Stalin. As Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin dies, his ministers and followers scramble to manipulate the situation, trying to perform mourning as publicly and decisively as possible, and simultaneously garner the support that will keep them alive in a particularly treacherous and lethal regime. That probably doesn’t sound funny, but the performances from figures like Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, and Paddy Considine are surprisingly winning, and the whole bleak comedy moves along at breakneck speeds as they all jockey for position. —TR

Fruitvale Station

Photo: The Weinstein Company

More relevant than ever after a year where the news was frequently dominated by protests over police brutality and police killings of unarmed Black citizens, this impressionistic portrait of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan) launched the filmmaking career of Black Panther writer-director Ryan Coogler. The film captures the events leading to Grant being shot in the back by a policeman while lying prone on the ground during a mass arrest, but Coogler focuses more on Grant’s life and family as he tracks him through his last day. It’s an elegiac movie, focused more on Grant’s humanity than his status as a martyr, and it’s well worth checking out as a Ryan Coogler origin story. —TR

Good Time

Photo: A24

Uncut Gems directors Benny and John Safdie’s 2017 crime drama Good Time is anything but. Robert Pattinson stars as Connie Nikas, a small-time criminal forced to scrounge up money to afford his brother’s bail after a botched bank heist. Connie’s journey is a road to perdition, leading him down the darkest corners of New York City to the seediest depths of its underbelly. The film is charged with the same manic, all-or-nothing energy that came to define the Safdies’ breakout hit, but here, it’s even more fatalistically tragic and perilous. Also, it’s got an awesome score, courtesy of future Uncut Gems collaborator Oneohtrix Point Never, and an achingly beautiful track by punk royalty Iggy Pop. —TE

The Grandmaster

Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster is a beautiful encapsulation of the history of Chinese martial arts as seen through the life of one of the art form’s defining practitioners. The story of Ip Man, the master martial artist who trained Bruce Lee, is exhilarating, charting the course of the grandmaster’s earliest days of training as a youth to his flight from Hong Kong amid the Second Sino-Japanese War, all heading for a breathtaking, rain-soaked showdown against multiple assailants. —TE

Hail Caesar!

Photo: Universal Pictures

The 2016 comedy Hail, Caesar! Is another sterling work of gut-busting genre pastiche courtesy of the Coen brothers. The story follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer tasked with tracking down an errant movie star (George Clooney) kidnapped by a secretive group of communist screenwriters. But you’re not here for all that; you’re here to see Alden Ehrenreich as actor Hobie Doyle flub his lines in a comedy of manners, and Channing Tatum playing a tap-dancing sailor in an infectiously catchy musical number that could put La La Land to shame. —TE

I Am Not Your Negro

Photo: © Dan Budnik

It’s an understatement to describe James Baldwin, the queer African-American author of such books as Giovanni’s Room, The Devil Finds Work, and The Fire Next Time, as one of the most preeminent writers on the nature of race and racism in America. Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro takes an unconventional approach in exploring the life and mind of an equally unconventional writer. Drawing inspiration from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House the film is a collection of archival footage of various television interviews Baldwin performed throughout his life, juxtaposed with contemporary scenes of police brutality and civil unrest, narrated by dialogue from Baldwin’s manuscript, read by Samuel L. Jackson.

The result is revelatory and bracing. Its heart-aching timeliness is even more powerful five years after its release. If the final words of playwright Lorraine Hansberry to Robert F. Kennedy during the scene recounting Baldwin’s famous 1963 White House meeting does not give you pause or send a chill up your spine upon reflection of George Floyd’s death last summer, I don’t know what will. —TE

Illang: The Wolf Brigade

Photo: Warner Bros.

Illang: The Wolf Brigade, Kim Jee-woon’s 2018 remake of Hiroyuki Okiura’s 1999 anime film Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, transplants the original’s setting to South Korea and transforms the elegiac political thriller into a blistering action spectacle. The film focuses on the story of Im Joong-kyung, a member of a militarized police unit known as the Wolf Brigade, as he’s entangled in a fierce battle of allegiances between separate factions of a totalitarian government, all while pitted against an anti-reunification terrorist cell known as “The Sect.” —TE

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Photo: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

There’s a fair bit of Monty Python’s Flying Circus material on Netflix at the moment, including the British comedy troupe’s four-temporada original TV run, a collection of live specials, and a few documentaries about the group’s origins and importance. But Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the boiled-down test piece, the film newbies can most easily dive into to see whether the Python brand of dry, straight-faced absurdity is for them. This episodic feature built around the King Arthur story has the six Python members playing a wide variety of kings, knights, peasants, and buffoons, as they face a dragon and a killer rabbit, a sneering coterie of French knights and a mysterious dark knight who won’t stay down even with his limbs hacked off. There’s singing and dancing, banter, repetition gags, and a whole lot more, but above all, there’s that incredibly influential specific Python sense of humor. The way this group treated childish ridiculousness with haughty self-importance helped define British humor for decades to follow. —TR



Barry Jenkins’ tender three-part coming-of-age story Moonlight may ultimately be remembered most for the Oscar-night kerfuffle surrounding it — Best Picture presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were handed the wrong winner envelope, Beatty mistakenly announced that La La Land had won Best Picture, and the film’s crew took the stage to start their speeches before they learned that Moonlight had actually won. At least all the surrounding drama and interest focused more widespread attention on Jenkins’ film, an intensely personal three-act story about a gay Black boy dealing with his orientation as a child, finding first love as a teenager, and settling into his identity as an adult. Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe offer particularly tender performances as the drug dealers who support him in childhood, but the real star of the show here is the vivid, lovely cinematography, as Jenkins uses intimate images and sharp visuals to suggest an active, aching mind behind the ever-evolving mask the central character presents to the world. —TR

New Gods: Nezha Reborn

Photo: Netflix

New Gods: Nezha Reborn is a steam/cyberpunk-ish take on one thread from the sprawling Ming dynasty novel Investiture of the Gods that follows the story of Li Yunxiang, a young motorbike delivery driver who discovers he’s the reincarnation of Nezha, the child-god nemesis of the powerful Dragon Clan which reigns with an iron fist. It falls to Yunxiang to master his newfound powers and face off against his pursuers in order to settle his ancestor’s 3,000-year-old grudge. From our review:

New Gods: Nezha Reborn draws heavily on pan-Asian folklore and myth for its narrative spine. Nezha in particular has been a popular character for centuries, evolving from god to general to child to spirit in myths as disparate as the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, China’s 1979 animated hit Nezha Conquers the Dragon King, and the 2019 Chinese CGI feature Nez Ha, also currently streaming on Netflix. (That film takes a much more slapstick-driven approach to Nezha’s heavenly guardians in particular, and the visual approach starts off cartoony and child-centered compared to Nezha Reborn. But it eventually develops its own resonant emotional drama, and its own staggering action sequences. The two films make an enjoyable double feature, just to see two radically different interpretations of the same classic characters.)

The Night Comes for Us

Photo: Netflix

The Night Comes for Us just fucking whips, okay? Why waste time on subtlety and intellectual preamble? The film certainly doesn’t! Indonesian action thrillers have been enjoying a renaissance period ever since Gareth Evans’ 2011 film The Raid kicked the door down and mollywhopped everything else in sight. Timo Tjahjanto’s 2018 film certainly follows in the footsteps of Evans’ own, with Raid star Joe Taslim starring here as Ito, a gangland enforcer who betrays his Triad crime family by sparing the life of a child and attempting to flee the country. Fellow Raid star Iko Uwais shows up here as Arian, Ito’s childhood friend and fellow enforcer, who is tasked with hunting down Ito and recovering the girl. The action comes fast and frenzied, with kinetic choreography and dazzling handheld cinematography that makes every punch, fall, and stab count. If you need to get your adrenaline pumping, throw this one on. —TE


Photo: Focus Features/Laika Entertainment

Laika’s 2012 stop-motion horror comedy ParaNorman is impressively animated, but it’s hilarious, too. Let Me In’s Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Norman, an 11-year-old outcast who can speak to spirits. No one else in the sleepy burg of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts believes in Norman’s power, except his eccentric friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi). But when a mysterious ritual to protect the town backfires, and a witch’s curse resurrects the dead in a bid for vengeance, it’s up to Norman to put the past to rest to save the town’s future. If you’re looking for a fantastic spiritual follow-up to Laika’s 2009 film Coraline, ParaNorman is definitely a must-watch. —TE

Return to the 36th Chamber

Photo: Shaw Brothers Studio

The follow-up to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, one of the greatest kung-fu movies of all time, and one of the direct inspirations behind The Wu-Tang Clan’s entire persona and oeuvre, Return to the 36th Chamber is a classic of the genre and one of the best of the Shaw Brothers Studio movies. Gordon Liu returns, this time as Chu Jen-chieh, a former con artist turned kung-fu disciple who comes to the aid of a company of factory workers who are preyed upon by an unscrupulous owner and his Manchu thugs. It’s a fast, fleet martial-arts drama, filled with exciting fights and hilarious physical comedy. —TE

The Ritual

Photo: Netflix

Even in our post-Cabin in the Woods world, there are still opportunities for clever filmmakers to spook us with creepy-shack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-why-the-hell-would-you-go-in-there-what-was-that-in-the-shadows-no-no-no-no-no stories. The Ritual follows four friends who trek along northern Sweden’s Kungsleden trail as a tribute to a fifth friend, who was recently murdered in a convenience store. The death especially weighs on Luke (Prometheus’ Rafe Spall), whose drunken belligerence put his buddy in harm’s way in the first place. Luke is also the member of the group who realizes that, after discovering a wooden deer altar in an abandoned house along their unadvised detour, the group is being haunted by more than memories. Like a unique mix of Euro-horror and The Hills Have Eyes, The Ritual twists a familiar journey with creature-feature instincts to keep the genre fresh. —MP

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Image: Universal Pictures

Edgar Wright’s 2010 adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics is the kind of movie you can passively take in for the extremely fast-paced gags and action, or actively mine like a trivia contest. As whiner-slacker Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) pursues his unattainable crush Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and has to contend with her past relationships in violent, symbolic, hilarious ways, Wright packs the screen and soundscape with visual and audio references to past games, to the point where the soundtrack is practically its own referential language. The cast is a remarkable grab bag of famous people as seen in their younger days, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman. But it’s even more a calling card for Wright. He’s continued to make mile-a-minute stories about dippy, immature guys figuring out what they want, but he’s never been quite this joyously demented again. —TR


Photo: We Go USA Entertainment

Wuxia master Zhang Yimou (Hero) is known for capturing color, from the crimson wash of Raise the Red Lantern to the eye-popping landscapes of House of Flying Daggers. In Shadow, Zhang dials back the gradient to black and white, and the result is a politically tinged martial-arts epic as mesmerizing and complicated as a Rorschach. After basically condensing the entire run of Game of Thrones into the first hour, Zhang goes on to stage blade-wielding combat and royal court clashes on par with his early work. Devoted fans will know what to expect, but unsuspecting newcomers may melt over the sheer vision on display in this contrast-heavy return to form. —MP

Stranger than Fiction

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Stranger Than Fiction is Will Ferrell’s Punch-Drunk Love; a high-concept fantasy comedy-drama that sees the established comedy darling exploring a side of himself seldom caught onscreen. In doing so, he delivers what may be his best performance. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent whose mundane by-the-numbers existence is radically altered when he awakes one morning to a disembodied voice narrating his every thought and action. As he attempts to discover the identity of the voice, Harold is compelled to break out of the mold set by his habits. This choice leads him to explore risky opportunities for happiness and fulfillment he never thought possible, as he works to defy his fate while the threat of an ambiguous predestined demise looms around every corner. —TE

Total Recall

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story sits beside 1987’s RoboCop and 1997’s Starship Troopers as the middle installment, and arguable peak, of the director’s trio of stone-cold sci-fi action classics. The film squeezes larger-than-life movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger into the denim jeans of Douglas Quaid, a mild-mannered construction worker who emerges from a fake-memory-implantation procedure to find that his whole life is a lie. After narrowly escaping with his life from a cadre of mysterious agents, Quaid is thrust on a journey to rediscover his suppressed past and his role in a sinister conspiracy that spans the length between Earth and Mars. As Polygon’s own Matt Patches so elegantly puts it, “It’s a prismatic, often funny marvel, and everything that the ‘gritty,’ grey remake was not.” — TE

Training Day

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day is one of the most iconic crime thrillers of the early 20th century. Ethan Hawke stars as Jake Hoyt, an idealistic LAPD narcotics officer tasked with shadowing Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris, played by Denzel Washington in his first Academy Award-winning performance. If you’ve somehow never seen Training Day, and Denzel’s quote-worthy final speech, drop everything and make plans to watch this one. — TE