There’s a lot to love on Hulu right now.
For this list, I sifted through and came up with a range of movies new and old, left the country for a few others, and snuck in some of the broader-appealing Criterion movies (I’ll let you figure out which ones).
The best movies on Hulu in December 2017
1) Short Term 12
Before she landed the titular role in Captain Marvel, Brie Larson won an Oscar for Room. Before she won the Oscar, she won over audiences and critics with her work in Dustin Cretin’s Short Term 12. She plays a supervisor in a treatment facility for troubled teens. It’s a sensitive topic that the film handles in a way that feels honest. The movie goes to some dark places thematically, but there are enough victories for the characters mixed in that it’s not a grueling movie to sit through.
2) Punch Drunk Love
Between this film and Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Adam Sandler has delivered two performances that deconstruct the comic persona honed on Saturday Night Live and his ‘90s comedies. For director Paul Thomas Anderson, Sandler plays Barry Egan, a socially awkward man prone to violent outbursts. A chance encounter with a woman in need of a favor (a terrific Emily Watson) helps bring Barry out of his shell. Anderson mixes the dark and absurd parts of the film with humor in that way only he can, and the result is pretty special.
3) 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane came out of nowhere last year when was announced just two months prior to its release (it had previously flown under the radar as Valencia). For most of its runtime, it’s a taut locked-room thriller. It’s about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up after a car crash in bunker belonging to a mysterious man (John Goodman). There’s another man stuck with them (John Gallagher Jr.) whose allegiances are hard to peg. The movie is a showcase for its cast and talented young director (Dan Trachtenberg). The ties to Cloverfield proved to be divisive among audiences, but it’s too good to miss out on.
4) Iron Man
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years since Jon Favreau first laid out the blueprint for the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While creative fatigue may have set in somewhere along the way for some, the MCU movies continue to bring in interesting filmmakers and make overnight stars of its leads. Favreau and star Robert Downey Jr. found magic in this origin story for Tony Stark, taking a second-tier superhero in the eyes of mainstream audiences and putting him on par with Batman and Superman. After 14 movies (and a staggering nine movies scheduled to be released by 2019), Iron Man continues to be one of the crown jewels of the MCU.
5) The Hurt Locker
When people think about war movies, they usually think about gut-wrenching action. Kathryn Bigelow goes the opposite route for its thrills. Jeremy Renner stars as a Sergeant whose preference to do things his way doesn’t sit well with the rest of the bomb squad. The Hurt Locker is a trip-wire taut drama anchored by career-best work by Renner and strong support from Anthony Mackie. Bigelow’s work made her the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director. The Hurt Locker is a top-tier war film.
For those suffering from sequel fatigue, Ryan Coogler’s Rocky installment is the antidote. Coogler and leading man Michael B. Jordan lend Creed fresh perspective and energy while still packing the emotional wallop that endeared the series to so many people 40 years ago.
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Aliens randomly show up and strategically place themselves across the globe, with humans falling into complete panic in response. Most movies would take this set up and deliver a city-destroying action-fest. Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer aim for something more thoughtful and empathetic. It’s a movie about understanding and listening. This sci-fi thinker is one of the best movies of the decade.
After a successful run on Broadway, Denzel Washington brings this August Wilson play to the silver screen. Washington directs and stars alongside his stage costar Viola Davis in this 1950s-set drama about a man grappling with the life choices he made and the repercussions they have on his family. It’s a powerful film, and you’ll want to keep tissues nearby.
9) 13 Assassins
Takashi Miike’s samurai epic 13 Assassins, a remake of a 1963 film of the same name, is one of the Japanese master’s best films. It’s about a group of assassins (as you could guess from the title) who team up in an attempt to kill the odious Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu. The first half of the film is restrained as the team comes together and forms its plan, but the film’s climactic battle pays off the buildup and rewards the audience’s patience tenfold (thirteenfold?). It’s roughly 40 minutes of immaculately staged action mayhem. It’s pure spectacle that will take your breath away.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is quickly establishing himself as an A-list director, between Prisoners, this year’s excellent Arrival, and 2017’s high-stakes curio Blade Runner 2049. Sicario is a taut drug war thriller top-lined by Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin (all doing great work). Villeneuve has a strong eye for visuals and a knack for making movies that linger days after you watch them. If nothing else, this one is worth checking out for the awesomely tense opening and a spectacular border crossing attempt gone awry.
10) Disappearance of Alice Creed
This kidnapping thriller is an exercise in economical storytelling. It’s based on a play, so it’s no surprise that it makes great use of its limited sets. Alice (Gamma Arterton) is from a wealthy family and is snatched up by two criminals and held for ransom. Nothing goes according to the plan, and the clever script delivers a steady stream of satisfying twists.
11) Blazing Saddles
It’s often said that Mel Brooks’ searing 1974 satire couldn’t get made today. But would you really want it to be? Part of the charm of Blazing Saddles is that it feels at once dated and timeless. It’s both a product of 1974 and an enduring send-up of the way race is portrayed in cinema. With the help of talent including stars Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, writer Richard Pryor, and many, many more, Mel Brooks crafted his masterpiece with this bawdy, ludicrous, razor-sharp critique of the American western. —Chris Osterndorf
12) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The spaghetti western to end all spaghetti westerns. The third and final film in director Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s Dollars Trilogy follows three lawless gunslingers in their own personal gold rush during the American Civil War. Between the tense duels and dramatic long shots, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has everything you’re looking for, including another iconic score from Ennio Morricone. —Austin Powell
2007’s Zodiac is a film about obsession as much as it is the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher does a great job recreating the heightened panic and anxiety that gripped northern California in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The first part of the film plays like a horror film before settling into something even more jangling, and it’s anchored by strong performances from Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Zodiac is Fincher working in his wheelhouse and at the peak of his powers.
Compliance is the kind of movie meant to push buttons and provoke strong reactions. Writer-director Craig Zobel’s film is about an unlucky fast-food employee being kept on the phone by someone claiming to be a police officer. The caller (Pat Healy) asks the employee (Dreama Walker) to do increasingly disturbing things in the name of clearing herself. Despite being based on a true story, Compliance’s premise will certainly test viewers’ patience and suspension of disbelief. Much like the phone caller’s demands, Compliance puts you through the emotional ringer.
The first time I watched Superbad I laughed as often and as hard as I have laughed at any movie in theaters. A decade and numerous viewings later, the comedy is showing its age, but it’s still funny, if you’re into Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s work. But the aspect of the film that endures is the friendship between Evan and Seth (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill). That’s the key ingredient to the success of these kinds of movies. If you buy the friendship, then everything else is gravy. It’s crazy to think that ten years after its release the core cast of Superbad would have a three Academy Awards nominations for acting under its belt (and one win courtesy of Emma Stone), but Superbad has more going for it than most high school comedies.
19) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
First New Zealand gave us Peter Jackson; now it’s given us Taika Waititi. Jackson makes oversized spectacles, and Waititi has built his name on small-scale stories with strong characters (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows). That is, until Marvel recruited him for his own oversized spectacle (the upcoming Thor: Ragnorok). Wilderpeople is such a delightful movie that you understand why Waititi is getting called up while also being greedy enough to want him to keep making movies where his is the main creative voice.
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As far as vampire thrillers go, this one is comparatively low-key. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play a pair of vampires who have been on the run for hundreds of years. They try to live anonymously, but when their cover is blown, they’re on the run again. It’s arty fare and something that may test the patience of some. Director Neil Jordan creates a beguiling atmosphere, and Arterton and Ronan are strong leads, and combined they help carry the movie through clunky moments. Even if it isn’t totally successful in everything it sets out to do, it’s a worthy effort with enough highlights to make it worth your time.
21) I Saw the Devil
This South Korean thriller pits two of the country’s most well-known actors (Choi Min-sik and Lee Byung-hun) as a cop and a serial killer, respectively. It’s a cat-and-mouse story, or maybe cat-and-cat is more appropriate, as Byung-hun relentlessly tracks and tortures the man (Min-sik) who killed his wife. The film is directed by maestro Kim Jee-woon, so you’re in good hands. I Saw the Devil is brutal and provocative, and if you have the stomach for it, it’s well worth a watch.
Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo isn’t well known in America, so this is a chance to impress your friends with your excellent taste in foreign films. Vigalondo’s biggest movie to date is the indie hit Colossal (starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis), but his debut Timecrimes remains his best film. It’s a low-budget time-travel thriller (think Primer with a more propulsive plot) that is heady without being pretentious and twisty without being confounding.
23) Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s spiritual cousin to Dazed and Confused received the usual acclaim that accompanies most Linklater joints, but it didn’t translate to a big audience. That seems fitting, as it wouldn’t be right if Everybody Wants Some!! (the two exclamation points are important) didn’t find and build its audience the old-fashioned way just like Dazed did. The movie follows a group of baseball players as they navigate life on a college campus. Like most Linklater movies, Everybody’s is about the experience and characters rather than plot mechanics. Get you some!!
This Emma Roberts- and Dave Franco-starring techno-thriller is fast-paced fun. Roberts plays a woman looking for some extra money who decides to play a popular online game. In the game, called Nerve, players take on dares from anonymous viewers. For each completed dare, the player gets money instantly deposited into their bank account, so the allure to keep going is strong. Franco is one of the game’s best players, and when he teams up with Roberts, they become a popular duo. The movie is pretty dopey and gets pretty heavy-handed at the end, but it moves so fast that those concerns don’t really hit until long after the film is over.
25) Barbershop: The Next Cut
The third entry in Ice Cube’s Barbershop series might be its best. The movie, like the barbershop itself, has a looseness to it that makes you want to linger in the shop longer than you need to. The conversation is alternately fun and fierce. The ball-busting goes both ways, with everybody cracking wise and getting cracked on but always in a way that’s good-hearted. If that were all the movie had going, that would be enough for a fun time. But The Next Cut tackles larger issues, most notably the changing racial makeup and growing crime problems of Chicago. In a movie with the central idea of people hashing out the day-to-day of their lives, the thornier societal issues flow naturally out of the conversation, and the movie is consistently entertaining. The cast, including stalwarts Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Anthony Anderson, and newcomers Lamorne Morris, Nicki Minaj, and Common, has easy chemistry and the film’s two hours just fly by.
26) Daddy’s Home
It’s a crying shame Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s 2010 collaboration, The Other Guys, isn’t available, but their second one is. Ferrell plays a buttoned-up step-dad competing for the affection of his stepkids with the kids’ father, played by Wahlberg. The game of one-upmanship grows increasingly silly, as those kinds of things are wont to do, and Ferrell and Wahlberg sell the jokes as best they can. Daddy’s Home isn’t the funniest movie you’ll see with Wahlberg or Ferrell, but it gets the job done.
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27) American Ultra
Being totally honest, I hated American Ultra when I saw it, but now that it’s available for streaming, I’ve thought about giving it another look. It comes from the highly prolific and equally divisive Max Landis and is about two stoners who get mixed up with government spooks. Between the premise and the mix of violence, lowbrow humor, and romantic chemistry between the leads, I reductively refer to this as the poor man’s Pineapple Express (sadly not on Hulu). Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t, and movies that take risks deserve to be seen, good or bad.
Mean Girls before Mean Girls, Scream before Scream, that’s how I pitch this ’80s classic to people who haven’t seen it. It’s a satire and a biting black comedy. High school tales about the coolest of the cool and the people who want to undermine them are the forever-cool leather jackets of film.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Everyone should like what they want with no reservations or qualifications. That said, I have a soft spot for dance movies, be they good (most of the Step Up series, Mad Hot Ballroom) or bad (How She Move, You Got Served, the first Step Up film). Pina is Wim Wenders appreciation of famous German choreographer Pina Bausch. The film was shot in 3D (and is actually worth seeing in 3D), but the version on Hulu is 2D and still worth your time.
30) Sin City
The last legitimately great movie Robert Rodriguez made before going on an unfortunate run of movies nobody was interested in. For what it’s worth I like Planet Terror, but most people like to rag on it. In adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel Rodriguez found the perfect outlet. It allowed him his technical indulgences (the use of green screen is particularly noteworthy) and the anthology style approach helped focus his increasing shortening attention span. The result was revolutionary at the time and is still the gold standard a decade later. —Eddie Strait
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31) The Emperor’s New Groove
I’m not being facetious when I say this is my favorite David Spade performance. His brand of bone-dry sarcasm normally grates (for me at least), but this time he makes Emperor Kuzco believably entitled but doesn’t take it so far that you just hate the character. Spade is a worthy yin to John Goodman’s yang as a gentle giant Pacha. The story follows a familiar arc: Kuzco has to learn to be kind and let go of his selfishness, and Pacha is the poor man who has to teach Kuzco how to deal with people. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s hilarious.
Starring and directed by the late Bill Paxton, 2001’s Frailty is an oddity in the beloved actor’s career. The actor seldom dipped into the horror world, but when he did with films like Near Dark or Aliens, the results were magical. Frailty follows a family of ax murderers who kill based on the supposedly divine visions of the patriarch. Swinging back and forth between the confessions of the family’s oldest son to the FBI in the present and the killings in his childhood, the horrors on screen are coupled with a legitimately compelling family drama about the impact fathers can have on their children. Matthew McConaughey anchors the future segments with a cold sorrow, while Paxton’s performance as Meiks is terrifying because of how mournful it is. Meiks doesn’t want to kill—but his god is telling him to. By the end of the film, you’ll know if he’s crazy or not. The answer isn’t comforting. —J.M.B.
33) Beach Rats
Coming-of-age indie stories are a dime a dozen, but Beach Rats separates itself primarily through the lead performance by Harris Dickinson. Dickinson plays Frankie, a teen who spends his days hangout with his deadbeat friends and his evenings online looking for older guys to hookup with. Frankie’s frustrations in exploring his sexuality and accepting himself are blunt and relatable. Beach Rats is the kind of movie that will always fly under the radar of most people, but those who give it a chance will find it rewarding.
34) Daddy Longlegs
If nothing else, it’s worth looking up Daddy Longlegs just for its poster. It’s about a father (co-star and co-writer Ronald Bronstein) who’s terrible at being a dad but nevertheless must forge ahead with his very limited amount of time with his sons. The movie, like its protagonist, will test the patience and comfort of its audience. If you’re looking for something different, look no further. The movie’s co-directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, are having a bit of a moment with their acclaimed film Good Time, so now’s a good time to check out their feature debut.
Acclaimed video essayist Kogonada makes his feature directorial debut with this low-key drama about a man (John Cho) who comes home to be with his ailing father and strikes up a friendship with a young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) tethered to the titular town. Every shot of Kogonada’s film is deeply considered, and the images are as well crafted as the architecture the characters obsess over. But at the heart of it are Cho and Richardson, who gives two of 2017’s best performances.
Editor’s note: This article shares blurbs with some of our other streaming guides and is regularly updated for relevance.
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